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DEFYING GRAVITY (ABC)
(Sunday, August 2 at 9:00/8:00c then Sundays at 10:00/9:00c starting August 9)
The network's description: "From executive producers James Parriott and Michael Edelstein comes "Defying Gravity," a sexy, provocative space thriller set in the very near future against the background of our solar system, in which eight astronauts from five countries (four women and four men) undertake a mysterious six-year international space mission covering eight billion miles. The adventure begins on SUNDAY, AUGUST 2 with a two-hour premiere from 9:00-11:00 p.m. The series will air regularly from 10:00-11:00 p.m., starting Sun, August 9 on the ABC Television Network. Hurtling into the vast challenge of infinite space, the eight astronauts and the ground personnel who support them are on a mission that has a powerful and awesome mystery at its core. The intimate and interconnected relationships among the astronauts and the ground crew, as well as their past actions, have a strangely karmic effect on the present. Episodes are divided between the present, as the Antares travels towards Venus, and the past, with flashbacks to earlier years when the astronauts were in the grueling selection and training process."
What did they leave out? "Defying Gravity" is the second of three Fox TV Studios international co-productions, a new initiative in which U.S. showrunners, writers and talent work with an international production team to create low-cost scripted programming. In the case of "Defying Gravity," all 13 episodes were shot in Vancouver. The third, "Persons Unknown" (Mexico), is set to air on NBC next year while the first, "Mental" (Bogota, Colombia), wraps its run on FOX next month.
The plot in a nutshell: In the year 2042 Mars astronauts Maddux Donner (Ron Livingston) and Ted Shaw (Malik Yoba) find themselves having to choose whether or not to launch their module when a roaring storm delays their fellow astronauts from returning in time for the window. The mission's commander, Mike Goss (Andrew Airlie), orders them to go and Donner reluctantly agrees, sentencing the others to death on the Mars surface. 10 years later, the pariahed Donner and Shaw are at it again, this time as alternates on the Antares mission, a six-year journey to the other seven planets in the solar system. Not surprisingly, both get another shot after the Antares commander Rollie Crane (Ty Olsson) and flight engineer Ajay Sharma (Zahf Paroo) develop mysterious heart murmurs and must be sent home. Neither however is particularly pleased: Rollie begrudgingly leaves behind his wife Jen (Christina Cox), a biologist who was once involved with Shaw, while Ajay has a nervous breakdown, derailing his future as an astronaut.
Donner and Shaw likewise have their own problems: the former is having visions of one-time flame Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris), the ship's geologist, falling naked out of an airlock (who herself keeps on hearing the sound of a crying baby throughout the ship); while the latter learns from his wife Eve (Karen LeBlanc), a scientist at Mission Control, that there's more to their mission than what they've been told. Rounding out the crew then are Nadia Schilling (Florentine Lahme), the ship's sexually aggressive pilot; Paula Morales (Paula Garces), a teacher who's filming a documentary for her students back home; Evram Mintz (Eyal Podell), the ship's medical officer who's secretly detoxing himself from his alcohol addiction; and Steve Wassenfelder (Dylan Taylor), a theoretical physicist who seems more interested in porn and comic books than the mission at hand.
All eight astronauts are monitored back home in "Big Brother" fashion by Goss himself, who's also spearheading the aforementioned mysterious agenda, and Claire Dereux (Maxim Roy), the flight surgeon who stumbles across what's really going on. Flashbacks to their training then fill in the gaps of how our clan first met as in many cases their present circumstances are much different than when they started. Ultimately, the Antares crew must wade through a surprisingly high number of glitches and other incidents to not only survive but find the answers to who or what is causing them.
What works: I'm all for shows trying to break the mold like this: an astronaut drama set 40 some odd years in the future, absolutely sign me up. And to its credit, there's some neat things going on: Ajay's journey from a man aligned with destiny to a broken shell is surprisingly compelling (albeit silly in parts), as is the whole hubbub surrounding "Beta," an unseen, potentially extraterrestrial presence that seems to be controlling the fates of our heroes. The show also looks sharp thanks to some above average special effects and a keen eye by director David Straiton. It's unfortunately then that the proceedings are...
What doesn't: ...bogged down by a mostly vanilla cast, lots of silly navel gazing and some quirky scientific choices. Livingston and Yoba have zero chemistry with their romantic foils - Harris and Cox, respectively - who in turn behave like giggly teenagers for no discernable reason. In fact, there's little sense that anyone on the Antares crew is actually an astronaut other than they occasionally put on EVA suits and hold up petri dishes. Even worse, when they actually do it's for superfluous reasons: for instance, to rescue a depressurizing Zoe, Maddux must scramble to put on an EVA suit so he can... pull her tether cable from the outside.
That coupled with a range of, let's just say odd, developments - from the fact everyone wears libido impairing patches (which apparently amplify everyone's need to talk about sex) to an antigravity system that runs off magnetically charged nanites in their clothing (no matter how little of it they wear) - and you have plenty of head-scratching moments. It's also almost impossible not to compare the show to FOX's "Virtuality" with its mix of confessional cameras, Paula serving as quasi-host to a documentary and of course the mysterious goings on. And based on the three episodes of "Gravity" provided for review...
The bottom line: ...you're better off rediscovering "Virtuality."