Defiance: Pilot

"From now until the Arks rise again."

Defiance is a bit of a hodgepodge of disparate parts, including Star Wars, Farscape, Firefly, Babylon 5, and a touch of Eureka. Wild aliens, fun but clich├ęd characters, and occasionally good but predicable plots comprise this lavishly over-produced two hour pilot that makes some of those elements work, but not all of them.

We are introduced to two of our leads right away (Nolan and Irisa), and the scene where they were introduced was probably my favorite part in the entire two hours. Not that there weren't good moments throughout, but there was just so much going on that for the most part it was hard to have a quiet moment between two characters like that first scene.

With at least fifteen primary and secondary roles, all with complicated interpersonal connections, it was a lot to sort out. I liked the performances, which were pretty good all around. Though no one stood out as great, no one stood out as outright bad, either.  There were several instances of cringe-worthy dialogue, but for the most part, the writing wasn't bad at all.

Nolan (Grant Bowler) and his adopted daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas) were my favorite characters right away. I also liked Brothel Matron Kenya (Mia Kirshner) and Mayor Amanda (Julie Benz), and the sarcastic Doctor Yewll (Trenna Keating) was a hoot. The rest, well, we'll see. It was clear that all of the characters were well defined, and their back stories were obviously fleshed out. A lot of time was spent figuring out how this town and world worked, and it showed, even though most of the characters were just slightly divergent versions of classic western and scifi archetypes.

Occasionally, some of the CGI was jarringly bad. The giant furry alien guys (Sensoth) were so clearly prosthetics that I doubt I will ever be able take them seriously. There were also some creature effects that were just poorly designed, like the bug wolf things at the beginning, that looked very fake even though their animations weren't horrible. All of it had a wild alien feel without falling into the wackiness of Farscape (although it was clear Rockne S. O'Bannon was in charge).

As for the plot, it was all over the place. The first half was all set up. The second half was all resolution. Except, did they need to resolve so much? Not only did we get stingers for all the big plot elements, we had a massive battle sequence, the breakdown and reunion of our primary duo, and a the reveal of an overarching plot that doesn't make a lick of sense yet.

I keep coming back to the old adage, 'less is more'.  I think the right words to describe the major problems with this pilot are: too much. Too many aliens, too many plots, too many characters, and too many things that pulled me out of my immersion. Sure, it was grand, but what was the cost of that grandness? Did we lose some meaty character interactions because of all the plot and action sequences? We have all these good actors and they are inhabiting characters that could be very interesting, but unfortunately, I think they were a bit lost under the weight of excess.

Bits:

Arkfall was an event in the past that destroyed/terraformed the Earth.

33 years have passed since the Aliens have arrived. 15 years have passed since the end of the Pale Wars, which ended when a group of soldiers laid down their arms and helped refugees instead of continuing to fight. These soldiers are called the 'Defiant Few'. Nolan is one of them.

Antarctica is rumored to be a paradise.

The Romeo and Juliet plot feels a bit forced, but at least it wasn't cringe-worthy. I did like Stahma (Jamie Murray) convincing Datak (Tony Curran) that the marriage could be used to take down their competitor Rafe (Graham Greene).

The book-ended songs were really nice. I particularly loved the final moment, even if the reveal was a bit out of left field.

Further shades of Farscape with the introduction of our first Alien swear word in the first few minutes of the show.

I guess what it boils down to is this; this was a wildly ambitious and fascinating attempt at a scifi world that tried too hard to do too much, too fast. I almost feel like I've already watched the first season. Still, it is an interesting premise, and it had a lot of good points mixed in with the bad. There was definitely enough to pique my interest, and I will be tuning in next week to see what happens next. Which I guess is exactly what a pilot is supposed to do.

2 1/2 out of 4 Giant organic robot men with off switches in their butts.

(Here is a cheat sheet of alien races that appear on the show on IMDB.)
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J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related. He reviews Arrow and Farscape and cool new movies that strike his fancy.

11 comments:

Austin said...

No mention of the video game? This show is tied to a MMORPG where you can play as the characters and supposedly impact future storylines. So it's really a TV show/video game hybrid.

J.D. Balthazar said...

Ah yes, an oversight I fear. Except I heard the game is a bore, which is a pity since the concept was so cool. I do believe that the time is near, when our media consumption will start to be chore, and all this silly interconnectedness will turn us into fools.

They spent no time making a good MMO, when another year of development and several months of testing was required. The same could almost be said of the show, which felt as if it wanted to give us everything, but didn't quite deliver.

So that's why I didn't mention the game.

One last thing, from everything I've heard, it isn't really that interconnected. The game only has a few missions with Nolan and Irisa to tie it to the show (so far).

Jess Lynde said...

I liked this a bit more than you, J.D. Yes, it was clunky in spots (the mayor's armistice day speech) and mildly cheesy in others (the teen romance, the rally the troops speech), but it did a pretty good job introducing an interesting world and several intriguing characters. Well, a few intriguing characters anyway. I definitely liked Nolan and Irisa, and agree that their opening introduction in the roller was a great little scene.

I lean towards giving pilots somewhat of a pass. It's nice when you can hit a homerun right off the bat, but some of my favorite shows have mediocre to terrible pilots. (Heck, Babylon 5 has a mediocre to terrible first season!) For something this ambitious, it doesn't need to completely work on every level to satisfy me. Just give me a world I want to come back to and characters I'd like to get to know better, and I'm in. For awhile at least. :)

I liked that you mentioned how this had a bit of a Eureka vibe, because despite the shades of John Crichton, Mal Reynolds, and Han Solo, for some reason Nolan most reminded me of Sheriff Carter. He just had a vibe about him. Maybe Grant Bowler just looks similar to Colin Ferguson.

Mark Greig said...

I felt the same ways as Jess, it was clunky in a lot of places, but it created a world I would like to revisit and introduced characters I'd like to hang around with. Now that it is past the awkward pilot stage hopefully things will improve.

celticmarc said...

Interesting...

The opening scene was breath taking. The second one with father and daughter was awesome. And one of my fave characters from warehouse 12 is there too !

And I LOVED the musical score. Big time.

celticmarc said...

from imdb.com :

"Series Original Music by
Bear McCreary

(12 episodes, 2013)"

A HA !!!! I recognized his style !!

celticmarc said...

warehouse 12.....frankly....duh, eyes rolling at myself

Billie Doux said...

Love all of the actors -- great cast. I especially like Nolan and his "daughter". But I didn't really buy in. During the big battle near the end, I wasn't at all tense or engaged or worried about the characters. But I do think the show has promise and I'll definitely watch the next one.

Jaime Murray with white hair? What were they thinking?

Patrick said...

I actually enjoyed this quite a bit, though I'll readily admit it was not without its flaws. I do think they tried to pack a lot into a 2-hour premiere, but as long as you pay attention I don't think it was too much to keep track of. Lots of pilots are sort of a "survey course" of the world, saving in-depth looks for later episodes.

A co-worker of mine pointed out the similarities to Eureka yesterday, and I have to agree. Stranger and his daughter come to town, save the day, stranger becomes the new sherrif? Yeah, slight resemblance. :)

Though I think I'm actually going to like the father-daughter relationship in Defiance even more(and I liked Jack & Zoe a lot). It was really nice to see Irisa be more than just the sullen daughter, it's clear there is genuine affection between her & Nolan. Stephanie and Grant played their scenes together very well. The two highlights were their intro duet(SO lovely), and their reunion after the battle. But they showed great chemistry throughout.

Not sure how much I'm going to enjoy the feuding family storyline, though Jaime Murray makes a great Lady MacBeth/Cersi Lannister type(and it's always great to have her back on my screen, even if they won't let her keep her natural accent).

The doc should provide some amusing moments in future episodes, I like her comedic timing. And I'll be curious to see what sort of relationship develops between Irisa and Deputy Tommy. I adore Julie Benz, but her character didn't make a real big impression on me in the premiere. We'll see. They really did assemble an impressive cast for this show, I just hope the writing is equally strong.

Anonymous said...

Well this was interesting if not up to Farscape standard.. Nolan and his daughter are good so far..I'm intrigued by Jaime Murray and Tony Curran's pair of white-haired aliens..I hope they get a lot to do. The cgi was ok but not more than that. Mia Kirshner got a cliched part and did a good job of it mostly..I'll resist the tempation of calling her Inara. We'll see how it turns out.
anna

Josie Kafka said...

I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected to. (I've never seen Farscape, so I only know Rockne O'Bannon from the silly disaster that was Cult on The CW.)

I'm behind on my TV viewing, so I wound up watching most of this pilot just in time to watch the next episode--and I wanted to do so immediately. Not for any pressing plot concerns, since I doubt this is a show that will kill off major players very often. But rather because I enjoyed the world they'd created, and wanted to see more of it.