Every television season sees the arrival of some fun (some might even say great) shows that go unnoticed by regular television audiences. One show that is off mainstream radar and is worth a look is the sci-fi/fantasy show Defiance. Holy “shtako,” season two starts tomorrow, June 19! Here’s why we think you’ll dig it.
What’s the premise? In 2046 Defiance (a city-state formerly known as St. Louis, MO), humans, aliens, hybrids, and mutated species of Earth all fight for their species’ rights and acceptance, while a human lawkeeper, Nolan (Grant Bowler of True Blood, Liz and Dick, Ugly Betty), discovers and bonds with his adopted Votan (alien) daughter.
What’s it like? It’s like a western/sci-fi hybrid, with lots of brilliantly designed aliens, intense action, soapy character interaction, and some sexy stuff too. The show’s inter-species tension is clear commentary on cultural struggles of the here-and-now, but it’s not presented as a lecture on contemporary acceptance. Rather, it’s a faux documentation of where we might find ourselves if Votans joined us here on Earth and said, “Hi, we’re here to share your planet; please have some delicious river otter.”
Where can I see it? Season one is available to stream on Amazon, Vudu, iTunes and for members of Amazon Prime (the first two episodes of season one are free!). It’s also available on DVD. Season two begins on 6/19 at 8/7c on the SyFy Channel.
How long will it take? There are only twelve episodes in season one, each running under an hour (without commercial interruptions). So you could speed through it in about nine hours. That’s barely enough time for a Sensoth to ask you for the remote!
What do the critics think? The reviews were mixed upon Defiance‘s premiere last summer, largely due to what some critics felt was a lack of originality. Mark A. Perigard of the Boston Globe said, “SyFy’s Defiance is the Frankenstein of TV series — built from the parts of other shows.” But its weakness, then, was also part of its success: Maureen Ryan of the Huffington Post said, “Defiance is not just a smart, well-crafted TV show with a good cast and an adventurous flavor, it’s also indisputably science fiction, which is a relief.” Ethan Alter of Television Without Pity called it “solid meat-and-potatoes sci-fi that has the potential to get better the longer it remains on the air.” Its appeal extended beyond just sci-fi enthusiasts, too: “I am engaged by the show’s lively metaphor for a polyglot culture fractured by tribalism and Otherness,” said Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly. Currently, Defiance sits just above Fresh on the Tomatometer at 61 percent.
Why should I watch this? Defiance has something for everyone; it stands on its own as an action/adventure, a drama, even a romance. All of it just happens to exist in this fictional version of our future world. You don’t need to understand the history of this world to enjoy the show, but its backstory is wonderfully complex and reads like a lesson in history or mythology. As a result of a mysterious explosion known as the “Ark Fall,” several spaceships hovering in orbit were destroyed, and the terraforming technology they carried has transformed Earth and its inhabitants. Governments have fallen and risen again, allowing many humans and Votans to test the boundaries each day. Some of the plots are soapy, but deliciously so, equipped with heroes to root for and villains to love-hate, while unlikely alliances help to drive its unusual narratives. The humor is addictive, especially regarding the Castithan species’ strikingly amorous nature (bathing alone is considered “weird”). The scenic landscapes and thrilling creature designs also deserve props, and you gotta love another SyFy show that invents its own vulgar slang; Battlestar Galactica had “frakking” cuss words, but we think Defiance is the “shtako!”
What’s my next step? If you currently enjoy Defiance, other SyFy Channel shows like the now defunct Battlestar Galactica and Caprica, and the more recently Certified Fresh Helix might interest you. In 1983, the miniseries V was a pop-culture hit about an alien invasion on Earth, leading to a follow-up miniseries (V: The Final Battle) and a full season as a TV show (1984/85). The franchise had a similar theme to Defiance, but it was set in contemporary times. The 2009 re-imagining of V lasted two years, the premiere season of which earned a fresh Tomatometer score of 71 percent. On the film scope, John Carpenter’s They Live is a great aliens-on-earth movie, and Alien Nation, while not as critically acclaimed, was popular enough to result in a television series of its own. The Alien film series is always a good choice as, of course, are the Star Wars and Star Trek films. Since Defiance was the first TV show to premiere simultaneously with a coinciding video game, you may want to try your hand at that, especially now that users are able to play for free. There is also a web series of minisodes at Defiance.com.
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