The Expanse - Myth-Weavers


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The Expanse

   
The Expanse

I'm not sure we've all taken a moment to fully appreciate that the single greatest sci-fi show of all time is currently lurking on Amazon Prime after being rescued from the Syfy channel last year.

If you haven't watched The Expanse yet - and, for what it's worth, I finished season three about twenty-five seconds before writing this post - do yourself a favor and get on that. Very few of you will be disappointed, I would wager.

I got partway through the first season, but the show just failed to grab me, possibly because I already knew what was going on from the books. Looked like a really solid production, if I hadn't already been so familiar with the material, I would have had a far greater chance of getting hooked.

I had no familiarity with the books.
So I had no clue what was going on.
And I had no attachments to the characters.
And the dialects, while an interesting idea, frankly, needed subtitles.
With nothing to grab onto, I saw no reason to spend any time watching past the first 20 minutes. Normally I only give a show 10, but this had such a reputation...

Then again, I abandoned Lost in 10 minutes, Breaking Bad within 20, and TV shows just aren't made for my taste anymore.

Compare the first episode of Expanse with the pilot of Babylon5. From the opening scene, the Pilot explained a complicated political scenario and gave a variety of complex characters an introduction and explained their motivations. The Expanse said "here's a character" every 2-5 minutes, but didn't really give us much substance to them because it was constantly bouncing around several different locations. And since 4 or 5 of them were "scruffy white guy", not even visuals helped to differentiate them. Furthermore, vital information was made extremely difficult to understand because of slurred dialog & accents.
For all that I hate Seth MacFarlane's constant potty humor and the sitcom format, The Orville is a far more interesting and accessible show.

Oh man! I enjoyed the show so much I started the books. Almost finished with Season 3 now, and I'm hooked.

Wait until you finish, Khakhan! You'll be champing at the bit for season four to come out later this year just like I am.

I hadn't read the books, Leon, so I didn't have that experience, but I can see how it could be jarring (as it was for me with Game of Thrones).

And without trying to sound too terrible here, Magellan, you don't really like much of anything, so I'm not surprised you don't like this either. Anyone who inexplicably hates Breaking Bad but (also inexplicably, I would argue) likes The Orville is a tough customer to aim programming at.

Hey now, The Orrville is actually pretty good.

Oddly, I never had the same problem with Game of Thrones, probably because I was specifically watching it with one of my best friends who never read the books and watching him spin mostly incorrect theories about what was going on was just too entertaining.

I would love to find a show I enjoy. I really would. Sadly, the rule that 99% of everything is crap holds very true.

The Expanse might be good. It really might. Here's what I would have done: pick a location. Bouncing from locale to locale every 5 pages might work in a book, but this is television. So, set episode 1 in one location. Refer to others all you want, but set episode 1 in one location. Tell a story there. Start episode 2 in the same location, but then introduce another location and start telling that story. Continue. Build up the locations one by one so we actually can get anchored in a world and care about the characters. All "bounce bounce bounce" does is divorce me from the situation and piss me off. Again, compare the first episode of The Expanse with the Pilot of Babylon5. Which one does a better job? (It's the one that doesn't have the nauseating camera through the asteroid caves pan&dive shot.)

Breaking Bad started with the cardinal sin of opening en media res and flashing back to the start. I know that's been fashionable for years now, but it is at best overused. What that really tells me is that you know your opening is weak, and you desperately want to hook me in. Then the show flashes back, and spends way, way, waaaaaayyyyyy too much time showing what a whiny spineless loser the main character was. And way too much sitting around the breakfast table wasting time. Also, there were no likable characters introduced. You can have a smeg-head as the main character, but if there's no one that I like (even if they're evil like Francis Urquart), then I have no reason to get interested in the show.

The Orville is a sitcom version of Star Trek, and it is the only thing remotely approaching what Star Trek should be since season 2 of Enterprise. That said, there are ways that they could certainly improve it--like being subtle for once instead of delivering every joke like a sledge hammer. Imagine if, instead of that exchange about soda on the bridge, there was just the pilot drinking the soda, and everyone staring at him "What? It isn't against the regulations if the captain doesn't mind." Follow that with the next episode and everyone has a beverage in one hand--and even sips it during the flight scene. Follow that with the next episode somehow introducing cup holders to all the bridge stations. No need to hang a lantern on it--just have it in the background. Also, the divorced relationship bit gets old really fast.
Honestly, I could go on and on. The thing is, in spite of all the flaws with "humor", the show itself is actually interesting, entertaining, and fun. The characters are a lot more believable (for a sitcom universe), and the stories are timely, compelling, and entertaining. The world-building (so far--only on episode 8) has been strong. They haven't tried to vomit tons of information into a diuretic stream, but done bit by bit, episode by episode. So I can get past the flaws and enjoy it for what it is.

I haven't read the books. I'm part-way through Series 3. It's good, and I'm enjoying it a lot.

I don't find it at all difficult to follow what is going on, though obviously the first series is pitched as a mystery and the plot take a few odd turns. Some of the characters are easier to like than others. I don't actually find Holden, for example, that great, I kind of preferred Miller. Avasarala was much more fun. Bouncing around a lot of locations wasn't really a big deal for me. Honestly, at the start, there are only a couple. I barely even noticed the dialects until Series 3... weirdly, I quite liked them as a subtle way of adding realism to the setting at the start, but found them a bit jarring then - I think perhaps because there are more belters in Series 3 with stronger accents?

Frankly I'd rather that shows didn't limit locations or characters or leave out setting flavour just for the sake of dumbing it down for us... you can tell an interesting in just one location with as few as maybe one character if the writing is good, but I don't want every story to be like that, and it is called "The Expanse" - shrinking it down to something decidedly un-expansive feels like it would be pretty anathema to the whole premise.

I'm not sure what in particular I like about it. It's got a decent plot, decent characters, a decent mix of action and intrigue... none of that really stands out particularly, but it's also pretty well put-together, with some great scenes. It's also nice to see a mostly-hard sci-fi with a level of realism; it really does make you feel like space is a hostile place and not just a backdrop (contrast e.g. Star Wars which basically may as well not be in space), zero-gravity is a thing which people have to deal with, etc etc.

You stole the words out of my mouth, Fred. Well put.

I've always had the feeling that Holden is supposed to be just a bit annoying. Yeah, he grows on you after a while, but his constant fixation on being the hero gets kind of old. Certainly the characters outside the main crew react to him that way, even the crew does at times.







 

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