Syfy has become known as the network of low-budget, badly written movies with crappy effects and wrestling. It’s a shame because I remember when the SciFi Channel was a ton of fun to watch, it used to be the go-to channel almost all the time. Then came crap like Sharknado and Ghost Hunters and other idiotic nonsense that drove most science fiction fans away.
Well now they’re back, or at least they’re claiming they are and leading the charge back into the hearts and minds of science fiction fans everywhere is a 3-night mini-series called Ascension. Is it any good, or just more Asylum cheap crap? Let’s see.
The story goes that back in the 60s, NASA undertook a secret mission to send a massive spaceship called the Ascension on a 100-year mission to a planet in the nearby Proxima Centauri system. 600 people were loaded on board and send off to repopulate the human race. It is never said if Earth is supposed to be destroyed, that’s the vibe that I got, but again, it isn’t directly addressed. However, 51 years into their mission, the first murder in their history occurs and XO Aaron Gault is assigned to find out who really did it. Fearing a growing unrest among the crew, Gault starts to uncover the seamy underbelly of corruption and unhappiness, of the middle generation who never knew Earth, but will never step foot on their new homeworld either, who feel that they have no future, that all of their decisions were taken away from them before they were born. But as events start to revolve around a young girl named Christa, the reality is more bizarre than they could have possibly imagined and maybe their choices are even more controlled than they thought.
There’s a lot to like here and some to dislike as well. The idea that they could have had an interstellar mission using 60s tech is actually pretty cool and they made it look like a lot of the equipment had a 60s vibe. They were watching 60s-era television and movies. Their clothes had a 60s feel. The setting felt fantastic. Where I didn’t really buy it was the culture. Yes, in 50 years it would have changed dramatically, after all, look how culture on Earth has changed in 50 years, but it changed just a little too much to be similar to Earth. You have to remember they missed the civil rights movement, the equal rights movement and a lot of things that happened on a large scale here. I just don’t buy that racism would have simply vanished and that interracial marriage would be that easily accepted in the Ascension microcosm. What I also didn’t buy, even though we should expect their technological level to increase in that time, was to have kids “texting”. Even if that’s what they were doing, they should have called it something else, to show the difference between Earth and the ship. The technology was largely anachronistic. They had advanced computers that could select the perfect mate to maximize the gene pool, but they hadn’t developed color monitors? I have to question Dr. Enzmann’s assertion that the mission has produced technological wonders for Earth when they can’t even make a decently sized cell phone. They also had to specifically make Samantha Krueger gay, even though it had no bearing whatsoever on anything in the story. What was the purpose of that? To say “hey, we have a gay character here!” It was meaningless pandering. And another thing that bugged me, when they had the breeding party and announced the people who got permission to breed, as soon as they read the names, they sent them all off to their “pods”, like it was now a race to get impregnated. Why? They still have the birth control in their arms and it will take time for the chemicals to get out of their systems!
A lot of people hated the “twist” at the end of the first night but I actually enjoyed it. I wasn’t watching Ascension because I wanted a space adventure, but because I wanted a science fiction story and you can have science fiction anywhere, not just in space.
This is a clear set up for a larger series, there are plenty of things that they just left hanging at the end, such as Christa’s powers, the decision to leave them on the ship after disaster struck and the escaped crewmember’s fate in the real world. Oh, and XO Gault is stuck on a planet a couple of light years away too. There is certainly more in the Ascension story to tell, whether they go to series or have another mini-series in the future. Hopefully they got good enough ratings to make it worthwhile to continue. For all of the problems and the undeveloped characters and the dropped storylines, there was something about Ascension that showed me that Syfy might actually be serious about science fiction again. They’ve said they’re willing to make more serious sci-fi, let’s see it. This is a good start. They’ve announced a couple of others. Let’s see more original sci-fi programming and less wrestling and pseudoscience shows. Put your cards on the table and show us what you’ve got, Syfy. I’m on board if you’re serious. Don’t let us down.