ABC debuted its space soap Defying Gravity last night, and our optimism that Ron Livingston could pull off the Astro-McDreamy role turned out to be sadly misplaced. Sadly, the space exploration fell flat, and the drama was dull. Spoilers below.
The main premise of ABC's new space drama starts off simple enough. Eight astronauts, four men and four women, are being sent on a six year mission, to explore the solar system and seven planets total. But the truth behind the mission is hidden behind the doors of Pod 4 and the mysterious Beta.
Moments after the ship takes flight, two of the men suddenly acquire suspicious heart murmurs. The ground crew backhandedly starts to talk about a strange entity on the space shift known only as "Beta." The Beta, it seems is the cause of said murmurs, and wants to take these two guys out so Ron Livingston and his other buddy (who is currently dating one of the ground bosses for this mission) can take their place. Sadly for these two guys, their past is checkered with disaster. They "left" two astronauts on Mars, causing shame to fall on ISO (which is Defying Gravity's NASA) plus the two seem to have slept with two other female astronauts in the mission... drama!
From here, the series jets back into a lot of flashback scenes where you see how the crew was assembled, and more importantly, who slept with whom. We discover that Laura Harris' character (Zoe Barnes) qA probably pregnant with Livingston's (Maddux Donner) child — abortions now being illegal in this near future. She slips under the radar during training "with child," because while this near future has figured out how to build massive space suits that let humans walk on Venus, construct space stations that look like a new-age hotels and build all sorts of clever new technology — they still don't know how to identify a pregnant woman. Also they let another astronaut, who may or may not be an alcoholic, (the doctor, Evram Mintz) join the team. Great vetting, future world!
But the trivial issues could be overlooked if it weren't for the insane dramatics that not only make zero sense, are insulting to even the most brain-spannered viewers. I think this was best demonstrated in the scene below, where Maddux tells his alcoholic father that he'll be taking the place of one of the astronauts in the six year mission....
His son wasn't a professional baseball player, instead he's an Astronaut — what a huge disappointment. Pour me a drink as well, because I'm not sure I can watch another second of this ridiculous drama.
And yet it goes on. Together the team, who are all completely oblivious to the real "Beta" mission they've been sent on (apart from Malik Yoba, who plays the role of Ted Shaw, husband to the boss lady in ground control) continue on their journey. Stopping only for small disasters that are all deemed to have been "fated" by the higher ups. Why did so and so almost die? Because Beta wanted to point out the leak in the Venus suit while they were testing it out, so there's your answer to that.
The series is recognizeably the work of show creator James D. Parriott, who is known for his work on hospital drama Grey's Anatomy. For those of you Grey's virgins, this means lots of sad songs over montages of pouty faces, that on other series would make you get teary eyed, Extreme Home Makeover style — but in this space drama, it means nothing. It's totally devoid of emotion, due to the fact that the viewer knows nothing about these new characters — nor do we even understand what it is this crew is doing in space. And the mystery behind it all is so laden with religious guesstimating and talk about destiny that it all starts to feel way too contrived.
Basically, Defying Gravity is trying too hard to be everything and needs to commit to something, to give the show an identity. Right now, the confessional reveals from each crew member feel too Virtuality, the characters are too close to a poor person's ER docs and Grey's rip offs, and the biggest draw, Livingston, has yet to hit his stride. It's time to turn on the charm, Ron, cause for the few moments you were hitting on the little blond Top Gun style I was interested, more of that please.
Bottom line: We didn't learn enough about Beta, or any of the characters, to convince me to tune into the next episode, and I really want to like the adorable Zoe and her possible pregnancy problem. Can this show be saved? Yes — if it figures out what it is, a space mystery or a space drama. Sadly right now, it's not succeeding at being either.