TV Review: The Expanse , Season 1 (USA, 2016)

TV audiences have been yearning for a worthy successor to the hard sci-fi throne of Battlestar Galactica from the moment it left their screens. While The Expanse doesn’t quite get there, its first season serves as an impressive introduction to a universe every bit as detailed and compelling as the posterchild for prestige sci-fi TV.

Set roughly two-hundred years in the future, The Expanse sees interstellar colonization caught up in the throes of a cold war between Earth, Mars and the citizens of the asteroid belt (referred to as ‘Belters’). There are two big story threads here to follow: James Holden (Steven Strait) , a space miner who finds himself a fugitive after his ship is attacked by an forces unknown. Meanwhile, Detective Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane) is caught up in an political uprising aboard Ceres whilst investigating the disappearance of a young woman.

The dichotomy between the two leads was a central component of the novel the series is based on and showrunners Mark Fergus and Hawk Otsby have done a great job of replicating it here with James a more reluctant hero and Miller filling the role of morally-dubious anti-hero. Think Mal from Firefly and Deckard from Blade Runner, respectively.

The Expanse

The production values and special effects here really do justice to the science fiction universe of author James S.A. Corey‘s books. Like any classic sci-fi, the setting has a real ‘lived-in’ feel to it. It’s dusty, rusted and exciting to watch. It feels both unlike anything you’ve seen before and yet entirely plausible – with the imagery and direction in the series often playing off this quality.

Unfortunately, the political thriller in the foreground of the series isn’t quite as compelling. There’s a string of four or so episodes where it feels like the main plot just treads water until it closes in on the season’s climax. Every episode of The Expanse offers up something interesting to see – it’s just too often that it has little to do with the main plot.

The Expanse‘s debut season is a fascinating crash course to a rich science fiction setting more so than the next Battlestar Galactica. It’s production values and attention to detail make it easy to recommend to science fiction junkies but it feels like the series lacks the dramatic punch to hook people outside of that niche. There’s a compelling foundation here, hopefully the second season makes good on it.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)