There have been many attempts to marry the TV and gaming worlds with interactive features that encourage viewers to immerse fully in a fantasy universe. Most don’t take. But the Syfy channel and game developer Trion Worlds are betting big — like a reported $100 million big — that their collaboration of science fiction TV show and first person shooter MMO will turn out to be a hit.
Defiance is set a mere 33 years in the future, where humans now live side by side with a number of alien races. The world looks exceptionally different than it does now, with alien technology augmenting our science, and something called the “Pale Wars” destroying much of the planet. St. Louis, it turns out, is one of the only refuges of civilization left, but those within its gated walls still have plenty to fear. Hit the jump for more on this new series, and whether it’s worth a watch.
Syfy has been offering the first fourteen minutes of the 2-hour premiere online, which might be a mistake — Defiance starts out on exceptionally shaky ground. But once you get over the oddly truncated timeline and the laborious establishing scenes, the series actually settles in and becomes pretty fun.
The future, as Defiance presents it, looks a lot like the past. It looks an awful lot like Firefly, too, with some definite homages to Battlestar Galactica (they have a word, “shtakto,” that is a stand-in for profanity in much the same way BSG used “frak”) and other sci-fi series, making Defiance more of a familiar pastiche than its own new world. But stealing the best parts of its predecessors isn’t such a bad idea, and at least Syfy is starting to reclaim the genre on which the channel was based.
The series kicks off with an introduction to the roguish former hero Nolan (Grant Bowler) and his brooding adopted alien daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas), who are more or less bandits in the Badlands. After an attack by the Spirit Riders (a race of steampunk humanoid aliens called the Irathient, of which Irisa is one), Nolan and Irisa are rescued by a few of the denizens of Defiance, the new name for St. Louis, a border town that is seeking to return to normalcy and allow humans and alien species to live together peacefully.
The special effects in the series are pretty fantastic, and even though most of the alien races are mostly human-esque, the way makeup and personalities are used to distinguish them is well-wrought. Though the series doesn’t do a great job of explaining how humans and aliens got to this point (something I ended up learning a lot about by reading the Wikipedia page instead — I do suggest you go there and check it out), it does outline and establish its characters pretty well.
Defiance has managed to collect a great cast as well: in addition to Bowler (who fans might remember from True Blood), Julie Benz plays the town mayor, with a feisty sister who is a brothel owner (played by Mia Kirshner, who I haven’t seen literal hide nor hair of since The L Word). Tony Curran and Jaime Murray are high-ranking Castithans who advise the Mayor, look like the Malfoys from Harry Potter, and have their same nefarious streak, too. Graham Greene is Rafe McCawley, a mine owner and another high-ranking citizen of Defiance, while Nicky Riordan (Fionnula Flanagan) is the beloved ex-mayor with a number of shocking secrets.
In its premiere, Defiance manages to provide a few twists, several decent fights and some genuine laughs (mostly from its supporting characters). The pilot, though playing on plenty of cliches, does set up many ways for the series to develop. It’s my understanding too that the game world and TV world will be somewhat different (the game world will take place in San Francisco), but that both will share stories that weave in and out.
Though Defiance may feel largely derivative of other sci-fi series, it does have a few charms that are its own. And for sci-fi fans who have missed having much in the way of dedicated programming in the last few years, it’s definitely worth a watch.
Defiance airs Monday, April 15th at 9 p.m. on Syfy.