Survivors (2008) Episode 3

It’s been a while since I did a write-up for this Survivors; I guess I had a lot going on and got a bit sidetracked. Recently, I got hooked on a U.S. based reality show called The Colony, in which people are made to live in a situation resembling a post-apocalyptic virus outbreak; I immediately thought of Survivors. A lot has happened in the first few episodes of Survivors, and now that the main cast is all together, it’s time to break everyone up into little groups to look into the inner-workings of their characters. In the last episode, we had things like Al finally opening up – moments like this are really the best thing the show can offer. We get two such occurrences in this episode:  Abby in one case, and Greg and Tom in another.

In the first half of the story, Greg and Tom come across a family that has somehow managed to stay isolated during the viral outbreak. The father of this family goes to insane lengths to protect his family, such as forcing his kids to stay inside at all times. If he sees any living creature, whether it is an animal or human, it needs to be killed to preserve their unaffected status. He bathes in harsh chemicals if he steps outside, and burns his clothes afterwards. This is all done because he loves his kids, but this extreme nature does nothing but bite him, when he attacks Greg and Tom. They are forced to hide in this man’s barn for a bit after their car is destroyed, and accidentally expose the daughter to the virus. This brings up a very bad situation where the father must choose for the daughter to leave with two unknown strangers, or to stay there and possibly kill the rest of the family.

After seeing some terrible new 2012 inspired American TV shows such as Doomsday Preppers, the attitude of the father makes me a bit sad. His paranoia for the unknown nature of the virus makes his entire family miserable, and resent him. In the aforementioned program, people hoard food, make ridiculous precautions, make their kids run paramilitary drills and other stuff that seems to be a great idea, but as Survivors illustrates, would just end up failing anyway.

The other half of the episode sees Abby coming across a haven for other survivors while she is out looking for her son. This camp is run by Samantha Willis, possibly one of the few government heads left alive after the virus hit. While the place initially looks like a utopia as it has food, electricity, and multiple survivors of all ages, it has a dark secret. These people don’t like outsiders, and have a warlike relationship with a group of marauders that are trying to share the wealth. Problems like the viral epidemic seem to bring out the worst in people, a running theme in this show, and a place like this colony go from being awesome to just as bad as the gang that our characters met with in episode two.

I liked this episode a lot because of the above situations the characters are forced into. The story of the little girl is heartbreaking, and was the highlight of the show drama-wise for me. I’ve seen other shows recently like Outcasts that try to be an interesting drama with a bit of science fiction flavor, but end up being a glorified snuff film to make the audience feel bad. These gruesome acts take the place of good writing, but fail to do anything for me. Survivors doesn’t rely on shock tactics and we see a bit of the other side of drama – warmth. The scenes were the remaining Survivors help build a chicken coop while Abby, Tom, And Greg are out gives this slow a glimmer of hope, and that’s why I can always come back to it.

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Outcasts (2011) Episode 2

The main point of my previous review was that episode one of Outcasts was utterly depressing, so depressing that it seemed like a worthy companion to all those shows about compulsive hoarding. In one episode, the producers and writers played multiple games of bait and switch on us, leading me to have no idea who the main character was. “oh look, I better pay attention to these guys” DEAD! “wait, maybe that person will be important later in the sh..” DEAD! “What about…” DEAD! I know some shows start killing off hoards of characters for dramatic effect throughout a story to build drama, but leaving half of the initial introduced cast in the first episode either dead or mortally wounded? Onward to episode two, I guess.

Episode two thankfully does what episode one should have done- it introduces us to things like backstory, character development, and gives the viewer a firmer grasp on the setting. In the previous episode, I really had no idea what the planet of Carpathia was like. At first I was lead to believe it was a desert planet based on a random sandstorm that happened, and the presence of dunes, only to find out it had vegetation and rocky hillsides. Confusing things like this made the first episode seem weird and disjointed, and not in a mysterious Lost sort of way.

This episode also introduces us to another group of people on the planet, a group of “Outcasts” who I assume are going to be the main antagonists of the citizens of Forthaven. We find out that Forthaven once had far more people than it currently does, and a virus outbreak drove them away. More specifically, they were slated to be executed, but were let go. These people resent the settlers, and want revenge.

Sadly, while there is character development present, nobody really breaks the archetypical mold they are set into, and as a result we have a cast of one-dimensional characters doing utterly predictable things. Present are characters like the wise captain, the motherly older woman, the hot-headed military man, the snake in the grass, the punk teenager, and many more. It is because of this that most of the characters feel like chess pieces created to achieve the goal of a story rather than fleshed out humans in a real world. For me, the character of Cass was the only character that I cared about in episode one. I thought he was going to be the comic relief character at first, only to find out that he’s much more valuable to the story. With the introduction of a super-creepy guy like Julius to throw disarray into the camp, I can see a glimmer of hope for later episodes.

While I didn’t hate episode two of Outcasts, It isn’t out of my doghouse quite yet. It seems that it has finally found its footing on the teetering platform of watchability, and is pretty close to being entertaining. As long as they don’t kill of these good characters I like, and people start doing things outside of their archetype I think this show could be salvageable.

Outcasts (2011) Episode 1

I was strolling through Netflix’s new release list for streaming movies, and noticed that the eight part BBC science fiction drama Outcasts had been added. I originally heard about this particular show by way of commercials for BBC America’s weekend sci-fi block, but never got around to watching it for some reason. To be honest another new show called Bedlam sort of scared me away from the block for a while. This program is definitely closer to “hard science fiction” than the material I usually look at on here, in that it has very little “fantasy” elements in it. The story centers around a colony on Planet Carpathia, a planet five years travel time from Earth. The residents of Carpathia, mostly located in a settlement called Forthaven, escaped Earth to run away from a pending nuclear holocaust.

While I’m not familiar with a lot of the cast of this show, I did recognize a few people. Within the first few minutes we meet Cass Cromwell, as played by Daniel Mays. Mays also played Jim Keats in Ashes to Ashes and Alex in A Doctor Who episode called “Night Terrors”. I also recognized Liam Cunningham who plays President Richard Tate from tons of movies and TV shows, I think most recently from Harry Brown.  Cunningham is also in Games of Thrones, but I haven’t seen any of that show to vouch for how substantial his role is.

My first impression of Outcasts is that it is cut from the same cloth as far more popular shows like Battlestar Galactica (2004), Stargate Universe (2009), and even Earth 2 (1994) in that it relies far much more on drama than the actual science fiction elements involved. One episode in, and this show could have honestly been set on Earth with very little difference in the plot. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it’s a bit drab (in both setting and plot), but it’s pretty close to how I feel.

My first problem is that the planet is a bit uninspired; it’s basically just a desert-like mountainous region somewhere (I think they filmed in South Africa). Nothing really jumps out and says *ALIEN PLANET!* Even guys behind shows with terrible budgets such as Hyperdrive had the sense to make the sky red or something. I know I have dealt with things like the endless Canadian deciduous forest planets in Stargate SG1, or the many rock quarry planets in the old Doctor Who, but at least they had creepy aliens in them to suspend disbelief. The production on this show basically stuck some plasma screen TV’s in a few rooms of a desert colony, and BOOM –finished.

If episode one is any indication, this show is going to be depressing. It pulls no punches at all with people going crazy, people getting killed, and a multitude of other bleak situations. I wasn’t a fan of the recent Battlestar Galactica for this very reason, and really hope that this isn’t the norm from here on out. While the show has promise, I feel that this introductory episode tried way too hard to be as dramatic as it could be, as if it saw all the dramatic elements from other shows and decided to use them all at once. This episode introduced too many characters at once, did a poor job of fleshing out the world, and sandbags the viewer with enough bad stuff to make one of those sad Sarah McLaughlin commercials look tame. I’m going to hang in there, and watch more, but Outcasts really needs to kick it up a notch.

BBC Commissions New Scifi Drama

This sounds like it may be good.  Great to see the hole left by the end of Ashes to Ashes being filled.  From a Press release:

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Following on from the innovative and era-defining hits Spooks, Hustle and Life On Mars, Kudos Film & TV is moving into another new world. BBC One has commissioned a new eight-part drama series, Outcasts.

Created by Ben Richards (Spooks, The Fixer, Party Animals), Outcasts is set on a recently-discovered planet and tells of the dilemmas, loves and lives of a group of people setting up a new world.

This life-sustaining planet is now home to the surviving population from Earth. Here there is a chance to start again, to bring the lessons learnt from Earth and to put them into action on a new planet.

Set in 2040, Outcasts begins on the day the last known transporter from Earth arrives, prompting great excitement on the new planet: Who is on board? Friends and loved ones? Important supplies and news from Earth? But also many questions: Will the new people bring the problems of Earth with them? Will the mistakes that destroyed Earth be repeated? Will the arrival of a new, would-be leader, rock the fragile and precarious equilibrium of our fresh, unified and courageous new world?

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Sounds a bit like Survivors, but I’ll definitely try to check it out.