In Which The Devil Remains Somewhat In The Details

The Last, Charles Dance


Childhood’s End
creator Matthew Graham

The Expanse
creators Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby

Arthur C. Clarke was not much of a writer. His first novel, Childhood’s End, was not among his best, either. It’s about some aliens who come to Earth in disguise, and then reveal that they actually look like demons. Everyone is fine with this; no one even considers it much of a coincidence that the aliens look exactly like something from Christian myth. There is no evidence of Christianity at all in Childhood’s End, I think a person may have been in a church once but it was very subtle.

The Syfy network has been run by people who know nothing about science fiction for quite awhile now. Their original programming has largely been focused on space operas and the eye for adaptations on display is mediocre at best. They took to series The Expanse, based on the novel by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, Leviathan Wakes. The resulting show is completely unwatchable, which should be no surprise given how tragically bad the source material was.

If something is a bad, implausible story, but it is a realistic tale, no one is interested in it. Bad science fiction can appropriate elements of good science fiction quite easily. Childhood’s End is a pastiche of several literary cliches mishmashed into nothing. To be fair to Arthur C. Clarke, the concept that the aliens looked like Christian demons is quite entertaining, and it’s fun to see Twyin Lannister dressed up like this:

Unfortunately, that’s all the aliens do in Childhood’s End, stand still and clomp around slightly on their hooves. Matthew Graham actually does a decent job adapting the story. In short, the aliens arrive and create a utopia for mankind. No one is really bothered by this until a bunch of children display telekenetic powers and become an extension of the master the aliens serve, which is a kind of god called the Overmind.

The only person the aliens talk to at first is Ricky (Mike Vogel) who is an American farmer. The aliens also only speak English, even when they broadcast their voices to the entire world, which seems like a fairly bizarre faux pas. They eventually reveal they are the midwives to the Overmind, and that Earth is not long for this universe.

The scientific community gives up since they all just want to frolic and be stress-free. No new discoveries appear. The one holdout is Milo Rodericks (Osy Ikhile). I’m fairly sure no one has ever been named Milo Rodericks. Ikhile does his best with the material he is given, and he is the only positive thing to come out of Childhood’s End. The other main performer, Mike Vogel (Under the Dome), is one of the worst on television, and was clearly only selected because of his Filene’s Basement version of Ryan Gosling looks.

A lot of very poignant music plays as the Overmind destroys Earth and all the people on it. I guess it is supposed to be sad, although there is a lot of whining along the way. You keep expecting someone to fight back, but they are mostly accepting of their fate. Even though we have several viable ways to evacuate Earth (see Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves), no one bothers to even attempt it. Childhood’s End makes for a very boring three-part miniseries, although I did like Charles Dance’s costume and makeup.

I mean, Childhood’s End was utterly boring to watch for the most part, and quite depressing as well. I liked the idea of going for a downer ending, but since humanity was never even given the slightest bit of hope, it did not really seem justified. There is no story of any consequence in Childhood’s End, it is more of just a concept written on a napkin and stretched out for hours and hours.

I have to give credit to Matthew Graham though. The writing was not terrible and the production values were well-above the tragic shit that usually passes for sets and costumes on the complete mess of a channel that is the Syfy network.

You know, I actually love science fiction, but not like this. I mean, maybe look into some actual books by people who can write: Greg Egan, Vernor Vinge, Stephenson, Linda Nagata, M. John Harrison, Jack McDevitt, Robert Charles Wilson. This brings me to The Expanse, which is probably the ugliest show ever to appear on television. This has to be the worst lighting ever done in any cinematic medium — half the scenes you cannot actually see who is who.

The casting is all over the place. The novel The Expanse is based on made Jim Holden’s first love interest an African woman, so the genuises behind this show decided to recast her as a hot blonde, which is completely disgusting. Steven Strait (Magic City) plays Holden, which is weird because he comes off as a sleazy douchebag and Holden is actually supposed to be quite ethical.

Continuing the parade of some of the worst actors on television is the hammy, outsized performance of Shohreh Aghdashloo, whose overwrought accent and grandstanding completely overpowers the grumbling of Detective Joe Miller (Thomas Jane).

Let’s get to the plot, where The Expanse really does not shine. In brief, the novel is about a virus called a protomolecule that infects a ship and eventually becomes a threat to Earth. You will be shocked to learn that this protomolecule turns people into zombies. Thomas Jane has this look throughout like, why am I on this fucking show? The dialogue is wretched, the performances are actually worse.

You know, I’m sorry to be negative, but Syfy needs a new direction, and adapting mediocre novels is not it. There are some great things on television. Eva Longoria’s new show wasn’t that bad, although I find it a bit sexist. Fargo was fantastic. I’m trying to think of something else, but I’m drawing a blank. Jessica Jones became kind of boring after awhile. The Last Man On Earth had a great finale. That new show with Jennifer Lopez looks decent.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“Ocean of Tears” – Monica (mp3)


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