I came up with so many possible subheads for this review. “Defying Gravity Falls Flat.” “Defying Gravity: Snark Matter.” “Defying Blah-vity.” None of these made it (lucky you), but if you’re looking for the tone of the review—well, this is going to be it.
“Defying Gravity,” ABC’s new summer drama, takes soap opera into space with all the fervor of a network that didn’t realize it was going where many have gone before. (Fun fact for the casual TV-watcher: the mission of every starship ever televised was 20% exploring space, 80% longing glances.) However, the genius marketing pitch for Defying Gravity was apparently “Grey’s Anatomy in space,” which is both accurate and—if you can recognize an oncoming train wreck when you see one—terrifying.
The show stays true to the premise, at least. As the mobile space station Antares prepares to launch on a six-year mission, the green and comely crew (inexplicably chosen for the taxing mission above all the more seasoned available astronauts) suffers some major setbacks.
Ajay and mission head Rollie both come down with a case of artery calcification that ground them just hours before launch. Rollie grumbles, has zero-gravity sex with his wife (who’s a biologist on board the Antares), and goes home. Ajay, meanwhile, paints his face with “traditional” warpaint, straps into a suit, and shoots himself out an airlock with his Ganesha statue in tow. Because he’s Indian, see?
Your show, ladies and gents!
Other cast highlights:
1. Our hero, the burnout astronaut who’s been haunted ever since he had to leave two astronauts behind during a Mars mission. It’s a chilling backstory that doesn’t bleed through into Livingston’s lackadaisical performance, even though he’s a better actor than the show requires. Your bemused look speaks for all of us, sir.
2. The feisty biologist (she sasses superior officers and gets away with it! She’s so lovable!). She likes having sex with her husband, until he has to go home. Then she just mopes around, poking rabbit DNA and providing best-friend services to the heroine.
3. Our heroine, the frailest of them all. She slept with our hero once. Then she got an abortion; now she has to stare longingly at Ron Livingston, and she hears a baby’s cries echoing constantly through the space station. Oh, won’t that teach her a thing or two!
4. The physicist. He’s slightly overweight; therefore he’s a porn addict who can’t swim! He also saves the day, on command, after the sexually aggressive German lady demands that he do something. (Nooooo comment.)
Despite having to be careful in case any of these two-dimensional character-shaped cutouts snaps right in half, the plot lumbers forward, throwing out a handy, illustrative flashback any time there’s a risk of suspense or tension.
The show does manage to hit two extended-plot points: the first is to kick Ajay out of the program because of his little interlude. I think this is a little harsh; I mean, I’d like to kick the showrunners off for thinking that Ajay’s Ganesha statue would rest snugly in his open hands in space, but hey, we all have to compromise.
(Also, the station has gravity because of nanofilaments. Also, dark matter. Also, Venus has 90 atmospheres of pressure. Also, in space, your Ganesha statue has Earth gravity, but just your Ganesha statue. It’s a thing.)
The second big plot point is the acknowledgment of some sort of vague, shadowy presence that can calcify your arteries and force you to put that overweight physicist guy on the team for some vague, shadowy reason. This tied with the other big plot point, which was that if you spit into your spacesuit, it will form an impermeable barrier that seals off leaks and is totally unaffected by the sucking, unforgiving void of space.
Emphasis on “sucking.”
In the inevitable comparisons with Virtuality, the crew-in-space pilot that Fox threw away earlier this summer, Defying Gravity comes up short in every respect. Naturally, Defying Gravity is the show that has another episode next week. Have fun with that, show! I’ll be watching (something else)!