FLAT PREMISE FALLS FLAT
(Some Spoilers Ahead) Another Life checks off a lot of boxes. There’s male characters and female characters. There’s straight, gay, bi, black, and white characters. Aliens, alien space craft, and alien artifacts abound in Another Life. The series has alien planets, black holes, and explosions. It all sounds like great science fiction, but none of it clicks.
The series kicks off when an alien object, not unlike the space craft in Arrival or the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, mysteriously appears in the United States. Of course, the United States has to send a mission to space to investigate the origins of the alien artifact. Niko Brekenridge (Katee Sackhoff, Longmire) is chosen to command the mission with a much younger crew. The old folks jokes begin as soon the crew is introduced and from there the series doesn’t get much better.
Meanwhile back on earth, another project funded by the military is trying to crack the code of the monolith…the artifact. It’s up to Erik Wallace, a scientist of something, to break the mystery of the artifact. He’s faced with all sorts of challenges mainly in the form of General Dubois and later the Secretary of Defense. Despite the roadblocks the pesky military throws his way Wallace discovers he can speak to the aliens through…colors. Apparently, aliens can’t understand anything but primary colors.
SCIENCE FICTION TROPES
Another Life is filled with tried-and true science fiction tropes. Nothing goes right for the crew of the Salvare from the very first moment they are awakened from cryogenic sleep. As an audience we’ve been trained to know if a movie is set in space things aren’t going to go according the plan. Another Life borrows from a lot of other science fiction movies, but does nothing to separate itself from those movies.
It’s just season one and the series has managed to cram in a mutiny, an Annihilation like forest, bad aliens, good aliens, aliens possessing humans, and the ship’s A.I. going a little bonkers. Although nothing has been blown out of an airlock there was mention of blowing things out of an airlock. The crew lands on one planet with disastrous results. A few episodes later the crew decides to land on another planet…with disastrous results. Finally, the crew manages to escape the forces of a black hole.
Separately each “challenge” the crew faces are not bad ideas. However, there is no sense of tension in the series. Yes, characters die in the series. These deaths are given no more time than a director would give a throw away scene destined to end up the cutting room floor. The one dimensional characters offer no reason why an audience should care if one or another character dies. It doesn’t matter because the series moves on forgetting what happened in a prior scene.
ONE DIMENSIONAL CHARACTERS
Another Life abounds in stock characters. Niko Breckenridge is the hardened leader of the group. We’re reminded in almost every episode of her past experiences in space. Niko is basically the same character Sackhoff played in Battlestar Galactica.
Cas (Elizabeth Ludlow, The Walking Dead), is the amazing pilot who was a criminal running the streets of Buenos Aires before meeting…Niko! Niko got Cas off the streets and into Star Fleet Command. Wait, that was another series.
We can’t forget Michelle (Jessica Camacho, The Flash), the bad ass chick who only thinks about herself. The entire series Michelle is only out to save her self from a mission rapidly falling apart. Like the same stock characters before her Michelle gives up her life after one speech turns her around.
The stock characters aren’t limited to space. The characters on earth are just as cardboard as the ones in space. General Dubois (Barbara Williams, Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling) is the officer in charge of the military project on earth. She doesn’t take shit from anyone least of all Erik Wallace, except when she’s taking shit from Erik Wallace.
Wallace, Shameless‘s Justin Chatwin, is the scientist who breaks the rules and ignores orders because he knows more than everyone else around him. Like all stock doctor/scientist characters, Wallace is never wrong about his deductions. We may think he’s wrong only to be shown later he was right.
Harper Glass (Selma Blair, Hellboy), is perhaps the biggest stock character of the series. Glass is a YouTube type personality who, through tenacity and grit, wrangles her way into the top secret government facility. When security forces catch her the Secretary of Defense makes a deal with her because she has…wait for it…two hundred thousand followers.
As science fiction goes, Another Life isn’t anything new. We’ve seen it all before and we’ve seen it done a lot better. Having two story lines run concurrently doesn’t help the series. If the story in space is boring the story on earth is even more boring. How many times do we have to see another story where someone gets sick and the only people who can save the day are aliens?
It’s not even enough to say on earth Wallace thinks the aliens are good, but Breckenridge knows the aliens are bad is a good story line. Again, the series has not given a reason to even care if the aliens are good or bad. One can imagine if there is a season two these two story lines would converge causing conflict (which the series is lacking in) between the space crew and the military on earth.
The biggest crime is the fact Netflix canceled better series to make room for Another Life. A series like The OA was more creative and more thought provoking than Another Life can ever be. Netflix’s Travelers lost steam in the second season, but even then the time traveling series provided more tension than Another Life. Sense 8 felt forced and had giant leaps in logic, but it still had more entertaining moments than Another Life. Although not science fiction Santa Clarita Diet and One Day at a Time deserved better than the Netflix ax. Serious questions will have to be asked and answered if Altered Carbon cancelled after season two.
Another Life my see a second season, however, the smart money would be for Netflix to cancel the series while the getting is good. Whatever the budget Netflix could use that money to bring back one of the many series its canceled in the past couple of years (Not including the Marvel shows, because that was a Disney decision).