Review: SyFy Returns To Space With Mini Series ASCENSION

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Review: SyFy Returns To Space With Mini Series ASCENSION
SyFy returned to the space last night with Ascension, its first scripted space opera since Battlestar Galactica

Some 51 years after launching an interstellar spacecraft into space, the crew of the Ascension, descendants of the original crew, are almost at the point of no return on their journey to a new world. On the night of the celebration of this 51st year, a young woman is murdered. There are already hints of dissent from the lower decks. If word gets out that there has been a murder on the ship the news could shatter the fragile social structure on the ship. The crew is faced with a difficult decision. Do they turn back now and head home to Earth or continue on their 100 year journey? 

SyFy regulars Tricia Helfer (BSG) and Ryan Robbins (Sanctuary) add some familiarity to the cast. Helfer's Viondra Denninger connives and schemes to keep her husband at the head of the ship. She has a gaggle of beautiful women she uses to control the flow of information from people of influence on the ship. She herself gets in on the action and shows more skin than I was prepared for. Robbins did not have much to do in the first episode except bully some of the lower level citizens in his role as the leader of the Safety Officers, even though his wife is the sister of the murder victim. 

As far as the story goes, First Officer Gault (a very capable Brandon P. Bell is almost the lone highlight acting wise) begins to investigate the murder. There is supposed to be lots of intrigue as we are introduced to many characters from both the upper and lower decks. While it is not wholly clear what everyone's motives are after the first episode -- it defeats the purpose of stringing it out over three nights does is not? -- everyone has something at stake here. Everyone has secrets or is using each other for their own personal gains or status. 

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Harris Enzmann, son of the Ascension program founder, Abraham Enzmann, is facing his own challenges. An upstart graduate student has gone digging into the history of the program and it turns out that no one on Earth knows that Ascension was even launched back in '63. He has to put out some fires of his own if he is to keep the true nature of the mission a secret. 

And hoo boy, when the big reveal comes at the end of the first night, our perspective of the Ascension mission is turned completely on its head. Without being given the next two episodes for review, which I understand, this leaves us all in the same boat after Monday night. Of course, after this big reveal at the end I wonder how anyone could make a full series of Ascension with this plot point recurring in the background. 

But this is not the real issue I have with the mini so far. I am not concerned whether or not this makes it to series. Where my concern lies is in the strength, leading into lack thereof, of acting in this show. For every good performance, again I'd like to highlight Bell's work here, there are some other efforts that just feel strained. The imbalance is off-putting. Helfer is not doing much different a role than Number Six with the ploys and tactics, albeit with a little more skin. I am not complaining; just pointing that out. But some of the acting is questionable at best.

There is an attempt at some sort of mystical story-line with young Ellie O'Brien as Christa Valis, spouting gibberish and mumbled prophecies. The dissent between the upper and lower decks isn't that much different than, and here comes the boom, Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer and its source material, the French comic book Le Transperceneige. Both of those examples leave this plot device in Ascension floating in outer space so far. I doubt that now that I have made the comparison that this show will ever meet those expectations. 

There are lots of things that I could nit pick at. After 51 years in space everything in the upper levels is clean and everyone's clothes are springtime fresh. Where is the ship's tailor? Where do they have bolts of silk to makes Helfer's nightgowns? The CW show The 100 has done a better, and realistic, job of showing what an isolated population should look like after a lengthy period indoors. There are no senior citizens in the population. I'm getting some weird Logan's Run, put them on an ice-floe vibe here. There are just too many elements and too many questions that I know cannot be given the right amount of attention in a mini-series. 

The three-episode event began last night. Here in Canada CBC has the broadcast rights and has unwisely chosen to hold off airing the mini-series until January 2015. Until then everyone with an internet connection and a half measure of wits will have already seen it. SyFy has left the project open-ended, which means that the mini could lead to a series if it proves to be popular after these three nights. There is 51 years of back history to the Ascension mission that a series could explore. 

Ascension Night One aired on Monday, December 15th. It will re-air on Tuesday, December 16th at 7:30 followed by back-to-back-to-back airings of Night Two starting at 9pm. 
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AscensionRyan RobbinsSyFyTricia Helfer

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