The description of “Defiance” as a “transmedia” event arouses suspicion from the get-go. Strip away the jargon, and this Syfy series has been developed in concert with an online game, offering a modern variation on “He-Man” cartoons that pushed toys. The difference is that this caters to (young) adults, mashing up sci-fi concepts into a nondescript TV program whose visual effects are infinitely more enterprising than its characters. For all but the subset willing to buy in and participate on multiple levels, think of the “Star Wars” cantina scene stretched into a series, then perhaps think about watching something else.
A spoken prologue helps explain (not very well) the elaborate backstory, about eight alien races having descended on Earth and blasted the hell out of the place. The series picks up 15 years after an armistice was declared, leaving the disparate survivors trying to make a go of living together in harmony, albeit with a kind of “Road Warrior”-meets-“Star Trek” vibe.
The central character, Joshua (Grant Bowler, fresh off playing the perpetually drunk half of the Lifetime movie “Liz & Dick”), is an ex-Marine with an adopted alien daughter (Stephanie Leonidas). Their travels bring them to the outpost known as Defiance, a mining town set up on the remnants of what was St. Louis, which, frankly, never looked better.
Of course, it helps that almost all the aliens are humanoid in form, limiting the makeup requirements upon the poor actors. But there’s no obscuring the fact the first flurry of episodes introduce a bunch of characters the audience has little reason to care about, some of whom happen to have strange physiognomy and customs.
Like “Battlestar Galactica,” the show skirts profanity by coining new words that obviously connote better-known ones (“Promises are shtako“), and there are some big action sequences — which look at least as good as what Fox’s since-extinct “Terra Nova” conjured, on a likely bigger budget — to go with the soapy shenanigans.
The other residents include Julie Benz as the mayor, Graham Greene, and Tony Curran and Jaime Murray as an alien couple with shadowy motives. If only they had more to do in the premiere scripted by Rockne S. O’Bannon (“Farscape”), Kevin Murphy (a “Desperate Housewives” alum) and Michael Taylor, a veteran of “Galactica” and its spinoffs.
Granted, “Defiance” isn’t any worse than some of the so-so international imports Syfy has picked up to add original spice to its lineup, but the ingenuity that went into the process of conceiving the game and show together — as well as the nifty look, visual effects and makeup — simply aren’t matched by similar effort regarding story and plot.
Sure, the show might help push the game, but viewed strictly on its own, it’s pretty much just more of the same old shtako.
(Series; Syfy, Mon. April 15, 9 p.m.)
Cast: Grant Bowler, Julie Benz, Stephanie Leonidas, Tony Curran, Jaime Murray, Graham Greene, Mia Kirshner.
Filmed in Toronto by Universal Cable Prods. Executive producers, Kevin Murphy, Michael Taylor, Rockne O’Bannon; co-executive producer, Norman Morrill; supervising producer, Michael Nankin; producers, Clara George, Anupam Nigam; director, Scott Stewart; writers, O’Bannon, Murphy, Taylor; camera, Attila Szalay, Tom Burstyn; production designer, Steve Geaghan; editor, Andy Seklir; music, Bear McCreary; casting, Junie Lowry-Johnson, Libby Goldstein. 60 MIN.