TV Review: Syfy’s ‘Ascension’

Ascension TV Review Syfy

Big, ambitious and more than a little weird, Syfy’s “Ascension” is being billed as a three-night limited-event series, which is misleading at best. That’s in part because this strange project ultimately feels more like a teaser for the hoped-for series to come, as its intriguing premise carries through the first two chapters before beginning to unravel in the third. Those who board the flight will likely be curious enough to want to see the trip through to its conclusion, but while there are strands of “Battlestar Galactica” in the project’s DNA, the idea never ascends to that level.

Granted, it’s not every day that you run across a miniseries rooted in the 1960s, and a super-secret century-long mission — birthed during the Kennedy administration — to launch an ark filled with 600 people, into space. Fifty-one years later, two generations have grown up aboard the facility, adopting their own unique rituals and culture, and having developed an elaborate “Titanic”-like caste system that consists of the privileged class above and those who occupy the “lower decks.”

This de facto colony is rocked, however — in a fashion that vaguely recalls “Twin Peaks” — by a mysterious murder. And an introduction to Harris Enzmann (Gil Bellows), the son of the scientist who dreamt up the project, raises questions about the true nature of the mission.

Created by “Smallville” alum Philip Levens (who shares story credit with Adrian A. Cruz), directed by Stephen Williams and scheduled for maximum impact on consecutive nights, “Ascension” initially mixes genuinely clever twists with what amounts to a semi-claustrophobic soap opera, casting Tricia Helfer (a tangible link to “Battlestar”) as the scheming wife of the spaceship’s fearless leader, Capt. William Denninger (Brian Van Holt), with Brandon P. Bell as the officer who has begun an affair with a woman who, under the ship’s breeding rules, is forbidden to him.

Yet as the mythology mounts, some of the parallel plots become considerably less interesting, even as Levens keeps piling on additional sci-fi riffs and cliches, including an unexpected detour into “Carrie” territory. By the time night three rolls around, it’s all become too chaotic, culminating in a manner that — while clearly intended to whet one’s appetite for more — merely creates a sense of having been jerked around only to be left dangling.

The most serious flaw, though, is that for all the drama surrounding the characters, relatively few resonate. And while perpetuating the species is an understandable goal for these hardy sojourners, for viewers, it’s small compensation that the travelers find an awful lot of time to have sex — almost never with designated partners — given everything else that’s happening.

In the broad strokes, it’s hard not to admire Syfy’s bet on something of this magnitude without the sort of built-in following or name recognition that’s normally considered a prerequisite to such a launch. Even “Galactica,” after all, was a reboot of an existing title.

It’s just that after the novelty begins to wear off, “Ascension” increasingly looks better from orbit than it does up close.

TV Review: Syfy's 'Ascension'

(Miniseries; Syfy, Mon.-Wed. Dec. 15-17, 9 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in Montreal by Sea to Sky Prods. in association with Lionsgate Television and Universal Cable Prods.

Crew

Executive producers, Philip Levens, Jason Blum, Ivan Fecan, Tim Gamble, Brett Burlock, Mark Stern; supervising producer, Ronald Gilbert; director, Stephen Williams; writer, Levens; story, Levens, Adrian A. Cruz; camera, Pierre Gill; production designer, Jean Francois-Campeau; editor, Simon Webb. 6 HOURS

Cast

Brandon P. Bell, Brian Van Holt, Tricia Helfer, Al Sapienza, Tiffany Lonsdale, Andrea Roth, Jacqueline Byers, PJ Boudousque, Ryan Robbins, Gil Bellows

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  1. I want more. I want more. I want to know what happens after the teleportation.

  2. Dude says:

    I was disappointed the big twist was revealed on the first night. I would have much rather believed they were in space until very end. I agree not much room for a series here since that is revealed and the pupppet master has lost all his power

  3. Mr. B says:

    I for one loved this show. I told everyone at work about it, and we have been re-hashing it ever since. I really like the premise and all of the twists. We finally find out who the real killer is (at the very end), so in a sense, there was closure there. I am very curious about how all that moisture will interact with the 60’s tech resistors and such. Kind of a bad idea even though it worked out of desperation and “made it rain”.

    I really enjoyed the show. I hope they make a series out of it. I will watch it and I think it will get viral popularity.

  4. cdhaskell says:

    We both know that it is Syfys cute way of turning a 3 night show into a regular series out of it. Our 6 hours is gone like the wind.

  5. beakone says:

    Major disappointment. 3 nites of excitement leading absolutely nowhere. Leaving the viewer so little substance in the ending it moves you to anger. Like a flight crashing 100 yards after takeoff. Who can give me my 6 hours back?

  6. cdhaskell says:

    I got a sad feeling that the 3 night episode is a cute way to built the pilot showcase for the future SCFi series.

  7. where is the rest what a bummer cliffhanger ending again

  8. Alan D. says:

    “Limited” is an undertstaement.Words fail to describe how horrible this mess is. Starting out as a cheap imitation Battlestar Galactica, it turns into a cheap imitation Truman Show, with none, as in zero, of the wit, intelligence, logic or quality writing and directing of either. Preposterous and overwrought, I cannot imagine this white elephant of a production extending into a series. At least the producers got a nice Canadian subsidy to make it.

    • I agree with Alan D. I got a feeling that if Ascension become a hit oversea that Syfy will make it into series when it look at the DVD sales and how many people DVR.

      • I got a feeling that the only way that this limited series don’t become a regular series if it is a big bomb. I remember how oversea sell help save a series from being canceled. Look at how many people are now DVR/VCR a series everyday. Good luck in 2015.

  9. eric veltri says:

    Stupid series: either launch or get off the air.

  10. Dora Polanco says:

    It started out slow and boring. Part 2 got better. It’s almost like “SnowPiercer”. Then I couldn’t believe that they had to make a political statement about gay lifestyle.If the ship is going to need a multi generational crew then it won’t go very far if the crew dies off with a gay crew. It looks like the story was trying to add some spice with the nudity but the story is still a little tedious.Then out of no where they add a supernatural twist in a science fiction story by adding a ghost and a girl with super powers without explaining why she can spontaneously develop powers.

  11. Eric Veltri says:

    With 15 minutes left in the first night the show revealed that the whole journey wasn’t a journey at all but some elaborate social science experiment. At that point I turned off the TV and went to bed feeling angry at being duped into believing I would be seeing a good hard core Scify show which was nothing more than a pointless soap opera.

  12. Bryan Kidder says:

    There has to be a plan to finish the story. There were too many unanswered questions at the end of episode 3.

  13. David Hayes says:

    I don’t see this as a series. Unlike the reviewer, I think people would probably have sex a lot out of boredom and lack of entertainment. There is a lot of time to kill on a 100 year mission. More importantly, it’s there to draw in an audience. What I don’t buy is the concept that these people in a bottle would generate advanced technology. Brilliant or not, they wouldn’t have a world full of people to generate ideas that could be built upon and the cost benefit of mass production to manufacture a series of new and better versions of a product to make something more advanced than a world full of people could create. And how smart could those original people be to be fooled into thinking that they experienced being transported to that huge spaceship and really were launched into space? Or were the original people in on the big lie without letting on to their offspring what was going on? My suspension of disbelief got suspended! I did guess the possibility of the ship not actually being in space before that was revealed, so it wasn’t a big surprise for me, but it did make me think that the show wouldn’t work long term as a series with this set up. It’s like a prison show with the twist that the people imprisoned committed no crime. That makes it a little like “Under the Dome” as well as the “Twin Peaks” theme that I felt just like the reviewer. It does make me think that the experiment on humans could be a milder version of what Nazi scientists did in WWII and would people who fought the Nazis allow themselves to mimic their behavior by building this human ant farm? We just want the people to get out, but could they make that kind of adjustment? It also makes me think about whether or not our experience is an experiment — trapped on this spaceship Earth with a limited resources and huge numbers of crazy people living by or defying societal standards that don’t make any real sense if they could be viewed from a larger perspective. At least it got me thinking and I’m very happy with it as a 3 part series. I just hope they don’t turn it into a long, torturous soap opera.

  14. elgianne says:

    Reading this review was painful. I think the show has promise.

    A lot more promise than this review, that’s for sure.

  15. Donna says:

    The writers emphasized introducing too many characters at once which has the effect of not making care about them. Also, the actor playing the doctor has so much botox in her face that the writers will be forced to reveal her as an android! LOL!

  16. Sangre Sed says:

    Why the continuous extremely bright white lighting and glaring whites. It is so very annoying and almost painful to the eyes to watch this show. Stupid decision. I guess someone told the director over the top brightness is futuristic…common sense use common sense please!

  17. Jared K. says:

    Another half-assed review from variety; why am I not surprised?

  18. I hope that Syfy got a winner on it hand and I hope that there will be a second season.

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