Months before Fox’s “Terra Nova” braves the “colonists facing strange, foreboding world” sci-fi template, BBC America explores similar terrain with “Outcasts,” an intriguing if not wholly satisfying drama whose premise remains more beguiling than its cast two episodes in. Another post-apocalyptic vision, the series poses the usual questions about whether small bands of humans can overcome the baser aspects of their nature that unleash so much conflict here on Earth. There’s a bit of “Lost” in all this, though the jury’s out on whether “Outcasts” deserves to be found.
The premiere opens with colonists having already spent a decade on Carpathia, an aptly named outpost (after the Titanic’s rescue ship) on a habitable planet humans have sought out in an effort to save the species. All is not serene, however, within the compound’s gates, and a vessel filled with more survivors is approaching; their ability to successfully land is a major crapshoot, given the dangerous conditions.
Overseeing it all on the ground is the colony’s president, Richard Tate (Liam Cunningham), a steadying force who has clearly been compelled to make some tough choices, the consequences of which will complicate life in due time. In the interim, he’s surrounded by an intrepid but thus far pretty nondescript gang — including an aide (Hermione Norris) harboring hopes of finding the husband and daughter she left behind — until the mysterious Julius Berger (“Ugly Betty’s” Eric Mabius) joins the party.
While not as grudging as “Lost” in disgorging its secrets, “Outcasts” leaves a lot of details for later — including, but not limited to, those surviving outside the colony, whether there is any alien life about which Tate and company ought to be concerned, and exactly why Berger constitutes a potential menace.
Other than exterior shots of the spaceship, it’s also about as low-tech as such a program can get, with the only conspicuous special effect being the foreboding landscape (as lensed in South Africa).
Joining the story a decade into the colonists’ stay does provide series creator Ben Richards (“MI:5”) an opportunity to gradually putty in the backstory, but other than Tate — thanks mostly to Cunningham’s commanding presence — it’s difficult to determine who we should care about here, beyond the littler matter of the human race’s collective survival.
BBC America will pair the program with reruns of “Battlestar Galactica,” and just for good measure, one of that program’s co-stars, Jamie Bamber, is featured in “Outcasts.”
Like “Galactica,” with mankind’s future hanging in the balance, at least nobody will have to tell Richards to “raise the stakes.” For “Outcasts” to merit continued attention, though, the micro elements are going to have to rise to the level of the macro.
If not, those visiting Carpathia might be tempted to abandon ship.