×

TV Review: ‘Defiance’

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.

Defiance

(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.

Popular on Variety

TV Review: 'Defiance'

More TV

  • Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attends a

    Bolsonaro LGBTQI Outburst, Subsidy Freeze, Stirs Outrage

    Ramping up the drive into censorship in Brazil, its Minister of Citizenship, Omar Terra, has suspended a call for applications for governmental TV funding – until new criteria are established for its application. The country’s secretary for culture, Henrique Pires, who reports to Terra, has resigned in protest of the incentive freeze. The suspension, for [...]

  • Shanta Fripp Claudia Milne Jon Tower

    'CBS This Morning' Names New Director, Managing Editor and Senior Producer

    “CBS This Morning” has made three key staff appointments as the show’s new leadership team settles in. Shanta Fripp, an 18-year CBS News veteran, has been named director of the weekday broadcast. Claudia Milne has joined CBS News from ProPublica as managing editor while Jon Tower has been upped to senior broadcast producer. “I’m thrilled [...]

  • Sean Spicer DWTS

    Sean Spicer Will Make Six Figures for 'Dancing With the Stars'

    Sean Spicer could waltz away with a nice payday if he wins “Dancing With the Stars.” According to multiple sources, contestants on the ABC competition series make $125,000 for the show’s rehearsal period and their first two weeks on the air. If they make it to week three and beyond, they begin to earn additional [...]

  • Sean Spicer Dancing With the Stars

    Sean Spicer's 'Dancing With the Stars' Casting Is a Terrible, Cynical Ratings Grab (Column)

    ABC’s announcement that its newest “Dancing With the Stars” cast will feature Sean Spicer, former press secretary for Donald Trump and frequent punchline, got immediate heat. The show’s tweet sharing the news was immediately flooded with derision and calls for reconsideration given the fact that Spicer gained his modicum of fame from defending some of [...]

  • Channel 4's Dorothy Byrne Calls on

    Channel 4's Dorothy Byrne Calls on Broadcasters to 'Get Serious'

    Broadcasters can arrest their fall in ratings by making “really clever and difficult programs,” according to Dorothy Byrne, Channel 4’s head of news and current affairs, who delivered the keynote MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Wednesday night. Speaking to an Edinburgh auditorium packed with many of the U.K.’s most senior executives, Byrne said [...]

  • 50 Cent Power S6 Premiere

    50 Cent, Snoop Dogg & Trey Songz 'Power' Up New York City for Massive Season 6 Premiere

    “Power” is entering its final season, but you would never know if you walked by Madison Square Garden in Manhattan on Tuesday night. Starz pulled out all the stops for its ratings powerhouse “Power,” throwing a massive premiere event, complete with a full-length concert at Madison Square Garden from Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and a [...]

  • AT&T TV

    AT&T TV: An Unskinny Streaming Bundle That Looks a Lot Like Traditional Pay TV

    AT&T this week launched AT&T TV, a new subscription streaming television service that uses an Android-based internet set-top, in 10 markets. But the way it’s priced and packaged looks very similar to cable and satellite TV services — in other words, AT&T TV isn’t targeted at the cord-cutter crowd. It’s basically designed as a way [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content