Halfway through the pilot of “Debris,” I realized I had no idea what might be going on, both because of the show’s deliberately opaque design and its tendency to lapse into the kind of corporate conspiracy jargon that binds too many network procedurals. And yet, by the end of the pilot of “Debris,” I realized that was basically fine by me. While there’s no telling exactly where the new NBC drama will go in ensuing episodes — however convoluted, smart, or else perversely compelling — its launch is at least effectively eerie enough to excuse its otherwise basic instincts.
The series opens in a glamorous hotel, where a couple of guys (including series regular Scroobius Pip), ostensibly up to no good, are negotiating a deal for a mysterious object. We later learn that this highly coveted little shard is “debris,” a catchall term for fragments of powerful alien matter cropping up all across the world after a spaceship crash. As befits a show that immediately owes so much to “The X-Files” — not to mention “Fringe,” the sci-fi Fox show that “Debris” creator J.H. Wyman previously executive produced — “Debris” follows an odd couple pair of investigative agents. Finola Jones (a warm Riann Steele) is an efficient physicist who hasn’t lost her wide-eyed wonder, while Bryan Beneventi (Jonathan Tucker) is the hardened wiseass with a secret heart of gold. Thrown together in the pilot, Finola and Bryan quickly bond over their shared loss and insatiable curiosity for all things alien. Their easy partnership will no doubt get challenged along the way, especially after the pilot teases a shady commander (played by an unusually grim Norbert Leo Butz) and potentially surreptitious motivations. At the relationship’s start, though, it’s undeniably refreshing to watch “Debris” eschew the the genre’s more typically boring clash of ego and territory marking to let Finola and Bryan work together just fine as equals.
More than its surface-level character development, however, “Debris” sets itself apart with its canny use of special effects. Many moments in the pilot unfurl into downright chilling images, especially as more and more innocent bystanders get swept up in the creeping unease of an alien…well, if not “threat,” then at least “debilitating strangeness.” As of now, it’s unclear exactly what debris is or can do, but it seems safe to assume that every new episode might reveal startling new properties. The most pressing question at this point is whether “Debris” will be confident enough in its particular perspective to lean into a more specific tone, or if it will collapse in a pile of government conspiracy clichés. For now, though, it’s enough to switch on a network drama with a bit of spooky flair to it and hope for the creative best going forward.
“Debris” premieres Monday, March 1 at 10 pm EST.