There is no denying the impressive track record of efficient, surprising, and fun science fiction programming that the BBC network has championed. Whether it is the contemporary Dr. Who, the risque Torchwood, the fast paced Primeval, the original Being Human, the intriguing Survivors or any number of other older programs--there really is a bit of everything for fans of the genre. The 2010 series "Outcasts" may be one of the more divisive of recent entries. Upon its television debut, viewers seemed to be instantly supportive or vocally dismissive. As with any TV show, people are going to think what they are going to think--but BBC ended the show after its eight episode first season run due to lack of a significant viewing audience. At once, the decision is completely understandable and somewhat disappointing. There is no denying that the show had some significant flaws, but as the episodes progressed--it seemed to be working itself out. Whether or not it would ever have developed into great television will never be known, but what we're left with is an interesting show that fell short of success.
"Outcasts" takes it basic premise from an apocalypse drama with a band of colonists in 2040 trying to survive after a catastrophic event on Earth. Arriving on a primitive new planet, the band must face the problems inherent in structuring a new society under vastly different conditions. Of course, there are different interpretations of how to build a better world and idealism, practicality, and opportunism meet with increasing frequency. On an immediate positive note, the show looks tremendous. Shot in South Africa, it is some beautiful desolation matched by better-than-average effects for a television program. But striving for a realistic tone, the show is hampered (especially initially) by lethargic pacing, ham fisted screenplays, and a perpetually downbeat feel that fails to distinguish its primary characters to any degree. The premiere, in my opinion, is especially dour bordering on uninvolving--but things tend to be shaping up by Episode 4. Then again, there are only 8 episodes.
Part of the problem seems to be that the show has a terrific premise and admirable ambitions, but seems unclear which direction to follow. The show begins with the planet already colonized, so much of the initial drama of facing a dangerous new land and surviving is muted and left unexplored. This might have made for a harrowing human drama! But still, the story might have been rife with political intrigue and struggle--but when attempting more complex story lines that might challenge the viewer, the show seems to opt for tidy solutions. I'd have liked to see a complicated and messy mythology develop over traditional soap opera conventions. Still, the characters got more fully delineated as the episodes progressed--and this certainly helped the story telling aspects of the narrative.
There are a few familiar faces including Eric Mabius (Ugly Betty) as well as a first episode assist by Battlestar Gallactica alum Jamie Bamber. As President, my favorite performance was from Liam Cunningham. But, in general, the actors do all right with the limitations of an occasionally clunky script. There's a good idea at work here, it just never particularly reaches fruition. It improves significantly as the season progresses, but whether or not it's worth a DVD investment will vary for everyone. Some may love it, some may hate it--I'm in the middle ground. I suggest catching an episode or two before committing to a DVD purchase--it is slated for an American broadcast later this month on BBC America. KGHarris, 6/11.