Doomed Summer Pilots: Defying Gravity

I came up with so many possible subheads for this review. “Defying Gravity Falls Flat.” “Defying Gravity: Snark Matter.” “Defying Blah-vity.” None of these made it (lucky you), but if you’re looking for the tone of the review–well, this is going to be it.

“Defying Gravity,” ABC’s new summer drama, takes soap opera into space with all the fervor of a network that didn’t realize it was going where many have gone before. (Fun fact for the casual TV-watcher: the mission of every starship ever televised was 20% exploring space, 80% longing glances.) However, the genius marketing pitch for Defying Gravity was apparently “Grey’s Anatomy in space,” which is both accurate and–if you can recognize an oncoming train wreck when you see one–terrifying.

The show stays true to the premise, at least. As the mobile space station Antares prepares to launch on a six-year mission, the green and comely crew (inexplicably chosen for the taxing mission above all the more seasoned available astronauts) suffers some major setbacks.

Ajay and mission head Rollie both come down with a case of artery calcification that ground them just hours before launch. Rollie grumbles, has zero-gravity sex with his wife (who’s a biologist on board the Antares), and goes home. Ajay, meanwhile, paints his face with “traditional” warpaint, straps into a suit, and shoots himself out an airlock with his Ganesha statue in tow. Because he’s Indian, see?

Your show, ladies and gents!

Other cast highlights:

1. Our hero, the burnout astronaut who’s been haunted ever since he had to leave two astronauts behind during a Mars mission. It’s a chilling backstory that doesn’t bleed through into Livingston’s lackadaisical performance, even though he’s a better actor than the show requires. Your bemused look speaks for all of us, sir.

2. The feisty biologist (she sasses superior officers and gets away with it! She’s so lovable!). She likes having sex with her husband, until he has to go home. Then she just mopes around, poking rabbit DNA and providing best-friend services to the heroine.

3. Our heroine, the frailest of them all. She slept with our hero once. Then she got an abortion; now she has to stare longingly at Ron Livingston, and she hears a baby’s cries echoing constantly through the space station. Oh, won’t that teach her a thing or two!

4. The physicist. He’s slightly overweight; therefore he’s a porn addict who can’t swim! He also saves the day, on command, after the sexually aggressive German lady demands that he do something. (Nooooo comment.)

Despite having to be careful in case any of these two-dimensional character-shaped cutouts snaps right in half, the plot lumbers forward, throwing out a handy, illustrative flashback any time there’s a risk of suspense or tension.

The show does manage to hit two extended-plot points: the first is to kick Ajay out of the program because of his little interlude. I think this is a little harsh; I mean, I’d like to kick the showrunners off for thinking that Ajay’s Ganesha statue would rest snugly in his open hands in space, but hey, we all have to compromise.

(Also, the station has gravity because of nanofilaments. Also, dark matter. Also, Venus has 90 atmospheres of pressure. Also, in space, your Ganesha statue has Earth gravity, but just your Ganesha statue. It’s a thing.)

The second big plot point is the acknowledgment of some sort of vague, shadowy presence that can calcify your arteries and force you to put that overweight physicist guy on the team for some vague, shadowy reason. This tied with the other big plot point, which was that if you spit into your spacesuit, it will form an impermeable barrier that seals off leaks and is totally unaffected by the sucking, unforgiving void of space.

Emphasis on “sucking.”

In the inevitable comparisons with Virtuality, the crew-in-space pilot that Fox threw away earlier this summer, Defying Gravity comes up short in every respect. Naturally, Defying Gravity is the show that has another episode next week. Have fun with that, show! I’ll be watching (something else)!

[This piece originally appeared at Tor.com.]

Recent Work

My award-eligible work in 2014

2014 Recommended Reading List includes:
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club (novel)
Dream Houses (novella)
"The Insects of Love" (novelette)
"Aberration" in short story.

Sleepy Hollow Season 2 recaps: "Spellcaster"

TV recaps: Babylon, "Hackney Wick"

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    History’s first forensic murder investigation, China, 1235 AD

    In 1247 AD during the Song Dynasty of China, a book called Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified also known as The Washing Away of Wrongs was first published by Song Ci, a Chinese coroner and detective.  Essentially the book was a guide for early coroners, detailing how to determine cause of death based on forensic science.  Divided into 53 chapters and five volumes, the work details the case studies and personal observations of Song Ci. Incredibly advanced for its time, the book covers topics such as anatomy, the decay of corpses, details the wounds made by different weapons, appearance of corpses from various causes of death, and postmortem examination methods.

    Among the case studies of The Washing Away of Wrongs is an anecdote now considered to be the first case of forensic entomology in history.  In 1235 AD a man was found stabbed, slashed, and hacked to death in a small village. The local magistrate inspected the victims wounds, then tested various types of blades on animal corpses, which allowed him to determine that the weapon used was a common farming sickle.   According to Song Ci, a brilliant plan was created by the magistrate to determine who was the murderer,

    The local magistrate began the investigation by calling all the local peasants who could be suspects into the village square. Each was to carry their hand sickles to the town square with them. Once assembled, the magistrate ordered the ten-or-so suspects to place their hand sickles on the ground in front of them and then step back a few yards. The afternoon sun was warm and as the villagers, suspects, and magistrates waited, bright shiny metallic green flies began to buzz around them in the village square. The shiny metallic colored flies then began to focus in on one of the hand sickles lying on the ground. Within just a few minutes many had landed on the hand sickle and were crawling over it with interest. None of the other hand sickles had attracted any of these pretty flies. The owner of the tool became very nervous, and it was only a few more moments before all those in the village knew who the murderer was. With head hung in shame and pleading for mercy, the magistrate led the murderer away. The witnesses of the murder were the brightly metallic colored flies known as the blow flies which had been attracted to the remaining bits of soft tissue, blood, bone and hair which had stuck to the hand sickle after the murder was committed. The knowledge of the village magistrate as to a specific insect group’s behavior regarding their attraction to dead human tissue was the key to solving this violent act and justice was served in China.

    Today The Washing Away of Wrongs has been translated into several different languages, with modern forensic scientists adding their own anecdotes and studies.  It has been esteemed by generations of public service officials and is often required reading in criminology today.

    04/19/15

2015 Appearances

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March: ICFA (Orlando, FL)