Monday, January 30, 2023

The Ark, on SyFy

This spaceship carries no livestock, just grains and agricultural supplies. However, the crew can be fairly animalistic. It is not exactly Lord of the Flies on-board. Only the senior officers die in a freak interstellar accident, leaving behind three lieutenants and all the worker bees. Somehow, they must all find a way to work and flock together, in order to survive in showrunners Dean Devlin & Jonathan Glassner’s The Ark, which premieres Wednesday on SyFy.

Events takes place one hundred years from now. Things are apparently bad on Earth, yet the crew of Ark-1 expects the people they left behind will still be there when they reach the planet they set out to colonize. Unfortunately, something unexpectedly struck the Ark mid-course, while everyone was in their cryo-genic chambers. As luck would have it, the officer’s bay was completely destroyed, but the general populations’ wing largely survived, except for another senior officer, slumming with the proles.

That leaves Lieutenants Sharon Garnett, James Brice, and Spencer Lane as the remaining officer corps. Somewhat controversially, Garnet “takes charge,” due to her more broadly-based operations experience. Brice is an action-oriented Kirk or Riker type, so he basically goes along with her, but Lane seethes with resentment—and keeps seething.

The “good news” is there will be some opportunities for advancement. The bad news is plentiful and it just keeps coming. Obviously, food and water will be the most pressing. Their food will run out unless young “4-H Boy” Angus Medford can retro-fit his super crops. However, that will take water, which is also running low. The Ark-1 is huge, but it was only intended for a few weeks on-board living before and after the crew went into suspended animation.

Obviously, Devlin took inspiration from the original
Star Trek (on which his mother Pilar Seurat guest-starred in the “Wolf in the Fold” episode), Space: 1999, and the original Battlestar. The best thing about The Ark, at least based on the first four episodes provided for review, is the crew dynamics—especially the triumvirate of Garnett, Brice, and Lane. They must also deal with Felix Strickland, the head of ship security, who is outside the chain of military command, allowing him to act independently. He is given a woke-ish identity, but that helps explain his resistance to the charms of station “influencer,” Cat Brandice. Regardless, his no-nonsense persona is a positive for the show’s chemistry.

Unfortunately, the youthful Heinlein-esque characters are a mixed bag. As played by Ryan Adams and Stacey Read, 4-H Boy and the motor-mouthed Alicia Nevins are aggressively and unremittingly annoying. However, Miles Barrow adds a lot to the show as Nevins’ likable but mysterious prospective boyfriend, Baylor Trent, who had a rather complicated
Summer of ’42-ish relationship with one of the late senior officers.

Christie Burke, Richard Fleeshman, and Reece Ritchie are all quite engaging as the bickering lieutenants. Pavle Jerinic is also refreshingly hard-nosed as Strickland. Their in-fighting and reluctant cooperation works pretty well, especially as the existential stakes rise. Burke also effectively reveals Garnett’s interesting backstory, which could potentially raise some intriguing sf speculation in later episodes.

The ship looks pretty cool and the special effects are professional grade. Ironically, the frequent flashbacks mean some cast-members could potentially recur on
The Ark for multiple seasons, even though their characters died in the first episode. Frankly, the show’s inter-character relationships and rivalries get stronger over the course of the first four episodes. Recommended for fans of “Generation Ship” science fiction (like the film Passengers and Heinlein’s novel Orphans of the Sky), The Ark starts Wednesday (2/1) on SyFy and streams the next day on Peacock.