It’s been almost six years since Battlestar Galactica ended its run on Sci Fi. And in those six years, the Sci Fi channel itself has gone through big changes, as has the rest of television, especially genre television.
There would be times in the last six years when I felt a longing for another Battlestar Galactica to pop up somewhere on TV. Another epic, high concept series to sink my teeth (and my mind) into. Maybe even another space opera. While there have been some possibilities (including the aborted Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome prequel), none have really caught my attention.
Which is why I was very excited to read about Syfy developing the limited series Ascension. Even more so when Syfy said directly that Ascension was their attempt at getting back into the “space opera” business in the hopes of finding another Battlestar Galactica.
News on the limited series tapered off and in November, I wondered what happened to it only to find out its original six week run turned into a three night “event.” That certainly didn’t sound very promising. But I was still intrigued.
Finally getting around to watching the series two weeks after its premiere, I can say Ascension has incredible potential, but it is definitely not Battlestar Galactica.
But that really shouldn’t be a comparison to be made. Battlestar Galactica, though certainly flawed, is in a league of its own when it comes to critically acclaimed, genre-bending and crossing drama. Ascension certainly has similar high aspirations, but it does fall a little short. That’s not to say, however, that it couldn’t work as a series if Syfy decides to order more.
The ratings weren’t amazing enough to have Syfy chomping at the bit to order Ascension to series. But there was definitely plenty to like and enjoy.
Ascension centers on the generation ship Ascension launched in 1963 flying through space on a 100 year journey to distant planet in an effort to save humanity should the Cold War end up destroying Earth.
It is now 51 years into the journey and all of the original passengers have long gone with their children and grandchildren, all born on this very ship, now manning Ascension. In command is Captain William Denninger (Brian Van Holt) and wife Viondra (Tricia Helfer). But there are threats to the Captain’s control of the ship. Plus, being born on such a ship and essentially having been forced on this journey has begun taking a toll on some.
Intertwined with the goings on from the ship are scenes of the team back on Earth observing and monitoring Ascension’s progress. This is led by Harris Enzmann (Gil Bellows) whose father was the founder of the Ascension mission and is determined to continue his work.
The scenes on Ascension are definitely the more engaging ones as the stories and characters almost play out like a Big Brother episode (in a good way). Holed up in a large space ship with the same 600 people for years can drive anyone crazy. But it also feeds the hunger for power play and freedom.
Plus, there’s plenty of sex.
The best part of the series is definitely its scope and scale. Ascension (and Ascension, the ship itself) looks absolutely stunning with its interesting mix of 1960s costumes and decor in space side by side with modern, yet not-so-modern technology.
There are also a few legitimately great twists, including the very last cliffhanger that would certainly propel the series, should it come to exist. But most of the twists and turns do end up a little predictable, if not flat. While presented as a three night miniseries, you can definitely tell where and how Ascension was supposed to air with weekly one-hour episodes. And that maybe explains a lot of the flatness and sometimes underwhelming “reveals.” Even more for me who watched the entire 4-hours (in commercial-free runtime) in one sitting.
The characters are also a little paint-by-the-numbers with half of them purely plot-driven puzzle pieces reciting expository dialogue. That can be forgiven considering what the series is trying to set up. And maybe it’s a necessary nuisance. But the good thing is, if Ascension were to go to series, they wouldn’t need all that exposition and instead focus on the real meat of the story and characters.
Ascension has a big ensemble cast, but (and maybe it’s me being a BSG fanboy) I believe Tricia Helfer carried much of the weight of the series herself. She was given possibly the best character and material of anyone. And maybe deservedly so. Viondra Denninger had the most character development over the six episodes and that allowed Tricia Helfer to portray a whole range of emotions. That all culminated in two excellent scenes in the final hour, probably two of the best of the entire series. I literally cheered at both of those scenes. (And if you’ve seen the series, you might know which scenes I’m talking about, but I won’t spoil them here.)
Ascension impresses with its overall scale and ambition, but misses the mark on the story (but not visual) details. As a limited series or miniseries, it was just okay, at times great fun. It certainly exceeded the bare minimum and it was a little more engaging than Syfy’s recent big attempts. Moving forward, if Syfy does decide to order it to series, Ascension has a lot of potential to be something really great. And I would definitely be on board for the ride.