100 Pilots in 100 Days: The Expanse

When it was originally on: 2015-present

Original network: Syfy (moved to Amazon for Season 4 in 2019)

Where you can stream it now: Amazon Prime

Had I seen it before: No.

What IMDb says: A police detective in the asteroid belt, the first officer of an interplanetary ice freighter, and an earth-bound United Nations executive slowly discover a vast conspiracy that threatens the Earth’s rebellious colony on the asteroid belt.

Why I picked it: I was worried I didn’t have enough sci-fi stuff on The List, and I was also worried I didn’t have enough basic cable shows on The List. So, The Expanse ticked two boxes. To make matters even more interesting, you have the fact that Amazon picked up this show after Syfy canceled it, and from the looks of it The Expanse must come with a pretty high production budget. While I will admit that I’m not particularly well-versed in sci-fi trends, I hadn’t heard much about it prior to Amazon acquiring it and pouring a lot of advertising dollars into it. That begs the question… how loyal and outspoken was this fanbase? What did Amazon see in this show that cost so much and seemed to have a relatively niche audience? We’re about to find out.

What I liked: This one does a pretty good job with world building which is a must for a sci-fi show. The show is visually captivating and you feel completely immersed in this futuristic space world without it ever feeling like a Power Point presentation on what this new world is. Sure, there’s a little bit of text to read at the beginning that functions the same way an opening crawl from Star Wars does, but I can live with that.

There’s also a really major thing that happens in this pilot that feels like it would be a bit of a spoiler to go into too much detail on. Usually I don’t care too much about spoilers in these blog posts because I’m only talking about the first episode anyway, but since not many people have seen The Expanse yet I’ll keep it under wraps. Just know that they do something a lot of shows wouldn’t have the balls to do in their pilot, and I enjoyed that. It established stakes and establishes that there’s probably more game changing surprises in store if you keep watching.

What I didn’t like: There are several times throughout the episode that our characters allude to some kind of war between Earth and Mars. Great! That sounds interesting. But… I don’t really know what Earth and Mars are actually fighting over. There’s no system for understanding which characters are #TeamEarth and who’s on #TeamMars. Am I supposed to be rooting for either team? It’s a great idea for an overarching conflict that can define the whole series, but if that’s what you’re going with, you need to actually show us how these smaller pieces of that conflict fit into the big picture.

Compare this to the conflict between the “Belters” (people who live in the asteroid belt rather than on a planet) and the people of Earth and other planets. These Belters are doing all the work to help sustain the planets and they feel under-appreciated. Great! I have an understandable reason why these tensions exist. I don’t get that with the whole Earth/Mars war. They’re just fighting because… they’re fighting? I guess?

We also get a few scenes of life on Earth, but not enough to be all that meaningful. I actually wish they would’ve just saved the Earth plotline for later and used that time on the Belter dude who’s searching for a missing person. Nothing about these Earth scenes is provoking curiosity or helping me frame the larger conflicts or getting me invested in these characters. I wish they had either been done better or cut entirely.

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: The short answer is no. The long answer is that yes, there are some issues here but they also seem like relatively common issues in any show that’s this high concept, and I can still see how it would turn into a great show over the long haul.  So if you like sci-fi stuff but haven’t discovered The Expanse yet, it’s probably worth a shot!

 

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