Review: Ascension

Ascension, a three night event on SyFy was emphatically uneven. It was utterly boring at times, and edge-of-the-seat exciting at others. It was predictable while being unpredictable. It was disgustingly sexist but a paean to women by the end.

Major spoilers ahead!

Tricia Helfer as Viondra Denniger, the captain's wife
Tricia Helfer as Viondra Denniger, the captain’s wife

The situation was a set-up. The previews showed a space ship launched from Earth in the 1960s, with some tracking still going on back on earth.

The people on the space ship were actually lab rats in a lengthy and elaborate high tech experiment right here on earth. They thought they were in space to save the human race but they were not. Their every fight, sexual act, library check out and weight gain were monitored from mere feet outside their metal cocoon.

This Petri dish with 600 lives on board was headed by Captain Denninger (Brian Van Holt) who ran the ship, and his wife Viondra (Tricia Helfer) who ran the social life of the ship with the help of a crew of prostitutes. Everyone was striving to improve their lot in the world on board the ship, from the workers on the lower decks to the elites at the top.

Al Sapienza as Counsilman Rose
Al Sapienza as Counsilman Rose

The Captain’s opposition came from Councilman Rose (Al Sapienza) who was the smarmiest lech from the 1960s you’ve ever seen. Lord, did he need a dose of women’s liberation enlightenment.

Tricia Helfer and Jessica Sipos as Jackie
Tricia Helfer and Jessica Sipos as Jackie

Speaking of women’s liberation, the women spent most of their time nearly naked or completely naked, as you see in this photo of a massage from a semi-dressed woman. The men weren’t the only ones in sexist parts.

Okay, enough complaining about the state of women’s lib in the 1960s. There were some good parts to Ascension.

The action scenes were exciting, the special effects looked great, the ship itself was fabulous. Great sets. There was attention grabbing excitement at moments.

The characters and parts that Gil Bellows and Lauren Lee Smith played were my favorites. However, if this show makes it to series, which seems to have been the aim of this 3 part opening, these two may not even be there. Sigh.

Cliffhangers Everywhere You Look

Might as well talk about the possibility of going to series. There were many so cliffhangers at the end of the 6 hours, that SyFy must be thinking of keeping on with the show as a series. Teenager Crista (Ellie O’Brien) has some sort of powers that can transport people to other places with mental effort only. The man in charge of the experiment on Earth, Harris Enzmann (Gil Bellows), keeps saying Crista is the purpose of the whole social experiment. There is one small issue – her mental powers put everyone in danger because her brain blows up just about everything on the ship.

Samantha (the Lauren Lee Smith character) gets one of the men from the ship, Stokes (Brad Carter) off the ship and out into the wilds of 21st Century America with its seedy motels, quick stop liquor stores, and a full moon. We don’t know how he’s going to fare.

By the end of various disasters on the ship, Viondra is in charge, not her husband. If the show does become an ongoing series, I could certainly applaud the idea of a female captain.

Brandon P Bell as Aaron Gault
Brandon P Bell as Aaron Gault

A security officer who is smarter than your average cop, Aaron Gault (Brandon P Bell), is somewhere undisclosed – sent there by Crista and her superbrain.

We don’t know if Harris will still be in charge, if Crista will fly them all to Alpha Centauri on brain waves, or if Stokes will spill the story of this elaborate experiment to the world.

In short, the six hours we saw in 3 nights on SyFy were basically season 1.

Although I was a bit put off by some of the early parts of Ascension, I liked it better and better as it went along. If it does become a series, I’ll watch. Bring on season 2.

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Watch This: Ascension Trailers and Features

Ascension is a 3 night special playing on SyFy starting December 15. There are previews and promos available for this interesting new science fiction tale. I thought I’d let you look at several of them.

I remember the 60s and the early space program, so the series is especially interesting to me. Talking about how to send people into space for extended periods of time and for extended travel out of the solar system was a topic of national discussion back then. Everyone was very excited by the space program, glued to the TV for the launch of every rocket. The moon landing was something the whole country watched together.

It makes total sense to me that they begin this story in the 1960s with a secret mission to send people into space.

It’s a very big cast. A few names I recognize include Andrea Roth, Gil Bellows, Lauren Lee Smith, Tricia Helfer, Brad Carter, and Tiffany Lonsdale.

The embed code from SyFy to bring you these videos is a bit of a problem. They are not a good size to view in context. I urge you to expand each one to full screen to watch it.

This one is some background on what the story is about and the themes involved.

The official trailer was available on YouTube, so should be a better viewing size for you.

If you are interested in this series and watch it, I’d love to hear your reactions to it.

Winners and Losers

Four new TV shows caught my eye. After checking them out for two or three episodes, I’ve picked the winners I want to keep watching and the losers that will disappear from my viewing schedule.

The Winners

The two shows I find the best are Intelligence and Killer Women. Sheer dazzle makes Intelligence interesting. Josh Holloway is excellent as the cyber-brained lead character with whiz-bang computer skills embedded in his brain. His supporting team, Meghan Ory and Marg Helgenberger are both doing a terrific job in their roles. Plus the show includes some particular favorite actors of mine such as John Billingsley and Lance Reddick.

Intelligence is sci fi done right: engaging characters, plots that work, fascinating tech.

Killer Women is also a hit with me. Tricia Helfer, who’s worked in a long list of things we’ve all seen, never came to the front of my attention before the way she does with her leading role in this drama. She’s doing a terrific job as a tough Texas Ranger. Remember how awesome Gina Torres looked in Firefly with that gun strapped to her hip? That’s the vibe Tricia Helfer is giving off in Killer Women. One helluva woman.

I know Killer Women has suffered some negative reviews – by men – but the women reviewing this show have spoken positively about it. So as a representative of the female TV viewing audience, I cast my vote for a renewal of this show!

The Losers

They looked good, the previews and trailers looked good, but two of the new shows failed to engage me.

I like Billy Campbell, I enjoy sci fi, and I had high hopes for Helix. It should be good. Good cast, great sets, strong premise, diverse characters. But it bores me. The 3rd episode, which will be the last one I devote my time to, left me yawning and wishing it would hurry up and end. It has devoted followers, if tweets in my Twitter stream are any indication, but I’m not one of them.

The other show that leaves me flat is Bitten. It’s rare that I can’t get into a show with a female lead character. Laura Vandervoort does a perfectly fine job as the lead in this werewolf story, so it isn’t her.  Bitten feels opaque. Too many undefined characters, not enough clarity about the stakes involved. Not one thing in this series has made me care.

Do you have winners and losers from the new TV season? What are they?

First Impressions of Intelligence and Killer Women

Intelligence and Killer Women both opened their seasons this week. Here are my first impressions.

Intelligence

Intelligence touts Josh Holloway as the lead character, Gabriel Vaughn. He’s a government operative with a computer embedded in his brain and is considered the government’s most valuable asset. It’s on CBS.

The main cast of Intelligence
The main cast of Intelligence. Image via CBS

Behind this computer-man are Riley Neal (Meghan Ory) as the secret service agent in charge of keeping Vaughn safe and out of enemy hands, and Lillian Strand (Marg Helgenberger) who is head of the cyber security agency that manages Vaughn.

I am always interested in shows like this that take a look at the direction we are heading with technology. The technology here is dazzling, if unrealistic, and gives the series an awesomeness vibe that should serve it well in future episodes.

In the lead, Holloway is stubbornly human in spite of his computer chip of a brain, which makes the story interesting. Ory is tough and capable and in sympathy with Holloway’s tendency to be human. Helgenberger seemed a bit stiff and stoic, but perhaps that’s a requirement of the role.

It’s an action story with fighting and guns and international intrigue mixed in with the government operations and human interaction. I was happy with the first episode and think it promises to be an interesting ride.

Killer Women

On ABC, Tricia Helfer leads the cast on Killer Women. She’s Molly Parker, a Texas Ranger who works on murder cases where women are the murderers.

Molly Parker in Killer Women
Tricia Helfer in Killer Women. Image via ABC.

Molly is a bundle of complexity, which is always good in a character. She’s trying to get her husband to sign divorce papers while conducting an affair with an FBI guy played by Marc Blucas. (I’ll bet if you counted them all up, Marc Blucas has been the love interest for more leading women in television than any other actor.)

Molly’s living at her brother’s while getting the divorce. The brother (Michael Trucco) may play an important role in the series since he was all over the premier.

Molly is more interested in justice than in closing cases. Get this. She plays the trumpet in a band when she’s not working a case – that’s a new twist on a character.

The shots of Austin and what I assumed are San Antonio looked real, although IMDB says the show was filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I saw the Frost Bank building in Austin and the state capitol building in Austin, and the highway scenes showed green vegetation beside the roads – not something you’d see in the New Mexico desert. I sure looks like it was filmed in Texas.

Much as I liked the main character and Tricia Helfer as a Texas Ranger, some of the situations were a little unrealistic. For example, Helfer and Blucas take off to Mexico, completely unofficially,  to rescue some people and while there they shoot people without any apparent consequences. Drug cartel people, so shooting them doesn’t count or something – right? Action heroes in movies shoot people without consequences all the time, but I seldom see women doing it.

Killer Women has my interest so far and I’ll continue to watch.

Did you watch either of these premier episodes? What were your impressions?