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Defying Gravity

Entry updated 27 January 2021. Tagged: TV.

American-Canadian tv series (2009). British Broadcasting Corporation, Fox Television Studios, and Omni Film Productions for CTV, SPACE and ProSieben. Created by James D Parriot. Producers include Michael Chechik and Michael Edelstein. Writers include Parriot, Sheri Elwood, Meredith Lavender, and Marcie Ulin. Directors include Sturla Gunnarsson, David Straiton, Peter Howitt, Fred Gerber, and Jeff Woolnough. Cast includes Ron Livingston as Maddux Donner, Laura Harris as Zoe Barnes, Malik Yoba as Ted Shaw, Christina Cox as Jen Crane, Paula Garcés as Paula Morales, Florentine Lahme as Nadia Schilling, Eyal Podell as Evram Mintz, Dylan Taylor as Steve Wassenfelder, Andrew Airlie as Mike Goss, Karen LeBlanc as Eve Weller-Shaw, Ty Olsson as Rollie Crane, and Zahf Paroo as Ajay Sharma. 13 one-hour episodes.

A short-lived soap opera about life aboard a slower-than-light exploratory space vessel, Defying Gravity joined several other late works of the 2000s decade, such as the films Sunshine (2007) and Moon (2009), and the abortive pilot Virtuality (2005), that tried to imagine the pressures that isolation and close quarters would exert on astronauts whose missions would take them into space for years at a time. Set in the middle of the twenty-first century, the series moves back and forth between its present, in which seven astronauts embark on a mission that will take them to every planet in the solar system, and five years in their past, in which the characters, as well as several dozen other prospective astronauts, many of whom work at mission control in the present, begin their training. The series' early episodes focus on the development of relationships, and particularly romances, between the trainees and between them and their instructors, while also showing us how those relationships have fared five years later, but from the start there are hints that the mission has an ulterior motive, and in the middle of the season it is revealed that its purpose is to collect the counterparts of an Alien artefact discovered on Earth, which may be sentient and whose direct and indirect interference has determined the makeup of the mission, as well as affecting the characters' lives in other ways.

Defying Gravity is notable for the care it takes in the creation of a Near-Future reality. Characters make off-hand references to Future Wars and Political developments, and, in a particularly charming touch, dress up on Halloween as characters from a fictional science fiction series which they regard with the same nostalgic affection with which we might consider the original Star Trek. As a science fiction story, however, the series falls flat. Defying Gravity works much better as a trashy soap opera – a last-minute change in the mission roster separates a married couple while throwing the wife in close proximity with her former lover; the two main characters, Zoe and Donner, have had an on-again, off-again romance throughout their training, hampered by a pregnancy whose existence and termination Zoe has kept secret for years – than it does as a work of science fiction, and the episodes that foreground the alien artefact and the mission to collect its brothers are boring and nonsensical. Though seductively marketed as "Grey's Anatomy in Space" (and aired in the summer months when scripted entertainment is scarce) Defying Gravity was a ratings dud, and was summarily and quite justifiably cancelled. [AN]


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