A Waste of Space

Another Life: Season 1

NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it). is always releasing new content, trying to find new shows that will hook viewers in. They're essentially another broadcasting network at this point which means that for every show people go wild for (like Stranger Things), they will release more than a few duds onto the world. And there's really no other way to discuss Another Life, the new sci-phi show from the network, than as a total and complete dud. It's simply one of the best looking worst shows I've seen in a long time.

How can a show be great looking and really terrible at the same time? It all comes down to the writing. This show has fantastic production values and a killer cast working their damnedest to make the show work, both points to the show's credit (and the only reasons I stuck out the show until the end of the season), but it has about as good a grasp of realistic science as 1950s movies of astronauts going to the moon and finding Amazon women. It's bad science dressed up with great effects but that doesn't stop it from being bad (it just makes it painfully pretty).

In the show, we open with a social media guru, Harper Glass (Selma Blair), witnessing first contact with an alien species. Or, more accurately, first contact with alien vessels, as these giant, infinity-shaped ships slowly descend on Earth and install crystalline artifacts on the surface. We then cut to a family, retired astronaut Nico Breckinridge (Katie Sackhoff) and scientist Erik Wallace (Justin Chatwin) plus their daughter Jana (Lina Renna). The family had just moved to a new city so Erik could study the artifact, maybe see if he could find a way to communicate with the aliens, but Nico is immediately called back into the space command to lead a crew to Proxima Centauri B to find the aliens and communicate with them face to face. This, naturally, forces her to leave her family for several months (or longer).

We then join up with both sides of the couple months into the journey. Nico is woken from cryo-sleep by the ships A.I., William (Samuel Anderson), because the journey to Proxima Centauri has hit a snag: a cloud of dark matter that's blocking the ships path. In their attempt to first go around the cloud, and then go through it, more and more of the ship is damaged and the crew is forced to repair the ship and find new ways to survive. Meanwhile Erik manages to find new ways to get through to the alien presence on Earth, but he starts to question the true motives of the aliens in the process. Are they really there to make friends or something more sinister going on. Between his work, and the mission in space, answers might just reveal themselves by season's end.

Or not because, honestly, this show is a hodge-podge of so many ideas it's hard to tell, even at the end of the season, if the aliens are good guys, bad guys, or what? Hell, we never even see the real aliens, just their ships, their tech, and other aliens that have had dealings with them in the past. Everything is played so close to the chest that it's hard to tell what the motives or the aliens really are. That, in turn, makes it hard for us to know if the protagonists of the show, Nico and Erik, really are the good guys or not. They think they are, certainly, but that doesn't mean that by the end of the series it won't be revealed that their ideas about the aliens were wrong and everything we knew was really backwards to begin with.

For instance, on one planet the aliens capture the diplomatic envoy for the crew, Senator Sasha Harrison (Jake Abel), and place a spider-like implant on his brain. This allows them to see into his mind and, as needed, control him. This would seem to make the aliens into bad guys but then its revealed that the ship has a final solution protocol, Brimstone, that would allow them to destroy the alien home world with a single shot. Are the aliens really bad or simply trying to find out everything they can about another species and just what kind of danger they might pose. Sure, through Sasha the aliens then try to blow up the ship but, then, wouldn't you if you were in their shoes?

We also see the crew find another planet where the "evil" aliens have been. This planet has been all but cleared of sentient life in a war years before. All we see is the aftermath, a few bat-like survivors. The humans realize from this that the aliens are evil conquerers that only bring death in their wake and they vow to destroy the aliens at any cost. Except we still don't have the whole story about the planet, the bat-race on it, or why the war started. These are points we need to know to color the aliens and give us a full picture.

I raise these points not only because it's much easier to care about a story if we have clear cut heroes and villains -- both the humans and aliens can be heroes, and I have no problem with that, but it'd be nice to have it laid out in some way -- but also because I fully expect we're going to have some kind of rug-pull in a later season that purposefully tries to say, "the aliens are good and deep down we were the bad guys all along." This kind of setup, when it can so easily be seen as the eventuality of the series, irritates me. It's so obviously telegraphed at this point that the fact that the show obfuscates it for ten episodes, constantly getting sidetracked by all kinds of other plots and side missions when all we care about is the main humans vs. aliens story, that I have a hard time giving a shit.

This show is constantly getting sidetracked. The crew gets woken up, has to deal with the dark matter cloud (and trust me, we're getting back to that), and then it's one problem after another. The ship is damaged in a slingshot maneuver, then they have to deal with a volcanic explosion on a moon they're exploring, then they contract a virus, then they get drugged, then the computer systems go insane and Sasha tries to kill everyone. And then, by the last episodes, we finally get to Proxima Centauri B only to find out it isn't even the right planet at all. And in all this time we still learn very little about the true aliens or what it is that we really want. It's a lot of sequences of the crew dicking around and causing their own problems when, in all honesty, they should never have gotten into all these messes in the first place.

Lets face it: the crew on this ship is a poorly trained collection of half-baked characters. A ship like this would never be run this way by current NASA and the people they sent up, a bunch of pretty twenty-somethings, would still realistically be going for their first doctorate before spending another decade in training instead of venturing off into deep space. All the problems the crew runs into are their own fault for being poorly trained, undisciplined and, quite frankly, just dumb.

But then most of this show is just dumb. Let's go back to that dark matter cloud. Dark matter, as you probably know, comprises about 85% of all of reality. It's a substance that's likely sub-atomic in nature, impossible to see leaving us only to detect its effects on the rest of reality (the 15% or so at max that we can detect). What you won't get from dark matter are thick, billowy clouds of the stuff. If you run into something like that you've found a nebula, but that's not what the show calls it. The scientists on the ship call it "dark matter" as if that's not patently stupid, and then move on with their lives.

Let's try another one: the ships engine goes on the fritz and one of the crew have to go into the engine's core facility and pull a bunch of tubes out to vent exotic matter into the chamber and force the engine to shutdown. Exotic matter, as you might not know, is a catch-all term for any kind of matter we don't currently understand. It's a colloquialism that basically means "well, this probably exists and damn, it's probably exotic if it does." It's not a kind of matter that would just get vented out from a human-built engine. If humans build it, they'll know what it runs on and what is sprays out. They won't just call it "exotic" and move on with their lives. Again, that's stupid.

I could go on and on about this. As with everything I watch, I was building a list in my head of all the stupid shit these characters say and do but, within the span of the first two episodes I'd already seen so many things I had to ditch the list simply because I couldn't possible remember it all or write about all of it without this article being the longest piece I've ever written. Text books could be written about how wrong the science in this show really is. Science on Another Life is about as realistic as "the dark web" is on any of those C.S.I.-style shows the broadcast networks run; terms are thrown about but the people writing the show don't really understand what they're talking about.

Not that it's any better on Earth. Erik is shown to be a genius, someone that can somehow think their way through any problem, and the problem he has to tackle is the alien artifact. He does this via the most overused trope in television: he'll hit a problem, something he can't think around, and then someone will say something or something will come on TV and, magically, he'll know the exact solution to the problem. Every time. I hate this trope so much and the fact that the show uses it over and over make me question just how smart this Erik guy really is.

All of this would somehow be tolerable if the show were (in any way, shape, or form) fun. But no, the entire series is one dour mess with everyone talking seriously about the mission, fighting about their problems, and constantly ruining each others lives. Most space shows either (a) get right to the main plot and cruise through it (like The Expanse) or give us a number of episodes with moments of levity to distract us from the length of the overall mission (like Star TrekOriginally conceived as "Wagon Train in Space", Star Trek was released during the height of the Hollywood Western film and TV boom. While the concept CBS originally asked for had a western vibe, it was the smart, intellectual stories set in a future utopia of science and exploration that proved vital to the series' long impact on popular culture.). Another Life, though, faffs about for ten self-serious episodes never letting us enjoy the characters at all. It gets very tedious very quickly, leaving the view to quickly think, "maybe there's anything else on."

Plus, and this is a minor complaint, what the hell is the "other life" hinted at in the title? It's called Another Life but we're never shown what that means or what's really going on. Is everything in the show an illusion and we'll have a big reveal where everyone is in a big, alien-controlled holodeck? Did our lead character die in cryo-sleep and everything we're seeing is her dying fever dream? I just want to know what other life we're supposed to have here? Is it a life free from this show because, if that's the case, I'm on board.

What I'm not on board with is another season of this show. Honestly, considering that Netflix hasn't already announced a second season of the series, I'm half expecting they aren't on board with it either. Another Life has been savaged by critics up and down the spectrum and I think it's pretty likely the show gets canceled after just a single outing. If it does come back I really hope I can find someone else to watch it. I don't want to have to go back for another ten episodes of this dreck.