You HAVE To Watch: The Expanse
I’ve watched a lot of TV during quarantine.
Normally I nurse a series with my wife, watching an episode every few days when we don’t have plans. These are not normal times. Most nights, we make progress on a show we’re watching. Recently, she started working from work again, meaning we couldn’t fit another half episode in at lunch, so I’ve been watching shows that don’t interest her by day, and couple watching at night.
That includes getting a few of those shows off my list. You know the ones.
FRIEND: You have to watch this show?
FRIEND: It’s sooooooo good!
FRIEND: I can’t explain it, but it’s sooooo good, you have to watch this show!
So I did. Honestly, I should watch more of those shows. More often than not, my friend is right. So I’ll be sharing some of the shows I’ve been recommended purely for being good, and try to explain what makes them so good. Starting with:
Based on the James S. A. Corey novel series, The Expanse is a serious, somber space faring science fiction. It deals with themes of racism, classism, and morality with longform storytelling that wraps up specific plot lines each season, while also seeding stories that span the entire series.
Originally airing on Syfy, before being canceled and revived on Amazon Prime. Apparently it’s one of Jeff Bezos’ favourite shows.
Is It Sooooo Good?
It is. The Expanse quickly became one of my favourite shows, as enjoyable to watch when I mainlined the first five seasons as it was waiting week to week to watch season 6.
Broadly, it’s so good because everything it does, it does well. The acting’s engaging, the cinematography draws you in, the writing is smart without being overwhelming. In all of the ways a series can be good, The Expanse excels.
Still, a few elements set it apart from comparable series.
Logical, Fulfilling Twists
I love longform storytelling. When a series sticks the landing on a set-up/callback, I stand up, pump a fist, say “That’s what I’m talking about,” sit back down, search for the remote, skip back 30 seconds or a minute or so, however much I missed because of my outburst.
I never watched Lost. I thought about it, because a lot of my friends loved it, but the fear of dots left unconnected scared me away. When I heard the destination didn’t satisfy, I knew I’d never take that journey. I don’t see the point.
Similarly, I really enjoyed the Battlestar Galactica reboot. Up to a point. That point was around when the opening credit’s line “And they have a plan” felt less like an ominous threat about the Cylons and more of a lie about the writers. I stuck with it, but there was definitely a point where my feelings shifted from “this is awesome” to “this is fine.”
So far, The Expanse avoids the trappings of Lost and BSG. Every season starts with an intergalactic mystery. Every season concludes with the mystery resolved. I don’t know why a lack of frustration is a novelty with serious scfi-fi series, but it’s appreciated.
The Expanse also knows how to handle small twists. Whereas some shows start to show their formula and twists become predictable, The Expanse finds clever and unique ways to subvert expectations. The writers also don’t shy away from meeting expectations. The twists rarely feel like they are for twist’s sake because not every opportunity for a twist gets used.
Pick an emotion, I can tell you a The Expanse scene that captures that emotion. Heck, I can tell you an Amos scene that captures that emotion.
The show balances humour and pathos, fear and excitement, action and intelligence. Characters evolve as they deal with their experiences, and relationships change as a result. It’s easy to care about what the characters experience, because the characters care.
What A World
Finally, the world of The Expanse. No compliment is too big to describe how successfully this show created its setting.
The Belters, the descendants of the working class settlers of the solar system, speak a dialect developed for the show with unique language rules and a consistent accent. Naomi, one of our main characters, is a belter who left The Belt. She adjusts how she speaks when addressing fellow Belters versus non-Belters, in a way consistent with real world code switching.
Spaceships have low gravity, with the crew wearing magnetic boots to move around. The subtlety with which the characters use gravity hides a lot of hard work by the special effects team, and creates a more immersive atmosphere for the space scenes.
Then, there’s the politics. The show often explores the Earther/Martian (humans who colonized Mars)/Belter power struggle. No group gets portrayed as the villains of the series, and even villainous individuals get enough nuance to their motivations that their actions feel justifiable from their point of view.
This power struggle informs how characters interact. Political character dialog drips with subtext. Workforce character dialog vents frustration. Amos doesn’t give a damn almost ever.
I love Amos so much.
Sooooo yes, The Expanse is as good as they say it is. If you haven’t checked it out, you have to watch this show.