Let’s not beat around the bush: The Expanse is the new Battlestar Galactica. That’s the kind of snappy soundbite that journos and PR people love but such comparisons are usually superficial. In this case, however, the similarities are striking. Both shows are from the US Syfy channel. Both shows transpose current political issues into a science fiction arena. Both shows have a strong religious theme. Both shows have an appeal way beyond Syfy’s usual audience.
This is the point in the critical narrative when the 'however…' should appear. The Expanse, surely, cannot match the magnificence of that earlier show? Well, no, it doesn’t. Not yet at least. But, crucially, it also doesn't fall far short, and there’s every indication that future seasons could raise the bar.
Besides, The Expanse is no mere Battlestar wannabe. It’s also a product of more recent TV drama trends for multiple parallel strand storytelling à la Game of Thrones (opens in new tab). Set in a future where man has colonised the solar system, the show highlights the tensions between three main territories: Earth (which is a bit sci-fi House of Cards-y), Mars (which we haven’t seen much of in season 1 but seems a bit Starship Troopers-y) and the Belt (where it’s all a bit Blade Runner-y). There’s mutual mistrust and animosity. War is one tiny inciting incident away.
One central mystery focused on an abandoned ship connects three disparate characters; a hauler, a grizzled cop, and politician. The way their various plotlines converge later in the season forms the basis of this multilayered show. It’s certainly an ambitious, glossy looking series, with some impeccable world-building and top-notch performances. The effects are excellent, the attention to detail brings this future to life and the various mysteries and politicking keep things compelling.
Occasionally the storytelling becomes bogged down in information overload and some secondary characters seem to have been generated by rolling dice, but mostly The Expanse delivers an action-packed and thought-provoking first season.