Debris currently airs on NBC on Monday nights. I usually catch up with on On Demand. It’s got a science fiction premise, and it’s a nice one. An extraterrestrial spacecraft drifted into our system, to orbit around earth (kind of interesting right there–we’re an inner planet after all. It’s almost like it aimed for us).
The ship degraded and entered the atmosphere (or entered and atmosphere and degraded, I don’t completely understand which). Chunks of it ended up all over the world. The chunks of spaceship have magical powers, and so every highly militarized government is out to track them all down and weaponize them ahead of the others, because that’s what we humans do, at least in science fiction TV shows. There is also a private-sector group, labeled as terrorists, called Influx.
Here’s what’s good about the show: the cast, the special effects, and certain visuals. In an early scene, the camera pulls back to reveal a huge open space, with a partially re-assembled cylinder hanging in the air. The space junk, er, excuse me, debris, is cool-looking.
As for the cast, Rainn Steele plays Finola Jones, a Brit (from MI5?) assigned to the American team, and Jonathan Tucker is the USA guy, Brian. Finola’s physicist father was deeply involved in the US Debris project, called “Orbital,” until he took his own life shortly before the show started, not before sending Finola a text that has baffled her even though I have a pretty good idea what it meant. Brian has a military background, and there are repeated hints of trouble. The implication is that he was a black ops guy. Norbert Leo Butz is wonderful as Maddox, Brian’s conflicted and treacherous supervisor.
The special effects are the star of the show. Whether it’s floaty things, glowy gold things, shimmery gunmetal things, translucent things or morphing things, they are all top drawer.
With a good cast and beautiful special effects, the show should be compelling. Somehow, it isn’t. I do think that, somewhere in this production, there’s a person who has a story to tell. I just don’t know where they are and what they’re trying to tell us. If I were watching Episode 2, I’d be fine with that, but the last one I saw was Ep 8. I know there are clues buried in the audio feed that runs behind the closing credits, but that isn’t enough.
As if the dragging pace and monotony of the relationships weren’t enough, the show devoted two (two!) episodes to the we’re-in-a-time-loop plot. Do these people understand that they’re showing on network TV, and their goal should be to stop people from surfing away? You know how to make people surf away? Do several montages of people running across a rock and jumping into the water, that’s how.
Jeff, a friend of mine, pointed out that the show contains zero humor. None. I mean, none. I never knew what a drawback that could be.
The stunning absence of any connection or chemistry between Steele and Tucker is an obstacle too. At one point, when each shares with the other information their respective bosses told them not to share, I was all, “Oh, finally! Mulder and Scully! Wonder-twin powers, activate!” Unfortunately, that went nowhere. In the Groundhog Day two-parter I mentioned above, Brian reveals his feelings for Finola, which come out of nowhere, are completely unsupported, and later (temporarily) erased by circumstances. This felt less like a plot point and more like some desperate showrunners dangling a shiny thing in front of me so I’ll keep watching.
I thought the show wanted to be Fringe, a weird, excellent SF show from early in the 20th century. (Many visual affects look similar.) Fringe also got off to a bit of a slow start, and had the same earnest, solemn tone, but somehow that show got the character of Walter on the screen pretty fast, and Walter held our attention. Debris doesn’t have anyone like that. Everyone is serious, everyone is competent–I mean, yaaay, I like that– every innocent civilian who encounters debris has a Life Changing Decision to Make at the end of the episode, and that sameness makes the show drift like a piece of space junk as far as I’m concerned.
Maddox and the Influx guy both have potential to upend the applecart, but they better start doing it soon.