The crew of the Roci
I watched Firefly live when it aired—in front of my TV, soaking in all 11 of the 14 episodes Fox showed. So as someone who has been a Browncoat from the very start, shows I love, especially topnotch sci fi shows, getting canceled unceremoniously has long been a part of my life. You would think I would be used to it by now, but clearly, I’m not, because when SyFy announced they would not be showing a 4th season of The Expanse, it hurt. A lot.
So, what is The Expanse? (Something I, sadly, must explain, because obviously not enough people are watching it.) It’s a space story based on a series of books by James S. A. Corey. (That is the collective penname of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.) In the future, Earth has colonized Mars, and there is endless tension between the two worlds with the Belters, the poor workers of the asteroid belt, looked down upon by both. The tensions among these three factions inform the mystery of the first season of why an heiress from Earth, Julie Mao, flies off and disappears out beyond the Belt. Seasons 2 and 3 are about what happens because of what she discovers.
And that, very briefly, is what the show is. So why should you watch it and why should there be more? Here, have five reasons.
1. Hard science
Now, remember, we’re both English majors with a side order of music. Science has never been a forte for either of us. But I didn’t actually need my science-minded friends to tell me how good the science is on this show, because as a student of narrative, I could intuitively sense they were getting it right. There’s attention to detail on this show that pays off for the science geeks of the world, but that also rewards anyone who just likes great storytelling. I believe it when folks tell me the math works out for some space maneuver discussed on the show, because I don’t feel as though someone just teched-the-tech at me. The folks making The Expanse pay attention to what they are doing, and it shows on every level. For example…
2. It looks so good
I’ve no idea what sort of deal with the devil the visual effects and production design folks on this show made, but damn, it looks good. Rather than writing about this one, I present you with a ship breaking apart in space.
3. Character beats
Something we’ve complained about before on this blog is the pacing of several shows we watch. When a show insists on driving through plot as fast as possible, a lot of times the character beats, the conversations between characters, the quiet moments alone, that need to happen for proper catharsis, get cut. While there are plenty of fistfights, gunfights, and space battles to go around, the characters always come first. You care who wins these confrontations, because you care about the people involved. The Expanse always finds time to show the important personal conversations so many other shows either wouldn’t bother with, or would truncate to the point it might have been best just to skip them. The characters talk and sit on the beach and enjoy meals together. And that’s why the fate of humanity actually matters.
4. The women, but not because of why you might think
It would be easy to look at the gender and ethnic makeup of The Expanse and think, “Someone very thoughtfully went through and checked all the boxes.” To be honest, I’ve no idea if the authors of the books or the showrunner did such a thing, but I can tell you this—it never feels like it. Case in point, the main action of the show happens aboard the Roci, a ship manned by the remainder of an ice hauler. There are initially three men and one woman, Naomi, on this crew, with a fourth man added later on. Earlier in Season 3, there is a disagreement on the ship, and the men side together against Naomi. But here’s the cool part—the viewer never, even for a second, thinks they sided against her because she is a woman. Because Naomi is an actual character and not just some representation of Woman, it all felt natural, none of it felt sexist, and the sympathy the viewer feels for her in that moment is purely because the character is so well drawn that we care for her, not something she symbolizes.
People of any gender or race can pop up doing any job and having any opinion, and it all feels natural because the characters are all so entirely three-dimensional.
Also, Shohreh Aghdashloo. QED.
5. It keeps getting better
With the amount of good TV available today, I get why people have trouble buying into a show if it doesn’t take off right away. I remember having a conversation with a friend that back when we were growing up, it seemed like a lot of shows had shaky first seasons and didn’t get good until the second. Today, so many shows invest so much in making sure they have a great first season that if they are lucky enough to get renewed, the second season is a huge let down. And if you don’t have a great pilot, forget people tuning in for a second episode. It seems as though pretty soon if a show doesn’t have a good first 5 minute teaser, they can forget ever finding an audience.
These kinds of viewing habits are not a friend to The Expanse. It’s a rich, complex world, and while the first few episodes are good, it doesn’t really take off until about the fourth episode. But here’s the thing—if you can watch just 3 episodes of good TV, you will be rewarded with (as of now) two and a half seasons of great TV that just keeps getting better. Unlike so many shows that peak in their first season and then you just watch the slow decline, The Expanse gets better and better. And that’s not just my opinion. The Rotten Tomatoes scores for the seasons bear me out.
Season 1: 76%
Season 2: 95%
Season 3: 100%
Yep, you saw that right. SyFy canceled a show with a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Which I get. From what I understand, the deal they had with the production company was not particularly good for them, but I think it’s a pretty good case for some other outlet to find a way to make a better deal and keep The Expanse on the air.
So, that’s why you should watch The Expanse. In the US, the first 2 seasons are on DVD, and you can catch up with it all streaming on Amazon. Internationally, Netflix is your friend. New episodes air on SyFy Wednesdays at 9:00.