TV Heartbeat Review of Ascension! Syfy Shoots for the Stars! Interstellar + Twin Peaks – Quirky = Ascension!

A funny thing happened when the Sci-Fi channel became Syfy. Their programming shifted towards a lighter, more mainstream focus and so did the rest of the world. Syfy’s line-up moved from space and science towards the supernatural here on earth (Warehouse 13, Haven, Being Human, etc…).

At the same time, mainstream networks started to include more genre shows in their roster. The biggest shows now feature dragons and zombies on a cinematic scale that was previously not possible on TV. Suddenly, high-stakes genre is everywhere and Syfy’s programming wasn’t particularly unique. Sure, there were still some more ambitious stories (like Continuum), but Syfy lacked the big, through-provoking ambition of its landmark show, Battlestar Galactica. Battlestar Galactica was, after all, screened for the United Nations to discuss the themes of the episode (suicide bombing).

Now, Syfy aims to shift its focus back towards more challenging shows. Helix, from Battlestar Galactica brain Ron Moore, was the first of the next wave of programming that focuses on more thought-provoking stories.

Syfy’s next Big Show is the mini-series Ascension which makes its three-night debut starting on Monday, December 15th.

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The basic premise of Ascension is about how society functions. What if mankind launched a giant, exploratory vessel to re-colonize humanity? What would life be like aboard that ship? What would it be like to be born and grow up in that contained society?

Yep, big ideas!

The Ascension is a huge ship on a long journey towards a distant solar system. The ship’s mission is to make the 100 year journey to colonize a new world for mankind. 100 years. There’s no faster-than-light traveling and there is no hibernation to shorten the journey. Thus, the people of the Ascension have to establish a community on the ship. It’s a perfect society aboard the Ascension with carefully constructed rules and no crime. Everyone has a specific path and there are prescribed roles. Life is orderly and perfect. Right? What can go wrong?

A young girl is killed aboard the ship and First Officer Gault (Brandon P Bell) is in charge of figuring out who did it. Only, without police and since most people were born on the ship, he has no reference on how to conduct an investigation. Using Raymond Chandler as his guide, Gault digs into the dead girl’s story.

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If Interstellar had a baby with Twin Peaks, it would resemble Ascension (sort of). There are no talking logs or red curtains or saddle shoes, but there are lots of hidden secrets in this contained, small-town community. As the investigation continues, lots of secrets and new mysteries will be uncovered.

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In the first night, we’ll meet many of the prominent citizens aboard the Ascension including the First Couple of the ship, the captain and his wife (Brian Van Holt and Tricia Helfer). We’ll also meet some of the families aboard the ship including Doctor Bryce (Andrea Roth), the ship’s doctor, and her daughter, Nora (Jacqueline Byers). Nora is getting to that restless phase where she resents her grandparents for choosing this life and condemning her to it.

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We’ll also get a glimpse of life on earth and the folks who helped launch the the Ascension (played by Gil Bellows).

Ascension is definitely a change from some of the lighter Syfy fare. The first night is packed with a lot of plot explanation and character introductions, but there are some important questions at the heart of this story.

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Created by Philip Levens (Smallville) and Jason Blum (The Purge, The Normal Heart), Ascension is a thoughtful look at how society works. How does utopia work? Can everyone live within a world with limited choices?

Of course, those themes are also mixed in with a lot of good old-fashioned murder mystery and drama around who ultimately is going to control the Ascension.

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If the mini-series is successful, Syfy may greenlight a full-fledged Ascension series for next year (a la Battlestar Galactica).

Tune in to see where the Ascension goes!

Ascension’s three-night event starts on Monday on Syfy.

Stay tuned!

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