TV Review – INTERGALACTIC (2021)

INTERGALACTIC (UK, 2021, 8 x 45m) **
Sci-Fi, Action, Adventure

net; Sky One; pr co. Babieka / Moonage Pictures / Tiger Aspect Productions; d. Kieron Hawkes, China Moo-Young , Hannah Quinn; cr. Julie Gearey; w. Julie Gearey, Laura Grace ; exec pr. Paul Gilbert; series pr. Nick Pitt.

cast: Savannah Steyn (Ash Harper), Eleanor Tomlinson (Candy), Natasha O’Keeffe (Emma), Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Tula), Thomas Turgoose (Drew), Oliver Coopersmith (Echo), Imogen Daines (Verona), Diany Samba-Bandza (Genevieve), Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Yann Harper), Craig Parkinson (Dr. Lee), Parminder Nagra (Rebecca Harper), Neil Maskell (Wendell), Samantha Schnitzler (Captain Alessia Harris).

The year 2143. Climate change has screwed the planet and the world’s cities, now mostly underwater, are controlled by a pseudo democratic government called the Commonworld. After sky cop Harper (Savannah Steyn) is set up for a crime she had nothing to do with, she is placed on board prisoner transport ship the Hemlock bound for an off-planet prison. On board she is thrown into the melee of a mutiny stirred up by a band of hardened female criminals who threaten to kill her if she doesn’t fly them to safety.

Intergalactic must be one of the biggest wasted opportunities to hit our TV screens in recent years.  Backed by Sky with a top-notch production design (by Mark Geraghty); more than acceptable visual effects; and a solid-gold premise inspired by one of British TVs best sci-fi adventure series (Blake’s 7) this should have been a celebration of what is great about British TV. Unfortunately we had to deal with characters, who for the most part were very difficult to like and left us with no-one to root for; incessant and overly gratuitous use of foul language; banal and cliched dialogue and storylines; and a finale that wasn’t. The latter is partly explained by the fact there were two more scripts to shoot before production was curtailed by the pandemic. The producers, directors and writers must take the blame for the rest. Tonally, the series veered from witty and tongue-in-cheek to violent and abrasive – often in the same scene. The former losing out increasingly to the latter as the series progressed. That would have been okay, as the stakes were raised in those later episodes, but what we were left with was a depressing tale of self-centred characters whose cause and motivations were never fully explained to any logical or believable level. The performances were almost universally one-note and ranged from the awful (Duncan-Brewster, who simply snarls her way through her entire performance) to the passable (most of the rest) . Only Turgoose managed to inject any depth into his character, whilst Coopersmith struggled to bring some Han Solo-esque charm to his. The series had admirable qualities in its use of a diverse cast and its pushing most of the leading roles to females. There are also the occasional amusing and witty lines of dialogue that shine like beacons amongst most of the writing (Turgoose remarking the one planet they visit was “worse then Bolton”). Stereotypes are much in evidence, however, and the story becomes increasingly predictable and derivative of other, better productions (and that is saying something when one of the inspirations was Con-Air). The design of the Hemlock, the prison ship stolen by the mutineers, is genuinely impressive and it is a shame it is not peopled by characters we would like to spend more time with. The camera work is good, but the direction often feels amateurish and the cast seem unable to bring any level of empathy to their characters.  There is a backstory for each that feels like it was taken from the “bumper book of prison characters” and there is insufficient subtlety in the writing to present these backstories in anything other than flat monologues. For an example of how to write a sci-fi show about a group of misfits and a totalitarian government, Geary should have looked no further than Firefly, which attacked similar themes with much more style and wit as well as characters you wanted to spend time with, rather than wince at every aggressive use of the “f-word” – instead she did not even look to the strengths of Blake’s 7 and landed much closer to Con-Air – more is the pity. It is hard to see the series being picked up for a second run, which is a shame in that it will likely kill off any further attempts to create a rebirth for British sci-fi TV for the foreseeable future.

Two new Sky series recall earlier classic British TV with differing results

Intergalactic (2021, UK, Episodes 1-4) **½
Fearless young cop and galactic pilot, Ash Harper (Savannah Steyn), who has her glittering career ripped away from her after being wrongly convicted of a treasonous crime and exiled to a distant prison colony. But on the way there, Ash’s fellow convicts stage a mutiny and seize control of their prison transfer ship.
Mare of Easttown (2021, USA, Episodes 1-3) *****
As her life crumbles around her, a small-town Pennsylvania detective Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) investigates a local murder. The series explores the dark side of a close community and provides an authentic examination of how family and past tragedies can define our present.

Intergalactic" (2021) British movie posterSky has two series currently available or broadcasting that have their roots in classic British TV series. The first is the heavily publicised British sci-fi action adventure Intergalactic (Sky One), with the whole series of 8 episodes (curtailed from 10 by the pandemic) available to download for subscribers. The series is the brainchild of Julie Gearey and has a largely multi-ethnic female led cast led by Savannah Steyn as a discredited cop forced to serve her sentence off-world, where she falls in with several other prisoners who take over their transport ship, the “Hemlock” (a cool Millenium Falcon styled spaceship) and go on the run from the Common World. In their midst is a terrorist leader, who has her own secrets the Common World need to suppress. An added complication is the Steyn’s mother is the the leader of the Common World security team in pursuit of the escapees. There is much murkiness behind the back story, which gradually becomes clearer as the series progresses. The plot sounds familiar because it is a direct riff on the 1970s classic “Blake’s 7” , only here the action is more violent, the language much coarser, the characters less likeable, the stories less original and the dialogue is a mix of the truly awful and the occasionally witty. The look and tone is also highly derivative in taking elements of “Mad Max”, “Firefly” and Con Air” blending together their more cliched elements. The cast is, on paper, a strong one that includes Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Eleanor Tomlinson, Thomas Turgoose, Natasha O’Keeffe, Oliver Coopersmith, Imogen Daines, Diany Samba-Bandza, Parminder Nagra and Craig Parkinson. Most of the performances are one dimensional and lacking in nuance as the cast struggle to take their characters beyond the machismo of their dialogue. That said there are moments where the potential for a stronger series emerges – I am currently half-way through the run and after a dodgy start there have been some genuinely funny moments as well as a few unintentional ones. Where the series truly scores is in its look. The production design and CGI visual effects are excellent, if occasionally a little over-processed, from the opening shots of London in ruins to the new raised city and beyond into the galaxy. Its often pulpy trash, but it is also somehow strangely addictive as it struggles to add a fun factor.  Hopefully the characters will settle down and become more rounded as the series progresses. For now it borders between the awful and the entertaining as a distinct guilty pleasure. I’ll come back later with my views on the last 4 episodes.

Kate Winslet as Mare SheehanMare of Easttown (Sky Atlantic), on the other hand, is a reminder of the high quality output from American production company HBO (Home Box Office). Here Kate Winslet plays a detective in a backwater Pennsylvania town. She is dogged by the fact she has been unable to solve a missing persons case and is embroiled with a current murder investigation where the suspects come close to home. No doubt the two cases will at some point be linked. In between time, she has her own domestic issues to address following the death of her son, the break-up of her marriage and her grand-parenting duties due to the absent mother, who is wrestling with a drug problem. It all sounds miserably downbeat, but here the writing is so strong and the characters totally believable with a razor-sharp script (written by Brad Ingelsby) injected with dark humour and witty dialogue. So far I have seen the first three episodes (of 7) of the series, which is being run weekly by Sky concurrently with HBO. The story has more than few echoes of one of British TV’s very best series, “Happy Valley”, and I would be surprised if it were not an influence on Ingelsby. Like “Happy Valley” this series has a gripping and multi-layered story with genuine character interactions and superb performances from its cast – most notably Winslet, who is flawless. It is a drama that sucks you into its world and holds you there in its vice-like grip. It looks set to be one of the best series since the turn of the century.