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TV Snapshot: 'Defying Gravity'

I was a pretty decent athlete as a kid. Hoops, soccer, baseball. When it came to choosing up sides, I was almost always picked first. That leads to certain arrogance, an expectation: if you perform well, you win. Cause and effect. It doesn’t always prepare you well for being an adult.

Life isn’t always fair. Failure can be rewarded. Merit can be looked at like a disease. Sometimes I think the only natural selection happens in a petri dish. But if it’s in a petri dish, that’s not really natural, is it.

So, the question is: who or what is it that’s picking the teams? And why can the results seem so unfair and painful? I have no answers. All I know is, if they pick you first, you better come through.

--Voice over by Antares Flight Engineer Maddux Donner at the end of the "Natural Selection" episode of ABC’s Defying Gravity

Well, if ratings are any indication, another science fiction show is about to bite the dust before it even reaches the first stop in its interplanetary mission. At least ABC’s Defying Gravity—which introduces us to the crew of the Antares, a space ship on a six-year space mission to visit the solar system’s planets—got out two episodes last night. The fate of the remaining 11, however, remain in the ether for now.

Not that the series doesn’t have its flaws, which most likely contributed to its low ratings. It’s always irritating when a science-fiction show’s physics aren’t consistent (or fail to match reality, for that matter). And the story gets too mired in the soap-opera aspects of its plot. And, frankly, the story telling itself is a bit clumsy. My first taste of disappointment came at the first flash back. I didn’t need to know three-quarters of what those detours told us and the rest could have been revealed in more clever ways—or better yet, only hinted at or not revealed at all. It stopped the flow of the story and didn’t do much to develop the characters. Add to it all that we also have dream segments (which are possible flash forwards) mixed in, and, well, it made for a awkward attempt at a formula Lost has already magically nailed.

But there are some things it has going for it. I appreciate the contrast between Antares flight engineer Maddux Donnor and the Mission Control Commander Mike Gross. Both were involved in a decision years earlier during a manned mission to Mars that left behind (apparently to die) two of their crew. That tragedy and choice has affected each of them differently. In spite of the transgression, Donnor ruminates on redemption and walks eyes-open into second chances, and his experience and choices since seem to have fostered in him a value and ability to sacrifice for the lives of others. Gross, on the other hand, is mired even deeper in his mission (and dollars) above everything—including another’s life.

And I appreciate the series’ attempt to explore the tension between free-will and the existence and plans of something Other. While that Other in Defying Gravity is likely to be an alien or higher intelligence just as fallible as humanity, the question still invites us to consider the possibility of a higher power in the universe as well more specifically the tension between our own free-will and God’s plan to redeem and restore his creation—something we find throughout Scripture. And that tension often invites questions and observations similar to Donnor’s, which begins this post.

And unlike some critics, I appreciated Donner’s voice overs that honed in simple terms the complex philosophical and religious quandaries in which these characters are dipping their toes. Like, is there a path we each are destined or called to walk? Is there something larger in the universe influencing those paths? Are there things worth sacrificing our lives for—or worth sacrificing the lives of others for?

No, it’s not Battlestar Galactica or Caprica. But, like Virtuality, it would have been nice to have a another sci-fi series exploring the larger world around us to watch on Sunday nights.

(Image: ABC) miscctgy

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