TV: Ascension

SyFy premiered Ascension this week. Here are our thoughts on this three part series. 

The middle children of history are out there in deep space, 51 years into a 100 year journey to Proxima Centauri. Project Orion, the cold war era research program into nuclear powered interstellar starships was a secret success and hundreds of America's best and brightest left Earth in 1963 on a mission their grandchildren would be destine to complete.

This is the premise of Ascension, Syfy Channel's latest mini-series that aims to capture some of the magic of its most successful space-opera Battlestar Galactica.  The comparisons are unavoidable with people living in the claustrophobic confines of a space ship as they travel through unknown space seeking a new home. Ascension even has Tricia Helfer, the bombshell blonde Cylon #6 from BSG on board as Viondra Denniger, wife of the ship’s Captain. The rest of the ensemble cast is a mixed bag of performances with a few standouts in young Ellie O’Brien playing Christa Valis, the girl who has a sense that all is not well on this ship and Brad Carter who plays gritty Stockyard Master Stokes. 

"Do you wanna see my boobs?"
The mini-series is broken in to 3 nights and after night one I was left with enough curiosity to continue watching. We get bounced between life on the ship and actions on present day Earth which gives enough back story for the creators of the project and how it has been monitored over the decades. It doesn’t take long to get a sense that everything is not what we are lead to believe and that notion is paid off in the form of a pretty heavy plot twist to end the first act. The second act is a little slow to be honest. We get a lot of information about our plot twist and probably more time spent on the daily politics of life on the ship. A great deal of time is spent on the ship trying to solve a murder that occurs in the show’s opening. The ‘who done it’ aspect of the story is nothing more than a plot device designed to bridge a pretty big gap in the narrative.

I felt like the parallels being drawn between the evolution of ship society and Earth society got a bit heavy handed but I had come this far so, like our brave travelers, I had to continue on to night number three. The third and final act of the series was better than expected and gives me reason to hope Syfy decides to green light Ascension to a full series. Much of the ground work laid in the often tedious second act manage to pay off. We get some good tension in the final half hour and enough loose ends to want to see more.

"So, is this gonna be like Cowboys and Aliens?
I wore my hat."

Overall I think Ascension has merit. It’s not at the level of Battlestar Galactica but it just may be able to fill the void if given the chance. The production value was decent and I suspect if given a proper budget for a regular series some of the shortcomings will be addressed. The dialog is a bit flat at moments but by the time I reached the conclusion it was clear to me that the characters (and actors) that delivered the most will be at the forefront if we get to see more.

As a stand-alone piece of work, Ascension has its ups and downs but in the end I feel was worth the time spent watching it. The real value here is its potential to bloom into a full series.

-Brian Rohe