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STUDIO: BBC Warner
RUNNING TIME: 400 minutes
- Tour of Forthaven
- Making Of Outcasts Featurette
Solaris + Lost = SoLost.
Created by Ben Richards. Acted by Liam Cunningham, Hermione Norris, Eric Mabius, Amy Manson, Daniel Mays, Ashley Walters, Michael Legge, Langley Kirkwood, Jeanne Kietzmann and Jamie Bamber.
After several wars around the globe start rapidly making Earth inhospitable, humans discover a new home in the stars: the planet Carpathia. After building a settlement they call Forthaven, what very well might be the last surviving group of humans in the universe have to learn to stop being so greedy, petty, short-sighted, angry, hypocritical, secretive, rash and self-serving if they’re ever going to propagate the continuation of the human race. Along their journey they’ll have to face an angry group of clones they invented to initially explore the planet, a man whose only mission is the destruction of Forthaven’s current government, the mysterious original inhabitants of Carpathia and, of course, themselves. Can humans stop being human long enough to save humanity, or will all of our shortcomings as a race be our inevitable downfall. Only 8 episodes of a failed BBC series will tell.
Outcasts wants so very badly to be profound. It’s like the show finally got to play in the deep end where all the heady ideas and profound truths are swimming, but all they had were waders and the merest hint on how to doggy paddle. The show is dealing with the themes of identity, community and what it means to be human, but it never strikes a balance to make any of its ideas interesting, nor does it have the strength in any of the scripts to make the characters worth being invested in. It spends so much time wallowing in misery created out of completely inane character motivations and decisions that, once the final episode ended, I actually sighed- relieved that I could write about the show and move on to something more worthwhile. Since I have Army Wives coming up I’m not sure that’s going to happen, but Outcasts really tried my patience for being only 8 episodes long and British.
I’ve had remarkable good luck when it comes to watching British television shows. Almost every single series I’ve sat down and watched has been amazing or, at the very least, ridiculously entertaining. Just this year I’ve fallen in love with Sherlock, Luther, Misfits, The IT Crowd, Whites, MI-5, and a few I’m sure I’ve forgotten about. I’ve never started a British series that I didn’t finish since they all seem to fully have their hooks in me by the second or third episode (or, in the case of Sherlock, the first 3 minutes of the pilot). If Outcasts wasn’t something I was committed to reviewing, I would never have made it past the second or third episode but honestly it’s not for a lack of trying on their part. There’s a lot of little pieces of the show that are interesting , but none combine to make the show compelling or anything other than drearily dull and, ultimately, a pretty big waste of time.
The main thing the show does right was the decision to shoot the show in the South Africa. They’ve got forests and jungles and deserts oh my, enough to keep the images gorgeous and almost always interesting to look at. But since the show was conceived with such limited scope (and apparently budget, as well), the interesting locales start doubling as different areas on Carpathia and it gives the show such a muddled geography that even the scenery eventually becomes aggravating. There’s a rock formation that is used for every single big confluence of events on the series and I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be different locations or whether (on this entirely new planet to explore) they just didn’t venture out very far past the gates of Forthaven. The latter would make more sense because, try as they might, nothing about this show is adventurous and every character spends at least one full episode being frustrating and obstinate.
Liam Cunningham (who we’ll see next year as Davos Seaworth in Season 2 of Game of Thrones) plays Richard Tate, the President of Forthaven and ruler of the 70,000 humans on Carpathia. Cunningham is fine and does a pretty incredible job trying to elevate the material, but Tate is so woefully underwritten that I never once understood his motivations until the final episode of the series and even then they were so generic as to make me wonder why the writers held his intentions so close the the vest for so long. He wants Forthaven to be much more of a utopia than Earth was, but he makes almost all of the same decisions any politician would in his situations: he’s withholding and doesn’t trust the people enough to give them information they could use to protect themselves. If Forthaven is stocked with some of the best and brightest minds from Earth, wouldn’t they be more equipped to handle the truth of their situation? Isn’t this setting the human race up for some of the same problems? In 5 years won’t there be an Occupy Forthaven movement?
Tate’s nemesis is Julius Berger (played by Eric Mabius), once a big wig on Earth, he lands on Carpathia with what might be the last group of humans that left the planet alive. He instantly comes across as smarmy and untrustworthy, yet as soon as he starts talking about God and the religious experience he had while flying to Carpathia, he is treated like Baltar in the final two seasons of BSG. You can see in Berger’s face that he doesn’t believe a goddamn thing he says and that he’s a snake oil slesman looking to consolidate power for himself on Carpathia, yet the fact that the Carpathians buy into his shit makes you wonder why our species should have been saved in the first place. He’s such a mustache twirling, one-dimensional villain that his instant popularity makes you lose all respect for the colonist of Forthaven. Again, the people who were initially sent to the planet were supposed to be the gatekeepers of humanities future, yet most of the people we meet on Carpathia are fucking idiots who swallow whatever spoonfuls of shit that they’re fed. His obviously evil intentions combined with Tate’s hard to read President make for a political struggle that only gets you to pick a side because of Mabius’ dumb stupid face. Julius Berger wouldn’t really have worked better with a different actor playing him (Mabius comes off as a dead-eyed charisma vacuum in this), but the combination of character and actor makes this THE single worst character I have come across all year. They could have had Fassbender playing the role and it… no, it probably would have been amazing, but I wouldn’t have said so.
The supporting cast tries pretty damn hard, but it’s all so dully written with some of the B-stories being so painful to watch, I cursed the Universe and all who dwell in it. Hermione Norris (who grew on me on MI-5 after a few seasons) plays Stella Isen, Tate’s Number 2 and head of the Carpathia safety commission (or whatever the hell they were called. Basically she’s the head of the Forthaven PD) and her entire arc over the series involves her estranged daughter landing on Carpathia and them not getting along so well. There’s actually an episode where her daughter steals something because then she thinks mommy will notice her. That’s the only beat the daughter gets to play for the entire series: belligerently being a shit to her mom for attention and then not caring when she gets it (just like the son on Terra Nova!!). Daniel Mays and Amy Manson fare a bit better as Stella’s other Space Cops, but only in comparison to how everyone else is written. If it was any other show they’d be yanked offscreen by a cane, but in Outcasts they’re layered and sometimes interesting (and also inconsistent and infuriatingly stubborn characters). Ashley Walters (who sounds exactly like late 90’s trip-hopper Tricky) is the head of the Expeditionary Force, who leads teams out past the gates of Forthaven to explore Carpathia. In the first 7 episodes of the season he never makes one right decision and is always joining the wrong side in a fight (he’s like Dr. Suresh from Heroes that way), but, in the finale, two different characters remark about how smart he is while and treat the audience like we should agree and instead we laugh at the sheer fucking audacity of it all. None of these characters ever get to know each other better and sometimes seem like they’ve never even met before. If these are the people you’ve got driving the story forward, then why would we ever care about the fate of Forthaven and the human race (who are all British and Scottish, BTW, except for one American who’s fucking evil.)
Outcasts does have one interesting thread that pops up in Episode 4 and that’s the original inhabitants of Carpathia and their intense hatred of humans sharing their planet. They drove another humanoid race to extinction before the residents of Forthaven landed and they fully intend on doing the same to them. They can impersonate you and your loved ones and make you see your dead children and stuff, so they are powerful as well as rocking a pretty twisted sense of humor. This entire plot ends up being dragged out for so long it’s squandered and, due to the show’s cancellation, now will never be resolved. Neither will anything else either, since Outcasts ends on a damn cliffhanger that resolves not one single thread of one single plot, thus negating every single minute you spent watching the show. It was like watching Odyssey 5 all over again. Outcasts is absolutely pointless to watch unless you want to feel like you read the first 200 pages of a shitty book and then put it back on the shelf in order to pick up another shitty book. What was the definition of insanity again?
I really feel bad for this show because a lot of very talented people put an enormous amount of work into this show and probably really thought they were making something special. I put the blame squarely at the feet of creator Ben Richards and his complete inability to resemble a storyteller. Outcasts seems like it was created by someone who is a big fan of Lost, Solaris and Battlestar Galactica and wanted to have his name on something as important as those pieces were (and to some, still are). The problem was he didn’t have the chops to create his own universe, so he pilfered meaty ideas from those other properties, invented some half assed characters that he figured he’d develop later and dropped them into a situation he only had light sketches of, at best. After blending it all together, he had half of a show and the audiences left in droves, as the series started with 4.5 million viewers and ended with 1.5. To create a serialized show that will bring people along for the ride, the characters need to come first and then their motivations and desires will inform where the story goes every time. Outcasts never had characters, it had plot devices, and that’s why it went absolutely nowhere, attempted profundity be damned.
The transfer of this show to Blu is stunning. There are shots that feel absolutely otherworldly and the 1080p makes it pop right out into your living room. The special features are brief and minimal, but you won’t watch them anyway, I promise you. Just let this one die and lets talk about something else next week.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars