What could be more Syfy Channel than a show about a planetary colonization journey gone wrong? New series The Ark kicks off in February.
The Ark takes place 100 years in the future, when planetary colonization missions have begun as a necessity to help secure the survival of the human race. The first of these missions – on a spacecraft known as Ark One – encounters a catastrophic event, causing massive destruction and loss of life. With more than a year left to go before reaching their target planet, a lack of life-sustaining supplies and loss of leadership, the remaining crew must become the best versions of themselves to stay on course and survive.
The series comes from sci-fi veterans Dean Devlin (Independence Day, Stargate) and Jonathan Glassner (Stargate SG-1). The ensemble cast includes Christie Burke, Richard Fleeshman, Reece Ritchie, Stacey Read, and Ryan Adams, among others.
We received the first four episodes of the series to screen for review.
The Ark gets a rough start
If you watched the trailer for The Ark, you’ll note that the series follows the most basic of sci-fi premises. A spaceship of colonists ventures out in hopes of beginning life on a new Earth-like planet. But something goes wrong during their flight, waking them from cryosleep and leaving them struggling to complete their journey with a damaged ship.
And if you think that sounds like a hundred other shows and movies set in space… well, you’re right.
I wish I could say The Ark did something new and interesting with the premise in its premiere episode. It doesn’t. Frankly, it’s not even a good execution of the same old boring story; the exposition is clunky, the drama forced, and the dialogue awkward. The characters don’t make much of an impression. It’s not even fun bad – it’s just not very good. However, it does wrap up with a dramatic cliffhanger that adds some much-needed intrigue to the plot. And things do improve as the series continues.
Is Ark One basically the space Titanic?
When the series begins, it’s working really hard to tell you why the people on this ship are in A Bad Situation. Food stockpiles, gone. Water reclamation tank, broken. No leadership, no communications, no answers. Ok, sure, fine. I’ll let you pile on all of these things for dramatic effect.
The real challenge facing The Ark is that it relies on the format you’d expect. Each episode presents a new life-threatening problem aboard the ship, and a ticking clock for the passengers to solve it. When these problems seem interesting in their own right or challenging to solve, this can make for some compelling moments. But in the early episodes especially, many of these challenges seem like they should be way easier to overcome than the show presents.
Are these passengers experts or not?
This plot structure is challenging in particular because the series’ setup seems to contradict what actually plays out on screen. The first episode tells us the Ark One gathered “the best of the best” in various fields to lead the mission; we know people had to compete and qualify to land their spot. In fact, the competition is so fierce that Alicia Nevins (Read), a teenager with FOUR Master’s degrees, only managed to land a job with waste management.
With that setup, I’m looking for creative solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems. I want to see some out-of-the-box thinking to evade what seems like certain death. I expect these passengers to be incredibly smart and capable when it comes to problem-solving and running the Ark.
So…why is making basic ship repairs and running day-to-day operations such a challenge for them?
You can’t tell me this Ark has the planet’s best engineers and technicians, and then also tell me none of them are qualified to fix the water system. Or that they struggle to work the ship’s computers. I get that there are fewer people around to do things now, but come on. This makes the series difficult to feel invested in from the beginning, because neither the problems nor the characters feel real.
Mystery and conspiracy, or just incompetence?
So early in the series, it’s hard to get a fix on which choices have been made with greater intentions in mind, and which are just the result of cutting corners. The first couple episodes of The Ark left me with a lot of questions about how the ship is structured and why many of the problems have occurred.
(Why was all of command in cryo together? Why were key resources all in one place, with almost no back ups? What kind of life support system doesn’t alert until you’re almost dead? Why don’t the space suits have oxygen? Isn’t that fundamental to their purpose?)
On a series with a stronger start, I would assume these oddly unsafe conditions were part of a greater mystery. I mean, this setup makes Ark One feel like Titanic levels of bad planning. If that ends up being an actual plot point of the show, it’s interesting. If it doesn’t…
The Ark: Onwards and upwards, or as good as it gets?
Evaluating The Ark at this stage is a bit challenging. Honestly, if I had found the show on my own, I would have never continued after the pilot episode.
However, since SYFY provided the first four episodes, I did continue with it – and the series definitely got better, episode over episode. It never reaches “much watch” status for me. But the character work and mystery setups laid down in episodes 3 and 4 did make me feel more invested in what would happen next. The later episodes also come with more interesting, believable, and compelling “problems of the week.” I particularly liked that we started to see new challenges spring up caused by decisions made by the crew (including decisions that seemed good at the time).
Episode 4 in particular was definitely the best of the bunch. No specific spoilers, but it does a great job of using the latest challenge to the Ark One in a way that both presents a clear danger and gives us more insight into everyone’s character.
Unfortunately, that leaves the future of the series a little up in the air. Is The Ark a show that found its footing after a rocky start? Or is it a show that lucked out with one solid episode in an otherwise middling-to-bad run? I guess we’ll have to see how the rest of the season plays out to know for sure.
The Ark premieres on Syfy February 1.