Wednesday, December 1

‘Astronauts Check Our Scripts!’: Into the New Age of Sumptuous Sci-Fi TV | TV

DNastic infighting, the decline and fall of a mighty empire, tyrannical rulers and fantastic beasts. You may be forgiven for thinking that the Apple Foundation, starring Jared Harris and Lee Pace from The Hobbit, is claiming a right as the presumed heir to the Iron Throne of Westeros. Or at least that the new adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s seminal book series, a galactic saga that takes place over several centuries, could succeed in doing for science fiction what Game of Thrones did for fantasy.

Certainly, science fiction television has never looked so sumptuous, with gleaming haute couture court scenes that wouldn’t look out of place at the Met Gala, and as many candles and torches as there are strings of lights. But for David S Goyer, the showrunner tasked with bringing the ambitious story to television, the influence of the fantasy hit was more nuanced.

“I wasn’t trying to do the next Game of Thrones,” Goyer says. But he was trying to represent an epic and a story that would unfold over generations. The good thing about telling a story over a long period of time is that the characters grow and change: monsters can be redeemed and good people fall from grace. “

Goyer’s genius is finding ways for his main characters to survive the show’s vast time jumps. Its protagonist, Gaal Dornick, conveniently skips 35 years in suspended animation, while Trantor’s royal court is populated by beings who are functionally immortal. There’s an android bridesmaid taken from Asimov’s robot novels, and an endless stream of clones of Emperor Cleon I, so magnificent that no one else could succeed him.

Couture that wouldn't look out of place at the Met Gala ... the sumptuous Foundation.
Couture that wouldn’t look out of place at the Met Gala … the sumptuous Foundation. Photograph: AP

Such complex storytelling may defy mainstream tastes, but Foundation comes at a time when sci-fi television is undergoing a renaissance. Shows like Amazon’s The Expanse, which takes place in a future where humanity has colonized the solar system, and another Apple series, For All Mankind, set in a parallel universe where the space race continued in the 1990s, demand that the public serve- There are seriously deadly scenarios. “There are deep concepts in the show,” says The Expanse showrunner Naren Shankar. “It’s about tribalism, it’s about cycles of history and economy and resource constraints and colonization. These are great ideas. “

Those great ideas go hand in hand with great production values. “From a technical perspective, you can do things today that you couldn’t do five or ten years ago,” says Shankar. “And when you uncork that, when you understand that this narrative is not just a guy in a rubber suit waving tentacles at you, suddenly you can express things that the genre has done for 50 years, but couldn’t appear on screen.”

To go boldly ... Apple's For All Mankind.
To go boldly … Apple’s For All Mankind. Photography: AppleTV / Youtube

It’s perhaps no coincidence that both Shankar and For All Mankind showrunner Ronald D Moore are products of the last sci-fi boom of the small screen of the 90s, having cut their teeth in Star Trek: The Next Generation. . Moore switched to the moody Trek spin-off, Deep Space Nine, while Shankar made his way to the Jim Henson-produced space opera Farscape. Both shows, along with the intricate plot of J Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5 series, were instrumental in changing the landscape of not just science fiction television, but television drama in general.

For Chris Nunn, professor of film and television at the University of Greenwich, the current wave of prestigious science fiction programs is the direct result of decisions made three decades ago. “Science fiction is now benefiting from the changes brought about by shows like Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine they really had no right to do what they did when they did it. We now see science fiction reaping the benefits of long-term changes in the way we consume television. “

The current renaissance dates back to Moore’s groundbreaking 2004 reimagining of the Battlestar Galactica space odyssey of the 1970s. By updating the premise for a post-9/11 television landscape, he turned a niche sci-fi story into mainstream television. water cooling. “Whether you were into science fiction or not, you found yourself bingeing on all these seasons,” says Ben Nedivi, one of Moore’s co-creators on For All Mankind.

While Star Trek, Plus, thriving in today’s sci-fi landscape, with no fewer than five series currently in production, it seems unlikely that it will cross the final frontier into the halls of prestigious sci-fi. For Nunn, this boils down to one thing: aliens. While the shows of the golden age of the 90s relied heavily on prosthetics and, in the case of Farscape, Puppets – To introduce characters from other worlds, today’s grim offerings focus solely on human problems. “With Battlestar Galactica, you have robots, but no aliens,” Nunn notes. And The Expanse is similar. So they can be read like science fiction but also dystopias, while Star Trek and Babylon 5 and Farscape, even stargate, they all had alien life forms at their core. “

The base can include the strange alien being as costume: majestic sea monsters float beneath the waves of one planet, while ferocious wolf and lizard creatures stalk the deserts of another, but only humans have any impact on the story. And while much of the action in The Expanse concerns a semi-sensitive “protomolecule” with the ability to reconfigure matter, the ancient civilization that created it is long gone.

'Groundbreaking' ... Battlestar Galactica.
‘Groundbreaking’ … Battlestar Galactica.
Photograph: Syfy / NBCUniversal / Getty Images

For Shankar, a great force from The Expanse is that it uses space as more than just a backdrop. “This is a show that turns space into a character,” he says. With a Ph.D. in applied physics, he served as Next Generation’s Official Scientific Advisor. “On Star Trek it was really about maintaining continuity with bogus science, making sure to use phasers when they were supposed to, and not photon torpedoes, “he says. “The technical manual [for the Enterprise] It was quite detailed, but it wasn’t real. In The Expanse we use real physics to create drama. There is a sequence in the first season where the ships turn their engines on and off, so you go from being weight to weightless. Two characters suddenly lose gravity and can’t get back to where they should be, and the solution is to keep momentum. “

This absolute commitment to precision is shared by the team behind For All Mankind. “We have an astronaut who reads our scripts,” explains co-creator Matt Wolpert. “He will tell us when he comes up with ideas that go against the laws of physics.” The series is so well science-based that Wolpert and his writing partner Nedivi, whose previous work includes Fargo and American Crime Story, admit that science fiction elements crept into them. “We never saw it as a science fiction show,” says Nedivi, “but the more it detaches itself from our story, the more it becomes one.” The final moments of the second season, set in 1995, show American boots on Mars. Nedivi laughs: “Matt and I constantly look at each other and say, ‘How did this turn into a science fiction show?'”

As for the Foundation, time will tell if it can capture the zeitegist like the GoT did 10 years ago. It certainly has the ambition to do so. If the first season goes well with audiences, Goyer has plans for seven more. “It’s definitely a big change,” he admits. But if you can pull it off, the sky is the limit.

Foundation is available starting Friday on Apple TV +

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