Blightyvision: “Outcasts”

Written and created by Ben Richards
Directed by Bharat Nalluri and Omar Madha
Starring Liam Cunningham, Hermione Norris, and Daniel Mays

The write-ups and hype for “Outcasts” were intriguing, I must say.  Created by Ben Richards (one of the talented writers behind “Spooks”) and starring a wide variety of actors who have proven themselves in other roles, this UK take on the Bad Things Happen in Space Colonies sci-fi subgenre seemed promising.  After all, of late the BBC has been fighting back against the American DVD box set, and their willingness to offer creative counters to US standards has gone fairly well overall.

So what did they do to make this show their own?  Well … not a lot.

The story follows the people of Carpathia, a planet five years’ travel from Earth, where the last few ships of settlers have begun to land.  But amidst the excitement of family, friends, and supplies coming in, those already there find themselves dealing with their own internal political issues.  In particular, we follow the unfortunate goings-on around President Richard Tate (Cunningham) as his people begin to get riled concerning the policies and doings in the settlement of Forthaven.

Meanwhile, so-called Expeditionaries are venturing outside Forthaven, investigating a genetically-altered human race known as the ACs.  The ACs, as a whole, are your typical race of Bad People whom we are encouraged to question our opinion of when a nice one surfaces in the middle of an episode or when a nasty Carpathian settler wants to abuse their genetic structure to supplement their own.  The interaction between the settlers and the ACs fluctuates between being possibly encouraging and going horribly awry.

Long story short: “Outcasts” brings absolutely nothing new to the table.  At all.  And the worst thing you can do for a show that’s nothing new is talk it up like it is.  I will admit to being taken in by said hype, and  was very disappointed to be confronted with a show that could easily be passed off as a SyFy Original if you just swapped out the logo in the corner.  It’s every show I’ve ever flipped past on cable that I couldn’t be bothered with, and while I expect that from a country with 800 channels and people who will watch nigh on anything, I will admit to being a bit bent out of shape that the Beeb nestled this in amongst their cleverer stuff this year.

The thing is — and I’m not sure how to explain this — it’s not a bad show.  It’s gotten some serious bashing from other critics, but I really don’t see it as poorly-written or poorly-acted.  The cast was entertaining to watch, especially for the opportunity to see Mays (who caught The Fandom’s eye as Jim Keats in “Ashes to Ashes”) playing a sympathetic character — Cass, a quasi-good-humored Expy with a dark past.  The other stand-out was Norris (“Kingdom” and “Spooks”) as Stella, a settler trying desperately to reconnect with her estranged daughter Lily upon the latter’s arrival on Carpathia.

But, individual performances aside, there is absolutely nothing about this show that makes it stand out.  It’s not good enough to set aside the 8×45 block for this close to Doctor Who Time, and it’s not bad enough to watch with a dozen friends and a crate of Mike’s.  It’s straight-up, truly mediocre, and it actually feels kind of bad to say that about a show.  I don’t think it deserved the scathing press it got or the sheer amount of fandom glee when it was swapped out to a rubbish time slot (and then canceled).  But I just can’t recommend it to a discerning viewer.  It has a genuine brave little fanbase out there who disagree with me hugely, and have told me so, but — and I’m sorry to the well-meaning Mr. Richards, who was very gracious about the negative feedback on Twitter — life’s too short for mediocre television.

“Outcasts” did give me the opportunity to use the phrase “Satan walking a pig on a leash” completely in context, which I suppose says at least something for it.