This is rare, nuanced storytelling, anchored by one of Brad Pitt’s career-best performances and remarkable technical elements on every level. It’s a special film.
How do networks like FX and Syfy compete with streaming services like Netflix and Amazon? The inherent difference in the two models is obvious in that shows on Netflix can be binged over a weekend while shows on cable television typically air on a weekly schedule. But some networks like Syfy are trying to shake this model up: they aired the latest installment of “Channel Zero” over four consecutive nights, and they’re clearly embracing this unique delivery system as “Nightflyers,” based on the award-winning novella by George R.R. Martin (“Game of Thrones”), will be available not over months as it would have just a few years ago but over consecutive days. Will a new episode every night keep people buzzing about the sci-fi thriller? The network sure hopes so, but the sad news is that the way Syfy has chosen to air it is one of the very few interesting aspects of this high-budget misfire.
Already adapted in the ‘80s in a particularly horrible movie, one thing that can be said for sure is that the TV series is an improvement on that forgettable disaster. Syfy’s take on “Nightflyers,” which premieres Sunday, December 2nd, will be familiar to fans of what could be psychological-horror-sci-fi. Think “Event Horizon” or “Solaris”—films about people going deep into space only to basically run into ghosts and other awful things. From the beginning of “Nightflyers,” we know something is going to go horribly wrong. It’s one of those shows that opens with a scene that we will clearly work our way back to by the end, with a woman played by Gretchen Mol sending a warning to not let the ship dock and a hulking Angus Sampson using his size as what appears to be a villain.
Flash back to better times before the ship turned all zero-g bloody. It’s 2093 and we have completely f-ed up the planet (props to the writers for even thinking we’ll make it that far if recent climate reports are true). So a group of scientists, soldiers, and colonists head out to find a new place for the species to continue. It turns out that we’ve already made contact with some kind of alien race, but we’re having trouble communicating with them—opening the lines is seen as the only way to possibly save us. To achieve this goal, the crew of The Nightflyer is taking along what’s called an L1, a very powerful telepath who has to be kept under regular sedation. They think he will be able to break the wall of communication, but the crew is rightfully scared of his power and the belief that all L1s are kind of sociopaths. Right after he gets on board, strange things start happening. Our hero keeps seeing visions of his dead daughter and accidents keep injuring the crew. Is it the new arrival or has something else begun?
“Nightflyers” reminded me of something a friend said to me the other day when I told him a new show was “OK.” His response: “I don’t have time for OK.” It feels truer than ever with so many options for your valuable time in the world of entertainment, and I’m sorry to say that this one is barely OK. As a fan of the genre, I’m curious to see where it goes—I’ve seen the first three—but the production is riddled with problems. Most of the roles are miscast, the dialogue is flat, and the pacing usually feels off. It’s one of those shows that sags right when you want it to click into place. And several of the performances are downright bad—only Sampson and Jodie Turner-Smith spark any viewer interest.
“Nightflyers” will likely garner a few passengers on the strength of the Martin name and Syfy’s unique distribution model, but they’ll be looking for the escape pod to head to a better show before long.
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