Particles Evaluate: NBC’s fast-paced alien drama poses a compelling thriller
NBC’s new sci-fi drama Debris begins with a pretty normal action scene in which federal agents chase black market crooks through a luxury hotel. But the crooks don’t sell weapons or diamonds;; They sell fragments of a destroyed alien spaceship that are scattered across the globe. And if a hotel maid innocently touches one of these fragments, it instantly teleports her, dropping multiple stories to her death. Yes, Debris – premiere next Monday, March 1st, at September 10th; I’ve seen the series premiere – it’s anything but standard.
Network TV has a decidedly spotty track record with science fiction, but after that premiere, I officially put my hopes in Debris, which is off to a great start and full of potential. The premise is juicy: British MI6 agent Finola (The Magicians’ Riann Steele) and American FBI agent Bryan (Jonathan Tucker of the Kingdom) work together to find these mysterious spaceship fragments, which after their restoration will be meticulously put together by the government scientists – and solve the riddle of where they come from and what they are capable of. In addition, of course, a human conspiracy is brewing in which the priceless fragments often fall into the wrong hands.
Debris springs from the mind of Fringe writer JH Wyman, and he’s chugging briskly with the same geeky, goofy energy that the beloved show had. (Bryan calls a triangular spacecraft fragment a “Nacho”). We are in the middle of the story. The characters toss around a lot of indecipherable jargon and aren’t really waiting for us to catch up. (My review notes were filled with question marks.) But there are also moments of sheer awe, like when the agents follow a woman’s body as it floats above the ground and turns into a swirling tornado of unexplained energy. And by keeping his stories on a human level, he manages to anchor himself in real emotions in the midst of the technobabble.
Tucker is an underrated actor and a welcome presence on any TV show, from the terrifying killer Matthew Brown in Hannibal to MMA bruiser Jay Kulina in Kingdom to gangster Frankie Ryan in City on a Hill. It’s nice to see he’s in the spotlight here, and he brings a sly, rough-hewn charm to Bryan. Steele is great too, as Finola, who is the book of the two, and they have a lively, lighthearted joke between them; I am curious to see how this bond develops in the coming weeks and years.
The special effects are top notch, and terrifyingly compelling shards of alien technology pop up in the most unlikely places. And the sound is surprisingly creepy, backed up by a menacing, bass-heavy score. (The premiere revolves around an alien who owns a young boy’s body and whose victims are bleeding from their eyes.) We don’t even get a chance to catch our breath while the action races forward and a WTF spin is on stacked another. At some point, all you have to do is sit back and accept the confusion.
It’s hard to get too excited, however. After all, I’ve only seen one episode, and we’ve all been on this path before, with science fiction dramas that pose intriguing puzzles only to be canceled before we get any answers. (ABC seems to bring a new one like clockwork out every year.) As intriguing as Debris’ central secret now is, it could easily wear out if producers run out of ideas too quickly. I still can’t really imagine how this can be sustained over several seasons. But for now at least it’s a hell of a fun ride. It’s rare for a network to beat us with something as smart, weird, and ambitious as this. So let’s enjoy it while we can.
THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Smart, weird, and surprisingly creepy, NBC’s science fiction drama Debris hits the ground and doesn’t look back.