TV Review – Salvation (2017)
For the past five years or so, CBS has really pushed science-fiction series as its summer filler, along side the long-running reality show Big Brother. Up until now, CBS has taken original ideas or ideas not really done before. It adapted Stephen King’s Under the Dome and James Patterson’s Zoo. It also made Extant, a series starring Halle Berry as an astronaut who gets pregnant by an alien, which is partially a story from The X-Files, but Extant had its own take on it, so for the most part, these were all new ideas to be on television or anywhere. This isn’t the case for this new series though. The premise of it is actually very familiar and has been done at least three times in film. That’s not necessarily the criticism here. The criticism is the fact that this series doesn’t put a new spin on this familiar premise.
Those three aforementioned films with a similar premise are Armageddon (1998), Deep Impact (1998) and Melancholia (2011). The familiar premise is that a huge asteroid is on a collision course with Earth and if it hits Earth, it will cause an extinction-level event, killing all life. Armageddon and Deep Impact focus on the people working to stop it. Those movies focus on uber masculinity and action flick clichés. Melancholia focused on people who have no power to do anything but wait for the inevitable. This TV series leans toward those former films. Yet, it would have been more interesting if it instead leaned toward the latter, maybe even incorporating foreign cultures.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the budget to mount the kind of action that Michael Bay mounted in Armageddon. It also doesn’t have the inclination to be as depressing and futile as that Lars Von Trier apocalyptic drama. It doesn’t have the inclination to be the character study that Melancholia was either. What it does have the inclination to do is be about government conspiracy and bureaucracy. The conspiracy is to keep the whole asteroid and pending doom a secret. This conspiracy exists only to add a layer of intrigue and danger that feels superfluous. Of course, the bureaucracy exists only as stumbling blocks. Questions of who’s in charge and how much money should be spent are all batted back-and-forth. There’s also an air of NASA-style problem solving in the vein of Ridley Scott’s The Martian. Written by Liz Kruger, Craig Shapiro and Matt Wheeler, that whole, NASA-style problem solving sadly is only present in order to underscore the ineptitude of government or government’s inability to make moral judgments.
Charlie Rowe (Red Band Society) stars as Liam Cole, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or MIT. He majors in astrophysics. He’s developed an algorithm that monitors gravitational forces in space. He discovers through his program that an asteroid will hit and destroy all life on Earth in 186 days or about six months, but it turns out to be moot because the government already knew.
While the series is an ensemble piece, Liam is the first character seen and he’s involved in ways that feel unnecessary. The show hasn’t made the character feel vital, which isn’t always required, but Rowe as an actor hasn’t jumped off the screen as an engaging or compelling presence. After only three episodes, Rowe could never be seen again and it wouldn’t affect much of anything.
It’s also unfortunate that the series opens with a soundbite from Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the most famous astrophysicists in the world. He’s also African-American. Yet, Liam is the astrophysicist we follow in this series. Instead of a character who looks and acts like Neil deGrasse Tyson, a passionate, engaging and charismatic person, we get Liam, a bland white guy. It’s so disappointing to all that deGrasse Tyson represents. Rowe’s role could have been tantamount to Donald Glover’s role in The Martian, or even Halle Berry’s role in Extant, in terms of diversifying the CBS network, which has fielded complaints of being too Caucasian, but alas not!
Santiago Cabrera (Big Little Lies and Heroes) also stars as Darius Tanz, an engineer who has his company that develops space technology, among other things. His character is the one helping to underscore the government’s ineptitude. It’s again and again depicted that the government fails or is ignorant of what’s to be done, whereas Darius has all the answers as a private citizen, often working against the government. It’s practically a Republican position.
Jennifer Finnigan (Tyrant and The Bold and the Beautiful) co-stars as Grace Barrows, a single mother of a teen daughter. Grace works in the Pentagon doing public affairs. Meanwhile, she’s also having an affair with Harris Edwards, played by Ian Anthony Dale (Hawaii Five-0 and The Event). Harris is the Deputy Secretary of Defense. She exists to be a work-around of government bureaucracy and also to underscore parental concerns one would have in the wake of the coming destruction of all life.
Earlier this year, the CW ran a series that took a comedic take on this same premise. It was called No Tomorrow. It was about two people doing things on a kind of bucket list. It used the end of the world as a gimmick for a lame romance and some rather selfish and egotistical acts. It could have been more, as this CBS series could have been more. Yet, for those who live on the Eastern Shore, this series does give a shout-out to Wallops Island, Virginia.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Wednesdays at 9PM on CBS.