The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

Defying Gravity scene
The release of the DVD box set of Defying Gravity offers an oportunity to revisit the short-lived space-themed series. (all images credit: 20th Century Fox)

Beating a dead space horse (yeah, Defying Gravity, again…)

Bookmark and Share

My cable TV company has an electronic feature that provides brief descriptions of the shows that are on, as well as quality ratings for movies. The descriptions can often be humorous (“Tremors: Four big worms with multiple tongues dig high-speed around people in the middle of nowhere. 2.5 stars.”) But what I find surprising is that it’s rare that I disagree with their four-star rating system. Oh, sure, every so often they do something stupid, like give the utterly forgettable Superman Returns three-and-a-half stars while awarding The Big Lebowski only three stars. But most of the time I find myself in agreement with whoever it is that rates their movies for them.

This is surprising because taste in movies, or television shows, is subjective. Whereas I found the television show Defying Gravity, which aired on ABC from August to October 2009, to be tolerable, but not great, with decent acting and reasonably high production values, the more prevalent opinion I’ve encountered was less charitable—a lot of space enthusiasts hated it. They all had their reasons, citing lack of technical accuracy or bad acting or the fact that the astronauts all seemed more interested in boinking each other than actually, well, exploring the solar system or flying their spaceship.

Defying Gravity scene

But surprisingly, now that the show’s first and only season (13 episodes) is available on DVD, the reviews on have been much more positive than those I’ve previously encountered. It seems that there are people who really liked the show and thought it was… well, great. I don’t agree, but neither do I agree with its harshest detractors.

I should back up a bit.

To those of you who don’t know, Defying Gravity was set in the middle of this century and concerned a small group of astronauts on a massive ship known as Antares on a mission to visit most of the planets in our solar system. Despite the science fiction setting, the show was primarily a relationship drama and featured numerous flashbacks to the characters’ experiences on Earth five years before the mission. Space exploration was not the primary plot driver, although there was a strong subplot involving a series of extraterrestrial objects scattered throughout the solar system: the crew’s mission, which they did not learn about until it was well underway, was to recover these apparently living organisms.

Defying Gravity scene

Defying Gravity was a summer replacement series and ABC only aired eight of thirteen episodes before pulling the plug—but it was clear from the beginning that the network lacked confidence in the series and put it on in the summer rather than the fall. For anybody keeping count, this is now my fourth article on this not-very-good television show. (See: Lost Lust in Space,” The Space Review, August 10, 2009.) There are shows that I think are far superior that I have not written about. (I’m only writing about this one because… well, I don’t know why.) Because I’ve already reviewed the eight episodes that aired, as well as the five that did not, this article will focus on the DVD, not the episodes. (See: “Losing gravity,” The Space Review, November 9, 2009.)

Alas, there’s not much on the DVD set to really make it worth purchasing. For one thing, the series was filmed in high definition and looks really good in high definition, and yet for some inexplicable reason the studio chose to release it on standard DVD and not Blu-Ray. (Will there also be a VHS release?)

Defying Gravity scene

Now not everybody has a Blu-Ray player yet, but their costs have tumbled and you can now buy one for as low as $100, so why this show is not released in Blu-Ray is puzzling. Obviously this was a business decision, based upon some calculation of how many sales they are likely to make and figuring that not enough people have Blu-Ray yet. But there’s no indication of a pending Blu-Ray release. It’s just a stupid decision to film something that looks so good, and then not make it available in the format that can take advantage of it.

The other reason to buy a mediocre television show on DVD is the extras, and sadly Defying Gravity is lacking here as well. There aren’t many extras. There are no commentary tracks and only a handful of extras on the fourth disk. The extras include a 10-minute documentary about the series that introduces the characters and the show and is totally superfluous to anybody who has seen even the pilot episode. The extras also include several photo collections of concept art, set and costume design, and production artwork. This is moderately interesting. Defying Gravity had excellent production design and the sets, particularly the spaceship interiors, were very good. It is clear that ABC spent a lot of money building all these sets only to tear them down after thirteen episodes. The concept artwork is therefore nice to see, and clearly most of it was translated directly to screen.

Defying Gravity scene

If you’re a fan of realistic depictions of near-future space exploration, then the artwork may interest you. The spacesuits are cool, although there are no good drawings of things like the various planetary landers intended for places like Venus, Mercury, Mars, and Pluto. Space enthusiasts will be thrilled to see that the giant Antares spacecraft was powered by a VASIMR plasma engine (which surprisingly did not require much maintenance, leaving plenty of time for the crew to chase each other around).

Defying Gravity scene

The last disk also includes a collection of deleted scenes that are almost completely useless and uninteresting. Some are only a few seconds long and have no apparent meaning. My own experience has been that deleted scenes from movies can be interesting, but for television shows they rarely are, probably because television shows don’t have the time or money to film any scenes that they might not use, whereas movies often remain unformed until the final edit, when the director and editor assemble all the pieces.

But the disk also includes a short “alternate ending” to the last episode that is somewhat interesting. After a rocky start, Defying Gravity turned into a relatively solid relationship drama about a bunch of astronauts with emotional baggage. The last episode, “Kiss,” was arguably the best. It never aired in the United States, but provided a solid finale for the canceled series as a whole. In the episode, one of the astronauts travels to the surface of Venus and retrieves one of the alien objects, but is severely wounded during the mission before making it back to the ship.

Defying Gravity scene

Nearly every episode of the series ended with a musical montage and a voiceover from the main protagonist where he discussed some big Life Lesson. Although this could often be cheesy, it worked for the series finale. The protagonist discussed the meaning of courage, and a montage showed various characters kissing—from a kiss of life to a dog licking someone’s hand to a lecherous kiss to an apologetic kiss to a kiss of affection. It was about as emotionally powerful as the series got. But the alternate ending would have pointed the show in a slightly different direction. Rather than the theme of courage and conquering fears, the alternate ending referred to the next extraterrestrial object, located on Mercury. Had the show continued, their journey to Mercury and all the emotional drama that occurred along the way would have been the focus of the next episodes. But it is clear that the producers made the right choice with the ending that they used instead, bringing several plotlines to an effective, and emotional, close. That decision earns them a solid three stars. Of course, your opinion may differ.