Last Monday, SyFy debuted their new show Defiance, and it was a huge hit for the network. In fact, it was the highest rated scripted program on sci-fi in 7 years, since a 2006 episode of Eureka. Set in the near future, Defiance is about an Earth occupied by eight alien races (including humans) who are at an uneasy peace after a long war. Alliances are strained, but in a town called Defiance (formerly St. Louis), a community of different races have come together to maintain peace between them. Enter Nolan (Grant Bowler), a former Marine and current drifter who is inadvertently pulled into Defiance with his adopted daughter, Irisa, who is from of an alien race called the Irathients. In the pilot episode, Nolan and Irisa integrate themselves into Defiance, as they fight off an alien attack ordered by a mysterious figure.
Should you watch it or skip it? Here’s ten pros and cons to help you make up your mind:
1. Pro: Defiance comes on Monday nights, the weakest night of television. What else are you going to watch? Plus, with 13 episodes, Defiance will take us through June, in the dark period between the end of Game of Thrones and the premiere of the summer shows in late June, like Newsroom, Dexter, Ray Donovan and FX’s new show, The Bridge (plus Breaking Bad in August).
Con: There’s still a backlog of television shows from Sunday night on your DVR, and you’re already trying to keep up with hours of great TV.
2. Con: Like Revolution, it’s set in an apocalyptic future and blends in elements of Westerns.
Pro: So did Firefly, and while Defiance is no Firefly, it’s a hell of a lot better than Revolution. It also doesn’t have an insipid premise built around the illogical idea that Earth lost the ability to generate energy.
3. Con: The make-up effects on the various alien races look kind of cheesy, and the special effects budget is clearly limited.
Pro: The make-up effects on Doctor Who’s aliens also often look cheesy, but that hasn’t stopped Doctor Who from being the best and longest running sci-fi show in the history of television. Defiance‘s limited budget also forces the production designers to be more creative, and we are talking about a kind of apocalyptic future, so you don’t need a ton of visual effects to make a run-down town look run down. Plus, the alien army that attacked Defiance in the pilot looked seriously bad ass.
4. Con: Julie Benz from Dexter is in it, and Benz’s Dexter character is one of the most annoying of the last decade. She was Lori from The Walking Dead before Lori from The Walking Dead.
Pro: Julie Benz from Roswell and Angel/Buffy the Vampire Slayer is in it. Honestly, she’s nothing like her Dexter character, which is to say: She’s not a nagging shrew. She plays the new mayor of Defiance, and she’s trying to gain thee respect of the townspeople. She does a nice job in the opening episode. She’s a lighter, less serious version of Battlestar Galactica’s Laura Roslin (the Defiance character’s name is Amanda Rosewater, which seems like it wants us to make that BSG association).
5. Pro: There’s a dearth of good sci-fi on television right now, and Defiance can fill that void, especially if you don’t watch Doctor Who.
Con: While Defiance is solid sci-fi television, there’s absolutely nothing new about the show. It’s early yet, obviously, but they have introduced no novel ideas or particularly compelling hooks. It’s just a mish-mash of sci-fi tropes and ideas we’ve seen dozens of times, although it employs them well. It also means that it’s not so geeky as to be inaccessible to non-genre geeks.
6. Pro: Mia Kirshner is in it, as the owner of a brothel.
Con: It doesn’t seem like the kind of show in which Mia Kirshner will spend a lot of time undressed. It’s SyFy, not HBO. But, that can also work as a pro. As Slate notes, there’s an unusually large number of strong female characters in Defiance, and they even compare one — Stahma (Jaime Murray) — to Cersei Lannister. I think that’s a huge stretch, but that character does appear to be the scheming, power grabbing type, and she could be fun to watch over the course of the season, as she pulls her husband’s puppet strings to make him do what she wants him to do.
7. Con: It’s not as serious, complex, or smart as Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica. It does not appear, at least yet, that Defiance is the kind of sci-fi show that’s going to be immensely challenging, or that will present a lot of existential questions about the universe.
Pro: So what? It’s not a dumb show, either. It has a certain sense of playfulness, but it’s not campy. It’s lighter sci-fi, but there’s plenty of action-adventure, some definite intrigue, and a lot of unanswered questions to keep us glued.
8. Con — It’s mostly a cast of barely familiar characters actors and unknowns.
Pro — Again, so what? The cast is a hell of a lot better than the generic faces we’ve seen in Revolution and Terra Nova in recent years. They’ve got character, and the lead actor, Grant Bowler (who may be vaguely familiar from True Blood or Lost) is great as the outsider who brings his adopted alien daughter to Defiance and takes over as sheriff. He’s no Olyphant, of course, but he’s got some rugged, grizzled charm.
9. Con — That sheriff also posed as a tracker in the pilot episode, and there’s a possibility that Defiance could become a formulaic sci-fi procedural.
Pro — Given the expansive cast and the scheming that’s already underway, as well as the fact that someone is trying to destroy Defiance for its own good, it seems unlikely that this is going to be Longmire set in a terraformed community in the future.
10. Con: Defiance is tied to a video game that was created alongside the show.
Pro: You don’t need to play the game or have any understanding of it to enjoy the show.
Verdict: The Pros far outweigh the cons. It’s not a perfect show, but it has a lot of potential, and is a sorely needed quality addition to the television sci-fi landscape.