As the BBC banishes Outcasts to the ravines of canned TV shows, Aaron Lee looks back on why it missed its mark and how it will be remembered.
“This is about secrets and lies,” says the insidious, yet devilishly charismatic, Julius Berger, played by Eric Mabius.
Shame it’s taken so long for Outcasts to make that clear. Coming from accomplished British production studio and makers of Spooks and Life on Mars, Kudos, I was excited for this series long before it began.
A new sci-fi drama shot in Africa, where a group of courageous pioneers strive to build a better future on a distance planet? At last something to challenge the American’s renewed Battlestar Galactica, et al.
So what went wrong?
In a series where an allergic reaction to an insect bite leads to a sudden rise in emotional tempo after more than half-an-hour of mere blips, quite a lot it would seem.
Despite some likeable characters and plenty of mystique, Outcasts’ biggest problem was one of pace. The golden rule is always to show, not tell – and, boy, did they tell.
Fleur and Cass, Stella and Jack, Richard and Stella, Julius and Jack, Stella and Julius… scenes of long-winded, plot-driving dialogue are frequent, and the show’s pace pays the price.
But beyond that, Outcasts’ plot resolutions were disappointing too. It hinted at originality, with its premier episodes drawing the sand in the dirt for coming conflicts. Yet convention works for a reason. Despite conflicts and tensions on numerous levels – the will-they-won’t-they of Fleur and Cass, the XPs versus the ACs and Richard and Julius’s brooding matches – events continually ambled to stalemates, with both parties afraid to make the first move.
Where was the fire? Where was the undoable act of defiance?
A beacon of hope for British sci-fi that lost its way, that’s what Outcasts is. And despite its shortcomings, I enjoyed it enough to want a second series.
Outcasts’ cancellation is yet another sign of the British television industry becoming more like the cut-throat US, where it’s common for shows to be cancelled after a single series or even their first few episodes if ratings are poor.
It would be a lie to say there isn’t room for improvement. But I’ll tell you a secret, I still hope the BBC continue to commission new, experimental sci-fi drama, because if they don’t, who will?