[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Netflix taps the science fiction well again when it drops the ten-episode first season of Another Life this Thursday. Headlined by Katee Sackhoff, who also produces, and starring a deliciously diverse cast, the series is both a deep dive into space and the humanity of people who leave their real lives behind to go there. The set of 10 episodes carefully balances an astronaut’s return to commanding an exploration mission several years after a tragedy and the complex emotions that triggers when she has to leave her family behind on Earth to face an as-yet-undetermined alien threat.
Sackhoff plays Niko Breckenridge, a happily married semi-retired astronaut who’s called back into service when an alien craft deposits a seemingly benign, but stories-tall, crystallized artifact in the middle of a soybean field. After several months pass without any successful contact, the secretary of defense dispatches a team to trace the origin signal, taking the conversation to the aliens.
Niko’s tapped by her formal general to lead them on the Salvare. That means saying goodbye to her husband, Erik (Justin Chatwin ) who also happens to be the lead researcher on the Artifact, and their eight-year-old daughter, Jana (Lina Renna). While she navigates the messy turmoil of that, she also faces a crew that’s none-too-pleased that she’s supplanted their usual commander, Ian Yerxa (Tyler Hoechlin), who Niko trained and who stays on as a crusty second-in-command.
The crew is a refreshingly multi-ethnic and LGBTQ melting pot, with the intriguing wrinkle that they all have backups in stasis if something befalls them. They are all expendable, but they’re all also full-realized characters, so we hope we don’t lose them. The three who aren’t duplicated are Niko, because she’s irreplaceable, William (Samuel Anderson), the ship’s onboard AI tailored to match Niko and who’s more human than you’d expect, and Sasha (Jake Abel), the resident golden boy diplomat who’s also the DoD secretary’s son.
The rest of the crew include Michelle (Jessica Camacho), the communications expert who has no personal filter; engineers August (Blu Hunt) and Oliver (Alex Ozerov) and software genius Javier (Alexander Eling), who have an interesting dynamic together; Cas (Elizabeth Faith Ludlow), Niko’s second, who she also trained; Zayn (JayR Tinaco), the onboard medic, and farm-kid-turned-biologist Bernie (A.J. Rivera).
Back on Earth, Erik has two thorns in his side. The first is Harper Glass (Selma Blair), an uber blogger/journalist who has 250 million followers–which she repeats a lot. Harper is one of the first eyewitnesses to the arrival of the alien craft, and she digs in to chase the story, blurring the lines of propriety around Erik and what he wants Jana to know about her mother’s mission. Blair has a ball as a woman pretty sure of herself until she meets her match, and then the performance exquisitely downshifts.
The second thorn is his and Niko’s boss, General DuBois (Barbara Williams) DuBois tries to be diplomatic about pushing for too much, weighing Erik’s personal obligation as a currently single parent and professional obligation to determine whether the planet is in danger.
The 10 episodes deliver a terrific mix of drama-heavy moments anchored by the very strong cast and straight-up action and terror at the usual things that can go wrong when people make dumb mistakes in space/on uninhabited planets, etc. I watched them in three days, which y’all know I don’t generally do.
Sackhoff is superb as the multi-layered Niko. She’s loyal to the job and mission but also is a human being and susceptible to all that comes with it–grief, doubt, loneliness, panic, fear, rage, and love. There’s a healthy dose of flashbacks to fill in some of her story, too. She’s also wicked fierce–returning the favor in a few hand-to-hand scenes when foes miserably attempt to hand her her ass.
If we don’t buy Niko, the rest of it falls away, and no worries at all there. Sackoff is really damn good. Her supporting cast nail the interdynamics of a crew that’s a combination of old colleagues and new faces, and how, as one of them puts it, you soon find out about everyone’s smallest little tics living in close quarters. What’s not here, though, is any sort of dismissive, derisive commentary on the characters and how they live their lives, or who they live them for. That’s a super cool thing to see. Here, everyone just *is*.
Aaron Martin, one of my Canadian tribe and the evil genius behind Slasher, as well as Being Erica, created the series, and writes the first and last episodes. The rest of the writers include Alejandro Alcoba, Romeo Candido Amanda Fahey, Lauren Gosnell, Naledi Jackson, Alex Levine, Jackie May, Lucie Pagé. and Sean Reycraft, who have scripted things as diverse as Degrassi, Killjoys, Orphan Black, and Slasher.
Mairzee Almas, Allan Arkush, Sheree Folkson, Metin Huseyin, and Omar Madha split the director duties. And a shout out to the team who put the music together. Most of it is scored, but there are a few choice songs thrown in that serve their scenes really well, and a couple of times where things go a little trippy and the music lines up perfectly.
Another Life will be available on Netflix this Thursday, the 25th. Here are a couple of sneak peeks.
Images and Video Courtesy of Netflix.
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