Social media makes a difference, but you still need quality if you want to hang around. My TV viewing is driven by critical acclaim, and by the reputation of the showrunner. I found little critical reaction to Ascension … Tim Goodman said it was flawed but had promise, but mostly he commented on the number of bare butts (he suggested they change the name to “Asscension”). The showrunner is Philip Levens, whose most notable previous work was on Smallville, which I didn’t watch. The cast lacked star power, which isn’t really a problem … a good show can make a star … but since this is on Syfy, I worry it might turn into one of those awful movies that feature one B-level fading star and a bunch of unknowns. I recognized a few names … Gil Bellows used to be on Ally McBeal, Andrea Roth on Rescue Me. I don’t know Brian Van Holt, but he was on Cougar Town. And Lauren Lee Smith turned up along the way. None of these people are Steven Better Watch actors.
And then there’s Tricia Helfer. I thought she was underrated on Battlestar Galactica, until everyone figured out she was much more than a pretty face … I still liked her, but she was no longer underrated. Earlier this year, I gave Killer Women a try … didn’t last long, but the only reason I even peeked was Helfer’s star turn. There are limits … I don’t watch every episode of every show on which Helfer appears. But I always hope her career goes well, because I like her Twitter persona. @trutriciahelfer carries a lot of weight. Most of this comes from her interactions with her BFF Katee Sackhoff, who I really will watch in just about anything (hello, Bionic Woman and Sexy Evil Genius). When the two of them took a motorcycle trip across the country, checking in each night from their motel for video chats, I was there.
So … I tuned into Ascension because Tricia Helfer has an enjoyable Twitter persona. Ascension is a pilot masquerading as a mini-series; the six episodes worked OK as standalones, but there are plenty of avenues for continuation if Syfy decides to turn it into a series. It’s clearly an attempt by Syfy to recapture the glories of Battlestar, which also began as a one-shot movie that was turned into a series. (Helfer reminds of this by her very presence.) There are problems with this, though. The Battlestar Galactica movie/pilot was good, but it really clicked with the first episode of the actual series, which we haven’t seen from Ascension yet. And while BSG helped the careers of actors like Helfer and Sackhoff, the show also had two Oscar nominees in Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell. Ascension has pretensions, and right now, that’s a good thing … it means Levens has an idea of where he wants to take the series. It doesn’t have the ambition of a BSG, but few shows in history had as much ambition as Ron Moore’s take on Galactica.
The problem is, the mini-series is only mildly engaging. There are a couple of plot twists I didn’t see coming … they were startling enough that you just had to know what would happen next. But the sensation of those twists didn’t hold. There is some good acting … Helfer, as usual, and I was taken with Ellie O’Brien as a child who is different from everyone else. On the other hand, I didn’t get Brandon P. Bell, although I couldn’t tell if it was the actor or the writing.
Another thing about the plot twists: they got your attention, distracted you for a bit, but eventually you returned to actually thinking about the plot, and it is full of the proverbial “could drive a truck through them” holes. The basic concept of Ascension is fascinating, but from what we’ve seen so far, it is fascinating yet stupid.
Still, better that than too be simply stupid. I liked what I saw enough to check it out if it ever makes it to series. It’s already better than Killer Women. Grade for mini-series: B.