Somayeh Karami is an avid reader and writer of Science Fiction. When not indulging that particular passion she is hiking the mountain paths just outside of Tehran, taking stunning nature photos, and caring for her beloved birds. By day she is a programmer.
The reign of TV shows has already begun. These days many people prefer them to movies. At first glance, it seems there are lots of science fiction and fantasy series being aired on all of the major channels and streaming platforms. Many of the Marvel comics have been adapted for television. There are reboots of old science fiction tv series and movies such as Westworld. And there are many original series. But what can be said about the quality of these shows? Many of the Sci-Fi and fantasy shows of recent years have not really been that strong. Similarly the same could be said of the big screen. The acting is not particularly good, visual effects in many cases are weak due to the lack of budgets for some channels (e.g. syfy channel) and the stories lack originality and creativity. Many of these shows are mainly targeted toward the mainstream audience, not just the hard-core fans of the genre. Instead of being real Sci-Fi or fantasy, they are just dramas wrapped in the disguise of some elements of the genre, like a fantasy setting having dragons fly around in the future, with magic and so on. But what keeps the audience watching these shows is not genre, but the love affairs going on between characters. So lets take a look at one of these shows and see if it indeed is the best science fiction has to offer to us.
Recently Youtube announced an original TV show of its own, called “Origin”. It was apparent from the trailer that it happens inside a spaceship and it involves aliens. Many science fiction movies and tv shows have these 2 elements in common, so nothing could extraordinary could be said about the movie judging by those two elements. But after watching the entire series I could say it did not rise to the level of even a mediocre alien invasion type sub-genre. The show begins in a spaceship, 8 persons belonging to different ethnic groups, a fact that that turns out to be relevant, wake up in a spaceship after some catastrophic event. The ship has been abandoned. Very soon they realize something is terribly wrong. As is the way with these shows, there is a computer genius amongst the little group of passengers who is able to break into any computer right away. They figure out something has hit the spaceship a few days prior, causing massive damage. Everyone, including crew, and other passengers, had fled in lifeboats. The ship was en route to a habitable planet called Thea. The passengers are all offered a clean slate by the organization arranging the journey, meaning whatever they did in the past will not matter in their new home planet, also meaning they all have something black in their past they want to escape.
This show mimics many of the aspects of science fiction and drama from other shows. The style of the show in which, each episode introduces one of the passengers and delve into their past and their backstory has been used often in other shows. The spaceship is one of those ships prepared to travel the void between stars and planets and is equipped with cryogenic sleep equipment so the passengers spend the whole time in stasis. Nothing new. The alien is aggressive and invades the body of the victim and resides in it like a parasite, controlling the mind of the host and making it rather difficult to recognize who has been possessed. Another cliché from countless science fiction shows movies and stories. One might argue that there are actually a limited number of plots to be developed in various stories. But it could also be argued that each story should add something new to a recurring theme, or re-tell it in a new way. If not, you can tell where the story is headed from the beginning. Even the plot twists have become predictable. The characters in the also “Origin” are unoriginal. Criminals suddenly in over their heads have decided to start a new life, disgraced professionals who have made poor life choices and must now undertake a journey such as this, to seek redemption. These are troubled individuals with dark backstories in pursuit of forgiveness and a fresh start. We have seen this story and setting so many times that this show has nothing to offer fans of the genre.
Side note about the alien in this show: These kinds of aliens that take possession of the victim and control their mind, is just allegory for human fear of the unknown. It is a warning meant for our subconscious. It is a warning about the hazards of leaving our familiar existences for the unknown and, inhospitable expanse of the space. The alien represents the loss of identity. By possessing one person in a group it causes confusion and mistrust among them. This is something that can happen without the interference of any alien, but by attributing it to one it somehow makes the occurrence easier for our minds to process. As if this fear of the unknown, coupled with this inability to forge and maintain healthy relationships with one another is something otherworldly and not endemic to the human experience. We have seen many occurrences of these kinds of aliens in science fiction, like “Xenomorph” in the “Alien” franchise and “The Gao’uld” in Stargate franchise. The process of alien entering the body of the host is always as repulsive, a metaphor for the horrible prospect of losing one’s identity.
If Youtube wants to enter the ring with the likes of Netflix, HBO and Amazon Prime, they are going to have to try harder. “Origin” is not really the best science fiction has to offer to. Although many sci-fi shows have spaceships and aliens in them, not all of them are so predictable and devoid of any creativity. The strongest aspect of all these shows could be the drama and the characters. If they are appealing enough audiences will give it a chance. But a without a decent plot, character development, or visual fx, then you are left with a weak show trying to sell itself as science fiction by using a spaceship and a not very convincing alien.
When I first started reading science fiction some 30 years ago (which was the very first thing I read when I finished my first year of elementary school), one could scarcely find anything except some summarized translations of Jules Verne’s books, which were often poor translations full of mistakes. But those poorly translated stories of wonderful voyages to the unknown corners of the Earth and to the moon itself were enough for me and a few of my generation to ignite the fire in our minds. We became enchanted with those stories in which science, adventure, romance, and mystery were intertwined. As I grew older I discovered my friends and classmates were interested in other kinds of stories. In those stories, there were no spaceships traveling to the moon, nor any submersible mysteriously traveling beneath the oceans. Those stories were mostly concerned about love affairs between people. Later I learned their names: Drama. I also found out the elites of literature consider only those stories a “real” form of literature and not Science Fiction. That was unfortunate.