Series Review: Netflix's 'The Expanse' is a future in 50 shades of neo-noir
The intricately woven storyline is meaty science fiction for adults, writes Andrew Donaldson
The future's looking a bit bleak. In just two years, the dystopia of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner will be with us and, three decades later, more of same in Denis Villeneuve's extraordinary sequel Blade Runner: 2049.
And things don't get much better some two centuries later, which is when the action unfolds in the meaty, adult neo-noir science fiction series The Expanse, now streaming on Netflix.
Based on the hit book series by James SA Corey, it was criminally under-watched when it debuted two years ago. In fact, it only came to my attention when Netflix began streaming the second season earlier this month, but catching up has been a blast.
The first few episodes lay the groundwork for a convincing future world with a diverse cast of characters. The solar system has been colonised, and it's a big fractious place; a "cold war" of sorts exists between the residents of Earth and those who have settled on Mars while, out past Jupiter and Saturn, the downtrodden, exploited "Belters" who mine the asteroid belts for ice (water is a rare commodity) are beginning to rebel.
It's in a small colony on one of these asteroids, Ceres, that we meet the Belt-born police detective Miller (Thomas Jane) who has been assigned to trace a runaway girl, Juliette Andromeda Mao (Florence Faivre), as water rationing riots begin to shake the settlement.
WATCH | 'The Expanse' trailer
Meanwhile, millions of miles away, a space ship, the Canterbury, is mining ice near Saturn when it receives a mysterious distress call. The ship's executive officer, James Holden (Steven Strait), responds and in so doing sparks a series of events that threatens the uneasy peace between Earth, Mars and the Belt.
Back on Earth, now ruled by the United Nations, political heavyweight Christen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is overseeing the torture of a suspected separatist as a conspiracy to launch an interplanetary war unfolds around her.
These storylines, finely interwoven, gradually converge, but, at first, The Expanse demands careful viewing. The characters come on thick and fast, and sometimes it feels as if you're watching different TV shows.
However, there's a grittiness to the overall production and an attention to detail that's quite satisfying; whole ecosystems of minor industries have been imagined, as well as the adaptations made, and the deformities suffered by humans as they strive to live in a world of zero gravity. The sex does look like fun, though.
A third season has been ordered.