The Ex­panse

An epic new SF con­spir­acy thriller is hit­ting tele­vi­sion. Bryan Cairns in­ves­ti­gates the strange case of The Ex­panse...

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents -

Syfy’s new space show is look­ing epic in ev­ery way.

Syfy’s new se­ries The Ex­panse is al­ready draw­ing the kind of buzz most science fic­tion tele­vi­sion se­ries would blow up a planet to gen­er­ate. This sum­mer the pi­lot was screened at San Diego Comic-Con to strong word of mouth. At­ten­dees im­me­di­ately com­pared the space saga to such genre roy­alty as 2004’s Bat­tlestar Galac­tica, Fire­fly and, yes, even Game Of Thrones. Ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers Mark Fer­gus (writer of Iron Man, Chil­dren Of Men and Cow­boys & Aliens) and Naren Shankar (pro­ducer of Farscape, CSI: Crime Scene In­ves­ti­ga­tion, Grimm) ob­vi­ously couldn’t be more thrilled to be lumped in with such dis­tin­guished com­pany.

“We’ll take it,” Fer­gus tells SFX. “There hasn’t been a show that’s done multi-lay­ered, com­pli­cated, in­ter­weav­ing sto­ry­lines with this kind of scope in a while. That’s why those com­par­isons are com­ing. There’s definitely a thirst in the mar­ket place for it. Peo­ple aren’t afraid of com­plex­ity and den­sity. They kind of crave it. They want to get drawn into a world that feels real, that has depth and they are will­ing to go along with­out un­der­stand­ing ev­ery lit­tle thing. That’s what is so beau­ti­ful about this long-form era that we are liv­ing in.”

Based on the best-sell­ing Leviathan Wakes book se­ries by James SA Corey, the pen name of au­thors Daniel Abra­ham and Ty Franck, the show takes place 200 years in the fu­ture when

mankind has colonised the so­lar sys­tem. The

Ex­panse finds cyn­i­cal de­tec­tive Jose­phus “Joe” Miller (Thomas Jane) and rogue ship cap­tain Jim Holden (Steven Strait) join­ing forces to find Julie Mao (Florence Faivre), a miss­ing young woman who may hold the key to a grow­ing con­spir­acy in­volv­ing Earth, Mars and the Belt.

“It’s a cop case like a lot of great noir shows where there’s a tiny, lit­tle mean­ing­less in­ci­dent – a case no­body wants, thrown on a dead­beat cop’s desk – and Miller starts pulling on this lit­tle thread of this miss­ing rich girl,” says Shankar. “Over the course of the show, this case ends up be­ing the thread that leads to this mas­sive, epic con­spir­acy. It starts as a tiny lit­tle in­ci­dent that really is con­nected to ev­ery­thing this is about: all our char­ac­ters and all the con­spir­a­cies. That case en­velops the show.”

“Miller is the cru­sader who has lost his ide­al­ism and has to find his way back to it through this case that he’s fol­low­ing,” adds Fer­gus. “Holden has th­ese ideas about jus­tice and what the real world is like. One has lived and one has not lived, yet. They are go­ing to teach each other their view­point of how they see the world.”

Miller and Holden may be the pri­mary char­ac­ters, but other key play­ers round out the cast. That group in­cludes Naomi Na­gata (Do­minique Tip­per), the space­ship Can­ter­bury’s head en­gi­neer; the ves­sel’s pi­lot Alex Ka­mal (Cas An­var); as well as its me­chanic Amos Bur­ton (Wes Chatham). There’s also Chris­jen Avasar­ala (Shohreh Agh­dashloo), the Deputy Un­der­sec­re­tary for the United Na­tions. De­tails about their back­sto­ries, his­to­ries and moral com­passes will emerge as the sea­son pro­gresses. “Ty and Daniel are in­cred­i­bly pro­lific au­thors,” notes Shankar. “In ad­di­tion to all the books of the se­ries, they’ve writ­ten a whole bunch of sup­port­ing novel­las. Part of the fun about do­ing the show is that we get this great, in­tense, ad­ven­ture-driven plot in the main book. Then, we’ve been bring­ing in the in­di­vid­ual, real-life, char­ac­ter-study sto­ries from

go­ing large

the novel­las and us­ing them to in­form the peo­ple in the show. This is where the com­par­isons to Game Of Thrones and Bat­tlestar are apt. With­out making our­selves sound too grand, it is that slow un­fold­ing as you learn about the peo­ple and you get to ex­plore di­men­sions with them, episode af­ter episode, and sea­son af­ter sea­son.”

It’s a crisp Novem­ber af­ter­noon when SFX vis­its The Ex­panse set. In­side Toronto’s Pinewood Stu­dios, three huge sound­stages have been trans­formed. In one cor­ner stand liv­ing quar­ters that are con­stantly re­dressed for var­i­ous char­ac­ters. A re­cently erected po­lice sta­tion takes over a sub­stan­tial chunk of space. A me­nac­ing, multi-story metal air­lock with a warn­ing sign, “Cau­tion: Hy­draulic Door”, looms over the area. An­other sounds­tage serves as the dwarf planet Ceres’ un­der­ground colony. Even more strik­ing is the nearby docked, 430-me­tre space­ship, the Don­nager.

“What we loved about the vi­sion of this story was it was a very func­tional, real, gritty, what we call a ‘Ri­d­ley Scott version of the fu­ture,’” says Fer­gus. “This is how they live in the fu­ture. So­ci­ol­ogy can be matched back to to­day with the rail­roads, racism, the work­ing class and em­pires ris­ing and fall­ing. Our world projects a lit­tle bit out with a tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance that changes the game, and, yet, hu­man­ity doesn’t change. We’re still the same, for good or ill. Tech­nol­ogy has changed and our pos­si­bil­i­ties have ex­panded. It shows real life as it prob­a­bly is go­ing to be, should we make it that far. It’s com­pletely re­lat­able to now, yet it’s some­thing you’ve never seen be­fore.”

On hand to of­fer in­put and watch their baby be­ing brought to life are Abra­ham and Franck. It’s be­com­ing more and more com­mon for au­thors to be on set, and the duo is tak­ing full ad­van­tage of that.

“When I was brought onto the show, I was told the writ­ers of the books are go­ing to be in the room,” re­calls Shankar. “I was like, ‘Shit.’ I was kind of shocked. That’s not al­ways done in tele­vi­sion. As it turns out, it’s Ty Franck and Daniel Abra­hams. It’s so fan­tas­tic hav­ing them in the room. At ev­ery sin­gle stage of the process, we were like, ‘If only there was some el­e­ment that could show off Bel­ter cul­ture.’ Ty and Daniel would go, ‘Hey, what about this thing that is in book nine?’ They’ve been in­volved since the very be­gin­ning in ev­ery sin­gle bit of de­vel­op­ment.”

“They de­fend their ma­te­rial, but at the same time, they are really open,” chimes in Fer­gus. “They are al­ways look­ing for a bet­ter choice, a stronger choice. They are like the mas­ters of the story, yet, they will break any­thing that needs to be bro­ken or made bet­ter. We moved char­ac­ters from book two into sea­son one. We re­struc­tured some things. We have ex­panded on char­ac­ters, who are very mi­nor in the books, and have awesome pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“We’ve shrunk back peo­ple who are more prom­i­nent in the books,” adds Fer­gus. “The

It shows life as it is prob­a­bly go­ing to be, should we make it that far

great thing is we don’t have to tip­toe around the au­thors and feel like we’re mess­ing with their ma­te­rial. They know the soul of the show is ex­actly what they in­tended, so they don’t mind us play­ing with the build­ing blocks.”

On a weekly ba­sis, Miller and Holden’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion will bring them closer to the con­spir­a­tors and their hid­den agenda. Mo­tives and se­crets will come to light. Those el­e­ments could keep fans guess­ing for a sea­son or four, but Fer­gus and Shankar have no in­ten­tion of string­ing peo­ple along.

“What we wanted to do is we’re telling one com­plete story,” says Fer­gus. “As much as we change and ex­pand on things, the idea that it’s a fully formed story means we’re not making it up as we go along. Ev­ery­thing fits into a piece of this mo­saic and that al­lows us to have tons of free­dom within the bound­aries. We know what the story is. It’s not just, ‘Let’s keep it go­ing. We’ll do this. We’ll go there.’ There is one theme and one story be­ing told.

“I think great TV now doesn’t have con­sis­tency in the way of you know what to ex­pect,” he con­tin­ues. “You shift fo­cus. You change point of view. You split to the enemy side. You spend a whole episode in one room. Then the next episode is all ac­tion. You keep shift­ing the rhythm of the show, which is awesome about mod­ern tele­vi­sion.”

Fer­gus and Shankar may em­pha­sise strong char­ac­ters and plot, but they aren’t skimp­ing on the ac­tion. View­ers can ex­pect plenty of gun-sling­ing, scuf­fles and ex­plo­sions. In fact, one stand-out mo­ment is in the pi­lot.

“One of the most thrilling scenes in­volves the Can­ter­bury chang­ing course,” con­cludes Shankar. “The ship is an­swer­ing this dis­tress call and this mas­sive lum­ber­ing – think of it as a su­per-tanker in space – has to change di­rec­tion. It’s an old ship that might break apart. It has to turn its en­gines and point in the op­po­site way and fire up just to change course. That could pos­si­bly rip the ship apart. Peo­ple love that vis­ceral kind of ma­te­rial.”

The Ex­panse be­gins on Syfy in the US on 14 De­cem­ber.

Miller (Thomas Jane) will hope­fully find a good bar­ber in space.

The rogueish Jim Holden (Steven Strait).

Grip­ping: Julie Mao (Florence Faivre).

Space suits: kinda handy.

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