The BBC's Outcasts looks a lot like Battlestar Galactica, at first glance: You've got the gritty action, the tense drumming soundtrack, and Jamie Bamber looking filthy and flustered. But once you watch a bit of it, Outcasts is actually a bit more like the late, lamented Jericho: The slow, character-driven story of a community trying to survive in the wilderness.
The good news is, it's frequently sparkly and clever — as in the clip featured above. The bad news is, it's very, very slow. The first two episodes have aired in the U.K., and our first impressions are below. Minor spoilers ahead...
So in that clip, the sexy head of security, Stella, interrogates a suspect using the mind probe (and her smooth voice) to get inside his head. And then later, she's having a bad day, for various reasons, and she runs into the suspect in the bar — so she decides to take him home so she can get inside his pants as well. Rank, as they say, has its privileges. The show is full of surprising little moments like this, and it leaves you feeling like anything could happen, which is nice.
We'll no doubt be running more coverage when Outcasts comes to BBC America, but it's worth sharing our early thoughts now.
In Outcasts, the human race has had to abandon the shattered wreck of the Earth, and a handful of survivors are making do on the new planet Carpathia. (We eventually learn Carpathia is named after one of the ships that rescued the survivors of the Titanic.) The colony is ruled with an iron fist by Tate, who's a former scientist turned politician. Tate faces a number of threats to his authority — and you also get the sense that he could be facing some severe threats to the colony's overall survival. Unlike the recent remakes of Day of the Triffids or The Survivors, this show never quite loses its sense of urgency but also never devolves into silly melodrama. The characters always feel real and reasonably well-drawn, and they all have a real point of view.
You definitely get the feeling this show has the makings of an addictive political drama, in which the science-fictional threats on the new planet serve much the same function as the Cylons did in the early seasons of Battlestar Galactica. Just like the town of Jericho, the people of Carpathia have to keep a tight grip on civilization and on the mechanisms of survival. And questions about just how far people should go to ensure the continuation of the human race are just as important as various plot points.
The bad news is, this show is painfully slow. Both of the first two episodes are 60 minutes long, and you get the distinct impression the show's makers only had enough story for a standard 42-minute episode. This is one show that you might actually want BBC America to edit for commercial breaks.
At one point, two characters are standing around talking about a group of people who have a grudge against the colony's leadership. One of the characters asks, "What do they want?" And the second character answers, "I know what I'd want." And watching this scene, I knew for certain that the next line would be "revenge." But the second character pauses, looks at the camera, looks at the other character, thinks carefully, and then says, "Revenge." If you're used to shows where people rattle off dialogue like they're on the clock, the slowness can be a bit agonizing.
But if you can forgive the sometimes glacial pacing — and a few stray moments where melodrama does creep in a bit — this show is a pretty entertaining addition to the canon of post-apocalyptic survival dramas. Here's hoping the show can overcome early disappointing ratings and get some staying power, so it gets a chance to find its feet.