The Expanse mixes political, detective and action drama all into one, and sets it in space…not far off, though. It’s based in our solar system, set between Earth, Mars and the asteroid belt, set about 200 years in the future. Earth and Mars are in a state of cold war, competing for precious resources, especially water, which is available in the belt. But the Outer Planets Alliance based on Ceres, which represents the “Belters”, are also unhappy, seeing themselves as slave labor mining the belt for ice and other resources for the others, where they also need need it – water and air are the most precious materials to them.
Detective Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane, Hung, The Mist), a gruff alcoholic Belter who other Belters seem to consider a “traitor to his people”, is called on to investigate the disappearance of young woman, but finds that it might be part of a much greater conspiracy. On Earth in New York City, UN Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala (Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo, House of Saddam, House of Sand and Fog) has to deal with the three way tension with Mars and the OPA. Meanwhile on board the ice freighter Canterbury, a distress call is received from another ship and reluctant executive officer James Holden (Steven Strait, 10,000 BC, Magic City), an Earther among a Belter crew, must decide between profits and doing the right thing – and his decision might be the catalyst to all-out war.
The series also stars Dominique Tipper (Vampire Academy), Cas Anvar (Olympus), Wes Chatham (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay) and Florence Faivre (Alpha House, The Following). Guest stars in the first season include Jonathan Banks (Community, Breaking Bad), Paulo Costanzo (Royal Pains), and Jay Hernandez (Nashville, Gang Related).
I can’t help, being a Larry Niven fan, seeing some potential influence in the story (which comes from the source material from Niven’s Known Space universe – the political tensions between Earth/UN and the Belters, Ceres as the Belt capital, etc. In The Expanse, Belters aren’t portrayed as the extra-tall, gangly humans (thanks to low gravity) as they are in the books (or Known Space) but that would have been a production challenge. The producers do address this, having Belters in a variety of sizes based on their work and ancestry. But they also don’t ignore the effects of gravity either – which can be used as a torture device.
The producers have also thought about other aspects of the setting. While there is a space battle, the battle itself isn’t a major action sequence. Over the vast distances involved, time passes between the launch of torpedoes and their eventual arrival. Orbital mechanics affect how long it takes to get anywhere. The differing effects of the simulated gravity at different levels on Ceres – writer and executive producer Mark Fergus quipped at an SDCC panel about your living conditions on Ceres could be measured by Whiskey and “how far it tilts in the glass”…things generally ignored or glossed over in most shows. Such forethought is such a bonus for those who love some hard science fiction in their shows.
Syfy continues their return to space with The Expanse, with an interesting multi-threaded story. It will be very interesting to see where we end up at the end of the season – and where it goes in the future. The Expanse debuts on Syfy Monday, December 14 at 10/9c, and then moves to Tuesday nights where it will continue to air. But you can catch the premiere this week on various streaming services!