Remember Capricorn One, the 1978 thriller in which NASA used a TV studio to fake a Mars landing? Syfy's ambitious three-night event Ascension is the dark side of Capricorn One's moon.
The premise being that back in the '60s, our government sent a massive ship into space to colonize a distant planet without telling us. The original pioneers who secretly launched from Earth are mostly dead, but their children and their children's children are still up there, about halfway on their journey to Proxima.
It's an intriguing concept, mixing outer-space tropes with dated details. The future of mankind, you see, is saddled with old technology, fashions, and pop references. Everything from the medical facilities to the exercise equipment seems almost primitive. They even have a library with books (ha ha, remember those?).
The dissonance is almost as comical as it was in the '60s series Lost in Space. Danger, Will Robinson!
There's also a hint of The Love Boat in this project, in that it throws together a raft of familiar TV actors in a vaguely nautical setting.
There's Gil Bellows (Ally McBeal), Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica), Andrea Roth (Rescue Me), Al Sapienza (The Sopranos), Brian Van Holt (Cougar Town), Ryan Robbins (Sanctuary), and others.
Your station in life is determined by where you're quartered. On the grim lower decks, it's like a bad Clifford Odets play; up top, it's like a boozy Peyton Place.
Ascension is hokey and hyper-staged (in the same way CBS's recent astronaut thriller, Extant, was). But there's a twist at the end of the first night that should have you coming back.
It got me wondering why there aren't more space operas on TV. The genre is still a Hollywood staple, with films like Gravity, Interstellar, Avatar, Elysium, Oblivion, the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises, even Guardians of the Galaxy raking it in.
But with the exception of The 100 on the CW and, arguably, Falling Skies on TNT, science fiction has virtually vanished from television.
Logically, this should be a golden era. Thanks to computer-generated imagery, it's now possible for the first time to create cinema-quality effects on a workable budget. Imagine how cool, for instance, Firefly would look now, just a decade after its chintzy broadcast flameout.
The Syfy channel has no choice. These orbital odysseys are their prime directive. But no one else is taking up the gauntlet. Come on, HBO, Showtime, and all you network and cable programmers - I challenge you to reach for the stars!
Stephen, we hardly knew ye
And so ends this week the greatest high-wire act in the annals of TV, Stephen Colbert's 10 years as the blowhard host of The Colbert Report. No nonactor has ever pulled off such a sustained character charade - with the possible exception of Larry Harmon's Bozo.
The wonder of Colbert's chicanery has been its consistent gratification. The idea of spoofing an autocratic reactionary would seem to have limited potential, the makings of a comedy sketch.
But Colbert pulled off his act of devil's advocacy with an ingenious, Swiftian brilliance that never failed to delight, night after night, year after year.
Along the way, he displayed a startling intelligence, a diversity of talents, and a pretty good singing voice - without ever taking off his disguise. Quite a performance.
We'll not see his like again. At least until late next spring, when Colbert will assume David Letterman's Late Show desk. Presumably as his real self. We'll see how that plays on a nightly basis.