Particles Evaluate: NBC Science Fiction Drama Is Not Afraid Of Grief
The pilot episode of debris, a new science fiction drama from NBC and fringe executive producer JH Wyman, offers a number of surprising moments … but just one really unexpected twist. Start with a combination of elements that we saw before – a male and female law enforcement team charged with investigating the foreign (a pioneering requirement) X-Files but one that has repeatedly led to new iterations over the years) – here we have CIA employee Bryan Beneventi (Jonathan Tucker) and MI6 employee Finola Jones (Riann Steele), technically agents for different countries / agencies, but working together to track the creation of strange alien objects that have fallen to Earth.
Since this is sci-fi TV on a reasonable budget, there are stunning imagery with swirling, spinning bodies, the basic laws of physics turned upside down, and some intriguing puzzles that seem to have at least 12 more powered up can supply episodes of drama. I was ready for these types of hijinks. But I wasn’t prepared for Debris to be this sad.
To be clear, the show isn’t humorless, Tucker in particular brings sparks and sniffles and intriguing facial hair to his scenes. While much of what is shown in the pilot feels familiar enough to allow this show to be overlooked, what feels new is the strong melancholy that spreads as an undercurrent throughout the episode. COVID-19 is not a factor in the rubble universe (for now, anyway), but there is still a lot of loss in the pilot, and a key thread of this first episode focuses on the concept of connection, the look outside of us for help.
It’s hard to review this series on the basis of just one episode, but that undercurrent of grief, a state of being that has no science fiction solution, is something worth acknowledging. For months – almost a full year in fact – the creators have been tottering under the weight of the pandemic: the first hurdle, of course, was the fundamental act of trying to finish the shows in production before things were shut down. But after that came the question of what to do next, especially since the question of what people actually want to see in these unprecedented times remains unanswered to some extent.
Image via NBC
Actually, that’s not entirely true – we learned that the answer isn’t home-bound sitcoms and dramas shot through Zoom (sorry to those canceled) Connect … and unlikely to be renewed Social distance). In addition, the shows that seem to have really raised for people are the ones that either transport audiences to different worlds and different eras (Bridgerton, The Queen’s Gambit, WandaVision, Emily in Paris) or … well … Ted Lasso, a show that is happening in this day and age but aggressively focuses on the concept that empathy and comedy are not mutually exclusive.
Perhaps this means that our hearts beat a little closer to the surface these days and require tender care, whether through the ointments of escapism or through basic kindness. “I know what grief can do to a person, how it really makes you feel alone,” Finola told a young woman at one point in the Debris pilot. It’s a condition the families of over 500,000 Americans are now coping with – no wonder stories about people in grief connect with viewers in entirely new ways.
Overall, debris may ultimately have difficulty growing beyond its most familiar and predictable components. But based at least on the pilot, its best features may make it more suitable for this moment than you would expect.
New episodes of Debris Air Mondays on NBC at 10 p.m. ET.
READ ON: “Debris” showrunner JH Wyman on what “Fringe” taught him about making sci-fi TV
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About the author
Liz Shannon Miller
(242 articles published)
Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has been speaking about television on the internet since the dawn of the internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider. Her work has also been published by Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She’s also a Produced Playwright, a variety of podcasts, and a collection of “X-Files” trivia. Follow her on Twitter at @lizlet.
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