Fair warning: I’m about to talk about The Expanse. But before we do that, here’s a long list of things that are decidedly not good about The Expanse.
- The acting is often quirky, sometimes downright bizarre.
- The dialogues are regularly stuffy and unnatural.
- Although it has to do a lot of heavy lifting, the CGI can look gritty and low-budget.
- Literally every decision Detective Miller (played by Thomas Jane) makes makes no sense.
- Thomas Jane’s hat. A terrible hat. Possibly the worst television hat ever worn.
- See also: Thomas Jane’s haircut.
Whenever I try to convince someone to watch The Expanse, I like to eliminate this list. I want people to know from the start: this TV show isn’t perfect. In fact, depending on what you enjoy about your TV, you might even call The Expanse “bad.”
I don’t think The Expanse is bad.
On the contrary, I think The Expanse is very good. Often it is good despite its faults. Sometimes it’s reinforced by these defects.
Set hundreds of years in the future when humans are scattered across the solar system, The Expanse is based on a series of hard-hitting sci-fi novels written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the pen name James SA Corey . It is dense with unrivaled universe building. It’s a show about the very real dangers of space travel and colonization, but also a surprisingly nuanced show that deals with interplanetary politics and class warfare.
In one corner we have the Earth and all of its citizens. In the other, Mars. The humans who colonized Mars are a tough, military-oriented group of people inclined to resolve conflicts through force. Those who are still on Earth are the polite and politically savvy elite.
The Wildcards are the Belters, residents of the outer planets and asteroid belts who have developed their own Creole language and, alongside that, a culture completely separate from humans on Earth and Mars. Tired of being trampled on by the “Earthers”, the Belters threaten the revolution, but have neither the power nor the resources to truly fight back against their oppressors.
Everything that happens in The Expanse stems from the tensions between these three distinct groups.
The magic of The Expanse lies in the ease with which the show transitions from one genre to another. It’s tough sci-fi at all times, but in its first two seasons, The Expanse plays out like a murder mystery. Later is a show about extraterrestrial technology and the arms race associated with it. Then it becomes a show about exploring strange new planets. Ultimately, The Expanse is a show about all of those things, but puts its unique design universe at its heart, giving it a line through lesser sci-fi shows haven’t.
The show’s aesthetic plays a similar trick. Not everyone loves its metallic, video game-worthy color palette, but I love video games, so I’m a fan. The Expanse looks like the way I think a Mass Effect spectacle might feel, if it ever comes to fruition and is somehow decent. The Expanse is cool, clinical and smart – and sometimes the wooden performances amplify that in ways that should be bad, but often feel good? In a universe that lacks warmth, composed upside down, minimalist performances take on their full meaning.
Yeah, I’m confused too. But it works.
Ultimately, The Expanse is a show that will never disappoint. Kind of like Dark – for my money— The Expanse is now fully finished and, unlike most sci-fi shows, defied the odds and ended well. Some of its six seasons are better than others, but The Expanse is incredibly consistent. You’ll be shocked at how well it covers and how seamlessly it transitions from one civilization crisis to the next.
It’s funny, but almost everyone I know who watches The Expanse, myself included, loves to complain about it. They’ll complain about the clunky dialogue and weird performances, but there’s nothing else like it. It’s a show stubbornly driven by its strengths, to levels of quality that it has no right to reach. You owe it to yourself to watch, if only to create your own list of things in The Expanse that annoy you.
Just make sure this listing includes Thomas Jane’s hat. Unforgivable.
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