BBC Video // 2010 // 470 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // August 16th, 2011
They thought there were colonizing a planet that was devoid of intelligent life. They were wrong.
I was game to give Outcasts a try. I caught a few commercials for it on BBC America and it looked intriguing. The series follows a crew of humans attempting to survive on the distant planet of Carpathia after a undisclosed cataclysm makes life on Earth exceedingly difficult. The earthlings reside in the small town of Forthaven. Outside the town lurk mysterious beings known as the AC. They are dangerous, armed and very angry at President Richard Tate (Liam Cunningham, Centurion). Tate has other problems including maintaining law and order in his city, and dealing with the politically scheming Julius Berger (Eric Mabius, Ugly Betty). Observing and interacting with all of these beings is an unknown entity with an agenda of its own. It turns out that the humans and ACs may have more to fear than each other.
There is a lot to like about the series, and yet it ends up shooting itself in the foot. But lets start with the good stuff. The basic premise about a group of humans struggling to survive on an alien world has a lot of promise. When the series deals with some of these challenges directly, it's gripping stuff. There are strange atmospheric storms, areas of the planet that release high levels of radiation and the native life forms that may be able to clone humans. When the world of Carpathia is explored, Outcasts is at its most interesting. But the series holds back, never really delving into these idea.
Some of the character dynamics were also interesting. I liked the relationship between the two security officers, Fleur (Amy Manson, Being Human) and Cass (Daniel Mays, Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983). They have a chemistry that really works, and their very different viewpoints on life in Forthaven created some great drama. I also thought that Cunningham did an excellent job as President Tate. He is a man attempting to do what is right in some extremely difficult situations. Berger turns out to be a very cunning opponent, and Tate has to tread carefully around him. Tate's past decisions have a huge impact on several key story elements and weigh heavily on the character. Cunningham does a great job of showing us a man who remains in control while constantly feeling these pressures.
The location shooting in South Africa is absolutely gorgeous. There are some amazing vistas, and with a few digital additions, you get a alien, yet familiar, world. The creators knew this was a strength and made use of the location as much as possible. Even when the series goes inside the city, the production design is interesting, keeping a nice used look.
For all these good points, the end result is a disappointment. The big culprit here is the execution of the story. Outcasts can't seem to figure out what it wants to be: a gripping character drama, a police procedural, or a sci-fi survival story. It tries to juggle all the elements and ends up missing the boat on all of them. Outcasts has the feel of a series that somewhere along the line, someone got cold feet. They didn't want this to get too sci-fi and too otherworldly. Instead they opted to increase the drama. Every character has a past, every past manages to rear its head and everyone ends up on the verge of tears at some point in the series. With all the angst, bitterness and anguish going around; the surrounding issues of survival and exploration get pushed to the background. This focus on dramatics and grittiness keeps the whole tone very dower. There is a little humor here and there, but as a whole the dialogue is dry.
The sci-fi elements are present, with the ACs and the intelligent life forms on the planet, but too often they are pushed aside for a mother and daughter conflict or a manhunt for a murderer. This causes the series to feel like it's meandering around, dropping tiny bits of plot and character elements but not doing much more.
Then there's the whole Julius Berger character. Mabius does what he can with the part, but honestly it feels like it came from another show all together. Berger is presented as just plain sinister from the moment we see him. There is no suspense or grey area with him. In contrast to every element in the series, he's the most obvious. In some ways, his character offered the creators a real chance to deal with a spiritual character living in a society devoted to science and fact. Instead he's a sneering villain who uses religion to manipulate people. We rarely get to see him in action as that manipulator of masses. We only get to hear about it second hand. If the series had kept the Berger character as a man who is doing what he felt was right and had the conflict occur organically, he could have been a fascinating character. Instead, the music growls when he appears and you just know he's up to something.
The end result is a show that has some great elements that weave all the way through, but manages to be boring at the same time. I was interested enough to see where it was going, but not super excited to see the next episode. It takes until episode six to actually kick up the interest level, and the last couple of episodes have some good stuff in them.
Lastly the look of the show is very realistic, almost to the point of ridiculousness. This is supposed to be the future and yet everyone is dressed like its 2011. There are some high tech gadgets around, but most of it is underplayed. I'm fine with that, but in the end there is very little visual interest in the series. Everything is drab, neutral colored and lacking in spark. There are a few action scenes in the series and they kick things up a bit, but there is no wonder here, no joy or thrills. I would hope that exploring and living on an unknown world would be more interesting than what we see here.
BBC provides a three disc set for fans looking to revisit the show. The picture looks great, showing off the amazing location shooting. The sound is well balanced. You get a couple of featurettes that delve into behind the scenes of the filming the series.
In the end, the show was a great idea that lost its footing along the way. There was potential there, and I'm sad it was canceled before it could really get cooking. Those last couple of episodes showed some promise.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 470 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated