'Another Life': TV Review

Netflix
Abort mission.
7/25/2019

Something goes very wrong in space in this limp sci-fi series from Netflix.

The best thing actors have going for them when they're in something that is, let's just say, less than stellar, is their own history. If they've done good work, you know they can act. Give them good words and the best actors will make them great. 

And sometimes, when you give them something really bad, words that implode upon themselves, bounce around playing tag with clichés or losing any sense they might have if they were actually attached to a working plot, the actors are just screwed. Maybe they overact. Maybe they force a bunch of scenes in the desperate hope that a fire will start or magic will happen.

It usually doesn't. It usually just looks... bad.

Which brings us to the new Netflix drama, Another Life, where the title probably tells you everything you need to know, as it makes no effort to be original or distinguish itself. It's a sci-fi series and, well, you know, maybe there's another life force out there, or something. Or maybe you'll need another life after wasting the one you've got watching this.

Another Life stars Katee Sackhoff, who we know from Battlestar Galactica can do excellent work in space. She was also very good on Longmire, so she can work in other genres on the ground as well. Justin Chatwin did compelling work in Shameless. So, uh, it's not them. But they are the married couple at the center of this Canadian space adventure, created and written by Aaron Martin (he wrote the pilot, but not the second episode, which was equally bad) and directed by Omar Madha.

There's really no other way around this — the work on Another Life is not good. The writing is atrocious, leaving the actors to follow a jumble of disconnected emotions or pointless journeys within their characters (or maybe they were just looking to escape) and the directing is... off. Madha seems especially in love with reaction scenes as characters are forced to look astonished or scared or angry even though it seems contrived in the moment. When the combination of writing and directing clangs this forcefully the end result is usually comedy. And, not to double down on the obvious here, but that's not what you want in a drama.

In relatively short order — as in the first 30 minutes of the first hour — Another Life hits hyper-drive and heads dangerously close to becoming a spoof of a space series. Madha's love of having the spaceship at the center of the show hit a lot of turbulence and thus throw the actors into tables, computer consoles, the walls, etc., doesn't help. Being jostled around is not a good look for the best of actors. 

That said, the budget looks to be a couple of hundred dollars per episode — the cast often look like they're performing in whatever they wore to the set — so there's not a lot to work with on that front, either (in the second episode, the iron-on patches of their space suits look to be coming undone). Then there's a very unfortunate series of special effects that make you forget the patches as the whole thing starts to spiral.

Look, there's a lot of blame to go around here. There are some casting issues after the top three or four names and it looks like there was a decision to toss a bunch of whiny twenty-somethings into a crowded space ship, which almost immediately pushes Another Life closer to farce. But it probably comes down to the writing and maybe the choices that writing forced upon the actors. Nothing connects, organically, from one emotion to the next. Things are said and reaction shots are taken and the result is confusion at most points. The actors, Sackhoff in particular as the lead, are often left to convey something that's not there, something that isn't connected to the words. People are mad for no clear reason. There's a mutiny that is surprising only because there's not much of a tipping point, if any at all, before it. There are strange pauses in scenes, as if someone has dropped a line or they were all told that someone would fill in the emotion later.

Conversely, there's too much emotion for no real reason. No wonder Sackhoff's face is almost always in duress. Another Life is pretty damned confusing (Selma Blair seems to be playing a character in an entirely different series). Clearly, someone was supposed to take control of these scenes and didn't. As an old-school network executive would say very smugly right here, "That's why you shoot the pilot." And that sentiment wouldn't be wrong. But pilots are mostly a thing of the past, particularly on streaming services, and that has its pluses and minuses.

Initially, I stopped 12 minutes from the end of episode two of Another Life just because all my notes were becoming cruel and my jaw was sore from dropping open. But I relented and watched it to the end and I'm glad I did, because it ends with Sackhoff screaming, "What the fuck?!" at a scene I'm not even going to attempt to describe.

What the fuck, indeed.

Cast: Katee Sackhoff, Justin Chatwin, Selma Blair, Samuel Anderson, Elizabeth Faith Ludlow, A.J. Rivera, Alexander Eling, Blu Hunt, Alex Ozerov, Jake Abel, JayR Tinaco, Jessica Camacho, Barbara Williams, Lina Renna
Written and created by: Aaron Martin
Directed by: Omar Madha
Executive producer: Noreen Halpern
Premieres: Thursday (Netflix)