'Origin': TV Review

Odiously derivative.
11/14/2018

YouTube Premium's dull sci-fi thriller recycles musty tropes to tell the story of a group of troubled young people trapped on an abandoned spaceship.

In her 2016 history of American class stratification, White Trash, scholar Nancy Isenberg details the "secret" origins of white settlers in the United States: These mythologized pioneers were not necessarily the intrepid fortune-seeking heroes we imagine, but rather so-called "waste people" sent by European power brokers to build and populate their colonies. The most destitute and desperate of England's urban poor were "spirited" to the New World in an effort to cleanse the motherland (so to speak) and transform petty criminals, unseemly drifters, political rogues and wanton women into economic capital. Origin, YouTube Premium's stale new survivalist space thriller, appears to borrow from this very concept. What happens when you convene a ragtag collection of (hot, young) damaged people sent to inhabit a new interplanetary colony? The answer: not much, apparently.

In fact, it's astonishing just how little action can take place in a pair of 47-minute episodes available for review. On the space shuttle, named Origin, more than a half-dozen twenty-something strangers suddenly awaken from cryosleep on their way to (supposed) paradise planet Thea, where they have been promised clean slates in exchange for building a settlement. Finding the ship abandoned (save for them) and nowhere near its destination, they wander panicked through the craft's darkly winding industrial passageways searching for any signs of life or the sinister forces that jolted them awake. (Imagine a sci-fi version of Titanic where folks from steerage wake up to find everyone else on the boat mysteriously missing and/or dead. Actually, I think I'd rather watch that!)

We're led by resident toughs Shun (Sen Mitsuji), a brooding former Yakuza gangster with a tragic past, and Lana (Natalia Tena), a brooding former government bodyguard with a tragic past. (Are all the characters escaping a backstory where they accidentally killed people they love?) Rounding out the cast are explosive whiner Logan (Tom Felton, unrecognizable from his days as bad boi fa lyfe Draco Malfoy), computer savant Lee (Adelayo Adedayo), gentle giant Eric (Johannes Haukur Johannesson), kind-faced Venisha (Nina Wadia) and a handful of others who the audience will eventually come to know. I imagine each episode will delve into their individual histories episode by episode a la Orange Is the New Black. (The ship is, in some ways, a prison for them; but more so, the show's a prison for the viewers, trapping us in space with these whimpering ciphers.)

Despite its narrative bloat and unrelenting violence, Origin fails to move the story forward in any genuinely exhilarating way, instead plodding through tedious character flashbacks that throttle the flow of the present-day action. Thus, the producing team takes a feature-length amount of time to say what could have been said by, say, a pilot's third act.

Odiously derivative, Origin is every iteration of Doctor Who, Solaris, Black Mirror, The Poseidon Adventure, the Alien franchise and Philip K. Dick's oeuvre mashed into one sticky, pulsing Katamari ball hurtling through space. This isn't a good thing; this means you've seen every twist and revelation before, only done better the first time. The lighting is also aggressively "sci-fi green" in a way that makes The Shape of Water look pale.

Creator Mika Watkins (Troy: Fall of a City) and multiple-episode director Paul W.S. Anderson (plagiarizing himself from Event Horizon) infuse a lot of hubbub into the frame, but screeching sound design, visceral combat, accidental defenestration, crab-walking corpses and beep-boop future technology does not sum into anything greater than its parts. Heck, even just a little bit of actual gore would help here.

You can sense the castmembers are doing their best with the material and direction, but their efforts aren't enough to redeem this experience. Tena, so trenchant as wildling Osha on Game of Thrones, can only breathe so much life into stiff Lana, who has all the trappings of a Strong Female Character: a vaguely "kick-ass" empty femme shell without a trace of personality. What a shame.

It would be totally OK for this show not to make any goddamn sense if it gave you any genuinely shocking moment. For example, I could forgive a scene as clunky as two Japanese characters randomly deciding to switch to English in perfect American accents, or a line of dialogue as petulant as "Did it ever occur to you I chose this life?" if the producers deigned to show me an exploding eyeball or two. Then I could at least say I know what this series is all about. But right now, what it's about is musty space tropes forever entombed in an ouroboros of paranoiac, self-serious hooey. It'll be the dullest time you’ll have watching people gurgle through alien possession and crunch their own bones. In space, no one can hear you snore.

Cast: Sen Mitsuji, Natalia Tena, Tom Felton, Madalyn Horcher, Nina Wadia, Adelayo Adedayo, Johannes Haukur Johannesson

Creator: Mika Watkins 

Premieres: Wednesday (YouTube Premium)