I’m Rethinking a New SyFy Show I Didn’t Like at First, Thanks to Its WonderCon Panel
SyFy’s new show The Ark is set 100 years in the future. It tells the story of a group of scientists and civilians on an ark ship that was launched from Earth to Proxima B, to escape the ravages of climate change and build a new human colony.
The travelers on Ark 1 were supposed to be in cryostasis for most of their journey, but a mysterious incident destroys a large portion of the ship and wakes everyone up early. All the high-ranking personnel are killed, and a large portion of the ark’s supplies are destroyed.
The survivors now have a year before they reach Proxima B, and they are short on water and food.
The premise made me think this show was right up my alley! I love sci-fi, and having adored shows like The 100 and The Expanse, I thought this would be that kind of show.
Y’all, The Ark is no Expanse
I was disappointed, especially since the show was created by Dean Devlin, who was responsible for stuff like Independence Day and Stargate. The Ark’s co-showrunner, Jonathan Glassner, was the showrunner on Stargate SG-1 and The Outpost.
With their track record, I figured I was in for a treat! What I got instead was super low-budget, clichéd sci-fi storytelling coupled with either bad actors butchering mediocre writing, or good actors doing the best they could with terrible writing—I still can’t decide which.
I cringed through the first three episodes before going to WonderCon 2023, where I’d intended to cover The Ark‘s panel, and found myself wondering if I wanted to bother. In then end, I decided to go, and I’m kinda glad I did.
Character > Plot
The biggest takeaway from the panel is that co-showrunners Devlin and Glassner prioritize entertainment over scientific accuracy, and love of genre over anything else.
In explaining the show, Devlin said that what separates this show from others like it is that the passengers were supposed to be asleep. “But then an accident … happened on the ship that ended up killing more than half the people,” he explained, “and the survivors were not the people who were supposed to be able to run the ship. All the leadership was killed … so this is a show of people trying to become the best versions of themselves while living in a pressure cooker situation.”
“The leadership and the experts were killed,” Glassner clarifies. “So, they’re also learning as they go.”
When moderator Yael Tygiel (host of the official after-show, After the Ark) asked about how they incorporate real science into their sci-fi story, Glassner said that they try, “but, sort of.”
“We take a lot of technology that exists today and try to use it as much as possible—or theoretical technology,” he said. “So, using the [compression] suits…It’s actually a suit that was being developed at MIT that not as big and bulky as, for example, the one that NASA just introduced. […] So, whenever possible, we do take things like that, but we really are more interested in the characters and entertaining than we are in sticking to the science. We’re not trying to do a science show, so we cheat a lot—kind of on purpose.”
Devlin brought up some of the larger topics the show addresses, like climate change, and the fact that billionaires continue to take over the space industry in an unregulated way in an attempt to make profit rather that to benefit humanity. However, they absolutely prioritize character over plot, believing that’s what makes people want to enjoy a story.
“I hope the audience enjoys spending an hour every week with them and wants to invite them into their homes,” Glassner says. “To me, that’s what’s important. To explore them, rather than ‘What are they gonna face this week?'”
Love of genre above all else
Devlin made it clear that this show is the product of a huge love for sci-fi television:
“We love the kind of shows that we make. Some people do genre entertainment so that one day they can go win an Oscar for their arthouse film. We have as much passion for this kind of work as Scorcese has for his work. If you have real passion about something, there’s a chance that passion will become infectious and other people can share it. Not everybody. There are some people who hate my work, and that’s fine, but the people who get what we’re doing…they tend to get all the stuff we’re doing and be a part of this community who really like genre entertainment.”
Being a pop culture journalist and all, I took advantage of Q&A time to ask them what The Ark says about humanity, and what they hope people take away after watching it. Glassner spoke to humanity’s resilience:
“I think what it says mostly is that when humans are confronted with a situation where it’s fight or die, it’s work or die, it’s work together or die, they rise to the occasion. That’s really the theme of the whole show. These people, by all counts, should not be surviving. But by their sheer grit, and their trust in each other, and by working together, they’re pulling it out. And not only that, they’re living their lives. They’re not just sitting there being depressed about their situation. To me, that’s what it’s mostly about.”
Devlin summed it up by saying, “I would say that, in general, Jonathan and I are optimists in the face of insanity where we shouldn’t be? But we do, we have a faith in mankind. We think that ultimately we rise to the occasion, and we wanted our show to be about that.”
Sci-fi comfort food
Devlin and Glassner’s clear love of this story they’re telling had me reevaluating my experience with the show. And while no, the show didn’t suddenly become brilliant to me, I have to admit that when I first watched it, I was compelled to keep watching episodes. Despite the problems I saw, I always cared just enough to see what would happen to these people next.
I was particularly intrigued by The Ark’s protagonist, Sharon Garnet (Christie Burke)—by the fact that of the three lieutenants remaining on board, she immediately assumes the captaincy without so much as a heads-up to the other two. I was intrigued by her seconds in command, Spencer Lane (Reece Ritchie) and James Brice (Richard Fleeshman), and their complicated relationships with Garnet. The dynamic between these three is by far the most interesting thing about the show.
That, and the fact that damn near everyone has a secret. Also, there are adorable, awkward young nerds who fall in love. I’m a sucker for that.
I even found myself curious about what was revealed in the footage shown during the WonderCon panel, which showed a scene from an episode I hadn’t yet watched. The performances and characterizations were as clichéd and cringey as ever, but the ideas were good, and the character dynamics were interesting … and maybe that’s enough. Maybe I can just let myself have fun and watch this while I’m ordering my groceries online, or cleaning my house or whatever.
The Ark isn’t great television. It’s not even good television. But if you love genre, The Ark can be great sci-fi comfort food, if you let it.
The Ark airs Wednesdays at 10PM ET on Syfy, or you can stream the show on Peacock the next day. You can also watch The Ark, as well as other shows from Devlin’s production company, Electric Entertainment, through their app, ElectricNOW.
(featured image: SyFy)
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