There’s a big problem with space shows Nightflyers and Another Life – the astronauts are dangerously stupid.
In fact, both shows have remarkably similar plots. So similar that I wondered if Another Life set out to rip off Nightflyers. Both shows are about a mission to intercept an artefact that might be evidence of alien intelligence. The crew faces “inexplicable horrors” that threatens to kill them and cut their mission short.
The other unfortunate similarity both shows have is that the characters are flaming idiots. These idiots make utterly stupid decisions, any one of which would have gotten every one of them killed, let alone the dozens made through the series.
Barely George R.R. Martin’s “Nightflyers”
Nightflyers is an adaptation of Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin‘s 1980 novella but bears very little resemblance to the original story.
The TV series is set in a near-future where Earth has yet to make first contact with aliens. The Earth is dying from climate change and environmental disasters, which is not a story element from the novella. The crew of scientists, astronauts and engineers are sent to space to intercept an alien artefact that might help save the Earth.
Even before they get to the artifact, the set-up of the characters on the ship is already preposterous. Class tensions are rife on the ship – the working-class engineers don’t trust the scientists and officers, who condescend to them. The scientists have a secret – they brought a psychic on the ship to communicate with the alien artefact. Psychics are considered highly unstable and dangerous. The rest of the crew freaks out when they find out he’s onboard.
This is already completely stupid and inauthentic. The crew of a spaceship has to go through extensive training and psychological evaluation before being approved for a mission. This mission is supposed to be their last chance to save Earth and they send a bunch of people who hate each other to perform it?!
Throughout the series, the characters keep lying and keeping secrets from each other and the rest of the crew. Their behaviour is so wildly incompetent that I wondered if the real mission was to send these idiots into space to get them out of Earth’s hair. It’s a waste of a lot of really good actors, many of them British and Irish.
It’s a relief that Nightflyers was cancelled after just one season. The actors have gone on to better shows.
“Another Life” – More Angry Idiots in Space
Another Life seems to be about twentysomethings squabbling on a spaceship while everything else is trying to kill them.
The writers give the characters ridiculously angsty backstories, emotional problems and PTSD. These characters behave irrationally and emotionally and make the worst decisions so that Plot can happen. That creates even more conflict and more drama so that the story keeps going. Things go to hell, people die. Wash, rinse, repeat.
If these idiots are the best Earth can send on crucial, planet-saving missions to space, then humanity deserves to be doomed. Why are you sending angry idiots into space?!
I haven’t even started talking about the moments when the shit hits the fan in either show. Sure enough, it hits the fan. In both shows, the characters encounter hallucinations that force them to confront their clichéd inner fears. The problem is, the characters acted like idiots before any of that kicked in, so the deck was already stacked.
None of this is the actors’ fault. It’s never the actors’ fault. Their job is to act what’s in the scripts. I feel bad for good actors who have to play characters that aren’t supposed to be idiots.
The Problem with Bad Screenwriting
The writers seem to feel they don’t need to do any research about space travel or how astronauts think and work. If these shows are at all “realistic”, none of these idiots would be allowed out of their front doors let alone outer space. They would fail the psychological evaluation within the first 10 minutes!
Space is extremely dangerous and every astronaut has to be at the top of their mental and professional competence. You don’t send people who have seething resentments and emotional problems into space. They need to trust each other and know how to solve problems. They can’t be the idiots you see at the pub late on a Friday night who will smash bottles and stab each other’s heads after four pints. Astronauts are trained to trust each other.
Why don’t the writers make the characters smart and competent as they should be? Are they afraid that smart, competent people don’t have conflict? The universe will always find new ways to try to kill us. That should be more than enough story without artificial conflict from everyone squabbling just because they’re dicks.
Writers should just trust the situation they’re supposed to be writing. Let the characters be what they’re supposed to be: competent and professional.