The Spool / TV
Another Life Review: Boldly Goes Where Every Sci-Fi Show Has Gone Before
Katee Sackhoff and an improbably attractive crew can't save this DOA sci-fi series.
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Katee Sackhoff and an improbably attractive crew can’t save this DOA sci-fi series.

Where do I begin with Another Life? It’s ostensibly about the arrival of a strange alien artifact on Earth and the crew that ventures into space to discover its origin. But mostly, it’s a borderline inscrutable love letter to other, vastly better sci-fi stories. Creator Aaron Martin (Degrassi: The Next Generation) is clearly a huge fan of the genre, but that love simply doesn’t translate to what he’s actually created: a sloppy, inconsistent mess.

Katee Sackoff, probably better known as Battlestar Galactica’s Starbuck, returns to her sci-fi action roots as Captain Niko Breckenridge. She’s recruited to lead a mission of extremely hot 20-year-olds (This fact is explicitly mentioned and given reasoning in the dialogue, I wish I were joking) into space. Their end goal is to figure out just what the alien lifeforms that have posted up in a low-rent Annihilation-style shimmer on Earth want. Her crew includes sensitive and supportive AI William (Samuel Anderson, Doctor Who); hot head Ian Yerxa (Tyler Hoechlin), the former commander of the ship Niko now pilots; Michelle Vargas, whose only role appears to be “angry Latina”; and a host of other completely forgettable side characters.

What seems to be the crux of the plot more than the assignment itself is Niko’s guilt. It’s guilt over a previous mission that went south and it’s guilt over leaving her husband and eight-year-old daughter on Earth. Neither narrative is particularly compelling, though. The previous-mission thread is barely explored and seems fully wrapped up by episode four. As for her family, we spend almost no time with Niko on Earth and the only interactions we really see her have with them is when she tells bald-faced white lies to her kid while forcing a smile.

While Niko galivants the galaxy, husband Erik Wallace (Justin Chatwin) is part of the scientific crew back on Earth that’s doing what they can to try to communicate with the aliens. There’s some sort of briefly developed beef between him and a media personality named Harper Glass (Selma Blair), but again, this “conflict” is pretty thin, although it is fun to see Blair strutting around being bitchy again. Unfortunately, it’s not fun enough to make any of this remotely interesting.

Another Life bounces from idea to idea, jamming in as many played-out sci-fi tropes as they can in every episode.

Another Life bounces from idea to idea, jamming in as many played-out sci-fi tropes as they can in every episode. The action comes in quick, but it comes at the expense of developing any of the characters enough to make us care what happens to them. There’s nothing tense about the thought of this entire crew dying in space due to a miscalculated trajectory if they’re so bland you can barely remember their names or what they do or why on earth they seem to hate Niko so much. It makes it about as tense as watching a ship full of crash-test dummies go hurtling into the sun.

The show also attempts to have fun by pushing boundaries they’d be unable to broach on cable. There are the usual swears, but it’s really explored with some pretty graphic and brutal violence. The special effects, however, can’t really keep up with shows like Stranger Things and Black Mirror, which clearly have the budget to back up the visual risks they take. Another Life does not.

When one episode performs what amounts to a sad homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing, the creature can’t hold a candle to practical effects and the bizarre twist they take on its design ends up being more bizarrely laughable than frightening. Ultimately, it all comes back to character development. Niko is the most fleshed out by far, and even she couldn’t prevent every episode from feeling like a slog. As good as it was to see Starbuck in space again, this show is not the avenue for Sackhoff’s sci-fi comeback. Do yourself a favor and skip this one and just pop on an episode of BSG instead.

Another Life shambles toward the unknown on Netflix July 25.

Another Life Trailer: