'Defying Gravity'Three stars
8 p.m. Sunday, WLS-Channel 7
Executive producers James Parriott ("Grey's Anatomy") and Michael Edelstein ("Desperate Housewives") are marketing this new series as "'Grey's Anatomy' in space." (Because, really, one would want to watch "'Desperate Housewives' in space"?)
The concept is that it's the year 2052, and eight astronauts from five different countries are about to embark on a six-year mission to visit seven of the planets in our solar system. First stop: Venus.
"Defying Gravity" mixes the sci-fi with a randy dose of soap romance. There are flashbacks to training and other missions, which are reminiscent of "The Right Stuff" and "Top Gun," and the mission is straight out of "Star Trek." There's an intriguing element of "Lost" in the series, too, which may keep waffling viewers on board: Not all the astronauts know that there's a mysterious entity called "it" or "Beta" that seems to be calling the shots behind the scenes. Is it a sinister computer? An Alf-like alien? Christopher Walken with a bucket on his head? I have a feeling we won't be finding out anytime soon.
This show might be worth a re-review once it warms up, but I can sum up the first two episodes thusly:
*Head hunk Ron Livingston is more than worthy of standing in for Dr. McDreamy. The cult anti-hero from "Office Space" steps up to tragic American hero status with a suitable drawl, a strong jaw, and surprisingly expressive eyebrows. He plays Maddux Donner, who made headlines when he visited Mars five years earlier - and then had to make the tough call to leave two of them there in order to save the mission. Even worse: He was dating one of them. This is a man with some serious space baggage.
Of the rest of the gorgeous cast - no Clint Howard in the control room here - we really only get to know Donner's love interest Zoe, played by Laura Harris ("24"). The tough blond can melt into a puddle without warning, and keeps hearing a crying baby somewhere on the ship. Note to future astronauts: That's probably something you shouldn't share with your crew.
Rounding out the cast:
Malik Yoba ("Girlfriends") as Maddux's co-pilot
Christina Cox ("Blood Ties") as a married biologist
Florentine Lahme ("Impact") as a sexually liberated German pilot
Paula Garces ("The Shield"), who compulsively wields a videocam on board
Eyal Podell ("24") as a psychiatrist
Dylan Taylor ("House Party") as a theoretical physicist determined to find porn
Zahf Paroo ("Battlestar Galactica") as a spiritual flight engineer
*I also find it refreshing that the future isn't depicted as all jetpacks and wisecracking robot servants. In fact, it looks a lot like today. Maybe grimier. Some things have certainly changed - abortion has been outlawed, for instance - but the subtle fast-forward is relatable. Admit it: How many of you were disappointed when 1984 came and went? What a letdown.
Now, the bad
*I am tired of the lazy reliance on narration, especially when it's trying to be so ponderously profound. All the truths revealed by Donner are bound to be universal -- literally. It's exhausting. Never have I yearned so much for some Tarantino-style aimless banter.
*So far, the show is moving slowly, introducing us to the large cast, the large ship, the large cosmos. The producers even took a few timeouts for musical montages. Let the anti-gravity international space hookups begin!
*This is a bit petty, but I think it's valid: Can we get some more flattering astronaut suits? I understand that this is supposed to be a sexy series, but when key scenes require the actors to waddle around like the Michelin Man, it's hard to take any sort of attraction seriously. Note to Zoe: Yes, your butt looks big in that.
"Defying Gravity" is taking its time to get off the ground, but I plan to tune in at least until Saturn.