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Don't expect it to make any sense, and you'll be just fine
Netflix's Another Life is sending Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff back to her zero-grav roots.
The actress leads the new series as Niko Breckinridge, the reluctant commander of a crew tasked with finding the home planet of aliens that have dropped a mysterious artifact -- a giant ship that planted itself on the ground and morphed into some impenetrable crystal egg -- here on Earth. It's not clear what Niko plans to do if and when she ever does get to this place, but achieving that goal is not the point of Another Life -- not in its freshman season at least. It's about the journey, not the destination. And what a weird, confused little journey it is.
Created by Aaron Martin (The Best Years, Slasher), Another Life sees its central heroine crippled at the outset. Niko is still struggling with a decision made during a prior mission that cost several crew members their lives, including a person she loved, and as a result, she doesn't have the confidence of her new crew. Right away she's usurped by someone who nearly steers the ship into a star and leaves her scrambling around space to recover the resources lost in the process of that man-splainey coup. If that weren't frustrating enough, those little supply stops bring about a series of deadly complications that leave Niko and her crew playing a long game of interstellar whack-a-mole instead of actually doing anything that might be useful to their homestead.
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Things aren't any easier for the team back on Earth, either. Niko's husband, Erik (Justin Chatwin), is charged with making contact with whatever might be inside the artifact, but his efforts to bridge that communication divide through peaceful methods frustrate the trigger-happy bureaucracy behind him. He's also constantly dealing with the prying eyes of a haughty social media star named Harper Glass (Selma Blair) who is endlessly persistent and has more intel access than your everyday influencer.
Audiences will have to suspend disbelief about the speed of space travel to accept that these two stories are happening in sequence, of course, but it's also hard to believe the two are even addressing the same threat. While Niko's team grapples with lifeforms that will happily spill someone's central nervous system on the floor, Erik's visitors are content to sit there and ... echo the classic symphonies he's playing on a speaker system? The contrast between these ET encounters is so severe that the stoicism of whatever is in this artifact makes Niko's messy mission seem like a total waste of time and energy.
Meanwhile, there's also a curious lack of actual aliens in this series. What few forces are introduced are mostly presented through the people they infect and/or inhabit, which is a pretty big problem for ratcheting up the intensity level of any given episode, since almost all of the astronauts we meet are idiots who seem hellbent on destroying themselves anyway. At one point, for example, a guy starts smoking a space plant to get high after he just watched a friend implode from exposure to the flora he smuggled in from another site. The stupidity of some of them is nothing short of exhausting, and even efforts to flash-back and explain the connections of the more interesting crew members can be tedious.
After a while, it's hard to even pull for any of them to survive the many life-and-death skirmishes as they bounce from one problem to the next, especially as the true purpose of their journey falls further and further into the rear view. Besides, any time someone does die, that loss is rendered hollow by the fact that there's a convenient stockade of replacement crew members sleeping in stasis and ready to roll. And that's just the start of the series' blithe dismissal of the usual narrative rules.
Other objects -- like the ship itself -- just disappear and reappear randomly throughout the story without explanation, and every planet or moon the crew ever steps foot on is inexplicably filled with breathable air and familiar landscapes. Any time the stakes do seem to be raised, there's a last-minute fix waiting to be found somewhere -- even if it means traveling to another solar system in the span of a few hours, that's completely doable in this series, apparently.
On top of all those issues, Another Life is also quite derivative. Erik's side of the story is a barely-veiled homage to Alex Garland's Annihilation and Denis Villeneuve's Arrival-- minus either movie's statements on existentialism or meaningful character introspection. Even the artifact itself looks like it was plucked straight from the Shimmer. And Niko's adventures seem like some scrambled egg mixture of movies like Life, The Cloverfield Paradox, and Prometheus with no articulate goal for any of it.
All that said, though, it is still fun enough to watch Sackhoff step back into her space suit. Even as maddening as some of the other characters and their clunky conundrums are, it is compelling to see her leading the action, especially when Niko is glibly dispelling her detractors. Besides, the upshot of the show's utter lawlessness is that it definitely keeps you on your toes and keeps transforming itself throughout.
Viewers shouldn't expect to see something revolutionary or even logical with Another Life, but if you're in the mood for a bonkers space drama that does anything and everything it wants to, well, this is it.
TV Guide Rating: 1.5/5
Another Life arrives on Netflix on Thursday, July 25.