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Why The Expanse Is the Best Sci-Fi Show You Aren't Watching

Check out five reasons why the space drama is TV's best-kept secret

Anthony Roman

After airing four seasons and with a fifth on the way, The Expanse has proven itself time and time again to be one of the best sci-fi shows on the air — and one of the best shows, period. Based on the popular James S.A. Corey book series, The Expanse is set in a future where humanity has colonized the solar system, providing the series with a near-limitless playing field to explore the tensions between corporations, politicians, and the everyday people fighting for power, wealth, better lives, or just to survive.

It's a gripping adventure with important things to say, and yet the epic space drama never seems to receive the accolades or adoration a show of its caliber deserves. As a result, The Expanse was almost doomed to the same gone-too-soon fate as so many other cult hits when Syfy canceled the series after three seasons. Fortunately, Amazon understood just how special this show really is and saved it from cancellation in 2018, leading to what was arguably the show's best season yet — one that expanded the world, deepened its characters, and included startling reflections of our own reality.

With a fifth season expected later this year, now's the perfect time to catch up on the action. Still need more convincing? Here are five reasons why you owe it to yourself to stream The Expanse right now.

Amazon

1. It's a complex political drama. 

To paint a full picture of the politics of The Expanse would probably take an entire day, and that's exactly what makes the Amazon drama so compelling. The world of the series is so developed, it seamlessly sucks you in, immediately establishing the socio-economic tensions between the three ruling powers: Earth, the upper, ruling class living a life of privilege on a habitable planet; the Belt, the oppressed working class who provide the necessary resources for Earth and Mars while they toil away mining in the Asteroid Belt; and Mars, an ascendant, militarized power that seceded from Earth and fosters plenty of bad blood from their negative past relations.

Adding more trouble to the mix is the Outer Planets Alliance, a loosely organized network run primarily by a former United Nations colonel, Fred Johnson (The Walking Dead's Chad L. Coleman). Depending on your perspective, the OPA is either a sociopolitical organization, championing for the Belters, or a terrorist organization, out to cause trouble for the Earth-Mars Coalition Navy.

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Caught between all those warring powers are The Expanse's core heroes, a diverse crew working on the ice hauler Canterbury who become key players in the brewing interplanetary conflict after stumbling upon a seemingly abandoned spaceship that may hold the key to humanity's downfall.

And that's just scratching the surface of the show's fascinating political machinations. So if you miss early seasons of Game of Thrones, when the drama was more about political maneuvering than dragons fighting zombies, then The Expanse is the perfect show to scratch that itch.

Amazon

2. Thomas Jane (and his hat) are revelations. 

Look, if you first saw an image of Thomas Jane in his fedora and thought, "NOPE. TOO CORNY," we wouldn't blame you. But Jane's character, Det. Miller, is supposed to feel like a put-on image of a noir beat cop. That's his whole persona, and that's exactly why he doesn't fit in — on the force, with the crew of the Canterbury, or really anywhere he goes.

When the series picks up, Miller is a disillusioned, alcoholic cop who catches a missing person case that changes his life. He soon becomes obsessed with the missing heiress, Julie Mao, to the point where he's willing to risk it all — his career, his friendships, and even his life — if it means finding her.

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As the series goes on, The Expanse continues to unveil new layers to Miller, with the Boogie Nightsalum portraying an astounding amount of vulnerability that will shatter your heart with each of Miller's desperate attempts to find a sense of purpose. And through it all, Miller keeps with him his trademark hat — a gift from its previous owner, who gave it to Miller to remind him not to repeat his mistakes after he was kicked off the police force. A fashion statement with a heartfelt message, what more could you ask for?

Rafy Photography/Amazon

3. It's tragically relevant. 

Though The Expanse takes place far in the future, it's impossible not to see our world reflected in the captivating series, which draws upon history as the basis for its explorations of war, colonialism, and cultural oppression. And amid the coronavirus pandemic, the show has taken on a new layer of relevance. When a highly contagious and deadly alien particle is discovered, rather than unite together to try and save as many lives as possible, Earth, Mars, and the Belt's tenuous political relationships quickly collapse into chaos as governments and corporations prioritize profit and power over the public good. And these ruling powers prove repeatedly willing to sacrifice the lives of the lower-class and oppressed communities in the process. It's a disappointingly familiar scenario. Yet through the intrepid crew of the Rocinante, led by its captain James Holden (Steven Strait), as well as allies like Martian marine Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) and U.N. leader Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), The Expanse shows how important it is to never stop hoping and fighting for a better world, even if it might not look like what you had once imagined. 

Syfy

4. The action scenes are some of the best on TV. 

The Expanse is one of the most detail-oriented shows you'll ever find. Every aspect is well thought out, down to how much light from the Earth would reflect upon the moon's surface at a specific time of day. And when this level of thoughtfulness is applied to the show's action sequences, the results are jaw-dropping and leave you wishing you could watch them on the big screen.

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Rather than simply creating a sense of tension and overwhelming drama during the battle scenes by cluttering them with shaky close-ups, The Expanse makes sure the action is clear without ever losing an ounce of suspense. This allows viewers to not only easily follow the characters throughout these chaotic moments, but also to appreciate the nuanced tactical strategies they employ in their attempts to survive. Of course, describing action sequences will never be able to match watching them, so just trust us when we say they look cool as hell!

5. Shohreh Aghdashloo, just in general. 

It is truly impossible to say too many good things about Shohreh Aghdashloo. With credits that spanHouse of Sand and Fog24, and Star Trek Beyond, she's had tons of stand-out projects to choose from, but The Expanse's Chrisjen Avasarala is our favorite role by a long-shot. The Deputy Undersecretary of Executive Administration of the United Nations, Chrisjen is an Earther with the keen ability to manipulate and maneuver people within her complex game of political chess. However, she soon realizes that some people in the government are playing a different game entirely.

It's a role that in a lesser actress's hands could come off stiff or one-note, but Aghdashloo brings a depth of humanity to the part, not to mention an undeniable style, wit, and expansive lexicon of expletives and insults she never hesitates to put to use. It's a spectacular performance and one that will leave you craving even more scenes featuring Aghdashloo, a wish which the series fortunately obliges.

The Expanse is available to stream on Amazon. Check out more great 2010s series to watch here.

A version of this article was originally published in April 2018.


Looking for more shows to stream? Check out TV Guide's TV Throwback, recommending the best shows to rewatch — or to discover for the first time — from 1970 through the present day.

Anthony Roman