Sunday, 14 June 2015

Space: Above and Beyond (1995-1996)

Space: Above and Beyond (Also known variously as Space 2063, Squadron 58, Space Marines, Space War 2063, Space Commando, Star Squadron and many others, depending on which country you are from) was a short lived military Sci-Fi TV series created by X-Files writers/Creators Glen Morgan and James Wong as a side project while that series was still ongoing.

                                                               (Series Title Card)

The first, and only, series takes place between the years 2063 and 2064, a time in which mankind has begun to explore and colonise not only the outer solar system, but also due to the discovery of predictable but highly mobile wormholes, other star systems as well.

The series begins proper when the first extra-solar colony, named "Vesta", comes under attack by an advanced alien species, ironically while the colonies leader delivers a speech about mankind being alone in the universe.
A second colony, named "Tellus" is planned, however the colony ship is attacked and heavily damaged as it makes its landing run on the planet.

The Tellus colony ship is what sparks the beginning of the series storyline, as prior to its launch a colonist named Nathan West is forcibly removed from the program on the orders of US Government senators for political reasons. This removal separates him from his long term girlfriend Kylen, whom he pledges he will find and be with again, which leads him to enlisting in the US (Space) Marine corps, as there is a slim chance that he will be stationed to system monitor duty in the Tellus system, which will allow him and Kylen to be together again, the destruction of the Vesta and Tellus colonies puts a damper on this plan though, as for the first time, mankind has to fight a war against a completely alien enemy.

Initially, the series plays out along the lines of what is seemingly a "humans v evil aliens" type storyline, however, as time passes, it slowly becomes apparent that the aliens, who are nicknamed the "Chigs" (due to their passing resemblance to a chigoe flea - their real name is never revealed) are not as evil as it was thought, and that the cause of the war is not a straightforward question of "Us vs Them".
Nathan West is eventually assigned to USMC 58th Squadron, attached to the Carrier vessel USS Saratoga, where, during the course of the pilot episode, they distinguish themselves by thwarting a Chig plan to directly attack the planet Earth.
The remainder of the series follows the members of 58th Squadron as they fight their way through the war one day at a time, hampered by the various bits of infighting and politics that are as still prevalent amongst mankind in the future as they are now.

Numerous plot arcs and story lines are followed in this series, and, unlike most Sci-Fi offerings of the time, are intelligently written, examples include:-

Racism/Prejudice - Part of the series backstory is that about 5 years prior to the series beginning, mankind fought a war against "The Silicates", a race of human created androids intended to perform labour considered dangerous or too menial for humans. At some point, a computer programmer, seeking to revenge himself upon a supervisor who took credit for his work, inserted a virus in the Silicates programming, which urged the androids simply to "take a chance" instead of following logic. This petty decision led to all of the worlds androids rebelling, which in turn erupted into open conflict, causing the deaths of millions of people.
In response to this, Human genetic engineering gave birth to a race of artificially created humans, referred to as "in-vitros", who are created in laboratories and who were originally intended to be used as soldiers to fight the AIs. However, this backfired, as in-vitros, known mostly by the derogatory terms "Tanks" (referring to both their method of birth and the fact that they are generally tougher than normal humans) and/or "Nipple-necks" (due to them having a noticeable navel on the back of their neck, as opposed to being on the stomach as it is on a normal human) are "born" with the physical age of 18, but the mental age of a newborn baby, they are then quickly and brutally rushed through education and indoctrination, which although instilling the required level of military knowledge into them, instils none of the psychological knowledge which normal humans acquire through years of life (most of the in-vitros shown during the series appear to have an adolescent type of mindset).As such, the in-vitros are considered to be both lazy and cowardly, as during the AI war, very few of them actually fought or performed any of the duties they were created for.

Most humans are shown to treat in-vitros with extreme prejudice, who for most of the series are shown to be treated as little more than slaves and/or animals.This leads to various plot lines where they are openly defiant and rebel against humans, and are even used by humans in plots to cause trouble with the war effort.

Loyalty/Betrayal -  One of the recurring themes is the intense loyalty that 58th Squadron develops for each other, sometimes at the cost of disobeying their superiors. Conversely, one theme that also recurs is betrayal or distrust of "outsiders". Numerous characters pop up during the series whose motives and true intentions are either never made clear, or who outright betray everyone. While this is an expected trait from AIs (all of whom harbour an intense dislike of humans) when it is displayed in other humans, it usually ends up being something shocking or unexpected.

Conspiracies/Cover ups -  One thing that crops up at various points in the series is the involvement of the megacorporation "Aero-Tech" in numerous aspects of both the war and human space exploration in general. Aero-Tech is shown to be a major aerospace company who manufactures space craft for the various Earth governments, but also seems to have numerous hidden agendas, and, who as it turns out, may have had a hand in inadvertently causing the war in the first place, a fact which they try, using various underhanded means, to cover up.

Psychology/Torture - Throughout the series, both the humans and the Chigs are shown to make extensive use of disinformation and psychology to try and outwit each other, up to and including psychological torture and "reprogramming" of individuals to perform some purpose inherent to their respective war efforts. On the human side, things such as hypnotic suggestion and psychological programming are used to make people believe things that are not true, or to coerce them into performing deeds which they normally wouldn't. Both the Chigs and the AIs are shown to make extensive use of terror tactics and terror weapons in order to destabilise the human war effort.

Although S:AAB didn't really tread any new ground (similar plot lines were explored in the TV series "Tour of Duty") , it did bring forth a fairly interesting, although sometimes dry, Sci-Fi tale which was set close enough to "now" to still be recognisable to the causal viewer, but just far enough into the future to allow for convenient Sci-Fi trappings to give the writers enough freedom to explore plotlines without having to make too many nods towards realism.

Although the series was well recieved, its convoluted plot and expensive special effects, coupled with it "schedule hopping" led to the decision being made not to commission a second series.
As such, the series ended on a cliffhanger, which the creators hoped to resolve in a possible feature length episode or movie, however as time went on, people lost interest in the project and thus it never materialised.
Since then the creators have given rough outlines to what would have happened if the series had continued, including most of 58th Squadron being killed or captured and the various survivors encountering personal problems, both due to their experiences and with the replacements for those killed.

In the years that have passed since the series aired, actor Joel de la Fuente, who played Lt. Paul Wang in the series, has been vocal in his criticism of the way in which the series handled stereotypes, labeling his character as being little more than a stereotypical "Asian coward" and most of the other characters as being "cardboard cut outs". Understandably, de la Fuente has not been asked to take part in many of Morgan/Wongs other projects since, unlike many of the other people who starred in this series.

S:AAB is a nice series, but some of the series 24 episodes are just downright boring to watch, as the writers seemed to be trying too hard to make the series cerebral, and ended up instead making convoluted and dialogue heavy scenes which confused many viewers and created plot holes.

Its not a bad series, but its not a great one either....

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