SyFy Puts on a Show of 'Defiance'
There are many things you expect to see during SXSW. A miniature version of the St. Louis Gateway Arch, courtesy of SyFy, is not necessarily on that list.
Many companies stomp on downtown Austin with a big footprint, but the cable network's launch for their new show and game Defiance may have been the biggest. They took over a lot off of Brazos and Fourth, and turned it into a post-apocalyptic container village.
The show, developed by Rockne S. O'Bannon, follows a botched alien invasion of Earth. An interstellar collective known as the Votans attempt to take over, but are simply forced to a stalemate and an awkward peace. St. Louis, Miss., now renamed Defiance, is one of the last secure strongholds, where humans and Votans survive together. Unfortunately, before the war ended the Votans accidentally unleashed their own version of terraforming technology. That's a little unfortunate for both them and the surviving humans, who are left watching the Earth flux and flex around them.
The accompanying MMO comes with its own weighty lineage. It's being developed by Trion Worlds, who blazed out of the gate in 2011 with the critically lauded Rift. The demo promises an open world shooter, set in a battle-torn San Francisco where players scavenge through the ruins. Wait, but isn't Defiance set in St. Louis? That, according to the folks at SyFy, is part of the selling point. The game and the show will be linked, with big events in one having a knock-on effect in the other. For example, among the Votans' terraforming tools is a nasty little precipitation called razor rain that will strip the flesh off a player's virtual bones. If a storm blows through the game in the afternoon, expect it to shred its way through that evening's show.
A lot of viewers write off SyFy as the home to z-grade, zero-budget schlockers (how many channels can schedule a whole weekend of mutant giant snake movies?). But over the last decade it has provided a fair slab of must-see genre TV: Battlestar Galactica, the revived Stargate franchise, the quirky Warehouse 13, the intriguing Stephen King adaptation Haven, Continuum and Alphas, aka 'The superhero show Heroes thought it was.' However, the episodic dramas really started in 1999, with O'Bannon's Farscape. The ultimate cult show, initially written off as Muppets in space, Farscape was a gritty but spectacular show, effectively Buck Rogers versus space fascists. It would be hard to imagine that Ronald D. Moore could have pitched his high-budget resurrection of Battlestar Galactica quite so successfully without Farscape proving there was still an audience for smart, radical episodic genre fare. O'Bannon also has a rare ability to create alien cultures that feel unique and iconic (let's just say that Firefly's Alliance bears more than a passing resemblance to Farscape's Peacekeepers). With seven different species making up the Votans, that could become significant.
The trailer promises that vintage O'Bannon mix of underdogs, grime, and epic combat on a galactic scale.
Defiance comes at a great time for O'Bannon. His other show, The CW's Lost-meets-The Following hybrid Cult, recently got booted to the Friday night death slot, and looks like it's on the wrong side of the cancellation bubble. But SyFy loves off-beat series that can take a little while to find their feet, both in ratings and creatively. And, if the SXSW container village is any measure, then they're preparing to give O'Bannon's new show a heavy, heavy push. They're already offering theatrical screenings of the pilot through Eventful.
Defiance premieres on SyFy on April 15 at 8pm Central. The MMO launches April 2 for PC, XBox 360 and PS3. More at www.defiance.com.