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TV Eye: Space Pioneers

Perfectly paired with 'Battlestar Galactica,' 'Outcasts' is a great intergalactic frontier drama

By Belinda Acosta, Fri., June 17, 2011

BBC America's <i>Outcasts</i> premieres June 18.
BBC America's Outcasts premieres June 18.

Get ready. A wave of brave new world dramas is coming to the small screen. While Fox aims to premiere the big-budget, high-concept Terra Nova this fall after nixing a planned May sneak peek, TNT's Falling Skies launches Sunday, June 19. (You can read TV Eye's review in last week's column.) BBC America joins the fray with the recently unveiled theme night, Supernatural Saturdays. The lineup features sci-fi cult favorite Battlestar Galactica (the rebooted version), which started airing June 11 with the pilot episode, and expands this Saturday to include new show Outcasts. Well, new to America: This British production already aired in the UK this spring but wasn't renewed for a second season. After viewing only one episode – and after having seen six of Falling Skies' eight episodes – it's clear to me that everything that I didn't know I was missing in Falling Skies can be found in the more stylish, smart, and compelling Outcasts. In short, if you loathe Falling Skies, or even like it a little bit, you'll love Outcasts.

It's a great idea to pair Outcasts with Battlestar Galactica, as both could be called intergalactic frontier dramas. However, instead of searching for Earth as in BSG or trying to survive its invasion as in Falling Skies, the humans in Outcasts are fleeing a now-uninhabitable Earth. The details as to why this was necessary are not made clear in the first episode, but the drive to create and maintain order and stability is strong among the hundred or so pioneers who were among the first to flee.

When Outcasts begins, the first pioneers have already landed on the planet Carpathia, named after the Titanic's rescue ship. The new planet resembles Earth but has a wan, austere quality to it. There, the pioneers have established Forthaven, overseen with a steady hand by President Richard Tate (Liam Cunningham, Clash of the Titans). His second in command is Stella Isen (MI-5's Hermione Norris), who is also leader of Protection and Security. Like many in Forthaven, she left loved ones behind on Earth. Isen's lingering hope of seeing them again, coupled with the fear that she never will, is what undergirds the series for viewers. Longing, loneliness, and regret are the heavy baggage each character carries in his or her own way. Still, everyone has a job to do, and Isen is a no-nonsense taskmaster. That singular focus is what gets her through the day.

Working under her are Fleur Morgan (Amy Manson, Being Human) and Cass Cromwell (Daniel Mays, The Bank Job). The pair bickers constantly, but the verbal sparring is all good-natured. Fleur and Cass strongly believe in the ideals of Forthaven and have each others' backs – a good thing, because their lives may eventually depend on it. As it turns out, there are other human traits to deal with besides heartache and longing: ego, ambition, greed, and lust, to name a few. Discontent is brewing in Forthaven, with the hotheaded Mitchell Hoban (Jamie Bamber, Battlestar Galactica) among the most unpredictable of Forthaven's restless new citizenry. As head of the Expeditionaries, Hoban and his team are charged with exploring Carpathia and reporting on the findings. Are the settlers alone on the new planet? If not, will they encounter friend or foe?

As if Hoban's behavior were not troubling enough, there's a larger sense of foreboding on the horizon. All contact from Earth has ceased. One of the last transporters carrying new refugees is making the precarious trip from Earth to Carpathia. Everyone knows that if it arrives intact, it will be a small miracle. The Forthaven pioneers await the transporter with guarded anticipation, but none more than President Tate. He knows that Vice President of the Evacuation Program Julius Berger (Eric Mabius, Ugly Betty) is onboard. Berger's arrival – driven and still accustomed to the power he wielded on Earth – may be just enough to tip the delicate equilibrium of Forthaven.

If you're looking for explosive battle scenes or cool-looking aliens, you may be disappointed. But what Outcasts lacks in flash, it more than makes up for in substance. And in another marked contrast to Falling Skies, the historical references and "touching moments" in Outcasts do not hit you like an anvil.

Outcasts premieres Saturday, June 18, at 8pm on BBC America.

E-mail Belinda Acosta at tveye@austinchronicle.com.

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