Odyssey 5: The Complete Series (review)

It might be the best show that ever got cancelled before it had finished what it had come to do, a science fiction drama that’s smart, gritty, and — the toughest thing for TV SF to accomplish — original. The crew of the space shuttle Odyssey, on a mission in 2007, witnesses the sudden and completely unexpected destruction of the Earth, only to have an alien bystander send them back in time in an attempt to avert the disaster. Of course, first they have to figure out why the planet blew up at all. Arriving five years in their past, in the show’s present day — these 19 episodes ran on the cable network Showtime beginning in 2002 — the three astronauts, one scientist, and one TV journalist have to overcome their own dislike for one another, contend with the rippling effects of their interfering in the timeline, and confront all manner of hot-button technological issues including gene therapy, artificial intelligence, and nanotech as they race against time to save the planet. Not every episode is an unqualified success, and the X-Files-ish stew of alien invasion and human conspiracy doesn’t quite gel, but this is one of the most fascinating examples of SF in TV history, one dedicated to exploring the genuine what-if ideas that fuel real science fiction, and their emotional impact on real people (the cast, including Peter Weller [Buckaroo Banzai himself!] as the shuttle team commander and Sebastian Roché [Sorry, Haters] as the scientist, is remarkable). Even if the abundant R-rated language didn’t make the show strictly for adults, the intellectual tenor of its scope and aspirations would. Major disappointment? The series ends abruptly with an unresolved cliffhanger… though fans are lobbying for someone to pick up the threads and continue the tale. But the ambition of series creator Manny Coto (who after the show’s untimely demise moved on to Enterprise and 24) is laudable, particularly in a medium that rarely takes chances, and the hints of where the story may have gone are tantalizing. The set features digitally remastered audio and hi-def video, with commentary on the pilot by Weller and Coto as the only bonus.

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