A quick warning: I’m about to gush about The Expanse. Even cover it with praise. But before I do that, here are some things that aren’t right about The Expanse.
The acting is often bad, sometimes downright bizarre. The dialogues are regularly stilted and unnatural. Despite a lot of heavy lifting to be done, the CGI can feel creaky and low-budget. Literally, every decision made by Detective Miller (played by Thomas Jane) makes no sense. Thomas Jane’s hat. A terrible hat. Possibly the worst TV hat ever mutated. See also: Thomas Jane’s haircut.
Whenever I try to convince someone to watch The Expanse, I like to get this list out of the way. I want people to know from the start: This TV show isn’t perfect. Depending on what you appreciate in your television, you might even call The Expanse ‘bad’.
I don’t think The Expanse is bad.
On the contrary, I think The Expanse is very good. Often it is good despite its flaws. Sometimes it’s amplified by those flaws.
Set hundreds of years in the future as humans spread across the solar system, The Expanse is based on a series of hard sci-fi novels written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the pseudonym James SA Corey. It’s dense with a peerless universe built. It’s a show about the dangers of space travel and colonization, but also a surprisingly nuanced performance dealing with interplanetary politics and class struggle.
In one corner, we have the Earth and all its citizens. On the other, Mars. The people who colonized Mars are a military-oriented, tough group who tend to resolve conflicts with violence. Those left on Earth are the smoothing, politically savvy elite.
The wildcards are the Belters, inhabitants of outer planets and asteroid belts who have developed their Creole language and also a culture completely separate from the people on Earth and Mars. The Belters are tired of being trampled by the “Earthers” and threatening them with a revolution, but they lack the power or resources to beat back their oppressors.
Everything in The Expanse stems from the tensions between these three discrete groups.
The tight-knit crew of the Rocinante.
The magic of The Expanse is how effortlessly the show flutters between genres. It’s always hard sci-fi, but for the first few seasons, The Expanse plays out like a murder mystery. Later on, it’s a show about alien technology and the arms race that goes with it. Then it becomes a show about exploring strange new planets. Ultimately, The Expanse is a show about all of these things, but it puts the uniquely crafted universe at its core, giving it a continuous line that lesser sci-fi shows don’t have.
“It’s a show that’s stubbornly carried by its strengths to a level of quality it’s not allowed to reach.”
The shows aesthetic plays a similar trick. Not everyone likes the metallic, video game-esque color scheme, but I like video games, so I’m a fan. The Expanse feels like what I think a Mass Effect show could feel like if that ever comes to fruition and is decent. The Expanse is cool, clinical, and smart — and sometimes the wooden versions enhance that in ways that should be bad but often feel good? In a universe without heat, called back, minimalist performances make sense.
Yes, I’m confused too. But it works.
It’s a very bad hat.
Ultimately, The Expanse is a show that will never disappoint you. Like Dark — the best show on Netflix for my money — The Expanse is now fully complete, and unlike most sci-fi shows, it defied the odds and ended well. Some of the six seasons are better than others, but The Expanse is incredibly consistent. You’ll be amazed at how much ground it covers and how seamlessly it moves from one civilization-altering crisis to another.
It’s funny, but almost everyone I know who watches The Expanse, myself included, loves to complain about it. They’ll complain about the clunky dialogues and the weird performances, but nothing beats it. It is a show that is stubbornly carried on by its strengths to a level of quality it cannot reach. You owe it to yourself to watch if only to make your list of things in The Expanse that annoy you.
Make sure that list includes Thomas Jane’s hat. Unforgivable.