Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) returns to space in Netflix’s latest sci-fi series, Another Life. This ought to be an occasion for sci-fi fans to cheer, and when I saw Sackhoff and BSG’s Mary McDonnell trading tweets about it on launch day, I was mildly hyped. BSG’s first season was a blast and Sackhoff and McDonnell were part of why.
Another Life’s premise is part Arrival, part Alien mixed with a little of Star Trek: Enterprise. A mysterious alien ship enters earth’s atmosphere, writhes in the air, then crash lands to form a gigantic crystal structure. And then it does seemingly nothing for months. Scientists eventually figure out it’s sending transmissions to a distant world, but they cannot figure out what the transmissions say. So earth decides to send a star ship to the world at the other end of the artifact’s calls, to find out what’s up.
The ship is the Salvare. Its leader is Niko Breckenridge, played by Sackhoff.
While not exactly an original premise, Another Life has promise. Its promise is immediately dashed once we meet the Salvare’s crew. The actors have apparently been pulled from the B actor diversity catalog. They have been written to be the most annoying, grating, nails-on-chalkboard crew ever assembled. No one would trust this crew to plan a paddle board trip, much less a trek to a possibly hostile alien world.
The Salvare’s crew suffers from what I’ve come to call the Prometheus problem. In Prometheus, we had a crew assembled for its supposed expertise to carry out the most important scientific mission in human history. But personality testing a la Myers-Briggs must not exist in the future. That crew was composed of personality clashes and skills mismatches that any psych testing of any sort would have caught. Those mismatches, clashes and basic lack of professionalism ultimately doomed the mission. No one would assemble a crew like this to carry out such a vital mission. It just wouldn’t happen.
Likewise, Another Life. To say this crew is so terrible it is irredeemably unfit for this mission is an understatement. This mission, we’re told early on, is the most important mission in human history. It will make contact with an alien world that knows who we are, where we are, and how developed we are. Its probe has been sending home some data of some kind on our world for months. This alien world is presumably more advanced than ours and has all the advantages. It may be hostile. No one knows. A crew sent on such a mission would be a crew of the best of the best of the best. Not only would they be deeply experienced experts in their respective fields, they would have been subjected to batteries of psychological and personality tests to ensure that they all have the right stuff for such a dangerous, long term venture.
Star Trek series tends to get this right. Its crews are obviously highly trained and tend to bring complimentary strengths to their crises. The Federation has Myers-Briggs. The Expanse crews also tend to get this right. So it’s not impossible. In fact, it’s lazy to lean on such an implausible basis to create drama. Space is actively trying to kill you, all the time. That’s a lot to work with.
But in Another Life, only Sackhoff’s Niko and her AI sidekick (Samuel Anderson) are fit for this mission. The rest fill every negative millennial stereotype in the galaxy. They are whiny. They are grouchy. They scream obscenities at each other — all the time. They never fail to crack under the least amount of pressure. One is immediately mutinous. Another cannot ever think before opening their pie hole and saying things any rational adult knows they will immediately regret. Collectively, they perpetually can’t even.
But they’re sent out to save humanity anyway.
Their youth is explained away in episode one, when the unable-to-communicate-without-shouting communications officer, Michelle (Jessica Camacho), says that everyone over 27 is basically past it and useless.
On July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong took the stick and made sure Apollo 11’s Eagle landed safely on the moon. He was chosen for that mission based on both his experience as a test pilot and his personality. When a cool head was needed, Armstrong’s was always the coolest. He stuck the moon landing. He was 38 at the time.
A show full of Neil Armstrongs might be boring — granted (although Star Trek‘s Data made it work pretty well). But does every crew member on the Salvare have to redline and scream at the slightest, tiniest setback? Are any of them capable of any sort of teamwork?
Another Life could have been interesting. Sackhoff is giving it her best, and she’s strong, but everyone else is chewing the bland scenery and its writers must be fired and replaced. This is Another Life that just isn’t worth living.