This review may contain spoilers.
"Outcasts" wasn't the massive success that BBC hoped it would be when they commissioned the series.
Its initial launch pulled in a respectable 4.4 million viewers (a figure which is pretty good for a weekday terrestrial broadcast) but it was all downhill from that point on. The follow-up episode (which aired the following night) lost over a million viewers off the bat and the next few weeks saw further drop off until the Beeb couldn't take any more, banishing the show to the realms of late-night Sunday.
So from the figures it is easy to believe "Outcasts" was a poorly conceived television series, one that couldn't hold an audience never mind build on it. But poorly conceived and poorly received rarely go hand-in-hand.
"Outcasts" was a smart, exciting and very human science-fiction adventure, incorporating the best of British character dramas and unique storytelling.
To call the series a failure would do it and its cast a great injustice, but why did it struggle when it comes to the all-important viewership numbers?
The problem was the premiere episode -- creatively titled "Episode 1" -- which shied away from its science-fiction roots from the onset, as if being branded as a sci-fi series was something to be feared.
It's opening teaser features a spaceship contacting the human colony on the planet below. It is quickly revealed to be one of the last surviving evacuation ships that left Earth, bringing the remnants of mankind to its new home. The choice to open with the shot of a spaceship is almost ironic given the shows need to distance itself from the genre and is never really appreciated with the rest of the episodes events taking place on the surface of Carpathia.
Also damaging the series from the onset was the presence Jamie Bamber, an actor renowned for his acting talents on "Battlestar Galactica" who could have had a larger impact on the show. In "Episode 1" of "Outcasts," Bamber takes primary focus as Mitchell, an Expeditionary with a shadowy past, and it is his psychological problems that become the hook into life on Carpathia.
In the opening episode he steals the show and his demise only muddies the waters a bit with regards to the personal motivations of the other characters.
All in all, "Episode 1" offered little to endear us to what is later demonstrated to be a very talented cast working with some terrific material and once you push past the first installment you have a very fresh series that seems to feature the best of "Earth 2," "Battlestar Galactica," and "Lost."
The pacing of "Episode 2" was significantly improved from the first and the episode really takes the shape it was meant to: as a distinctly British series that deals with real characters.
Each have their own baggage and their own agendas, whether it is a criminal past, severe mental problems or a dysfunctional family and all of those aspects emerge at some point during the course of the show.
It is from the fourth installment that the series really begins to show its true colors with enough of the character backstories being filled in and the developed plot threads really knitting together. This turns out to be a pivotal episode when it comes to the AC's (Advanced Cultivars, genetically designed to test survival options on Carpathia).
Their leader, Rudi (Langley Kirkwood), has a very Benjamin Linus feel about him and the AC's themselves more than resemble The Others with regards to their appearance, mysterious lifestyle and ominous affinity for the planet itself. "Episode 4" introduces an AC who was so traumatized by experiments performed on him that he has a deep-rooted psychosis that, when triggered, leads him to commit acts of uncontrolled rage.
The episode brings out the best in its cast, offering more insights into Stella (Hermoine Norris) and Tate (Liam Cunningham), as well as putting Fleur (Amy Manson) and Cass (Daniel Mays) in a position where they need to choose between doing what is morally right and what their Government demands of them.
Such moral dilemmas are commonplace on the series, serving almost as cautionary tales that demonstrates a well of thought at work in the scripting of "Outcasts" beyond the telling of a simple story.
The final three episodes have such predicaments in abundant supply as the mysteries of Carpathia deepen and the true natures of the colonists are revealed in spectacular style.
And, thanks to the locational shooting in Africa, the series looks simply gorgeous in high definition.
As if to cement the idea that "Outcasts" is a character first, science-fiction later kind of show, the casting is its finest asset and leaves you actually caring what happens to these people.
Eric Mabius is an actor with a genuine skill – he is the guy you love to hate. As Berger tries to institute a political coup he becomes more and more fascinating and more and more irritating at the same time. Even something as simple as his smirk (or sneer?) leaves you wanting to punch him in the mouth. Even when he's at his most manipulative and all you want is to see him receive his comeuppance there is also a part of you that wants him to get away with it.
Also to the shows credit is Amy Manson, an actress to keep an eye on who is destined for great things. For those familiar with "Being Human," she played the fang happy vampire Daisy who assisted Mitchell with his slaughter. On that series she was fun, exciting and dangerous. On "Outcasts" she shows a more tender side as Fleur.
Her partnership with Cass is a work of casting genius and the two have some genuine chemistry that leaves you rooting for the couple to stop dancing and finally get together. The duo easily steals every scene and their complex histories keep the couple apart just long enough to keep you rooting for them to finally hook up … and when it finally comes, it is in such limited supply that it only whets the appetite for more.
In a similar way, Hermoine Norris and Liam Cunningham are the perfect duo for an authority level on Carpathia, each bringing a level of sophistication and humility to a fledgling colony. Norris' portrayal of Stella is worth particular note in the final episode in her dealings with Jack and her affections for Tipper (Michael Legge, who also manages to own every scene he appears in) after he contracts C-24.
What Didn't Work
Aside from the obviousness of the first episode, "Outcasts" failed to tease enough information to leave you wanting more. In most cases, the snippets of information leave you feeling more confused and not in an addictive "Lost" way.
The AC's are a perfect example. From the opening episode the AC's are hinted at as being a threat but it is never really explained why, nor is it properly explained what these wild people really are. "Episode 3" drops some information on their creation and existence but not enough to make them accessible or worthy of empathy.
The single biggest letdown of the series is the ending. Obviously geared up towards a second season, the conclusion of "Episode 8" leaves so much up in the air with regards to the characters and the future of Carpathia. BBC have indeed committed a great injustice in axing the series before a satisfying ending could be put into place and its decision to abandon the show goes against its very name as an entertainment brand.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
"Outcasts" was created by Ben Richards.
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