Grant Bowler's likeability comes through as Nolan.
If you're tuning in to Defiance, it's highly likely that you're already a genre fan. Whether your heart lies with Star Trek or Star Wars, or something more left field like Lexx or even the gritty Battlestar Galactica, you'll be familiar with the typical way that science fiction goes. Spaceships, aliens, and war are all to be expected in one form of another, and Defiance certainly doesn't deviate from the familiar path too much. This familiarity may please some fans but disappoint others who are looking for their next sci-fi fix.
The title itself refers to Defiance, the town where the majority of characters are based, one which is beautiful but with many underlying tensions. There's enough about the place to feel at home but at the same time offer a feeling of futuristic change and a clear sense that things can and do go wrong at a moment's notice. It doesn't quite have the same epic feel as some sci-fi shows, but where we go remains to be seen.
There's nothing wrong with Defiance - in fact, it's one of the better written new sci-fi shows in years, immediately hooking you in with a believable and likeable relationship between Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler - Lost, True Blood) and Irisa Nyira (Stephanie Leonidas) as Nolan's adopted daughter. Irisa is an Irathient, a near-human with battle skills, and represents one of the most common alien races on Earth. We won't go into too much detail about all the different races - you've got Wikipedia for that - but Defiance does a good job of giving them all individual identities without feeling too crowded. A sci-fi show is always going to struggle introducing so many new characters at once, but we get a clear idea of who the main characters are and what their roles are.
Leonidas has come a long way from her Holby City and The Bill days, and it's great to see a homegrown talent doing so well, and she's not the only one. Tony Curran (Vincent Van Gogh in Doctor Who) plays Datak Tarr, advisor to the Mayor of Defiance, and Jaime Murray's career continues to rise from Hustle as she shines in the role of Datak's wife Stahma. Add in Julie Benz as Amanda Rosewater, the Mayor of Defiance, and Mia Kirshner as her sister Kenya, and you have an excellent cast of both new and popular TV stars to attract an audience. Academy Award nominee Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves) gives Defiance even more credibility as mine owner Rafe McCawley, and Lost alumni (amongst MANY other things) Fionnula Flanagan is Amanda's mentor Nicky. It's a core group of characters that anchor the stories alongside the many other random aliens, of which some will no doubt play a bigger part in episodes to come.
Bowler is really the star of the show, and on a personal level, it's nice to see one of the funniest and most likeable actors out there get a lead role like this. The likeability comes through as Nolan is someone audiences will root for, and yes you can easily compare him to a Mal from Firefly or similar but what's wrong with that? Every show needs a lead that people want to see survive, and Defiance is no different. Bowler has great chemistry with Leonidas, and this forms the core of the show, almost taking over the pilot and not giving others a chance to show what they have to offer. For a double-length episode, there's surprisingly little in the way of giving more characters depth.
It's hard to tell whether the budget of the show can live up to the ideas it has. Another Syfy show, Battlestar Galactica, knew when to pick and choose the right moments to use effects, and hopefully Defiance will do that too. It's never going to be on a level of a new Star Trek movie or even Game of Thrones, but if they save their efforts for when they really matter, they'll be all the more impressive. The best sci-fi shows rely on strong personalities anyway, not just flashy spaceships. The best parts of Star Trek: The Next Generation, for example, were Data exposition pieces and the recent Battlestar Galactica was always claustrophobic and relished deep relationships. Hopefully Defiance will go in the same direction and not just float somewhere in the middle between action and character. It's too easy to meander into mediocrity.
This is no doubt a good start for a modern sci-fi, something that is very difficult to get off the grounds these days in a world full of cheap to produce reality shows that networks are eager to pick up. Hopefully there's enough about Defiance to keep audiences interested because science fiction is a genre well worth investing in. The next few episodes will be key in terms of developing characters and showing a strong direction to make people come back week on week. Defiance leans more towards a grounded sci-fi rather than an epic, but maybe like any good show we'll build up to a finale where we blow shit up, right? We live in hope.
Defiance airs on Syfy on Tuesdays at 9pm and you can check out the associated MMO available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.