In the US: Wednesdays, 9pm ET/PT, CBS
In the UK: Amazon Video.
Starts Monday 17th July
Armageddon was one of those early Michael Bay movies that not only hinted at the horrors that would greet us when the Transformers series would arrive like a careening HGV through the sides of our homes but was in its own right irredeemably dumb. In case you’ve blanked it from your memories, allow me to remind you: there’s an asteroid coming towards the Earth and only a crack team of miners can save the planet – by landing on the asteroid in a spaceship and blowing it up.
Scientifically, politically, logically, narratively and adverbially, it was complete nonsense in every regard, but it was at least fun and it did such good box office, it was only natural that someone, somewhere, somewhen would decide to make a TV series of it. Salvation isn’t an official sequel, but not only are the basics of Armageddon all there, the writers have actually seen Armageddon and aren’t afraid of letting you know it – and that they think their show is better.
Salvation is a show of our time in that it updates Armageddon to take in modern TV trends and ideas – namely that the private sector is just so much better at everything than the government. As with Armageddon, we have the idea that a great big asteroid is flying directly at the Earth and in six months’ time, it’s going to hit, wiping out all life on the planet. The US government’s known for a few months and has been working on a plan, although it’s not going to involve blowing up the asteroid – only a complete idiot would think that you could try to just blow up an asteroid (cough, cough, Armageddon, cough, cough), so the government’s definitely not going to do that.
But the government hey? What does it know? I mean, sure, NASA is obviously pretty good at launching rockets n’all and has plenty of regular, ongoing experience of creating space probes. But they’re still the government, aren’t they?
Fortunately, plucky MIT student Charlie Rowe (Neverland, The Red Band Society) has been pointlessly trying to solve the n-body problem so has been monitoring the orbits of objects in space. Guess what! He spots the asteroid! Woo hoo!
Better still, he kind of sort of knows billionaire playboy philanthropist rocket-builder Santiago Cabrera (Heroes, The Musketeers). Double woo hoo! The private sector can save the day, just like in APB and Pure Genius when it did what the government couldn’t and ended all crime and disease! (It didn’t? Really? It was harder than they thought? Go figure)
So Carbera decides… he’s going to build a spaceship for 160 people, abandon the Earth and colonise Mars with his minimum viable population. Hang on – is that right? That doesn’t sound fun or smart.
Needless to say, given the regular cast list includes Ian Anthony Dale (Hawaii Five-0, The Event, Murder In The First, Day Break, Surface) playing the Deputy Secretary of Defense and Jennifer Finnigan (Better With You, Tyrant) playing the White House press secretary, a private-public sector partnership is in the offing. Together, in future episodes, the really smart bloke, the really powerful bloke, the really smart, powerful and rich bloke, and the woman who writes press releases are going to have a fair crack at saving the entire human race in just six months.
Is it any good?
You can’t fault the cast for trying, at least, since they’re doing their level best with what, by any measure, is complete bobbins. Unfortunately, the script does everything it can to stop them doing anything but running around and saying ludicrous things while other ludicrous things happen.
Wisely, Santiago is the central character and is charming and fun. But he has to spend most of his time fiddling with stupid, impossible holographic gadgets, talking nonsense, spinning doom-laden scenarios and mouthing off about the government being rubbish (although, hang on, isn’t the government using his technology? And the things that are going wrong are going wrong with his technology that the government has bought from him?).
Rowe gets to be the ‘everyman’ of the piece, even if that everyman is a genius MIT student. His storyline consists mostly of running and cycling away from murderous men in black SUVs who apparently want to stop the world knowing it’s about to end… by shooting the people who are trying to save it? That doesn’t seem smart, either.
When he’s not doing stupid maths and escaping Bad Men, Rowe’s patronising a girl he’s met at a bar who writes science fiction stories. She writes Isaac Asimov quotes on her book and says things like “Resistance is Futile”, yet Rowe still feels he needs to tell her what Sirius is. What’s he majoring in? Mansplaining?
Rowe’s tempted to just have fun with her for six months, but she explains to him that sci-fi plots require heroes to be self-sacrificing, so he decides to try to save the Earth after all. Hopefully not by trying to solve the n-body problem, though.
As far as doom-laden asteroid romances go, I much preferred No Tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Finnigan gets to be a human sad-face emoji for most of the plot. In the first half, before she knows we’re all doomed, she spends all her time lying to journalists, particularly online journalists (Shaza Raja) who break the rules and might just discover The Truth about why the government is moving lots of nuclear weapons about the country. She doesn’t like that so applies for a job doing something else while looking sad a lot and covertly snogging Dale, who gets to be gruff and the hard, clueless face of government, but little else.
In the second half, things pick up for Finnigan, who gets to look pained a lot because God damn it, her daughter’s going on a gap year to Africa and so many Americans go missing abroad, honestly, and there’s this meteor coming and it’s going to strike while she’s in Africa, which really isn’t optimal. If only I could tell her the truth. God damn it again! My daughter deserves a future and before I wasn’t convinced, but now I know for sure we actually have to put some effort into saving the world. It didn’t seem worth bothering with before, but now my daughter might die, I think we should do it. But no press releases, obvs. So what do I do now…? Anything you need doing? No. You think I’m a bit superfluous to everything? Okay, agree to disagree.
To be fair, Salvation is no worse a piece of nonsense than other previous CBS summer fare, such as Extant, Zoo, and Under the Dome, although it’s nowhere near as good or as funny as Brain Dead. But it’s biggest flaw is that it has lofty ambitions while simultaneously being written either by stupid people or by smart people for stupid people. It certainly doesn’t have the chutzpah of Armageddon.
Save yourself – don’t watch Salvation. Or just watch the first 15 minutes and don’t watch the rest.