Preview: The Crossing 1×1 (US: ABC; UK: Amazon)

Two sci-fi allegories in search of some originality

The Crossing

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, ABC. Starts April 2
In the UK: Tuesdays, Amazon. Starts April 3

With age is supposed to come wisdom. However, there’s roughly two pieces of wisdom that I’ve accumulated in my years and I usually end up repeating them ad nauseum:

  1. There are no new ideas – it’s how you combine existing ideas that’s important
  2. Science-fiction is largely about the present, rather than the future

Apologies to regular readers, but unfortunately, I’ve now got to deploy both of these nuggets, making it more obvious than usual that the emperor has no clothes.

The Crossing

The Allegory

The Crossing is on the one hand, an absurdly basic allegory about modern day global politics. It sees a whole bunch of bodies washed up on the shore near a small Oregon town in the US. Hundreds have perished in the water, but a goodly few have survived. Trouble is, no one knows where they’ve come from, since no boats or anything else have been in the area.

Upon further interrogation by local sheriff Steve Zahn (Treme, Mind Games) and Department of Homeland Security agent Sandrine Holt (Hostages, House of Cards, Macgyver, The Returned, The Art of More), the survivors claim asylum, stating they are refugees from a war-torn land. The problem?

They’re Americans and that war-torn land is… America. The America of 180 years in the future. Yep, they’re time-travellers.

Obviously, people aren’t that persuaded of this at first, but then the evidence begins to mount up.

So here’s your basic modern-day sci-fi allegory – it’s a sledgehammer-sharp piece of empathy encouraging its audience to put itself in the shoes of refugees and imagine what it would do in their position. Stop thinking of Syrians as “the other” but instead imagine if Americans were forced by war to escape to another country. Wouldn’t you take them in? Wouldn’t you understand the terrible decision they’d had to make?

Ta da. Science fiction job done.

Too basic, though? Because sooner or later you have to explain the nature of this war. Trouble is, if you start to make it Red State vs Blue State or whites vs blacks, you’re potentially going to divide your audience. So enter “less divisive allegory” part two.

Steve Zahn and Natalie Martinez in The Crossing
Steve Zahn and Natalie Martinez in The Crossing

The second allegory

Just to repeat myself yet again, there are no new ideas in sci-fi and the idea of regular Homo Sapiens and a super-evolved species of humans fighting it out to determine which is the fittest to survive has had considerable cachet over the years. There’s been The X-Men in comics and even as far back as the 1970s on TV, there was The Tomorrow People. Generally, though, the superhumans have been both nice and on the receiving end of the prejudice, while it’s been nasty old humans who’ve been oppressing the new minority just like it was one of the old minorities. ALLEGORY ALERT!

But if you cast your mind back over Will & Grace‘s Debra Messing’s career, you’ll remember the shoe was on the other foot in Prey back in the late 90s, when humans found themselves being hunted down by people with a superior genome, while Star Trek, of course, gave us the genetically engineered Khan Noonian Singh deciding he was proper better than the rest of the world and he was going to war ’em into surrender.

Ditto The Crossing, in which discover that a genetically engineered ‘Apex’ version of humanity has been trying to wipe out Homo Sapiens and has done such a good job of it that a few regular members of the species thought it worth trying a hugely risky form of time travel to venture back to the ‘great peace’ at the beginning of the 21st century when people still had rights.

Unfortunately for our refugees, not only has an Apex human travelled back with them (APB‘s Natalie Martinez), they might not even be the first to make it back – and who knows what the first bunch have been up to. Perhaps even a bit of temporal manipulation…

Hang on, that’s Travelers. Told you there were no original ideas.

Steve Zahn and Sandrine Holt in The Crossing
Steve Zahn and Sandrine Holt in The Crossing

Mishandled

So how does The Crossing handle this particular set of tropes that you’ve already seen elsewhere? For the most part, decently well but not hugely imaginatively. The feel is somewhat similar to The Returned, full of big expansive landscape shots and pictures of wooded lakes, as our sleepy little town wakes up to its new extra-natural problem, even if the government is trying to hide it from society at large.

But at this stage, there’s not much more than allegory and a bit of mystery. What are the first batch of time travellers up to and are the new set of travellers goodies, baddies or the same mix of traits as normal Americans who therefore SHOULD BE TREATED WITH COMPASSION – WITHIN LIMITS. There’s enough of a mystery for me to want to know the answers to some of these question at least, but I don’t have a huge amount of confidence that the final revelations will be in any way surprising.

In terms of characters and casting, Zahn doesn’t quite have the alpha male qualities necessary to pull off the sheriff role, but that makes Martinez’s job a lot easier at least, as she runs rings around him with super-leaps, super-speed, super-hearing and super-twatting abilities. She’s good and decently mysterious, but nothing exceptional. Meanwhile, Holt is consistently reassuring but nothing much more. Indeed, no one has any real chemistry with anyone else or even much screen presence, while most of the seeds for future plots are soapy at best.

And in terms of science-fiction, no one’s really done much thinking at all. The Americans from the future all have the same accents as modern Americans, as well as the same vocabulary, despite coming from as far in the future as Abraham Lincoln is in our past. They’re no taller or stronger thanks to better nutrition – or smaller or weaker thanks to food shortages. Sure, no one knows how to use keys, but they also don’t really know how to do anything – no one expects everything to be voice-activated. Sure, they don’t eat meat, but despite coming from a future without meat, when presented with the opportunity, some of them tuck in as though it’s best idea since sliced bread – rather than since pickled chlorinated chicken skins. Maybe that’s one constant of American life throughout the centuries.

Sandrine Holt, Steve Zahn and Natalie Martinez in The Crossing

Sandrine Holt, Steve Zahn and Natalie Martinez in The Crossing

Conclusion

Like The Whispers before it, The Crossing is probably going to turn out to be one of those sci-fi shows that ABC periodically produces that has a semi-decent core and just enough promise and decent production values that you imagine it might not be too bad – but which ultimately is likely to disappoint and never lead anywhere really satisfying. Undoubtedly, it’ll go on for a number of weeks, being competently made, getting its characters to go through basic emotions, promising all manner of revelations and government conspiracies, but which ultimately will end up with some family-oriented nonsense and Care Bear-style beams of love coming out of people’s tummies. And then getting cancelled after a season.

I’ll probably watch a few episodes to confirm my theory, but I don’t invite you to start on this same path until I’ve gone a few weeks down it.