Back in 1995, before anyone started “Re-imagining”, “Re-booting”, or just plain “Re-Making” the great Science Fiction classics, when the only really new and interesting S.F. shows were on the inconsistent Sci Fi Channel, Fox Television produced a wonderful, and now almost forgotten program, Space: Above and Beyond. In it’s one season, SAAB covered a lot of thematic ground that wasn’t necessarily what the television-watching public was expecting from a network show, even one on the then-edgy and new Fox. The story, set in the year 2063-64, revolves around a group of young US Space Marine Corp recruits who are hastily trained and assembled into a unit after Earth’s first extraterrestrial colonies are attacked and destroyed by aliens who we Earthlings had no idea were around. Over the course of the 24 episodes, we meet and come to know these young Marines, collectively known as the “Wildcards”, and along the way see some familiar faces as the show goes beyond the standard Space Opera formula. Besides the cool spaceships and CGI space battles, the meta-story follows a very broad arc, combining military politics, tactics and strategy into a cohesive whole. The war actually feels like a prolonged campaign, with ups and downs, thrilling victories and crushing defeats. The conflicts plays out more like Band of Brothers than the usual science fiction convention of the heroes getting their asses kicked six ways from Sunday until someone discovers a super-weapon that wipes the bad guys out in one swell foop. We are introduced to elements of the military as the characters are: on a “need to know” basis. Not everything in the Marine Corps of 2064 is available to every Marine, and secrecy is often a major part of the story.
In all honesty, the first episode or two left me a little flat. It looked almost as if the production had not as yet gotten the official Green Light, was getting by on a shoestring. Some of the scenes looked like they were shot in a closet, using some left-over props and costumes from the second and final season of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Things quickly get moving, however, and we are introduced to one of the major themes of the show in the form of a character who is an “in-vitro”, a tank-grown human being. On Earth in 2063, in-vitros are the invisible minority, identifiable only by an extra navel located on the back of the neck. Just like other invisible minorities, they often meet the blunt end of prejudice and violence. Over the course of the series, this is explored a number of times from several perspectives, and is done so not in an After School Special sort of way, (leave that to Star Trek: The Next Generation, thank you very much) but in a way in which the affected characters realize that sometimes real life requires that compromises be made.
The in-vitro characters are not the only ones dealing with demons, however. Each of the other Wildcards has something in their past that drives their actions and fuels their passions, ranging from classics like lost love, through the darker realms of childhood trauma. Over the course of the series, we see the group of individuals with chips on their shoulders gels into a team, and finally a family. This sense of family is one of the show’s strongest elements. The Wildcards are very adamant about looking out for each other, covering each other’s backs, and picking each other up when they fall. This doesn’t just apply to pulling a wounded comrade off the battlefield, either. Rather than using “We don’t leave our people behind!” as a rallying cry for another shoot-em-up adventure, the Wildcards help each other through much more realistic crises of confidence, and the mental and emotional toll taken by a bloody war. They truly do have each other’s backs, and one gets the sense that they really would do anything for one another.
In the end, Space, Above and Beyond is a great series of 24 episodes. We meet some very interesting people, see then change and grow through the forge of a violent conflict. Space: Above and Beyond was an interesting walk down a path from Netflix, The relative brevity and overall high quality make me think this one would hold up well for another run through. The show, of course, was canceled after just one season, and I can’t help but wonder what might have been.