This article is spoiler-free for The Ark premiere.
Around the dawn of the new millennium, TV shows primarily set aboard spaceships were abundant if not universally watched. The era produced classics like Battlestar Galactica and the Stargate franchise, but it also found niche audiences for shows like Farscape and Andromeda. Even the most low-budget efforts have only become more revered with time, and audiences remember them fondly.
Thankfully, The Ark evokes that same sense of adventure, only with more modern sensibilities and special effects. That shouldn’t be too surprising given that the showrunners of the Syfy series are Dean Devlin, who co-wrote the original Stargate movie, and Jonathan Glassner, who co-created Stargate SG-1, the successful televised spinoff that itself spawned several other series.
The Ark follows a vessel carrying humanity’s first attempt at colonizing a new planet. There’s a sense that Earth isn’t doing so well, but as it turns out, things aren’t going swimmingly on the colony ship either. Whether due to damage or a malfunction, the eponymous ark goes off-course, and crew members are awoken from suspended animation to find that their survival hangs in the balance. Right from the start, the series has the tension levels at maximum.
That being said, The Ark finds time for levity as well. One standout character to watch for is Alicia Nevins, a 19-year-old colonist played by Stacey Read, whose nerdy exuberance causes her to talk non-stop during casual conversations with crewmates, an effect that could easily be annoying but ends up being quite endearing. She’s not the main character by any means, but her moment of heroism in the opening episode certainly sets the tone for future triumphs that will bring the endangered crew together.
And that’s just one example! None of the actors in The Ark will be immediately recognizable to most viewers, but many of them quickly distinguish themselves through some bit of intrigue, character flaw, or special ability. The pilot episode manages to establish the main theme of survival while also introducing a mysterious past for the crew’s leader, creating a full-blown tragic romance for the head engineer, and introducing the idea that not everyone is who they say they are. Quite an accomplishment for a one-hour premiere.
There’s much about the initial disaster than cannot be discussed in a spoiler-free review, but for those wanting to know whether or not they should invest the time in The Ark, it should be said that the dilemma surrounding the scarcity of resources will remind everyone of the best episodes of Battlestar Galactica or Stargate Universe, and a storyline involving hidden identity evokes the Netflix reboot of Lost in Space, among others.
In that sense, The Ark feels a bit retro in the best way, but it also distinguishes itself with more modern special effects, dealing with gravity in a way that would impress even the most discerning fan of The Expanse. With innovations like a jumpsuit that reinforces the atrophied muscles of cryogenic sleep, the show makes a real effort to stick to the rules of space travel even as it unfolds its rather complex story involving a large cast of characters.
A show should never be judged by its pilot; one should always give a series at least three episodes to prove its mettle. But when it nails the exposition and storytelling as well as The Ark did in its premiere, it deserves praise.
The Ark premieres Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023 at 10 p.m. ET on Syfy.