The Ark’s Sci-Fi Tropes Are ‘There For a Reason’

The Ark showrunners Dean Devlin and Jonathan Glassner defend their narrative choices in the face of mixed audience reaction.

Cat among the crew of The Ark
Photo: Aleksandar Letic / Syfy

Two different types of viewers tuned in to check out The Ark on Syfy last week: those looking for a fun sci-fi adventure and those seeking a cutting edge space epic. While the pilot certainly met the needs of those expecting an enjoyable romp, others may have found any true depth lacking in the premiere, even though judging by a single episode might be considered unfair.

The Ark showrunners Dean Devlin and Jonathan Glassner admit they were going for familiarity over anything cutting edge. “There was a real desire to make a really comfortable old shoe but to put a new spin on it … bucking the trend lately of these incredibly dark and edgy shows that often are unique for unique’s sake, as opposed to storytelling’s sake,” says Devlin.

Glassner agrees that darker isn’t always better. “[The Ark is] kind of what I wanted to see on television that hasn’t been on for awhile,” he says. “There’s been a lot of really good, intellectual science fiction that really makes you think, but they’re often kind of depressing and dark. I wanted to see something that’s just fun, entertaining, and makes you excited at the end.”

Providing recognizable story points for sci-fi fans allowed The Ark to speed up its exposition and get right to the compelling tale of survival. “It’s totally intentional,” Devlin says. “We didn’t spend any time explaining what a cryogenic sleeper pod is. We assume you’ve seen Alien or more recently Passengers or a dozen other shows that dealt with the whole idea of being cryogenically frozen for a long trip. We don’t pretend this is the first sci-fi show; we don’t pretend we’re inventing this. The tropes are there for a reason.”

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Glassner urges patience for those looking for an immediate payoff for all of the various characters in The Ark. “The criticism that I have been seeing is that we didn’t develop them enough,” he says, “but I think if you stick with the show, you’ll see that they develop quite a bit. They become very three-dimensional characters; it just takes time — there’s a lot of them! We don’t want people standing around saying, ‘Well, let me tell you about myself’ and delving into their backstory that quickly.”

Devlin promises that the nature of The Ark ensures that viewers will learn more about the crew eventually. “We had to establish an enormously large cast right off the bat which meant nobody really got that much screen time yet,” he explains. “So there’s a lot of shortcuts into helping you understand who they are at the beginning. This is not a show where we have aliens of the week or we go to exotic planet of the week. This is really about the people on this ship, so everything we’re going to watch this season is about them. They will all get their time.”

The showrunners understand that The Ark viewers aren’t going to like all of the characters either. “We want the audience to be annoyed by some characters and fall in love with some characters,” Devlin says. “Part of the fun is watching who people identify with. Just being online, I literally would see Tweets back-to-back saying ‘I love this character!’ and then the very next one someone saying how they hated that character. That’s great! You want people to find their people on the show and then get behind them or root against them… That’s what’s really interesting in a television series.”

The key, Devlin and Glassner say, is to have a plan but let the show evolve as the actors make the characters of The Ark come to life. “With this great cast, they’re showing us things that we hadn’t thought of,” says Glassner. “We’re saying, ‘Why did he react to that that way? Maybe we should do this!’ It keeps us from going too far ahead, but we’ve figured it out at least through two seasons where we’re going.”

That being said, the showrunners’ road map includes creating a satisfying ending to each season of The Ark, no matter how many there are. “Jonathan and I are both believers that when you watch a season of television, it should be a complete meal,” says Devlin. “I believe that when you get to the end of the season, you will feel that you got a whole story, but then a door will open to tell you that there’s more to tell. There’s more to talk about; there’s more to see; there’s more to learn.”

The Ark episode 2 airs Wednesday, Feb. 8 at 10 p.m. ET on Syfy.

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