Let’s say you and four associates knew that the world would end in five years. You don’t know how, or by whom; and you’re pretty sure no one would believe you if you told them. What do you do? What stresses must you undergo and persevere in your quest? This is the underlying premise of Odyssey 5, one of the smartest, most overlooked science fiction TV shows of the past 20 years.
A Canadian show starring genre gadabout Peter Weller, Odyssey 5 was the brainchild of Manny Coto, known to most as the man who rescued the final season of the atrocious Star Trek: Enterprise, finally making that particular nightmare watchable.
Odyssey 5 is the story of the five astronauts aboard the space shuttle Odyssey: commander Chuck Taggart (Weller), his son Neil (Christopher Gorham), genius asshole Kurt Mendel (Sebastian Roche), journalist Sarah Forbes (Leslie Silva), and shuttle pilot Angela Perry (Tamara Craig Thomas). While in orbit, they literally witness the destruction of the Earth. They are then contacted by an enigmatic alien intelligence who informs them that the same thing has befallen other worlds, and that they will be sent back in time 5 years in order to investigate and prevent the cataclysm. The catch is that, while they will retain their future memories, they will exist in the bodies and situations of their earlier selves.
This brilliant premise creates instant conflict and tension. Sarah Forbes’s infant son had died 5 years ago and she was in a different marriage. Neil Taggart, now a young astronaut, was then a high school student, and suddenly finds himself one again, complete with his teenage girlfriend, her childish woes and their sexual crises. As this is an adult film shown on the cable network Showtime, profane language and extreme adult situations abound.
It’s a minor spoiler that the destruction of the Earth has to do with artificial and web-based intelligences. This may sound hokey and cliche, but it’s actually done with a sense of sober maturity that brings a welcome gravity to the narrative. The seriousness, offset by a wonderful light direction, is made moreso by the recurring theme that the 5 heroes have no idea what they are doing, and may in fact be accelerating the timetable to the Earth’s destruction.
The strength of Odyssey 5, though, is in its consistent, realistic characterizations, brought to life through some excellent acting, primarily by Weller himself. There’s a particular scene that I can’ seem to forget, wherein Weller takes a pompous barista to task for calling his “large” coffee a “grande”.
It’s a mystery to me why Odyssey 5 was not picked up for a second season. This is a smart, adult, science fiction series that would be eagerly consumed by any thinking genre fan. There are rumours that Coto wishes to re-do or finish off the series in a new format, perhaps web-based. Until then, I heartily recommend that you rent or buy Odyssey 5.