UPDATED: When fans cry out for someone to save their show, the narrative is usually built around somebody “not getting it.“ The network, the studios, or some bean counter or idiotic executive just can’t recognize the genius of the program that they’ve killed and the heartbreak they’ve caused. But that’s not what’s happened to “The Expanse.”
Coming into the back half of their third season, the show has a growing sense of mastery, fascinating world-building, and a commitment to tackling difficult questions in an ethically-murky universe. It took a little bit to find its stride, but now “The Expanse” is firing on all thrusters. Alas, like so many of its characters, the show has found itself on the short end of a bad deal. SyFy cancelled the program this month, not for creative reasons but because the structure of their deal with producers Alcon Entertainment only gives the network revenue from the broadcast window — and in the current television landscape, broadcast revenue from a basic cable channel like SyFy seems to be worth about as much as a bowl of red kibble on Ceres, sasa ke?
But while every canceled show gets a plea for another distributor to swoop in and save it, in this case there’s actually a better-than-average case to be made for “The Expanse” to get rescued by a streaming outlet — one in particular. Here are several reasons, both creative and business-focused, as to why Amazon should swoop in and save “The Expanse.”
A lot of the show’s audience seems to already watch it through Amazon.
When Syfy first made their deal for “The Expanse,” it was one of the first big components of the channel re-embracing its genre roots. And in 2014, it probably was a smart play for a network going in a new direction to hedge their bets, and let a shaky streaming platform that doubled as a glorified home shopping network pick up most of the tab. But in 2018, keeping control of the streaming rights has become the much more valuable piece of the pie. Amazon is getting the bulk of the show’s audience over a long window, and SyFy is left with a very narrow period of time to make their money. Contrast this with the distribution plan for “Star Trek Discovery” — CBS kept the streaming in-house, going so far as to build their own platform around it, in order to hold on to these very lucrative rights.
We don’t know the actual ratings for “The Expanse” on Amazon, but it appears to be performing well for them. How much better could it do if they also had the first window and controlled all the rights? Especially if they did a better job of helping their viewers find the best quality versions of the episodes.
The show actually works better as a bingeing experience.
We’re early enough in the binge era to still be figuring out what kinds of shows work better in bulk and which are better with a lag in-between episodes. After a recent rewatch of the first two seasons on Amazon, it became clear that its incredibly detailed storyworld and tightly serialized narrative mean that the show works better in a binge environment. In a time when a lot of streaming shows use their lack of constraints to make overlong and turgidly-paced episodes, “The Expanse” manages to balance its serious themes with brisk pacing, making it very easy to say “I’ll just watch one more.”
There’s so much story left to tell.
The novel series on which the show is based will have its eighth installment released later this year. Along with several interstitial novellas and short stories, there is a massive story being told here — and the show has barely scratched the surface. While the seasons don’t track exactly according to the books, the show is currently around the middle of the second novel. There are so many twists and turns up ahead, and book readers know that the show has been carefully and delicately planting the seeds for later storylines. Imagine if “Game of Thrones” has been canceled before the Red Wedding? This is roughly where “The Expanse” is on the long arc of its tale.
It’s getting better with every episode.
Like any new show, the beginning of Season 1 had its rough spots. At times it seemed like the different storylines belonged to different shows: take, for example, Miller’s dorky hat. Plus, some really bad sound issues in the first few episodes made picking up Belter creole even harder than it should’ve been. Many of these issues have been ironed out, and in Season 3 the show has enough momentum behind it that the writers are now able to mix and match their characters in surprising and exciting combinations. And they’ve done an exemplary job of working with budget constraints, creating a unique and interesting visual effects language around (more realistic aspects of physics than the typical sci-fi adventure).
The performances are outstanding.
Viewers are used to sci-fi shows with a motley crew of lovable rogues at its center — and “The Expanse” certainly has that. But it also surrounds them with characters and performances elevated far above what’s usually found in the genre. There is no character on television anything like Shohreh Aghdashloo’s foul-mouthed, perpetually annoyed chessmaster Crisjen Avasarala. Undersecretary Sadavir Errinwright could easily be played as a cartoon villain, but Shawn Doyle unearths his many conflicted layers. And as Anderson Dawes, Jared Harris delivers a clinic in his vocal performance of Belter language, which he interprets with the precision of Shakespearean dialogue. Elizabeth Mitchell is a new addition for Season 3, and has brought a powerful, er, earthiness to the political intrigue. And later this season, the great David Straithairn will join the show in a recurring role. If his accent work on “Billions” and “McMafia” is any indication, he could bring his own unique spin to speaking Belter.
Though every canceled show seems to have a fan campaign, in this instance there’s a pretty good case for Amazon to scoop up the full tab for The Expanse and keep the show around long enough for its audience to find it. The binge platforms haven’t really done too much in the way of programming blocks yet, but “The Expanse” would fit nicely sandwiched into Amazon Originals in between “Man In The High Castle” and “Electric Dreams.” And if Jeff Bezos is serious about getting humanity to Mars, “The Expanse” would be a great vehicle to inspire dreams of outward colonization. So, Amazon, what’s it gonna be? Are you gonna tell fans that their show gonya kom wamotim, bossmang?
UPDATE: Alcon Entertainment co-CEOs Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson sent IndieWire a statement via email:
“The outpouring of support and enthusiasm from the fans of THE EXPANSE has been remarkable and encouraging. The show’s impassioned fan base, including hundreds of thousands of viewers and the likes of of George R.R. Martin and Patton Oswalt, appear to be as hopeful as we are that this stunning space drama can find a new home on another platform.”
Season 3 of “The Expanse” is currently airing Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Syfy. Seasons 1 and 2 are streaming now on Amazon.