It was the 90s, THE decade of #SCIFI, no question about it. Star Trek The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Babylon 5, The X-Files, Stargate SG-1, all those heavy hitters where quite successful in it's own right. In 1995 there was a different #SCIFI show named Space: Above and Beyond (S:AAB), or also called Space 2063. It was a different kind of sci-fi because we immediately begin with a war.
A war which is not only being fought in space, but also on land, on many different planets. It's dark, it's gritty, it feels real. It revolves around a team which have joined the United States Marine Corps Space Aviators, the belong to a team called the 58th, also known as the wildcats.
They each joined for different reasons, one of them stands out, Cooper Hawkes did not have much choice, either go to jail or join the Marines. Hawkes is an Invitro, also non-lovingly called a Tank. Invitro's are artificially gestated humans, they are "born" at the age of 18, mainly to fight a war for the humans against the Silicates. The Silicates, or AI rebels, stole military spacecraft at the end of the AI War and went into space. During the Chig War, Silicates collaborate with the Chigs.
Story begins with Nathan and his girlfriend who have been preparing for a colonization of a planet called Vesta Colony in the Epsilon Eridani Star System. Then because some politics, where it was decided that a number of Invitro's take the places of a number of the original crew. Nathan or his girlfriend, Kylen, only one of them can go.
Kylen gets to go, Nathan first tries sneak onto the mission but is being found out and is left behind on Earth. Then he joins the United States Marine Corps Space Aviators and joins the 58th, also called the Wildcats. Meanwhile on the colony, the colonist are attacked by an, at that time, unknown race, at least to the majority of the people back home, called the Chigs, who reside in that part of space and see the colonization as sort of an invasion.
Ironically, I cannot say I have special love for any of the lead characters, other than Lt. Col. Tyrus Cassius 'T.C.' McQueen (James Morrison). Of the members of the 58th itself, I think my favourite character is Lt. Vanessa Damphousse (Lanei Chapman). Like with many other shows you really have one or two favourite characters who really stand out, in this show, at least for me, it didn't.
As I said before, because this show is very different other sci-fi shows, I think there is perhaps only one tv show which you can compare Space with and that is Ronald Moore's Battlestar Galactica. Both dark and gritty, war being fought in space and on land, a kind of reality to the fighting, still Space unfortunately could not get the love Battlestar Galactica got and was cancelled after only one season.
As with most shows, S:AAB needed to find it's footing first, there are some mediocre episodes of course but there are also some very good episodes. My favourite episodes are:
Eyes (1x06) - In an effort to get West to help with an assassination plot, the young marine is told that high ranking Earth officials knew about the aliens before the colonists were sent to Vesta Colony.
Hostile Visit (1x08) & Choice or Chance (1x09) - McQueen and the 58th go to enemy territory with a Chig ship. their plan does not go to plan and they have to escape in a lifepod. All but McQueen and Hawkes are captured by silicates who are in league with the Chigs. Wang get interrogated by silicate model Elroy EL (Doug Hutchison, Eugene Tooms of the X-files episode #Squeeze) who breaks Wang. Nathan West gets reunited with his girlfriend
Kylen who is captured there also. Together they find away to escape but West wants to go back to save his fellow soldiers.
Kylen tries to convince Nathan no to go back but Nathan leaves her when he realizes she has been indoctrinated. Vansen and Damphousse need to decide themselves who's going to get killed by the Silicates. But the ladies trick them into fighting each other and in the confusion they surprise their captors and escape where they re-unite with McQueen and Hawkes. While escaping Wang just keep standing, in hopes he gets killed because he's ashamed. Kylen then comes to them and calls them by name, tells them to go with her, but then West comes and shoots her on sight, saying he did not tell her their names. When they return they get a heroes welcome.
The River of Stars (1x11)
In a middle of a fire fight, the 58th got hit and can no longer control, disabled ship, far from searchers, no transmitter, cold and dark at Christmas. Team, felling lost, exchange thoughts, fears and gifts. CO sends the 1968 Apollo 8 Genesis message. With mysterious help, the team does just enough to make it home. Mysterious help could come from the Chigs, in the same vain as it was in both Word Wars I/II where on Christmas there was no fighting, soldiers had a drink, food together. They get a message which Wang deciphers, there is a comet straight for them, the message suggest that they can ride on the wave of the comet out of enemy territory.
Level of Necessity (1x13) - Damphousse seems to have psychic abilities which allows her to see when there is mortal danger. (Richard Kind - guest role a.o guest roles in Stargate Atlantis)
The Angriest Angel (1x15) - the second part of a two-parter - McQueen wants to head this mission to destroy the Chigs prototype. Howard Sewell brings with him a organic compound which could help destroy the Chig fighter.
Toy Soldiers (1x16) - Nathan brother Neil also enlists and arrives on the Saragota. Neil has a commanding officer who wants to prove himself over the backs of his soldiers. They join on a mission with the 58th and there he goes off mission which kills the whole platoon, including Neil, Nathans brother. But he (commanding officer) is the only one of his unit, who survives.
Dear Earth (1x17) - Damphousse gets blinded on a mission, not permanent, McQueen & Hawkes are invited to do a documentary about Invitro's. Hawkes is okay with it, thinks it will help with understanding Invitro's, but McQueen only co-operates under orders. Nathan gets a letter from home and realizes that they don't know his brother, their son has died in action. Letter has been sent to the wrong West, a Neal West instead of Neil West. Nathan writes his own letter to them. Vansen gets promoted to captain, becomes an aunt.
Sugar Dirt (1x21) - A planetary invasion by Earth military forces is ambushed and turns into a military disaster. There is no air support and no ground reinforcement as the supporting fleet, among it the USS Saratoga, is forced to abandon 25,000 stranded marines in order to launch another assault, which could ultimately save millions of lives, upon a more strategic planet. Before departing, Commodore Ross issues instructions: "You're strongly encouraged, but not ordered to do so, to keep engaging the enemy. If however the situation becomes untenable you're authorized to surrender. Semper fidelis.". Among the scattered, abandoned and demoralized marines are the 58th, struggling to survive. When Commodore Ross tells McQueen about his wife and children, how I thinks of them, McQueen tells him that in the past he would not understand what he felt, but now, with the 58th stranded on Demios, he does.
And If They Lay Us Down to Rest... (1x22) - The 58th recon a moon orbiting the Chig homeworld before a major invasion is set to begin. Among hostile Chig confrontations they encounter a single alien of unknown species that appears to be of no threat. Then the unexpected happens, a single Chig fighter flies upto the USS Saratoga and via crude morse code it message says: Peace! When the bring the Chig on board, after the room is adjusted to his/hers living condition, it takes off it's helmet. It is the same species as the 58th found on the planet.
A few of what I consider to be the weakest episodes:
Ray Butts (1x05) - Legendary Marine Flyer Colonel Ray Butts 'Kick Butts' of Marine Special Operations Command team shows up and takes over command of the 58th wing for a special secret mission of redemption. There is one thing I like about the episode, this song
The Enemy (1x07) - The members of the 58th turn on each other after they land on the planet Tartarus and encounter a Chig mind-altering weapon that wreaks havoc on the area of the brain that controls fear.
Who Monitors the Birds (1x12) - Promised a discharge from his sentence to the marines, Hawkes is recruited for an assassination mission deep behind enemy lines.
It was a while ago since I watched S:AAB for the last time, think somewhere around 2010 or something. I have to say, in regard to the CGI, which is of the same kind of quality as Babylon 5, it didn't bother me at all, of course it's a bit dated but it still looks okay, a lot better than the 2009 version of V, or the CGI of Sanctuary. Another point I want to mention is that there are a number if interesting guest roles like: David Duchovny (X-Files), Richard Kind (Stargate SG1, Spin City), Doug Hutchison (X-files, Tooms), R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket) and the creators of course are Glen Morgan & James Wong (X-Files). If you love sci-fi and you haven't yet seen this, you have to give it a try, the only downside is, it ends on a cliff-hanger, which ought to be forbidden in TV land!