"Odyssey 5" (Mania.com)

By:John Sinnott
Review Date: Thursday, December 14, 2006

Before Manny Coto took over as head writer of Enterprise in the fourth season, he had his own SF show on the air.  Odyssey 5 was Coto's brain child, and it was an intriguing program that lasted for only one season on Showtime.  (Less actually... it took Showtime a couple of years to broadcast the last four episodes which are included in this set.) It certainly deserved to go on longer.  This show about a group of five astronauts who have only five years to save the Earth from destruction was creative and engrossing and had some wonderful actors in the lead roles.  Now the entire series has been released in a five DVD set, ready for fans to enjoy once more.

The US space shuttle Odyssey was performing a routine mission, snagging a satellite for repairs before docking with the international space station when something very unexpected happened.  The Earth imploded.  In a matter of moments the Earth went from a blue/green planet to a swirling cloud of dust.  The only people who were left alive were the five members of the Odyssey: Commander Chuck Taggert (Peter Weller) and his son Neil (Christopher Gorham), Nobel Prize winning geneticist Kurt Mendel (Sebastian Roche), newscaster Sarah Forbes (Leslie Silva) and shuttle pilot, Angela Perry (Tamara Crag Thomas.)  With no place to go to they resign themselves to their fate and wait to run out of oxygen.

Moments before the end comes however, the Odyssey is taken aboard an alien spaceship.  There they meet The Seeker, an ancient being (machine?) that has been searching for intelligent life.  He's found evidence of many advanced cultures, but whenever he gets to the planets he's detected, all that's left is a swirling cloud of dust.  The Seeker offers to send the five astronauts back in time five years, so that they will have a chance of averting whatever it was that caused the Earth to die.  Naturally they accept but five years isn't a long time, and they have very little to go on.

They soon discover that there are incredibly intelligent entities living in the internet called Sentients.  They have no bodies, since they are just computer code, but they have designed artificial people to carry out their bidding.  These 'Synthetics' are stronger and faster than real people and can be programmed just like a computer.  The only external difference from humans is that they are cold blooded.

Trying to discover what the Sentients and Synthetics are up to is hard and dangerous, but it's even worse than that; there's no evidence that they are responsible for the Earth's destruction.  It could very well be related to a military project that was on the satellite the shuttle was adjusting, related to the covert group inside NASA known as the Cadre.  Or it could be due to something else all together.

This is one of those shows that starts off a little slow, but really draws you in.  One of the things I really liked about the program was that they didn't forget that the main character have home lives.  When Taggart skips out on a party his wife had wanted to go to (in order to stop a Synthetic plot), he not only ends up in the dog house but she also thinks that he has a mistress.  Sarah spends a good amount of time taking her son to doctors so they can cure the stomach cancer that killed him in the original time-line.  The only thing is that it hasn't shown up yet and her husband and doctors think she's crazy.  Its touches like these that add a lot to the feel of the show.

That's not to say that it's perfect.  There are a couple of plot points in the beginning that are a little hard to swallow.  The fact that NASA would allow a newscaster on a local TV station on the space shuttle is a tad unrealistic.  The fact that Kurt has won the Nobel Prize but isn't on the staff of any hospital or university is also laughable.  Even worse than that is the way Neil is portrayed.  When he's 22 he's in space, but 5 years earlier he was a junior in high school and a drugged out looser.  Come on.  It makes for nice stories, but bears no resemblance to reality.  (Also, what happened to the people on the international space station?  They never say.)  When these things came to light in the first episode I was really ready to hate the show, but a couple of episodes later I was hooked.  If you can accept these oddities, the series is quite good.

The ensemble cast is responsible for that to a large extent.  All five of the main characters do a very good job portraying their idiosyncratic characters and make them seem like real people.  Peter Weller (Buckaroo Banzai, Robocop) has the temperament and attitudes of a military pilot down pat, probably because his father was a pilot (as he discusses in the commentary), but in any case he really nails the part and gives the show it's focal point.  Sebastian Roche also does well as the goofy but brilliant scientist, walking that fine line between making him a caricature and a believably irreverent character.  The one person in the cast who impressed me the most though was Leslie Silva.  She was magnificent as a mother who had seen her child waste away and die, only to get him back again.  You could tell what she was thinking by just a look and the scenes where she would break down were heart wrenching.  Silva is a very talented actress (not to mention incredibly easy on the eyes) and I hope she gets a chance to star in a series again.

The show has some X-Files aspects to it.  Conspiracy theories pop up every where you turn and several of the shows are rather eerie.  The episode LDU 7, where Taggart, Mendel and Forbes sneak into a high security prison in order to talk with an inmate who might know something about the Sentients, was very creepy and had some pretty suspenseful moments.  Likewise for the episode Kitten where a rather powerful Sentient develops a crush on Neil.

The show also has a nice sense of humor, throwing in jokes that SF fans will get, including a quote from Buckaroo Banzai himself.  The episode The Trouble with Harry was particularly funny.  It concerned a rogue Sentient who steals a Synthetic body that's not quite finished, and his exploration of the human world, not to mention his first sexual experience was very amusing.

While the individual episodes are mostly good (there are a couple of duds like Dark at the End of the Tunnel) taken as a whole they don't bear up to scrutiny.  If the Sentients are all as powerful as the one in Kitten, they could easily have stopped the group from interfering with their plans.   Other shows have plot flaws if you think about them too much.  In one show a Sentient was able to brain wash people (why bother?  Just use Synthetics...) and had them build a machine in Texas that would remove the moisture from the air and also increase the temperature, something that was essential for their plan.  Why?  They could have carried out their plan in Arizona or the Sahara without anyone being the wiser.

The show also started to branch out a bit too much.  The number of evil groups seemed to grow and grow as the show went on.  At times the show had a 'conspiracy of the week' feel to it with a new covert secret group being discovered on a regular basis.   Unfortunately, this one season is all there is, and the show does end with a lot of plot lines dangling.  It's easy to tell that the creators were counting on a second season because things end with a cliffhanger that will never be resolved.

The extras included with this set were pretty disappointing.  The only bonus item was a single commentary track with creator Manny Coto and star Peter Weller on the pilot episode.  This was a standard commentary with both people praising the cast and crew, especially the special effects company that did a good job on a tight budget.  Some plot ideas for the second season were mentioned too.  The disappointing thing about this track is that Coto didn't give any more information about the dangling plot lines that were left when the show was cancelled.  He did say that he has worked out a lot of the details, but is hoping to get the show resurrected some day so he's not telling.  The odds of this show being picked up again are nonexistent.  It's a sad but true fact.  This would have been a great opportunity to wrap everything up for the fans of the show and add a lot to the value of the set.

Even with these flaws and the fact that things aren't resolved at the end, this is an enjoyable show.  The acting is very good and the plots are engrossing.  Though there isn't a lot of continuity in the first few episodes they refer to past events more and more as the show goes on, which makes the program even more interesting.  A fun show that deserved a longer run.

Mania Grade: B
Show Grade: B+
Disc Grade: B-
Reviewed Format: DVD
Network: Showtime
Original Air Date: June 1, 2002 through: September 1, 2002
Cast: Peter Weller, Sebastian Roche
Extras: Commentary
Suggested Retail: $49.95