REVIEWED: SEASON 1 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: NETFLIX UK
One of the lovely things about streaming media is that we are now getting bespoke TV shows. Sci-fi has a large audience if it can be reliably catered to. That means we’re getting some great stuff, but it also means that TV executives are desperately rummaging through piles of discarded ideas, looking for the next big thing. On paper, Nightflyers looks like a winning formula. A sci-fi horror tale based on the work of a popular and successful author whose other adaptations to TV have been huge. After all, Alien is regarded as a classic and people still rave about Event Horizon and Galaxy of Terror, how hard can it be?
Given the quality of Nightflyers, the answer is ‘very, very hard’. The set-up for the show is promising. A team of scientists, including a particularly powerful telepath, find an alien spacecraft that appears to have technology powerful enough to give mankind a better future. Things go badly wrong and the crew go steadily crazy as revelation after revelation is discovered.
Alas, the show doesn’t have the patience for a slow build up. The series opens with a gory and bloody fight, one between two people we have no connection to. As the tale expands from episode to seemingly endless episode, we don’t develop any sympathy for the crew. It’s all too grim, too dark, and too creepy. But not in a good way. The script seems incapable of forming tension or setting stakes. The characters are under-served and though the actors do a valiant job of trying to make us care, there isn’t enough there. We can see what each character should be, but the show simply doesn’t deliver. Instead, we get tedious dialogue, lots of gore, and some nudity. None of which help make it interesting.
One of the issues is the source material. Much has been made that this is an adaptation based on George RR Martin’s novella (and short stories) of the same name. Martin has a reputation grown out of his more recent fantasy writing, and Nightflyers is one of his earlier science fiction works. Though it did quite well at the time, his work went on to inspire more nuanced and interesting sci-fi horror stories. Or to put it another way, the core story is 38 years old, and it wasn’t that original back then. It’s certainly not on par with A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin wasn’t directly involved with the show, and we can tell; it feels like there’s a lot of development missing from this production.
The novella is at least fun, if messy and forgettable. The TV show on the other hand is dry, dark and disappointing. Avoid.