Tuned In: ABC debuts 'Defying Gravity' a sci-fi-tinged soap

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A studio executive described ABC's astronaut drama "Defying Gravity" as "Grey's Anatomy" in space. And it's true: The space scenarios in "Gravity" often defy common sense and are just as ludicrous as the medical workplace hijinks on "Grey's."

If you can stomach over-the-top, unrealistic plot turns -- and millions of viewers do every week when they watch "Grey's" -- "Gravity" is an entertaining enough sci-fi-tinged soap, complete with astronauts having sex while floating in zero gravity.

"Gravity" (9-11 tonight, WTAE) even has its own Meredith and McDreamy. She's geologist Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris, "24"), the only member of the Antares crew who hears a baby's cries echo through the spaceship. Zoe had a one-night stand with "Gravity's" narrator and McDreamy stand-in, chief engineer Maddux Donner (Ron Livingston, "Band of Brothers"). Zoe got pregnant and possibly had an abortion -- illegal in 2052 America, it turns out.

"Defying Gravity" tells its story of astronauts on a six-year mission to visit seven planets through a combination of scenes set in the present and through flashbacks. Early in the two-hour premiere viewers learn about Donner's past: In 2042 while on a mission to Mars, he was ordered to leave two astronauts behind. It's haunted him ever since.

If it seems a touch unbelievable that an astronaut viewed as "a tragic American hero" would ever be allowed to fly into space again, well, then you're thinking more logically than the writers of "Gravity." Or maybe the International Space Organization just has looser standards than NASA -- so loose that they send one astronaut into space who has a nervous breakdown and goes for a space walk with a religious artifact.

Also, the Antares doc (Eyal Podell) may be an alcoholic. So much for those pre-flight psych evaluations.

Few TV shows have attempted to depict an Earth-based space program in the present or near-future -- syndicated show "The Cape" (1996-97) comes to mind -- but already this summer we've seen two.

"Gravity" follows "Virtuality," a dark, little-seen (1.8 million viewers) and far more ambitious Fox TV movie that aired in June. "Virtuality" was also about a multi-year space voyage with an overlay of murder-mystery; "Gravity" is a more conventional melodrama but it raises unanswered questions of its own.

Mission managers on Earth speak cryptically, saying things like, "This seems to be what it wants." It is later named Beta. Is an alien force dictating terms of the mission? Is that the secret flight director Mike Goss (Andrew Airlie) plans to withhold from the astronauts until 43 days into the mission when they arrive at Venus?

Many viewers will understandably respond, who cares? But fans of relationship-driven story-telling might just get hooked on this silly, lighter-than-air summer series.

"Defying Gravity" will move to its usual 10 p.m. Sunday time slot next week.


Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv.


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