Tuned In: 'Outcasts' casts too many themes

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Someday there will be a terrific TV series about colonizing another planet. BBC America's "Outcasts" (9 p.m. Saturday) is not that show.

Despite strong production values and an intriguing premise, "Outcasts" lumbers along, perhaps done in by trying to tackle too many themes.

Created by former "MI-5" writer Ben Richards, "Outcasts" follows a group of settlers who have left an uninhabitable Earth and landed on distant Carpathia, named after the Titanic rescue ship. Unlike the underrated 1994-95 NBC series "Earth 2," which was set right after colonization began, "Outcasts" is set about 10 years into the grand experiment at a base called Forthaven.

The human settlers of Forthaven, led by President Richard Tate (Liam Cunningham, "Clash of the Titans"), have lost contact with Earth and rejoice when a transport ship from home arrives in orbit. Whether the ship and its passengers will be able to successfully enter Carpathia's atmosphere is one of the plots driving the premiere episode.

The other primary story has to do with expeditionary team member Mitchell (Jamie Bamber, "Battlestar Galactica"), who may be fomenting a revolution. Mitchell also serves as an exposition outlet for details of a failed experiment that Tate would prefer remain hidden.

Political intrigue arrives in the form of Julius Berger (Eric Mabius), an impossibly smarmy politico who appears to be a threat to the leadership of Tate and psychiatrist Stella Isen (Hermione Norris, "MI-5"), who lives in hope that her daughter and husband may be on the transport ship that's in Carpathia's orbit.

Ultimately, "Outcasts" explores themes ranging from isolation and rebuilding civilization to cloning and genocide. It's a lot to handle, probably too much.

Mr. Richards creates a credible, orderly world but "Outcasts" veers off on too many tangents. Viewers are told there are occasional "whiteouts" and then experience one in the first episode, but by the end of the second episode, "Outcasts" has yet to fully explain what happens in these whiteouts -- maybe it's a sand storm? The show doesn't say.

"Outcasts" is more of a slow-moving psychological thriller than it is a sci-fi show. It has a few spaceship scenes but it's more about survival and political manipulation than it is about lasers and space battles.

"Do you really believe human beings can live together in peace? Do you really believe we can build a better future for our children?" Mitchell asks during a confrontation with Fleur Morgan (Amy Manson), an idealistic peacekeeping officer who serves as the show's often disappointed voice of hope.

Shot in South Africa, "Outcasts" boasts stunning locations and strong visuals, including some shots that bring to mind an American space shuttle disaster, but the pace is dull and sometimes the storytelling is rife with heavy-handed symbolism (one character literally has "blood on his hands").

The show aired earlier this year in England and its ratings plummeted, leading to its cancellation after eight episodes.

Better Britcom

A mockumentary set at an airport, the timing of "Come Fly With Me" (11:30 p.m. Saturday BBC America) could hardly be better, coming as it does the same week Americans learned airlines collected more than $3 billion in baggage and change fees last year.

The dulcet tones of narrator Lindsay Duncan lend "Come Fly With Me" a faux air of authority while its stars/creators -- Matt Lucas and David Walliams, late of "Little Britain" -- play a wide-ranging group of oddball characters: Pilots, passengers, gate agents, airline executives and security guards.

In the premiere, a low-budget airline owner demonstrates his new system for passengers to rent a life jacket if there's a water landing and it becomes necessary. An airline employee can't bring himself to tell a first class passenger that there's been an accident in the plane's cargo hold and her dog froze to death "like a giant dog lolli." And an immigration officer acknowledges he's been accused of racism.

"If being highly suspicious of all foreigners makes you a racist, then, I mean, sure, lock me up and throw away the key," he says.

In next week's episode the same character initially disbelieves a woman who says she's from Liberia, a country he's never heard of, before relenting: "I would advise you in the future to travel with a large atlas or globe so you can prove to people you haven't made up your country."

With Mr. Lucas and Mr. Walliams each playing dozens of characters, "Come Fly With Me" brings to mind any of Tracey Ullman's assorted series ("Tracey Takes On," "State of the Union"). Like those shows, "Come Fly With Me" spoofs both familiar character types and an industry that's ready-made for mockery.

TCA Award nominations

The 2011 Television Critics Association Awards, voted on by 200 journalists who write about TV (including me and other TV critics), announced its slate of nominees this week with HBO's "Game of Thrones," FX's "Justified," ABC's "Modern Family" and NBC's "Parks and Recreation" among the series receiving multiple nominations.

For a full list of TCA Award nominees, see a June 13 Tuned In Journal post at post-gazette.com/tv.


Koeppen leaving CBS

Next month former WTAE anchor/reporter Susan Koeppen will leave CBS's "The Early Show," where she's worked as consumer reporter for seven years. Turns out she's been living back in Pittsburgh for the past two years and commuting to New York.

For the moment she says she's "exploring all options." I can think of a position at KDKA -- Patrice King Brown's old anchor chair -- she might be well-suited to fill.

Channel surfing

AMC's "The Killing" has its season finale Sunday night, and this week the network renewed the mystery-drama for a second season (a marathon of first-season episodes airs 4-10 p.m. Saturday and 4-10 p.m. Sunday on Sundance Channel). ... After one season MTV has canceled "Skins," its racy teen drama based on a popular British series. ... Comedy Central's "Ugly Americans" returns for a second season at 10 p.m. June 23. ... Travel Channel's "Paranormal Challenge" (9 tonight) kicks off with an episode featuring a team of investigators from Mercer, Malvern and Wampum, Pa. ... Jim Thornton, a Huntington, W. Va., native and radio host in Southern California, will succeed the late Charlie O'Donnell as announcer on "Wheel of Fortune." ... Disney Channel has bought the rights to the current film "Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer," based on a screenplay and book series by former Pittsburgher Megan McDonald. The movie, now in theaters, will air on Disney Channel in 2013. ... TNT will air reruns of the ABC hit "Castle" beginning next summer.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Law & Order," "America's Got Talent" and a Fox News personality. This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Jon Benjamin Has a Van," "The Nine Lives of Chloe King" and a review of the failed pilot "Locke & Key." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about the TCA Award nominations, "Game of Thrones" and "White Collar." Subscribe or listen at post-gazette.com/podcast.

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.


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