The first ever reality television show shot in space, filmed live in the Oort Cloud and transmitted back to Earth, the problem with the subjects of Personal Space is that the crew of the exploration vessel Overture haven’t been told that the “promotional activity” they signed off on would involve having their personal logs and therapy sessions with the onboard computer broadcast to the world.
The Overture a cold-freeze generation ship designed to be operated by a minimal rotating command crew while the majority of the two hundred and fifty colonists remain in hypersleep, it’s twenty-five years into their voyage to a distant and unnamed star system and a significant change is due as Commander Robert King (Battlestar Galactica‘s Richard Hatch) is scheduled to hand over to second shift Commander Gail Gartner (Hatch’s former shipmate Nicki Clyne).
A recently awoken specialist in Oort Cloud objects who was planning on focusing on her scientific observations first and seeing her command duties as largely peripheral, charged as she is with the oversight of a small group of supposedly experienced professionals, Gartner instead finds bickering, misappropriated resources and an endemic passive-aggressive attitude headed by King who keeps finding reasons to delay the handover of command.
Botanist Deborah Li (Vivi Thai) is concerned that the extra mouth to feed, even for a few weeks, will impact on the carefully balanced food supplies and frustrated that her personal belongings seem to keep winding up in the possession of Doctor Stanley Blaszkiewicz (Sean Persaud) who seems to be spending far more time than necessary in the cryogenic bays.
Of the three men on active duty, only flight engineer Leonard Freeman (Sons of Anarchy‘s Kurt Yaeger), a veteran of the Mars mission, seems to be focused on the job at hand as long as nobody touches his collection of progressive rock vinyl, while far from being helpful and supportive AMI (the voice of Alica Daine) is offering advice which further undermines the already eroded trust; like HAL, GERTY and MU-TH-UR, the ship’s computer has an agenda beyond the best interests of the crew…
Created by Tom R Pike, Dana Luery Shaw and Zack Wallnau and told over twenty-eight episodes totalling two and a half hours directed by Pike and Wallnau, Personal Space was funded via Kickstarter to the tune of $49,021 in May 2016 for a projected launch in December that year, but while the process ran for a year more than planned the extended post-production schedule has allowed all aspects of the ambitious show to be perfected.
Although nominally regarded as a full season the episodes flow into each other to build a structured whole, developing the friendships and the sometimes antagonistic relationships between the crew as they face a series of crises both internal and external, meaning it is easy to fall into the wider situation of the ship and mission.
Despite being restricted to a single set the constant movement within the short scenes maintains momentum, and the diverse personalities are carried by the sharp scripts and the capable cast, each of them creating something real out of very little and all with personal props to keep their hands busy, the show making a virtue of the finite resources and stretching them to their limit.
Gartner a naturally optimistic and adaptable mediator, it is not by accident that her predecessor is called King for he will not willingly give up his throne, and exacerbated by the isolation the cracks soon begin to show, but while the problems become more outlandish they are always very human and despite their behaviour the ensemble are more competent than the crew of the Prometheus.
The premise reminding of Ronald D Moore’s Virtuality, also a satire of reality television set aboard a deep space mission, the execution could not be more different, but like that pilot which was sadly not commissioned to series the focus of mission sponsors Actaeon Entertainment is on ratings above all else.
Any attempts of the personnel on board the Overture or the ground crew to bring in science swiftly derailed, there is little explicitly divulged about the long term mission or its goals, but with 1,193 years left in the voyage there is plenty time to explore and there are already hints towards a proposed second season, currently in the planning stages, indicating it will expand the story significantly.
With Star Trek Voyager‘s Tim Russ appearing in two episodes as first shift flight engineer Jeff Lipschitz, the two hundred plus members of the crew in hypersleep allow other characters to be introduced as the plot demands, but sadly this season will be the only one to feature Commander Robert King, Personal Space being the final project on which Richard Hatch worked before his death in February 2017, and it is a fitting and worthy tribute to him.
Personal Space is available via Amazon from Friday 2nd March