Salvation is every film or TV apocalypse you've ever seen — without the fun
The series could use some saving
Salvation feels like a retro Syfy special that accidentally wound up on CBS. Set in a universe where Neil DeGrasse Tyson exists but Elon Musk doesn’t, the drama follows a group of characters who learn that an asteroid will hit the Earth in 186 days. Over the course of the pilot, the story pinballs from inside the Pentagon to a bar near MIT to a tech billionaire’s lair, hitting romantic beats, family drama, and government conspiracies in less than an hour.
So in other words, Salvation is… a lot to take in. But at least it’s not boring; it’s just overstuffed with a few too many characters. We begin the premiere with two geniuses — one is Darius Tanz (Santiago Cabrera of Big Little Lies), a tech billionaire who’s just a shade too arrogant and narcissistic to think of saving the entire world… at first. The other is MIT student Liam (Charlie Rowe), a scatterbrained whiz kid who built software that would detect near-Earth objects and indeed detects the asteroid (he nicknames it “Rocky”), prompting him to leave Jillian (Jacqueline Byers), the science-fiction writer he falls for in a single day, in order to embark on the Herculean mission of saving the world alongside Tanz.
And then on top of them is Deputy Secretary of Defense Harris Edwards (the always reliable Ian Anthony Dale), who’s spearheading a program that will send a gravitational device into space to guide Rocky away from Earth. But in order to get it up there, he needs Tanz’s rocket. Edwards therefore spends his days testing the rocket until it can reach the specs it needs to save the world. Unfortunately for him, it still hasn’t worked, and he’s been keeping the asteroid a secret from the world — it’s only known to roughly 40 people within the Pentagon — and from his lover, the DOD’s press secretary Grace Darrow (Jennifer Finnigan), who’s grappling with her daughter Zoe’s (Rachel Drance) decision to take a gap year instead of going straight to college. Oh, and then there’s also a tabloid reporter named Amanda (Shazi Raja), who’ll do anything for a scoop and is desperate to be considered a serious journalist.
Phew. Got all that? Now, the backstories for most of these characters are intriguing enough to keep the momentum going, but Salvation lacks a sense of fun. The time-tested trope of the looming asteroid wiping out all of humanity (see: Armageddon, Deep Impact, and, sort of, The CW’s No Tomorrow) practically begs for histrionics, action, and, again, fun, but the pilot is pretty much all serious talk, all the time. There are a few ridiculously forced jokes — Liam at one point makes a “bit you in the asymptote” pun, which… groan — and the pilot begins with a sense of fun (look, Neil DeGrasse Tyson talking about how close we could be to the apocalypse!), but it loses the liveliness that makes its predecessors on this topic more enjoyable to watch, and the action is minimal. Yes, yes, they’re all 186 days away from dying, but come on, Salvation, you’re a show about a group of people keeping the apocalypse a secret! Either go more science-fiction or be more Michael Bay! (Yeah, the latter part of that sentence is something I never thought I’d say, either.) Let’s get some tension going!
Anyway, Salvation clocks in at just 13 episodes (for now), and the first episode set up the battle between Team Save the World (Liam, Tanz, and Grace) against Team Maybe We’ll Just All Die (Harris and… the rest of the government) enough to keep me interested to check in for maybe one more hour. But if the show’s going to be just ruminating over ways to save the world and not, you know, actually setting out to protect humanity or to build an ark (which would make it the prequel to The 100, which is actually a cool idea), then it might be time to turn to any one of the many previous films or shows that have covered the same ground. Because even if an asteroid isn’t headed our way in real life (put away your tinfoil hats, folks), enough fictional ones have already bombarded planet Earth in the past.
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