Name your favourite science fiction movie. Now name another 10. The chances are that all of these will appear at some point in Netflix’s Another Life. If that sounds like an appealing mix of best genre moments, set your phasers to lowered expectations: this compendium of ideas and set pieces gathered from across the galaxy is an unfortunate mess.
The series starts promisingly enough, as the crew of the spacecraft Salvare wake up on the way to their destination: the apparent origins of an alien artefact (a floating Moebius strip) that has appeared on Earth. Aboard the ship, Katee Sackhoff is excellent as Niko, put in place as the crew’s boss, replacing Yerxa (Supergirl’s Tyler Hoechlin) – much to his annoyance. They’re accompanied by a rag-tag group of boffins and Sasha (Jake Abel), a diplomatic representative who’s been posted to the mission simply because he’s the son of the US Secretary of Defence.
Political divisions rapidly open up, and mutinies become commonplace, with one person caught in the middle: William (Samuel Anderson), the holographic interface of the Salvare’s sentient AI computer. The relationship between Niko and William, as she tries to reconnect with her humanity and come to terms with past actions, and he tries to become more human, is a fascinating one, with both Anderson and Sackhoff sparking natural chemistry. It’s a shame, then, that the show doesn’t have the calm confidence to let that dynamic take centre-stage. Instead, the writers flit from one idea to the next, each time trying to come up with a new threat to drive up the tension.
Structuring series so that each episode ends with a cliffhanger is a familiar trick in this streaming age, but Another Life takes it to laughable extremes, dipping into a bag of genre cliches for a lucky dip of what surprise should come next. Contagious diseases, temporary blindness, unstable trips on the surface of foreign planets, body-snatching aliens, serial killing critters and an episode where everyone’s really aroused are just some of the ideas that get picked up, toyed with and tossed aside an hour later. There’s even a chapter that sees one of the crew trapped in a dream state for no reason. None of these daft contrivances, crucially, have any impact upon the developing plot, which means that it’s not until the final two episodes that things start to fall into place. The characters, too, get no chance to grow over choreographed arcs, because they’re too busy reacting – and running – from whatever Bad Thing the show’s random generator comes up with next.
The only exception are Niko and William, and Niko’s husband, Erik (Justin Chatwin), who’s back home trying to communicate with the extraterrestrial object. But when it takes eight hours just to get to a point where they start to feel like actual people, Another Life’s haphazard approach to storytelling leaves you frustrated and bored. Turned into an anthology, perhaps, it might have worked as a string of standalone space vignettes, but as it is in this life, this mash-up of genre highlights is a galactic disappointment.
Another Life is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.