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Romance, mystery? Must be new SF series

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If you don't like the version of Earth's future being proposed by prime-time TV shows, just wait a couple of weeks -- an alternative future view is bound to come along.

The latest science-fictional reimagining of what lies ahead arrives this week in the form of Defiance, a near-future but relatively far-fetched drama that premieres Monday at midnight on Showcase (though at first glance, this looks to be a series that would feel much more at home on Space).

Set in the year 2046, on a planet Earth that has been massively reconfigured since the arrival of/invasion by seven different alien races, Defiance focuses on a former military man named Joshua Nolan (played by Grant Bowler), who has been reduced to scavenging the wrecks of downed spacecraft for anything of value he can salvage and sell.

He's accompanied by his adopted daughter, Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas), a young alien of the Irathient persuasion whom he rescued after she was abandoned in the wastelands.

When the series opens, the pair are cruising the badlands in their dune-buggy-ish "roller" when they see a crippled alien craft streak through the sky on a crash-bound trajectory. They race to the point of impact -- first on the scene -- and lay claim to some power-source materials that could be worth millions on the open market -- more than enough to allow them to take that vacation to "exotic" Antarctica (yes, Earth's climate has been altered, as well) that Joshua has been promising.

Before they can extricate themselves from the wreckage, however, they're ambushed by what amounts to a futuristic biker gang, and they're forced to fight their way out of a very tough spot.

Their inevitable hasty retreat leads them to the town of Defiance, which, as is obvious from the fractured steel arch that towers over the settlement, is built on the ruins of what was once St. Louis.

Protected from warring invaders by a massive electric force-field wall, Defiance is a place where an uneasy peace has been achieved by the human population and members of the seven alien races. Trying to maintain that calm is newly installed Mayor Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz), whose first two weeks on the job have been anything but smooth.

Tensions have reached a fever pitch between mine owner Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene), the town's most powerful human, and Datak Tarr (Tony Curren) a leader of the Castithan race who is basically Defiance's ruling crime boss. They've hated each other since their first forced meeting, so it goes without saying that things get nasty -- and deadly -- when it's learned that their teenage children -- Tarr's son, and McCawley's daughter -- have fallen in love.

It's Romealien and Juliet, basically.

The forbidden romance becomes entangled in a murder mystery, but before all of that can be sorted out, Defiance finds itself facing a much bigger threat from outside its borders -- one that forces everyone, from every race and planet, to band together to save their settlement.

Defiance jumps from the gate quickly, but then gets bogged down a bit in the inevitable task of introducing characters and explaining, at least in rudimentary fashion, the various races and cultures. Joshua and Irisa provide a well-anchored centrepoint as the story unfolds, and once its basics are explained, the storyline up-shifts into an engaging mix of space-soapy intrigue and CGI-enhanced action.

If the first couple of episodes are a fair indication of what's to come, Defiance -- whose TV debut is being matched by the launch of a companion video game that expands the storyline -- stands a pretty good chance of attracting the solid, faithful and detail-obsessed sort of following that all shows in the sci-fi genre desire. It's smart, stylish and pretty cool to look at, even if it isn't on the channel where you'd logically expect to find it. Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2013 G3

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