I confess that when The Expanse was rescued from cancellation by a monomaniac who can afford his own space program, I let myself dare to dream a little: one of my favorite shows was about to get big.
In so many ways, SyFy intended The Expanse to be the next Battlestar Galactica: a critically-respected marquee space opera that would imbue the whole network with original-content mojo. The parallels are right there in the cast, most of whom are disposably-pretty Jamie Bamber types (Who is James Holden if not Apollo?) but they sprung for a few Edward James Olmoses in the form of Thomas Jane and Jared Harris. Wes Chatham readily distinguished himself as the show’s Starbuck, the breakout screen presence of the budget-friendly cast members.
That budget had never been small, or not exactly. The production team called it “The Expense” in reference to the creators’ insistence on pricey physics-porn CGI effects, as well as the diegetic 3D graphics that litter the screen. The particle-and-debris-laden spaceship sequences showed a marked maturation over BSG’s, which were essentially virtual motion-control model work with a better sense of scale. Every teensy set still reeked of SyFy’s unmistakable basic-cable production values and the bacon-y aroma of Canada — I resent the notion that Toronto is a futuristic version of New York on so many levels — but the production design stuck the landing.
Although SyFy definitely got their BSG, earning a critical and audience response as rapturous as the reviews of Miller’s stupid hat were scathing, they weren’t making this show in 2003 anymore. They baited a handful of people into paying per-episode for the season that wasn’t free on Prime yet, but there was no remote threat of physical media sales that could ease the pain of a bloated budget. Furthermore, in addition to the loss of that once-reliable box-set cash — this guy has all of BSG buried somewhere in his parents’ garage — their Amazon streaming deal left them with nothing but the profits from first-run commercial sales. Those didn’t count for much in an era of production where the 23-episode season is dead as a doornail.
So SyFy, unthinkably to the half-million viewers who tuned in every week, cut loose…