The Ark is a Modest Adventure of Clever Pseudo-Science

Created by Dean Devlin for SYFY and Peacock, “The Ark” takes place sometime soon, when Earth’s prospects ain’t looking so good. A large group of human beings—many of them of a certain age and what we call “camera-ready”—have been put on a vessel that will take them to another unnamed planet, a future home for their families. It’s a concept that’s perfectly in the wheelhouse of creator and showrunner Devlin, who has toyed with apocalypses and the hope of science before (having written “Independence Day,” and directed “Geostorm“). Here, the focus is less on the spectacle of disaster and more on the hope from scientific thinking, provided that Earth’s brightest minds can work together. 

Everyone on board Ark One is in cryogenic sleep for five years until the freak accident at the beginning of the pilot. Many people do not survive, including the highest authority figures, and the food and water supply are at a low point. They have a year to make these conditions work and to combine the skills of the many people on board. “The Ark” is a nifty problem-solver sci-fi show, made digestible by shameless stock dialogue mixed with plenty of cliffhanger moments. It also helps that there’s the low-simmering problem here that all of humanity is at stake if the Ark One voyage falls apart. 

“The Ark” creates an efficient ecosystem with its large cast, spreading its many conflicts to the various people on board. De facto leader Lt. Sharon Garret (Christie Burke) is most of all concerned with creating a stable sense of leadership on board, sometimes undermined by two men underneath her power, Lt. James Brice (Richard Fleeshman) and Lt. Spencer Lane (Reece Ritchie). When they’re not doing something behind Lt. Garret’s back, they are questioning her background, and possibly getting involved in some shady stuff themselves. 

There’s one doctor on board, Shalini Peris’ Dr. Sanjivni Kabir, while Tiana Upcheva’s Eva Markovic is initially in charge of the water. Some characters are extensively broad as if they were bargains from the show: the characters are easy to follow so that they can lead to the film’s fancy-worded problem-solving. Angus (Ryan Adams) is a brainiac who takes over resources and comes up with a solution for a small food supply. There’s a second wiz kid on board, the 19-year-old Alicia (Stacey Read), who speaks even faster and has even more oversized glasses than Angus, serving the same purpose. Christina Wolfe’s Cat Brandice is thrown into the mix almost as a cheap bit of comic relief, fashioned into a cheeky influencer who is given mental health duties, despite barely having experience. 

With plenty of signs that this could run for a while, “The Ark” is adept at topping its previous conflict. At least in its first few episodes, the plotting creates enough momentum with something always getting worse, often right after one small victory—it’s through the characters’ sense of science, creativity, and sometimes dumb luck that they get another chance. It’s notable too how the story is able to create enough personal arcs in between the problems, that these performances have enough behind them beyond their archetypes or jobs. And if there are one or two mysteries too many—including a murder plot that gets forgotten about for an extended period—it’s at least plenty busy. 

Watching “The Ark,” I couldn’t help but think about everyone’s favorite space exploration spoil-sport, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. How damningly would he negate this series’ take on soil in space, or landing on comets, or the rate at which everyone is up and at it after experiencing five years of cryogenic sleep? But that also brings to mind what works about this modest ensemble show—the deep science doesn’t matter. The clever conflicts in “The Ark,” created by and solved with pseudo-science can be gripping in their modest ways. 

Three episodes were screened for review. “The Ark” premieres on SYFY on February 1st.

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