“We saw the Earth destroyed, and in a heartbeat, everything and everyone we knew was gone.”
Writer Manny Coto made a name for himself by writing several fan-favorite episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise, and has since joined the 24 writing staff. Before that, though, Coto shone in his own highly praised yet short-lived Showtime series, Odyssey 5. Now all 19 time-twisting episodes are on DVD in a five-disc box set. But is this adventure worth reliving?
It’s a routine mission for the crew of the space shuttle Odyssey 5. Commander Chuck Taggert (Peter Weller, Naked Lunch) leads the pack with his son and co-pilot Neil Taggert (Christopher Gorham, Jake 2.0). Along for the ride are fellow astronaut Angela Perry (Tamara Craig Thomas, Tromeo and Juliet), the brilliant yet horny geneticist Kurt Mandel (Sebastian Roché, Legend of Earthsea), and popular TV journalist Sarah Forbes (Leslie Silva, The Agency). But, while in orbit, the crew is stunned to see the Earth destroyed in an instant, imploding into a giant gaseous cloud. With their air running out, the crew members ready themselves for their own deaths. Instead, they’re rescued by a mysterious being called the Seeker (John Neville, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen). He’s seen this phenomenon on countless other worlds but is too late to stop it on Earth. Instead, he’s able to send the five survivors back in time five years. Their bodies cannot go back in time, so instead the Seeker sends their consciousness back, into their bodies of five years ago. Waking up back on Earth with knowledge of what’s going to happen in the next few years, the crew reunites with a new mission: find out what destroyed the Earth, and stop it.
In most time travel stories, there’s usually a bunch of business about how if you go back in time, you can’t change anything or you’ll alter the future. Odyssey 5 throws that out right from the start. In this case, the outcome is the destruction of all humanity, so messing with the future is fair game. Along with their global concerns, the characters also see opportunities to redo five years of their own lives. They attempt to correct past mistakes, sometimes successfully and sometimes with unexpected results.
If the time travel aspects of the series aren’t enough to wrap your heads around, try the sinister conspiracy angle, which our heroes believe will eventually end the world. In their adventures, the Odyssey crew comes across two enemies. First are the synthetics, which look and act like ordinary humans but are really made of slimy artificial goop that looks like week-old chowder. Then there are the sentients, life forms that somehow exist only on the Internet. Invisible, they’re watching our every move, they know almost everything about us, and they’re able to cause all kinds of trouble. Conveniently for our heroes, all this action takes place close to home, with hints that a secret group inside NASA also has a role to play. The five time travelers of the Odyssey have to confront these enemies armed only with their combined wits and a little luck.
On that note, let’s take a closer look at the main cast:
Peter Weller as Chuck Taggert
Peter Weller doesn’t just act cool in this series, he is cool. He’s nothing but tough-guy Texas swagger combined with old-fashioned American do-goodism. Putting him in a NASA jacket and giving him a cigar only completes the package. While the other characters theorize about the nature of their enemies and what might happen in the future, Taggert is the one who makes the decisions and jumps into the action. Without him to call the shots, the Odyssey team might have no direction. At home, Taggert attempts to be honest with his wife, telling her from the start that he’s traveled back in time. He’s also reunited with his older son, who, in the original timeline, left home after a disagreement. Like the other characters in Odyssey 5, he has two struggles, one against otherworldly enemies, and one in his personal life. But, mostly, he’s who we look to when it comes to saving the world. When he slams his fist down on a table and says, “The next five years will go by like that!” we believe him.
Leslie Silva as Sarah Forbes
Described by Coto as the heart of the series, Silva has a lot of ground to cover in her character’s arc. When Sarah goes back in time, her young son has not yet died of cancer, so she sets out to find some way to prevent that. But, also, she’s back in her first marriage, the one that ended badly. When she crosses paths with her second husband-to-be, the man she truly loves, her confusion is understandable. With so much going on in her personal life, it’s impressive that she still makes time to battle evil synthetics.
Christopher Gorham as Neil Taggert
Gorham has one of the more fun roles here, and much of the series’ humor comes from his situation. He has the mind of a highly trained 22-year-old astronaut in the body of a rebellious 17-year-old pothead. Yes, it is a conceit that someone could make it into space at age 22 (this is later explained away by making Neil a borderline prodigy), but it still makes for some amusing situations as he has to relive his high school days, complete with tests, parties, and a cute girlfriend who can’t understand why he’s acting so differently.
Sebastian Roché as Kurt Mandel
Hoo, boy. Where do I begin with this guy? At first, Kurt is comic relief, spewing a nonstop stream of randy sex jokes, attempting to hook up with anything even remotely female. He never really loses this aspect of his personality, but more and more layers of the character are revealed as the series progresses. In one key scene in the first episode, he discovers just how easy it is to alter the future when he places a bet on a football game he knows the outcome of. Placing that one bet caused just enough of a ripple effect that that the game ends differently. This one act convinces Kurt and the others that it is possible to change the future for the better. Later on, his character shows something of a dark side by secretly hoarding synthetic technology, and in one episode he almost uncharacteristically joins a fanatical cult with ties to a sentient. In between acts such as these, it’s back to more sarcastic wisecracks and constant sex. Kurt is a character that will likely divide viewers. Some will find his various antics amusing, while others will probably want to slap some sense into him.
Tamara Craig Thomas as Amanda Perry
I get the sense that the creators didn’t have as much of a plan for Amanda as they did for the other characters. Her main subplot is her relationship with her father, a politician running for reelection. Then, a few episodes in, it’s revealed that she and Kurt once had a relationship. She’s missing from a few other episodes, casually explained away as being either in training or on a mission to an international space station. Although she does have some nice little moments here and there, she’s the one member of the ensemble who never really gets a chance to shine.
As you can surmise from the above, the real strengths of Odyssey 5 are the characters and their personal conflicts. The other half of the series is the science fiction part, with the sentients, synthetics, and other fantastical elements. Many of the ideas present are intriguing ones—such as numeric code developing into intelligent life, and computers created not out of plastic and wires but out of biological tissue—but the execution of these ideas sometimes falls flat. Sure, there are chases, gunfights, and explosions aplenty, but the action/suspense scenes aren’t nearly as intense as they could be, and therefore they’re not at the same level as the dramatic scenes. Sci-fi fans will want to enjoy this one for the interesting plot and characters, and not for the action.
The picture and sound quality here are top-notch. Colors are bright and vivid, and dark scenes have deep, rich black levels. There aren’t a lot of show-off sound effects or music in this one, but the audio is immersive enough, with no immediate flaws. The actors do tend to shoot though the exposition awfully quickly, so English subtitles would have been a definite help, but there aren’t any. As for extras, Coto and Weller sit down for an informative commentary on the first episode. Although it starts out somewhat self-congratulatory, the commentary eventually covers such ground as where the series would have gone if it had continued, and some of the fun antics that went on behind the scenes.
Odyssey 5 isn’t just a TV series, it’s a cancelled TV series. So, if you’re going into this one expecting everything to come to a conclusion, you’ll walk away very disappointed. Coto says in the commentary that he plans to bring back the series and finish it in the future, but for now, the fates of Taggert and company are lost to an unresolved cliffhanger. There’s enough good in the series that it can be enjoyed even without a big ending, but it’s still a letdown to have no resolution.
Here’s a series with solid writing and acting, backed up by some fascinating concepts. That being said, it doesn’t quite reach the lofty goals it has set for itself.
Recommended for sci-fi junkies only.