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A New Alien Mystery Lands on NBC with 'Debris'
March 1, 2021  | By David Hinckley
 


The NBC family has a terrific new supernatural-rooted show, Resident Alien, on its Syfy network.

It doesn't do quite as well with Debris, which premieres Monday at 10 p.m. ET on parent network NBC.

Debris is set in the aftermath of an explosion that destroyed an alien spacecraft headed toward Earth. That sounds like a good thing, except shrapnel from the blast – the show's title character, the Debris – has created terrible aftereffects as it has cascaded down on Earth.

A hard rain's gonna fall indeed.

Because the problem has worldwide implications, American CIA agent Bryan Beneventi (Jonathan Tucker) is teamed up with British MI6 operative Finola Jones (Riann Steele) to handle the investigation on the ground.

The CIA and MI6 have always been rivals, of course, and something as incidental as a potentially apocalyptic international disaster isn't about to erase their mutual wariness.

The fact Beneventi and Jones quickly seem to like and respect each other also doesn't prevent their respective agencies from telling them to keep certain information and witnesses to themselves.

Yes, there's a certain element of childishness here ("It's my toy! You can't play with it!"), though Beneventi's boss, Craig Maddox (Norbert Leo Butz), and Jones's handler, Priya Ferris (Anjali Jay), always offer bureaucratically-correct explanations for why discovery X must remain classified.

Most of those explanations involve the admission that no one really knows exactly what's going on with the Debris, and we viewers should have little trouble empathizing with that concern.

Because we don't have any idea, either.

Debris, the TV show, gives us a range of puzzling images, like seemingly dead bodies that levitate and seem to float into the wind rather than being carried by the wind. Or seemingly solid objects that suddenly become permeable.

This suggests the Debris has altered laws like gravity and principles like physics. It gives us no coherent clues as to why, or to what end, or what this could mean for the majority of people who are not dead or levitating.

A show with sci-fi roots can tease us for years with an unsolved or unexplained mystery. See: Lost. But shows rooted in sci-fi also must use their supernatural elements to set up a human dynamic or human story we understand because that's the part we care about.

The first episode of Debris mostly leaves us with a lot of "Huh?"

The Debris seems to be an entity that our operatives treat as real and dangerous, but we don't ever get that critical "Debris for Dummies" scene where someone explains even preliminary theories on what it is and what its behavior could mean.

Perhaps because we're distracted by the lack of focus, the characters don't come across as very compelling, the way the lead characters in most sci-fi shows quickly do.

Debris may pull itself together. It may become one of those shows that develops a deep and intense cult following because it's definitely working that hardcore sci-fi mystery turf.

But it's hard to imagine too many viewers, outside committed sci-fi buffs, feeling like they have the time, even during a pandemic, to sort this Debris out.

 
 
 
 
 
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