Entertainment

Netflix's 'Another Life' Tries to Make Contact with Aliens in the Blandest Way Possible

another life
James Dittiger/Netflix

The entertainment industry really hasn't had any idea what to do with Katee Sackhoff since Battlestar Galactica ended in 2009, besides giving her more Tough Gal In Space/On The Ranch/Who Solves Crimes characters that fail to provide any of the nuance or emotion that Starbuck did back in 2004. Sackhoff clearly enjoys these roles, and she's wonderful in them, but few have given her more to do than fire various weapons, growl lines at the other characters, and generally look very cool. Netflix's new sci-fi seriesAnother Life fortunately gives her, and its viewers, a little more to chew on, while also falling into every bonkers trap and trope the genre can throw at it. 

After a bizarre crystal tower sent by aliens appears on Earth, Niko Breckenridge (Sackhoff) is hired as the captain in charge of a mission into the cosmos to locate the source of the artifact and, even more importantly, be the first to communicate with an extraterrestrial species. Back on Earth, Niko's husband Erik (Justin Chatwin) and daughter Jana (Lina Renna) are relocated to a settlement near the tower, hoping to somehow find a way to interact with it. Onboard the Salvare, Niko faces suspicion and opposition from a few crew members aware of her troubled past aboard another spacecraft, but she swiftly gains control of the ship after taking matters into her own hands. While her husband and daughter are stuck on their home planet, Niko has to figure out how to find a bunch of aliens with only a star as their guidance and, hopefully, get her crew back to Earth safe and sound. Obviously, things don't go as planned. 

Sackhoff, great at playing this exact type of character, is great in this show, bringing a special earnestness and strength to a part that could easily become way too one-dimensional. Teen Wolf's Tyler Hoechlin, who appears as an early crew member, is unfortunately saddled with a minor antagonist role that's quickly dispatched, the aftermath of which dies down oddly quickly. Jake Abel, seemingly doomed to have villain-face for the rest of his career (see: Supernatural, the Percy Jackson movie series), manages to have some fun with it, wallowing in his hapless idiot persona before things take a turn and he becomes a bloodthirsty alien pawn with drills that come out of his eyes who growls things like, "This is the part where they put up a fight."

The plot is twisty and compelling enough, with small clues about the aliens' nature sprinkled in to keep your interest from waning, but, given the plodding nature of a few of its episodes and the eventual cliffhanger ending, it's difficult to tell whether Another Life actually knows what to do with what it has. It's the kind of show where you can't really tell if it's good or going anywhere interesting until it gets a second season, and by that time, your patience may have run its course. The entire first 10 episodes feel like they would have been better served compressed into the first half of a season instead, as there are a few plotlines that fall by the wayside in favor of getting back to the main arc. But that's not to say there aren't a few outliers: The first few episodes are genuinely very good, and there's a fun one later in the season where a villain serves all the other crew members a salad laced with "space weed," and everyone decides to have a disco party to sober up. It's like the show can't decide whether it wants to be one episode of Star Trek, or an entire season.

another life
Netflix

The show is a lot more fun when it sheds its gloom-and-doom solemnity and gets weird. In this version of the near-future, space travel is routine, and bar trivia throws out questions like, "How long does it take the Elon Musk Space Station to orbit the Earth?" Selma Blair journeys into Southland Tales territory with her role as a futuristic vlogger personality who dominates every billboard and news ticker, giving off a fun, manic energy as she pursues her "story," becoming entangled in this alien conspiracy. Niko's spaceship is powered by an artificial intelligence who appears as a hologram of a human man (Samuel Anderson), who snaps sarcastic asides and isn't subtle about which of the crew members he prefers over the others. 

It's this weirdness that I wish Another Life would lean further into and have more fun with if it wants to set itself apart from something like The Expanse or Nightflyers, last year's similar space opera about a crew of Earthlings aboard a spaceship on a journey to rendezvous with a mysterious alien signal, or Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, which Erik's storyline hews quite close to. The way the finale leaves things, it's genuinely compelling to wonder what comes next. Hopefully the rest of the show and the slight promise of another season is enough to keep our attention.

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.