A motley crew of galaxy-hopping heroes attempt to restore civilization in the syndicated TV series ‘Andromeda’

March 30, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 30, 2020

One of the things I’ve been doing to pass the time during my Covid-19 quarantine is streaming Andromeda, the syndicated science-fiction series that aired 110 episodes from October 2000 through May 2005. I watched the 22nd and final installment of the first season last night.

The show centers on Dylan Hunt (Kevin Sorbo), a member of the High Guard, a military service that patrols three galaxies united under the banner of the peaceful Systems Commonwealth. Near the beginning of the pilot episode, Hunt’s starship, Andromeda Ascendant, stumbles upon a covert rebel fleet that’s about to launch a surprise attack. Hunt orders his hopelessly outnumbered crew to abandon ship but stays at the helm in an effort to save his damaged vessel by maneuvering around the edge of a black hole.

Hunt’s gambit fails because he’s forced to confront a traitorous officer. Because of Einsteinian time dilation, three centuries pass in the rest of the galaxy during the second that it takes the battered captain to blink his eyes.

The next thing Hunt knows, Andromeda Ascendant has been infiltrated by a scruffy band of strangers. This consists of the captain, crew and client of the tramp freighter Eureka Maru, who hope to salvage what they think is a deserted warship. As Hunt soon discovers, everyone he’s ever known has died, the Commonwealth has long since fallen, and the known universe has endured three centuries of chaos and terror, which the show’s introduction calls “the long night.”

After reclaiming his ship and driving away Gerentex (John Tench), the greedy mouse-faced grifter who had hired Maru, Hunt enlists the freighter’s four crew members and the grifter’s sole surviving mercenary. Their mission, which only Hunt genuinely believes in: To rebuild the Commonwealth and restore peace and prosperity to the three galaxies.

Andromeda reaches this point at the end of the second episode, which forms a roughly two-hour long pilot in conjunction with its predecessor. From here, the show follows a familiar television space opera template.

Hunt and his six-person crew — including “Rommy” (Lexa Doig), the curvaceous android that contains part of the starship’s computer consciousness — wander space, grappling with various threats as they attempt to unite the galaxy and keep themselves in one piece. The latter task is made easier by the fact that, thanks to 300 years of pandemonium, Andromeda Ascendant remains one of the most advanced starships in existence despite being badly undermanned and carrying a minimal complement of drones and torpedos.

The core cast is appealing, even though the performances and character development are iffy at times. Keith Hamilton Cobb is stiff at first as the mercenary Tyr Anasazi, part of a genetically breed of humans known as Nietzscheans, but he becomes pleasingly three-dimensional over the latter half of the first season. Gordon Michael Woolvett isn’t asked to do much as Seamus Zelazny Harper, the cowardly, lecherous engineer.

Lisa Ryder and Laura Bertram are appealing in somewhat underwritten roles respectively as Beka Valentine, the supremely talented pilot who owns and commands the Eureka Maru, and Trance Gemini, the pixyish purple-skinned medical officer and walking good-luck charm. Brent Stait has some poignant moments as the series’s most interesting main character, Rev Bem, a practitioner of the pacifistic Wayist religion.

Sorbo, the lead in the syndicated series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, gives Hunt the kind of square-jawed handsomeness and sense of inherent decency that William Shatner had as James T. Kirk in the original Star Trek. This may not be entirely coincidental: The series, which bills itself as Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, is drawn from the writings of that venerable show’s creator and produced by his widow, Majel Barrett Roddenberry. I haven’t researched the show’s creation, but it’s easy to imagine this series being pitched unsuccessfully as a sequel to Star Trek set a few centuries after the fall of the Federation.

Actually, Andromeda has thematic links to a ton of other science fiction television shows. The discovery of the hidden attack fleet at the start of the production and the subsequent efforts to preserve and/or rekindle a fallen society parallel Battlestar Galactica (1978–79, 2004–09). The group of protagonists operating without allies is akin to those shows and to Space: 1999 (1975–77). The time travel mishap rendering the protagonist a relic in a strange and frightening future calls to mind Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979–81).

The belligerent, status-obsessed Nietzscheans are reminiscent of Star Trek’s militaristic, honor-obsessed Klingons. The crew of misfits is something Andromeda has in common with Blake’s Seven (1978–81), Star Trek: Voyager (1995–2001), Farscape (1999–2003) and Firefly (2002–03). A number of Andromeda’s characters prefigure those of that last show. Anasazi, the muscled enforcer whose interests sometimes diverge from those of the ship’s captain, anticipates Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin); Rev Bem, the conflicted religious man with a shadowy past, is like Shepherd Book (Ron Glass); and the happy-go-lucky Trance Gemini is like Kaylee Frye (Jewel Staite).

Three of Andromeda’s first-season episodes show the crew encountering Commonwealth descendants or artificially intelligent relics that have trouble adjusting to contemporary circumstances. Two affecting episodes involve time travel: “The Banks of the Lethe,” which puts Hunt in touch with his fiancée (Sam Sorbo, Kevin’s spouse), and “Angel Dark, Demon Bright,” which plays off the premise of 1980 movie The Final Countdown by giving Andromeda Ascendant a chance to interfere in the final battle fought by Commonwealth starships. Another trio of shows pit the crew against Nietzscheans; the most interesting of these is “Music of a Distant Drum,” in which Anasazi suffers amnesia when he crash-lands near a human settlement on a planet ruled by Nietzscheans.

“The Ties That Bind” introduce Valentine’s brother, the roguish Rafe (Cameron Daddo), who now styles himself as the pious acolyte of a Wayist monk. Beka confronts the legacy of her beloved father, a drinker and/or drug abuser who peddled the highly addictive drug flash, in two episodes; the stronger of these is “The Pearls that Were His Eyes,” guest-starring John de Lancie (Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation) as Beka’s beloved Uncle Sid.

“Harper 2.0” gives Woolvett a chance to show off his manic side when a dying alien downloads an encyclopedia into his brain. The data trove contains evidence of a mysterious creature that may have coordinated the pillaging of at least one planet — and the creature, which is set up to play a significant role in the series, wants to keep its existence secret. “The Sum of Its Parts” has an appealing guest star in Matt Smith as HG, a childlike emissary from the mechanical Consensus of Parts. The episode riffs on and ultimately neuters Star Trek’s menacing Borg faction over the course of less than an hour.

The season’s early half is a bit generic, but the series hits its stride on the back nine. One of the strongest episodes is “All Great Neptune’s Ocean.” Hunt is on the verge of getting the government of an aquatic world to pledge to join the new Commonwealth when the planet’s president is killed, apparently by Anasazi. The crew strives to solve the case without destabilizing Castalia, where water-breathers and air-breathers formed a fragile peace under the assassinated politician.

Gerentex kidnaps Harper and Gemini in the amusing caper episode “Fear and Loathing in the Milky Way.” The trio set out to recover the diary of a late explorer named Hasturi, who may have documented the route to a lost planet containing immensely valuable treasures.

In “The Devil Take the Hindmost,” Hunt and Rev Bem attempt to protect a peaceful Wayist outpost from slavers. The settlement is inhabited by Hajira, a special breed of humans who genetically transmit their memories to their descendants. (This echoes an element of Frank Herbert’s sprawling science-fiction epic Dune; it’s intriguing but strikes me as utterly unfeasible.) The episode deepens the lore of Rev Bem’s species, the rapacious Magog, who reproduce by implanting their embryos in unwilling living hosts.

The season ends on a dramatic cliffhanger in “Its Hour Come ’Round at Last,” which begins with Harper accidentally replacing the ship’s artificial intelligence with an earlier version that has no memory of any of the current crew. Worse yet, the new Rommy is hell-bent on executing a secret mission that involves traveling deep into Magog space — a sector that most rational creatures avoid.

By the end of the episode, our heroes are in very dire shape. It’ll be fun to see how the writers get the characters out of this, their worst scrape yet.

The entirety of Andromeda can be seen on the Plex streaming service, although availability may depend on the device you’re using. I’ve watched the show on the Plex app on my iPhone, but the show doesn’t even seem to be listed when I access the service on my computer.

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