If you are still reading a review of Season One of "The Expanse" I'm assuming you haven't yet watched it. You may know that it's a TV adaptation from a series of sci-fi novels. The SyFy channel hadn't really had a good hit since it ended the long "Battlestar Galactica" series, which was causing a downward spiral: fewer viewers means less revenues means less to work with to produce something new and good. In adapting this story for a TV series they received some financial assistance from Comcast, which was also looking for new original content to offer subscribers. It was a bit dicey whether or not it would be renewed, but while the viewing audience for the fixed-schedule broadcasts declined, producers noted that the demand for viewing it online or streaming on demand was holding up very well, so it was renewed for a second season (last year) and a third, presumably final season, which should begin airing mid-2018. At this point Amazon Prime, Netflix and NBC Universal have all had a hand in distributing it.
I have read some of the criticisms from the minority of viewers who gave it low ratings and will address them in a minute.
This is an excellent TV fiction series. I highly recommend watching Season One as soon as possible. You'll then want to watch Season Two, and perhaps right about the time you finish Season Two, the third season will begin airing and you won't have to wait a year like some fans have had to do!
Some have noted it's a little like "Game of Thrones" in space. In a couple of ways, that is true. First: both have a strong fan base, and both have received positive reviews from critics. Secondly, every truly good fiction mirrors enduring traits of human nature, regardless of the setting. Both Game of Thrones and The Expanse manage to do this, which is the essence of good storytelling.
The story begins some 200 years in the future. Mankind has succeeded in colonizing the Moon. Earth is even more populated than today, and its natural resources are rather depleted. Environmental changes and pollution are worse problems than they are today. As for the Moon, of course it doesn't even have an atmosphere, so it too needs various resources for colonies to survive. The earth and moon have managed to live with a single government: the United Nations. A research colony was then set up on Mars, for exploration, research and conceivably, maybe some day the possibility of "terraforming" Mars to make it liveable without domed structures and space suits. But--rather like America rebelled against a distant Great Britain which it felt was unresponsive to the needs of the colonists, after a couple of generations had lived on Mars, people chafed at the distant United Nations and declared its independence. The Earth and Moon had much bigger military forces, but Mars had some of the best scientists and technicians. Nuclear war threatened but cooler heads finally prevailed. An uneasy truce between the new Federation of Mars and the U.N. has existed since. Meanwhile, Earth and Mars both began colonizing the asteroid belt and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, for quite practical reasons: resources. Water, in the form of ice. Energy, in the form of methane and the like. Rare earths, etc. Now generations of humans began growing up on these much more distant outposts: the "Belt" and beyond. The name of the show, "The Expanse", conveys the enormous scale of distances out in the asteroid belt and the gas giants. Almost all the "belt" colonies are actually run by corporations. Like Mars before, the "Belters" also want freedom and their own government. They resent feeling like slaves to the corporations and to supplying Earth, Moon and Mars with most of the resources they labor to extract. The main thing which has prevented their outright revolt is the sheer distances between the many colonies. Belter "patois" starts developing, each significant colony having a slightly unique variant of this conglomerate from several languages from Earth. Each colony also has an underground economy and its own gangs, rather like differing districts in big cities. As the story begins, humanity is now in a delicate balance of power among the three main factions: the United Nations, Mars, and the outer belt colonies. Any small incident could possibly escalate into outright war (does this seem at all like the world in 2018?). And of course, to make a good story a new and unexpected factor is thrown into this tense stew.
It's not uncommon for people to watch the first episode, complain "I don't understand what's going on", "there's too many characters" and "it seems boring." That was the way I felt after episode one. A friend advised me to give it at least 2 more episodes before giving up. But by the end of episode two, I was totally hooked. I've now watched seasons 1 and two twice, and eagerly await season 3.
Some complain "why all the sex and the bad language?" Well as for sex, the series was sort of "in your face" about that. There's a brief zero-gravity sex scene (no, not full nudity either) essentially at the beginning of the very first episode--and that was probably the steamiest it EVER got. Hey--it's a part of life--especially if you're stuck for months on end, away from home most of the time and you're young and healthy, relationships start to form on board. Because a fair amount of the action is on board ships of various kinds: mining ships, cargo ships, military ships etc. Other important locations are right on Earth (looks like a future New York City and the seat of the government), on Mars, and on various major colonies out in "the Belt". As for the language: anyone who has been around either miners, military or merchant marines must know that their language is often "spicy". The language in this show does include swearing, but there are plenty of shows with far worse language than this. Again, it's appropriate to the settings and if anything, milder than the reality would be.
Some complain they're frustrated they can't understand the "Belter patois", when two belters talk among themselves. Once again: like the real world. Go to Tokyo and you won't understand the conversation there either, unless you speak Japanese or someone is polite enough to address you in English. It really doesn't matter because, just by the context of the situation and their expressions and gestures, basically you know what they are saying to each other even without understanding the words. Likewise some complain that at times external noises make the conversation hard to hear. Yep--remember the radio chatter in the first "Alien" movie? They had a hard time making each other out too. In this case, subtitling will come to your rescue and you can see every word. And lastly: if you feel confused in the beginning, understand that you are watching the action unfold as if you are with the people experiencing it. Often they don't exactly know what's going on either, and you are experiencing it much like the characters are. They have to make assumptions and speculations, which are not all correct--and you the audience are puzzling through the events along with them. Every murder mystery uses this sort of device, and they are quite popular. Some stories give the viewer a much more godlike view, knowing more than any of the characters do, but this show limits the audience's viewpoint: it's a little wider view than most of the characters have, but not by very much.
Most of the acting in my opinion is very good and some of it is excellent. The blending of real sets and computer-graphic imaging is excellent and I for one felt it looked quite realistic. At times, it was even quite beautiful. The story line is intriguing, the dialog is strong, the pacing is excellent with just the right mixture of action and character development, and lastly, there's just enough humor thrown in occasionally to keep the drama in the story from becoming too heavy. I wasn't familiar with any of these actors before I started watching, and I've grown to really enjoy watching them. Lastly the show mostly manages to avoid classifying characters as "good guys" or "bad guys". It's done in a way that you can appreciate just why various characters would feel and act as they do, even when they are in opposition to each other. This is, as far as I'm concerned, one of the most entertaining TV shows I've watched in a long time. Anyone who can tolerate a "science fiction" setting should give it a try.