Syfy's 'Ascension' sets a space opera in the present day

tricia-helfer-brian-van-holt-ascension-gi.jpgSyfy's forthcoming series "Ascension" has a very intriguing speculative-fiction premise and also a novel twist that's unusual for shows set in space: It takes place in the present day.

The show, which premieres in November, sets up a version of reality in which President Kennedy, fearing the Cold War will become hot and lead to the destruction of the planet, sends 600 people into space on a massive, self-sustaining ship. The audience will meet the characters at the midpoint of their 100-year journey -- which is right about now.  

"The people on the ship, only some of their children, but most of their grandchildren, are the only people who are going to arrive at this new world," executive producer Jason Blum says Monday (July 14) at the TV critics' summer press tour. "... A lot of the people who started on this ship have died. It's their children, their children's children, who are going to get to where they're going. And there are a lot of conflicts going on. Should they turn around and go back to Earth, which they've lost touch with? So they have no idea of what Earth even looks like now. Should they continue? Also there's been a murder on the ship, which never happened before. So that's kind of what starts it."

Brian Van Holt ("Cougar Town," "The Bridge") plays the captain of the ship, and Tricia Helfer ("Battlestar Galactica") is his wife. They don't have children, but Helfer says her "manipulative" character considers herself the "mother of the people on the ship, the mother of humanity in one way if Earth did blow itself up."

Creator Philip Levens ("Smallville") says "Ascension" will explore how technology has evolved on the ship and the way morality is still rooted in an early-'60s, pre-Civil Rights Act view humanity. Issues of class -- the ship is divided into decks, with people in positions of power living on the upper ones -- will also come into play.

"There's much more of a sense of obeying your parents because, you know, for the ship to really work, everybody has to cooperate," Levens says. "The murder is kind of the starting of the unravelling, so to speak. And kids start to question choices made by their grandparents. There's a thing on board the ship called 'the crisis.' It's this existential dilemma that everyone has to go through when they realize that, you know, their life has been circumscribed for them. You know, everybody they ever know or ever will know is already around them. So there's lots of issues like that kind of play [as] a coming of age thing with the kids and their parents."

Syfy is billing the six-episode "Ascension" as an "event series" (i.e., a miniseries), but if it does well Levens already has ideas for future seasons in mind. It's set to premiere on Nov. 24. 
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