I remember when Space: Above and Beyond was announced to be a new Fox show for the fall of 1995. It was an exciting but frustrating time to be a sci-fi fan. On TV, Earth 2 had been canceled as had Brisco County Jr. The series seaQuest failed to impress me (the second season killed it for me), but Babylon 5 was somehow making it in syndication and Star Trek: Deep Space 9 was going into its third season.
Space: Above and Beyond centered around a group of multi-purpose marines belonging to the 58th “Wildcards” Squadron. They have different reasons for joining the marines but when war breaks out with an alien race known as the “Chigs,” they are assigned to the space carrier USS Saratoga. While they are primarily pilots flying SA-43 Endo/Exo-Atmospheric Attack Jet fighters (known as Hammerheads), they also do special ops missions (even on the ground), regular ground force missions, and cargo transport missions.
I recently re-watched the series for the first time since it was canceled after a single season. Looking back, I can see some things that I think caused the show to fail.
For starters, the pilot is a laughable episode. These “marines” look like what they are — civilian actors pretending to be marines and not doing a very good job. Seriously, give these people real military hair cuts! Half-way through the series, the cast all received hair cuts that would be seen a lot in the Air Force, but not for Marines. The actors never made me think they were marines and that is its first and biggest problem.
Next is the mission of the marines in this series. It costs a lot of money to train folks to be pilots. While marine pilots would have many jobs that aren’t in the cockpit (and potentially in combat), the military isn’t going to take a fighter squadron and send them on a Seal mission. While marine aviators are trained to fight on the ground (and in history, pilots with no plane have indeed fought to defend a position), the military wouldn’t just send them to do some military ground operation when there are plenty of other marine ground troops that can handle the situation.
Unfortunately, the writers of Space: Above and Beyond apparently couldn’t find enough stories for pilots (even when throwing them into a cargo transport) and so had our group of aviators do jobs that they would not do. So, another strike on the old believability scale.
Because the first half of the series has shaky stories and less than stellar performances (no offense to the actors), I think that doomed the series. The 2nd half of the series made improvements to the stories and the actors became better with their roles. An attempt to make the cast feel more like a military unit helped and the writers inserted a throw-away scene with the 58th’s commander addressing the believability issue I mention earlier established that the 58th Squadron weren’t just pilots, but were marines and that meant that they could be sent to do ANY marine-related job. Yeah, whatever.
There were items of interest though. There were several plots that intertwined, including the overall arc of the Chig War, the thread of whether the corporation knew about the Chigs when they sent out to colony settlements, the previous A.I. War, and the “tanks” where humans that were artificially created and born in labs to fight are discriminated against.
Unfortunately, as things had begun to improve story-wise, the series was canceled and the audience is left with quite a few unanswered questions and a war that is still being waged.
It is a shame the series didn’t get another season to help prove itself. The first season or two of any long-running series is going to be a bit rough.
Today, the show’s CGI work for space shots look very dated. Even back in 1995, the effects looked a bit rough at times (mostly for the carriers), especially when compared to Babylon 5‘s CGI work.
Rewatching the series, I’m not sure if I’ll ever want to rewatch it again. So I can see why the show was canceled, but I still would have preferred it to be given more time to prove itself.