CHILDHOOD’S END — “The Deceivers” Episode 102 — Pictured: Osy Ikhile as Milo Rodricks — (Photo by: Narelle Portanier/Syfy)
Childhood’s End, on the other hand, doesn’t demand nearly as much of an investment. Airing as a six-hour miniseries over just three nights, the first onscreen treatment of the novel, written by Matthew Graham and directed by Nick Hurran, will be over just as soon as it begins — which makes sense, since adapting a mere 200-page, highly conceptual book into even a limited series is no easy feat.
Like the original, Childhood’s End begins when a mysterious race of aliens known as the Overlords arrive on Earth. World peace, an end to sickness and poverty, and “the Golden Age of Man” soon follow, leaving humanity to wonder exactly what’s in it for the Overlords. Unlike the original, Childhood’s End makes some necessary adjustments to work as a show, some more successful than others.
For one, the extended, philosophical musings of Clarke’s narration are replaced with a voiceover from Milo (Osy Ikhile), an astrophysicist given a more prominent role, and a more sentimental backstory, than his counterpart in the novel. The centuries-long time frame of the original is also compressed, allowing for a more stable cast of characters than the constantly shifting roster of protagonists provided by Clarke.
The problem is that said protagonists often don’t provide the emotional investment they’re supposed to. Milo’s simultaneous fascination with the Overlords and dismay at the end of scientific inquiry their arrival has brought works; the transformation of Finnish UN leader Rikki Stormgren into a good ol’ Midwestern farm boy named Ricky doesn’t. It’s as if Graham doesn’t trust us to relate to anyone other than a traditional avatar for the everyman, even if that avatar seems increasingly outdated. Combined with a tacked-on dead wife subplot that’s a blatant play for pathos, Ricky feels more artificial than the alien getup Charles “Tywin Lannister” Dance wears as Overlord ambassador Karellen.
A new addition to the cast — a devout, borderline hysterical Christian played by Orange Is the New Black‘s Yael Stone —rings equally hollow; Stone does an admirable job, but along with a Murdoch-esque newspaper magnate, she’s one of a host of anti-Overlord straw men far less compelling than the rational objectors Clarke provides in the book. Once again, the decision to include this character feels both cheap and condescending, failing to trust viewers to like the Overlords without giving them unlikeable enemies. An assassination attempt that relies on the audience forgetting the miraculous medical abilities that are the cornerstone of the Overlords’ appeal proves the final straw.
Where The Expanse‘s appeal ultimately lies in its potential as an allegory — for imperialism, for insurgent movements — Childhood’s End gives up too much of its abstraction in favor of an unsuccessful bid for emotional heft. The Expanse, in other words, embraces science fiction’s knack for the conceptual even as Childhood’s End winds up forfeiting it. Luckily, it’s The Expanse we’ll see more of in the coming weeks.
Childhood’s End debuts on Syfy tonight at 8 pm; The Expanse debuts immediately afterward, at 10 pm.