Creator: Olan Rogers
Starring: Olan Rogers, Tika Sumpter, Coty Galloway, David Tennant, Steven Yeun, Tom Kenny
In Final Space, creator Olan Rogers walks a careful line between testing the audience’s patience and rewarding it. For every irritating instance of forced narrative subversion (its insistence on joking about cookies, or Tribore’s presence), there is a truly warming moment, holding genuine heart. What the show becomes, then, is inconsistent, and something that threatens to destroy itself; it excels is in its more cerebral elements – Gary caught in a memory episode before an approaching sun, or the general juxtaposition of a lonely mood with his hopelessly hopeful personality succeed in being compelling, or charming, enough for the series to be enticing overall. Though it teeters on the edge of its own integrity, it suspended me in its world – its more successful and nuanced qualities became the subtext for the tired structural devices to become entirely watchable. I was caught in its bubble.
There is an acute sense of loneliness, and Gary, for all of his grating jokes, becomes an interesting character through tonal growth. Though I wished Rodgers had done more to develop him from the naive layabout he starts as, there is something extremely compelling about the fate of the universe (an idea that is not overdone, thank goodness) being put on his underdog shoulders – this idea particularly shines in the interactions with his father and resonated with me terrifically. The main antagonist Lord Commander (voiced by a nearly unrecognisable David Tennant) is also compelling as a villain who spends most of the series slowly getting weaker, becoming increasingly pathetic as he gets closer to his goal, working well as an interesting screen presence.
This being said, the most frustrating component of the series is its lacking structure. The plot’s drive is established quickly, but so many detours are taken that it is easy to forget about what the stakes even are. It has a narrative of happenstance, and this unfortunately contributes to a feeling of disorder. The many plot conveniences border on feeling cheap, and this can make more emotive moments lose flavour, or impact, with plot devices that should seem significant instead feeling trivial. This scatter-gun approach mostly detracts from the show’s consistency, leaving the through-line feeling inconsequential, but, on occasion, adds to it: the sporadicity of the planet-jumping sequence (the animation also shines here), for example, made the moment feel more exciting. There is an overall structural imbalance in Final Space: the show does not know when to focus on subverting storytelling conventions, and when to focus on telling its story.
In between the wavering plot and inconsistent develop, though, is a soft centre, and one that holds the whole series together. What really elevates Final Space past its flaws is its genuineness. The show never really gives into cynicism, even in its (many) moments of narrative sacrifice. There’s a lot that doesn’t work here, but it does a commendable job making the audience care despite the occasionally flat humour and moments of indifference or imbalance. Examining the show in an objective light as I have attempted to do creates a negative impression, but there is something poignant about its essence, that rises above the question “is it actually good?”, and, with this, the flaws become bearable. A sense of authenticity seeps into the sci-fi world that Olan Rogers creates, even in the cracks that one could label as contrived, or sanitary. There is something very poignant about its spirit – something between sanguine and plaintive – that truly kept me invested.
Final Space does an impressive job of elevating itself above the sticky narrative devices and over-baked humour that have been employed. It is brimming with heart: its resonant moments are not overplayed, nor infrequent, and (remarkably) gel with the overall tone. I found myself rather invested, and, though I suppose I’m in two minds about its quality, I can’t deny that I was charmed, touched, and won-over.