NBC’s new sci-fi series wastes no time hopping into its intriguing premise. Big title cards bring us up to date on the world of “Debris”: For the past six months, a wrecked alien spacecraft has been dropping pieces of itself onto Earth. The opening scene gives us a peek into the black-market sales that have come in its wake, as well as some of the physics-bending powers those pieces contain. With a fast-paced chase scene between criminals and government agents, we quickly see how the debris can be boundlessly powerful and dangerously unstable.
The opening of “Debris” showcases what the show does best: Keeps us thrilled, builds mystique and lets us in on the dark world of alien-induced crime sprees.
CIA officer Bryan Beneventi (Jonathan Tucker, “Westworld”) and MI6 agent Finola Jones (Riann Steele, “The Magicians”) lead the task force that seeks to hunt down alien debris and keep it off the streets. Jones, the more optimistic of the two, sees the debris as an opportunity for good: a chance to cure disease and end famine. Her father, a renowned physicist, told her “it finally made him believe again.” Beneventi, on the other hand, is more focused on keeping it away from the bad guys.
The backstories are vague and the characters, at least in the pilot, aren’t overly interesting, but we get enough information to keep us entertained through the first episode. By the end of the pilot, Beneventi’s character develops quite quickly — probably to a fault if they want to continue a meaningful arc later. However, deeply layered protagonists aren’t exactly needed for the show to work. That is, at least not yet.
The real plot of the episode is introduced with a frightening mystery. A mother and her little boy are going for a drive when all of a sudden, the mother starts to bleed from her eyeball. Immediately after, she loses consciousness. The son barely looks up or acknowledges the horror. Instead, he gets up and removes her from her seat, completely unfazed.
It’s a fascinating setup that leaves the audience with tons of questions. What on Earth was that all about? What kind of magic are these aliens capable of?
By the end of the episode, the answer is clear: whatever the writers want. The show functions like an investigative crime show in which we begin with a horrific mystery and watch as our two heroic detectives solve the case through scientific mumbo jumbo and vague emotional drives. It’s not revolutionary television, but so far it’s compelling. The mysteries are wildly head-scratching and because the subject matter is completely alien, there’s no limit for the places the writers can take this.
For the series going forward, it seems like most episodes will be structured similarly. There is a more connected story teased between the main characters and some greater alien threats, but we will have to see to what extent they decide to follow that narrative.
So far, the promise is still on the premise from the opening of the show. Exploring the black market in the wake of supernatural alien debris sounds pretty fantastic if executed creatively enough. There’s a whole lot of enigmas to dive into and solve. Who are the aliens? Why is the debris there? What kind of other powers lie in this extra-terrestrial space stuff?
With the rapid pace of the pilot, it seems like we won’t have to wait very long to start digging into some of these questions. As the show continues, characters will need more specific and human layers beyond their generic backstories. The show’s not visually eye-popping, and it’s certainly not groundbreaking for any genre. But I’ll stay for the alien fun and to scratch some of the curiosity introduced by episode one.
Whether the show can build a long-term story out of its somewhat dry characters remains one of its many compelling mysteries. For now, the pilot of “Debris” was a solid start.
Daily Arts Ben Servetah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.