All three nights were provided prior to broadcast.
Syfy isn’t averse to the mini-series “event” format. You can see it in adaptations of everything from The Wizard of Oz (Tin Man) to Peter Pan (Neverland), and even original ideas like last year’s twisty 60’s nostalgia trip Ascension. 2015 brings Childhood’s End, a vision of the classic Arthur C. Clarke novel that posits the future of humanity once an alien race comes along and fixes all of our seemingly unfixable problems.
The new series has characters with a magical answer to everything, but where Childhood’s End shines is in providing no easy solutions to its audience. Clarke’s inspirational prose (adapted by Matthew Graham, a staple of BBC shows like Doctor Who and Life on Mars) zaps what could have been bland we-come-in-peace sci-fi hokum into something that feels relevant, shocking and important.
That’s high praise unto itself, since Childhood’s End sits firmly in the John Carter of Mars pop culture spectrum of awkwardness, wherein an adaptation of a seminal piece of literature that inspired countless others can threaten to feel lifeless and ironically repetitive. This is everything from V to Independence Day to so many other fantastically surprising genres that to name a specific few would be to spoil some nasty surprises for those who never read the book.
And it all starts, as these things do, with a message of peace. In 2016, Earth is visited by what a few savvy journalists take to calling The Overlords – benevolent, perennially hidden beings who promise to eradicate disease, wars, racism, homophobia, class warfare and essentially every reason the 6 o’clock news exists. Some people welcome the “saviors,” while others create the Freedom League to expose what they fear to be an evil truth behind the alien’s intentions.
One of those open to the idea of world peace is Ricky Stormgren (Mike Vogel), a level-headed farmer from Missouri who becomes the de facto spokesperson for the disembodied visitors. Vogel’s probably the biggest name on the cast, and he’s well adjusted to the sci-fi shenanigans thanks to three seasons on the innovatively terrible Under the Dome. He fares far better in Childhood’s End, thanks to scripts that actually treat him like a human and some tangibly emotional scenes with his deceased wife in a giant alien mothership that looks suspiciously like their honeymoon suite (this show is weird, but good weird) as well as moments with his new finance Ellie (Daisy Betts).
Outside of Ricky’s tiny farmhouse, the mini-series is appropriately sprawling. There’s a crippled kid named Milo (Osy Ikhile) who yearns for the truth behind The Overlords and grows up to be an astrophysicist in order to find the answers. A couple in California (Ashley Zukerman and Hayley Magnus) become the unsuspecting target of late-night terrors from their young son Tom (Lachlan Roland-Kenn). And a devout Christian (Orange is the New Black‘s Yael Stone) begins to question her beliefs once The Overlords show up and seemingly answer every Big Question presented by Christianity. Vogel and Betts have undeniable chemistry, but some big turns between Ikhile and his love interest Rachel (Charlotte Nicdao) provide surprisingly intense emotional scenes in night three.
Ultimately, it’s the religious aspect that becomes the show’s secret weapon. I won’t delve into specificities, but Childhood’s End is a bit of a Trojan horse of genres. It’s undoubtedly science fiction, but the layers it reveals to the audience over the course of three nights twist and carve away at what science fiction can achieve. What if aliens came down and confirmed evolution to creationists? How would the world react? The church? The young version of Stone’s character worries over a future generation that might never even hear God’s name spoken or know the Bible and its importance. It’s fascinating stuff.