There’s a certain shocking, cutting edge to every idea Childhood’s End presents, and it makes the six-hour series go by in a snap. It presents all of its bold, blasphemous thoughts in such a way that never feels forceful or preachy; you’ll hear people talking about the dissipation of homophobia and gun violence, and although it feels fitfully relevant, it’s never cloying.
That’s because the other half of Childhood’s End genre mash-up is that it’s straight-up crazy. There’s so much that can be said about the places the story goes, the concepts it grapples with, and the arcs the characters take – but honestly, anything beyond the 60-minute mark on night one would be heresy to spoil. If you were a fan of Ascension‘s rug-pulling last year, rest assured there’s enough here to pause, rewind and revisit with an exasperated grin.
That same twisty aspect of Childhood’s End also makes it frustrating to review. Everything I love about the show is hidden behind redacted black ink. Another of its secret weapons (a show with many secrets has many secret weapons apparently) is Karellen (Game of Thrones‘ Charles Dance), the self-ascribed “Supervisor for Earth.” (He’s the one who brings Ricky up to a spaceship every few days to chat about Earth politics, debate proper grammar and pal around over football.) Dance’s cheerily sinister baritone voice dominates each scene it’s in, and the actor successfully builds tension surrounding the mysteries of his, and his race’s, true appearance.
And that’s all I can say. Nights two and three continue the epic feel of the saga with multiple time jumps, new characters, and even crazier plots. I haven’t really touched on the big negatives of the show, because Childhood’s End is great enough that nitpicking feels unwarranted. It’s true that Syfy’s track record for middling kid acting continues, some genre cliches are embraced far too heartily (aliens can talk through the toaster! Spooky!) and the general insanity the story amounts to may cause occasional head scratches. But Childhood’s End is such a rare, beautiful beast – science fiction deep enough to please the hardcore and unobtrusive enough to reign in those who don’t know the difference between a Tribble and a Wookie – that it surmounts its collective issues.
It tackles big ideas in a humorous, un-ironic way (“You ever met a species that created cookie dough ice cream?” Asks a human character of an Overlord late into the run, who responds in negative. “Well, we did that”) but never loses sight of its byzantine, earth-locked world of moms, dads, lovers and families.
That’s probably Clarke’s doing, although I’ll cop to never reading his book so can’t verify that. Either way, Syfy has a big win on its hands with Childhood’s End. It’ll be easy to lament the ephemeral three-night stay the show has next week, but it feels ultimately relevant to the message of the story: good things end, kids grow into adults and civilizations at the height of prosperity eventually must meet their demise. How Graham and company made such endearingly dour worldviews into a rollicking six hours of layered complexity and B-movie schlock is beyond me.
Although it may favor those less familiar with the classic source material, Childhood's End provides anyone willing to take a chance on the series a complex, weird and undeniably shocking sci-fi trip.