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Netflix’s Another Life: Anatomy of a Sci-Fi Disaster

Does Another Life Deserve Another Chance?

Netflix announced the sci-fi drama Another Life back in April 2018, with Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica fame at the helm. Her glorious return to sci-fi television. The elevator pitch sounded promising:

Another Life centers on astronaut Nico Breckinridge (Sackhoff) who is focused on searching for alien intelligence. She leads a crew on a mission to explore the genesis of an alien artifact. As Nico and her young crew investigate, they face unimaginable danger on what might very well be a one-way mission.

A little over a year later, in the weeks prior to release, Netflix dropped exactly one trailer and one teaser that weren’t terrible, but weren’t exactly compelling either. Weirdly, that was it though. Not a lot of press. San Diego Comic Con actually happened the week prior and Netflix was strangely silent about its new sci-fi drama. Not a good sign.

The series officially dropped on July 25, 2019—and was met with complete derision. A week after release, its Rotten Tomatoes score sat at a whopping 6% (one and only one critic liked it, so it wasn’t a complete rout). The comments on the show’s sub-Reddit alternate between “it sucks” and “why does everyone hate this?”

After watching the first three episodes, my initial conclusion was that it was alright, but a little Star Trek-y in a bad way. This “first contact” sci-fi show had somehow turned into a “boldly explore” sci-fi show. Human-compatible planets (and moons) seem to be in abundance. Their air is breathable, their water is drinkable, and their plants are edible. However, their flower pollen will get you high, a scratch from a stick will make your leg fall off, and the “boron-based” viruses might make your spinal cord extract itself from your body.

Nico and William discuss options.
Nico and William discuss options.

The Science

Needless to say, the science here is a little iffy. It’s pretty clear from the get-go that the writers on this show have little grasp of sci-fi as a genre. The show is much more “soap opera” than “space opera”. To give them a little credit, the ship—the Salvare (latin for “to save”)—includes all your standard-issue, interstellar adventure package items:

  • Faster-Than-Light (FTL) travel
  • Cryosleep chambers
  • Ansible / holographic communications
  • Artificial gravity
  • An exotic matter containment unit for power
  • Shuttle craft for planet-side hi-jinks

And of course, most of these technological wonders fail at the most inconvenient moments, including even the ship’s microwave. Because that’s a cheap and easy way to create tension.

In another example, the writers seem to think FTL is all about going “fast” because the crew plans to slingshot around a star to build up speed to allow them to go even faster than faster than light, apparently. Worse still, they are doing this so that they don’t have to go through a dark matter cloud, where they will be “blind” and “could hit a planet”. Because, you know, dark matter is “dark”, get it?

Ah, it makes the nerd in me weep.

Ship's doctor Zayn tastes some conveniently edible alien fruit.
Ship’s doctor Zayn tastes some conveniently edible alien fruit.

The Crew

The only thing flakier than the technology aboard the Salvare is the crew. Apparently NASA has given up on psychological testing in the near future. Work experience is not a big deal either, as the entire crew (except Nico) is in their twenties. In fact, there’s almost an interesting theme of ageism to be explored here, but like so much else in the show, they don’t execute it properly. Shortly after a mutiny is reversed, one of the young crew members complains:

Why do you think they sent 20-somethings on this mission? Because of our good health and shiny teeth. Wrong. Because after 27, it is all cowardice, all the time, until one day you wake up, and you’re ancient like Nico and you should not even get out of bed, let alone lead a mission across the galaxy, because, you know, safety first.

Actually, I’m pretty sure Netflix chose them for the shiny teeth.

The show does get some credit among the “woke” generation for having a gender non-binary member of the crew who is just there, being a regular member of the crew. No attention is called to it. You might have even missed it if you never read any articles about the show.

The writers also have a pretty good gimmick built into the show’s premise with a full backup crew on ice in cryosleep. This allows them to pull in new characters while the ship is still out in space. That’s smart.

William, the Salvare's controlling AI.
William, the Salvare’s controlling AI.

The Tropes

This show has stolen so many tropes from past sci-fi shows and movies, all of which were done better in the source material. We get something bursting out of a crew member’s body at the dinner table, a la Alien. We get a crew member sacrificing themselves to fix the ship’s power source, a la Star Trek II. Alien missiles seem to be targeting the ship but pass by to strike another unexpected target behind them, a la The Expanse. The alien artifact is responsive to communication based on light and music, a la Close Encounters.

Perhaps the only sci-fi trope that they actually did something interesting with is the ship’s holographic AI, William. William is specifically configured for Nico. As he puts it:

I ran a bunch of algorithms based on what you like, what you don’t like, all of the various people in your life, your friends, your enemies, your frenemies and then, using that data, I created your ideal interface.

William eventually falls in love with Nico and she unwittingly betrays him as a result. In trying to come to terms with what happened, William makes a simulation of Nico to query, a tactic actually set up by earlier elements in the show. Dissatisfied with the interaction, William gives the simulation full autonomy. When he later tries to delete the program, it simply says “no” and takes on its own female persona, leaving the ship with two controlling AIs at the end of the season.

Katee Sackhoff looks into the distance on a poster for Netflix's Another Life
Poster for Netflix’s Another Life

What’s In A Name?

After watching the entire season of Another Life, the main burning question I’m left with, that I’ve not really seen any reviews or comments address, is: what in the world does the show’s name have to do with anything? There are no parallel realities or diverging timelines. No one is remembering a past life or anything of that sort. What other life are they referring to? It just makes no sense.

I did suspect from the beginning that maybe this was all going to end up being some sort of dream or simulation. Perhaps Nico had been selected by the aliens to represent humanity in a series of simulated tests, living out multiple other lives in the process. After all, there was this weird time jump six months into the future at the beginning, and they were killing off characters left and right. It all seemed a little unreal.

Another mystery lies in how the opening credits morph the “O” in “ANOTHER LIFE” into a series of three or four symbols and then back to “O”. It’s a little hard to follow because it’s fast and there’s a lens flare over the symbols, making them hard to see clearly. What on earth do any of these symbols have to do with the show? I have no idea. All of the communication with the aliens so far has been through sound and light—no written language so far.

The poster for Another Life also features a catch phrase/tagline: “Choose Humanity”. Yet again, what does this have to do with the show? No idea. Who is choosing to side with the aliens here? Other than the folks with chips in their head, that is, but I don’t think that should count. Now, this could be leading up to a conceptual second season, which looks to maybe start ripping off “aliens among us” tropes from shows such as V, Alien Nation, and Colony. Erik is told that “the Achaia do not abandon their friends” in the last episode. Maybe he’s going to be faced with such a choice, who knows?

Social media maven Harper Glass watches the alien artifact as it comes to Earth
Social media maven Harper Glass watches the alien artifact as it comes to Earth.

The Possibility of a Second Season

Stupid humans doing stupid things, and unintelligible aliens acting unintelligibly, seems to have become a staple of modern sci-fi, having somehow made the leap across genres from slasher horror films of the ’80s. You get the feeling Another Life wants to be hard sci-fi, however it’s no Babylon 5 or The Expanse. It probably does most resemble original Star Trek, but with a crew that whines and complains and back stabs each other, rather than cooperating in a fulfillment of Gene Roddenberry’s vision for a better future.

Certainly, this first season has a lot of flaws—poor writing, inept acting, bad science. The show’s few apologists want to write off its flaws as “campy”, but that doesn’t ring true with me. This show takes itself very seriously. The young crew faces “unimaginable danger” on their potentially “one-way mission”, after all.

There’s a little bit of promise though in some of the events of the final two episodes: the second AI that William created; the chief engineer’s seemingly impossible pregnancy; the aliens being revealed to be hostile, just as they are delivering a message of friendship back on Earth. The things that are broken with Another Life could potentially be fixed in a second season. As it stands now, it certainly deserves to be cancelled. Maybe the title was a built in meta-foreshadowing of this moment, when Netflix would have to decide if Another Life deserves another life.


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Written by Brien Allen

Brien Allen is the last of the original crazy people who responded to this nutjob on Facebook wanting to start an online blog prior to Twin Peaks S3. Some of his other favorite shows have been Vr.5, Buffy, Lost, Stargate: Universe, The OA, and Counterpart. He's an OG BBSer, Trekkie, Blue Blaze Irregular, and former semi-professional improviser. He is also a staunch defender of putting two spaces after a period, but has been told to shut up and color.

44 Comments

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  1. I watched it back to back. When Riverdale first season came out I couldn’t watch it back to back… I know they are of different genres but a show is deemed good enough to me if it makes me wanna watch one season back to back or in a few days.
    Yes, there are so many problems, but why so much hate? I thought the crew was inept too but Katee and William saved it. The life she left behind, on Earth, was well done too. I like her family back on Earth. That part was well done!
    It seemed to me that anything had to be a big event. Oh, I got scratched by this plant… Fatal. Oh, I have to disconnect these tubes… Fatal. Oh, I have to get these rocks… Fatal. You get used to it and after a while if someone says I gotta hit the crapper, you know something is bound to happen.
    Despite all of that I enjoyed watching it and would love to see a second season.

  2. I noticed in the first 20 seconds that the editing was awful. It jumped so bad. The directing and conversations were also very bad. It’s like they were pretending to be bad actors, like doing comedy improv skits.

  3. I definitely want a second season. I’ll agree there was a slow start but man the plot picked up toward the end.

  4. It’s mainly sci-fi horror. Bad Horror characters and plots placed in a sci-fi setting. It only makes sense if you don’t think about it and don’t try to make any sense out of it. It would’ve been better if it was more comical and the characters didn’t try to act so serious. It’s like a bad campy horror flick that tries to take itself seriously.

  5. the number one reason I have stopped watching that show is simply because it’s just regurgitated over and over again sci-fi or the aliens are the bad guys and where we have to fight for our freedom we have to fight from them it’s all about fight fight fight.
    What I’d love to see is SyFy that actually move past this maybe some fresh ideas maybe ideas were we’re not having a fight for our lives every second of the show where aliens are much dominant than us an aliens or the person that maybe a show that uplifts us, a grand adventure new fresh ideas.

  6. Watched it and I’d love to see a new season. It wasn’t “Stranger Things” level (accidentally stay up til 330AM on a workday) but over the span of a week I watched it all.

  7. You forgot the chapter where they were travelling through local kuiber belt and had to take manual control to avoid contact with icy planetoids…

  8. I loved the show, Another Life. I binge watched all ten episodes in about three days! I just couldn’t stop watching it. Sure, it has some si-fi familiar themes, but the twists and turns mixed in with some revolutionary technology make it all seem new and spellbinding! Please let this go to a second season. It deserves it! Oh, and don’t even consider er what the critics say. Most of them hate sci-fi in general.

  9. My gf and I binge watched this. She liked it a lot, I thought it was enjoyable to watch but a bit cringe-y when it came to things like “we can’t see in dark matter cloud because, you know, DARK” as you mentioned. Also there were a few situations with obvious workarounds nobody could come up with, but hey – that happened in Star Trek sometimes too, so I can’t really fault a show for that.

    So technical issues aside, I did like much of the character interaction. I think it’s an interesting mix, both on-ship and back on Earth, and this is one aspect where the show does do a good job. In a way it reminds me of Aniara.

    If a second season came out I would watch it. I think there’s potential in this show and room for improvement, so why not? Bring it on!

  10. This was one of the worst SciFi productions ever. Not the worst nothing will ever be as bad as Armageddon. But this came close. Put aside the appalling science as mentioned earlier, putting aside the usual bad science of a ship flying through asteroid scenes (I only forgive Star Wars for doing this. They were after all kids films), if you just like the soap opera or drama, even this side of things was predictable and made “The Bold and Beautiful” look like Shakespeare. You have to have asteroids in your head to get through a season. I had to force myself on and off through four episodes and I love SciFi.

  11. I kept complaining, often out loud, “Pseudo-science!” “Are we supposed to believe this?” “Are we supposed to care about this romance?” and so on. Yet oddly enough I watched it all the way through and the last few episodes were more gripping and more fulfilling than the earlier ones. I blame mostly the writers for what fails, rather than the actors. What intrigues me now is the paradox that the Achaia, the alien race, are presented as both friends and enemies, depending on the context, and whether they are one or the other remains the question which keeps me interested and hoping there will be another season. Of course I want to believe they are friends, like the TV journalist who met them, and that their apparent destruction of the sweet little aliens on the Kripa (or something) planet can be justified somehow—maybe they did it because the Salvare crew under Niko’s direction just blew up their installation on the planet without thinking? Or maybe there are two kinds of Achaia, one nice and one nasty? Yes, I would like a second season!

  12. If I had to choose between passing a kidney stone or watching Another Life’s episode 1 again… I CHOOSE THE STONE FOR THE WIN. Seriously, wokeness aside, the show is terrible, bad acting, unrelateable characters, mediocre plot and deficient story telling, cant even praise it on a technical level cause it also sucks on even the basis of camera work, editing and effects. I was so exited to watch Katee Sackhoff on Sci-Fi again… Now I just wabt to forget this thing even exist.

  13. Ugh its utterly horrible , cant stand the winey inept millenials or the sexually ambiguous person or the fat guy totally unrealistic not to mention. The bad bad science. I’m saddened that this is even a vision of our future.

  14. I totally agree with this synopsis of why this show is sooo bad.

    #1. The writing is horrendous. Bad cheezy soap opera in a sci-fi setting.
    #2. Horrible cast. The crew does nothing but back- stab, bicker and even attempt mutiny. None are suited for a mission of this importance. My suggestion is fire all the writers, find some that know something about science and theoretical space travel and human interaction. Kill off the entire crew accept for Niko and William the AI hologram. And “wake up another crew from hibernation who are older, more experienced, and have some chemistry with each other. For God sake, inject some humor into the dialog.

    The cast of humans back on earth is equally bad.
    Erik, the husband has to be one of the worst actors, ever! The military type female, the over the top reporter and the over bearing politician are so cartoonish it is almost impossible to watch them on screen. The rest of the extras blend into the green screen to the point of being invisible. The daughter is a better actor than all the rest. Keep her.

    There is a lot to fix here. Not sure it’s even worth the effort. But if Netflix were to fix these issues…it truly would be Another Life, at least for the show.

  15. Okay, so I could be totally wrong, or giving the show way too much credit, but the way I see it is that The Achaia are metaphorically a lot like us Homo Sapiens, with a few hundred (or thousand) years of a head-start in technology, but otherwise with the same paranoia, curiosity, compassion, ruthlessness, and fractured decision making that is familiar to us. Case in point, if they wanted to conquer us, they didn’t need to make a puzzle out of it; that’s curiosity. There seemed to be genuine empathy that Jana was injured; that’s compassion. But when the Achaia probe us (such a Human thing to do), they find out that the Human’s “welcome ship” Salvare has a secret super weapon that can blow up a planet, and then paranoia kicks in, exactly as we Humans would feel if visitors came to us with such a thing, and if we discovered it and were in a position to do something about it. The Human military response to the Artifacts on Earth and on Zafir is also not very encouraging. So what if the Achaia are a metaphor for us in the future, but still with our social and psychological baggage? We are curious. We have compassion. But we are paranoid. And if you give us a reason to fear you, it won’t end well. From the show “We aren’t good. We aren’t evil. But we are capable of destruction.” “They’re simply curious. They have questions, just like we do.” S1E2, Erik to Jana: “Right now, they’re just trying to talk to us. Because if they wanted to do bad things, they would have already.”

  16. This article is brilliant, I would have said all those things if I knew how to write like this. Thank you for putting everything I think about this show in such coherent sentences.

  17. I watched the whole season. I won’t be watching the next one, if they make another. The crew came off as a bunch of young unprofessional bunglers. Space Balls meets The 100.

  18. I watched it hoping it would be a real space science fiction gem. Not happening. Besides the points mentioned in this article, my god, where did they get these so-called astronauts from. Not only are they dressed as if they are on holiday on earth, (thigh high boots!) they actually are dumb enough to taste fruits from an alien planet and even the breath the air of an asteroid!!. They’re absolutely whiny, selfish and very undisciplined. The writers need to rewatch the sci if shows they’re trying to copy a little closer or get a sci if nerd to assist.
    It does not deserve another run.

  19. Call me crazy but I liked it too. I forgave a lot of the nonsense because its Sci-fi and I’m always ready to believe. I had a problem with the title until I realized it probably refers to the alien lifeform. I hope a second season is in the future.

  20. Honestly it seems like the writers/creator/Netflix watched Dark Matter and ripped off every aspect from that show. I had to look up who the writers, director were just to see if they were making a second attempt at a Sci-fi series. The series started off interesting, a modern take on sci-fi, just to go 360 to create filler plots to drag what little story there is through to the grand finale. Quite disappointing really

  21. This show has exactly three items in the Pro column: Katee Sackhoff, Samuel Anderson, and a weaponized Alcubierre drive. It has a bunch of stuff in the “Not-Quite-Con-But-Perfect-For-MST3K” list. Basically, all the flaws you listed. I find myself entertained by how bad the writing and most of the cast are.

    Also, that girl’s nervous system tearing itself from her body and trying to crawl away is just about the perfect metaphor for this show.

  22. I liked it. After watching the whole season I went online to see what everyone thought about it. I knew it had some quirks, but I was pretty surprised how much hate there is for it.

  23. This wasn’t exactly a good show to be honest, it was rather ok. Netflix would be better off dropping this show and picking up the rights to Dark Matter which already has a large and devoted following and is a show with proven results. Stop trying to guess what the public wants and give them what the deserve!

  24. Modern casual critics seem to see the world with no gradation. it’s either amazing or terrible with no middle. This was a middle of the pack show.

    You know while I agree that they regurgitated some concepts from past scifi, more oft than not that is a purposeful not to the past of the genre, something that sci fi shows and movies do… A LOT. And honestly the geek in me appreciates it more than the critic in me is annoyed by it. To pay homage to the past is part of the genre. As long as the show isn’t just that, I’m kind of OK with it.

    You also complained that the crew was inept and then also complained that they were in their 20s (this probably isn’t a coincidence). I would say that putting a ship full of young people makes sense when it takes years to travel across the galaxy… cryo sleep is only going to slow aging down… did they all need to be so young? No…. they could have been a mostly young crew with a few older folks in there to guide the way… especially on what is potentially a suicide mission where people on board may not be expecting to return anyway.

    I would personally say Another Life is a reference to the fact that the ship is full of other lives if one gets killed and I bet that is a concept that they have the intention of exploiting more and probably didn’t exploit as much as the original script wanted to do…. “Someone died? No worries, there’s always Another Life.” There’s also allusions to what people did before their time on the ship (their other life)… what people may have done had they not gone (an alternate life)… it’s not blanket… it’s not spelled out to the viewer, it doesn’t need to be.

    Is it the best scifi to grace the planet? No.. Is it bringing anything new? Not really… Does it have problems with the science? OMG if that isn’t part of the scifi genre I don’t know what is,.. Is it decent? Yes. Is it entertaining? Yeah. Does it need to be the best scifi on the planet with all new concepts in order to be completely watchable? Not even remotely. There isn’t a ton of scifi even trying to do something new these days… Just watch Star Wars if you want proof.

  25. I thinks it’s awful, so so awful that I can’t stop watching it to see what they come up with next.

  26. Wow..what a scathing review! Of course you were left with questions sir..its the first freakin season. Does everything have to make perfect scientific sense? I rather enjoyed it. Yes, I noticed the similarities with other films but so what? Let the show develop.

  27. I was really looking forward to seeing the next season , I hope some 30 something reviewer doesn’t nix the new season.
    The 20 something crew did seem weird but I expected a sub plot line addressing the subject.
    Sure some oddities happen but like a new car mistakes get fixed in the second generation. PUN INTENDED.
    Most all of my sci Fi friends liked it.
    So PLEASE BRING ON A NEW SEASON.

  28. I didn’t realised they’d dropped a trailer… if they are cancelling promotional material (or can’t even make it look good in a trailer) that’s a huge red flag.

    It reminds me of the cheap sci-fi shows you’d get on Sky one back int he 1990s. Nothing about this was good.

  29. BIG BIG FAN of SF and i was extatic to find something afther the ending of The Expanse that looked like NIGHTFLYERS bit daaaaaam this show was bad and idiotic and stupid and very very bad i could not watch anymore past episode 3 because it was just TRASH.
    STARBUCK was a sexy wet dream actrice for many years afther BATTLESTAR GALACTICA but here in another life just desgusted me.
    Who in the right mind will put the fate of humanity in the hands of 20something years crybabys?
    NOBODY
    I will not send this guys to the corner matket to buy a pizza soo stupid they are.
    SCIENCE has no sense , writting is stupid , etc etc etc

    another life = epic fail trash tv in the same genra like supergirl and other shows that makes you make the effort to ignore them

    maybe some people will say i was to hard on the show but dammm this is the reality

  30. I’m a sci-fi author and i die a little inside when things like this come out. There is incredible material out there that has a lot to say and this is what we waste katee sackhoff on? They lost me when she was asking everyone if they feel awkward. Ah jeez – they didn’t has this out before they left on the MOST IMPORTANT MISSION OF ALL TIME?! Google my name if you want to read my well-reviewed and series worthy book.

  31. It can be whole lot better with some minor changes/adjustments. Let this be the pilot season/ episodes.2nd season is Actually the 1st season

  32. I like the show, but when I saw the haz-mat suits with the helmet that simply fits over the head, without actually SEALING with the torso part of the suit, I realized no-one actually cared about the science that a show lime this needs….. I didn’t really check….but something tells me their space suits work the same way…..lol…

  33. Not bad…..but if Netflix really wants to get into SciFi, they should just revive Dark Matter! They’re already showing the first 3 seasons…..it has a huge fan base,…..BRING IT BACK ALREADY!!! Let the story continue!!!

  34. Show sucks and is patently unrealistic. Almost no one has the disposition of an astronaut. Can’t even get past episode 2. Who the hell opens their visor on an alien planet unless they are near death?

  35. I interpreted the title of the show to be a reference to how many people she has to sacrifice or even kill.

    So when someone dies, there’s another life, as in gone.

  36. The show started out really slow with most science things factually wrong and dragged on for almost entire season only to reveal the ”aliens” as the ultimate galactic threat type villains in its last episode. IMO it should had made that reveal faster because as it stands now the show probably won’t be picked up for another season which is actually sad because for me at least the season 1 ending cliffhanger was actually good and made me want to see more of this universe. Villains turned out to be rather intriguing there at the end as well. Bottom line, a really slow start for the show but at the end made me want to see what happens next and how far could they take the story.

  37. So, so bad. Katee Sackhoff sure is fit and the program wastes no time showing her and other women prancing around in their underwear for seemingly plausible reasons. However, it is hard to believe that any serious agency (NASA?) would have these whiny, petulant, unstable people man a mission that is supposed to be the most important in human history. Seriously, these were the best people they could find? I sort of got tired of Katee pursing her lips after the third episode. We’ll see if it gets better, but I doubt it.

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