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Syfy's Ascension launches and lurches


Brian Van Holt plays the jut-jawed captain in Ascension. Syfy photo

Premiering: Monday, Dec. 15th at 8 p.m. (central) on Syfy
Starring: Brian Van Holt, Brandon P. Bell, Tricia Helfer, Al Sapienza, Tiffany Lonsdale, Andrea Roth, Jacqueline Byers, PJ Boudousque, Ran Robbins, Gil Bellows
Produced by: Philip Levens, Jason Blum, Ivan Fecan, Tim Gamble, Brett Burlock

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Here comes another case of the Syfy ho hums.

The network’s latest “thrilling and highly anticipated” event is Ascension, which blasts off with a 90-minute premiere on Monday, Dec. 15th before continuing Tuesday and ending on Wednesday.

The production design is impressive, but the script and acting fail to achieve liftoff. Among the groaners is this one from dutiful First Officer Aaron Gault (Brandon P. Bell), who informs malcontent James Toback (PJ Boudousque), “Just because you can’t change the course of this ship doesn’t mean you can’t change the course of your life. I did.”

Unfortunately there appears to be no escape -- either from the dialogue or a covert U.S. space mission dubbed Ascension. Crew members are in the 51st year of a century-long endeavor to find a new world and populate it. But not all is what it seems.

Ram-rodding this epic journey is taut, raspy-voiced, cuckolded Capt. William Denninger (Brian Van Holt), whose lascivious, layabout wife Viondra (Tricia Helfer) lets it be known that “you won’t find your courage in the bottom of a glass.” But the captain puts on a good front, barking out orders with a laughable, furrowed brow intensity. “Search the ship. Turn it upside down. I want answers,” he demands. Oh shaddup.

Denninger wants answers to who killed a young woman named Lorelei, whose battered corpse washes up on the ship’s fake beach. Lorelei’s mother insists that her daughter “didn’t run around like some lower deck trash.”

The lower deck is populated by snarly grunts who do the ship’s dirty work. This gives Ascension something of a Downton Abbey element, but with none of the texture.

Meanwhile, back on earth, Harris Enzmann (Gil Bellows from Ally McBeal) keeps the faith as the son of the Ascension mission’s founder. But what’s he really up to? Let’s just say that a requisite twist is coming at the end of Monday’s opener.

Ascension aspires to be a cautionary tale on a grand scale. But its cardboard characters and a paint-by-the-numbers script just aren’t up to the task. Poor Capt. Denninger doesn’t have the power to stand tall, throw up his hands and command, “Get me rewrite!” So in the end, everyone is just stuck.

GRADE: C-minus

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