A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ascension is a sci-fi miniseries targeted at mature viewers about a 100-year mission in space. Characters drink frequently on-screen, get drunk, and blame alcohol for poor or violent choices. Sex is visible, including a bare thrusting bottom, though other nudity is limited to breasts visible through sheer fabric. A dead body is shown briefly on-screen, with a small amount of blood. Passengers on the ship are frequently in mortal danger as a result of large, uncontrollable forces such as deep-space radiation. "Ass" and "bulls--t" are heard infrequently.
What's the story?
What if, limited series ASCENSION asks, instead of only touching down on the moon in the 1960s, the United States sent a vast spaceship (the Ascension of the title) on a century-long mission to find another planet where humans could live? Ascension picks up in modern times, where in space, the people who decided to go on the 100-year mission are dead or dying and those in power are the middle generation of cosmonauts: people who were born in space and most likely will die there without ever having seen solid ground. It's bad enough being mired in space, but now it looks like a murderer is on the loose. Inside the claustrophobic ship of 600 souls, First Officer Aaron Gault (Brandon P. Bell) investigates the murder under the unsure command of William Denninger (Brian Van Holt). Denninger's going through a rough time as captain, particularly with his dangerous and manipulative wife Viondra (Tricia Helfer) scheming against him. Everyone has secrets on the Ascension, it seems, while back at home the existence of the ship and the Ascension program is the biggest secret of all.
Is it any good?
In these times of doom-laden environmental headlines, a drama about a group of humans looking for a new planet to call home makes a zeitgeist-y sort of sense. And Ascension has its period-ish setting going for it: Since the group of people aboard the spaceship blasted off in the 1960s and, as one character says, never lived through the Summer of Love, they're trapped in a kind of Mad Men time capsule, with seamed stockings and strapless cocktail dresses. Touches such as vintage hairstyles and a torch singer warbling "Fly Me to the Moon" in a spaceship are arresting, even if many of the details of the show require quite a bit of disbelief-suspending. In the portions of the show set in the present day, the son of the man who pioneered the Ascension program explains away the giant conspiracy that took place to kick the ambitious mission off: "We had the technology. JFK was a fan!" Um, OK.
The murder mystery at the heart of the action is ho-hum, and the characters seem trope-ish, but Ascension does carry with it some interesting ideas. What would life be like, drifting aimlessly aboard a capsule in space? How could you live, work, and love under such conditions? And is it better to be the generation that spends its entire existence in space or the one that has to land on the new Earth ("Proxima," in Ascension-speak) and make a new life there somehow? The fact that Ascension bothers to consider such questions is interesting, and class wars between the upper- and lower-deckers on the ship are another point in the show's favor. It may not be interesting enough to rivet a non-sci-fi fan, but geeks may find the proceedings interesting enough for a look.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why a drama about a group of voyagers looking for a new home for humanity might appeal to modern viewers. How does this drama echo the concerns of our times? What emotions are the viewers supposed to feel, having watched it? Despair? Hope?
What year was the Ascension launched? How is this reflected in the show's costumes, hairstyles, makeup, and settings? Are these aspects of the production accurate for the period in which the show is set? (Ask a parent or a grandparent.)
The murder of a young woman sets off many of Ascension's plot points. Why are murder victims so often young and female on TV dramas?
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