For the past few years, the CW has been on a hot streak. The network is producing some of the best comic book shows on television and has branched out beyond the DC universe with Riverdale, Charmed, and others. Its latest venture into hard sci-fi, Pandora, accomplishes something the CW hasn’t done in years: It’s made something bad.
I watch a lot of TV pilots for work — including ones for shows that never make it to air — and Pandora’s is quite possibly one of the worst I’ve seen in years. The show debuted Wednesday on the CW in the U.S.. As of now I’ve seen the first two episodes, and it is possible the series will get better over time. So far, it hasn’t. Its foundation is... rocky.
Pandora’s first episode, “Shelter From The Storm,” is what happens when you combine Disney Channel Original Movies with Asylum mockbusters, without understanding what makes either of them actually work. The dialogue is stilted, the acting is wooden and the sci-fi is either mind-numbingly simple or frustratingly vague. People do things because the script says so. Characters become friends because the plot needs them to be. Almost every “Eureka!” moment is full of unearned exposition. Nothing feels real, natural, or necessary.
The series opens on our heroine, Jax (Priscilla Quintana), leaving her family home on an alien planet to go for a run. Who’s her family? What’s their deal? Doesn’t matter, they’re immediately blown up. Cut to a short time later. Jax is heading to Earth to join the Fleet Training Academy, only to have an awkwardly hostile meet-cute with a teaching assistant named Xandar (Oliver Dench). But I’m just gonna call him Eventual Plot Twist because that’s basically all he is.
Here, things are futuristic. You can tell it’s the future because people wear plastic jackets, aliens teach linguistics classes, and Jax becomes friends with a young woman who’s dressed like an extra from Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. This is Atria Nine, played by Raechelle Banno — and out of all the actors on the show, she’s the one I feel the most sympathy for. She’s clearly trying, but there’s no way any actor could make this character work.
Atria Nine is described in the show notes as “a bubbly, very loquacious, free spirited, sexually fluid, purple-haired young woman.” I’d raise my eyebrow at the clear stereotyping if I wasn’t cackling so hard at the notion that someone besides me had to write that sentence.
Atria is little more than a walking Tumblr stereotype begging for slash-fic that no one will ever write. Well, there is a twist: She’s a formerly enslaved clone. Huh? Yeah, apparently she’s a clone who maybe murdered her master and now goes to space school. The show throws this world-altering detail out there and then does very little with it. The follow-up episode does focus on her and the world she comes from... and oh boy, that’s another can of cloned worms for another cloned time.
Jax is introduced to Atria Nine’s circle of friends at the space school’s, umm, nightclub? It’s the hip cool hangout for all the space 20-somethings. This scene mainly serves as a cheap excuse for the show to tell us: “These are the main characters and they’re going to be Best Friends Forever!” Except the rapport doesn’t support it; these people don’t hang out together so much as exist around each other.
But the show needs them to be friends, so they’re friends now. For instance, the gang asks Jax to be in their study group after speaking with her for about five minutes and then afterward they’re willing to break a bunch of space school rules and risk expulsion for this almost-stranger. Make it so, plot.
Also, there’s space racism against some alien bro named Ralen (Ben Radcliffe) who’s part of a species that was at war with Earth some years ago. His makeup job is a hodgepodge of things that Star Trek has done before and better, combined with floppy hair and an outfit from Hot Topic circa 2005.
Jax is cool with him — she’s no space racist — so alien bro is cool too. Even he gets to be in the study group. Best Friends Forever! The show hints at a love triangle between Jax, alien bro, and either Eventual Plot Twist or this other guy who matters even less than him. But they also suggest that Jax is bisexual, so who the hell knows or cares. I’m pretty sure her only love is glaring at people. She’s real good at that.
There’s a lot of other stuff in the episode that doesn’t make sense, and I don’t want to watch the episode again. I tried and couldn’t survive five minutes of the rewatch, ok? I’m sorry I can’t be perfect. I’m going to do my best to explain it anyway. The episode centres around this whole mystery about Jax’s parents’ death, and it’s linked to something her parents found on New Portland, the place she lived before her family was killed. There’s some backroom talk, codewords, and secrecy — Jax thinks it’s a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top! The space top. And yeah, it does. She and some of her new friends hijack a ship and head to the planet to get answers.
Where they come across, wait for it...
Eventual Plot Twist nooooooo I never saw it coming.
It turns out Eventual Plot Twist is a space cop who’s also undercover as a teaching assistant at space school. But he’s starting to think that maybe the people in charge aren’t being totally honest with him. Gee, do you think it’s because there are now giant wormholes that take him and Jax through some kind of spacedoor because Jax might be an alien hybrid that will determine the future of humanity? Also, they’re attacked by alien soldiers that look like golden poo?
What the hell is happening on this show?
Then, that’s the end. Seriously, the show ends with a billion questions... and zero desire to ever have them answered. I’ve never left an episode of a show this grateful that I didn’t have to return to it. It’s clear the series is trying to set up this big epic mystery about Jax. Who is she? What is she? Why is she? But as interesting and charismatic as Quintana is as an actor, there’s little that holds her to Jax.
She’s not a compelling character, she’s surrounded by less-compelling friends, and all the enemies she’s faced have either been stuffy professors or golden poo aliens. And I didn’t even get into her stuffy professor uncle and his outfit that looks like what would happen if L.L. Bean made a bulletproof vest. He’s part of the whole conspiracy too, but, like, who even cares at this point?
I cannot in good conscience recommend Pandora, except if you’re fascinated by shows that should’ve never made it past the pilot stage but for some reason have. It’s not NBC’s Wonder Woman or Poochinski levels of bad, but it’s not far off.
I’ll keep the door open for improvements in the future, but I think this is going to be a one-and-done summer space trainwreck (spacewreck). Pandora needs a serious coming to Space Jesus moment to justify spending any more time on this god-awful planet.
Pandora doesn't currently have an Australian air date.