Today marks the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Space: Above and Beyond. Don’t remember it? You’re not alone. The show, which had a five-year story arc mapped out, lasted only a single season before, like many sci-fi shows to follow, it was cancelled by FOX. However, in its one season on the air it was nominated for two Emmys and a Saturn award, and was named by IGN as number 50 on its “Top 50 Sci-Fi TV Shows.”
Set in 2063, the show’s opening tells how humanity had begun to colonize space, believing that we were alone, until a mysterious race of aliens suddenly attacked and massacred a colony on a planet 16 light years away. The show follows a squad of young Marine pilots as they fight their way through the resulting war.
The cast was made up of mostly unknown guest stars from series such as Law & Order, Quantum Leap, and Silk Stalkings. Perhaps the best-known lead, at least to genre fans at the time, was Lanei Chapman, who had had a recurring role on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Ensign Sariel Rager. The team was led by tough-as-nails Lt. Col. T.C. McQueen, played by James Morrison, best known today for having played CTU boss Bill Buchanan on 24.
The show’s real pedigree was its behind-the-scenes team of executive producers Glenn Morgan (who would go on to marry Kristen Cloke, one of the show’s stars) and James Wong, who were at the time also running a little show called The X-Files. They brought some of their signature conspiracy theory subplots to the show. While it never got far enough in to explain exactly who the aliens were or why they were attacking us, there were implications that to at least some of the humans in charge the attack might not have been quite so unexpected.
Space also included an interesting plot thread on racism and inclusion. Both Morrison’s McQueen and one of the young pilots, Hawkes (played by Rodney Rowland), were “In Vitroes,” or artificially gestated humans, who are seen as lesser beings by “natural borns” and subjected to discrimination. There are also artificially intelligent beings, called Silicates, who have risen up against their human masters and have decided to side with the aliens, due to their perceived mistreatment by humanity.
While few of my friends have heard of, much less seen Space: Above and Beyond, it’s a show that has stuck with me all these years later. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why. The stories were interesting, exploring a lot of bigger themes while still following these young soldiers–basically kids–in this huge intergalactic war. The effects, while a bit cheesy by today’s standards, were great for the time. The music was wonderful, and the theme is one that still gets stuck in my head from time to time. But ultimately, it was just entertaining sci-fi TV.
There are only 23 episodes of the series, and it ends in a cliff-hanger as the producers were clearly hoping for it to continue despite its chronically low ratings. The entire series is available on DVD. It does not appear to be available on any streaming service or via digital purchase, which is unfortunate. Still, if you happen to come across a copy, you should check it out.