Forces of attraction in ‘Gravity’

Ron Livingston (above, center) in “Defying Gravity.’’ Ron Livingston (above, center) in “Defying Gravity.’’ (Sergei Bachlakov/ABC)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / August 1, 2009

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ABC is quietly dropping a new science-fiction series, “Defying Gravity,’’ in the middle of summer, on Sunday nights. This lack of drumroll had me thinking that the network was trying to hide an inferior product while discreetly burning off a business obligation. “Defying Gravity’’ is from at least two people ABC probably wants to keep happy - the executive producers of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives’’ (Michael Edelstein), and “Grey’s Anatomy’’ and “Ugly Betty’’ (James Parriott).

But ABC has nothing to be ashamed of with this series, which has a two-hour premiere tomorrow night at 9 on Channel 5 before settling in on Sundays at 10. “Defying Gravity’’ is a perfectly decent bit of sci-fi soap - some cool “Star Trek’’ futurism, plenty of pretty “Grey’s Anatomy’’ ensemble melodrama, and a twist of eerie “Twilight Zone’’ mysteriousness when characters refer to the high-tech spaceship as if it has a will of its own. “It chose you,’’ says one scientist to another.

The idea is that sometime in the next few decades, a team of astronauts - four men and four women; how convenient - embark on a six-year journey to Venus and other planets. The ship, called Antares, is sleek and cavernous, and the crew members are in constant contact with the folks at mission control on Earth. Romantic complications arise that cross professional boundaries, of course, as well as one that crosses outer space, with an astronaut married to an Earth-bound guy. The show’s narrative also includes flashbacks aplenty, to crew interactions (read: sex) that took place before the launch.

The “Defying Gravity’’ lead is Ron Livingston (“Office Space,’’ “Sex and the City’’), an actor who knows how to evocatively blur the lines between heroic strength and weakness. His character, Maddox Donner, is a noted astronaut who, years before the Antares trip, was forced to abandon two fellow astronauts on Mars, to protect that mission. Donner is plagued by memories of the tragedy, as well as by the ranting of his alcoholic father, and he arrives on the Antares with plenty of baggage. He also arrives with a deep attraction to a young geologist named Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris).

There are provocative flourishes that the writers may pursue further during the 13-episode run. In the time of “Defying Gravity,’’ for example, abortion is illegal, which has ramifications for at least one of the characters. Perhaps a more complex vision of the future - beyond the awesome technology - will emerge. Also, some of the astronauts are haunted by premonitions and hallucinations, and at moments their dream worlds seem to bleed into their realities. Is there some kind of “Lost’’-like time warp afoot?

“Defying Gravity’’ does not appear to be developing an elaborate mythology; the intrigue is relatively straightforward. The series is a conventional TV drama about love and flirtation as much as a science-fiction space thriller. But it does have the potential to evolve into a likable hybrid, a space opera with enough liftoff to make it through the summer.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at For more on TV, visit

DEFYING GRAVITY Starring: Ron Livingston, Andrew Airlie, Christina Cox, Laura Harris, Malik Yoba

On: ABC, Channel 5

Time: Sunday night, 9-11

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