Pierce: 'Defiance' is futuristic but avoids outer space

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A lot of science fiction fans aren't exactly Syfy fans — because it's so hard to find sci-fi on the cable network. Would it kill them to give us one show set in outer space?

Syfy hasn't had a series with spaceships since "Stargate Universe" signed off two years ago. And it hasn't had a good outer-space series since "Battlestar Galactica" signed off four years ago.

Heck, Syfy has precious few shows worth watching. Period.

For a few brief, shining moments, Syfy's new series "Defiance" features spaceships. Really cool ones.

But then they're gone and we're left with a show that's both old-school and futuristic. "Defiance" is a throwback to the ol' TV Western set on a terraformed Earth following a large alien invasion.

In 2016, ships carrying seven races from a dying solar system arrive, and nine years of inter-species war ensue.

Then it's a flash-forward to 2046 and the town of Defiance — built on the ruins of St. Louis — where humans and aliens live side-by-side in a fragile peace.

There are traditional Western elements — a town sheriff battling lawlessness; a town brothel run and a madam with a heart of gold. There are non-traditional elements, too: the mayor is a woman, and there are a whole lot of aliens.

"Defiance" (Monday at 7, 9 and 11 p.m.) looks like pieces of a lot of things that have gone before, including Shakespeare — there's an inter-species Romeo-and-Juliet storyline.

"One of the things we're really having fun exploring is how to take some of those tropes of the Western, of the frontier story and kind of turn them on their head," said executive producer Kevin Murphy.

The cast includes Grant Bowler, Julie Benz, Stephanie Leonidas, Tony Curran, Jaime Murray, Graham Greene and Mia Kirshner. But the real stars are the great special effects, including a lot of green screen used to create a very different world.

A "Defiance" video game was released a few weeks ago. It's set in the same universe, but a couple thousand miles away from what used to be San Francisco.

You don't have to watch the TV show to play the game or play the game to watch the TV show. But you can do both. If you want.

The TV show gets off to a decent start and looks great. Even the story is OK and might get better.

I'd be more confident if this wasn't on Syfy, which has given us no reason to be confident. Because Syfy president Dave Howe actually seemed to believe it when he said, "Five years ago at Syfy, we had a vision. And, as we like to do, we imagined greater."

Which led to five years of stupid ghost-hunter shows, (mostly) terrible reality shows and awful-(mostly)-on-purpose TV movies.

"Defiance" pretty much has to be greater than that sludge.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.