Odyssey 5 Review
This DVD release of Odyssey 5 is yet another example of a cancelled television series being produced at last on DVD, much to the relief and joy of the fans of the show that managed to catch it when it was originally broadcast. However, in the case of Odyssey 5 the channel that aired it (Showtime) didn't cancel it due to poor viewing figures - or even worries about how the show was being received - but rather because they no longer felt it dovetailed with their schedule. As it happened, the eventual conflict in their minds was between Odyssey 5 and Jeremiah... and they elected to keep the latter at the expense of the former. In other words, Odyssey 5 was doing pretty well in the ratings but nevertheless still got cut short, showing that sometimes, you just can't win.
Created and written by Manny Coto (who went on to work on Enterprise and the fifth series of 24), Odyssey 5 starts as a routine mission aboard the US space shuttle Odyssey is underway. However, in the course of carrying out what appear to be fairly standard orders, the crew witnesses the Earth explode and the spacecraft is pummeled by the inevitable aftereffects of the blast. Just before they too are about to perish - not long after their friends, families, and indeed every other inhabitant of the Earth - a strange otherworldly being rescues them. The 'Seeker', as he calls himself, offers to propel the still-living crewmembers back in time to try and avert the disaster from happening in the first place. While dubious about the Seeker and his charge, the commander of the Odyssey accepts his offer and this is where the show really takes off.
The series is called Odyssey 5 because only 5 crew members survived the fallout from the explosion; Commander Chuck Taggart (Peter Weller), his son Neil (Christopher Gorham), Geneticist Kurt Mendel (Sebastian Roché), Journalist and newsreader Sarah Forbes (Leslie Silva) and pilot - not to mention daughter of a Texan senator - Angela Perry (Tamara Craig Thomas). And as if that didn't suffice, they also have only 5 years to try and prevent whatever happened from happening again. The remainder of the season revolves around their search for answers as well as their efforts to fit in to their world of the past while having all their knowledge of the future.
In fact, I always found the show's pilot episode too cheesy and too standard to really enjoy it. Granted, the set-up feels a little weak plotwise, but the show really does come into its own once the crew are sent back in time and have their own demons to face. Sarah, for example, has had her young son die within the last 5 years and when she is sent back to him (pre-diagnosis of cancer), she has to cope with the knowledge of what will happen while not being able to convince anyone that he might be ill... particularly her husband, who begins to suspect her of suffering from Munchausen By Proxy.
Similarly, Neil finds himself back in high school (physically 17 but with the memories and sophistication of a 22 year-old), and each of the other crew members finds analogous conflicts between future knowledge and past life/actions. And that's the dichotomy that allows the characters to really shine, and thankfully the acting is one of the very strong parts of the show. Each of the cast brings a definite glow of life to their character and without this, the show could simply have become too silly.
Early on, the crew discover the existence of lifeforms that are pure computer code, the 'Sentients', and a great deal of the series focuses on discovering what the Sentients' agenda actually is (while keeping family and personal life together, of course). The five also uncover a covert group working inside NASA – and between these two likely suspects they must endeavour to work out who or what was responsible for the Earth's destruction, while becoming increasingly paranoid (and in the end justifiably so). Of course, some of the action is accelerated towards the end of the season when the writers became aware of the impending cancellation. This leads to a handful of unfortunately more-hurried plots near Odyssey 5's conclusion, but at least they tried to give it to some kind of closure for fans. And while it may not be the most satisfactory of endings, it's almost better than the audience being left completely hanging.
Odyssey 5 isn't a perfect television show, but it's both well-acted and well-written and demonstrated a lot of potential for future series. Unfortunately that wasn't to be, so all we have of the show is this DVD set. (And before you ask, this release does include all of the episodes ever made, some of which were only aired a long time after the more limited initial batch hit US television.)
The video is presented along the lines of a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer that gives a very respectable picture quality... in fact, a much better one than I had expected from the usual 'cancelled TV show bunged onto DVD' treatment we often see nowadays. Skin tones were natural, colours rich and vibrant, and black levels solid throughout. There are very few noticeable defects and it really is a treat to watch the show this way... clean, crisp, and lacking the usual Sci Fi Channel idents in the upper corner of the screen! (For the curious, Sci Fi was the station that more or less kept interest in Odyssey 5 alive after its cancellation, as the channel fairly regularly paid the licensing fee to rebroadcast the entire series over the years.)
The English soundtrack is provided in Dolby Digital 5.1 (curiously, Japanese is also present, and given a Dolby Digital 2.0 transfer) and throughout the discs all dialogue is clearly audible and well-balanced with the sound effects, background music, and various other aspects of the audio mix. There's some use of the rear speakers, again more than I perhaps expected for a TV show, and the left/right directionality is overall fairly impressive when used. So no real complaints in this department either.
Now, before admitting that I was disappointed in the sole special feature included on this release - an audio commentary by creator Manny Coto and Peter Weller - I'd like to commend Sony and the Odyssey 5 production team for providing any extras at all. It's not anything I've come to expect with cancelled TV shows (and indeed, the majority of Charmed releases so far don't bother to offer any special features at all). But with the studio having decided to add some here, it is a bit of a shame we're limited to nothing beyond that one commentary on the pilot episode.
Speaking of which, the commentary is a relatively standard one; Coto and Weller obviously get on well and definitely give us some brief insights into the series. Coto mentions some of the plans he had in mind for future seasons of the show, but he doesn't give us the full whammy: what would actually have happened with some of the plotlines they weren't able to tie up. In fact, this secrecy is apparently in the well-intentioned hope that the series will one day be resurrected. I'm inclined to think he's hoping in vain though, and it's a shame that alongside the commentary we didn't get a small featurette to help tie things up.
Odyssey 5 is one of those shows that displayed great potential, both in cast and in its writing, and yet didn't quite get to live up to this potential due to being cancelled. The DVD release is welcome, both in timing and in terms of quality of the audio and visual presentations and I'd heartily recommend it, especially for any sci-fi fans out there