It's 2192, the earth is sick with pollution and those who can afford to have relocated to space stations. But a longer term solution is needed, as the off-world children are succumbing to a chronic, wasting syndrome, and only a new, fresh planet can restore them to health. Privileged heiress and concerned mother of a syndrome child Devon Adair (Debrah Farentino) sets out with an advance party for G889, an Earth-like world 22 light-years away. But upon arrival, their ship is sabotaged by a rival clique, and the raggle-taggle bunch find themselves stranded on the surface of an alien planet with little more than a few creaking dune buggies and a couple of flimsy tents.
As well as Adair, the team includes Adair's ailing son Ulysses (Joey Zimmerman,) an abject figure in a wheezing hydraulic exoskeleton, curmudgeonly grease-monkey John Danziger (Clancy Brown) and his daughter True (J. Madison Wright,) Yale (Sullivan Walker,) an ex-convict reengineered as a cyborg tutor, diffident and anxious young medic Dr Julia Heller (Jessica Steen) and whimsical but resourceful miner's daughter turned diplomat's wife Bess Martin (Rebecca Gayheart.) Cue a futuristic Wagon Train as these unlikely and disparate pilgrims wend their way across a seemingly endless continent towards what they hope will be a rendezvous point with the colonists following in their wake.
As you might surmise from this summing-up, rayguns, alien princesses and the like are rather thin on the ground. Instead, there's a rugged, day-to-day battle for survival, and an understated but palpable sense of mystery as the humans apprehend that there is more to this strange new world than meets the eye. Because the planet has what they refer to, dryly, as a “strong metaphysical plane.” In other words, it's touched by magic.
Over the course of the series, the planet challenges and probes them on a number of levels through storylines that are subtle and character-led, reaching beyond sci-fi to horror and fairytale. There are encounters with enigmatic pointy-headed aboriginals who communicate through the medium of dreams. Bess makes initially farcical, then increasingly sure-footed, attempts to trade with acquisitive, troll-like creatures called Grendlers. Uncertain of her place in camp, True finds herself being pulled to the dark side by Gaal (a very fruity turn by Tim Curry,) an exile who's part Ben Gunn, part Long John Silver and part shabby Prospero. The sweet and unassuming Dr Julia goes all Jeckyll and Hyde as she tries to modify her DNA to make it more responsive to the planet's powerful energies. There's even a Rashomon-style episode where the death of a Grendler at the hands of the colonists is explored from multiple viewpoints.
Penned by a small team of writers, the scripts are sharp, warmly witty and highly intelligent. The characters are nuanced, with most of them having their good and bad days, and the female roles are particularly well fleshed out. While the whole cast is excellent, the acting honours go to the women, with Farentino, Gayheart and Steen all rising wonderfully to the occasion. A special mention should be made of J. Madison Wright, an actress who died tragically young and who here, at the ripe age of ten, gives a heartfelt performance as Danziger's tomboy daughter.
With its evocative storylines, power of suggestion and endearing characters, Earth 2 is a show you can fall in love with. Snap up a copy and you'll be happier than a Grendler with a necklace of spoons.