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Series / Odyssey 5

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"We saw the Earth destroyed, and in a heartbeat everything and everyone we knew was gone."

"It just occurred to me this is one scenario NASA really forgot to program into the simulators."
Kurt Mendel, upon witnessing the destruction of Earth in "Pilot"

A sci-fi TV series that ran on Showtime in 2002.

A routine mission for the crew of the space shuttle Odyssey turns to nightmare when minutes after launching their payload, they witness the entire planet Earth implode from orbit. As they drift in space they are rescued by an advanced being calling itself "The Seeker", who informs them that Earth is not the first world to suffer such a fate—his own world did, as well as others—but that this is the first time he has ever found survivors. The Seeker offers to send their minds back in time nearly five years, so that they may try and stop it from happening. After going back, the crew of the Odyssey struggle to readapt to what their lives were at that time, and to learn to work together toward their common purpose. The show tends to be a hard science fiction, except for the jump back in time, which falls on the really soft end.

The team is led by Commander Chuck Taggart (Peter Weller), a hardened and quick-witted old-school NASA veteran who is often paternal towards them, in part because of his son, Neil, who is also flying missions with him. Neil (Christopher Gorham), having gone from a pot-smoking metalhead to NASA's youngest astronaut, is largely motivated from growing up in his older brother's shadow, and despite having surpassed both him and their parents' expectations, he still occasionally clashes with his father. They are joined by Kurt Mendel (Sebastian Roché), a Nobel Prize winning geneticist, whose extreme cynicism and hedonistic attitude not only serve as counterpoint to Chuck, but very often earns him raised eyebrows and disgusted reactions from even the more liberal members of the crew. Angela Perry (Tamara Marie Watson), the shuttle's co-pilot, is in many ways the son Chuck wished he had. Tough and determined, her striving to earn her own place in the world is very much the result of being the daughter of a US senator. She also had a relationship with Kurt in the past. Sarah Forbes (Leslie Silva), a news anchor and the first journalist in space, serves very much as the team's emotional anchor. Deeply religious and having lost her infant son to cancer years ago, she is then thrust into the brutal position of watching him waste away all over again. Her mellow character and friendly demeanor act as the glue that holds the crew together, and she sometimes fills a maternal role for Neil.

During its runtime the show was plagued by Executive Meddling (like the last 6 episodes being delayed for two years before being aired in the US) and was finally cancelled, despite having one of the highest ratings on its network. Since then, it's attained a fairly strong cult following.

This show provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Subverted with Sarah, whom people in the new timeline accuse of mistreating her son when she's actually trying to prevent the cancer that originally killed him.
  • Agony Beam: The synthetics' method of communicating through conventional cell phones is rather unpleasant to humans.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The Sentients, essentially self-generated A.I.s who are the main antagonists of the series. Not all of them are evil, but they are completely inhuman, and many of them see humans as either a threat to their existence or competition.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: The fate that awaits the main characters in the pilot. They are saved by The Seeker just in the nick of time.
  • Apocalypse How: The series begins with a class X and revolves around the characters trying to undo it.
  • Beneath the Mask: Kurt has, on numerous occasions, shown a very much kinder side than his usual persona.
  • Brain Uploading: The episode "Vanishing Point" deals with a Sentient who is using brain uploading technology on kidnapped humans for reasons that are never fully revealed. The scanning process used for this is destructive to the brain and always leads to death via brain embolism.
  • Broken Pedestal: In the original timeline, Angela had looked up to her father and saw him as a good and noble man. She was rocked when he was arrested for years worth of corruption charges and it destroyed her family. Now in the past, Angela is wrestling with this knowledge of her father's true nature and whether she should allow his arrest to happen.
  • Cigar Chomper: Chuck sure likes his cigars.
  • Cut Short: Ends with Angela abducted by the AI's and Kurt being arrested on suspicion of killing her. Plus the mysterious "Cadre" organization within NASA, which the team assume have something to do with the AI's and the impending destruction of the Earth, actually turn out to be trying to stop the AI's and believe that the Odyssey 5 team are the traitors.
  • Cutting the Knot: Humorously justified with a character's secured laptop.
    Chuck: Okay son, you gotta get into that laptop.
    Neil: Give me another twenty four hours. I've great minds working on this.
    (cut to a couple of stereotypical cap-n-earrings hackers hammering a screwdriver into the thing)
    Neil: (watching worriedly) I'd feel a helluva lot better if I knew where we were going with this, would you please be careful!
    It's then revealed that they're just disconnecting a chip so they can go around the security measures.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Inverted with Angela Perry; she's friendly enough until she thinks a man is trying to manipulate her.
  • Drama Bomb: Paige's death.
  • Dramatic Space Drifting: Unsurprisingly played straight in "Pilot" after the Earth implodes.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Played straight with both The Seeker and the entity which the team encounters in "The Choices We Make".
  • Freudian Excuse: Angela's suspicion of manipulative men clearly comes from her Sleazy Politician father. Subverted in Taggart's case — he remembers his father as a Jerkass, but later comes to realise Dad was just going through a rough patch, unaware that his life would be cut short before he could make up with his son.
  • Freudian Threat: Kurt Mendel has an attack of paranoia and is convinced that his friends are Synthetics. Angela gets Kurt to swallow his medicine by pointing a Beretta 9mm at his testicles.
    Angela: "I will do it, Kurt!"
    Kurt: "Oh God, even as a Synthetic, you are a ballbuster..."
  • Genius Loci: The titular prison facility in "L.D.U. 7" turns out to be basically a building-sized T-1000.
  • Hand Cannon: Chuck is quite fond of his Colt .45 Peacemaker revolver. He even does a flashy showcase for Kurt just before they encounter a Synthetic for the first time, but subsequently finds that Synths have no trouble taking several shots to anywhere but the head and staying on their feet.
  • Hidden Depths: As much as he would like to insist otherwise, there is more to Kurt than just the shallow hedonist side. "Symbiosis" shows he is conversant in sign language, and in "L.D.U. 7" he sticks a chewed gum under a fire hydrant to help keep track where they are in the corridors.
  • Hollywood Science: Lampshaded when the Odyssey team consult an abrasive sci-fi writer clearly based on Harlan Ellison (who conceived the series). As they can't tell him the truth (that they've travelled back in time five years to avert the destruction of the Earth), the team pretend they're writing a science fiction novel. The sci-fi writer goes into detail on how cliched and scientifically implausible their 'novel' is.
  • Kill Sat: The satellite their original flight set in place activated a split second before Earth was destroyed. That coupled with the secrecy around the purpose of the satellite leads the crew to suspect it is part of what caused the disaster.
  • Mental Time Travel: Because it's impossible to physically travel back in time, the aliens send their minds back into their old bodies.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The character of Kurt Mendel takes clear inspiration from Richard Dawkins: A geneticist and outspoken atheist who even has a book titled "The Dancing Gene", with very similar points as Dawkins' The Selfish Gene.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Notably that Earth-Shattering Kaboom, but none of the characters can resist tinkering with their own personal lives as well, despite agreeing not to do so.
  • Standardized Space Views: Creatively averted with the series' opening.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Justified, since Synthetics are designed with the specific purpose of being able to blend in human society. Spoofed when a sci-fi writer derides the idea of Ridiculously Human Robots as "a cheap tool TV shows use to save on special effects".
  • Sleazy Politician: Angela's father, though he actually does care about her — he just isn't above lying to her as well.
  • Time Travel for Fun and Profit: Kurt tries.
    • First he bets big on a football game. Only for a crucial player to hear about the huge bet, which puts just enough stress on him to alter who wins the match. Later scattered mentions imply he does go on to be very successful in betting on sports with more spread out smaller bets.
    • Then he goes for a more creative and much more morally questionable strategy: He seeks out an aspiring female musician who he knows will become a huge success in a couple of years. He manages to endear himself to her and even get married and become her agent all in order to benefit from her future success.
  • The Unreveal: We never found out if the AI's (the main day-to-day opponent of the time-travelling Five-Man Band), or a misguided/genocidal attempt to stop them (by aliens or the US government), was behind the destruction of Earth.
  • Unseen Pen Pal: "Kitty" is an insane AI who developed an obsession for Neil. At first she just chatted with him and sent "pictures" of herself that never showed her face, but then she became clingy and jealous, eventually using her vast AI power to monitor him with cameras and control nearby appliances. She has to be tricked into inhabiting a computer before being unplugged, essentially making her a Sealed AI in a Can.
  • Vehicle Title
  • Weather Dissonance: Since the crew of the Odyssey go back in time, they inevitably arrive to an event which, as they remember it in their original timeline, was accompanied by stormy weather, but in the new one there is a massive heat wave that even makes the news. Turns out to be Sentients manipulating the weather to power a Doomsday Device of sorts.
  • White Void Room:
    "God really IS an old, white guy."
    • And also where Chuck was to meet the Sentient responsible for creating the synthetic virus in "Flux".