#writinglessons: Nightflyers on SYFY

Okay, this write-up is going to be brutally honest. The reason? I’m watching scripted programming in an effort to become a better storyteller.

As I’m currently working on a YA space opera, I’ve been binging on science fiction programming and books. As for programming, I’ve enjoyed Origin from Youtube Originals and you can read my thoughts here. Then there was Altered Carbon from Netflix. For books, I’ve read Empress of Thousand Skies, The Belles, and also Across The Universe.

As I’ve been watching Nightflyers (and believe me, I’ve watched and rewatched episodes) I’ve stumbled upon some lessons that I plan to keep in mind as I create stories for consumers. And to me, there is one main issue that I have with the series.

It seems to me that the writers/producers crafted a tale to hit certain metrics/expectations but never bothered to delve into the heart and soul of their story. Let me explain further, the story has these ‘moments’ that are supposed to either grab attention but they don’t truly add to the story. For instance, the show starts off with a lesbian plot line which seemed more for shock value than anything deep and worthwhile. Then, there’s the creepy domineering mother who created a dysfunctional relationship with her son. That trope is done twice in the series. First with (SPOILER ALERT) Cynthia and Roy Eris then with Thale (the psychic L1) and his therapist who by the way he dreams/has a vision of having sex with her. (Now this part was really unsettling for no good reason).

Remember I mentioned the Youtube show, Origin? Well that was some top-notch science fiction. It was a creeptastic scifi origin/alien introduction show. And it told a solid story while incorporating a wide cast of characters who were introduced to us so we had a good sense of who they were and what made them tick (all but one character, however).

Not so in Nightflyers which was a cheap attempt to scare viewers and it failed over after over again. The sets and wardrobe also looked cheap! Also, there were times when I was forced to rewind and replay dialogue in order to understand what was going on. I assure you that I am a mature enough consumer of programming whereby I should be able to make certain mental leaps in a story even where there are plot holes. Unfortunately I was mostly left lost by the episodes and rewatched them in a twisted effort to respect the legendary George R. R. Martin. I also wanted to support scifi programming which is all too rare nowadays.

I will say I liked the theme song and opening sequence. I have a thing for opening sequences. And by episode 8, there were a few plot twists that looked promising! Nevertheless, there was an overall lack of fluidity to the storytelling that was oftentimes jarring and served as a drawback.

And I was left with so many questions. Who is the Bee Lady? Where did she come from? What is her backstory?

I could go on and on with my list of complaints but I will mention that for whatever this show may have lacked, I tuned in to watch the next episode with dedication. I’m not sure if I’m just a sucker for scifi. And in conclusion, I’ll summarize that Nightflyers started off as a haunted ship scifi thriller that lost sight of what it was. It was chock-full of flawed characters – none I could root for. As I’ve written books that suffered from such malaise the one thing I would suggest as a possible cure for Nightflyers is that the writers/producers should have kept the main premise of this story at the heart of the series, returning to it often instead of seeking cheap thrills to hold the viewers attention.

That’s a lesson I plan to never forget and a mistake I hope to not repeat.

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