“Dominion,” premiering Thursday night, is strictly cheapo-apocalypto, but it’s one of the more interesting efforts from the SyFy network lately, which, despite its hopeful marketing slogan (“Imagine Greater”), keeps churning out shows that are resiliently mediocre — beyond even the B-movie heritage of its namesake genre.
Picking up from the aftermath of a little-noticed 2010 theatrical flick called “Legion,” this new series is an action drama about a world abandoned by God, in which the archangels Gabriel and Michael work out a grudge match on a forsaken Earth. Gabriel has nothing but animus toward the human race; Michael, for his own reasons, has taken pity and helped the remaining humans defeat Gabriel and his vast army of lower angels (a.k.a. “eight-balls”), who are like rapacious beady-eyed zombies with wings.
Twenty-five years after that battle, “Dominion” is set in a fortified city once known as Las Vegas, now called Vega. Here, on what used to be the Strip, a militarized government uses the Bellagio as both capital and palace, while everyone else scrapes by in a caste system. Michael (Tom Wisdom) keeps watch from his bachelor-pad aerie atop the old Stratosphere hotel, as both protector and adviser to the citizens of Vega.
Fed up with the city’s politics, a rebellious young soldier named Alex (Christopher Egan) plans to sneak away with his secret love, Claire (Roxanne McKee), who is the daughter of the grand high muckety-muck ruler of the city. Things get complicated when Alex’s father (Langley Kirkwood), believed long dead, returns to Vega with bad news that Gabriel (Carl Beukes) is amassing a new legion of eight-balls and assassin angels at a lair in the Rocky Mountains.
The people of Vega — some of them anyhow — believe strongly that a messiah-type savior will be delivered unto them and vanquish the monster angels once and for all. It’s hard to imagine that anyone watching “Dominion” won’t figure out right away who that person is, but I’ll refrain from spoiling it anyhow.
I often steer clear of reviewing SyFy’s offerings, not because I don’t like science fiction, but because there’s often so little to say about the shows. There’s usually a mildly intriguing premise followed by a suffocating amount of formulaic plots and dialogue. For fans, there’s a safe space in predictability; it’s mac-n-cheese for every meal. In “Dominion,” I happen to like the whole notion of reclaiming some of the more brutal aspects of angel mythology from the warm fuzziness of cherubs and blessed do-gooders, but soon enough in the first episode, the show becomes a paint-by-numbers exercise.
On that note, I’m always delighted to receive an advance copy of a show in which the painting — in this case the special-effects job — isn’t finished, not only because it makes me laugh when I see the wires or the rudimentary backdrops, but because it’s a good reminder of how hard it is to make seamless, enjoyable entertainment out of technical parts.
This is science-fiction’s greatest legacy — taking us on a journey, but doing it on a bare-bones budget. If you only notice the tricks, then the story fails; SyFy’s shows routinely demonstrate that today’s tricks have gotten too easy, which is why “Dominion” feels like it is unintentionally telling a separate story of a world in which humanity is held captive by quickie CGI.
Who will be the angel to save us from all that?
(90 minutes) premieres Thursday
at 9 p.m. on SyFy.