By Mark Pattison | Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Is it possible the God of the universe is also the God of space aliens?
In the scientific realm, the new Mars rover, Perseverance, is looking for signs of life that might have existed dozens of millions of years ago on the Red Planet.
In the science-fiction realm, the new NBC series “Debris,” which debuted March 1, doesn’t exactly ask the question in that manner, but the pilot episode veered closer to the issue than the typical prime-time show.
“If you’ve got any basic understanding of statistics and numbers, it would be pretty wild to think that we’re all here by ourselves,” said series star Jonathan Tucker during a Jan. 26 video chat with television writers.
Tucker, who was born in Boston to an Irish Catholic father and a Jewish mother, has religion in his bloodline. His aunt and uncle, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, co-founded the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, which continues to this day.
They co-wrote a biography of cultural historian Thomas Berry, with whom they worked for 30 years, in 2019, were named his literary executors and the managing trustees of the Thomas Berry Foundation. The Yale Forum also produced an Emmy-winning film, “Journey of the Universe,” which branched out into a book and podcasts.
Mary Evelyn Tucker politely declined an interview request from Catholic News Service. “It is really not helpful for me to say something about the series before it airs as we don’t know the full plot or story,” she said in a Feb. 24 email.
In “Debris,” an alien spaceship has exploded in outer space. For some TV series, that alone would be enough of a jumping-off point to create a series. But small pieces of the spacecraft have landed on Earth, each of which possesses a power or energy unlike that seen before on Earth. This is why the U.S. CIA and the British MI-6 have teamed up retrieve these broken bits. Some bad guys want them, too.
In the pilot, touching a piece can result in a spectacular death. It also can result in an eerie balance between life and death.
“That’s very exciting and scary and dangerous and beautiful and makes us question who we are and who God is or isn’t. That’s a very existential journey to go on,” Tucker said.
He added, “One of the unique parts about the show is that, week to week, a new piece of debris is discovered. And it allows us, as partners and the audience, to discover the capabilities, the unique capabilities, that this debris has to offer, how it affects people, how it affects the world, and ultimately how it affects ourselves and our own relationship and the people who discover it.”
As a result, Tucker said, “you can also have meaningful character development and mythological roll out over the course of at least this first season,” which is expected to air 13 episodes — provided the ratings don’t disintegrate like that spaceship.
Tucker’s character is the skeptic. His MI-6 counterpart, played by Riann Steele, is more likely to believe. Any comparisons to Mulder and Scully on the 1990s sci-fi hit “The X-Files” are strictly unintentional, right?
“I think what we do on the show and what the question ultimately ends up asking is how does that answer reflect on who we are and how we experience our lives on Earth?” Tucker said. “And I think that’s what’s kind of fun in terms of the differences between these two characters, is that varying experience that they have as the debris reveals more and more about who we are kind of as homo sapiens, but also as we are as individuals.”
While it’s not uncommon for a new series to debut in March, networks have tended to offer new shows in the fall and winter prior to spring debuts. But the coronavirus pandemic has thrown all that out the window. That includes the filming protocols.
“The bottom line is, like, everybody is so grateful to be employed and to have a job and to be doing what we love and to pay our rents or our mortgages and cars and tuitions,” Tucker said. “So, the hurdles that we have to jump are really minuscule compared to what so many other people are dealing with.”
“Depictions of violence, a high body count as well as the emotional intensity and otherworldly themes of the narrative also suggest an adult audience,” said CNS guest reviewer Chris Byrd in his appraisal of “Debris.” “However, the show is free of sexual content, nudity or objectionable language. So parents may feel comfortable allowing mature teens to watch it.”
Aesthetically, “the effort to figure out exactly what’s going on and just how various people fit into the unfolding circumstances will keep viewers engaged,” Byrd said. “Add to that the intriguing plot twist with which the kickoff concludes and the potential for ‘Debris’ to rank as above-average entertainment becomes apparent.”