Sunday, May 20, 2012

Web Series Review: Pioneer One

Status: One Season Completed Totaling 6 Episodes
Credits: James Rich (Tom Taylor), Alexandra Blatt (Sofie Larson), Jack Haley (Dr. Zachary Walzer), Aleksandr Evtushenko (Yuri), Josh Bernhard (Co-Creator, Writer, Producer), Bracey Smith (Co-Creator, Writer, Producer, Director)
Nominated IAWTV Awards: Best Drama Web Series
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars (Highest Rating)

Synopsis: Pioneer One is a speculative fiction web series that begins when an unidentified spaceship enters Earth’s atmosphere and spreads radiation across hundreds of miles of Montana then crashes in Canada. U.S. officials immediately suspect terrorism and dispatch two Homeland security agents to investigate. They discover that the spaceship is of Russian origin and one person, who survived the crash, was onboard. The investigation reveals that this person, whom they refer to as Yuri, is allegedly the child of two Soviet astronauts sent to Mars on a secretive mission during the 1980’s. He is kept in quarantine as the Homeland Security agents try to get to the bottom of the mysteries surrounding the case, but information has leaked and the Russians demand the return of their citizen and spaceship while the Canadians are clamoring for the quarantine to end.

Review/Commentary: The synopsis above gives just a bare-bones description of the series and sets up its basic premise. The story has unfolded thus far across six episodes that range in length from thirty to forty five minutes and has focused on the investigation run by the two Homeland Security agents as well as the politics and science surrounding the incident. I consider Pioneer One to be a triumph of independent film-making and a clear indication that the web truly offers a new range of options for episodic sci fi productions. The series is quite excellent, a rare piece of thought-provoking story-telling, and it definitely hit a nerve with the sci fi community as the show’s producers turned to them for donations to fund the project and they responded with overwhelming generosity. The production values for the series are excellent considering its budget (I believe the full six episodes cost less than $100 thousand, a fraction of the cost of a single episode of a network or cable production). Of course the series has little in the way of special effects and it was rougher around the edges early on, but it made significant leaps forward with each episode. It can also be quite slow at times, but the same can be said of science fiction classics like The Andromeda Strain, Silent Running, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I can take slow as long as the story keeps my attention, and I believe that Pioneer One delivered a much more satisfying viewing experience than the mediocre sci fi entries the networks have thrown at us of late, such as FOX’s recent mega-dollar misfire Terra Nova.

Productions like Pioneer One and Cell: The Web Series (more on that one at this link) represent the pinnacle of what can be achieved with independent genre web series. Neither sets their ambitions beyond their means and both offer thoughtful, intelligent, challenging tales that engage their audience through their story-telling, not through special effects or gimmicks, while also managing to steer clear of cliché. Both of these also lack the rough edges that we see with many other web productions and both offer a good starting point for viewers new to the web series experience. Pioneer One, like Cell: The Web Series, received notice at this year’s IAWTV Awards, and just like that series ended up getting shut out. It was nominated for Best Drama Web Series and should have received several more in my opinion. It did, though, pull a win in 2010 for Best Drama Pilot at the New York Television Festival.  

Pioneer One and Cell are both must-watch web series for all science fiction fans. If you don’t watch any other independent web productions, make sure that you at least give both of these a look.

Links/More Information: You can download and/or watch all six episodes of Pioneer One a the show’s website. You can also watch the series beginning from Episode 1 at A DVD release of the series is forthcoming, and you can sign up to be notified when it is available at the Pioneer One website.

Visit the Pioneer One website at this link.

Start watching Pioneer One from Episode 1 on YouTube at this link.

Watch the Trailer for Pioneer One Here:

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