What Could Have Been: Earth 2 Season 2

Earth 2 SettlementSo last week I introduced Earth 2 in the Primer, a series about colonizing an alien world with a heavy dose of environmentalism mixed in. Earth 2 had a strong start in the ratings but gradually crashed; the production company, however, wasn’t quite ready to cancel it yet, and decided to investigate the possibility of a retool first. With a change in showrunners, an Earth 2 season 2 continuation was pitched. While it ultimately didn’t get that renewal, we do have the leaked plans for what that second season pitch looked like. Big changes were certainly in store, but were they good ones?

Needless to say, a few spoilers for season 1 follow.

There’s basically just this one document to go by, the aforementioned pitch video which surfaced at an Earth 2 fan convention after the show was canceled. It’s controversial, to say the least, as a lot of the things getting the boot in the retool are things that the show’s fans actually liked about it. The 6 minute video itself doesn’t have any new footage or anything, instead conveying everything about the new plans in the form of voiceover (and some absolutely bizarre “character stat”-type profiles. Ever wonder what Devon’s Passive rating was? Now you can know!).

One of the key things to understand about this video is that it uses a lot of stock footage and music from other movies–the Jurassic Park theme, for example, is very recognizable, and I think there are a few shots from cheesy cyberpunk film Johnny Mnemonic and the wormhole sequence from Stargate (among innumerable others). These are just to give an idea of what they wanted to show, something to compare it to. Think of the stock movie pitch lines like, “Die Hard IN SPACE!” or the classic X-meets-Y, like “Star Wars is the Classical Fantasy meets 1930s sci-fi serials.” Keep that in mind! The images on screen aren’t literally what we’d have seen in Earth 2 season 2; simply an example of what they wanted to aim for.

  • “A Frontier Town on the Final Frontier.” The group’s convoy would’ve finally reached New Pacifica. But weren’t they on the opposite shore of the continent in the final few episodes? Yeah, yeah they were. Guess they did a lot of traveling between seasons. With the New Pacifica settlement up and running fairly quickly, the families left in orbit would’ve been brought down to the surface and the colonization efforts begun anew. This involves a pretty significant shift in the basic elements that made up the show–no more traveling, instead rooted to a single town where the action comes to them. This is still a pretty standard Western format; look no further than Defiance as an example of this approach. New Pacifica would also have been cutoff from all communication with Earth and the rest of the solar system, so even the interference would be gone.
  • The video states that there may be some “strange new lifeforms” rolling through town, both friendly and not, and describes “Warlords” fighting over territory while showing some alien creatures on screen. It’s also possible that these warlords might be referring to the factions seen in “The Boy Who Would be Terrian King,” but they have 15 years to get that conflict set up. I guess the question would be, where are these human warlords coming from? More criminals? Or rogue colonists? I do think that new aliens would’ve been almost inevitable, though.
  • Several of the existing characters would’ve had radical changes to their roles. To wit:
    • Morgan, as I mentioned in the original article, would have died. “A coward to the end,” as the screen says, he would’ve run away from the camp, abandoning Bess, and died… somehow. As much as I disliked his character, though, I feel like this video is almost mean-spirited. He did have some character growth throughout season 1, and if there’s one thing that would be out of character for him it’d be abandoning Bess.
    • …Worse still, it seems like this was almost exclusively to open up Bess for new plotlines about “other-Earthly pleasures,” presumably aiming to give her a lot more romance plots going forward. While I wanted to see Morgan gone, a heroic sacrifice would’ve been a far better cap to his character than, well… this.
    • Alonzo’s “special connection to the planet” would have grown, resulting in his developing extraordinary strength and regaining “his zeal for life”. Adding superpowers to the mix in this otherwise-pretty-realistic series seems like a disaster in the making, honestly. There’s no telling how it would turn out from this little clip, though.
    • Devon is the “visionary,” with an idealistic plan for the future of New Pacifica. It seems like she’d be taking something of a step back as leader, which we’ll hold off on addressing for the moment.
    • Danziger is directly compared to MacGuyver, and it’s stated his “aggressive attitude” would be a problem moving forward. You can see how they’re aiming to reduce the characters’ complexity by flanderizing their most obvious traits into their only traits.
    • Yale would also have been killed off. Why? No idea, he’s not even mentioned except in the context of his replacement.
    • Uly and Tru would’ve taken on a Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer dynamic. How exciting.
    • Julia would get a bunch of fancy tech from the spaceship when the new colonists landed. Yeah, she doesn’t even get character description, just her capacity to introduce new plot devices for Earth 2 season 2.
Earth 2 Season 2 Pitch video

I wasn’t kidding about the Character Sheets…

  • Additionally, with the families landing on the planet and joining the colony, new characters would be all over the place.
    • Isaiah Ford, the new commander to take the reins away from Devon. Never mind that the female leadership was such a selling point last season… He’s a former captain with a dark past who’s forced to step up into a sheriff-like role when his experience is discovered. Sound like anyone we know? Yes, he’s basically a 90’s version of Nolan, and it seems likely that his relationship with Devon would have mirrored that between Amanda and Nolan. And to further that comparison….
    • A “Teenage Cyborg” to replace Yale, with whom Isaiah would develop a fatherly relationship. Robo-Irisa! To top it off, he’s a “mostly-reformed juvenile delinquent,” because apparently the only reason anyone would become a cyborg is if they’re forcibly transformed as punishment. They don’t even have a name for this character.
    • The introduction of a permanent on-site Grendler ally. They give him shelter and gain his loyalty, where he eventually becomes “indispensable.” It’s pretty god damn hard to imagine how that could ever be, especially since they couldn’t even communicate with the Grendlers before. I can only see this going horrifically wrong.
  • “Gone are continuing story arcs and esoteric concepts,” the video proudly proclaims. Sitting comfortably in our future year of 2015, we know this is exactly the opposite direction that television is going to take and it would’ve represented a massive step backwards for storytelling on the show. Part of the problem with season 1 is that a number of episodes are out of order, resulting in things like Morgan’s VR gear being traded off, then he has it for several episodes, then he complains about not having it for a few. So the story arcs weren’t coming across properly as a result of this disrespect for the writing at the network level, not because of any inherent failings to it. The “esoteric concepts” bit is probably referring to the Gaia Hypothesis (interesting to note that the Terrians are not mentioned at all), which is far too ingrained in the show to have just been abandoned.
Earth 2 Season 2 Pitch

Oh, just what the show needed! More annoying kids!

As you can see there’s a distinct move against complexity, both in terms of character and storytelling methods, and a preference for tried-and-true cliche character archetypes over trying to develop something unique and interesting. It’s not hard to see why fans of the series as it was would’ve disapproved of that. This is one of those cases where the retool is so drastically different from what came before that it makes you wonder why the production company even wanted to try to salvage the show at all. They clearly had no faith in the original idea any longer; why not just replace it with something new, instead of ruining it altogether? I don’t know.

Don’t get me wrong; retools aren’t inherently bad. Defiance‘s retool in season 2 saved it from the mess it was in its first season by changing the focus to the more interesting characters and avoiding so much conflict within the cast, and the radical change between pre- and post-Winter Soldier versions of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. led to the rise of one of the best shows currently on TV. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles moved away from high school drama into more sci-fi pursuits after its first season ended. But what all these shows have in common in their retools is that they moved towards more complex storytelling, not away from it. The characters gained depth instead of becoming shallow reflections of their former selves. What came before was not forgotten, but instead taken into new and unexpected directions, rather than trotting out yet another Monster-of-the-Week. I think this is one case where we can all be glad that new season never materialized.

If you want to watch the pitch video for Earth 2 season 2 yourself, you can here. It’s extremely low quality, but eh, what can you do? Smuggled footage from 90’s studio internal documents tends to be that way.


That’s it for this month’s What Could Have Been. Would you have been okay with Earth 2 season 2 moving in this direction? Or do you prefer leaving it as is? Perhaps there any other shows with lost seasons you’d like me to research? Leave a message in the comments, or send a tweet to @RetroPhaseShift. If you enjoy these and want to know when the next one’s out, you can also subscribe to the “What Could Have Been” RSS Feed here.

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  1. I wasn’t aware of this at all, thank you for covering it. Two primary things stick out to me:

    1) If the retooling team was aware of the continually lowering ratings and probability of cancellation, why does their season two idea sound like it would actually be much more expensive than season one was? Shouldn’t they have come up with a concept that would save the network money instead, to increase the chances of it being tried?

    2) I don’t know what’s better — the changes they came up with and they way they presented them, or the way you presented them and your comments haha. My favorite line was “Yeah, she doesn’t even get character description, just her capacity to introduce new plot devices.” I like the way you think \ see right through it.

    Anyway, I have to agree with every Defiance similarity you found. Is there anyone behind the scenes that was involved with both shows or is that just a coincidence? Maybe we just have Defiance on the brain from all the recent analysis.

    Keep up the good work,
    Dan

    PS: To answer your question I would love some details on what would’ve happened in the next season of Lois & Clark, if you consider that sci-fi enough. I tried to research it on my own after watching the entire series and ending on that cliffhanger. I did find some info via various quotes but maybe you have access to more details. Thanks again

    • To address those points:

      1. The retool is clearly designed to turn this from an arc-based drama into an hour-long episodic action series. Action is generally more expensive, yes, but if Universal TV believed it would bring in more viewers that way while keeping some value in the episodes that they’d already produced, they might have been willing to bite. Keep in mind, this is during the time when the 100 episode Syndication mark was still seen as the time to cash-in, so having 22 episodes in the bank already could have been promising. It’s also possible that the expense you point out is why they ended up passing on it.

      2. Similarities to Defiance are probably coincidental. The original writers weren’t very involved in this and to my knowledge it’s never been revealed who put it together, so I can’t say for sure. However, these are pretty standard western tropes–Stranger comes to town, gets wrapped up in the situation and invested in defending it. Everyone sees him as a hero, but his dark past (typically fighting in the civil war, or western expansion conflicts) keeps him from being able to see himself as such. A native/”other” companion, Tonto-style, is also very common. Having them both be younger and familial is a bit odd but not unheard of…

      Gotta admit I’d never thought of Lois & Clark. I’ll look into it and see if it’s a good fit, or if it’s even possible.