Syfy’s new show The Expanse features great writing and high production values, and is designed to appeal to the sort of discriminating genre fans who watch Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. TV critic Andrew Liptak notes that while Syfy has produced some great shows like Battlestar Galactica, recent offerings like Sharknado have turned the network into something of a punch line.

“Syfy has gotten beat up over the last several years for airing some crappy shows and really turning their back on the classic space opera stuff,” Liptak says in Episode 180 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “A lot of people really didn’t like that about Syfy, and really thought they were turning their back on their roots.”

Fans of TV space operas have had little to enjoy the past few years, ever since the premature demise of shows like Farscape and Firefly. Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, creators of The Expanse, told interviewer Liz Shannon Miller that studios are leery about the high cost of space opera shows.

“That was literally one of the first things I joked with them about,” says Miller. “And they were like, ‘No, we had that meeting. We had the “does it have to be set in space?” meeting.’”

But Fergus and Ostby were committed to a faithful adaptation of their source material, the Expanse series of novels by James S.A. Corey (a pseudonym used by the writing team of Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham). Reviewer Justin Landon says the show greatly improves on the first book in the series, Leviathan Wakes.

“The things they’ve added earlier than they did in Leviathan Wakes is giving all of the context that to me makes the series richer and more interesting,” he says. “We’re learning more about these characters quicker, and as a result we’re buying into them quicker.”

Liptak and Landon agree that the second and third Expanse books are stronger than the first, so they expect the show will only get better. They think the series signals a great new direction for Syfy.

“From the first couple episodes I have to say I like it more than Battlestar Galactica,” says Liptak. “I think the story is going to be a lot stronger and a lot more focused.”

Listen to our complete interview with Andrew Liptak, Justin Landon, and Liz Shannon Miller in Episode 180 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Andrew Liptak on the origins of Leviathan Wakes:

“[Ty Franck] moved down to New Mexico with his wife, and he fell in with Daniel Abraham, George R. R. Martin, and a bunch of other writers down in that area, and they basically went to him and said, ‘Hey, we hear you do a really good role-playing game. We’d like to play this game that you’ve been doing.’ So he basically introduced them to that, and he started developing more of the story. So that’s when Daniel Abraham said, ‘You’ve got a novel here. Do you mind if I write it?’ So Ty basically told him, ‘Yeah, go ahead.’ Daniel started writing it, and when he handed it over to Ty, Ty said, ‘Nope, this is all wrong. Let me go rewrite it.’ And that’s when they started working together.”

Justin Landon on the intensity of The Expanse:

“The claustrophobic aspect of these books—and the television series—is just tremendous. I’ve never seen another work of fiction that has made me feel as claustrophobic as the Expanse books do. This notion of these tiny little capsules in this great void, that emotion that it captures is tremendous. … I cannot remember the last time a television show made me need to urinate. The tension on the show is really well done. Every show ends with this really great last bit of tension, and you get a little stomach cramp. It’s just really well done, and I can’t remember too much TV that has done that for me, so I’m all in.”

Andrew Liptak on Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby:

“Hawk was actually saying that he wasn’t interested in this at first. Mark had picked up the book and read through it, and said, ‘Hey, this is a project we should work on.’ And Hawk had basically said, ‘No, I’m not interested. It’s going to be people in space doing space things, and that’s not interesting.’ And then Mark convinced him to read it, and he went and read the first book in a day, and basically said, ‘You’ve got to get that meeting! This is not what I thought it was.’ … This is a character story in space, not a space story about technology where the people just happen to be along. At the core of it it’s a personality-driven narrative.”

Andrew Liptak on Syfy’s new strategy:

“They’ve had some leadership changes in the past year or two. I think part of that is they’ve determined, ‘Let’s go back to what the [channel] is really known for.’ Over the past couple of years fantasy and science fiction television has gotten really big. Just look at Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. These are shows that could have been on the Syfy channel, and they could have done really well there, because that’s sort of their wheelhouse, but these other networks which aren’t known for science fiction are taking the risk and reaping some really incredible rewards from it. So I think they saw that they need to take a risk, they need to go back to something that people are really asking for, which is space. So they’ve started really focusing on that.”

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The Expanse Is the New Battlestar Galactica