What makes a good TV show?
That's not a trick question, even though it's mostly subjective. You might be asking why does the review for Debris Season 1 Episode 1 starts with such a question in the first place.
I'll tell you why -- I'm recommending Debris despite its 50% critics Tomomater reading on Rotten Tomatoes, and to some people, that rating matters.
A good TV show can follow a formula or it can be entirely original. It can get quickly to the point or it can slowly reveal its true nature over time. There isn't one answer as to why one show works and another doesn't, so I'll share my reasons for giving Debris two thumbs up.
Fringe is one of my all-time favorite shows, so of course, I wanted to check out J.H. Wyman's new show. He was Fringe's showrunner beginning in the second season, and he had a great impact on the show.
Interestingly, the first season was the weakest, in my opinion, making Debris even more interesting since Wyman is in it from the beginning.
Both series include partners investigating unknown phenomena. While Fringe was scientifically based with its presentation of the unknown in connection to an alternate universe, Debris needs science, too, but it's entirely malleable.
The debris in question is remnants of an alien spacecraft that fell to earth either of its own volition or after discovery. Every piece holds mysterious, life-altering properties that could change the world as we know it for better or worse.
Bryan (Jonathan Tucker) has a snarky streak like many other characters Wyman has written for in the past. He's also got a soft, squishy inside that he's struggling to retain with that wiseass attitude.
Initially, he's not overly concerned with the properties the debris holds. His main concern is keeping those properties out of the hands of the bad guys.
Finola (Riann Steele) is more invested in what those properties mean to humanity. Finola is an operative from the UK, and her father first discovered the debris. She has big footsteps to follow, and her interest in the debris falls to the humanitarian side.
It fits well in 2021 that Finola thinks the debris's transformative powers are just what the world needs right now.
It's not as simple as pegging Bryan and Finola as the good guys, though, as they are both cogs in a coalition, doing what's requested of them for their respective countries as much as humanity as a whole.
Craig: How is it working out with Finola?
Bryan: Obviously, she's falling in love with me and trying to keep it professional.
Craig: OK, copy that, gorgeous.
Alternatively, Bryan and Finola are told by their superiors to watch their backs and offer only information necessary to a particular case. They are not to trust each other, even as their encounters with the various remnants and life on the road move them closer together.
Bryan is worried that Finola might be too soft for the job, and Finola's boss thinks Bryan might prove too volatile. Establishing their relationship is imperative as the leads, and the first debris case they investigate on the series that holds weight finds the debris creating a situation from grief.
Grief, while very personal, is also universal. This strange debris used the power of someone's emotions to create a living being, and if that's the first case at hand, other, more imaginative cases will surely follow. It also offered insight into Finola and Bryan.
Finola falling victim to the very manipulation she's trying to stop, and Bryan's emotional reaction to a young girl's pain shows that both characters are vulnerable.
They'll be challenged to keep each other at arm's length with cases that, by the very nature of the debris, seem to draw them in.
If I'm reading it right, they'll lean on each other more than their superiors as they work firsthand with the debris and its effects.
Their relationship is essential because everything else about Debris is deliberately vague. But if we can buy into Bryan and Finola and how they work together, it will make the slowly unfolding journey Debris takes us on well worth the investment.
Bryan: You're still working?
Finola: How do you think our reports get done, Bryan?
Bryan: Somebody else does them? [she glares at him] Oh! Well, keep up the good work.
And if you're worried that even the two leads are rather enigmatic, if they bond, their histories will slowly be revealed as their connection grows. Their investment in the debris will carry us along for the ride.
Jonathan Tucker is a captivating actor. At times, his gaze suggests an underlying story waiting to be revealed, whether his eyes are dancing with amusement or fighting back the tears. His performances are nuanced and never frivolous, and he's ensuring that Bryan is someone we want to know.
Riann Steele portrays Finola as a bit on the serious side, filling her with grace and kindness that Bryan mistakes as softness. Steele's performance is strong, and she plays Finola's convictions to her strengths.
Bryan: Is he why you're here? Big shoes to fill.
Finola: I didn't get this job because of my last name.
Bryan: I believe that.
Steele and Tucker have a natural chemistry on screen, and I'm using that as the predictor for the direction I see their characters going as the show progresses.
I've seen concerns in other reviews that it's hard to imagine where Debris could go long-term.
I don't know what kind of path Wyman has plotted, but if every piece of debris manifests differently, and the pieces found so far have recreated a tiny portion of an alien craft, what each piece does as the show continues or what they do when assembled and how that changes their properties could offer many different avenues for the future to follow.
That's not even considering we have the bad guys already using the debris for its powers to transport. It wouldn't surprise me if the future finds Bryan and Finola manipulating debris to help their investigations, as well.
Character-based dramas are my favorite, and if that means a slight retread on where we've gone before (Fringe, The X-Files, etc.), then that's fine with me.
The characters can lead the way, and I'll follow. It may not be fine with you, and it seems that about 50% of those who reviewed the pilot didn't think it was fine at all.
But I trust Wyman. I trusted him with Keen Eddie, Fringe, and Almost Human, and I trust him with Debris. Will you do the same?
Debris has everything I want in a sci-fi drama. There's a creator I trust, a strong cast, well-written characters, and a story that piques the mind intellectually and emotionally.
And who doesn't enjoy a good yarn about a transformative power greater than themselves, whether invited or not, alien or supernatural to present itself and for the mystery to unfold? Nobody, that's who.
Let me know what you thought of the Debris premiere.
Are you interested in seeing more?
Does the cryptic nature of the show turn you off or pull you in?
Please hit the comments and share your thoughts with me!
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.