Oasis is a show that asks questions. It asks questions about life, exploration, religion, and so on. But so far the only answer it has offered is to the question, “What if Bio-Dome was a serious drama about faith”?
Oasis is set in the future of 2032, where Earth has gone to hell. Peter Leigh (Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden) is a priest running a struggling ministry in London. Peter is mysteriously offered a chance to go to a new planet settlement, Oasis, by its founder, David Morgan. Peter arrives on Oasis and quickly finds the settlement is far from ideal, and that the planet has more in store for Peter.
The pilot script was written by Matt Charman, who was nominated for an Academy Award for writing Bridge of Spies. The series is based on the 2014 novel The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, who is involved creatively with the show.
Oasis’s main struggle is that it has an intriguing premise at the beginning and an intriguing cliffhanger at the end, with little to hold interest in between. The middle of the way too long 59-minute pilot feels like you are trapped on Oasis with the characters, which would be a fine narrative tool if the planet wasn’t a bleak hell hole.
The cast is realistically globally diverse and gives good performances, however no one really elevates the material. The only standouts amongst the actors are those you would already recognize from other projects, such as Haley Joel Osment and Mark Addy.
None of the cast get much of a chance to do anything outside of Madden’s Peter. Peter and Madden are decent leads for the series but both have their issues. Madden is one of those men who are so good looking you have a difficult time believing they have any job other than sitting around and being handsome, let alone become a priest. His performance is serviceable but as time goes on he becomes more believable and if given more time he could be very good.
Peter is a vague character at this point, with a mysterious (i.e. predictable) past. His two most important relationships in the pilot (David Morgan and his wife Bea) are vaguely defined and you have no clue what his motivations are.
Oasis is one of the more ambitious shows in Amazon’s pilot preview. The pilot was directed by The Last King of Scotland’s Kevin Macdonald, who recently adapted the Stephen King novel 11/22/63 into the Hulu series 11.22.63. Macdonald makes good use of the show’s budget and the pilot is gorgeously shot and filmed. Macdonald still indulges in some cheesy moments, such as Peter’s memories of his wife, which look like they were guest-directed by Terence Malick. The pilot also has some flat out bizarre moments, like an interpretive water dance set to a Depeche Mode song.
Oasis doesn’t really stretch itself beyond typical science-fiction cliches. There is some good world building for both Earth and Oasis but it all quickly becomes predictable for the genre, with the crew experiencing nightmares and hallucinations and claiming that something is wrong with the planet. This is a shame since Oasis’ premise offers a lot of opportunity for exploring faith and what it means in a dying world.
The role of religion in a sci-fi show is always an interesting narrative choice, for example Lost’s conflict between “Man of Science” Jack and “Man of Faith” Locke. But Oasis gets too invested in its potential spirituality by the middle of the first episode, something that Lost took its time building up over seasons.
In the end, a show that puts effort in itself is always worth some praise and it made me interested in reading the book. If it manages to make it to series, I would not mind watching more. But as it is, it feels like unfulfilled potential.