The new Netflix series, Nightflyers, an adaption of George R.R. Martin’s novella by the same name, is not worth its cost in time. If the series offered some of the elements that we know Martin to be good at, such as world and character building, the story would have a certain credibility, however it is generally outdated.
The novella was originally written in 1980, and it is difficult to ignore that fact when watching the series. Its premise is laughably cliché: set in 2093, a team of scientists set out for outer space on a journey in search of alien life. Some of its dialogue seems too familiar to be taken seriously: the daughter giving her father a bracelet as a token to remember her by, the veteran scientist reassuring the newbie about the trip they are embarking on, etc.
However, it is hard to blame Martin for following writing trends. In its own time, some of the interactions we’d consider cliché today, might not have been interpreted quite the same way in 1980.
Yet, the series is also outdated in ways that it had no need to be, such as in the way that Jeff Buhler (responsible for adapting the novella for the screen) decided to fill the series with nods to different cult movies, such as The Exorcist, The Shining, or Alien. While references to works by other writers can be interesting at times, there does not seem to be any justification for referencing them in this case, beyond Buhler’s apparent admiration for them. Referencing other works for the sake of referencing them seems to distract from the focus of the series.
Even those elements which are not outdated – the way it was filmed, or the actors’ performances – are not very exciting. They are good, but without being worthy of notice. Maya Eshet and Sam Strike are the most excitement that the viewer is presented with.
The only redeeming grace is the exclusivity clause in Martin’s contract with HBO – he was not allowed to take an active role in the writing of the screenplay, as he is used to doing for Game of Thrones. One can only hope that it gives him more time to write the last book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series.
Overall, a caveat should be issued to prospective viewers: just because Game of Thrones was brilliant in most ways possible, that does not mean that a series by the same author is made of the same calibre. Nightflyers remains, at best, a series to watch when one is bored, or when the weather is particularly poor.