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'Defying Gravity' on ABC is hard to praise

From executive producers James Parriott and Michael Edelstein

From executive producers James Parriott and Michael Edelstein comes "Defying Gravity," a sexy, provocative space thriller set in the very near future against the background of our solar system, in which eight astronauts from five countries (four women and four men) undertake a mysterious six-year international space mission covering eight billion miles. Credit: ABC

THE SHOW "Defying Gravity"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 9 p.m. on ABC/7

REASON TO WATCH Rare prime-time series set in space, plus chance to catch up with journeymen actors Ron Livingston ("Office Space") and Malik Yoba ("New York Undercover"). But otherwise . . .

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Space! That final frontier! In 2042, the world is about to launch a grand voyage of the solar system that - sort of like a long Royal Caribbean cruise - will visit seven planets in six years. The spaceship Antares sets off with a crew of four women and four men, but there are immediate and mysterious problems. Two of the guys develop heart murmurs, one of 'em goes nuts, and Mission Control decides to send up two replacements from Earth.

Cue to Maddux Donner (Livingston). He's an ornery but deeply ethical astronaut, who in an earlier mission was forced to ditch two astronauts on the Martian surface. That was in 2032, and 10 years later, the chief of Mission Control, Mike Goss (Andrew Airlie), wants nothing to do with the troublesome Donner, or his buddy and commanding officer, Ted Shaw (Yoba). But what are you gonna do when you need insta-replacements? Send up these two. More back story: Donner got one of the crew members, ship geologist Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris), pregnant back on Earth. She refuses to get an abortion, which in 2042 is illegal. (Onboard the Antares, she hears a baby cry, which may or may not be her version of the Dancing Baby from "Ally McBeal.") As for Donner? He's given to Captain Kirk-like off-camera musings, such as: "When you're an astronaut, you start asking yourself questions like, 'How did I get here? Is it hard work? Fate? The hand of God?' You ask yourself, 'Why am I one of the lucky suckers leaving? . . .' "

BOTTOM LINE And viewers will ask themselves, "Why are we the suckers still watching?" "Defying Gravity" is a glorious, glimmering glop of foolishness - a spitball magnet of the first order that elicits jeers when it wants tears and catcalls when striving for philosophical heft. (And why is someone named "Donner" leading this party into the Great Beyond? Is the crew destined to . . . ? Please, let's not even go there.) Skip this flight.


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