Considering how long it takes George R.R. Martin to finish a book — he’s been toiling on “The Winds of Winter,” the sixth novel in the series that served as the basis for “Game of Thrones,” since at least 2010 — it’s kind of amazing that he has any other completed works to inspire TV shows.
Producers had to go all the way back to a Martin novella released in 1980 for “Nightflyers,” the pitch-black outer-space horror series airing at 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays over the next two weeks on Syfy.
In 2093, astrophysicist Karl D’Branin (Eoin Macken, NBC’s “The Night Shift”) has assembled a team to travel into deep space to attempt first contact with an alien race in a last-ditch effort to save a dying Earth.
Hey, at least there’s still an Earth left to be dying in 2093. At this rate, that’s reason for hope.
As part of D’Branin’s plan, psychiatrist Dr. Agatha Matheson (Gretchen Mol) is brought along to control Thale (Sam Strike), a powerful telepath of a variety known as L-1, who’s easily capable of killing everyone on board The Nightflyer, the colony ship on which the team is hitching a ride.
Risky? Sure. But scientists have been bombarding the aliens for years with every conceivable form of communication to no avail, and Thale has the same energy coming off him as the aliens.
Whatever that means.
Not surprisingly, pretty much everyone aside from D’Branin and Agatha thinks all this is a horrible idea. Even less shockingly, things start going wonky almost as soon as Thale enters the ship. He sees people’s thoughts and can make them think they’re experiencing events that aren’t real. As Agatha explains, concerning one of the injuries Thale inflicts, “It’s a temporary side effect of telepathic energy: minor hemorrhaging in the sclera.” Or, in layman’s terms, bleeding from the eyeballs. You know, move along, nothing to worry about here.
“Nightflyers” is far from the televised sci-fi of the past. There’s no green-skinned mini-skirted aliens a la “Star Trek,” no mass-produced statuesque blondes like “Battlestar Galactica.” Melantha Jhirl (Jodie Turner-Smith) does almost exclusively wear what appear to be yoga pants — and she seduces Lommie (Maya Eshet), the gender-fluid cyber-technician who plugs into the ship’s computer via a neural port in her arm — so there’s that.
The series takes such a sharp turn toward bleak, hard sci-fi, it can be borderline inscrutable.
Take the name of that alien race that everyone involved sort of mumbles. It sounds like they’re saying “Vulcan,” but that can’t possibly be right. Fulcrum? The surf-and-skate brand Volcom? Turns out, it’s Volcryn. (Thanks, Google!)
Aside from the vague notions of contacting whatever a Volcryn is (are?) and the whole saving-the-Earth thing, “Nightflyers” is painfully short on details and, more worrisome, plot. There’s more action and story in the harrowing, graphic and spoiler-filled opening four minutes than in the rest of the first two episodes.
Despite Martin’s name being used to sell “Nightflyers,” the series also suffers from a complete lack of dragons, which is a shame.
Because the only thing more awesome than dragons?
What to watch
— The grind of being a comic begins to take its toll on Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) in the second season of the Emmy darling “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Wednesday, Amazon).
— Motion-capture specialist Andy Serkis directs “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle” (Friday, Netflix), a retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” featuring the voices of Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Benedict Cumberbatch.
— The story of the politically engaged African-American woman from Chicago who was arrested for a traffic violation in a small Texas town and found dead in her cell three days later is told in the documentary “Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland” (10 p.m. Monday, HBO).
— Considering recent events, there’s literally no telling what will happen when camera crews are embedded with officers and special agents along the U.S.-Mexico divide for “Border Live” (9 p.m. Wednesday, Discovery).