How Being Saved By Amazon Has Changed The Expanse

It’s been a long wait, but The Expanse Season 4’s release date is quickly approaching. The show will return December 13, but it won’t air on Syfy, as the first three seasons did. Syfy canceled The Expanse in early 2018, and it wasn’t long before Amazon scooped it up–fulfilling fans’ mission to #SaveTheExpanse, and in deliciously dramatic fashion.

So when The Expanse Season 4 premieres, it will do so on Amazon’s streaming service, dropping all at once instead of airing week to week, totally freed from the constraints of old-fashioned broadcast television. There are those who believe this is where The Expanse really belongs–a belief shared by the show’s cast and creators, as GameSpot found out on a recent visit to the show’s set in Toronto, Canada.

“When we got canceled, it was devastating,” Steven Strait, who plays James Holden, Captain of the Rocinante, told a small group of reporters. “This is a group of people that, from the crew to the cast to the writers, had been giving everything to this show for four years at that point. We still, for the most part, have the same crew from the first season. And the prospect of not being able to finish the story with this group of people was terrible.”

Strait said that despite their contracts being terminated, the entire cast and crew waited with bated breath to see how events would shake out. He recalled the exact moment when the cast found out the show had been saved, when Amazon head Jeff Bezos himself made the surprise announcement during a ceremony at the 2018 National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles. Several Expanse cast members were there for a discussion about the show’s realistic portrayal of space exploration–an engagement that had been booked long before the cancellation.

“We’re in this room full of Nobel prize laureates and wildly intelligent people. It felt kind of silly that we were there talking about science to them,” Strait remembered. “Jeff Bezos gets up to get his award and before they start his talk, which is on kind of private space entrepreneurship, he’s like, ‘Do you guys know The Expanse?’ to the audience. And the whole place goes quiet, and we’re looking at each other like, ‘What is going on here?’ And he was like, ‘I just got a call five minutes ago, and we were able to save the show.'”

“We were just dumbstruck,” Strait said.

In addition to Strait, we chatted with most of the show’s main cast, as well as its showrunner, a producer, one of the series’ main directors, and one of the co-authors of the books on which the show is based. All agreed on one thing: The Expanse is better off with Amazon.

“Amazon is the perfect place for the show,” said Cas Anvar, who plays Alex, the Rocinante’s pilot. “It always should’ve been on a streaming network. The nature of the show, it’s not a commercial break show. It’s a bingeing show, and it’s complicated, and it’s layered.”

“I think a big thing is the PR and promotion,” he continued. “Like, the Amazon team is amazing. Cindy [Tang, Senior Social Marketing Manager at Amazon] and Morgan [Ressa, Amazon Studios Publicity Lead] and that whole 25, 30-person team, they’re so behind it, they’re so enthusiastic, they’re so inspiring, and it makes us feel amazing.”

“They share our thing that we’ve had the whole time,” added Dominique Tipper, who plays Naomi Nagata. “They’re excited about it too.”

Free At Last

The Expanse is based on the book series of the same name, beginning with 2011’s Leviathan Wakes. The books are credited to author James S. A. Corey, a joint pseudonym for the writing team composed of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Franck was on hand during our set visit, and he, too, is happy about the show’s new home (the authors are heavily involved with the show, practically omnipresent in the show’s writers’ room, which is unusual for a long-running adaptation). However, Franck’s favorite thing about being on Amazon is something he thinks many viewers won’t consciously notice.

“If you’re on broadcast TV, you deliver a 42-and-a-half-minute episode no matter what,” Franck explained. “And so if you’ve got a fantastic 45-minute episode, you’re looking for two and a half minutes to cut. Whereas with Amazon, they don’t care. As long as it’s over a certain amount and under, like, a million [minutes], you can kind of do whatever you want. We have one 48-minute episode [in Season 4]. It was a great 48 minutes. It would have sucked to cut six minutes out of it for broadcast, and we didn’t have to. That was great.”

When it comes down to it, though, The Expanse was always going to be “the same show, in that no matter where we were, this is the Season 4 we were going to do,” Franck said. “The stories we’re telling are the same stories [we were always going to tell], and Amazon has been fine with that. They liked the show they were buying, so they wanted us to keep making that show.”

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“It’s a very natural fit for this show,” Strait admitted. “I think the streaming platform serves this kind of story better, only because it’s meticulously well-plotted, and [audiences can] take in larger chunks of information at any given time. I think it helps with the movement of the story as opposed to waiting week-to-week.”

Strait credits the show’s salvation to the wide-reaching fan campaign, which included crowdfunded stunts like hiring a plane that flew around Amazon’s headquarters, launching a model of the Rocinante into space, and flooding Amazon executives’ offices with branded coffee.

“It was just so amazing and gratifying,” he said. “I think as an actor, the greatest thing you can ever feel is the passion that you have for a project reflected back at you. And we felt that across the board from our fans, obviously, but also with Amazon. They’ve been incredibly supportive to us.”

Burn Gorman, who’s playing a new character introduced in Season 4 (though book readers will know Murtry well), said he noticed a big difference in the show’s visibility after Amazon picked the show up. “I live most of the time in the UK at the moment. It was funny, with Syfy, you really had to kind of search for it, strangely. Whereas now, obviously, everything’s opened right up,” he said. “It has this great feeling of excitement and momentum, that it was like, ‘No, come on, let’s not only save the show, but continue it.’ It felt very nice to be joining something with a sense of momentum and a really interested, involved, intelligent fan base.”

That’s not just flattery, either. Rarely has a canceled show prompted such an enthusiastic and high-profile response from fans. Once The Expanse was saved, that response energized the cast in turn.

“Usually if you’re on a show and you’re in your fourth season, you feel kind of–you know your character, you’re in your place, you know this,” said Wes Chatham, who plays the Rocinante’s occasionally psychotic muscle, Amos. “But [in Season 4] I felt the excitement and enthusiasm that you would for a brand new job, or a brand new show or something like that. There was this–just a feeling of gratitude, and we know how lucky we are, because we all love this show. We all believe in what this show could be.”

Something Important

Jeff Woolnough directed six episodes throughout The Expanse’s first three seasons, and he returned to direct more in Season 4 and beyond. “We’re about to blow up,” he told reporters during the set visit. “I think Amazon is about to take us much, much wider, and that kind of passion is going to leak into the audiences that aren’t necessarily sci-fi people, but they’re going to realize that this show is so much more. This show is reality-based to me. This show to me is a blue collar sci-fi show.

“I mean, I always think of it as more Alien than Star Wars. You feel like this is what it’s going to be like to live in the future, to live on these ships, and to be out there in the belt mining ice. There’s a veracity to this show that most sci-fi shows don’t have, and I really just think it’s a matter of reaching those people now, as opposed to being on Syfy channel, which really only catered to its audience. Syfy channel has its viewers, and [Syfy] didn’t really try to take us wide. But Amazon’s going to take us wide and we’re going to reach a whole new audience.”

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“I feel like we’ve moved into an era where the show is getting the respect and attention it deserves,” Tipper, who plays Naomi, agreed. “I think The Expanse has always been the show it is, but it’s not been supported in the way that it is now…I think the show is really important. I think as an actor, when you feel like you’re making something important, you want it to be seen. If you’re not, you don’t. You’re like, ‘I’ll take that check,’ and hopefully, no one will see it. But with this, with The Expanse, I so want another little mixed-race girl to see it and be sitting in her council flat in East London and be like, ‘Oh my God, she’s from where I’m from!'”

“I just want people to see this show,” she continued. “We feel very strongly about the show. We always have. We feel like we’re making something that’s important, and timely, and worth being seen. And now it is actually going to be.”

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Shohreh Aghdashloo, who plays the fabulously ruthless Earth politician Chrisjen Avasarala, said The Expanse’s resurrection was powerfully emotional for her, especially because of exactly where the show wound up.

“When we moved to Amazon, I called my brother [in London], and I said, ‘Hey, you and I are going to watch it at the same time. I don’t have to tape it and send it to you anymore.’ And he couldn’t believe it,” Aghdashloo said. “The two of us are going to watch it together. I will be in LA, you will be in London, but distances won’t make any differences anymore–with my mother in Iran, we’re all going to watch it together. And that makes me feel universal. For the first time in my life, I feel universal. I’m so happy that we are all over the world now.”

Plus, her famously foul-mouthed character can drop all the f-bombs she wants on Amazon. “At the end of the year, [Syfy] would take us to a sound studio, and have us clean all the f***s or the curse words,” the actress recalled. “Thank god we don’t have to sanitize them anymore. We’re all grownups here!”

Damn straight. The Expanse Season 4 arrives on Amazon Prime December 13.