I enjoy small stories. I like watching intimate, art house films or reading literary fiction in which characters do nothing more than learn a little about themselves, grow in surprising ways, overcome their own inner demons. These tales connect with us because our lives are filled with these kind of stuggles.
But I love epics. I care more when the central conflict of a story is life-and-death, good-and-evil writ large. A director from Argentina I met recently told me he hated movies about “rich people’s problems.” I’m a little less particular—everybody’s got legitimate problems in this world—but I can appreciate his point. Stories with real obstacles capture my imagination best.
Epic stories awaken thoughts of greater purpose and meaning than we typically face. That hunger for justice which most of us in places like the U.S. take for granted is primal, even theological. Movies like he original Star Wars trilogy, Braveheart and Avatar are epic stories that briefly draw us into completely foreign environments for a couple of hours. But the recent Battlestar Galactica series pulled off a commendable feat by combining the epic with the mundane. It was science fiction that also connected on a much smaller level as the remnants of humanity explored what it means to be a father, son, wife and friend.
Now the BBC has launched its own epic series, Survivors, debuting on BBC America this Saturday, Feb. 13 at 8 pm ET/PT. A virus has wiped out 99% of the population worldwide, and the story follows an unlikely group of survivors around the City of Manchester, England. I’ve watched the first six episodes, and, like Battlestar, it’s excelled at making an epic story about the survival of humanity feel personal and familiar. Led by Abby Grant (Julie Graham, a British TV star who coincidentally looks like Lauren Graham’s older sister), the small gang struggles not only to survive, but to figure out and fight for their own version of a post-apocalyptic future.
With all vestiges of civilization gone, the show is a fascinating portrait of those hanging on to its better parts and those letting their more base instincts run wild. But even among those trying to do what’s right, there are major disagreements of what that means. For a government official Samantha Willis (Nikki Amuka-Bird), it’s restoring order at all costs. That eternal struggle between freedom and security quickly becomes central to the plot.
Despite its British origin, this is an epic tale that hits close to home.
Josh Jackson is Paste’s editor-in-chief. His TV column appears every Tuesday.