YouTube’s New Slow-Burn Space Thriller Origin Is Lost, in SpacePhoto: Left Bank Pictures/YouTube Premium TV Reviews Origin
Days before its official premiere, YouTube Premium’s newest big-budget original series, Mika Watkins’ sci-fi thriller, Origin, had already uploaded 36 videos to its series-specific channel. Thirty-six. This collection includes the trailers—a couple in English, but even more in the foreign languages represented by the series’ handful of international cast members—as well as videos that aren’t exactly trailers, but still have a familiar, promotional feel: Your character teasers, your behind-the-scenes peeks, your glitchy video psych evals and glitzy new planet promo reels that don’t so much whisper at you but shout that you ought to have started keeping track of clues, like, yesterday.
This collection also includes, however, half a dozen videos that would have trouble finding a place in the promotional run-up to a new sci-fi show anywhere outside of YouTube Premium. I’m talking your synergistic (sorry) videos, made in partnership with creators from Origin-adjacent (read: nerdy) channels like Flick Pick, Space Court, Danocracy, Beyond Science, and Emergency Awesome. I’m talking Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I’m talking Tom Felton… in space.
Yes, you read that right. The title of one of the last videos to be uploaded to the Origin channel before its premiere, “Tom Felton journeys to space to present Origin in 360°,” suggests that star Tom Felton accompanies YouTube’s laptop on its vertiginous journey. To space. To premiere the first few minutes of Origin’s first episode. Again: In space.
If you have even passing experience with YouTube videos, you will immediately understand that every word in the video title is a falsehood designed to be so outlandish you can’t help but click. You know that Tom Felton didn’t actually go to space; I know that Tom Felton didn’t actually go to space. And yet…
But of course, Tom Felton didn’t go to space. What he did was record a short intro that pops up on the laptop screen to introduce the episode preview before the video starts—which it does not in space, but superimposed on the laptop’s blank computer screen after the fact. And if we want to be real technical, the laptop never even makes it to space-space, but rather just the stratosphere. Oh, and because I’m feeling super honest, I’ll go ahead and burst this bubble, too: Felton, despite being the face of the greatest portion of Origin’s promotional push here in the U.S., isn’t really the series’ star—he’s more like the fourth or fifth lead in an ensemble of (at least) ten.
This has probably seemed like a lot of talk about parts of a show that aren’t really the show for what is ostensibly a review, but the fact of the matter is, Origin is a slow-burning, longform sci-fi mystery in the direct (as in, they share a producer) tradition of Lost, so it is next to impossible to consider it critically based on the two episodes made available for review. Sure, the design of the spaceship the strangers are stranded on is both slick and cohesive, the acting compelling across the board, and the premise—that there might be a habitable planet a mere five light years away from this one, where anyone whose life is more broken than not might be able to escape to start over—almost offensively appealing. (#LeaveEarth TELL ME MORE.) The shout-out-loud horror of the monstrous reveal at the end of the first episode is equally noteworthy—the restraint with which the monstrousness is shown, first as discrete parts in extreme close-up, then as grotesque abstractions at a distance, heightens the extraterrestrial terror in a truly terrible way. But were I to judge the series on the merits of the first two episodes alone, all I could safely say is that Origin knows the strand a group of attractive strangers with dark pasts in mysterious and violent isolation formula by heart, and looks good duplicating it exactly.
And I mean exactly: The ten strangers (including Felton) who get jettisoned from their cryopods on Origin after everyone else aboard has mysteriously abandoned ship (but before having reached humanity’s corporate-owned new home), they are the 14 strangers who crawled out of their crashed plane’s wreckage on the island on Lost—down, even, to the one from Asia with mob ties and a backstory that plays out in another language (here, Japanese, with newcomer Sen Mitsuji playing a former Yakuza hotshot named Shun), and the one who’s an elite bodyguard by training but whose personal failings on a second-chance job got someone killed (here, Harry Potter’s Natalia Tena playing a former Senatorial bodyguard named Lana). The monsters the stranded passengers face, meanwhile—other than each other, of course—seem to be of a possessive alien type not unlike those recently seen on The Expanse, Killjoys, and Dark Matter. And the desolation of their situation as the only humans left alive (or at least, in contact) in the vastness of deep space? That’s basically a carbon copy of the premise behind Battlestar Galactica, Passengers, and, obviously, the actual Lost in Space. Origin hits all the right notes, but until it can get a chance to turn them into a new song, all that can be said of it is that it is a compelling mimic.
As another entry in YouTube’s slow climb to being a unique home for high-quality streaming television, though, Origin is taking what Impulse already started to do earlier this year and is using its more mainstream-ready muscle to set that very YouTube-specific bar even more firmly in place—and that alone makes it a joint worth watching.
Origin premieres today on YouTube Premium.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic whose writing has appeared on Forever Young Adult, Screener, and Birth.Movies.Death. She’ll go ten rounds fighting for teens and intelligently executed genre fare to be taken seriously by pop culture. She can be found @AlexisKG.