The biggest obstacle to the enjoyment of Syfy’s adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s alien invasion classic, “Childhood’s End,” may be the original. So many stories that followed cribbed from its playbook that when enormous alien ships begin hovering over big cities around the globe, it’s hard to shake the visuals of everything that followed in “Childhood’s” wake. (See: “Independence Day,” “V,” et al.)
The next issue is the curious lack of urgency. The six-hour adaptation, set to air in two-hour chunks Monday through Wednesday at 8 p.m., begins at some point in a dystopian future but immediately flashes back to 2016, with the arrival of the bafflingly friendly but unseen visitors — here dubbed “the Overlords” by a hotheaded New York tabloid editor in one of the funnier deviations from the book, and there are several. Apparently as early as next year, humans have become so jaded that when aliens plant their flag most people don’t seem too bothered about it. Maybe everybody read the book and knows it doesn’t end well?
A few times in the first installment when somebody asks a question about why something is happening, someone else shrugs and basically says, “Because aliens.” After all, they are healing everyone and solving war and famine, so what’s not to love?
Several story strands are woven together, led by Ricky Stormgren (Mike Vogel, out from “Under the Dome”), the everyman Missouri farmer chosen as their ambassador by the Overlords leader Karellen — ace Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister from “Game of Thrones”) managing to be devilishly droll even as the disembodied voice of a patronizing extraterrestrial. Ricky and the world eventually see the Overlords’ less warm and fuzzy side. Peace and harmony come at a price, remember that dystopia? Clarke’s novel is an ambitious project to film, but even with some strong moments, the ambition outstrips the execution and viewers may not feel compelled to get to the second installment.
Launching directly after “End” is “The Expanse,” which will settle into its regular time slot, Tuesdays at 10 p.m., for its remaining nine episodes.
The space opera is set much further in the future, when Earth, Mars, and a group of workers who colonized the asteroid belt are on the brink of war.
The 23d century may feature a lot more neck tattoos and multilingualism, but familiar storytelling devices are not extinct.
Despite its mash-up feel — including a little “Alien” here, as a work crew investigates a distress call in deep space; and a little “Blade Runner” there, with Thomas Jane as a world-weary detective working a case — “The Expanse” has a few tricks up its sleeve. They include some nifty camera work and a deft cliffhanger that make it the more captivating of the night’s two offerings.
Starring Mike Vogel, Colm Meany, Charles Dance, Yael Stone, Julian McMahon. On Syfy, Monday at 8 p.m.
Starring Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper. On Syfy, Monday at 10 p.m.