Syfy’s space-opera TV series Vagrant Queen feels simultaneously novel and deeply familiar. The 10-episode first season, based on Magdalene Visaggio’s 2018 Vault Comics series, is set in a distant galaxy, where titular renegade monarch Elida (Adriyan Rae) tries to evade the forces that overthrew her family. As the last member of her royal bloodline, she’s out to survive and retake her throne.
Showrunner Jem Garrard put together a fairly faithful adaptation of the comic, channeling Visaggio’s goofy sense of humor and neon-hued psychedelic visual style. But she’s added plenty of new characters and plots to stretch the content, building on aspects of the world only hinted at in the source material. The series isn’t as memorable as the genre darlings it borrows from, but fans of these works might find something to love in Vagrant Queen’s low-budget, high-octane antics.
It’s kind of like Guardians of the Galaxy
One of Queen Elida’s allies is Isaac (Tim Rozon of Wynonna Earp), an Earth lawyer who’s been stranded in what the show and comic just refer to as “Another galaxy. Not yours.” He’s become a gunslinging scavenger in hopes of earning enough cash for a ride home to his wife and child. But like Guardians’ far-from-home human mercenary Star-Lord, he’s more prone to messing things up than he is to actual heroism.
Elida’s somber, cautious attitude, impressive combat skills, and complicated family makes her feel fairly similar to Guardians co-star Gamora. In an improvement over Guardians, Elida is the center of the story, so the audience doesn’t have to ask why the group’s least competent member gets to play leader. Freed of that responsibility, Isaac is devoted to comic relief, serving as an audience stand-in who can comment on the craziness of the action around him while making relevant pop-culture references. Isaac is faithful to his wife on Earth, so he also isn’t currently engaged in a romance arc, with Elida or anyone else.
Much of Vagrant Queen’s story involves an extremely powerful magical rock, similar to the Infinity Stone at the center of the first Guardians film. The first two episodes even feature a tiny, highly violent dog-man who was invented for the show, seemingly as a nod to Rocket Raccoon. Music doesn’t play nearly as big of a role in the show as it does in Guardians, but a karaoke segment in the second episode is the highlight of the season’s first half.
It’s kind of like Star Wars
Given that Star Wars is the world’s most famous space-opera franchise, it’s no surprise that Vagrant Queen repeatedly references it. The show’s primary villain, Lazaro (Paul du Toit), is a former noble cruising around in a ship that looks suspiciously like a Star Destroyer, complete with goons in full body armor. (Isaac even points out in the first episode how similar to Stormtroopers they are, as two different groups of good guys dress up in the goons’ uniforms for versions of Star Wars’ Wookiee-prisoner gambit. The show is also filled with wretched dens of scum and villainy, weird-looking aliens, and dangerous monsters.
Beyond that, Vagrant Queen also provides a glimpse at what Rey’s plot might have looked like if her connection to Emperor Palpatine was established in The Force Awakens, rather than feeling tacked on in The Rise of Skywalker. Both are stories of tough, loner scavengers living on scraps, even though they’re heirs to a galactic ruler with terrible power. By taking its time with that plot, Vagrant Queen provides the nuance the Star Wars sequels were lacking, as Elida struggles with the burden of expectations, and her reservations about trusting anyone.
It’s kind of like Thor: Ragnarok
Along with being similar to Rey, Elida is also a lot like the version of Valkyrie introduced in Thor: Ragnarok: a fierce, hard-drinking woman running from her past even though it seems inevitable that she’ll eventually reclaim her former glory. While references to Valkyrie being bisexual were cut from the film, Vagrant Queen is overtly queer.
Chipper ship mechanic Amae (Alex McGregor) is introduced while hooking up with another woman in her shop, and she tends to find someone new to flirt with anywhere she goes. But there’s a charming budding romance between her and Elida, who wants to protect Amae from danger, but also shows cracks in her hardened persona whenever they’re together. Garrard uses some classic “will they, won’t they” tropes, like having the two characters pressed up within kissing distance while sneaking around, or having Elida repeatedly try to talk Amae out of following her, because she’s afraid the mechanic will get hurt. Yet those chestnuts still feel refreshing when used to portray a relationship between two highly competent women who are willing to do anything for each other.
It’s kind of like Firefly
Many of those same tropes were in play in the romance plot between Captain Mal Reynolds and high-class Companion Inara in Joss Whedon’s short-lived space-opera show Firefly, though Amae’s sunny attitude and tendency to nerd out about machine parts makes her more reminiscent of that show’s similarly adorkable mechanic, Kaylee. Both shows also cast the crew as underdogs who are perpetually short on cash, and flying around in a ship on the brink of falling apart. Their lack of resources provides an excuse for them to get stuck in ridiculous predicaments, because they need gas or a firmware update.
Vagrant Queen and Firefly both have a metaplot that pits the main characters against a tyrannical government hunting a fugitive. Television has gotten significantly more serialized since Firefly premiered in 2002, so the primary narrative thread is certainly stronger in Vagrant Queen than in Firefly. But Vagrant Queen’s early episodes are filled with zany, action-packed tangents involving low-budget special effects, and ending in gory spectacles filled with neon-colored blood. While Vagrant Queen lacks Firefly’s space-Western vibe, it does still involve a cast of characters who all have their own complicated agendas. They may work together well in a fight, but betrayal is sudden and inevitable.
So do the pieces fit together?
As a scavenger, Elida’s job is to steal things and find buyers for objects that most people will view as trash. Visaggio is pretty much doing the same thing as Vagrant Queen’s showrunner. But both women are keenly aware of the value of what they’re selling, and the audience who wants it. Visaggio and the Vagrant Queen writers seem to be having a great time producing a silly, meta science-fiction comedy designed for audiences waiting for the next Thor or Guardians movie.
Vagrant Queen can’t possibly achieve the visual spectacle of the Marvel films or the Star Wars franchise, but its hilariously bad green screens and recycled costumes add to the low-rent charm in a way reminiscent of early Doctor Who.
There are a lot of bigger, better science-fiction shows in the age of peak TV, but Vagrant Queen’s unpolished earnestness is refreshing and comforting. This isn’t a show about big new ideas, but it still avoids feeling derivative by putting some novel spins on old tropes, and delivering compelling performances from its stars. Vagrant Queen will never join the ranks of science-fiction royalty, but it’s a scrappy show that shouldn’t be ignored.
New episodes of Vagrant Queen air weekly on Syfy on Fridays. The pilot episode is streaming free on YouTube.