Tale of the Scape


John Crichton (Ben Browder) and Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black) want their expected baby to live in peace, but they must first survive a galactic war.

Salt Lake City Weekly | October 11, 2004
When the sci-fi media is desperately latching onto TV shows like Lost (new ABC series about plane-crash survivors on a strange island) and Charmed (old WB series about witchy sisters and their fantabulous, boob-accentuating outfits) as their own, you know the genre is in dire straits. What’s next? The paranormal ramifications of Joey? Extrapolations of who would win in a broadsword fight between Aragorn and Conan O’Brien? Taking Enterprise seriously?

The state of science fiction/fantasy programming on television has never been sorrier, but where to place the blame? Inexpensively produced reality shows? Arguably, they can be cranked out faster and cheaper than sci-fi shows—but, c’mon, have you ever seen Mutant X? Costs $750, tops. A dwindling national supply of geeks? As long as Rush continues to tour and field nightly requests for “By-Tor and the Snow Dog,” not likely. A complete lack of anything new to explore in the genre? Yeah, like that’s ever stopped the TV geniuses—if it weren’t for the clever subliminal color-coding, there’s no way in hell you’d be able to tell CSI (green) from CSI: Miami (yellow) from CSI: NY (blue) from CSI: Salt Lake City (white … very, very white).

The broadcast networks and syndication are almost completely out of the sci-fi game; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Futurama and the gang are strictly ghosts in reruns, Star Trek: Enterprise sucks Shatner, and the only reason Stargate SG-1 and Andromeda are putting out new episodes is because cable’s Sci-Fi Channel is producing and paying for ‘em first. The geeks can thank the intergalactic deity of their choice for Sci-Fi, right?

Well, not always: The Sci-Fi Channel is still the go-to network for genre series and movies (yes, even Knight Rider and Frankenfish), but even they’ve succumbed to the magical programming cocaine of reality TV with no-budget time-fillers like Scare Tactics and Last D&D Master Standing, or whatever they’re tossing out this week.

Even worse, Sci-Fi has canceled some excellent scripted series to make way for this crap—most notably Farscape, which got the ax in 2002 after four critically drooled-over seasons and more sci-fi awards than you could shake a flax net at. It was also the channel’s longest-running series and first-ever foray into original programming, ironically. Sci-Fi cited falling viewership and rising production costs as the deciding factors, sending Farscape fans into a Save-Our-Show Internet frenzy. Since those usually have the lifespan of a red-shirted Star Trek away-team member, Farscape looked as good as dead.

Lo and behold, however, the geeks have prevailed: Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars (Sci-Fi; premieres Sunday, Oct. 17), a four-hour two-part miniseries wrapping up the loose ends and possibly setting the stage for a regular-series comeback, exists only because of rabid, grassroots fan efforts. Of course, I was never included on the contact list for SaveFarscape.com’s inventive “Adopt-a-Critic” program targeting the country’s newspapers, but as long as they’re hassling those clowns at the dailies instead of me, cool.

Explaining Farscape’s Byzantine back-story in this space would be impossible, but here’s the thumbnail: Earth astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) is sucked into a wormhole and shot to the other side of the galaxy, where he encounters and eventually teams with various alien life-forms, some of the Muppet-like variety (Farscape is a Jim Henson Co. production, after all), some of the unbelievably-hot-but-with-an-inexplicable-Australian-accent variety (Claudia Black, one of the best tough-sexy sci-fi women ever). Together, they’re a rag-tag crew of rebels fighting for their lives against, seemingly, everyone else in the universe. Classic, by-the-numbers sci-fi plotting, but with enough imaginative twists, character insights and impressive special effects (both CGI and organic) to make it truly unique and inescapable one you’ve gotten hooked.

The Peacekeeper Wars is as good a place as any to jump in; a brief series recap at the beginning provides a Farscape for Dummies crash-course that’s less of a brain-melter than reading through the show’s four-season history at SciFi.com/Farscape (though also recommended). And, if the miniseries does as well as the Scapers expect, it could make that rarified comeback from cancellation. Ah, if only to shut up those who keep whining on about, “Well, if they can bring that horrible Family Guy back …”

Bill Frost can be reached at frost@slweekly.com.

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