This was a blog i was reading about The Best Sci-Fi Show Ever from a guy i know on a games forum...... just thought that i would spread it around, its a real good read if you are into the sci-fi genre.......
The Best Sci-Fi Show Ever
In the late nineties western sci-fi had funneled itself firmly into a rut. While Japan was coming out with fantastic shows like Cowboy Bebop and Neon Genesis Evangelion, if you weren’t in on the anime scene and you enjoyed watching sci-fi television chances are you watched Star Trek, or Star Trek, or a different kind of Star Trek, or maybe Stargate
. Nothing was profoundly wrong with these shows, but they were incredibly derivative - safe - and to a lot of us…well, dull. They lacked some real characters of substance and interest, and they were filled with the dry dialogue. That wasn’t the point of them and I was actually a big fan of Enterprise and Stargate, Star Trek was never about witty characters and such, it was about the many decisions and predicaments faced by their crews, along with the deeper science fiction themes they explored - but it did leave something to be desired for many of us, a void.
Then Farscape came out.
Farscape quickly became a phenomenon for those lucky enough to come across the show and it soon grew to become one of the most acclaimed cult hits in existence
, many critics called it one of the best sci-fi shows ever, amongst other notable labels. No longer were we on board the most powerful ship in the known universe journeying with the best pilots, soldiers, scientists and the likes offered by earth, no longer were we stuck with pragmatic, loyal, almost chivalric servants to the human race, battling for what’s right and true, Farscape was something else. It was fresh, edgy (yeah, I just called a sci-fi edgy), fun, innovative, and so much more.
The show throws you right into the crux of the plot when the protagonist, John Crichton, an American from our time, is thrown into a wormhole during a shuttle experiment gone awry, coming out on what seems to be the other end of the galaxy. Right away a fighter crashes into him, is consequently destroyed, and he’s soon pulled in by a giant Leviathan, a living ship named Moya. Still sound typical? Okay, I’ll keep going. Turns out this crew isn’t really a “crew” like you’d expect, it’s a group of aliens who have just recently managed to escape imprisonment from the Peacekeepers, a meritocracy governed by a variant of humanity known as the Sebaceans (which was a good move, allowing them to cut down on costume costs and create antagonists that can feel more human than any “real” alien) dedicated to maintaining stability in the galaxy and no shit, keeping the peace, even if their morality is rather…flexible. John quickly gets embroiled in their conflict after he finds that ship which was destroyed upon his arrival was piloted by the brother of a high commanding general in the Peacekeeper armada. And that giant ship, for all its size and beauty it has one massive flaw - it’s defenseless. Meanwhile an enemy Peacekeeper is soon brought aboard as a prisoner and outlawed by her kind merely for being in contact with John, an unknown alien life-form to the Peacekeepers, who they deem to be “irreversibly contaminated” which in effect makes Aeryn Sun (the Peacekeeper) fall under the same “ailment”.
My name is John Crichton, an astronaut. A radiation wave hit and I got shot through a wormhole. Now I'm lost in some distant part of the universe on a ship, a living ship, full of strange alien life forms. Help me. Listen, please. Is there anybody out there who can hear me? I'm being hunted by an insane military commander. Doing everything I can. I'm just looking for a way home.
So begins one of the greatest adventures of all time.
The premise itself provides for a number of stark differences between Farscape and many other sci-fi shows you should be accustomed to. Using a character from contemporary times allows us to connect to him in a way unlike any other sci-fi show out there. We can understand the way he might feel in this situation because we can relate to a guy who acts, feels, talks and is the way many of us are, we can become engrossed in his story as if we were there ourselves, we can impose ourselves into the show and see things from his perspective like few sci-fi’s can. Sure, Captain James T. Kirk is awesome, but he’s not of our time, we don’t understand him in the way we understand our own people from our own era from our own world. Crichton says it himself, “I am not Kirk, Spock, Luke, Buck, Flash or Arthur fucking Dent. I'm Dorothy Gale from Kansas.”
(okay, kind of..) The implementation of a modern day protagonist in a far off place of the galaxy, as opposed to a protagonist of the future, in the future, creates a story that can be much more engrossing and real. His bemused attitude and ignorant outlook on the world he finds himself in works as our voice, and he's constantly informed of the races, the technology and everything we wouldn’t know about this far end of the galaxy as he’s gradually brought up to speed throughout the show. All of which is incredibly well done with a diverse group of intriguing races suitably given their own unique history, technologies, customs, politics, etc. creating a setting that has substance and a feeling of authenticity.
Best thing is they use his contrasts to the rest of the characters, people who have grown up in this world to create immensely entertaining bandy, they’re just as baffled by him as he is by them and their world, and they gradually grow to become accustomed to one another in the way you’d expect. Most of all John Crichton is an eclectic, intelligent, charismatic person with a deep passion for film, television and much more which allows for plenty of hilarious pop-culture references that have since become a staple for the show. They use these references, along with the idioms we unconsciously use daily to make incredibly funny dialogue at times, and eventually Crichton’s habits catch on and the other characters start using this style of language – often poorly, and to side-splitting effect (take Aeryn's reference to a “woody” at one point, which is much funnier than it may seem). It’s not overly abundant and this isn’t a comedy, but it instills Farscape with unmatched personality that feels unique to the show. Nothing beats a Yosemite Sam reference in front of a foreboding enemy.
Crichton acts as the anchor for the show, all the characters predominantly play off him to create the engrossing premise and witty dialogue, the main plot arch is focused on him, and most of the ideas conjured up by the crew start out with his creative thinking - he’s the epicenter of the story. If you don’t like John Crichton the show just doesn’t work. Luckily he really is that “All-American” sarcastic, flippant, yet intellectual kind of guy we know and love, and he’s portrayed in a way that will make for few people who don’t enjoy his character.
But he’s not the shows only draw card, all
the characters are fantastic and it creates the best cast on television, or at least sci-fi television. Forget Cowboy Bebop and Battlestar Galactica - no disrespect, fucking great shows, Farscape just blows them away. As mentioned before the show did a lot to deviate from common tropes of the genre, and one of the prime reasons for that was the characters. They weren’t the stoic images of honor and virtue like those we had become accustomed to with characters such as John-Luke Bacard and the likes, the main cast was instead wrought with deeply flawed people ranging from the charismatic, conniving, volatile, vindictive, to the flat our deranged even (and I bloody mean it), and a combination of many other qualities that made for the most quarrelsome crew with the most unstable dynamic between one another you could ever imagine. As you know these were criminals being hunted, there was no captain for everyone to look up to, someone to make the hard decisions and who could be trusted to do what was necessary for the greater good; these people had nothing to rely on but each other - without direction, guidance, protocol to follow or leadership to create stability amongst themselves, these were convicts estranged from civilized society on the run for their lives. Like the best casts Farscape’s characters are diverse, with a deeply laid backstory, believable, humane (even for aliens), likable (and repulsive) traits that make for an endearing tale. Ka D'Argo is a former soldier - honorable and staunch - yet a Luxan, a race notorious for being choleric, fervent, curt, and incredibly violent. Dominar Rygel the sixteenth was a leader of a huge empire that controlled billions of subjects before he was dethroned, and he acts like it too - he’s arrogant, selfish, pompous, avarice, entirely self serving and wouldn’t flinch for a second if he was offered the chance to trade his “friends” lives for his own freedom (and often tries!). Yet he manages to be one of the highlights of the show due
to all those flaws, rather than in spite of them, and he remains useful to the crew through his tiny stature, high intelligence, persuasive articulation, deep political knowledge and deft charm brought about by his royal upbringing. Their personalities are masterfully portrayed and deeply drawn making it so easy for me to put their personalities into words, yet at the same time it can’t do them justice with their complexity and nuance. These three characters mentioned above are my favourites of the show, along with Chiana and Scorpius. Yet I could go into great detail about any of the characters, but it should suffice for now, you get the point - the characters are fucking awesome,
it renders most of its contemporaries as a laughing stock in this regard.
As you can imagine this makes for a tumultuous group, and it’s handled with little restraint. I don’t mean that as a bad thing, I mean they were willing to push the boundaries of what we expect from sci-fi, that it’s creative – brilliant. This results in some cheesiness at times, but it’s too sparse to be an issue. What it does allow is some of the most amusing banter you’ll ever see outside of a pure comedy with great flair injected into the dialogue; the interplay between the characters is phenomenal. But it’s offset by many touching, pervasive moments (much like Old Man’s War which I explained in my other blog). Emotional scenes work best when you’re attached to the characters involved, and allowing you to grow and like them through comedic, yet believable and winning dialogue, alongside deep development of the back stories and their personalities is the most effective means of doing so. It takes some admirable skill to make people consistently laugh, yet take a fictional show seriously enough to deeply care for the fictional characters it’s wrought with, and what happens to them. Few shows have done this as well as Farscape and it never feels melodramatic or overdone when it tries to pull at the heart strings. Take the finale of season one, the characters all undertake what’s practically a suicide mission and while they’re all preparing for the worst in one of the more intense episodes of the series, the writers still managed to intersperse some comedy that just makes it so much more potent in its quality, Crichton at one point asks, “How come I’m not afraid?”, D’Argo in typically cynical Luxan style responds by saying “Fear accompanies the possibility of death, calm shepherds its certainty”, Crichton simply answers “I love hanging with you, man”. Great stuff. It particularly works best between Crichton and Aeryn Sun (fantastically portrayed by Claudia Black, who actually played Morrigan in Dragon Age Origins and Chloe in Uncharted 2); Aeryn begins the story as a stern, traditionally trained soldier who believes humans to be an inferior race beneath her kind (based on Crichton alone, damn, she should see GT ^_^). However throughout their journey she slowly comes to see the admirable qualities in Crichton despite her initial impressions, meanwhile Crichton continually tries to change her outlooks on life making her more than the mere loyal soldier and servant to the peacekeepers she once was. This relationship slowly develops into a friendship, and more ;), that underpins the story as Crichton and she grow accustomed to one another, their chemistry is just brilliant to watch as the duos union evolves. Most of the other bonds - and rivalries - that grow throughout the series are just as great giving justice to the superb characters, Ka D'argo and Aeryn settle there differences and find common ground as soldiers, growing to respect one another despite Aeryn's Peacekeeper heritage. Rygel and Chiana almost become friends despite their selfish, vindictive ways, due to their selfish, vindictive ways. Zhaan is liked by everyone, since she's awesome - basically the cast totally kicks ass. The female characters in particular require specific mention too and are generally excellent. Too often females fall too rigidly into the “alpha-female” role (or the opposite, the damsel in distress) at the expense of many other qualities that could still be apparent in such women, and they come off as one dimensional. But here they manage to be both tough, resilient, and
feminine and provocative a lot of the time, when need be atleast. The females are given much better service here than in the likes of a Kara Thrace or Sarah Connor, to name a couple of examples.
No disrespect Kara, you bad ass you.
The acting can feel inconsistent at times, the show was actually filmed in Australia so you’ll find a lot of characters with Australian accents, and they’re not the best Australian actors sadly, not on par with shows like Underbelly that have received acclaim over here, and overall not as good as many films or shows like the recent Battlestar Galactica, Firefly and the Sarah Connor Chronicles. That’s not to say it’s bad – far from it, it could just be better at times. Regardless the main cast is definitely strong, the aforementioned Claudia Black is a highlight, she manages to feel both tough and brusque yet at times warm and compassionate. Ben Browder is absolutely perfect for the role of Crichton, and Wayne Pygram creates one of the best villains ever. The cast overall is adequate at worst, fantastic at best, and always acted with conviction.
Equally engaging are the plots themselves, each episode is wrought with its own contained storyline and these in themselves are teeming with diversity, innovation and quality. One episode will have everybody robbing a bank, the next will have them all going insane and trying to kill each other,
another will have them in a twisted virtual videogame, the list goes on. They range from more comedic episodes, to more simplistic and intense, to more intricate and political. They seemingly weren’t afraid to do anything, or broach any subject and sometimes it did jump the shark, so to speak, but it’s the price of innovation – and it was rare. And with a ship featuring no weapons to speak of except its infamous Starburst ability (think of it as warp drive) it forces the characters, and the writers themselves to come up with much more original, and subsequently entertaining scenarios than the face offs and pure action of other science fiction television. Fighting a Klingon vessel in the Enterprise is one thing, try figuring out how to free yourself of such a predicament without any weapons – these are the situations the Farscape crew have to circumvent frequently creating something much more interesting, and easily more suspenseful. At its best few shows are better; at its worst (which isn’t often) it can feel a bit dull and at a few points, downright ridiculous. But like I said, that’s just the price of pushing the envelope and it’s worth it for the majority of times when it gets it right. The situations you’ll find the characters entangled in range from utterly absurd to ominously dire, it has amazing variety and unrestrained inventiveness. That’s what made Farscape, Farscape
But those self contained storylines are almost exceeded by the overarching narrative and multiple plot lines, which were a big part of what gave Farscape its distinct style. The most predominant story involves Crichton’s hopeless effort to recreate the wormhole that led him astray, and the embittered chase lead by the relentless Peacekeeper Commander, gone renegade Crais in his quest for revenge, a story that slowly develops into a grand war hinging on the outcome of Crichton’s efforts to recreate wormhole technology, a technology with the potential to create an immense weapon of almost infinite power. Meanwhile each character has their own struggles to absolve, and their stories are visited throughout the series too; Aeryn Sun is seeking to overcome her Peacekeeper heritage, and move past the disgrace of being banished. Rygel seeks to regain his lost throne, taken from him by his cousin centuries ago. Chianna is trying to find her brother, a lead anarchist bent on destroying the totalitarian and anti-emotion (to put it simply) regime of their people. And so on. There's a lot going on, but it's never convoluted, and always engaging.
Farscape isn’t exactly morally complex; not like a Battlestar Galactica atleast. But it certainly does present more moral conundrums and layers of difficulty for the characters due to these circumstances than you’d expect. While there are clearly drawn good and evil sides contrary to what’s led one, to an extent, there’s plenty
to make it interesting and go beyond simplistic depictions of such sides. The Peacekeepers, while peacekeepers (duh!), are incredibly corrupt, often involving themselves in acts of torture, subterfuge, blackmail, amongst other despicable crimes, for the right price, yet there are times when they do make you believe they are genuinely just trying to do the right thing in a world brimming with turmoil and conflict. While the main characters are convicted prisoners don’t go expecting Jack the Ripper to be among them, they have admirable traits and many of them have been falsely accused, despite their flaws. This isn’t a flaw in the show, it’s just the way it is, and it’s still highly original, transcendent sci-fi. Yet while everything may seem rather simplistic from the beginning eventually more plots come into play, things change and loyalties shift drastically - this is when the show comes to its head. You find that Crais for all his flaws has rational motivations and is not the menacing, jaded and simplistic villain he comes off to be, despite his ignorance and over-zealous chase for Crichton and the crew of Moya. Then a much greater villain (the aforementioned Scorpius) comes into the picture yet even then, things are not what they seem and what transpires develops into something profoundly different as the plot moves forward into the later seasons, Scorpius and Crichton develop a bond despite being adversaries unlike anything I’ve ever seen - fans of the series will know what I mean and I won’t spoil anything for you on the off chance that you do get into the show. Farscape's personification of evil in the Peacekeepers is complicated, ever changing, deeply conflicted, and humane, there couldn't be a more perfect counterbalance and reason to get behind the crew of Moya. Little is as it seems in Farscape, nothing’s static, and everything’s difficult, which are some of its greatest qualities. After all their exploits the crew of Moya become infamous throughout the galaxy, and amongst other things (which I won’t go into due to spoilers, real spoilers I mean :P) it causes season three feel very different to season one and two, and in season four loyalties of many of the peacekeepers alter again
due to their accomplishments, changing everything before the final conclusion. The main cast constantly has new additions and changes, and the writers weren’t afraid to kill off characters all helping create great tension in the series, gritty realism to the world, and a sense of suspense to many of the more poignant episodes, something not apparent in shows like Star Trek to the same extent, and it always creates a new dynamic among the crew as a result - it’s truly brilliant.
Crichton eventually finds himself conflicted, while he desperately wants to find his way back home and be with his family just as he did from the opening, he inevitably finds that the crew of Moya has become his family, and that in comparison to this new world he finds himself in, existence on Earth feels incredibly trivial and pointless. The wormhole plot eventually comes to its boiling point when the Peacekeepers real conflict, something far grimmer than Crichton could ever have suspected is made apparent, and he’s faced with the repercussions of what could happen if such a weapon were used, even for the greater good. Underlying themes such as these are explored throughout the series providing substance and depth beyond pure characters and story that all the best sci-fi does. The constantly evolving plot and characters keep things engaging, intriguing and wholly entertaining.
If I were to tell you this show was perfect I’d be lying, but luckily the major flaw throughout its airing wasn’t anything to do with the writing, the plotlines or the acting, it was the production. The series was produced by the Jim Henson company and they are obviously famous for their puppets, make no mistake the puppets are amazing, but this has been a criticism of the show that has propped up frequently. The puppets ironically for their criticism are what hold up best today, the visuals and direction seem very b-grade overall in comparison, although the ambient soundtrack is definitely enjoyable and different to the typical trends of the genre. The set designs come off as cheap today too, even if you do grow accustomed to the golden caverns and hallways of Moya, and the CGI comes off as blatantly fake every time. Luckily everything else is good enough to involve you in the show to the point that you don’t care and will easily get over such problems, even if you’re suspension of disbelief is interrupted at points thanks to this. Action sequences also leave much to be desired and often feel repetitive, there's too much of a reliance on close up shots of people firing weapons, it often feels confusing and monotonous. If you want great special effects, sharp direction and big budget visuals, this isn’t for you, go watch Star Wars (maybe not for the direction). Frankly I’d take phenomenal story, characters, writing and acting filled with unmatched charm and wit over the sterile worlds, dry personalities and hackneyed plot of bigger budget Sci-Fi’s like the latest Star Wars outings. That’s not what Farscape is about. Yet for all its flaws, it becomes a flaw in the show you can even grow to like, kind of like the old Star Wars films which - fuck you George Lucas, were better in their original form damn it! They have charm. And for all the problems with the “puppet aliens” the facial expressions on the creatures look veritably real at times. Put it this way, think of your favourite show and ask yourself if you'd still like it almost as much if it looked
amateur. If the answer is yes, this shouldn't an issue when it comes to Farscape. If the answer is no, your priorities when it comes to television are quite the opposite of a Farscape fans, and in my view, are in the wrong place.
Contrary to a television channel which claimed to be in the industry of entertainment,
the Sci-Fi channel eventually canceled Farscape prematurely after the decline in ratings during season 4. And its conclusion was jammed into a short miniseries after an infamous campaign led by its fans to reboot the show. Sadly the short outing wasn't up to the task of a series with such a multifaceted storyline and numerous well developed characters. Season 2 and 3 remain the peak of the series, and we can only wonder what else could have been achieved had the show kept going. Many of the characters plot threads were never properly concluded, and there was still so much more to be discovered within the Farscape universe. That’s its greatest flaw, that it never reached its full potential.
Farscape is a fantastically endearing adventure with some of the best characters and writing ever to grace sci-fi, only matched by the plots and scenarios they find themselves mixed up in, and anyone who calls themselves a fan of the genre owes it to themselves to see it. If you want the same old and can’t move beyond the common trends and high production of Star Trek and Star Wars, this show isn’t for you. But if you want something innovative and different, something that’s fun and whimsical, yet serious and enriching, try Farscape. Farscape was one of the biggest surprise hits ever, and it may surprise you once you get beyond the slow first half of season one and the poor visuals. It transcends common sci-fi shows to stand toe to toe with some of the best science fiction television ever. Battlestar Galactica, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek - Farscape sits firmly among them. In my view, it sits above them. So watch Farscape, become apart of John Crichton’s epic adventure, a journey unlike any other, and see all the wonders he has seen…..
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