Thursday, November 04, 2010


After watching this week's STARGATE UNIVERSE, I felt compelled to sit down and write up some thoughts on the current crop of Sci-Fi Television.  I've already touched on some of these shows over in my contributions to's What Looks Good column, but I only write for that every third week.  Here's what I'm thinking at the moment.

(By the way, I'm experimenting with the format of the blog this time out, and hiding the long text beyond the jump, below - Click on the Read More to, um, you know, read more)


I only made it four episodes in to this show.  It had a lot of promise, at least when it wasn't following around Jason Ritter.  Seriously, that entire storyline could have been cut from the show and it would have done nothing but improve it.  But I suppose the suits felt that we needed a civilian viewpoint to serve as the audience's "In" to the story.  You know, a civilian with super hacking skills, smoldering good looks, and beautiful girlfriend in peril.

I was ready to give it the benefit of the doubt, since I really liked where the Alien storyline seemed to be heading, but it was already starting to show weaknesses four episodes in, too.

Then, when the secret conspiracy government agents started machine-gunning down an entire office of other federal agents just to kill John Ritter's son, the stupid was just too much.  I didn't even finish the episode and I haven't looked back.

I really don't know how they could have fixed it to please me.  At least not without really gearing up the weird and ditching the silly super-boyfriend angle.  I mean, we've got a secret military base in Alaska filled with aliens who haven't aged in 50 years, a secret group of the aliens living among us, AND a secret government conspiracy.  For fuck's sake, do we need the 20-something angst?  Give us some fucking science fiction and blow our minds.

Of course, maybe they've done that by now.  I wouldn't know.  I'm not going back.

Even though I know how dangerous that sort of abandonment can be.  After all, I missed almost the entire first seasons of both Babylon 5 and Farscape (two of my favorite science fiction television shows of all time), because they started poorly.  Granted, they both had much stronger core concepts that The Event, so I'm pretty secure in saying that The Event can be forgotten.


Well, it doesn't really matter what I say about this one, seeing as how Syfy has already pulled it from the schedule with the intent of burning off the final episodes sometime next year.

I can't say I'm surprised.

Caprica, since its return to the airwaves at the beginning of October has been floundering in a desperate attempt to find some way to attract viewers.  What was one of the most promising and intellectual science fiction shows in years, turned into cliched melodrama that undermined all of the goodwill it had garnered over its first 9 episodes.

And I understand that this goodwill was pretty much with me and about four other people in America.  It's no surprise that the suits decided messing with the formula was necessary.  The ratings had been abysmal before heading into the mid-season break, and Syfy kept putting off making the decision of whether or not to even commit to a second season.  With the outpouring of negativity online combining with the ratings to form a murky future at best, the early return of the show was actually something of a test.

They clearly wanted to see if the audience was there and willing to commit.  Commitment would most likely have meant a second season, which every good Sci-Fi show really needs.  It's usually the second season where the writers and actors have finally gotten their sea legs and shows really start to shine.  The problem is with getting to that second season.

And I have to admit, though I was really looking forward to Caprica's return, none of the episodes over the past four weeks have been all that good.  They were shaping up, don't get me wrong.  In fact, Episode 12 ("The Things We Lock Away") was pretty damned good.  The next episode slipped back into the realm of 'meh' but was still stronger than Episodes 10 and 11.

What I'm saying is that it still had promise.  It still had strengths that could have been brought out and weaknesses that could have been fixed.  Instead, it is being abandoned and a new Battlestar Galactica prequel will take its place sometime soon.  One with more explosions and action taking the place of corporate intrigue, developing civil wars, and explorations of societal mores and taboos.  I'm not really looking forward to that one yet.

Maybe after having very little good sci-fi for a while, I'll feel different.  We'll see.


Since we started with two shows that either didn't work or drastically forgot how to work, lets move on to the first of two shows that I think work very well.

Stargate Universe is a Stargate show for people who never got into Stargate.  And by "people" I mean me.

And by "never got into" I mean found to be incredibly and annoyingly stupid.

Stargate Universe, on the other hand, is a show that I really enjoy, even with that stupid big Starry Gatey thing.  It's not perfect, but it does a pretty good job of providing a strong sci-fi fix in a TV Landscape that is decidedly lacking in pure science fiction (The Event is only barely sci-fi by default, and Caprica, while doing a magnificent job at world-building, was mired in the commonplace in an attempt to be relateable).

For the uninitiated, Stargate Universe follows the "adventures" of a motley group of civilians and military personnel trapped on-board an ancient, decrepit starship, billions of light years from home and very little hope of ever actually getting back there.  The concept itself is not an original one, but this is one of the few times that the scenario is treated with the gravity and psychological impact that it deserves.  These people don't want to be there, they don't like each other, and there's no way to avoid one another.

Hell, they can't even control the ship.  It's just going on about it's mysterious mission, dropping out of warp to hang around planets that have been seeded with Stargates by an advance ship, then jumping back into warp after a short countdown and heading on its way.  These people are quite literally just along for the ride, and are desperately trying just to survive with the fundamentals of food, water, and shelter.  And, as the first season drew to a close, the occasional alien encounter.

And joy of joys!  The aliens don't look like human participants in a Renaissance Fair (like on every other Stargate show I've watched).  These are actually alien-looking aliens.

And if that weren't good enough, we've got Robert Carlyle as a serious bastard of a scientific genius as one of our leads.  If that's not worth watching, what is?

Season Two began recently and things are pretty consistently downbeat.  Maybe to the point of distraction, to be honest.  Commander Young is drinking heavily and not handling the pressure of command very well.  TJ, the medic, lost her unborn baby and is convinced that she had a miraculous intervention and her baby is alive and well on a planet they left behind long ago.  Rush has discovered the command deck and is figuring out how to control the ship, but hasn't told anyone and may be going a little crazy.  And Chloe, the character with no purpose, is slowly turning into something alien and freaking everyone onboard out..

So, yeah, it's a little heavy.  I'm finding myself enjoying the show still, but really wishing it could find a way to cut loose with the pulpy elements that are just waiting to be exploited.  I'd love to see a hard-drinking bastard of a Colonel running the ship with a swagger and a hint of madness.  I'd love to see TJ become a full fledged nutter, but also a whiz with the medicines.  I don't really care about Chloe.  Go ahead.  Make her an alien girl.  That's cool.

But most of all, I want to see Carlyle chewing on the scenery as a completely insane mad scientist who's the only one who really knows how to fly the ship.  I would love to see them stop following the ship's plan and make their own.  I want swashbuckling adventure that fully embraces the horror and madness of their situation.  I want death, disease, and destruction.  I want these people dirty, smelly, and half-insane with fear, loneliness, and hostility.

But until that happens (right!), I'll settle for watching these strong actors play characters going through serious hardship, and playing it totally straight.  It's not my ideal, but it's working for now.


Last, but not least, we have Fringe (which returns early this week thanks to the short World Series).

Now I know that some of my friends don't care for this show, but I think it is, without question, the best science fiction show on the air.  It fully embraces a lot of that pulp craziness that I wish Stargate Universe would tap into, and is fully committed to its premise.  There's no hemming and hawing about trying to appeal to a wider audience.  This is full-on Alternate Reality War!  The ambition of the show makes up for whatever shortcomings one might find in the writing here and there.  It's easily as good as The X-Files ever was, but it doesn't hold back on the Mythology.

And Doctor Walter Bishop is the best character on television.  His drug-addled mad scientist ("mad" as in literally insane) makes up for any shortcomings that one might find in the show.

For me, anyway.

This show makes me happy.

A big part of that happiness is sparked by their willingness to move the plot forward.  What started as a mystery-horror-of-the-week has developed into a show where each week, whatever bizarre occurrence catches the Fringe Division's attention, it gets brought around to the main threat.  And what's that threat, you ask?

Why that would the be evil Walter Bishop from the Alternate Reality, who's goal is to destroy our world in an attempt to save his own.  Evil is a harsh evaluation, really.  Walternate (as our heroes call him on the show) is just a cold-hearted bastard willing to do anything and everything necessary to save his world.  Which is bad news for our side.  John Noble's dual performance is a thing of beauty.  He can be a downright scary monster with no scruples in one scene, and in the very next just glow with childlike enthusiasm about yanking the brain out of a corpse.  The episode a couple of weeks ago where he delivered a motivational speech to a group of scientists while tripping his balls off was brilliant.

I can't think of a better way to bring science fiction to the masses.  Of course, the ratings aren't stellar, so who knows how much longer "the masses" will get to sample this show.  But we, as fans, should get behind Fringe.  It's success will only inspire further explorations of the genre.  Especially in a TV landscape where science fiction gets shunted into dumber and dumber venues that get more and more watered down with insipid plot devices designed to draw in more viewers, but only serve to undermine any stabs at originality and innovation.


  1. I agree that Fringe has a lack of inhibition which is pleasing; it's certainly not coy about its scifi origins.

    It's still badly written and poorly acted though. All except for John Bishop, who's excellent and far, far better than the crap he has to work with.

    It's also predictable as all heck. By the end of this series, Cheap Cate Blanchett will make it back and either (a) Alt-Blanchett will sacrifice herself having learned that our world isn't so bad after all, or (b) Blanchett will die, and Alt-Blanchett will take her place in an effort to be more like her, again because she's learned that our world isn't so bad after all. Also, Walternate will be revealed to be a shapeshifter with ideas above its station that replaced the real Walternate at some point in the past.

  2. John Noble, obviously. I have no idea who John Bishop is.

  3. Well, I like it and am very entertained every week.

    The acting and writing are no worse than any other show, and far better than the average stuff that fills the airwaves. I like that it doesn't take itself too seriously, but just serious enough to threaten the world every week.

    It's not as good as Supernatural, for example, but much better than, um, every other sci-fi show on television. I never understood the love for The X-Files, and thought the same things about it that you're saying about Fringe.

    I guess this one just works for me.

    So this is my favorite TV sci-fi for the moment. Until Misfits returns, anyway.

  4. I would be happy with Olivia sacrificing herself to save both worlds and Faux-livia ending up trapped in our world.

    Or just shifting the show over to the alternate reality, but Walter taking Walternate's place with Peter by his side. I'd watch that forever.

  5. I wish I had stayed on board for Fringe. Oh, well.

    But, seriously, you should watch The Burrowers.

    Also, did you change your site's theme again? This looks awesome.

  6. I plan on watching Burrowers eventually, I promise!

    Yeah I was tinkering with the templates last night. I like this one.