Friday, May 16, 2008

Farscape

I just finished Farscape. All four seasons and the mini-series.

If you're not familiar with the series, its basically the successor to Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and John Carter of Mars. As in those stories, a 20th century All-American finds himself swept up in a great inter-stellar conflict. In this case its astronaut John Crichton, played by Ben Browder, who was testing an experimental craft of his own design when he was swept through a worm hole and across the galaxy to an area of space controlled by the Peacekeeper Alliance. In spite of their names, the Peacekeepers are not the good guys. They keep the peace through the barrel of a gun. Crichton exits the worm hole and finds himself in the middle of a battle. The Peacekeepers are trying to recapture some escaped prisoners. A near collision causes the death of a peacekeeper, making Crichton an enemy of his brother, the commander, a man named Crais, but the newcomer makes it safely aboard the escaping prisoners' ship.

On there he meets its unusual crew: Rygel, a toad like emperor, who has been overthrow and imprisoned; Ka D'Argo, a young Luxan warrior who was falsely accused of killing his wife; and Zhaan, a mystic and priestess, who killed her lover because he was collaborating with the Peacekeepers. The ship itself is a living creature, a Leviathan named Moya, symbiotically bound to its Pilot. Crichton didn't arrive on Moya by himself. He was chased on board by a Peacekeeper named Aeryn Sun. She would go on to join the crew, marry Crichton, and have his son. Zhaan would leave the show, but others would join it. Chiana, Jool, Stark, Noranti, and Sikozu. Even their enemies, Crais and Scorpius, join at one point or another. The stories take place against of backdrop of war between evil Peacekeepers and the even more evil Scarrans. Its a war that Peacekeepers have no hope of winning. Scorpius, a Peacekeeper who is also half Scarran, hopes to turn the tide by forcing Crichton to tell him everything he knows about worm holes, in order to fashion a weapon of truly massive destruction.

In its time, Farscape, which aired between 1999 and 2004, was the Sci-Fi channel's flagship for original programming; a role now played by Battlestar Galactica. Like BSG, it ran for four seasons. While BSG premeired as a mini-series, Farscape ended as one. Both shows died, at least in part, when their large and complicated backstories kept new viewers away. (Yes, I know BSG has always had a planned end, but Sci-Fi wasn't even going to pick up a full season this year. Its ending now because of its ratings.) While the new show revels in its grimness and its desperation, Farscape was always a more hopeful program, in spite of the backdrop of war. The relationship between the crew members and their day to day adventures to survive, while trying to evade recapture, were the story engines on this show.

The first thing viewers always noticed about Farscape was the muppets. Produced by the Hensen company, Farscape pushed the boundaries of how alien an alien could be. Rygel and Pilot, of course, were exactly what everyone expects when they hear the word muppet (a contraction of marionette and puppet), but the Hensen company often incorporated animatronics into the design of its humanoid aliens as well. The face pieces of the Scarran warriors, for example. The show was also noted for its many strong women characters. Claudia Black's Aeryn Sun may have been the toughest woman in television Sci-Fi. She was also a well rounded character and Black boasted a real chemistry with Browder. Personally, I have a soft spot for latecomer Sikozu.

As a science fiction fan, I can't recommend the show enough. Aliens, large scale, inter-planetary war and adventure. Its a classic space opera. The only problem is the cost. The four seasons are only available as hideously overpriced DVD sets. Complete sets can cost as much as $150, with used sets costing $80-90. I could only afford them because I was particularly flush last summer and decided to treat myself to something I'd always wanted. Fortunately, the show is show being made available for downloading through Apple's iTunes. So start downloading and enjoy.

1 comment:

James Newberry said...

Welcome to the club. Farscape is easily among the top 3 science fiction television shows ever made.