Sunday, May 27, 2012

I, E.T.

Farscape was never the runaway smash hit its creators hoped it would be.  Perhaps part of the blame for that lies in the uneven tone of the first series.  It's standard practice for TV shows to take a little time to find their footing, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating to watch.  All the goodwill engendered by the tense and efficient premiere episode is frittered away by this lifeless second outing.

The crew discover that a Peacekeeper beacon wired into Moya is broadcasting their location far and wide. Their quest to disable the beacon leads them to a backwater planet where the inhabitants look vaguely like 1940's/1950's Earth farmers, but with alien prosthetic makeup because, well, they're aliens.

The script tries to draw some parallels between the alien mother and her son, who discovers Crichton hiding in their barn, and Crichton's own situation (they are both new to alien encounters), but beyond remarking on the superficial similarity, it doesn't really go anywhere with it.

The story also unwisely splits up the Moya crew.  At this point, we don't really know them that well, so taking some time to see how they interact would probably be a good idea, but instead they are all shunted off into separate subplots that don't really amount to a whole heck of a lot.  D'Argo gets captured, then fairly quickly freed.  Zan and Rygel attempt to disconnect the Peacekeeper device from Moya.

All in all, a most unsatisfying and rather listless episode.

Jargon watch: "What in hezmana is going on?"  Interestingly, Aeryn has the line: "I'm new to all this escaped prisoner crap".  No "dren" yet!

Friday, May 25, 2012


Efficient.  That's the word that springs to mind on rewatching this.  All the major characters are introduced, the world is set in motion, motivations are explained, jargon is deployed, all within 50 minutes.  We learn everything we need to know about John Crichton in 7 minutes.  He's living in the shadow of his father.  In a neat bit of foreshadowing, his father tells him "everybody is their own kind of hero."

8 minutes in, Crichton Jr encounters the fateful wormhole and the show is off to the races.

One thing that stands up even now is the sense of disorientation/dislocation.  The wormhole graphics look great, and the sound design and camera work contribute greatly.  Emerging from the wormhole, John is dazed and confused.  He's quickly snared by a giant ship.  I was hoping for some sort of Star Wars tractor beam reference, but those sorts of lines are not being used much yet.  The closest we get is John's musing later on that "Spielberg got it all wrong".

We meet Zan and D'argo first.  It's a nice progression.  They are humanoid but clearly alien.  Next, we meet Rygel, who is the first of the puppets, and although the initial impression is that he's clearly sharing some DNA with Kermit The Frog, the voice acting by Jonathan Hardy really sets him apart.  It's a testament to the skill of the production team that we quickly accept him as a serious character.  We also find out that despite not looking like much, he was instrumental in the escape plan.

Crais is a fascinating villain.  His motivation seems sound from his point of view, but he's obviously going to be Ahab and Crichton will be his whale.

Random thought: Crichton is awfully buff and sunburnt for a scientist.  You'd expect that sort of rocket scientist to be scrawny and pasty.

Although the story at this point is looking like it's cobbled together out of familiar pieces, the production design is so striking that it doesn't really matter.

One thing I want to mention is the music.  Obviously the title music is striking with the tribal drums, wild grunting and crazy melismatic female vocalizations, but the incidental cues are great as well.  Countless hours of televised Star Trek had led us to expect fairly dull aural wallpaper, but there are some striking touches with ethnic percussion, guitars, and general weird synth noises.

Despite the show's reputation for exotic (and sometimes silly) futuristic slang, terms like "frell" are nowhere to be found.  The only one I noticed was "metra".

So, after 50 minutes, we've got a crew of misfits who don't really like each other but are forced to work for a common cause, a ship, and a mission.  Nothing groundbreaking really but done with a great sense of pacing and style.  I can't wait to see where we're going next.


Another Farscape blog?  Really?  What is this, the 90's again?  Well, to be fair, Farscape first aired when blogging wasn't really a thing.  In fact, compared to the amount of Internet attention a modern SF show garners, Farscape got notoriously short shrift.  One can only imagine the tumblrs and twitters that would have sprung up around it, if only those services had existed.

I watched the entire show during its original run but have not revisited it since then.  I was curious to know if it stood the test of time.  I certainly have memories of it being pretty good, and doing some new and exciting things.  We'll see if the memory cheats.

The show was reissued on BluRay in the last few years.  Although it's not a true HD show (it was edited on SD video, and the CGI FX were only ever rendered at SD resolution), it still looks and sounds decent enough.  Armed with this box set, I am going to rewatch every episode in order and offer my thoughts.  I hope you'll stick around for the journey.