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Farscape (1999-2003) A Movie Review by Nix

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Cast/Crew

 

creator

Rockne S. O'Bannon

 

producer

Rockne S. O'Bannon

 

regular cast

Ben Browder ....

John Crichton

Claudia Black (I) ....

Aeryn Sun

Virginia Hey ....

Zotoh Zhaan

Anthony Simcoe ....

D'Argo

Jonathan Hardy ....

Rygel XVI

Gigi Edgley ....

Chiana

Lani John Tupu (I) ....

Bialar Crais

Pilot

Paul Goddard (I) ....

Stark

Wayne Pygram ....

Scorpius

Tammy McIntosh ....

Jool

Raelee Hill ....

Sikozu

arscape" is probably the most overlooked sci-fi TV show to ever grace TV screens around the world. Shot entirely in Australia, the series follows the adventures of American astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder), who was shot through a wormhole during a test flight of an experimental vessel of his own design. Finding himself in an unknown part of the universe surrounded by alien creatures, warring empires, and mysterious lifeforms, Crichton spends his waking hours trying to find a way back home. Or at least for the show's first 3 seasons.

 

The strength of "Farscape" is its characters, and Crichton's interaction with them, against them, and Crichton's own personal battles with himself and various lifeforms that manages to screw with his mind. (This last part seems to happen a lot.) When Crichton is shot across the universe, he ends up in a prison ship run by an alien race called Peacekeepers, who looks like humans, but are nothing like humans. The prison ship has been taken over by its prisoners, and those who stayed behind are now being pursued by a vengeful Peacekeeper commander name Bialar Crais (Lani Tupu), whose brother Crichton accidentally killed when he exited the wormhole out of control. If you're starting to get the idea that nothing goes right for Crichton, you're right.

The first episode also introduces us to Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), a Peacekeeper soldier who eventually becomes Crichton's lover and soulmate. Among the prisoners are D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), a tentacled warrior with a broadsword that also works as a rifle; Rygel (Jonathan Hardy), an overthrown emperor still dreaming of returning to power; and Zhaan (Virginia Hey), a priestess with a violent past. And oh, the ship happens to be a "living being" called Moya, and is piloted by a large alien that is literally connected to the ship's, er, innards.

Like all TV shows, the first season of "Farscape" is the weakest. The storylines exist in an episodic nature in order to build on the character's individual history and personality. It's in the second season that the show first reaches the greatness its subsequent seasons will be known for. With the erratic first season out of the way, the remaining 3 seasons of "Farscape" were free to follow their own flow. As a result, "Farscape" took on a very "Babylon 5" vibe, with every move, action, and decision that takes place in one episode impacting whole seasons to come.

"Farscape" is sometimes known for its weirdness, its unorthodox characters, and a sometimes overabundant reliance on puppets. Rygel is a good example -- the character is nothing more than a puppet created by the Henson company (which partially owns the show). Lani Tupu, who is the show's chief villain for its first season, also lends his voice to Moya's Pilot. (Tupu would return in later episodes to lend voices for other puppet characters.) The writing is also "out there", and one episode of your standard "Farscape" is probably weirder and more "whacked" than your average season of any "Star Trek" show. Which is to say, "Farscape" is different. But it's a good kind of "different" that, although it takes getting used to, is highly entertaining.

The real heart and soul of the show is Crichton and Aeryn's love affair. Starting out as enemies from worlds apart, Crichton's humanity is the only thing that can pierce Aeryn's soldier upbringing. The Peacekeepers are a race of soldiers, a military organization that allows breeding by appointment, and where love only gets in the way. Through Crichton's unbridled emotions (and just a general lack of ability to control himself) Aeryn starts to find her own soul, which she previously didn't know existed. For all those fans who pulls their hair out wondering "will they, won't they?" when it comes to a show's two leads, "Farscape" feels your pain. There are plenty of lovey-dovey scenes, and whole episodes, devoted to Aeryn and Crichton's mushy romance. Instead of building up some uncontrollable sexual tension between its two leads, the show uses the union (halfway through the first season) as a springboard to other, more enjoyable storylines.

Despite the fact that it only shows on the Sci Fi Channel in the States (which means it doesn't have network money), you wouldn't notice the lack of a big budget. "Farscape" is consistently one of the brightest, well written, and creative shows week after week. Characters don't just change on "Farscape", they evolve. Besides having no qualms about killing off main characters, "Farscape" seems to introduce about half a dozen recurring characters every year, each one with their own problems and impacts on the show and everyone else. To miss a year of "Farscape" would be to miss a massive chunk of the show's concurrently running multiple storylines.

The special effects, usually the bread and butter of sci-fi shows, takes a backseat to the characters and the insanity they get themselves into. There isn't a comparison between "Farscape" and say, any of the "Star Trek" shows. Compared to "Star Trek" or the currently running "Andromeda", "Farscape" is a wild child. The show is dark, moody, and dedicated to being edgy first and foremost. In any episode of "Farscape" you can count on an explosion of sex and violence, humor and sadness, and just about everything else that never appears for more than a brief second in "Star Trek". You can't get as un-"Star Trek" like as "Farscape", that's for sure.

While it follows the devotion to continuity that "Babylon 5" does, "Farscape" is far superior in its ability to always be changing. The fact that the show has no big network backing is a plus, because a small basic cable channel like the Sci Fi Channel has less stringent demands than say, NBC or ABC. I can't imagine "Farscape" surviving on a network, just as I don't believe a show like "The Sopranos" or "The Shield" could. The consistent level of quality in the writing, direction, and acting in "Farscape" is astounding, especially since the show seems to be getting more and more complex with each episode.

Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end. After Season 4, "Farscape" will be going off the air, the victim of cancellation. Despite being spotlighted as the best sci-fi show on TV all through its 4 years by different media outlets, being shown exclusively on a basic cable channel like the Sci Fi Channel is not the best way to get good exposure in the States. What should also be taken into consideration is this: although the SFC qualifies as a "basic channel", it is actually not, since you have to pay extra for it where I live. And unfortunately not a lot of people are going to pay extra for a channel that still shows commercials. Also, the SFC has a very bad habit of not promoting "Farscape". In its 4 year run, I can't remember seeing a single commercial for "Farscape" on other TV channels, basic cable or otherwise. Without any semblance of support whatsoever from the SFC, it's a miracle the show managed to last for 4 years.

FYI: According to producers of the show, there is a chance "Farscape" will have a second life as either a TV movie or a theatrical feature. One can only hope, although I doubt if a show that has had so little attention as "Farscape" (ask your friends and they'll say, "Far"-what?) will ever justify the big budget of a movie.

Here's hoping for the continued adventure of Crichton and crew.

 

 

March 5, 2003


 

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