Near and Farscape

Posted: April 17, 2010 in Culture

I finished watching the Farscape series last week, including the follow up Peacekeeper Wars.  For a long time I stayed away from this series, mainly because the “aliens” made the show look rather hokey.  I was even a little worried when the two main cast members from Farscape were hired to work on the Stargate series.

I can now say that I was pleasantly surprised.  Farscape turned out to be an exciting and fun science fiction series, with interesting and novel stories about life in outer space.

Oh, there are a few problems.  There was way too much vomiting on the show.  I couldn’t watch the show while eating lunch or dinner as I wasn’t sure when they were going to serve up another gross-out scene.

And the ending of the show — spoiler alert — was spectacularly naïve.  It was a simplistic disarmament message, that people make peace, not bombs.  In reality, however, bombs are what make peace.  As Reagan held, it’s not appeasement, but peace through strength that achieves peace.  Human nature has not changed, and bullying and aggression — like the poor — will always be with us.  Weakness merely invites attack, and more verses of Kumbaya are not going to change that (except perhaps in sci-fi universes).

In addition, the writers of the show could not decide on who the bad guy was.  The first bad guy started out as a Peacekeeper named Crais, who had no problem in murdering his subordinates.  Later on, however, Crais allies himself with the main characters and is eventually treated as a sympathetic, self-sacrificing character.  Another character, Scorpio, starts out as a bad guy, but in the end turns out to be a good guy, concerned only to stave off an enemy invasion.  Finally, the Scarrans started out as scary aliens bent on dominating the galaxy, but end up as reasonable guys after all.  No need to destroy them in a final space battle.

Also, the DVD producers committed a crime against intelligibility when they failed to provide captioning for the series.  I think I only managed to make out about 30 percent of what the characters were saying.

I’m not the only one who stayed away from the show because of the puppets.  Stargate producer Brad Wright didn’t like the show either: “Maybe I didn’t give it enough of a chance because I couldn’t get past the muppet,” he once said.

The muppets, or puppets, were done by Jim Henson’s company, famous for Sesame Street (Kermit the Frog).  One of the puppets on Farscape was named Rygel (voiced by Jonathan Hardy).  The frog-like Rygel often behaved in impish and self-serving ways, but whose outlook and actions were often hilarious.  He is perhaps one of the best non-human characters on series TV.  On the other hand, the turtle-like puppet named Pilot did not add much to the show, in my opinion.  Perhaps a more human character would have worked better.  I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it that Rygel was enough puppeteering for any show.

The Farscape story involves a Buck Rogers character who meets a motley crew of space losers, a sort of Wizard of Oz group trying to escape from alien versions of the Wicked Witch of the Galaxy.  They do so aboard a living space ship named Moya.  John Crichton, played by Ben Browder, is an astronaut who is sucked into a wormhole during a space flight and ends up in another part of the universe aboard Moya.  With the initials JC and a last name that sounds like Christ, it’s almost too obvious that Crichton will eventually play a messianic role, saving the world or universe (which he did in Peacekeeper Wars).

His companions are a former Peacekeeper, Aeryn Sun, played in a no-nonsense way by Claudia Black (the opposite of her character on Stargate), a Luxan warrior, Ka D’Argo, played by Anthony Simcoe.  Ka D’Argo looks like the Cowardly Lion run through a sieve, but is the opposite of cowardly.  A blue alien, Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan, is played by Virginia Hey, and provides a “spiritual” component to the show.  She is referred to as a “blue-ass bitch” by Rygel, and has a plant-based physiology rather than an animal physiology.  The last main character is the sexually precocious Chiana, played by Gigi Edgley.

The show was best when it avoided long arcs (two or three episode shows), and did stand-alone episodes.  The multi-episode arcs were often tiresome, while the stand-alone episodes required the writers to become more creative, and bring about novel situations.  A major strength of the show is that the special effects and weird situations never diminished the characters, but rather enhanced character development.

There is more immoralism on Farscape than on shows such as Babylon Five, Stargate, or the earlier Star Trek franchise, but it did not have the raw amoralism of the new Battlestar Galactica.  Immoralism is to be expected on science fiction TV shows — going as far back as the days of Captain Kirk, playboy in space — but amoralism, a sort of non-awareness of moral issues, seems to be a new phenomenon.  I do not know where it comes from, other than perhaps increasing nihilism among script writers.

The main difference between Farscape and Babylon Five is that the latter has an epic background, borrowed from Tolkien’s Lord of the RingsFarscape did not have any larger purpose in mind at first but seems to have evolved in the telling, and is more like Star Trek in that regard.

Despite some problems, and the appearance of hokeyness and superficiality created by the puppets, Farscape is a science-fiction show well worth watching.  Far from diminishing the show, the puppet character Rygel almost steals it.  He is in some ways a lot like the scene-stealing character of Londo in Babylon Five.  When it comes to aliens and alien makeup, I always say less is more, and some of the characters could have done better with less.  Nevertheless, the overdone makeup and puppets shouldn’t put anyone off from watching the show.

I’m glad that Farscape’s fans petitioned producers to revive the series and give it a proper ending, as they did in the Peacekeeper Wars.  Not every show is treated this way.

Vern

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