Sci-Fi Original Series: GusherJizmac’s impressions after getting cable

GusherJizmac has kindly reviewed episodes of several shows for us. All that he wrote follows “Read More…”

Well, I just got cable, and TiVo has finished indexing the program schedule. Time to record the Sci-Fi channel! While I have particular standards for the shows I watch, I admit I’m a sucker for what my friends call “Cheesy Sci-Fi Shows”. Now that Sci-Fi has become fairly legitimate and is producing it’s own shows, I thought I’d use the power of TiVo to sample what they have to offer. I recorded episodes of “Farscape”, “First Wave”, “The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne”, “Black Scorpion”, and “Lexx: The Series” on the weekend of 3/29-4/1. Following are my opinions on the shows. Hopefully this will spark conversation, and if there’s interest, I may continue reviewing the sci-fi channels unique offerings.

If you are too lazy to read, my summary is that Farscape was disappointing, First Wave was pretty good, Jules Verne was OK, Black Scorpion was horrible beyond belief and Lexx: The Series was slow and odd, but has potential.

Farscape

Everyone was a cheesy looking alien. The show made no sense at all. I couldn’t understand what problem the characters were trying to solve. The whole premise made no sense, and and no point did I have any idea what was going on. How come everyone constantly thought they were going to die? Why didn’t Crichton have to give back that weird alien recording thingy? Why couldn’t the ships be separated?

The show seemed haphazard. I felt like I needed to have seen the first episode to have any idea what was going on, and there didn’t really seem to be much of a running plot other than the premise, which I couldn’t really get. The acting was pretty hammy all around. The SFX and makeup were good, except that the aliens made Neelix look like Brad Pitt. There’s something to be said for the star trek “blob on the nose” aliens. At least you can take them seriously. the tall dude with the whiskers and the weird goatee is just too silly.

The cinematography was also irritating. Does the camera have to constantly be in motion, and do we always have to have everything be at an angle? Why are the shots so tight on the characters? Let’s see the sets and get comfortable watching this instead of always being on edge and unable to relax.

The episode was a cliffhanger, but I don’t really care what happens to any of them. Hopefully the will all die and that will be the end of the show. I can’t really see anything redeeming here. I’ve noticed that several people comment highly on the show’s DVD episodes available on Amazon. I’m not sure what they were watching, but I have a hard time seeing how this cast of characters could EVER result in an enjoyable sci-fi episode. Maybe I’m wrong.

First Wave

I was able to get the premise pretty easily here. Aliens come to earth for some sort of invasion and are covertly planting themselves around the globe. At first, I thought the X-Files-ish theme might be better suited if we didn’t get to see the big bad alien bad guy right at the start, but it turned out the premise of the show was to kill him, so I guess it makes sense. The pacing here was good, and the story was believable. I don’t know if I like the whole Nostradamus thing, but it seems like a central plot point and an easy way for the characters to get information.

The sets were nice looking, if few, and the acting was fairly decent. The actors seemed a little over-serious, but I haven’t seen any other episodes, so maybe it would seem normal given their history. Anyway, it wasn’t bad.

The direction was good, no shaking camera movements like Farscape, though some of the scenes were a little to tight for me. I don’t get why the main character didn’t just shoot the big bad alien boss like 20 times with the super gun, but I’ll just assume he only had one shot.

Anyway, I liked the show. It seems to have good potential and it could be taken in a cool direction, since this episode showed conflicts within the alien group. The aliens seemed like real people with real problems, and I want to know more about what happens.

Secret Adventures of Jules Verne

While not a sci-fi show proper, it seemed like it would have a fantasy element to it, and the ads looked pretty cool. The first 45 minutes of the show was overall pretty good. The acting was good, the plot was well-paced and the costumes and scenery were well done. I liked the flying ship thingy. My disbelief was sufficiently suspended to believe what was going on.

The show has a very “british” feel, in that it is quite subdued and subtle, and doesn’t take the “American” way of beating you over the head with plot and character, but rather letting things proceed normally and smoothly. It wasn’t as “serious” and “heavy” feeling as First Wave, but was comprehensible, unlike Farscape.

Then, the climax of the episode, which was incredibly strange. First off, one of the main characters has been kidnapped by this spider woman. He appears to be in some unknown place, yet the other characters are able to find him. Additionally, the female character was going to go alone, but then they decided Jules had to go because he was a virgin and could resist the spider woman’s wiles.

Well, couldn’t the female character resist as well? Is she a lesbian or something? Despite that, she still goes. Why does Jules have to go? Then, they are magically able to find the place and the 4th character (sorry for not knowing names), the servant guy, who presumably is not “pure” is there, too, killing spiders? What? Then, there’s a “showdown” between the spider woman and the female lead, which is, to say the least, bizarre. I don’t think I’ve every seen a more cheaply done and poorly shot fight scene. I mean, it was bad. Fight scenes on Star Trek TOS looked like the Matrix compared to this. It was weird, because the whole rest of the show had such a stylized, polished look to it, and this was just bizarre. So, I’m intrigued by the show; it seems to have good potential, but I’m worried about that fight scene and the totally cop-out ending. I’ll watch next week and see what happens….

Black Scorpion

Wow was this bad. This is bad even for the sci-fi channel. I can’t believe they got enough actors to be in this. I can see that maybe someone was going for a Batman-style campy comedy, but they forgot the jokes. I mean, I know the stereotypical sci-fier is a single guy that likes busty, scantily-clad babes, but gives us some credit. And if they’re going to have a babe super-hero, have her look _better_ in the costume than in real life. And what’s with all the porn-star extras? This was so bad, I couldn’t believe it. I don’t think I gave Farscape enough credit. If they wrote some comedy here, it *might* be entertaining. Overall, it was extremely poor.

If Tivo records this, I’m sending it back.

Lexx: The Series

The final stop on my tour of the sci-fi channels original series (I think). The look and style of the show was pretty cool. Some of the SFX were a bit cheesy, but it’s forgivable. There appears to be a running plot, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. IN fact, I had a hard time figuring out the plot of the episode at all. There were some bad guys that went around burning towns on one planet, and the main characters spent most of the time having sex or trying to or trying not to. I was surprised by the blurred-out nudity, so maybe this is not a sci-fi original, but nonetheless, I couldn’t figure out why I should care about this show. It’s cool of there’s a running plot, and I can forgive a little of it, being new to the show, but not much happened in the hour I watched it. Some bad guys attacked, the main characters chase, the end! The acting was pretty good, but the strong sexuality of the show seems a little forced. Maybe not every episode is like this, but I found it a bit insulting. I mean, I’m all for nudity, but not for the sake of nudity, but for the plot!

Conclusions

While I enjoyed First Wave, I can’t help notice that these shows are mostly caricatures of what a sci-fi show should be. In my mind, sci-fi is about the same thing other shows are about: real people in extreme or interesting circumstances doing what they can to get by. The draw of sci-fi to me is that since there are no bounds in reality, anything can happen, and this frees the writers up to do what they will and run wild. Being a geek, cool technology is also fun to see, although it’s easy to overdo it or do it badly.

It seems like the writers of these shows use the following equation:

Good Sci-Fi = Scantly-Clad babes + flashy weapons + CG + pseudo-science

But they forgot the part about having a really good show. While First Wave and Jules Verne were actually pretty good, these elements are there (“Now on First Wave: an ex porn-star!”). I did not find any of these shows on par with Stargate: SG-1, Total Recall 2070, or Babylon 5. What a sci-fi writer needs to understand is not to play to the stereotypes, but to write real stories. Look at “Dune”. It’s a real story about real people, and could take place in any timeframe or setting. The sci-fi feel of it just adds the finishing touches to make it truly enjoyable. Compare that to Farscape, which starts with a weirdo band of random aliens with a potpourri of personalities, but doesn’t follow through on real drama. Also consider Black Scorpion which completely bombs on making a super-hero comedy, which I think would be incredibly easy to do well.

I applaud the sci-fi channel for making original series or taking chances on series that may not make it on network TV, and here’s hoping that future seasons of their programming will draw more talented writers, directors, and producers.

If anyone wants to point me to other shows that I might have missed, or to urge me to watch other episodes of the shows above, feel free to drop me a line at [email protected]

7 replies on “Sci-Fi Original Series: GusherJizmac’s impressions after getting cable”

  1. fsck! says:

    that is utterly amazing
    you’ve had cable for a week, and you’ve already decided that farscape is a terrible show. i wish i had you breadth of wisdom.

    farscape is a deep and complicated (but admitedly hard to follow) story. you’ve caught the tail end of a 3 part season premire (counting the finaly), and you’re confused. i strongly recomend you do a little reading on scifi.com/farscape or farscape.com or any number of fan sites before you continue to bash what is probably the greatest series ever to reach the eyes of a mortal.

  2. Myxx says:

    I must agree with the first poster
    I must agree with the first comment about your understanding of Farscape. Farscape is perhaps the only show I would watch if I were forced to give up all of the others. The reason for your confusion is that you are dealing with a point over two seasons into an arc. It will take you probably three or four episodes to get a feel for the dynamics of the show. I love a series that is not afraid to have arcs that span many episodes as real life is rarely tied up in 60 minutes.

    Lexx may be deeper than I give it credit for, but how many angles on sex can one show have?

    I agree with you on Black Scorpion.

    Jules Verne I watch for the pure cheese factor. There is nothing “good” about the acting, but it follows its formula well. Perhaps if it tried to take itself more seriously it would be better. I have gotten to the point where I do not care if I watch it regularly any more.

    First Wave…Traci Lords. I need not say more.

    I am not bashing you. By your own statement you love “cheese” and I believe this would explain why you don’t like Farscape. Its complexity and depth of character development is probably what pushes it beyond the genre you care for the most. Cheese cannot rely on a plot development that requires depth of acting and story line. Cheese is a “at the moment” kind of thing. Farscape is consistently rated one of the best if not the best science fiction show in TV right now because of special effects and writing. Give it some more time, or if cheese is your thing, stick with Lexx and Jules Verne. You will be happier. Different strokes makes all this great!

    And you will love Tivo. Get your friends to buy one too. Otherwise we will live in a world of Microsoft Ultimate TV.

  3. GusherJizmac says:

    Point taken on Farscape, but…
    I did try to give it the benefit of the doubt regarding the arcs and ongoing plot; obviously I can’t pick up right in the middle. But I still feel that the characters are all just too cheesy. I mean, I’ve watched Voyager since it started, and I _still_ can’t take Neelix seriously, and the characters on farscape are even goofier looking. I guess I’ll watch it some more, but it just didn’t do anything for me. I didn’t think the acting was particularly great and I still feel that the camera work and directing was bad.


    I still didn’t feel that it was up to par with Stargate SG-1 or Total Recall 2070, which both have/had running plots and carried it off well if you don’t have all the backstory. Babylon 5 and the last few seasons of Deep Space Nine both had running plots and backstory, and I was always able to enjoy an episode of Bab5, even though I haven’t seen much of it in order, or many key episodes. With farscape, I would’ve stopped watching if I hadn’t been out for “scientific curiousity”.


    Regarding “cheese”, however, I think that Farscape would rank the highest among my “unleared” friends, simply for the goofy alien get-ups alone. I don’t find the shows I watch cheesy, but I can see how others would, and Farscape definitly wins in that category.

  4. adamrg says:

    A Case of Review First, Ask Questions Later…
    I think that your review is a bit off base. As someone who has spent

    more than 7 days watching at least a few of these series (including one

    that you completely neglected), I figured I could share a slightly

    different view.

    As far as the Sci-Fi channels original series go… I would have to rank

    the series as such:

    1. Invisible Man – Humorous, pretty cool FX, kinda cheezy. The

    series does have an arc, but it is not central to your understanding of

    the plot of each episode. So you should be able to jump in, and not

    miss out on much. The background is really simple (Invisible man

    works for underfunded government agency, known simply as “The

    Agency”.)

    2. Farscape – You were so far off base on this one. It’s really a shame

    that you didn’t step out of the stone age a little earlier, because at the

    beginning of the third season SciFi ran a hour long “catch up” special.

    Maybe if you watched more than one week of it, you would have some

    clue. As for the cinematography… to each his own. You may want to

    mindlessly stare at the TV, but I for one enjoy visuals that are a bit

    more complex than your daily soap-opera. I have yet to watch this

    most recent episode, but in the past, funky camera angles and effects

    have been used to depict Crichtons (sp?) psychological problems

    (which were inflicted on him by Scorpius). I find that Farscapes take

    on this is far more interesting than the “person in a white/black room”

    preferred by TNG, and DS9.

    3. First Wave – I enjoyed this series a great deal when it was originally

    on, but as time has gone on, it has become more and more predictable,

    and about the only thing that keeps me from changing the channel and

    not coming back is Traci Lords.

    Shows that could drop off the air and I would never notice, much less

    care (in no particular order):

    Adventures of Jules Verne

    Black Scorpion

    Lexx

    I’m not saying anything bad about those shows, it’s just that they don’t

    appeal to me.

    Basically, I think that your “scientific” evaluation could have used a bit

    larger sample.

    P.S. I would hate to hear your review of ST: TNG. It would probably

    read something like this:

    I just got a TV last week, and decided that I would review the reruns of

    Star Trek: The Next Generation that I saw on FOX. First of all, who

    does the make up for that show? What is with those forehead ridges

    on Worf? The acting sucks too, Patrick Stuart doesn’t sound french

    even though his characters name is Jean-Luc Picard… and Brent

    Spiner isn’t emoting at all (BTW, why is he all pale and pasty?)

    You get the idea…

    GusherJizmac, please give it another try in a month or two.

  5. bee says:

    i wish we got sci-fi (w/o a sattelite)
    i’m up in canada, and our sci-fi chan equivilant is the space channel (http://www.spacecast.com). it shares a lot of the same content though… out of the series you mentioned i think we only get 2, however.

    i’ve only seen a bit of first wave, and it hasn’t interested me at all. the plot seems interesting, the visuals are a bit cheesy, and the acting seemed weak. i would like to get into it, but i’d be so far behind the plot (i’m assuming) that it’d be futile.

    we (sadly) get lexx too. it’s just… uh… bad. i’ve seen 2 episodes that were enjoyable (mainly involving that immortal guy — his name escapes me ;) and the rest just seemed like an excuse to show puffy-lipped big-titted women.

    they’re finally airing the dune miniseries too, the second part was tonight (sunday the 8th). i have to admit to never having read the book/seen the movie, but i’m still really enjoying it. sure the cgi seems weak and they apparently left stuff out, but it’s WAY better than the normal things you can find on tv.

  6. dcheesi says:

    One bad apple…
    I have to mention that I found the particular episode of Farscape you watched to be a bad one. I agree that it was hard to follow, and somehow lacked something that the show normally has. It’s also clear that this double episode was designed to facilitate some casting/direction changes for the show, and as such felt a little hurried, even with two parts.

  7. nyospe says:

    Missed one, and didn’t get another…
    You missed one of their series… The Invisible Man (which trails a half season in syndication) is a good, if not fabulous, series.

    You really missed out on Farscape. In a lot of ways, it has filled the void left by B5. However, if you had tried to start watching B5 just as a season cliffhanger transition was occuring, what would you have thought of it?

    Black Scorpion is horrid. I don’t get the point.

    Jules Verne is OK, I suppose. Reminds me of parts of Brisco County Jr.

    I never got into First Wave before, haven’t tried lately.

    They’re doing a director’s recut of Crusade starting this month… I’m looking forward to that.

    SciFi has a weird history with their original series. Witness the (inconsistant) Sliders after the transition. Nonetheless, I have a better feeling about their hosting of a (third) B5 series than about TNT’s hosting of the second (and the end of the first).

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