Farscape was one of those shows I heard great things about, but never got around to watching in the original broadcast. Amazon.ca had the complete series on for a decent price, so I took the risk.

Cast and Crew Information

Ben Browder as John Crichton
Claudia Black as Officer Aeryn Sun
Anthony Simcoe as Ka D’Argo
Lani Tupu as Pilot and Bialar Crais
Jonathan Hardy as Dominar Rygel XVI
Virginia Hey as Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan
Gigi Edgley as Chiana
Wayne Pygram as Scorpius

Created by Rockne S. O’Bannon
Cowritten by Rockne S. O’Bannon (4 episodes), David Kemper (4 episodes), Doug Heyes Jr. (3 episodes), Justin Monjo (3 episodes), Richard Manning (3 episodes), Ro Hume (2 episodes), Sally Lapiduss (2 episodes), and one episode each from Babs Greyhosky, David Wilks, Grant McAloon, Nan Hagan and Tom Blomquist.
Directed by Rowan Woods (5 episodes), Andrew Prowse (4 episodes), Ian Watson (4 episodes), Tony Tilse (4 episodes), Pino Amenta (2 episodes), and one episode each from Brian Henson, Brendan Maher and Peter Andrikidis.

Availability Information

This season is available on DVD in both complete series and single season editions. There are also a number of out of print collections, but they’d be used editions likely available at higher prices with bulkier packaging.

Premise

John Crichton was testing a new theory when he discovered his work was incomplete. Rather than simply performing a gravity slingshot, he created a wormhole, and found himself transported far, FAR out of his anticipated trajectory. Circumstances force him to join with a crew of misfits, warriors, and exiled officers, all of whom are aboard a living prison ship, in order to escape those who are trying to imprison them.

High Point

“John Crichton was here!”

Low Point

The limitations of the effects technology.

The Review

The originality is strong. The production crew went with a lot of physical effects, using the Hensen studio to produce many of the different alien species. This gave a wider variety in aliens than other franchises, which marries well with the variety in the way different races are written. I give it 6 out of 6.

The effects are, unfortunately, limited by the decision to use the Hensen studios. The eyes on Rygel and Pilot look great, but their lips are terrible. (The lips improve through the course of the season; I think the mouths on the major puppets were upgraded through the course of the season.) Even worse are the lips on aliens we see once and then never again; they are incredibly stiff, and never allow the viewer to forget that these are high class muppets. Most of the CGI shots are good, with one notable exception: the CGI version of Rygel is downright awful. What’s worse is that the first time we see it, the shot is so close it takes up a significant portion of the screen. In all other instances, it’s a distance shot as the character has to do something the puppet simply can’t do. If the CGI looks so bad that you realize you need to hide it down the road, maybe you should write around the need to do it at all. I simply couldn’t let go and get completely wrapped in the episodes because of the limited technology. Complain about Star Trek’s limited physical variation between alien species all you want, but when you break that mold by making your aliens out of rubber and foam, you end up with aliens that look like they were made out of rubber and foam. I give it 3 out of 6.

The stories are, thankfully, several grades better than the physical effects. The aliens and their cultures are truly alien (with the exceptions of humans and Peacekeepers, but by the end of the season, there’s a hint that this may not be coincidence.) We’ve got sentient plants, a living ship that becomes pregnant, and a lot more that constantly reminds our human that he’s nowhere remotely close to Kansas anymore. Most stories are episodic in nature, but by the end of the season, the smaller independent threads are picked up and they start tying themselves together. If they had Star Trek budgets and technology to enjoy, this probably would have pulled in better ratings. You need to stick around long enough to look past the puppets to see the quality and the appeal, but not all viewers would be willing to stick it out that long. It also does an effective job of bringing these disparate characters together. I could never get into Star Trek: Voyager for two reasons: first, the published warp curves and the stated speed of the ship would allow it to traverse the galaxy in 18 months, meaning that the only way the premise would work is if the ship was taken completely out of the galaxy and forced to search for a wormhole or other phenomenon to bring them home, and second, I never believed that Janeway presented the leadership needed to integrate the Maquis into the crew, even with Chakotay as first officer, yet there were very few Maquis who rebelled, and most of those turned out to be Cardiassians. Compare that to this crew: they don’t have clear leadership, and even at the end of the season, they don’t really get along all that well. It’s very much an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” kind of bond holding them together, and it makes sense that things play out as they do under the circumstances. I give it 5 out of 6.

The acting is strong from the leads. They play their parts convincingly, whether it’s tension, comedy, or drama that they’re presenting. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production is somewhat limited again. The pacing is good, the musical score (aside from the first episode) is well composed and appropriate, and the lighting and location shoots are well chosen. The camera angles, though, sometimes get awkward or pedestrian, which seems to happen most often when Rygel and Pilot are involved and the puppeteering technology needs to be hidden. I give it 4 out of 6.

The emotional response gets quite a bit better as the season progresses. I got somewhat used to the puppets, and the kind of long-term storytelling I enjoy starts to creep into the material. The last two discs out of six were the most gripping, and the ones that made me look forward to future seasons, particularly with the introduction of a more interesting adversary. I give it 4 out of 6.

Overall, this first season was good, but not yet great. Fortunately, there are some strong greatwardly trends late enough in the season that I expect the later seasons to live up to the expectations set by word of mouth. I give it 4 out of 6.

In total, Farscape: Season One receives 31 out of 42.