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Farscape is the only television show or film of which I am anywhere close to being a “fan.” But Farscape is a show apart.
My passionate love for the show Farscape is a surprise to some. I am not one to be a “fan” of anything in entertainment aside from world fusion music. I read a ton of science fiction when I was in grade school. Then, I became bored and jaded with the clichés of science fiction, I just stopped reading it. I had a brief return with Babylon 5 because I liked the galactic-political intrigue. A few years later I indulged in a binge of the last four seasons of Babylon 5 on Netflix. Netflix then recommended Farscape to me. A friend had recommended Farscape years earlier so I thought, what the hell, let’s see. I was mesmerized from a few minutes in, completely blown away. Here, finally, was something original. I watched 88 episodes over 23 days (sorry, Spouse). I’ve since been through the series four times, Peacekeepers War included, and I rounded up the whole comic book series (a mixed bag). In the years since, for better or worse, I don’t read or watch much fiction. Farscape ruined it for me. But Farscape still rings true.
But enough about me. Why is Farscape, which first appeared from 1999 to 2004, still light years ahead of every other science fiction show? Many reasons, but here are four main ones:
- Science fiction commonly portrays human-alien interaction as aliens entering the human world. Farscape reverses the mise-en-scène by having the protagonist enter the alien world. In this, Farscape is like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series in which a person is transported to another world and is forced to try quickly to learn how to survive. But quite differently from the John Carter series, Farscape does not portray a human conquering primitive aliens.
- Farscape allows its characters to change and grow. For decades, television series played it safe and made sure that no matter what happened, at the end of each episode, the characters and their situation remained unchanged. Television series have become better at breaking out of closed-loop plots (with notable exceptions like The Simpsons). Babylon 5 (1994-1998) was a grand space opera and was a trailblazer in long-form storytelling. It was a bit disjoint though and aside from the magnificent Londo and G’Kar, the characters felt flat to me. Farscape perfected the form and led the way in telling extended stories that is now common on television. Farscape has a grand story arc that lasts for 88 episodes, a 3 hour movie, and a book series after that. In that grand story, the situations and the characters change drastically and unexpectedly. This is something that has become expected from the top quality dramas today, but Farscape was a trailblazer in this mode of storytelling.
- Despite the potentials in science fiction to go anywhere and explore any topic, science fiction is laden with uninspired clichés. Stock plots, stock characters, stock technology. Star Trek has recycled the same plots and characters no matter how many shows they have spawned. The Stargate franchise ran out of new ideas pretty quickly and cloned itself twice. Firefly was as original and sophisticated as carbon paper and was mercifully canceled quickly. Andromeda was the nadir of derivative clichés and its intelligence-insulting ham-fistedness inexplicably lasted five seasons. Okay, enough venting. One of the things that Farscape does so well is toy with our expectations. It presents to us in the first episode with what at first impression seem stock science fiction characters. Crichton the astronaut looks the part of the hero. He meets D’Argo the hothead from a race of warriors, Zhaan the a female priest from a race of spiritual adepts, and Aeryn the female potential love interest. Rygel initially appears to be the show’s comic relief. What transpires after these first impressions are the characters continually thinking and acting against stereotype.
- Farscape is a philosopher’s dream show (I am a philosopher by heart and trade). Farscape isn’t about technology, it is about people and ideas. The show’s creators filled it with intelligent, philosophical exploration of important topics. Farscape avoids the brooding angst that comic book style science fiction thinks is philosophy. Farscape deals with many ethical dilemmas, as many good shows do, but it also addresses issues of identity, the nature of friendship and love, discrimination and how can we overcome it, and how and why people change.