Saturday, February 26, 2011

Stupid Television Tricks

So I mentioned Farscape last time, a science fiction show that spent four years on the Sci-Fi Channel (there was supposed to be a fifth, but Sci-Fi pulled the plug unexpectedly after a season-ending cliffhanger episode. Brutal. They settled for wrapping things up in a movie-length production called The Peacekeeper Wars.).

I discovered the show after a surgical procedure gone wrong left me bedridden for eight months. One of the side effects was an amazing inability to sleep, so I finally watched an episode at something like three in the morning. I'd seen commercials prior to that but I mean, hey, there's a character that's actually a puppet in there. Clearly I wasn't as broadminded as I'd always told myself and since have come to regret my unfounded prejudice. 'Cause the show is really good, and it has one of the best over-the-top villain of all time, in any show of any kind: the half-breed Scorpius, with his leather bug suit, a cooling system installed in the middle of his head, and an oily, upper crust British way of speaking that makes him really, for such an awful being, really appealing.

The show is one of those whose sum is greater than its parts. While certain episodes can be really, really well done, the show really shines in its multi-parters. I think, though, the real appeal is the growth and the change of the characters throughout its four year run. In that way the show reminds me of Dead Like Me, a non-science fiction show about a dead girl that is stunning in the development of its characters, the main ones and the role players (which makes it even more unusual).

Anyway, the point I'm trying to get to is really this: why does every science fiction show do episodes with the same themes we've seen since Philo T. Farnsworth?

Let's see, we've got an episode where the characters suddenly advance into old age (and once they figure out what's going on, they don't just stop the process, everyone becomes young again); we've got one where the characters swap bodies/minds; we've got the old crew member is guilty of murdering some local citizen somewhere; and my LEAST FAVORITE RECURRING THEME IN ALL OF TELEVISION:

The one where the characters are trapped in a video game.

Who the hell ever thought this was a good idea? The other examples (and there are plenty of others) have been showing up since Captain Kirk was helming the Enterprise in the original Star Trek. And they were repeated in all of the following Star Trek incarnations, and even in the X-Files, only tangentially science fiction. Yes, Mulder found himself trapped in a video game.

Now look, Farscape may have been on its way to jumping the shark. After all, the male and female leads were having a baby during season four. Introducing babies among the main characters has never been a good thing. It just changes the show's dynamic too much and rarely offers any sort of improvement. But trapped in a video game? Other than my earlier irrational distrust of puppets, I can say with confidence that this is an incredibly stupid concept, borne out by the actual episodes of the various lemming-like shows.

At least its the only one on my list that wasn't used in the original Star Trek. I used to watch reruns on a UHF channel with one hand on the antenna, trying to follow the action through the snowy picture. And thankfully, James T. Kirk and First Officer Spock never found themselves in the absurd predicament of existing within a virtual reality, let alone a freakin' video game.

But it was the sixties, though, and video games weren't video games back then. If Roddenberry and crew had attempted this nonsense, they would have been forced to drop Kirk and Spock into a Pong game. I have no idea what that would look like, and I'm not sad.


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