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April 8, 2008 |

By Phillip Stephens | Guides | April 8, 2008 |

I may be committing an act of apostasy against my fellow geeks, but I’m getting bored with the hysterical love for Joss Whedon; I seem to be one of the few people who don’t think he shits gold ingots from a potpourri-scented poop-chute. I appreciate much of the guy’s oeuvre, but I think “Firefly” is oversold as the king of cult sci-fi. In any case, its praises have been sung enough by this site and plenty others, and now that my colleagues have reluctantly given the mike to my iconoclastic hands, I want to cast some light on a neglected gem. Before there were Whedon’s characters spouting cavalier one-liners while getting shot in the face, there was “Farscape”; and before there was frak, there was frell.

“Farscape” came about because of a number of downright bizarre confluences — produced by the Jim Henson Company and Hallmark Entertainment (?), the show was filmed in Australia. Though Jim Henson had long since passed (and if you ask me, the guy ascended directly to Heaven, high-fiving Galahad and Jesus along the way), his production company continued to do excellent work in effects and animatronics — two of the show’s main characters would be animatronic puppets. Despite American producers, the show was, for all purposes, Australian, showcasing excellent stage actors largely unknown to American audiences and a unique brand of Aussie humor (read: brutal insanity).

The show begins with astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) accidentally sucked into a wormhole and launched to a remote part of the universe smack dab in the middle of warring empires and countless alien species. Crichton ends up on a living ship with several escaped convicts of disparate backgrounds and personalities; I won’t go into much detail, but they’re all nutters with their own agendas, and all are basically disdainful of Crichton as a bizarre, inferior species. The angle of treating the lone andro as a talentless, mentally deficient, and physically substandard goon is a cool twist on the beneficent humanity of “Star Trek” and its ilk; Crichton has to spend almost the entire first season of the show proving he’s worth his compatriots not throwing him into space, which he does precisely because of his lack of focused abilities.

More than the content of “Farscape,” which you could probably find in any standard Doc Smith/Roddenberry space opera, it’s the show’s tone that really makes it something impressive. The producers must’ve handed a remarkable amount of control to the writers and actors, because the sheer maniacal chemistry among the players is palpable. Crichton drops Earth/American/Southern pop culture references incessantly, which is often the reason his shipmates think he’s a lunatic, but the cast uses an entire lexicon of xeno-obscenities. Indeed, before our friends from “Battlestar Galactica” were frakking it up, “Farscape” was frelling the dren out of all hezmana, effectively letting everyone be as profane as they pleased. Adding to the mix was that unhinged brand of Aussie humor, often so manic as to border on surrealism, which certainly pushed the boundaries of what viewers were used to.

The first two seasons offer plenty of hilarity, action, and exposition, but it’s in Season Three that the show peaks, dipping the drama into exceedingly dark territory while giving the filmmakers themselves the same free rein as the actors. The camera bobs and weaves, creating a palette of hyper-expressionism that perfectly houses the dramatic turns in the narrative (i.e. several core relationships are destroyed and a host of the main characters are killed).

It’s perhaps better testimony than I can give to present the fervor surrounding the show’s abrupt cancellation after Season Four because of ratings issues (read: the Sci Fi Channel being retards). The resultant fan outcry, which led to a concluding miniseries (which was also excellent), was one of the first mass internet campaigns to inveigle something substantial from network politicking. The fans wanted more of something great, and got it. Regardless of whether you’re a sci-fi enthusiast, you’ll probably love this show for the chemistry between the actors and the relationships between the characters, including one of the best love stories (Aeryn/Crichton) and the best hero-villain relationships (Crichton/Scorpius) of the last several decades, more than anything else. And that, in my estimation, makes for damn good television, no matter the genre.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic and book editor for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR, and wastes his twenties in grad school(s).

Guides | April 8, 2008 |

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