Last night I finished the mini-series followup to the SciFi TV show Farscape. I was first exposed to Farscape in the late 90s when it was running on TV, but since my family didn’t have cable, I only saw an episode or two at my grandparents. Since then, I watched the first six episodes of the series multiple times, as those were the only episodes available at my local library or Blockbuster. However, now that I’m sharing Netflix streaming with my family, I was able to watch the show again from scratch. And I can say right away, I missed a true treasure.
Farscape ran on TV from 1999 to 2003, and then a 3 hour miniseries was released in 2004 to make up for the abrupt cancellation of the series at the end of the fourth season (the show was initially contracted for five years). While Farscape was running on TV, I was watching shows like Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise, Andromeda, and Smallville. And without exception, Farscape is far superior to any science fiction television being produced in America at the time (Stargate SG-1, which was also running, was produced in Canada, and I didn’t start watching it til 2006). Farscape was filmed in Australia by the Jim Henson Company, employed mostly Australian actors with the exception of the title character, played by American Ben Browder (who later went on to star on Stargate SG-1 along with his other Farscape co-star, Claudia Black).
Now, I don’t consider Farscape to be the best science fiction television show…that honor still goes to the new Battlestar Galatica, but Farscape was superb. It’s hard to describe exactly why that is. The premise of Farscape is that an American astronaut, John Crichton, gets sucked into a wormhole and sent to a distant galaxy, where he hooks up with a bunch of escaped criminals and convicts. His sole goal is to survive and get back home. But along the way, Crichton gets hunted by a rogue military captain who blames Crichton for an accident that caused the death of his brother (also military), Crichton comes across the knowledge of how to construct wormholes, and new military personnel hunt Crichton for the knowledge trapped in his head. Crichton does indeed return to Earth, only to “close the door” by destroying the wormhole, and bringing the fight back to the civilizations and militaries coming after him. Oh, and Crichton falls in love and has a child.
I think the main reason I like Farscape so much is that it is incredibly different from anything else I’ve seen on TV. It has a scope to it that few TV shows can afford; I imagine they shot everywhere on location in Australia, as they often have grand vistas and amazing locations. Obviously the onboard ship stuff was shot on a sound stage, but very few outdoor locations were, something far different than any Star Trek show at the time. There is also an irreverence to Farscape that other shows are lacking. Since the basic premise is that a regular human being, albeit an astronaut who is nearly part cowboy and highschool football jock, gets sent to a distant galaxy, everything is filtered through his reactions and experiences. So he starts calling everyone pet names, drops tons of pop culture references, refers to things as TVs and phones and the like, and basically comes across as a late 20th century human living in a galaxy far, far away.
Farscape is also a show that is willing to be dark while funny at the same time. People die in this show, often brutally. Our heroes aren’t afraid to shoot someone in the head if the situation calls for it. They will do what must be done. And along with this darkness, you see Crichton basically go insane at times. Ben Browder appears to be channeling Christopher Walken on drugs playing Han Solo at times. Yet the show is also not afraid to be very tender, touching, and hopeful. Whole characters exist to bring comfort and comedy to the darkness. Since this is a Jim Henson production, the puppetry work is especially there for comedic relief, yet also play serious roles at times as well.
It’s worth mentioning that Farscape is very much a serial type of show, meaning it’s not a bunch of standalone episodes. There are some series length story arcs. The first season is a little more episodic, and the transition between season one and two can be a little jarring. I’m serious, it’s very noticeable that the show goes a bit darker and more story driven at the start of the second season; I think they even changed one of the puppets a bit, but it goes back to “normal” in an episode or two. Also, the miniseries (The Peacekeeper Wars) is also noticeable different than the rest of the Farscape show; one character’s voice (a puppet, of course) is very different, despite being played by the same actor.
I think The Peacekeeper Wars is a great ending to the show. It wraps up nearly every important storyline and does so in spectacular fashion. It’s paced well, and the ending is both bittersweet, hopeful, and instead of leaving you wanting more, you want to go back to the beginning and reexperience it all over again (a trait it shares with Battlestar Galactica). In fact, Farscape is notoriously hard to find on DVD (at least beyond barebones packages, the special “Starburst” edition was ridiculously overpriced and hard to find), but they are releasing the whole series on Blu-Ray soon, and it may become the first TV show I buy on Blu-Ray.
Farscape is a rare treat. It’s a smart, intelligent, quirky, irrevent, deep, and definitely mature science fiction series. They just don’t make shows like this anymore. It’s incredibly unique and one of a kind, and a show I look forward to sharing with family and friends for the rest of my life.