I was just watching some old video files I downloaded a while ago, and I came to the realization that some (or dare I say, most) of the best TV shows get cancelled before their time. So I thought I’d mention some of my favorites, in the hope that I’d get people interested in some of these lost gems. As far as I know, they’re all available on DVD.
Jeez, it’s hard to explain this show. It takes place during the Great Depression, and on the surface, it’s about a struggling traveling carnival, and a seemingly-unrelated preacher. In the first episode, the carnival picks up a young man (Ben, the main character) who, unbeknownst to them, has the power to heal others. Ben and the preacher also share some sort of bond, and are gradually drawn to each other. Eventually, you realize that it’s not really about a carnival at all, but a battle between good and evil. There’s all sorts of mysticism and prophesy and a very deep mythology. Or there would have been.
Unfortunately, it only lasted for 2 seasons. The first season was very, well, deliberately paced, which could be mistaken for “slow”. The ratings weren’t very good, but HBO was kind enough to give it a second season to tie everything together.
The second season was nowhere near as deliberate as the first, and they abandoned the gradual buildup of the first season to get about 4 seasons of material into one. Things really start happening, and many mysteries are explained, including what the show is really about.
Personally, I can’t decide which season works better. At the end of the first, I felt like “wow, this is a really cool show, but I still have no clue what it’s about”. The second explained too much, and of course there are plenty of plotlines still open, since they were hoping that ratings would improve enough for more seasons, or a movie of some sort.
To be a Carnivàle fan is to know true frustration, but I still recommend checking it out.
Farscape is about modern-day human astronaut John Crichton, who gets lost in space and winds up aboard a ship with several escaping alien prisoners. He accidentally pisses off a military officer, and must stay with the ship and prisoners to keep from being captured. Gradually, he makes friends with the prisoners and acquires lots of enemies. Crichton’s quest for a way home is detoured when it turns out that he posesses something that the great military forces of the galaxy desire.
The show was produced by the Jim Henson Company, which means that the show is filled with weird alien creatures of every variety. Some characters are covered in extensive makeup, some obscured under very clever prosthetics, and some are actually elaborate animatronic puppets. Makes the pointy ears and goofy foreheads on Star Trek look quaint.
The show is full of sci-fi goodness like spaceship battles, laser gunfights, elaborate story arcs, oppressive military forces and all that, but it also has some truly amazing characters. Though there is a core group of characters, there are also often additions and subtractions as Crichton and his shipmates meet up with new people, all with their own agendas. Nobody is who they seem to be on the surface. Trusted allies can wind up betraying their friends, enemies can become friends, and just about everybody is crazy.
Farscape was the show that really helped the Sci-Fi Channel get off the ground, and helped it to become more than a glorified rerun network. The show ran for 4 seasons and was apparently approved for a fifth, but then Sci-Fi axed it. It was their most popular show, and they cancelled it. Of course, it was also their most expensive show.
Fortunately, Sci-Fi let them finish the show with a 3-hour miniseries a couple years after cancellation, but it’s really hard to tie up 4 years of an elaborate story in 3 hours.
I think they still air the show in reruns, but it’s one of those shows that you need to watch from start to finish, so I recommend DVDs.
Star Trek (1966-1969)
I just wanted to briefly mention the grandaddy of them all, because without the original Star Trek, where would Science Fiction be today? Like any good sci-fi, it was far deeper than it seemed. The show tackled numerous social issues, from race to war to religion, you name it. It only lasted 3 seasons before it was cancelled due to poor ratings, but it changed the world. And it looks better than ever on the recently released remastered DVDs.
Enterprise never got the respect it deserved. True, it started out a little slow, but so did every other Star Trek show, and most other TV shows too, for that matter. The first season is pretty decent. The second season is good. The third season is great, and the fourth is also great, but for different reasons.
The show takes place many years before the Original Series, and the Enterprise is the first and only human ship capable of long-range space exploration. There’s no Federation yet. Humanity has only had contact with a few alien races (the first being Vulcans, of course) so they’re eager to get out there and see what’s what. In fact, in the first episode, they see their first Klingon (dun dun duuuun!) and have to return him to his homeworld.
For the first 2 seasons, it’s all classic Star Trek fare – seeking out new life and/or civilizations, going boldly and all that. The one hickup is the inclusion of the “Temporal Cold War” storyline. In the first episode, we’re introduced to a new evil alien race called the Suliban, who are these crazy souped-up genetic experiments from the future, or something. Fortunately, there aren’t that many episodes involving the TCW, and they’re mostly absent from Seasons 3 and 4.
In Season 3 and 4, the episodes are way better. Season 3 is basically one long storyline where the Enterprise has to stop a race of aliens bent on destroying Earth. Season 4 takes major strides toward the formation of the Federation, and plays with a lot of established Trek lore. In one 3-parter, you get to see them deal with some of Khan’s leftover genetics experiments, meet Data’s great-grandfather, and find out why the original Kirk-era Klingons looked so much different than they do on the other shows.
The characters are kinda standard, though they get much more interesting as time goes on. Captain Archer is more like Kirk than other captains, though he’s also somewhat less sure of what he’s doing, since what he’s doing has never been done by other humans before. The science officer is an uppity female Vulcan who seems to only be there to tell the puny humans how stupid they are for the first season. The rest of the cast are all humans for obvious reasons. There’s a likable southern engineer who winds up in a lot of embarassing situations (and provides most of the swearing on the show), a quiet British armory officer, a worrisome Asian communications officer, and the token black guy who flies the ship, or something. Oh, and then there’s Phlox, who’s an alien doctor (best character on the show).
After 4 seasons, the show was ended due to low ratings. The final episode (which is generally considered equal to Paramount kicking each of the show’s fans in the balls) is a Holodeck simulation on the Next Generation Enterprise, featuring Riker and Troy looking pretty old and overweight playing the characters they played 15 years ago. Sigh.
I’ve got more shows to cover, but I’m getting tired of writing, so I think I’ll make this a two-parter and continue tomorrow or something. And yes, I’m going to mention Firefly.