My Favorite ‘Scape

Thinking of last week’s post and the general notion of sharing creative work that excites, I stumbled across an interview with Rockne S. O’Bannon about Farscape, the sprawling space opera that ran on TV from 1999 to 2003.

How much do I like Farscape? Let me put it this way: I’ve introduced many, many people to Firefly: lent them the DVDs, pestered them via social media when it’s been streaming on Netflix. If I learned a new installment of Firefly existed, I would schedule some time to watch within the next few weeks.

If I learned Farscape was back, I would body-check man and muppet on my way to tune in. I wouldn’t even care that’d it’d probably be “on demand.”

(And yes, I know comics “continue the story” for both. I’ve checked ’em out and I still want the screen versions).

So why would I recommend Farscape?

It’s continually visually inventive. Beyond what you’ll probably hear that Farscape revels in getting weird –which is both true and delightful– both the visual effects and the creatures cooked up by the Jim Henson company are astounding again and again. It blows the Next Generation’s minimalist “forehead variation” makeup out of the water. I’ve heard from some people who can’t abide by anything slightly Muppet-like, so if Dark Crystal isn’t your bag, there may be moments of dislike. I’m biased, of course, but I think any of those moments are far outweighed by true “wow” moments.

It is equally at home with comedy and drama. Much like Deep Space Nine, Cowboy Bebop, and, yes, Firefly, it contains narrative multitudes. And importantly, it is driven by the story. The episode where they switch bodies is just as ridiculous as you’d expect and the episode “Season of Death” fully lives up to its title.

The heroes are heroic in spite of constant screw-ups and curve balls. Much in the tradition of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the heroes aren’t compelling because they win all the time, but how they deal with losing. And they get very inventive at trying not to lose. The fact that the very first episode shows the main hero thinking his way out of the episode’s dilemma is refreshing (though he proves to be quite adept with a pulse pistol).

The stories keep moving. They pack what might have made for an older TV show’s two-parter into a lean 45 minutes — and their three parters were usually wondrous. Just as you’re thinking “what if they…?” they go ahead and do it. It’s like the writers wanted to cut to the chase and get all the ideas on screen while they still could. Viewers of Castle in its prime as well as the best of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will recognize this breakneck pace. It’s exhilarating.

So there you have it. It’s sadly no longer on streaming Netflix nor Amazon Prime, but it is available on DVD via Netflix (I’m not the only one who uses that, right?)

Update: a filmmaker friend passed along this video extolling the virtues of Farscape:

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