I know I’m not the only one who grew up collecting movie and TV soundtracks… and the opening themes of many works retain an almost Pavlovian response on me (and I’ve also tested this on my kids in the name of parent science: the Fraggle Rock theme still works).
Okay, so what with streaming services, shorter TV seasons, and season premieres popping up whenever there’s a quiet moment, this list from the Hollywood Reporter doesn’t carry the same import, but I still find it interesting look over what’s been renewed, what’s ending, and what’s precariously on the bubble in terms of TV shows.
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:
This is one of those perennial Vox pieces I’m glad they do every year, because there’s a lot of shows. In fact, some might say there’s a glut of shows out there, which has led to occasional questions of whether we’re at “peak TV.”
Incidentally, I previously linked to a piece discussing what “peak TV” might mean anyway, but I find the way Variety tracks it is works for me: the number of scripted series. The concern, then, is not necessarily that we would exhaust the supply of talented storytellers making the various series, but that the series become so numerous that too many of them fail to find an audience and economic security (i.e., continued survival).
Todd VanDerWerff explores this more in-depth (also in Vox), including both the cyclical nature of notions of TV being horrible and then wonderful as well as the ways in which the quantity of media coverage on a particular TV show does not necessarily track to its quality.
On my Twitter feed, I frequently use the hashtag “#futureTV,” because I’m borderline obsessed with how TV is transforming, both in terms of how it’s getting made and how it’s being viewed (or “consumed” if you want to be extra biz-speaky).
Kenneth Ziffren in the Hollywood Reporter delves in deeper on the numbers side of things to explain why he thinks “skinny bundles” are not going to survive on their lonesome… and that many of these new content sources can only work by being “additive” to the existing albeit evolving TV infrastructure. I suppose skeptics might point out that Mr. Ziffren –one of the founders of media law firm Ziffren Brittenham— might have an interested in maintaining the media status quo. And I’m sure I’m not the only consumer who doesn’t care that “unbundling” and moving to an “a la carte” system could destroy $100 billion worth of market capitalization. But the financial powers that be surely care — and it might affect what we as consumers can watch (given my social media feeds, anything that interferes with future travels to Stars Hollow may be grounds for bloody revolution).
And finally, there’s this piece by David Sims in The Atlantic about how Disney and Fox have come to an agreement with Hulu to offer live TV via Hulu. Talk about the plot thickening.
In part, I still find it frustrating, because so much of the energy seems to be about establishing content fiefdoms that bigwigs hope will become the standard — or at least realize “attractive market capitalization” — as opposed to “offering a damn fine service that consumers love.”
I mean, I know the financiers don’t like to admit consumers want what they want when they want it, but it was ever thus.
I’ve been thinking about “Peak TV” and such from a couple of articles I talked about back in January. Of course, one of the issues with TV or any cinematic development is that you need something of a development pipeline.