A brief history lesson: I remember a time when there was something on cable called the Sci-Fi Channel (it’s now called Syfy, you may have heard) and for the longest time, it was full on reruns of classic science-fiction and Mystery Science Theater 3000. Sometime around 1999, they started to branch out into original programming. Among the first of the shows they wheeled out was one produced by Jim Henson’s company, and was a largely Australian production called Farscape. It was meant to not really be a muppet-esque sci-fi show (although there are clearly puppeteered creations at work here), but a combination of puppets, make-up, and CG, and yes, regular humans. So cut to several years later, when after four seasons and a follow-up miniseries, I was a full-blown fan.
The story in a nutshell is astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder), on an experimental shuttle flight, ends up going through a wormhole into another galaxy, and becomes involved with a group of escaped prisoners. Among those prisoners (all aliens, mind you), are warrior D’argo (Anthony Simcoe), priestess Zhaan (Virgnia Hey, who kind of reminds me of an Asari from Mass Effect without the weird head tendrils), deposed king Rygel (one of the few puppets on the show, voiced by Jonathan Hardy), and the ship itself: Moya, a living ship known as a Leviathan and its Pilot (another puppet, voiced by Lani Tupu, who appears as frequent nemesis Crais). Its nice to see the whole “stranger in a strange land” concept being turned on its head by Crichton being the one forced to play catch-up with everything going on with this group and their escape from their captors, the totalitarian Peacekeepers. He’s the audience surrogate, bringing us into the world and trying to figure out how to survive in this situation.
Also an unwilling passenger onboard Moya is captured Peacekeeper pilot Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), who tries through the first episode to escape, but due to circumstances, gets stuck with this motley crew. Those circumstances happen to be because of Peacekeeper commander Crais, who wants Crichton dead for accidentally hitting and destroying his brother’s fighter ship with the shuttle, and then condemns Aeryn to death when she tries to save John from his fate. A lot of the tension early on in the season comes from their need to appease for their sins or return to their home overriding their need to stay together, even though their alliance to stay alive tends to win out in the end.
The first episode does a pretty good job of setting up the conflicts and relationships that will carry the series through, even though it does feel like there’s a bit of the rush in the third act to get those characters there (FYI: I’m watching the 50 minute episodes that were aired for international television for season one, which really just have extra scenes of dialogue, and don’t affect the plot of the episode). What I appreciate about this opener is how little we really know about the characters going in, and you’re not sure about the loyalty of anyone. Plus, Rygel farts helium. Yep, puppet farting.
A variation of “E.T.” in that Crichton finds himself being the alien visitor taken care of by a scientist and her son while Moya is getting a tricky Peacekeeper homing beacon removed with the help of Zhaan and Rygel. Its clear that the show is trying to find its footing as to tone, to be friendly to audiences while having some pretty dark moments (Rygel taking a bite out of Aeryn in anger) here and there. Not a bad episode, and certainly ends on a brighter note than later episodes in the series’ run, but like many second episodes, ends up restating things already brought up in the premiere.
“Exodus From Genesis”
While evading a Peacekeeper patrol ship, Moya picks up an organism that starts replicating the crew and messes with the ship’s environmental controls enough to endanger Aeryn’s life. Another decent episode, which picks up a bit thanks to the third act reappearance of the Peacekeeper patrol ship. And Aeryn finally warms to Crichton. Awwwww!
“Throne For A Loss”
Rygel’s kidnapped by a group of aliens who believes he’s still a king, leaving John and Aeryn to rescue him from captivity, mostly because Rygel took a control circuit that is causing Moya’s orbit to deteriorate. Out of this batch of episodes, this is probably my favorite and certainly the most action packed of the bunch. Plus, some nice physical humor, especially with Aeryn’s method of bringing Crichton along for the rescue mission (Jab, my ass). Oh yeah, some alien backside nudity as well (yes, kind of like Liara from Mass Effect too). So there’s that.
Its been a few years since I last sat down to watch the show in full, and I’m surprised how well it holds up (could do without some of the synth music and slow-mo stuff though), even knowing the show is still ironing out the kinks as to how far they can push things. Its strange seeing Crichton still relatively sane in comparison to the manic levels he gets taken to later on in the series’ run, and everyone else still wary of each other’s motives. And yes, it reminds of my early 00’s crush on Aeryn, which may be something I should not have just brought up. I’m sure I’ll have other embarrassing observations to make as this series of mini-caps progresses, so you can look forward to that next time.
And now, some notes:
–Crichton’s pop-culture references aren’t really dated, which is good news.
–Yes, leave the toilet humor of the show to involve Rygel somehow. My favorite occasion of this is in “Throne For A Loss” with him returning an object he hid in…well, him. Yeah.
Next Time: Crichton has déjà vu on a loop in “Back And Back And Back To The Future”; a pleasure-filled utopia holds danger in “Thank God Its Friday…Again”; Crichton makes a new friend in “PK Tech Girl”; and he then gets forced to fight Crais to the death by a evil sorcerer in “That Old Black Magic”.