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    mindspike
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    Farscape Shawarma

    Post  mindspike on April 23rd 2014, 4:13 pm

    Farscape Shawarma

    If Paeter is committed to a weekly Farscape review, I think we could encourage him a bit with our own views of the series. In the interest of organization, I would suggest that we attempt to restrain comments to the episode of the week instead of looking far ahead or behind. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to mention the particular episode under discussion. I’ll start.

    1.1 Premiere

    I have a complicated relationship with Farscape. I faithfully watched the first season when it originally aired. I bought the RPG that AEG did for the d20 System – an excellent book by the way. When the second season rolled out, I jumped ship as a regular viewer and only caught a few random episodes after that. When it was eventually canceled, I didn’t even notice.

    But Paeter is a huge fan, and I don’t begrudge him that enjoyment. I’m even willing to revisit the series on a weekly basis with him over the next year and half because I really did enjoy that first season. Unfortunately when it comes to Farscape Shawarma, I find myself cast in the role of Loyal Opposition. I listened to his podcast, and then rewatched the first episode with that in mind. My reactions were almost point-for-point opposed to Paeter’s.

    The series premiere is an unapologetic blending of the pilot episodes for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Lost in Space, even going so far as to recreate the Buck Rogers opening credits sequence. The central conceit of the show takes Gil Gerard’s winning smile and two-fisted approach to problem solving tempered with Guy William’s big brain and marries them into Ben Browder. Key scenes in the premiere are even recreations of scenes from the first episodes of Buck Rogers and Lost In Space, with Aeryn Sun in the roles of Ardala and Dr. Smith.

    Of the aliens we meet, D’Argo wears heavy prosthetics and Zhaan wears … uh … considerably less. It is difficult to avoid comparisons to late-90s Klingons, Twi’leks (the tentacled dancer from Return of the Jedi), and the infamous semi-nude green-skinned Rigelian slave girl from Star Trek. All of the other aliens are highly detailed puppets that nevertheless look and move like puppets. The CGI in this film is remarkably dated, but exceptional when compared to its contemporaries.

    I found the characters to be little more than one-note stereotypes. D’Argo is the angry guy obsessed with being a warrior. Sun is the tough chick who only sees things one way. Zhaan is the eye candy whose behavior is scandalous and tantalizing. Rygel is an elitist jerk. Crichton is the guy who is good at everything. Crais is blindly vindictive and abuses his authority. The only hint of depth comes at the end when Crichton is dictating a message to his father (another Lost in Space reference), and we get to see him finally absorb his circumstances. Each of these characters will be explored as the series progresses, but for now we have a crew who doesn’t really need or like each other thrown together on a ship they don’t want to be on and which makes them an easily identifiable target, and held there solely by writer’s fiat. This being a pilot episode I’m cutting a generous amount of slack here.

    Looking ahead, we are going to find a series that is definitively episodic in nature, what Matt McKinney calls “what-if stories”. What Paeter refers to as “long-form storytelling” is in this case only an acknowledgment of series continuity within episodes after the pattern established in American sci-fi television by Lost in Space. The first season lacks a throughline, plot escalation, or climactic resolution. I'm looking forward to revisiting the first season, and I’m curious as to what the second through fourth seasons will bring.


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  Paeter on April 23rd 2014, 4:41 pm

    Originally posted these thoughts in the Group Collaboration section, but I think Mindspike is wise to put this discussion here instead. So here are my reactions to the Premiere:

    My expanded thoughts on the premiere can be found on "Farscape Shawarma" after the credits of episode 310 of the Spirit Blade Underground Podcast. But to get things rolling here I'll list some brief impressions of the episode after watching it recently (for about the 7th or 8th time).

    First, I thought it would be good to try and establish the etiquette of "no spoilers beyond current episode" in our discussion. If we slip, don't beat yourself up. But I thought it would be a good idea for those reading who may be new to the series.

    CG looks pretty dated and some shots were still pretty standard in their day. But a few other shots look great even by todays standards, such as Moya Starbursting. (Never gets old!)

    DRDs immediately say something about the bar being set by the practical effects, as well as the Zhaan and D'Argo makeup. Not before or since on tv have we seen alien make-up this complex. Then of course there's Rygel and Pilot, two fantastic creations.

    I'm a fan of fish out of water characters and stories, so that immediately appeals to me.

    Pop culture references are delivered in a somewhat forced manner at this stage, but its still a bit of a novelty.

    I love that this pilot is designed for repeat viewing. Eventually you realize that Zhaan and D'Argo think John is a Peacekeeper, which explains their immediate hostility toward him. Although far from the best Farscape, this pilot is already written in a way that demands and rewards attention.



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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  Paeter on April 23rd 2014, 5:00 pm

    mindspike wrote:Unfortunately when it comes to Farscape Shawarma, I find myself cast in the role of Loyal Opposition. I listened to his podcast, and then rewatched the first episode with that in mind. My reactions were almost point-for-point opposed to Paeter’s.

     lol! 

    May it never be said that you fear disagreement!

    Might I suggest NOT listening to or viewing my thoughts or anyone else's before watching each episode and sharing your own thoughts. (Or at least not reading/listening to anyone's thoughts before viewing.) I'd hate for my or anyone else's thoughts to artificially influence your focus or opinions(positively or negatively). That should only be the job of the episode itself.

    I actually agree with some of what you said. Lots of one-note characters so far. (Although being "good at everything" isn't the note I heard John singing...) And the "long-form" stuff doesn't kick in until sometime in season 2. For now your observations of it being episodic are perfectly in line with the show.

    As for the "homaging" or "ripping off", I couldn't care less. There is nothing new under the sun except the way we arrange pre-existing ingredients. And I find this arrangement to be very creative even at this early stage, despite doing some purposeful copying. For now we'll be getting lots of set-up with familiar tropes. The punchline from out of left field is coming later.

    In the meantime, enjoy "I E.T."...


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  mindspike on April 23rd 2014, 7:41 pm

    I don't want to accuse them of ripping off earlier material. Farscape comes hard on the heels of Star Trek: Voyager, which has a similar central motivation. Voyager is a show I would accuse of ripping off previous material. The stories and scenes in Farscape are dedicated recreations of material that I, and likely the creators, grew up watching. I would call it an homage in the artistic sense, respect for and acknowledgment of the superior quality of the source material. For another example, it's amusing to note how many episodes of Defiance are recreations of Bonanza.

    The decision to handle the first season of Farscape in this way is strategically very smart. It makes the show both familiar and novel at the same time, allowing the creators to make quality episodes by cherry-picking previous fan-favorites. The result is a show that is conscious of its roots and able to form a quick connection with the audience. We've seen this time and again in successful shows like X-Files (inspired by Kolchak the Night Stalker) and Fringe (inspired by X-Files). Farscape wasn't canceled due to low ratings, it fell victim to budget cuts.


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  Paeter on April 24th 2014, 2:23 pm

    102- I E.T.

    My expanded thoughts will be a part of the SBU Podcast, Ep 311 going up tomorrow. But for now I'll just give some basics.

    This episode is terrible. TERRRR-ible.

    Okay, I've certainly seen worse television by far. But as Farscape goes, this is about as un-Farscape as it gets. And I hate most of it for that reason.

    It feels like an episode of TNG or what I remember of the Stargate tv series: Visit planet. Wow the locals. Help them with their troubles. Leave in satisfaction.

    Production felt cheap. Planet was waaaaay too much like earth. Guest alien make-up felt like Star Trek.

    Acting among regulars feels awkward and unsettled into their characters.

    The rubber hand gag and accompanying Crichton lines gave me a much needed surprise laugh. But that was about it.

    In every way I can fathom, this episode is totally miss-able.


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  mindspike on April 24th 2014, 8:32 pm

    I'm watching on Netflix, and they are listed in order of air date. Which apparently does not match production order..... Ay yi yi....


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  tmorrill on April 25th 2014, 10:50 am

    mindspike wrote:I'm watching on Netflix, and they are listed in order of air date. Which apparently does not match production order..... Ay yi yi....

    Yep, that messed me up a little bit when I was re-watching them on Netflix a few months ago, I was hoping they would have fixed it by now.

    I haven't rewatched I E.T yet, but I remember enjoying it when I watched it last. It doesn't compare to the rest of the series, that's for sure. Since it's an early episode when the actors were still learning their roles I'm willing to cut it some slack.

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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  WhiteBoy on April 25th 2014, 4:33 pm

    mindspike wrote:I'm watching on Netflix, and they are listed in order of air date. Which apparently does not match production order..... Ay yi yi....

    Same, so I just looked down to find "I, E. T." to watch it. I enjoyed the irony shown in the episode. Anyone remember Starman where the alien and the human fall in love? Anyway, it took all the stereotypical "afraid of aliens" cliche's and turned it around to where we are the alien. Simple, but amusing.


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  Paeter on April 28th 2014, 10:21 am

    mindspike wrote:I'm watching on Netflix, and they are listed in order of air date. Which apparently does not match production order..... Ay yi yi....

    Weird... You mean I E.T. didn't air immediately after the pilot? (I came on at "Throne For A Loss" and caught up later.) I would imagine the Ep order won't have many screw ups like that as we move forward and viewing order becomes more essential.

    Of course I think I E.T. can just be skipped altogether.


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  mindspike on April 28th 2014, 10:28 am

    It's really very common for shows to air in other than production or scripting order, which may or may not be changed when (if) the show is brought to video. I remember when Sci-Fi aired Babylon 5 Crusade backwards. They literally started with the last episode and aired them in reverse order.

    I would have gone with "simple, but not so amusing." Like Paeter mentioned, this kind of thing has been done to death on Star Trek. It reminds me of the kind of stories I see in slush all the time, and a key indicator that the show doesn't yet have an identity of its own. Things will improve.

    The interaction is still by-the-numbers, and the show continues to look like a Saturday morning special, not surprising since Brian Henson came from that background (like many of us) and intended to recapture that feeling "but edgy!" One out two's not bad. At this point the language, violence, and sexuality are so low key that I'm perfectly comfortable watching the show with my ten-year-old, and he loves it.


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  WhiteBoy on April 28th 2014, 1:15 pm

    Yeah, I was thinking about bringing my kinds along on the ride, too.


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  Paeter on April 29th 2014, 7:34 pm

    WhiteBoy wrote:Yeah, I was thinking about bringing my kinds along on the ride, too.

    No spoilers, but... the later eps may not be a good fit for kids, depending on age. Hook them at risk...


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  Dunadwarf on May 1st 2014, 12:04 am

    I'm trying to get Rohelf to watch along with you, Paeter.
    I liked the show overall, but I have to disagree with some of your absolute claims:
    Both Babylon-5 (acknowledged) and Deep Space 9 (unacknowledged) had long-form storylines well before this. Also, while the make-up and puppeteering is impressive, it's hardly unprecedented. All three preceding modern Star Trek shows, classic Dr. Who and B-5 had make-up as intricate as Farscape's at times, and I know that Stargate utilized puppets for at least one of its major alien races. Impressive, certainly (Pilot, especially, is virtually alive, he's so well done), but hardly unprecedented.
    I'd say Farscape's greatest strength is not that it came up with new ideas, but that it took classic sci-fi conventions and took them in awesome new directions, like body-swapping, brain implants and character duplicates. All things that have been done many times before, but Farscape found new ways to use them.
    I'd still recommend SF Debris' Farscape reviews (at this time, he' done: "Premiere", "A Bug's Life", "Nerve", "The Hidden Memory", "Bone to be Wild", "The Way We Weren't", "Out of Their Minds", "The Ugly Truth", the "Liars, Guns & Money" trilogy, and "Scratch 'N Sniff")...to see them, go to http://sfdebris.com/videos/farscape.php
    I think that the show's biggest shortcoming (other than Monkeyslut, of course) is that it's often too quick with critical information, and so you often have people just...there suddenly. I get that they're flying by the seat of their pants, but the audience shouldn't be just as lost. Some level of guesswork is okay for a while, but as things got more and more complicated, I think the show really needed to be a little quicker on getting the audience (especially at the time of broadcast when people might have missed a few episodes) caught up. With the sheer number of new additions and outsiders, simple onscreen explanations would have been valid and helpful.

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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  Paeter on May 1st 2014, 12:09 pm

    Dunadwarf wrote:
    I liked the show overall, but I have to disagree with some of your absolute claims:
    Both Babylon-5 (acknowledged) and Deep Space 9 (unacknowledged) had long-form storylines well before this. Also, while the make-up and puppeteering is impressive, it's hardly unprecedented. All three preceding modern Star Trek shows, classic Dr. Who and B-5 had make-up as intricate as Farscape's at times, and I know that Stargate utilized puppets for at least one of its major alien races. Impressive, certainly (Pilot, especially, is virtually alive, he's so well done), but hardly unprecedented.

    Can't remember the "absolute claims" you're referring to, but when it comes to Farscape I'm no stranger to hyperbole. So I'll both take your word for it and correct myself.

    DS9 did have some long-form, especially in later seasons. But I do think on average it was easier to watch and understand indvidual eps of DS9 without knowledge of other eps when compared to Farscape and, from what I understand, B5.

    And if I used the word "unprecedented", I should either correct or clarify. There is nothing new under the sun. My memory fails me, but I suppose its possible that one or more eps of Star Trek had make-up on the level of complexity of a Farscape make-up. But that would be on its very best days, where as Farscape had, by comparison, far more intricate, varied makeup and practical effects every week. They were commonplace. The same is true of puppet/practical effects.

    When other shows did this, it was a stand out episode. They pulled out the stops to make it happen. It was not typical. When Farscape did it it was just another episode of nearly a hundred. It was the combined quality and frequency of these elements that I would say is without precedent in scifi TV.


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  Paeter on May 1st 2014, 8:11 pm

    103, "Exodus From Genesis"

    See SBU Ep 312 for my expanded thoughts. For here are just offer the following reactions:

    Yikes that make-up is lame on those peacekeepers!

    Some vulnerability from Aeryn! Introduction to "Heat Delerium" and the strain on Aeryn allows her character and values to be explored a little, which is nice.

    Still don't like Zaan and I like her when she is possessed even less.

    Still pretty formulaic.

    Highest praise is that it's better than "I E.T.".

    If this was another rough one for you, hang in for next week! One of my favorite 1st season eps!


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  mindspike on May 1st 2014, 10:23 pm

    "Exodus from Genesis" takes pages from the playbooks of both Lost in Space and Star Trek. Encounter a life form whose hostility is only a misunderstanding. Use trick science to solve the problem. Have a member of the crew react badly to the solution. The show continues to search for its own identity, but if you've never seen the classics it's a good introduction to sci-fi formula.

    The Sabacean Heat Delirium is a low point of the show, sloppy writing to enable blatant use of the heat as a plot device. The subsequent attempts to explore Aeryn's character through weakness and Crichton's character through cleverness are both amateurish and contrived. The gimmicky writing continues in Rygel's interaction with the alien life form. Still, I'm enjoying my son's reaction to the show. It's not bad television, it's just formulaic.


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  Paeter on May 2nd 2014, 10:48 am

    mindspike wrote:
    The Sabacean Heat Delirium is a low point of the show, sloppy writing to enable blatant use of the heat as a plot device. The subsequent attempts to explore Aeryn's character through weakness and Crichton's character through cleverness are both amateurish and contrived.

    Wow! I must really relate to things that are "amateurish and contrived"! ;-)


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  mindspike on May 2nd 2014, 2:02 pm

    Paeter wrote:
    mindspike wrote:
    The Sabacean Heat Delirium is a low point of the show, sloppy writing to enable blatant use of the heat as a plot device. The subsequent attempts to explore Aeryn's character through weakness and Crichton's character through cleverness are both amateurish and contrived.
    Wow! I must really relate to things that are "amateurish and contrived"! ;-)

    Storytelling, like everything else, including and especially artistic expression, has a form that dictates overall quality.

    In this case, I expect you're reacting to Aeryn's expression of weakness and Crichton's determination to defend his crew. These traits are admirable and obviously made a connection with you to elicit a reaction.

    Me? I can't see past the tropes to care about the characters. The hard soldier is felled by a physical weakness. The least regarded member of the crew must prove to be the cleverest. The obnoxious jerk hides a royal dignity.

    It's all done with a very heavy hand (amateur) and timed so as to solve or create problems at key points in the story (contrived). These are not value judgements; they are technical terms describing the kind of storytelling.

    I said before, Farscape isn't bad television. It just has a very specific form.


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  mindspike on May 5th 2014, 12:08 pm

    The first season of Farscape, more than many other shows by small studios, is plagued by the lack of a unified writing team. Until the introduction of Richard Manning in "Throne for a Loss", no single writer worked on more than two episodes of the series at all. They're having the same problem with directors. Part of this is due to the small budget since Brian Henson couldn't foot the bill all by himself. At the time, Jim Henson Studios was at a low point in the business, and part of the vision for Farscape was to return the studio to preeminence. Part of it was due to the location, shooting in Australia was good for the budget but bad for the talent pool.

    The entire first and second seasons of Farscape are free to watch on Hulu, but they are listed in the order they were broadcast on Sci-Fi. The production order, which matches both the RPG and the home video release, is the order they are being discussed.

    Some useful links:

    Farscape on Hulu: http://www.hulu.com/farscape

    List of Farscape Episodes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Farscape_episodes

    Prepare for starburst!


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  Paeter on May 6th 2014, 3:44 pm

    mindspike wrote:

    It's all done with a very heavy hand (amateur) and timed so as to solve or create problems at key points in the story (contrived). These are not value judgements; they are technical terms describing the kind of storytelling.

    Thanks for the clarification in how you're using your terms(as technical terms). In my experience of day to day conversation, those words aren't ever used in their technical sense, but in their common usage, in which they are expressions used in the context of strong subjective opinions stated as though they were objective fact.

    I'll try to keep my "translator microbes" calibrated properly when I next read your comments. ;-)



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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  Paeter on May 6th 2014, 5:16 pm

    Paeter wrote: In my experience of day to day conversation, those words aren't ever used in their technical sense, but in their common usage, in which they are expressions used in the context of strong subjective opinions stated as though they were objective fact.

    For which, of course, I am myself quite guilty. ;-)


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  mindspike on May 6th 2014, 6:44 pm

    Paeter wrote:Thanks for the clarification in how you're using your terms(as technical terms). In my experience of day to day conversation, those words aren't ever used in their technical sense, but in their common usage, in which they are expressions used in the context of strong subjective opinions stated as though they were objective fact.

    I'll try to keep my "translator microbes" calibrated properly when I next read your comments. ;-)

    I need to slip out of my editor's hat more often. To paraphrase the Consortium of Trao from the next episode, "The imperfection is mine."


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  Paeter on May 7th 2014, 8:24 pm

    mindspike wrote:
    I need to slip out of my editor's hat more often. To paraphrase the Consortium of Trao from the next episode, "The imperfection is mine."

    No worries. Truth be told I'm realizing there's a percentage of nerdy fanboy insecurity I'm dealing with here. So getting alternative reactions of the show from others is good training in my reliance on grace.


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  Paeter on May 7th 2014, 8:54 pm

    104, Throne For A Loss

    Well, if you don't see ANY potential for a show you might like after watching this ep, Farscape may not be for you. This is one of the first episodes that I think is somewhat indicative of the general "feel/groove" of many episodes in the future. A few things that stuck out for me on this viewing:

    1. No contacts = "There's D'Argo"! I knew he was hiding in there somewhere under those sterile green contact lenses!
    2. Love the gauntlet needles. Ouch, and ick!
    3. Tavlek costumes and make-up rock!
    4. Love the "tractor beam" confusion.
    5. Action motivated by group infighting and conflict! Me likeee!
    6. "No sermons". Appreciated the untidy ending with the young Tavlek.
    7. Improv and pop-culture references improving.
    8. I'm actually feeling sympathy for Rygel???
    9. GREEN LANTERN REFERENCE!! (Instantly committed me to being a fan of the show for life.)


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    mindspike
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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

    Post  mindspike on May 7th 2014, 11:05 pm

    Been waiting for this one. The actors finally seem comfortable in their makeup, and they spend more time interacting and less time "being aliens".

    Farscape continues to roll on the strength of Brian Henson’s puppetry and the effects. This story combines the familiar tropes of The Kidnapped Diplomat, Drugs Are Bad, and Honor Among Thieves. Henson’s heavy hand in production remains, especially in the interaction between Zhaan and the Tavlek and the drug-induced rage scenes. The formulaic execution and character interaction remains in place, and the show continues to resemble a favorite memory of Saturday morning fare from the 80s. A consistent voice has yet to be found, and the show is desperately in need of a unified writing staff.

    But now Richard Manning has entered the scene, the first of a very small number of returning writers. He’s the first of the writers with any kind of substantial sci-fi background, and it shows in his subversion of familiar tropes instead of their use – eg. the failed sleep mist, venting the gas, the exploding gun, etc. The key problems and necessity for action all revolve around Rygel and the fact that he knows no one likes him; both progression and resolution are logically constructed this time around. We finally get some good character exploration in Rygel. We’ll see Manning again in “That Old Black Magic”.

    The show continues to be plagued by a limited budget, production choices, and director choices. This is seen most clearly in the limited cast, the heavy makeup and prosthetics, and the time spent showing off Zhaan’s behavior along with D’Argo and Aeryn’s interactions. I get the impression these scenes were shot to fill screen time when the budget or shooting time ran out on the main story. There’s a pretty clear stylistic cut in the dialog and action.

    Part of the problem is that we’re still in that segment of scripts that were commissioned for the pitch, before the producers had made a sale. It’s common for small studios to commission the first four to six episodes of a series from writers with no real communication or idea of what the overall vision is supposed to be. It says a lot for the show that Henson’s puppets and sets can carry a set of sci-fi scripts from writers who were predominantly drawn from soap operas.


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    Re: Farscape Shawarma

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