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.
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.