The Best sci-fi that never was

I’ve fallen prey to something that clearly labels me as a
certain type of a person and exposes a dark secret.  This terrible weakness now allows the casual
reader to thin me from the herd:

I am a sci-fi geek.
And not just the sort who enjoyed Star
Wars
and dislikes the path of the franchise, but the type who rallies
behind dreadful, poorly scripted low budget cult-culture and becomes militant if
the “common public” fails to show the right level of respect.  The type of hopeless geek who becomes
distracted and vocal whenever there is a sci-fi schism.  Right now, there is a schism in the Firefly universe with the release of the
big comeback film (or so it’s hoped) Serenity.  One side says it’s Firefly‘s second wind and a sort of pop-cult Star Wars for the modern era.
My side says that Serenity has
destroyed the Firefly franchise.  River becomes Buffy, main characters die for
no reason, the Reavers become the Wraith (from Stargate: Atlantis) and, instead of Blue Sun Corporation, we get a
weak as water “parliament.”  Serenity should have said “based on a
show called Firefly.”

 

Since I was watching her intently, as always, I also have to
say that Morena Baccarin looks bad on the big screen.  Some actors belong on the tube, and some on
film.  It’s not a bad thing, it’s just
how it works.

Now I’m not living in my parent’s basement masturbating furiously
on Star Trek action figures, so I can
see the light. I’m thrilled that Serenity
even got made, because I think Firefly
is the best sci-fi that never was.  I
said that on our forums, which are populated with a crew of lunatic drunks who
fear women, and it got me thinking:  What
is the quintessential Nacho Sasha list of good sci-fi shows that never were?

This led into a barroom argument at the Quarry House because
the bartender said Space: 1999 and I
said, well, possibly, but it did have
two seasons.  So it may have been fucked
brutally by an entire jungle of AIDS monkeys, and the great storylines and
wonderful characters that formed a strong first season may have been thrown out
in favor of an entire season of watching Landau masturbate onto the camera lens
and gag himself with his finger, but the show was.  It got that second
season.

Let’s look at shows that never even got the first season and
should have.  Shows that died mid-season before
they completed the 20 episode mark.
Shows that, like Firefly, had
a certain unique charm and innovation but were shown at 3am and only in Dutch
for reasons mysterious and bizarre.
Maybe the networks didn’t understand what they had, maybe they even sabotaged
them on purpose.  Or maybe the shows
really did suffer from some crippling, internal injury in the writing
department:  Fear to explore the
potential, or fight against King Censor, or take that extra step.

Like Firefly,
every time these shows implode, they turn into cult sensations and fans pay
through the nose for merchandise for decades, so it’s a mystery to me
why they failed.  In the last few years, you’d
think the networks would figure out that the Sci-Fi channel, which is run by
drunks and madmen, has it right.  Will
this show be a hit?  Plop,
primetime.  Nope?  Okay, cancel.
How about…this one!  Plop.

Nowadays Sci-Fi is putting out off-beat, unexpectedly good
sci fi that beats the network broadcasting.
In the case of the new Battlestar Galactica, especially, just
about every sci-fi geek is sitting back in awe.
And so are the intolerant networks.
BSG is the “did you hear that boom?” show.  I am remake, hear me roar.  Like the Doctor
Who
remake, not aired in the US, BSG gathers ratings around it like ducklings and is currently being
renewed for multiple seasons.

Doctor Who has
been renewed for four years and, to be honest, I really don’t think they know
what they’re doing as we creep closer to the spring launch for the second
season.  Deep down in my heart, I must
acknowledge that the comeback season was nostalgic pap that just doesn’t have a
lasting punch.  They’re also starting up
a Doctor Who spinoff.  It’s an entertainment rush somewhat reminiscent
of the Roman army hitting your provincial capital on a bad day.  Since it’s not being aired in the US, the new Doctor Who, in an American’s eyes, may
well be the best sci-fi that never was, given time.  But that’s hardly relevant in the world of torrents.

So – shows that didn’t make it to a full season.  What were the best?  I’m going to start with the one and only
exception to this self-imposed rule:  Voyagers!

Voyagers!  hit 20 episodes and was about to embark on a
second season, with a new twist, but Jon-Erik Hexum blew his head off
“accidentally” on a movie set.

Voyagers! was the
story of a bumbling adventurer, part of a futuristic society (we later
learn)
who send agents around to correct problems in the timeline caused
by…whatever.  There aren’t any bad guys,
no ulterior motives, just slight tweaks that need to be made.
Time traveling janitors!  An electrical storm sends the bumbling
adventurer,
Hexum, well out of the range of his little time travel device, the
Omni.  (Every Voyager specializes on a certain
period, and they use antique pocket watches to zip around.) Crashing
into the
80’s, he picks up a rat-haired kid and they get trapped in time since
the Omni
was shorted out by the storm.  Easy.  Lucky for everyone, the
kid’s a history
geek.  It’s mindless, simple fun.  Hexum always falls for a
girl or does something
stupid, the kid then has to take over and make sure things work
out.  They meet historical folks, run from Nazis,
get bombed, save children and meet beautiful women every week while
trading
barbs and getting embroiled in comic problems.  You hate it when
you watch it but, when you’re
through with the season, you have to watch it again because, a week
later, you
suddenly love it.  It’s a virus.

So, to the meat of the list!

If given three seconds to think about it, the first great
show that never was is Wizards &
Warriors
.  CBS’s 1983 fantasy
directed by Bill Bixby.  Basically, it’s
what Team Raimi used to put together their Xena/Hercules franchise.  Monsters, magic, and totally offbeat comedy that
made no sense in 1983 but is beautiful in 2005.
Running for only eight episodes before CBS executed everyone involved, the
show followed wise-cracking Prince Erik Greystone, his Herculean sidekick and
his Bruce Campbell-esque brother on sword and sorcery adventures through the
land.  Constantly at odds with a
neighboring evil prince, flirting with a barrage of hottie witches and always
getting into some sort of comic trouble, the show was really a brutal satire on
the genre.

The Misfits of Science
enjoyed 17 episodes before it vanished forever.
Anti-corporate biological researchers gather a team of kids with weird
superpowers to do battle with the dreaded Humanidyne Company and… Oh, I don’t
know.  It’s like Rat Patrol with stupid kid comedy and rockstars who control
lightning when they play guitar.  The
show was a sacrificial lamb from the beginning, scheduled against Dynasty in its glory days.  Misfits
wasn’t even a contender – zany comedy and lighthearted stories.  Though fate would have taken a hand, anyway,
since the creator and two main stars died in a plane crash about a week after Misfits was cancelled.

The Misfits included a clumsy black man who had taking
growth drugs and was now 9 feet tall, but shrunk to the size of an action
figure if you touched the right spot on his head, the telekinetic girl played
by Courtney Cox, the rock star who controlled lightning and their father-figure
scientist leader.  All against the great
Max Wright, heading up the evil corporation.

Retarded sci-fi comedy at its best.

Just about 20 minutes in our future is the inimitable Max Headroom which, despite only running
for 14 episodes, was a cult sensation.  I’ve
had die-hard fans tell me that Max was killed by New Coke.  If you caught me after a few drinks in my
local dive, I’d believe you.   Being Coke’s
ad idol during the changeover, and running the show at the same time, I wouldn’t
be surprised if the massive backlash against New Coke did, indeed, crush any
hopes for the series to continue. The truth is that the American remake and
resulting series lacked what made Headroom a star.  Headroom launched first in the UK as a dark,
angry and compelling sci-fi movie which, for the time, was just about as
original as you can get.  Even comparing
it to Tron, which is the most obvious
source for the material, is difficult.  There
was nothing quite like it.  But, when it jumped
the pond, it also jumped the shark.  The
American version cleaned up the dystopia and the storyline and, while still
strangely brilliant, it ended up being just what it was by that point – a major
corporate advertising machine.  Oh, and
poorly written, vaguely tedious and shameful compared to Headroom Phase One.

However… However, however.
Headroom had broken a mold, and if left to its own devices, I can’t help
but wonder what it could have been.  I
watched it and I loved it, even though I knew the crimes it had committed.

Rolling out of the darkness of the 1970’s is Planet of the Apes, The Series.  I had tons to say about it right here and,
so, I won’t repeat myself.  It contends
with Firefly as the best sci-fi that
never was.  But it had to compete against
the woefully misguided Planet of the Apes
franchise as well as the strange rules set forward by the networks.  Sci Fi shows were regarded as children’s
television and, so, couldn’t get too rough.
Nobody could really die, and they needed to have value.  Telling this to a coke fiend writer who has a
deadline of NOW NOW NOW is no way to make a great story.  I would pay money to see them try Planet of the Apes again today.  Without Marky Mark.  Almost every episode of that show is clearly
held back forcefully, as if both actors and writers were pained by the limitations.

Sneaking around in the background of the great television
war is quiet little Probe.  You know it now as Monk, except our hero wasn’t a fruitcake.  He was a shut-in scientist whose brilliance
was so great he was almost dysfunctional.
Sheltered in his own little research facility, he spent his off hours
solving impossible crimes with the help of his ditzy little secretary.  Probe
was one of those shows that was a little too smart for its own good.  Unlike Monk,
which appears to have been made for idiot America, Probe didn’t hold back the fact that its main character was
intelligent.  During the seven episode
run, I was inspired to go out and read Asimov and Bradbury, among others.  In fact, it was almost required reading if
you wanted to follow along with the mystery.

Once again, the doom didn’t really come from the public.  Probe
was sacrificed by the network, thrown
casually opposite The Cosby Show
which, in 1988, was lord of the ratings.
From the first half hour of the pilot movie, it was clear to everyone
that Probe would be dead by the end
of the first month.  It’s surprising it
almost made it through two months.

A brand new great sci-fi show that never was is Global Frequency, based on the
shockingly addictive Warren Ellis comic and starring the wonderful Michelle
Forbes as Miranda Zero.  Global Frequency showed up with a clumsy
pilot episode that, from the get-go, shattered the heart of the Ellis comics
but, beneath that initial shock, had serious promise.  First off, what better casting for Miranda
Zero is there?  Michelle Forbes stepped
into the role and, without hesitation, she was Miranda.  I will accept no other.

While the comics – or are we supposed to say graphic novels
now? – features a series of stories where Miranda Zero and her techno sidekick Alph
are the minds behind the all-powerful Global Frequency, a super-elite group of
unconnected experts who are activated when needed to defend all of us from the
impossible X-files-style horrors out there.
To bring that to TV, the pilot was forced to select one such expert,
cool and sexy Dr. Kate Finch, with wise-cracking, resourceful, square-jawed
street cop Sean Flynn.  It’s a hard pill
to swallow but, lucky for us, Alph and Miranda Zero steal the entire
pilot.  Michelle Forbes slinks around as
Miranda, controlling the background and showing off her
more-powerful-than-the-President authority while Aimee Garcia, as Alph, directs
the story with a constant stream of hacker proficiency and comic one liners.

I walked away from Global
Frequency
thinking, Jesus, that was a rock-out pilot.  That is the next sci-fi legend.

The WB network didn’t even air the pilot.  It was “leaked” onto
the internet.  Of course, these days, leaks like that mean
that the WB was fishing for a fan response to make their decision for
them.  The response wasn’t great enough
to justify the show, so the pilot remains online only.  This is a
show that never was, in the literal
sense.

I get a lot of arguments from folks who have big cult shows
that they support, so I need to defend myself in those cases.  The following shows were, albeit for a short time:
Earth 2:  Ran for a full season and, let’s admit it, it
was a pretty rough ride.  Dark Angel:  Got two seasons, and it deserved to die.  The excellent War of the Worlds got two seasons and, between you and me, I just
want ask a quiet little question – what the fuck were they doing with that
second season?  The original Battlestar Galactica was renewed for a
second season (what they did with that second season has been erased from the
record, thankfully).  The Prisoner was supposed to have a
short run, it was meant to be a mini-series and actually ran longer than they
wanted.  Oddly enough, people argue about
Blake’s 7.  B7 had four years, and an accomplished and
well-done beginning, middle and end.

We live in an era where sci-fi has been given a new lease on
life.  From the Galactica to the TARDIS
to Serenity to the mysterious hatch in Lost, a powerful wave has hit in this
new century.  Where horror is spinning
out, sci-fi is moving in to fill the void and change its voice.  Movements like this are always short lived,
but they’re a good time.  Those of us who
mourn the dead — those great, lost shows – have plenty to keep us happy
today.  May the fringe last as long as
possible.  May we continue to run from
the Cylons and the Daleks.  May the standard
line appreciate the experimentation of shows like Lost and open the gates that have blocked so many better shows
before it.

We are now in the beginning of the downfall of reality
television.  As in every war society, we
now seek escapism.  Where, before, that
escapism was 1950’s conformity, it is now a human battle against doom and
despair.  We have begun to fight it with
satire, adventure and dark sci-fi.  At
its heart, modern sci-fi – Lost, BSG,
as clear examples – is all about how the enemy is among us and our leaders can’t
always be believed, but, there remains strength and hope.
————-


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