Just Shelley

Changing faces of Sci-Fi

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I am a huge science fiction fan; have been ever since I was a little kid. I remember how excited I was that a whole channel devoted to science fiction was going to be appearing on cable. At the time, I lived in Phoenix, and was one of those that pushed the local cable company into carrying it.

The channel has always had a mixed bag of content, good and bad. Currently listed among the good, at least in my opinion, are: Eureka, Dead Like Me, Stargate, Dr. Who, and Battlestar Galactica. The bad ranges from wrestling (of all things), to stupid ghost chasing, to movies on Saturday so awful they can’t even be counted as camp. The reasons behind such a disparity in programming is that the Sci-Fi channel is run by people who really don’t care about science fiction, and only care about ensuring the network is profitable.

Stargate was probably the channel’s most profitable show, and it celebrated it’s 200 birthday last week. Through Les I found it was canceled this week. Not surprising, as the writers had no where to go with the story line, and even the addition of Claudia Black as the wonderful “Vala” wasn’t enough to save the show. It is disappointing, because I thought the 200th episode and it’s associated documentary, were a kick and reflected some of the old humor and quirkiness of the show before it started getting too caught up in Defeating Bad Guys.

As for the spinoff of Stargate, Stargate: Atlantis, all I can say is block that dialing address.

On Tuesdays before wrestling (which, unfortunately, has ended up being the most watched show on the network), Sci-Fi added an old and a new show to the lineup: Showtime’s canceled Dead Like Me and the new Eureka (you can currently watch the premier show online at Sci-Fi).

Why a show like Dead Like Me was canceled, I don’t know, but I think it’s one of the finest shows I’ve seen. The premise is that people who die with unresolved issues become grim reapers who walk the streets, releasing souls from the bodies of the newly dead. Not a particularly interesting concept except these grim reapers have human form. They eat, drink, have jobs, emotional issues, and so on. The lead character is an 18 year old woman who goes by the name ‘George’, with an “I don’t give a damn” attitude, who is killed when she’s hit with a toilet seat from a falling Mir Space Station.

It’s both funny and thoughtful, and received several awards before being canceled. I’m assuming it didn’t make it due to to the fact it couldn’t find an audience. (A dominant, strong female cast is rather risky in the science fiction business, unless your cast is composed of sexy, blonde teens who can kill 23 vampires without breaking a nail, all before cheerleading practice. PS, I liked Buffy, but no denying she was boy candy.)

Eureka is about a federal marshal who accidentally stumbles across a town composed of geniuses who are engaged in secret research for the government. It’s ripe for innovation, and the regular cast members are compelling and interesting. I was somewhat hesitant about the show at first, primarily because it made the marshall into the town sheriff and boss over the existing deputy who happens to be a woman. However, air time is nicely divided between men and women, and the women have relatively strong positioning. Besides it has the old Max Headroom, Matt Frewer, as a very oddball pest control officer–what’s not to like?

(Well, the fact that some of the roles are borderline gender stereotypical, and what’s with the sexual tension between the lead characters? Men and women can work together without wanting to jump each others’ bones. This is getting old, and is one area where Dead Like Me and Battlestar Galactica have risen above such cheap theatrics.)

Then there is Battlestar Galactica returning this October. The show staged a rather astonishing twist in the storyline as a season ender, and I’m waiting with a great deal of interest to see how it deals with it when the show returns. This show also has a very strong female cast, as well as not being afraid to dive into the darker aspect of being human–usually demonstrated best by the non-human characters in the show.

I’m still somewhat ambivalent about the show. I admired how the show handled the subject of rape, but was less than enthralled with the coverage of forced pregnancy–which seemed to be just plopped in in order to be topical. It made no sense that a group of ships with limited resources and in immediate danger of destruction would worry overmuch about future population concerns.

Still, I like the characters on this show. They’re remarkably rich and fascinating, and I have no idea where the show is going to go. After decades of television watching, it’s not often I can’t guess a future story line.

There are hints of other shows starting this fall on Sci-Fi that could be interesting. I actually started liking Dr. Who, with its campy special effects, and I believe it is returning in addition to Battlestar and the newer series. Because of the existing and possible future shows on Sci-Fi, I’m not quite ready to pull my cable, though I have canceled everything but basic service.

My biggest concern is that quality on TV never survives. Now that the Sci-Fi channel executives realize that “Who Wants to be a Superhero”, super cheap Saturday flicks, and wrestling are sure money makers, I’m sure they’ll drop Battlestar and the other shows that interest me. If they do, I’ll most likely drop cable. After all, I can download movies and television shows from the Net, and my Dell laptop has a better viewscreen than my smallish TV. Not to mention, I can connect my laptop to my TV in order to play movies or shows.

Which does make one wonder: when will the first internet-only video series be released?

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