Why the frell don’t you watch this dren?

Not gonna lie. Six months ago, I had never heard of Farscape. But then, during an episode of Community, Abed spent over an hour talking about the show. I didn’t understand anything he said, but I filed it away.

Fast-forward to about a month ago, and I am out of television to watch. I re-watched Veronica Mars. Then re-watched it again. I tried starting Babylon 5 (for the umpteenth time; I swear I will watch it some day), tried reconnecting with my youth by watching Robotech, and watched a lot of Supernatural and House. But I wanted something I hadn’t seen before. Something science fiction. Something different. Then I remembered Farscape. And the blitz began.

At first, Farscape seems like a pretty typical – maybe even generic – sci-fi show. John Crichton, Earth’s leading astronaut, is flying a new module – the Farscape (name drop!) – and attempting to use Earth’s gravity to sling-shot faster than any human before. But as luck (or fate) would have it, a random spike in radiation leads to a wormhole opening and sucking John through. He is then thrust in the midst of a battle, inadvertently taking out the brother of a military leader, and joining forces with escaped prisoners.

Over the course of the four seasons, John is pursued by one crazy military commander after the next, each increasingly evil. Gradually the show shifts from “John and his kookie alien pals encountering space phenomena while on the run” to a smart, funny show about a bizarre makeshift family that’s on the run, that gets roped up into intergalactic conflicts that could literally impact trillions of lives, while balancing personal issues, inter-personal conflicts/relationships/crises, and competing motivations and constantly shifting alliances.

The strongest thing Farscape has going for it is its characters. In a lot of sci-fi shows – which either happen in the distant future, or feature races FAR older/wiser than ours – the characters are enlightened to a state of near-perfection. And while this fills me with hope for the future of humanity, it is rarely compelling television. At the other end of the spectrum you’ve got the Christopher Nolan Batman Begins School of Gritty Realism. Which basically means characters are deeply (perhaps even irredeemably) flawed, that things constantly go wrong, that motivations are murky, and in general things often suck. Farscape manages to really bridge that gap. Characters are certainly flawed, and nuanced, and things often suck. But no one feels irredeemable, and it’s pretty rare for one of the good guys to do something truly reprehensible.

In fact, Farscape bridges the gap between those two kinds of shows (henceforth referred to as “Star Trek” and “Battlestar Galactica”) in several ways. Star Trek has often been known for its very episodic nature. Every week the Enterprise comes upon a new planet with a strange society, or a weird new space entity, or a cosmic cloud floating through space, or something. Every week, they deal with the issues satisfactorily. Every week, things return to normal, and are never mentioned again. BSG, on the other hand, was more arc-heavy. The Cylons pursued the Galactica for years. The relationships often took years to develop, and often back-slid. It was really difficult to just jump into the show if you hadn’t seen all previous episodes (or so I’ve heard). Farscape however, encountered many strange planets and phenomena, but also had several epic three-part episodes. Crais pursued them for a season. Scorpius pursued them for years, as did Grayza. The relationships between Crichton and Aeryn took years. It was a great balance.

Another thing the show did well was take risks. I haven’t finished the miniseries that wraps up everything, but multiple main characters die. Others are written out completely. There is a love triangle that I find completely unique in television and that really challenged my ability to root for one party or the other. Furthermore, large segments of the show take place in parallel realities, artificially-constructed environments, or inside characters’ minds. There are scenes from classic movies bizarrely recreated. There are mentally-induced tortures designed to drive people crazy. There’s even a dream sequence that takes up most of an episode that is a completely animated homage to the old Roadrunner cartoons.

Let’s see… what else… oh! The CGI was really impressive, especially for a show that took place from 1999-2004. I think what allowed this was how sparingly it was used. It’s almost never used for creatures, instead being used for ships and other space things. Which brings us to something I was initially very suspicious of: Farscape was produced by the Jim Henson Company. Yes, that Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets. This meant that two of the main characters were not men or women in suits or elaborate makeup, but actually puppets. At first this threw me. I mean come on. Muppets? Really? But I very quickly began to see the advantages of this. Think about it. It’s an entire universe. Do you really think every sentient species would be roughly human-sized? Do you think they’d all walk on two legs? Or have two arms? Or be mammal (or occasionally reptilian)? No! It makes sense that there’d be a species of small amphibian creatures. And a race of four-armed, four-legged, crustaceans. Or whatever. Besides, these ain’t your momma’s puppets. This isn’t a fuzzy sock with a hand up its ass. Nor is it controlled by two thinly-veiled wires. These are complicated puppets and animatronics. They move their eyes, eyelids, ears, arms, legs, and everything else.

Besides, the alternative would be to use CGI for the characters – a feat way more complicated and expensive than making explosions and space ships. This would probably make the characters look WAY more fake. Plus it’s nice for the other actors to have something physical to look at and interact with.

Another great part of this show is that it is consistent. It’s pretty typical for TV shows to get worse over time. In fact, it probably happens to the vast majority of them. Farscape is probably the only show I can think of (except maybe Fringe – depending on how this season ends) that actually keeps getting better. This is immensely rewarding as a viewer. I’m not sure exactly what it is that allowed the show to do this, but I suspect it was the five year contract it was under. This allows the creator and writers to have a plan from the beginning, and to stay focused the whole time. There’s no stunt-pulling (like useless guest stars [I’m talking to you, CHUCK!]) to try to boost ratings. There’s no second season that really goes nowhere and introduces obnoxious characters (LOST), and there’s no taking useless diversions that extend the plot for no reason and lose sight of the elements that made it great early on (BSG!). Farscape told the stories it wanted to tell, from the beginning, and built towards some truly epic stuff at the end. Even though Sci-Fi totally shafted it and cancelled the fifth season without warning. UGH. (It’s ok there was a miniseries to wrap it up)

Anyway, this has probably gone on long enough. So if you’re looking for a show with complex and epic story lines, with witty dialogue and pop-culture references, with interesting concepts, impressive makeup and graphics, with endearing, strong, complicated, nuanced characters, with fantastic acting, and sexual tension out the wazoo… this is your show. Don’t prejudge it based on the fact that it’s science fiction, or that it has puppets, because it’s truly amazing.

P.S. Aeryn Sun is one of my favorite TV women of all time, and her chemistry with Crichton smolders. There is no better word for it.

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