DeFlip Side #22: Farewell Farscape


Welcome everyone. This is DeFlip Side.

Well the party’s over. After four years, 88 episodes and more creativity than normally goes into any three television shows put together, Farscape took its final bow back in March, ending a brilliant run, along with any conceivable reason to keep watching the Sci-Fi Channel.

I know that this is adieu is a bit past due, but what with Radiothon, I-Con and anniversary specials crashing down all around us, this is the first chance I’ve had to say goodbye. And I feel it doubly important, since the last time I talked about Farscape, it was to pan many of the episodes in the first half of the fourth season. I voiced my fear for the show’s future, and less than a week after the segment aired, Sci-Fi announced that the axe had fallen. But I also expressed confidence that the show would pick up, and that everything that seemed stupid at the time would somehow become relevant in an important way. Well, I was right about that, too.

The last half of the season was frellin’ awesome: The love story between Crighton and Aeryn finally coming to blossom, Aeryn’s brutal torture at the hands of the Scarrans, the assault on Katratzi, the return of Stark, Crighton’s ultimate sacrifice in forever collapsing the wormhole to Earth. It was as tense, action-packed, hilarious and heart breaking as it’s ever been. Some episodes were so dense that I’d look at the clock on the cable box and be amazed that we weren’t even forty minutes into the show yet. I even liked the final scene of the final episode—the one that pissed off so many fans—in which Aeryn and John are seemingly crystallized and disintegrated by some random alien we’ve never seen before. C’mon, you know they’re not dead. The Henson Company knows it has a hot property on its hands, and is banking on continuing the franchise in some form. That would be impossible to do if you bump off your main characters. And even if the show never resurfaces, and that was the last we’ll ever see of John and Aeryn, it still makes me feel good. Good, because it tells me that it never ends for these characters. Escape the Scarrans, fend off Scorpius, save Earth—even after all that, we still can’t just fade to black. Instead we are told, “To Be Continued…” In other words, the Farscape universe will go on. We’re just no longer lucky enough to see it. Which, when you think about it, is pretty damn cool. That’s why I love open-ended series finales. In some odd way, the lack of closure lends a sense of permanence. Of course, most people don’t see it this way.

As usually accompanies the cancellation of any show, good or not, dedicated fans raised a hue and cry against the Sci-Fi Channel for yanking the series, especially after the network had agreed to renew through a fifth season. A number of dedicated Scapers even sent Sci-Fi exec Bonnie Hammer empty cracker boxes, along with a note stating that crackers DO matter—a play on the episode titled “Crackers Don’t Matter”—in an effort to get her to reverse her decision. Genre TV fans are especially fond of pulling little stunts like this in a desperate effort to make programming executives see the light. To which I say, how pathetic.

Did Sci-Fi make the wrong decision in canceling Farscape? Certainly. Would they reverse that decision because some loserish fans decide to send them garbage? Not a chance. Not unless those cracker boxes were filled with cash, or advertising contracts. You have to get it through you head: the Sci-Fi channel doesn’t care about good sci-fi programming. The Sci-Fi Channel cares about what all networks care about: money. To get it, they need to position themselves and their programming to appeal to the broadest possible audience. Viewers mean advertisers, and advertisers mean bucks. Hence the channel’s concerted push to reach a more mainstream audience through mini-series like Stephen Spielberg’s Taken and Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune. Hence their acquisition of Stargate SG1 with its built-in audience and broader appeal, and the creation of lowest common denominator shows like Tremors: The Series and Scare Tactics. When you’re bowing to the bottom line, you don’t have the luxury to commit a million bucks an episode to an esoteric, densely plotted, cerebral show like Farscape.

Farscape was more like literature than television, in the sense that characters grew and changed as a result of their experiences; storylines grew organically out of this mix and built on one another. So it became increasingly hard for new viewers to get in on the fun. Trying to join the show in the middle third season would be kind of akin to starting an epic Fantasy series on the third book. The world being presented might look interesting, but you’d lack the context to make much sense of it.

Now pretend you’re a television exec and you get to keep your job based on the viewers you bring in. And you have all these great ideas for new shows. Only you’re pumping millions into your supposed “signature” show, which has zero mainstream appeal and a core audience that’s likely to shrink as that show gets ever weirder and more complex. Forget it. The show is out, no matter how many times TV Guide calls it the best Science Fiction show on television. If I were running things, I probably would have felt forced to cancel it, too.

Not to say that that still doesn’t blow. But at least Farscape got to go out with a bang. As things stand now, it’ll never be remembered as anything other than great. It never had the chance to start sucking. And there’s nothing worse than a once-great show that has gone past its prime. Just look at the last season of Seinfeld. Or what’s become of Frasier. Hell, think of Saturday Night Live. That’s been unwatchable for a decade.

Even my beloved Quantum Leap started to stumble in its fifth season, when network pressures to jazz up the show gave us messes like the evil leaper, and leaping into Dr. Ruth or Elvis Presley. And if what they said about potential storylines for the sixth season were true, including a cartoon leap, and Sam adopting a Robin-like sidekick, then they canceled the show just in time. When you need gimmicks to get noticed, maybe you’re no longer so worthy of notice. Thank god show creator Don Bellasario crafted a series finale exclusively for loyal fans. Now we can always remember Quantum Leap with pride. But for how much longer?

I was dismayed by a rumor that came down the pipeline last summer about Sci-Fi reviving Quantum Leap, with the series purportedly featuring a new female lead. Participation from Scott Bakula or Dean Stockwell wasn’t confirmed, nor did it seem especially necessary. But answer me this: why would you want to watch a Quantum Leap without Sam or Al?

Maybe it’s best that cancelled shows stay in our memories. Because when you come right down to it, remakes suck. Star Trek: The Next Generation may be the one exception to the rule, but probably because it was the only remake based on presenting a more accurate representation of its creator’s original vision. In every other case I can think of, they manage to take a perfectly good show and ruin it. Look at Sci-Fi’s current remake of Battlestar Galactica, which, from what I’ve read, recasts the show’s leads as females, and is so far removed from the original Galactica that they might as well call it something else.

It’s a perfect example of demented television logic: create a good show, let it establish a following, cancel said show, notice what a cult hit it has become, resurrect the show to tap into the built-in fan base, but then change it so completely that no original fan would ever be caught dead watching it. In the end, no matter how much you loved them, canceled shows are better left to rest in peace.

Something new will come along eventually. So it was when Quantum Leap ended, to be replaced by Deep Space Nine; which in turn was replaced by Farscape. Now I’m all about Smallville, and Six Feet Under. And when they cancel those shows in a couple of years, I’m sure there’ll be something new and exciting looming over the horizon. And so it goes. In that sense, good television is a bit like herpes; it never quite goes away.