DeFlip Side #40: Giving Thanks

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Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

Give thanks, I tell myself. After all, ’tis the season. Never mind that it’s already dark outside when you leave work. Just give thanks that you have a job. Never mind that George W. Bush will be around for another four years. In fact, that’s all the more reason for us to give thanks, while we still can. So I’m following my own advice and telling you, as Science Fiction fans, what we can all be thankful for in this Thanksgiving season.

I’ll begin with the Sci-Fi Channel. An ironic choice, since no critic has been more vicious than I have in panning Sci-Fi for its crapfest of lowest common denominator programming. But I have to give due credit to the network for providing some the best genre viewing of the fall.

Props are due first and foremost for Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars. This four-hour miniseries picked up where the cliffhanger series finale left off, with a crystallized John and Aeryn being reconstituted to rejoin the crew of Moya and continue their adventures in the uncharted territories.

Farscape has always been driven by the credo that more is better, and The Peacekeeper Wars lived up to the grandest sense of that ideal, with a sprawling story packed with the action, drama and irreverent humor that are the series’ hallmarks. It becomes all the more impressive when you consider Farscape’s rather unceremonious cancellation. The miniseries had to wrap up a lot of loose ends for fans, while still being accessible to first-time viewers. It would likely have been a huge mess but for the talents of Rockne O’Bannon and David Kemper, who pulled it off with their usual panache, crafting a story easily followed by newbies, but which provided a satisfying and hope-filled denouement to what many hardcore fans—me included—consider the best Science Fiction series of all time.

I’m also thankful to the Sci-Fi Channel for its new reality series, Ghost Hunters, which chronicles the investigations of The Atlantic Paranormal Society. As a rule, I avoid reality television, which I find annoying at best. But Ghost Hunters is more in line with the kinds of documentary series that you’d see on The Discovery Channel or TLC. It provides an intelligent, realistic look at the business of paranormal investigation, and in no way embellishes the process to make it sexier for television. The investigators themselves are the biggest skeptics of all, and stake their reputations on debunking any hoaxes. So if the investigation yields nothing, that’s that. Which makes it that much more intriguing when they do come across unexplainable phenomena.

This is the kind of stuff Sci-Fi should have been airing since day one, instead of focusing on garbage like Scare Tactics, which unfortunately is still on their schedule. If you’re interested in seeing Ghost Hunters, Sci-Fi is airing a six-episode marathon on November 24, starting at 7 p.m.—the day before Thanksgiving. Or you can watch it in its scheduled timeslot Wednesday nights at nine. It makes a perfect companion to Smallville.

One more bit of thanks goes to Sci-Fi for next month’s Earthsea miniseries, based on Ursula K. LeGuin’s fantasy novels A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan, which irrecoverably converted me to genre fiction, never to look back. I can only look forward with high hopes, encouraged by the quality of the Farscape miniseries. Here’s to hoping Earthsea provides me with an early Christmas present when it premiers December 13.

Moving on to some thanks that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Sci-Fi Channel, I’d like to express my gratitude to Alan Ball, the creator of the HBO series Six Feet Under, for announcing that next season will be the show’s last. Ball has been quoted as saying that he thinks the series will have run its creative course by the end of the next 12 episodes.

That’ll be about 24 episodes late in my estimation. This past season was, in a word, bad, trading the show’s offbeat creative brilliance for storylines more akin to a hackneyed soap opera than an HBO drama. Last season’s lackluster showing stings all the more considering how highly I recommended the show to listeners in a previous DeFlip Side segment. I can only hope that the final season reclaims some of the series’ former glory and gives it an ending worthy of its initial creative promise.

Okay. Enough with all this make believe television stuff. For my last testament of thanks, I laud the real world accomplishments of aviation innovator Burt Rutan for ushering in a new era in space travel by designing SpaceShipOne, which nosed its way into sub orbital space two times in five days and captured the $10 million Ansari X Prize, proving that space tourism is possible.

In some sad twist of cosmic irony, this pioneering feat happened on the same day that saw the passing of astronaut Gordon Cooper, one of the Mercury Seven who ushered in the era of manned space flight so long ago, and whose legacy is being commemorated on tonight’s show. Cooper’s spirit lives on in the likes of SpaceShipOne pilots Mike Melville and Brian Binnie, who are fulfilling the promise of the Mercury Seven, and fueling hopes in frustrated astronauts like me that we may, some day soon, actually make it to the stars ourselves.

If that’s not cause for thanks, I don’t know what is.

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