Sci-Fi TV – Fall 2009

While the fall tv season started strong, it was not really because of new science fiction shows. Several of the new series that fit that bill delayed their starts until October and November, so as an addendum to my Fall TV reviews, I want to talk about them here. Sadly I don’t have much good to say.

Stargate: Universe

There’s already been heated discussion on the internet regarding this third series in the Stargate franchise. The premise is that a mixed group of people become stranded on an ancient starship flying through space with no way of getting home to Earth. Producers of the show are pushing it as the gritty, dark, open-ended kind of more-“fi”-than-“sci” kind of show that fans of the other two Stargate series need to give a chance to before judging. Fans and viewers have been saying that they gave the show a chance, but it’s just too slow, and un-fun (among other qualities) for their liking. I definitely fell into the latter camp. I can see how they tried to fill the void left by Battlestar Galactica in the sci-fi realm (not to mention SyFy channel’s programming schedule), but SGU is no BSG. I found the episodes glacially slow and none of the characters were enjoyable (with the noted exception of David Blue’s whimsical Eli). Endless tension on a dimly-lit set are not my idea of great TV. Plus, each episode’s drama seemed to centre around a relatively mundane problem (something like low water or energy supplies, that would genuinely be of great concern to any crew trapped on an ancient spaceship, I’ll grant that, but still not really thrilling to watch). I’m going to stick with the show for a while longer because it seems to be picking up (the most recent episode actually featured a time loop — yay!), and because I need my fix of “people on a spaceship”, but like the Destiny crew’s resources, my patience is in short supply.

V

The latest 80s sci-fi reimagining has not only the legacy of its successful forebear to contend with but also the need to escape the black hole of failure that has drawn others in (R.I.P. Bionic Woman, Knight Rider, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles). V was the most anticipated sci-fi show on my viewing plate this fall, but sadly it has not lived up. The simple premise of aliens coming to Earth disguising their nefarious plans (and lizard bodies) behind attractive, friendly human-like faces seemed easy enough to pull off. However, the new series seems to want to do too many things at once. Taking a cue from successful genre-crossing shows like Lost (and the new series Flash Forward), V seems more interested in creating some kind of ensemble drama of intersecting story arcs than a single coherent tale of insidious domination and human resistance. Can you believe that even after two episodes, the resistence has not really formed yet? (Well, technically it formed before the ships even arrived, but the main characters have not yet formed/joined the resistence yet.) I seem to recall that being central to the original series. On the other hand, the lizards’ true nature, their presence on Earth before their ships arrived, and their darker plans for humanity have already become well known. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Mitchell (once so great as the sexy-smart Juliet on Lost)is not in a constant state of frowning as an FBI agent trying to figure out who to trust and how to fight after her partner is revealed as a V (which brings me to another fan-boy complaint about how they should never have called the aliens “Vs”. They wanted to be friendly and known as the “visitors” why would they want to be called “Vs”? That’s just ridiculous!) Joel Gretsch is good at playing the sci-fi hero (remember him from The 4400?), but his character being a priest seems ill-suited and heavy-handed (we get it, some people would question faith in God if aliens arrived). Anyway, the plot seems very scattered and I don’t really find that I have anyone to root for among the humans. I actually would prefer if Anna (the always-luminous Morena Baccarin) as the alien leader, would just unleash her endgame already and get rid of so many of the human characters.

Sanctuary

In its premiere season last year, this show surprised me by starting out as just a creature of the week show that started to develop an elaborate and intriguing mythology and world behind it. Unfortunately after the finale and this season’s premiere, most of that has been destroyed and they are now back to being a bunch of creature-catchers. Even so, they could have done that well, but the show splits focus by trying to bring more attention to the human drama surrounding the main characters. Frankly, the characters are not that interesting and the additional emotional ups and downs just seem like soapy elements that don’t fit. This series needs to find its identity and really develop it. There’s potential for Sanctuary to be a unique classic if they can achieve that. (Plus, Amanda Tapping’s accent is still annoying.)

Battlestar Galactica: The Plan

True, this was not on TV (straight to DVD instead) but I was salivating with anticipation for this addendum to the BSG series. It was going to be recounting events of the series from the Cylon point of view and I have always been a sucker for “the other side of the story”. Sadly, I guess I should have re-watched the entire series (which I plan to do) before watching The Plan, because it was incredibly hard to follow without recalling all the context of the time. Ostensibly we’re following the #1s (a.k.a. Cavill) as they secretly orchestrate the cleanup on humanity’s destruction. Without its own separate story arc, this movie was so disjointed that it really felt more like two hours worth of deleted scenes. There were many scenes of people talking and not much action or suspense. Sadly, I don’t even feel like very much of the Cylon’s true plans were revealed.

Other shows

Just a quick rundown on the rest of sci-fi and fantasy TV on my Tivo: Fringe – still good, but hasn’t paid off season one’s jaw-dropping finale yet; Supernatural – episodes are more fun and whimsical in this potentially final season, and haven’t coalesced around the ultimate apocalyptic showdown just yet; Heroes – stories and characters are worse than bad, I can barely stomach this once-top-ten show anymore; Smallville – despite the positive buzz this season is getting, I dropped this show from my list and I’m not picking it back up (Fool me once, etc. etc.); Vampire Diaries – dropped this one, but picked it up again after much buzz, I’m enjoying it a lot now that they have turned down the soap and turned up the supernatural; Medium – I still love this show very much, they keep coming up with fresh angles and the family drama is still wonderful; Flash Forward – pace is uneven, but I look forward to those morsels that advance the overall mystery, and the characters are alright; Dollhouse was great last season, but just seems really depressing and inconsistent this season, I hope the rest of the now-cancelled series will make its way to air; same goes for the equally cancelled Eastwick, which I was kind of enjoying as the reincarnation of Charmed.

So that’s where things stand with sci-fi. Not the most positive picture, but I’m glad that TV has not given up on sci-fi altogether. I’m looking forward to the return of Lost and also the new Doctor Who telemovie to give us all an additional boost.

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One thought on “Sci-Fi TV – Fall 2009”

  1. I really enjoyed the Plan, and I realized how much I needed to watch all of the show over again. I was kinda surprised how funny Cavil was, I knew he was going to be that evil, but I didn’t think I’d enjoy watching a movie all about him.
    One of my friends was lucky enough to be able to watch all the DVDs for the first time over the last three months, so she helped me remember all the original scenes.

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