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Thursday, November 27, 2008

"That's why I never kiss 'em on the mouth."

In keeping with my status as a dork, geek, and nerd, I watch a lot of science fiction. I'm not particularly sure why, as the acting is often very bad and the plots not much better. Maybe I just like all the shiny lights. I also often find the "science" on the shows painfully bad, but, like with almost all television, I mostly watch it to turn that part of my brain off and relax. In a similar way to which Isaac Asimov recommends watching mindless action films in his essay The Eureka Phenomenon, Sci Fi television to me is a way to relax the brain and recharge.

For all my disparagement, however, there are some parts that I really do like. For example, despite having some truly abysmal actors in its ranks, Star Trek does have some good ones too. I will never figure out how Star Trek managed to snag Patrick Stewart, one of the premiere Shakespearean actors of his day. Brent Spiner is also highly enjoyable, as well as many of the supporting characters from Deep Space Nine. The one thing I will never understand, though, is how some shows make it and others do not.

Take, for example, Stargate: SG-1. How is that the longest running continuous science fiction series in history (technically, that is a claim disputed by Dr. Who, so it is more correct to say it is the longest running North American science fiction series)? Yes, there were some funny bits and even some clever bits, but for the most part that show was background noise. I never really cared about the characters in it to any excessive degree, nor was I ever wildly worried about what the future of the show might hold. Yet somehow the show lasted 10 seasons and so far has had two movies (I believe both went straight to television).

Contrast SG-1 with a show like Firefly. It only lasted a season, but its fourteen episodes make up some of the most enjoyable science fiction I've ever seen. The characters are witty, well-acted, and engaging. The story is continuous and interwoven without making it absolutely necessary to have seen preceeding episodes or have long recaps at the beginning of each new episode. Also, they don't have sound effects in space! That one little bit of realism is enough for me to forgive all the terrible neuroscience espoused by Simon Tam when he scans his sister's brain to figure out what the government did to her. The fact that it only lasted a single season just never seemed quite fair to me.

I know they made a movie, but, like all things Joss Whedon does, he decided it was best to destroy his creation in his way than let it fade away. Between the rewriting of the series' history, random character death, and virtual lack of certain characters from the movie's storyline, I was not a fan.

Anyway, I am procrastinating right now by rambling about science fiction, so I should probably stop it and get back to work.


Paul Kishimoto said...

This is something I've observed with anime.

The longest-running series—Dragon Ball, Bleach, Naruto, etc.—are derided by dedicated fans because they have deliberately open-ended structure; instead of plot the viewer is given repetitive "story arcs".

Good series are all finite, and the best are often short—perhaps 26 half-hour episodes, or half the runtime of a single North American season for a 1-hour slot. The longest excellent anime I can think of is Legend of the Galactic Heroes, at 110 episodes (just over 2 "seasons").

Mozglubov said...

The trouble is, Firefly wasn't over, it just got canceled. When HBO finished Rome, that was fine. It carried through with its whole story, and it was a good show. It didn't last so long that it got repetitive or boring, but it managed to wrap itself up. Instead, Firefly didn't finish, it just ended. Oh well.

Scott said...

Stargate SG-1 actually lasted between 7 and 8 seasons. At that point, the entire Goa'uld plotline had finished and two of the most important characters left the show.

For season 8, 9, and 10, it was actually Farscape. New story-line and new characters. Continuing the show without Richard Dean Anderson was a mistake.

As for the movies, they aren't there because of the quality of the SG-1 series. They are there because the studio led the creators to believe they would have an 11th season and then pulled the plug. There was enough money left to make the two movies, whose purpose was to finally close of the two remaining open-ended plotlines.

Mozglubov said...

Well, that's a fair assessment. It was pretty much a new show at that point, complete with new lead character. But that is basically my point... somehow the series had the money and backing not only to make those last three seasons and two movies not based on the series quality, but some other aspect that I fail to understand.

Also, I believe a third movie is in the works. I have no idea what is left open at this point that needs to be resolved.

Scott said...

Hmmm.... I don't think so? SG-Atlantis is on it's last season now, and as far as I'm aware has no movie plans.

There is another series starting though, called Stargate Universe - more or less unrelated to the previous two series (i.e. now they travel to different dimensions ala Sliders instead of different worlds).

Mozglubov said...

I got my information about the other movie from SG-1's Wikipedia site, so maybe that is mistaken (after all, Wikipedia isn't always completely accurate). I guess we'll see in 2009.

Kari said...

Calden, if the latter seasons of Stargate haven't given you anti-Ben Browder and Claudia Black sentiments (I've never watched Stargate, so I have no idea how good or bad it was or is), you should try Farscape.

Admittedly, the plots are usually ludicrous and sometimes the aliens look like they're made of papier mache, but there is decent acting, meaningful, season-spanning story arcs, and frequent hilarity.