04/17/2003

Preachin' to the Choir, or, Why SciFi seems to have forgotten what it's all about.

dwinn: This is to anger you:
dwinn: http://search.boston.com/dailyglobe2/075/living/Science_friction+.shtml
dwinn: That is all.
nerdgirl: I was just going to say that it was preaching to the choir, but six paragraphs of ranting later, you're right.
dwinn: *laugh*

It is preachin' to the choir, baby, but yeah, it angers me, in the sense that SciFi, in attempting to widen its fan-base (and deepen its pockets), is screwing the fan base that's kept it alive for 11 years. Despite the assertion that it's operated in relative obscurity, known only for Twilight Zone reruns (paraphrased from the article), Friday will see the end of the one show that pulled Sci-Fi out of the "crappy rerun channel" hole and said, "Hey look, we're doing some sharp, slick ORIGINAL SCIENCE FICTION" (side-stepping for the moment the inevitable genre argument of whether Farscape is SF or science fantasy, because in either case it is solidly speculative fiction). Whether you like the muppets or no, Farscape was a fantastic step in what seemed like the right direction for SciFi and its core audience. It may not have gotten the wider audience SciFi wanted (and I'm still of the mind SciFi is in large part to blame for that with their asinine advertising), but even at it's worst it was a landmark attempt at redefining the tired assumptions about televised science fiction.

Unfortunately, it's been pretty well proven this year that landmark redefining of televised science fiction is not what networks think that elusive "wider audience" is after. The gut-punch cancellation of Farscape, then the drawn-out axing of the brilliant and much lamented "Firefly", struck two blows to fans who'd thought for just a second that they might not be faced with a wasteland of television choices this year. Now, with the not-expected end of Buffy, we're left with Stargate SG-1 (which, while I adore it so, is just not in the same club as Farscape, Firefly and Buffy by any stretch), Angel (sorry, but it's not been good for years), Enterprise (don't get me started on the craptacular-ness), MutantX (gah), Andromeda (had potential, but not anymore) and the host of SciFi originals the network is promoting as its collective Holy Grail of attracting viewers.

The article states that "The channel has realized, Hammer says, that traditional science-fiction shows that attempt to portray the future via space odyssies and gee-whiz technology are no longer as appealing to tech-savvy viewers as Earth-based twists on modern-day reality, such as 'The Sixth Sense' and 'The Matrix.'" And yes, I think they're right, but Farscape is hardly traditional science-fiction, despite being set in space. Stargate, which I'd argue is very traditional SF, is SciFi's highest rated regular series so far, which sort of negates the above statement. And what about "Taken" and "Children of Dune"? Want to tell me those aren't "traditional" science fiction? And if "Scare Tactics" and "Tremors" are the sort of "Earth-based twists on modern-day reality" they think are appealing... Ugh.

They do seem to concede the above point, sort of: "On the surface, tonight's ''Children of Dune'' - a story about life on two other planets - would seem to contradict Sci Fi's new mission. But director Greg Yaitanes says the film is really a story about powerful women and a dysfunctional family."

But science fiction, at its best (and even its worst), has never just about "space odyssies and gee-whiz technology" or "Earth-based twists on modern-day reality". It's always been about telling stories about people and issues in a context that lets us examine those themes and issues without the day-to-day trappings that often distract us. Farscape was never just about a living ship in outer space, crewed by escaped criminals. It was about one man's search for home, only to find out that home isn't what he thought it was, or even where he wanted to be. It was about people struggling to co-exist in an enforced dysfunctional family, trying (and often failing) to juggle their individual priorities with that of the common good of their comrades. It was about love, betrayal, and the sort of choices no one ever thinks they'll have to face when they wake up in the morning. It was at turns funny, disgusting, heartbreaking and breathtaking. It was the kind of science fiction that made this jaded fan sit up, even when it sucked, and go, "Holy fuck, that's SO DAMNED COOL."

I don't think we're gonna get that out of shows like "Tremors" or "Tracker" or "Crossing Over with John Edwards", or "The Dream Team" or "Scare Tactics", and I find it sad that SciFi apparently does.

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