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Image copyright: see contents page of each issue. All other material © Visual Imagination Ltd 1998 - 2002
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Feature: Farscape

Too Clever By Far?

Season Four Farscape line-up

Farscape fans were shocked when we broke the news that their favourite show had been cancelled. We take a look at the popularity of the series, and try to assess why, ultimately, it might have been just too good to survive…

It’s amazing how quickly the landscape of Sci-Fi TV can be altered. Farscape has been cut down early, cancelled by its makers, the Sci-Fi channel, due to the fatal combination of falling ratings and rising costs. To most regular viewers of the show, this seems impossibly cruel. Farscape rewards its fans like almost no other show through the sheer inventiveness and tortuousness of its running storylines. Its complexity makes them feel included. One has only to consider TV Zone’s poll last year to see how fans rank it head and shoulders above its competitors. Twice as many readers as voted for Stargate voted for Farscape as their favourite TV show of 2001, with Buffy polling a low third. Farscape came second only to Doctor Who in the category of favourite TV show of all time, with Ben Browder and Claudia Black, the show’s lead actor and actress, winning their categories by a very clear margin.

For a regular viewer, Farscape is undoubtedly the best Sci-Fi show currently on television, because it is totally aimed at them. But for a casual viewer, one can see that it would be confusing and difficult, and in that sense it’s perhaps a wonder that it’s survived four seasons at all. Perhaps you tuned in to the first episode of Season Four of Farscape on BBC Two a few weeks ago having never seen the series before. I imagine that your patience would have been sorely tried very quickly, because Crichton Kicks makes no concessions to new viewers. That’s fairly extraordinary for a season opener, given that the producers are surely trying to garner new viewers. The lead character seems to be a lunatic driven mad by isolation and loneliness, scrawling mathematical equations on the floor of his decrepit spaceship and obsessively singing the 1812 overture. He’s not even much to look at, his clothes in tatters and his otherwise-handsome face hidden behind a bad wig of a beard. He’s half-drunk and hardly anything he says makes obvious sense. As a new viewer, I do not think I’d be inclined to be charitable.

When some other characters turn up, the dialogue quickly becomes incredibly fast and almost incomprehensible, making one long for subtitles. “What are all these words I don’t understand – hezmanna, frel, microt and so on?” a new viewer might ask. “Apart from anything else, who knows what these people are called? The guy with the beard refers to everybody by at least a couple of names. He calls the little green puppet (whose mouth doesn’t move properly in synch with his voice) Rygel, Buckwheat and Sparky. He calls the grey girl Chiana, Chi, Grey or Pip depending on what he feels like at the time. The red-haired alien who seems to be a new character doesn’t seem to have a name other than what Crichton calls her, Sputnik. And who is the guy in leather? What are they doing on a beach? In short, what on Earth is going on? …”

by Gareth Wigmore

Investigate further the series and its effect on the audience in:
TV Zone #156

Photo © Jim Henson Productions
Feature © Visual Imagination 2002. Not for reproduction

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TV Zone #156, see below for ordering options
TV Zone #156
November 2002
ships from Oct 17 2002
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