I have watched the Star Wars films, am watching them with my son, will no doubt watch them again, but I am one of those people who accepts that they are entertaining, but not particularly well made. I enjoyed many of the episodes of Star Trek and their respective films, but I accept that there’s a lot more about it that’s bad than is good. Babylon-5 is also deeply flawed and Stargate SG-1 is very so so.
Now that all those fandoms are after my head, the reason I say that is that Science Fiction on television is more often than not thought of as those franchises and little else. Between them this counts as over 17 films, half a dozen animated series, a couple of one off specials (read: failed pilots) and at least 10 ongoing TV series and counting. There’s an arguement to say that these four franchises (am including B5 to be generous really) have dominated the market, much to TV’s detriment.
So on the TV side, have not watched a full episode of any of them in months, yet have been watching at least 5 different sci fi series. So I wanted to take a quick look at them, because in the franchise dominated entertainment industry, smaller shows, less budget and less big names can be missed and these gems can be forgotten.
I missed the Vertigo boat during the first flush of my comic collecting back in the 90’s. As I looked for different things later on, the vertigo fans put me off the comics. Years passed and I read Preacher and the Neil Gaiman Sandman and others and in the Sandman run was a story where the devil just said “F**k this!” and quit his job and moved to LA to open a piano bar. This series is based on that idea. Tom Ellis plays Lucifer Morningstar, the fallen angel often known as the devil, Satan or others. He’s lived in LA for 5 years with his bar manager an ex-demon called Mazikeen. He gets caught up in a murder investigation headed up by former actress and detached detective Chloe Decker, given the job by her ex husband Dan Espinoza (father to her daughter Trixie) and he’s fascinated by Chloe. Chloe is played by Lauren German who matches Ellis well with some amusing chemistry. Add in a conflicted angel called Amenadiel and a quirky psychotherapist called Linda and this is a hilarious little series found on Amazon Prime. The whole show hangs on the hilarious performance of Tom Ellis as an unrepentant and charming devil who is smart enough to understand tact, but sees no point in it. It’s funny, exciting and while it uses a religious back story, I don’t see any mocking of anyone’s genuine faith. In a very sensitive time, that’s a positive.
One of a handful of SyFy shows on this list, Hunters uses allegory quite heavily to tell a story about those who battle fanatics, becoming as bad as fanatics.
Really it’s the story of Flynn Carroll, an FBI agent and veteran of war, who still bears the scars of his experiences. His wife disappears, upending his life and the life of the daughter or his dead partner, who he has adopted. His wife was being investigated by the Extraterrestrial Terrorism Unit, a very black ops anti-terrorism unit run by the US government, who recruit Flynn to find a terrorist group made of aliens, hiding in human form. The characterisation is at times slim and there feels like there’s no one to really root for, but it’s tense, well paced and the themes of xenophobia and stressing security over freedom is disturbingly relevant in a post Sept 11 world. The effects are good, but very reminiscent of Aliens, or Predator and the archetypes are easy to see. But this series is interesting and well worth looking at, a nice reminder than when you think you’re the good guy, you’re willing to do almost anything to get what you want. Thing is, no one thinks they are the bad guy, do they?
3: The Expanse
Am only halfway through this, but it’s fascinating. It’s 300 years in the future, Mars is colonised and is a super-power in it’s own right and it’s dealings with Earth are tense at a cold war level. In the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars is more people, very much seen as an underclass by the two worlds. These ‘Belters’ do a lot of the work that keeps these two worlds going, but benefit little from their endeavours. Yes, this series is about class as much as space. On a space station inside this belt, a cop in a very corrupt system is investigating a missing person and it’s heading into strange and dangerous place. Outside of the belt, an ice mining ship investigates a distress call and get caught up in a plot to kick off the war between Mars and Earth that some on both sides want, but both sides know will cause untold loss of life. Like many dramas with a large cast, we get pieces of each plot thread and spoon fed info to keep us interested. I’m back on watching it this weekend.
4: Dark Matter
Another SyFy series, this is an ensemble show set in some undetermined future. Man has colonised much of the galaxy and industry and crime is everywhere. 6 people wake up on a ship, no memories, no idea who they or each-other are on a ship they can barely fly, with an artificial intelligence android that’s also amnesiac and a little ‘perculiar’. They learn that they are criminals, mercenaries and runaways and try to make their way in space, taking what jobs they can, trying to work out who took their memories and what they should do.
There’s more than a little taste of Firefly here, the less than legal mixed with a bit of decency and nobility. These strangers to each other and themselves working together makes this series very much it’s own thing. It’s mostly bottle episodes, adding to the feeling of claustrophobic tension and the writing is decent enough for each character to have his/her own voice. After a cracking first season cliffhanger, the series was renewed and I’m looking forward to watching season 2.
When the most famous person in a TV show is the guy who played the second worst Jimmy Olsen on TV, it’s not really inviting. But to be honest, this is my favourite of this 5. It’s not the best, technically or otherwise, but it is one thing that a lot of Sci-Fi TV is missing. It’s fun. Balls out ridiculous fun. Aaron Ashmore plays Johnny Jaqobis, who works for the RAC, which is halfway between marshals and bounty hunters in a planetary system known as the Quad. He works with/lives with his estranged brother D’avin, a former soldier, suffering PTSD and Dutch, a fighter with an enigmatic past and a temper. They live on a spaceship called Lucy (which does seem to be in love with Johnny) and take warrants for all sorts of criminals and materials. From the plush elite run world of Qureshi, the garden-like Leith, the abandoned moon of Arkyn and the working class mining colony of Westerley, the team go all over, taking all sorts of jobs and having a lot of wacky adventures.
The action is heavy, the drama well put together and the comedy is sarcastic and at times light hearted. This is fun, it’s the spiritual successor to shows like Farscape with it’s cheeky tone and less than clean cut cast. The first season struggled with it’s tone, but near the end became much more consistent and that consistency has been all over season 2. I would highly recommend this season for fans of action in all it’s forms. This is a fun show and I hope we get more of it.
Ta ta for now internet people.