I like good movies. Scratch that – I LOVE good movies. Jim Jarmusch have opened so many great actors for me and his movies are the ones I keep going back to over and over again. Peter Greenaway let me explore my dark side, taught me the art of irony and sarcasm exploding human nature into some grotesque forms. Babbling and insecure Woody Allen made me feel better about myself. Kar Wai Wong, Yimou Zhang, Alice Wu shown me sides of Asian cultures that are free of Manga, Godzilla and flying kung-fu masters (although I do enjoy watching those on occasion). Point is – I like when movies get serious, I like depth, I like something I can watch over and over and over again and still enjoy it and be able to discover something new – some hidden gems, some imperfections (in the wabi-sabi way, of course) and some unexplored sides of the characters. And to complicate matters I do enjoy a good Sci-Fi (I wouldn’t be geek if I didn’t, now would I?)
Good Sci-Fi movies with depth are hard to come by and when you turn to shows things get even worse. So while frustrated with the lack of real choice in that category (Sci-Fi TV Series) I have learned to not expect much from those shows and my disappointment levels dropped significantly. For quite a while I thought Babylon 5 is “it”. It had mediocre depth to the characters, but it did have some storyline stitching the entire show together (well at least first 4 seasons). Then, one night, we were visiting our friends – it must’ve been party of some sort, but TV was on and somehow it was stuck on Sci-Fi channel right at the time when Battlestar Galactica miniseries were on. That was the night when my expectations for the Sci-Fi shows grew to the new level. All of sudden characters made sense, the whole scenery looked real, nobody was babbling about new inventions – everybody was busy using them and the laws of physics seemed to apply. “Oh, my $deity!” I thought to myself – it can’t be real. And then the full-blown series came out. It was a very new experience for me just like for the rest of geek population on the planet. Not only did this show turn upside-down formula of Sci-Fi show it also blew out of the water theories about piracy hurting entertainment industry (the last one being an unintentional side-effect that even the show-makers won’t admit to):
While you might assume the SciFi Channel saw a significant drop-off in viewership as a result of this piracy, it appears to have had the reverse effect: the series is so good that the few tens of thousands of people who watched downloaded versions told their friends to tune in on January 14th, and see for themselves. From its premiere, Battlestar Galactica has been the most popular program ever to air on the SciFi Channel, and its audiences have only grown throughout the first series. Piracy made it possible for “word-of-mouth” to spread about Battlestar Galactica.
Back to the subject – for a while there I thought BSG was the only game in town and in fact are trail-blazers in the area of character depth in Sci-Fi shows. Then I came across Firefly. Let me be straight here: I do not like Joss Whedon and his creations, none of them. Except Firefly. Buffy and it’s spin-offs had no characters with depth, even the ones that seemed to have depth had it only 1″ deep. Firefly all of sudden presents an interesting phenomena – characters have enough in them for you to want explore them, their stories go for miles and mix of corny humor, unique vision of future and “in your face” cutting through stereotypical behavioral patterns for both Westerns and Sci-Fi shows really sets it apart. Read through the comments in IMDb and you’ll see it’s a “love it or hate it” kind of show. People either hate it right away or they fall in love. But people do react: 100K comments is a very impressive number in my books – that is how many people decided it was worth their while to post a comment on IMDb just on account of Firefly.
So recently I came across an article on The Register titled “Shut up, Spock! – how Battlestar Galactica beat Trek babble” and while agreeing with most points made by Kevin Grazier about the science behind BSG and how it made it all more believable I realized that quite a few things mentioned there apply to Firefly as well. And it also looks like Firefly beat BSG to a punch by a narrow margin, but it did. Firefly was first to give characters some depth (in it’s own, unique way), it had no techno babble: “Okay, I need that in captain dummy talk, Kaylee.” and avoided most of the cliché’s of action movies like long villain/hero long talks before acting, disregards for chain of command, ships were actually worn out, people tired, nobody wears dorky bodysuits, no blasters left right and center and everybody speaks Chinese. Is it really that important who was first and who wasn’t? No. But I’d like to set the record straight anyway 😉
What does all of the above mean? Does it mean anything? Well, it does. To me it means a lot. It means it is possible to create a Sci-Fi show that I can enjoy on several levels and not only on a Sci-Fi level. It also means that the new standard has been set and now other shows will try to match it. And on top of it all it means that my respect to “Earth Final Conflict” (what a disaster! Re-watched it now after 10 years or so and still can’t figure out what did I see in it?), Lexx (just got DVDs delivered recently and setting my expectations sufficiently low) and “Star Trek” (the original series, I terrified to watch it again – the memory of it may be tarnished forever) is fizzling and the only way I can still watch those if I remind myself that at that time those were the best we’ve had. And they were “damn good shows”.
If I was a conspiracy theorist I’d think that it’s a plot to deny us pleasure of enjoyment of all shows and hooking us to new stuff forcing us to abandon all those purchased VHS tapes and DVDs for the sake of new Blu-Ray collections and anxiously wait for more new stuff. But it can’t be true. Can it?