Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Space Opera TV

I'm taking a break from work and from my final essay exam.  It's not due until Sunday, with an extension to as late as next Friday.  I only have four questions to answer in 1-2 page essays about Greek history, so, despite losing a day due to technical glitches at the university, I am confident I can do it in plenty of time.

Anyways, this will probably be my final post about TV shows for the foreseeable future.  Today's topic is Space Opera TV.  Now, I feel compelled to define what that means.  To me, Space Opera is a sub-genre of Science Fiction that features the following in prominent roles:  Aliens, spaceships, and interplanetary travel.  Below are my favorite shows that fit that bill.

Stargate SG-1
I was tempted to put this under Sci Fi, as the premise of the show is modern military exploration.  However, from the first episode (indeed, the very movie that it's based on), it featured two of the three elements I need for Space Opera; aliens and interplanetary travel.  Travel is mainly done through the Stargate (basically it generates a wormhole to a specific location), but in later seasons spaceships were added, and featured quite prominently by the end of the show. All that being said, I LOVE this show, and have seen many of the episodes (it ran for nine seasons and had two spin-offs and a cartoon).  The cast was great, with Richard Dean Anderson (McGyver) being at the forefront.  The premise was very cool, and the production values were awesome.  I could go on and on (which I did last year), but suffice it to say, this is my favorite Space Opera/Science Fiction show ever.  The spin offs were good, but they never managed to hook me like this one did.

Star Trek
Since Star Trek has had six TV shows (including the animated show from the 70's) and eleven movies, it would be hard to nail down a single show.  I do count Voyager as my favorite, but really, I love all of them.  The Star Trek universe was unique in that it showed a hopeful future for mankind, relatively speaking.  It showed that man could overcome his own weaknesses and embrace the future and the universe with the same sense of adventure that our ancestors did when exploring our own little planet.  The aliens were alien enough, yet, through the magic of budgetary constraints, they were always relatable.  The technology was always cool, and just got cooler with each new show.  But really, it was always the characters.  Each show had a unique feel, and the characters all managed to really portray that well.  Honestly, Star Trek has always been one of the best-cast franchises on TV.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
This show was so cheesy that I really just can't watch it anymore.  However, when I was a kid I thought it was amazing!  Gil Gerard was another in that group of "Manly Men" that permeated 70's TV (along with my hero, Lee Majors), and this show was really slick for the time.  Obviously it was designed to appeal to the Star Wars crowd, and for the most part it did.  However, only the first season is even close to being watchable now.  The show took a severe turn for the second one, and it really went downhill fast.  Best part of it all:  Erin Gray.  Total TV fox.

Battlestar Galactica
Another attempt for TV to cash in on the Star Wars craze, this show was actually much better than Buck Rogers.  It was less cheesy, with slightly better special effects, and some really good casting and acting. Even though I don't have any specific memories of watching the show, I can remember being 100% convinced by it when I was young.  My favorite part was the costumes.  The pilot uniforms were reminiscent of Han Solo, without just being outright copies.  And really, were there any TV villains scarier than the Cylons?  I tried watching the reboot, but the first episode had way too much "shaky cam" and it gave me a headache.  I heard that after the first few, they toned that down, so I think I would like to revisit again, as I heard it was really good.

Like my book-o-phile friends who still get angry when they think of the Library of Alexandria burning down, I still get angry when I think of how mishandled this show was when it first aired.  That being said, I have to admit that I was only marginally impressed when it first came out.  A western in space?  The premise seemed so silly.  And yet, it grew on me quickly, and when I was finally able to watch all of the episodes in the originally intended order, I fell deeply in love.  This show had one of the best casts of characters ever.  The writing and dialogue was amazing (thank you Joss Whedon, again), and the visuals were such a cool mix of high and low tech. Everyone has their favorite characters, and mine is Jayne Cobb.  He was probably the most well-rounded character.  I mean, each of the other ones wore their personality on their sleeves, but Jayne was the only one who always made you wonder.  I also have to say that, outside of Star Trek, this show had the best feature film continuation ever in Serenity.

This was an unbelievably cool show that I really did not like at all when I first saw it.  However, as I learned when I tried to introduce my wife to it, you really have to watch it from the beginning to understand the subtleties and nuances.  Farscape takes the premise of Buck Rogers, and turns it on its ear. And it does it in very clever, witty, dramatic and action-packed fashion.  The cast of characters are excellent representations of standard Space Opera tropes, but each with a unique twist that makes the show quirky and fun.  The highlight of the show for me was always Ben Browder's comedic timing and lines. His "fish out of water" confusion was delivered with rapier wit that the audience laughed at, but was made even funnier by the fact that most of it went right over the other characters' heads.

Babylon 5
Next to Star Trek, this is probably the second most popular Space Opera show ever.  And it also happens to be the one on this list that I have watched the least of.  At the time it came out, there was just something that didn't jive with me.  I thought it was trying too hard to be a new Trek, and I didn't like that.  That being said, I can honestly say that, after watching quite a few episodes, I was converted, and quickly grew to like it a lot.  Some day I would like to go back and watch the whole series.  This one also spawned a short-lived spin off called Crusade, which I actually liked better.  However, that one didn't last a single season, I don't think.

As always, I know there are others.  But really, there just aren't enough.  I read a while back that the Fall 2011 season was the first season in decades that didn't have a Space Opera show in any lineup (aside from syndication).  This needs to be fixed.


Charles Gramlich said...

Star Trek is the one that does it for me, although I watched and liked all the others at times too. I really liked Buck Rodgers back in the day but yes it is pretty cheesy. I should get to meet Gil Gerard this spring sometime.

Tom Doolan said...

Lucky! Pictures or it didn't happen. :)