A Kirk Fan In Farscape's Court
Written By: Randy Hall
Published: Issue 19
One of the great quests in the entertainment industry these days is the search for "the next Trek," another television show that will generate its own franchise like the original Star Trek did. While several programs have been declared the heir to the Trek throne, such as The X-Files and Babylon 5, none has actually made the leap to true TV phenomenon.
The latest entry in this never-ending struggle is Farscape, the most popular original series aired on Friday nights by the Sci-Fi Channel. If you don't have cable or for another reason have never watched this series, think of it as Voyager with more action, more conflict between the characters, and more fun. (All of which is my humble opinion, of course.)
Back in 1992, the series started out as an idea for a program based on the cantina bar scenes in Star Wars under the working title of "Space Chase." It took years for the producers to finally find a home on the SFC, but once this happened, Farscape was born.
At first glance, Farscape might seem to be somewhat uninspired. Many characters appear to be science-fiction cliches: the human "everyguy," John Crichton, who was shot through a wormhole to another part of the galaxy; a tough woman (like Riley from the Alien movies) named Aeryn Sun; a big Klingon-like warrior called D'Argo; a blue priestess named Zhaan; and a child-like female thief called Chiana who was added to the show late in its first season.
And since the show is produced by the Jim Henson Company, there be puppets amongst us: Pilot, whose name is the same as his function, and Rygel, an over-bearing little former dictator who tends to get beaten up a lot. All of these characters are traveling aboard a living ship named Moya.
"So what's the big deal?" you ask. "Surely a show that derivative couldn't possibly be considered the next Trek."
What I find most enjoyable about Farscape is its determination to look at things from a different angle than most other sci-fi series. There really is no leader among the crew, though the human is the first among equals. Everyone has his or her own agenda, and while they've become a "family" of sorts over the program's first two seasons, there are still those who would sell out everyone else for a chance to get what he or she is searching for.
The reason I watched the show at first with only one eye open was, of course, the puppets. I was sure they'd be cuddly little balls of fur that emit soft, pleasing sounds. (Can't tell I'm a Classic Trek fan, can you?) But that's not what happened. Rygel is the most despicable of the bunch, and Pilot uses several arms skillfully while performing his assigned tasks. In short, the puppets are all written to have distinct personalities and are handled extremely well on camera.
Anyway, the show has become popular enough that Creation Entertainment, the largest of the professional convention organizations, decided to host the program's first official con the weekend of August 5-6 in Burbank, California. My twin brother, Wayne, and I flew out from Maryland to the Left Coast to take in the event, and we had a great time, mostly due to the participation of the producers, writers, and actors under the guidance of Brian Henson, the famous Muppeteer's son and head of the Henson company.
The producers began the two days by telling the audience that they'd made the decision early on NOT to be just like Star Trek. This point was driven home by the episode shown at the convention. The conclusion of a three-part storyline, it picked up where the previous episode had ended as the lead character was turned into a statue. Then, in the opening sequence of the new show, someone comes in and cuts the statue's head off! Not your typical day on the job for Janeway, is it?
Each of the regular actors came on the stage at some point in the weekend and answered questions from people in the audience. By the way, the stars were all scared out of their wits, having never before gone to a Trek-like convention. But they soon realized we weren't out to be mean to them and even enjoyed themselves by the time they left the stage.
Rounding out the convention were trivia contests, a costume call, and the opportunity to get autographs from the stars. The grand finale for the weekend came when everyone working on Farscape, from the stars to the writers and producers, came out on stage at the same time to a tumultuous standing ovation from the audience. As I've stated before, pro cons tend to have less enthusiastic people in attendance than fan-run gatherings, but the first opportunity to see these folks all together brought a huge reaction for any con.
I'd brought along some BBK flyers in case they had a table for such things. Unfortunately, I managed to spill soda all over them before we got to the convention, and they looked so awful I decided not to put them out. Kirk was still around, however, as the lead character was said to have a "Kirk-like" fondness for women across the galaxy and many other references to Trek came up at various points during the con.
I want to again mention that Grace Lee Whitney (Janice Rand) will be a guest at a Creation con being held on Saturday, August 19, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and will move to a warmer climate the following weekend for a Creation event in San Antonio, Texas.