Monday, December 13, 2010

Review - Farscape: Premiere (Season 1, Episode 1)

Farscape One
"Don't move! Or I'll fill you full of . . . little yellow bolts of light!" - John Crichton

Short review: Short through a wormhole, John Crichton falls in with escaped convicts and flees to avoid prosecution.

Farscape One gets lost
Moya's prisoners escape
Crais becomes insane

Full review: It surprises no one who knows me that I love Farscape. In fact, I consider it and Babylon 5 to be the two best television science fiction shows ever made. (Here is where I will make my apologies to Firefly, which was brilliant, but was abused so badly by foolish FOX executives and ended up with a distressingly short run and thus falls short of joining those two shows at the top of the heap). The first episode, fittingly titled Premiere starts the show off by force-feeding the viewer background information at a breakneck pace with just enough actual story to keep things from dragging. This episode is the only one in the series in which the title sequence does not have a voice over by John Crichton (Ben Browder), and this seems to be because the first season voice over essentially describes the events that take place in this episode. And despite the fact that the basics of the background can be summed up in about twenty seconds of dialogue, the episode has to do a lot of heavy lifting to bring the viewer up to speed.

John Crichton, astronaut and fish out of water
As the episode kicks off, we are introduced to John Crichton, series central character and IASA astronaut (due to a minor disagreement between Farscape's producers and NASA, the fictitious IASA space agency was inserted into the opening sequences of the show). The story quickly establishes that Crichton is a second generation astronaut, living somewhat uncomfortably in the shadow of his famous father, and is also a scientist whose upcoming mission is intended to test a theory he helped to develop that is intended to provide rapid acceleration for spacecraft. As an aside, I have to say that seeing the theory in action makes it seem quite unlikely that it would ever actually work, but in the interest of fictional enjoyment the viewer simply has to suspend disbelief, and in any event the theory is mostly dropped after the first episode.

Dominar Rygel VXI
While testing experimental spacecraft and theories intended to send mankind to the stars is fairly exciting in real life, it makes for bad television, so Crichton's mission is interrupted when he is sucked up into a wormhole and deposited in a distant part of the universe. Crichton runs into trouble almost immediately, getting involved in an incident that will drive the overarching plot of the show for the next dozen or so episodes, and then is pulled aboard Moya, an escaping prison ship that also happens to be alive. Once he is on board, Crichton and the viewer are introduced to the other series regulars: The aliens D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), Zhaan (Virginia Hey), Rygel (Jonathan Hardy), and Pilot (Lani Tupu), and eventually the very human looking but actually alien Aeryn Soon (Claudia Black). One of the more ambitious elements of the series is the aliens that are included, specifically Rygel and Pilot, who are both essentially puppets. As far as I know Farscape remains the only television series that has even attempted to have a pair of realistic regular characters portrayed by puppets (shows like Alf don't count, since the puppet was intended as a joke character). The brilliance of Farscape is that not only did they attempt this, but for the most part they pulled it off brilliantly.

Fear my dopey hat
So the show continues with escapes, recaptures, and eventually a sort of triumph for the protagonists. Leaving aside the underdeveloped nature of the characters that is a natural consequence of this being the first episode of a series, the only real weakness of the show is the villain Bialar Crais (Lani Tupu), who doesn't seem smart enough to have risen to the position of power he is supposed to hold, and is simply unable to appear menacing. The second problem is not really Lani Tupu's fault, but rather stems from the fact that the costume designers simply dressed him (and most of the other Peacekeepers in the early episodes) in some pretty goofy looking outfits. Put bluntly, it is hard to take a man in a ponytail, a silly little leather hat and a coat that looks like a dress seem intimidating. Most of the other Peacekeeper uniforms (except Aeryn's flight suit) seem almost as silly looking, and the problem doesn't get fixed for several more episodes. The only thing that saves Bialar from being a complete joke is when the viewer realizes what a terrific actor Lani Tupu is to be able to pull of performances as ;both Crais and Pilot.

But where the shows brilliance shines through is in the choice of John Crichton, astronaut from near future Earth, to serve as a focal character. This set up allows the writers to dump exposition upon the viewer by having other characters dump it on Crichton. And rather than the exposition being a continuous litany of boring background, the delivery is laden with humor as Crichton, used to being an astronaut and thus one of the smartest guys in any room he is in, has to deal with being so out of his element that he doesn't even know what the gun he is holding shoots. And the writers take full advantage of this, throwing in minor details as background that make the Farscape world alien and believable - Rygel farts helium when he's nervous, D'Argo has an extensible tongue he can use as a weapon, Zhaan can accelerate her movements to incredible speeds, and so on. But the story does give Crichton an opportunity to shine as well, despite his constant confusion and bumbling attempts to act as a human ambassador to the myriad of aliens he meets.

This is, without a doubt, a very exposition heavy episode. But as the initial episode for a science fiction series with a setting that is almost wholly alien, this is almost certainly a necessary evil. Despite the heaping dollops of back story that the episode piles on, the story flows by fairly quickly for the most part, although the plot is fairly basic (so basic that it can be recounted in a twenty to thirty second voice over every week starting with the next episode). Despite having to convey a huge pile of background information and an as yet fairly uninspired choice of a central antagonist, Premiere does a fine job of kicking off one of the best television shows ever made.

Subsequent episode reviewed: I, E.T.

Subsequent episode reviewed (airdate order): Exodus from Genesis

Farscape, Season 1     Farscape     Television Reviews     Home


  1. Great review. I loved Farscape when I first watched it and I've decided to watch it again on Netflix.

    I had a post about the show back in 2006 here:

    And I'm discussing the show with others on a message board here:

    1. @Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator: It's a great show.