Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Streaming on Netflix: Farscape

Farscape might be the best series available on Netflix.. It has action, decent special effects, unparalleled acting and - best of all - Muppets!

The Muppets, which more closely resemble Jabba the Hutt than Elmo, are fantastic for several reasons. One, computer-generated imagery (CGI) gets monotonous. It’s refreshing to see a physical object onscreen. Muppets give the show an intimate, theatrical feel that its cinematic brethren cannot provide. The puppeteers also create aliens that are far more imaginative than those mass-produced by CGI factories. My favorite Muppet doesn’t even have legs. Instead, he floats through the air on a Baron Harkonnen style chair. Unfortunately, I fear the Muppets are too bizarre for many viewers and are commonly sited as the reason for disliking the show amongst my less enlightened acquaintances.

Farscape’s episodes are compulsively watchable. If you like the show, it is possible to devour all eighty-eight episodes in about three days. The main story arc begins when American astronaut John Crichton is shot to the far reaches of the galaxy while exploring worm holes. Upon exiting the worm hole he finds himself in the midst of a giant space battle and collides with another ship, killing its pilot. As fate would have it, the dead pilot is the brother of a diabolical general named Crais who blames Crichton for his brother’s death and sends him to a prison ship that subsequently escapes with its other prisoners. Joining forces with the other prisoners, Crichton flees Crais while researching worm holes so he can return home. The convoluted pilot aside, the writing is actually very tight, with several standalone, Monster-of-the-Week episodes unified by strong story arcs. The standalone episodes are the series’ strong suit and allow the show to explore a variety of themes. One of the better examples, “Bone to be Wild”, explores competing narratives in its presentation of a deadly alien who becomes far more sympathetic when you hear her side of the story.The nature of identity and the role of fate is also a common theme. In one episode Crichton is cloned perfectly, in other episodes Aeryn Sun grapples with the identity forged for her by the fascist Peacekeepers. And there is love.

If Star Trek was Wagon Train in space, then Farscape is The Love Boat. Everybody, except for Pilot, who is fused with Moya, the living ship he controls, has a romantic story line. Crichton spends four seasons courting fellow prisoner Aeryn Sun. They are comparable to Ross and Rachel in space, except Crichton and Aeryn are more likable. Their romance provides one of my favorite lines from any show.

Aeryn: I will not be a slave to your hormones!
Crichton: Hey! I was lips, you were tongue.

The presence of romance makes the show very accessible to female fans who rarely explore the fantastic beyond vampire/werewolf love triangles. [Spoiler Alert] Farscape has love triangles too, but they are of the less common father/son/girlfriend and man/man’s clone/girlfriend triangle.

Finally, the writers of Farscape successfully build an immersive world that most viewers will want to inhabit. The Farscape universe is large, well-populated, and diverse: think Star Wars and Star Trek, not Battlestar Galactica. Hop on board Farscape and enjoy the “frelling” ride.