Wednesday, March 23, 2011

An Update from "Farscape"

I'm a little more than a season into "Farscape" now and the show has been steadily improving. Spoilers will be minimal, but I will be discussing cast changes and some of the character development, so be on guard. In my last post with my first impressions of the series, I noted that the characters came off as a little generic because we hadn't delved much into their pasts and nobody had the chance to grow or change yet. Now just about everyone has enjoyed some time in the spotlight individually, and we've gotten to know them better.

D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) and Zhaan (Virginia Hey) both have big personal demons to combat, Crichton (Ben Browder) is still too often the voice of reason, but he's proven wrong about as often as he's right, and Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black) has softened up considerably since the earliest episodes. Rygel XVI (Jonathan Hardy) is still little more than comic relief, but he's good at it, and I've gotten so used to his presence that sometimes I don't even remember he's a puppet anymore. Even the "biomechanoid" ship, Moya, had her own major story arc that led up to a big cliffhanger at the end of the season. Ironically, the character who has gone through the most personal growth has been the villain, Crais (Lani Tupu). At the start of Season Two, he's no longer the big bad of "Farscape," having ceded the position to one of the two newcomers to the cast.

This would be Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), a twisted Skarran scientist working for the Peacekeepers who is studying wormhole technology, and wants to get his hands on Crichton in the hopes of digging useful information out of his head. Scorpius is a more straightforward villain than Crais was, with a ghoulish visage, a lot of black leather, and a few mad-scientist quirks. He's a lot more fun to watch too, and the show has already used his more over-the-top style of evil for comedic purposes. The other newcomer is Chiana (Gigi Edgley), a grey-skinned Nebari thief girl, who looks and acts like a refugee from an interstellar touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats." However, she has a very sharp, slightly caustic personality that is a lot of fun, and she makes a good addition to Moya's crew.

Chiana is also another of the "Farscape" characters who is very appealing to look at, with great makeup and costume design. By contrast there's been some noticeable cutting back with some of the other regulars. D'Argo's prosthetics have a more rigid, bronzed appearance now, and Zhaan has been in high-necked, long-sleeved robes constantly, no doubt to cut down on the amount of time both actors have to spend in the makeup chair. I don't find the cost-cutting measures to have much negative impact. In fact, I'm a little relieved that they're reigning in the scale of some of these stories. Many first season episodes got too ambitious with the fancy aliens, with very hit-or-miss results. In one episode with multiple Delvians, the race that Zhaan belongs to, all of the new characters looked significantly off. However, installments that only feature a single new creature or character tend to come off much better.

The rest of the production has been pretty consistent. I still think that the directors are too enamored with slow-motion shots, dutch angles, and other distracting camera tricks, but there's less of the wonky editing and awkward musical transitions that made the early episodes so frustrating. The cast has settled into their roles, and some of the performances, like Claudia Black's and Ben Browder's have steadily improved. Crichton still makes about one really groan-worthy pop culture reference per episode, but at least he's finally ditched his T-shirts and spacesuits for some more dignified Peacekeeper duds. And as predicted, the writing also improved as the stories got more serialized. The last five episodes of the first season is one big story that is better than anything else "Farscape" has done. But that said, the show's format is much closer to "Star Trek" than "Babylon 5," with very little overarching structure built into each season so far.

What I like best about "Farscape" right now is the ensemble. There's a nice sitcom regularity to Rygel's betrayals, D'Argo and Aeryn's bouts of aggression, Crichton being a know-it-all, Chiana being a sneak, and Zhaan playing den mother. It took a while for all the pieces to fall into place, but now that they have, "Farscape" is turning out to be a really fun character-driven action show. It feels like something I would have watched ten years ago on the weekend lineup of my old syndicated station, with "Xena: Warrior Princess" and the 90s "Outer Limits" reboot. I don't think it's up there with the greats of science fiction television yet, but it's still got a few seasons to go, and I'm looking forward to them.

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