Sci-Fi comes in many different guises, but my favourite is the space opera. Stories of exploration, daring battles and unique characters with epic storylines. I yearn for a brave new take on the space-opera format, but the biggest barrier is that space based shows are expensive. Why take a risk, when a standard drama, or reality-based TV show can be made for a fraction of the cost?
Following the ratings success of Star Trek: The Next Generation, science fiction TV shows were flavour of the month. The 90’s would see a variety of new space-based TV shows, from long-lived successes like Babylon 5 and Stargate SG1, to one season wonders like Space Above and Beyond.
As we moved into the noughties, it seemed that the space opera was developing and evolving, with darker and edgier stories. The genre had matured with the, grimy and complex Star Trek Deep Space Nine (launched in 1993). Ron Moores excellent update of Battlestar Galactica would take the gritty space opera format and run with it.
Battlestar would use clever camera techniques to add a layer of realism to proceedings. The show used jerky camera zooms and handheld cameras, rejecting the slick, clean look and false jolliness of what had gone before. Characters were flawed, situations were not clear-cut and outcomes to stories were often unpredictable.
Stargate Universe would try to emulate and capitalise on this style, but it was not in keeping with the camp, fun style of previous Stargate series. SGU ultimately alienated it’s fan base with its dull and dour tone and would last just two seasons. The last bastion of the space opera on TV is the recently cancelled animated show Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
But now it looks like the space opera may be resurgent once again, at least on the big screen, with the forthcoming Star Trek and Enders Game movies. Also exciting is the upcoming new Defiance TV show, developed by Rockne S. O’Bannon – creator of Farscape. Whilst this show looks to be Earth based, the trailer shows plenty of space-ships and aliens.
While I wait for new space based Sci-Fi, here are some space operas that are a little more obscure than the usual Star Trek and Stargate shows.
Chances are that unless you are really into Sci-Fi, this one might have slipped under your radar. The show lasted just 14 episodes and had a cool western TV show vibe and was very well written.
The show was popular enough that a movie – ‘Serenity’ was released following it’s cancellation. It’s an excellent film that complements a superb TV show.
Weird and inventive aliens with intricate plotting and episode structure. Farscape had a surreal quality and was not afraid to innovate (it even had an episode in the style of a looney tunes cartoon).
Based on an outline written by Gene Roddenberry, this series followed Dylan Hunt, who wakes up after being frozen for 300 years on a sentient star-ship called Andromeda. The first season of this show is passable, but later seasons suffer badly from poor acting, poor special effects and paper-thin plots. This show is best avoided.
Stargate Universe (SGU).
Heavily influenced by the far superior Battlestar Galactica, SGU was the last gasp in the fatigued Stargate franchise. This was an altogether more serious Stargate show that lasted a mere two seasons. It has much to recommend it, including strong acting performances from Robert Carlyle and David Blue.
A spin-off from the far superior Babylon 5, Crusade followed the crew of the Excalibur who were searching for a cure to a deadly plague that had infected the Earth.
The show is hindered by terrible dialog and poor special effects. The score is especially bad, with lots of loud synthesizer music. Babylon 5 could get away with the odd bit of bad dialog and some ropey F/X work, but that’s because unlike Crusade, it had such good story arcs and interesting characters.