THE CASE FOR FARSCAPE
(A decidedly non-objective study in fandom, devotion, and hope in the face of impending disaster)
by Matthew C. Reese
What the hell am I doing?
Uttered aloud while driving westward far too fast on Interstate 90 out of Chicago. It is mid-September, and I am on my way to the Oak Brook shopping mall for a meeting with strangers to discuss the cancellation. Or rather, what we intend to do about it.
The doubts have arrived early. Iím already questioning why it is exactly that I'm traveling such a great distance, about to introduce myself to people who for all I know might turn out to be unpleasantly weird, risking certain derision by my friends, risking another strain on my already limited time and resources. I wonder if this is worth the effort I'm putting into it.
And then I think of my Friday nights, and how permanently empty they may soon become.
My foot presses a little harder on the gas.
When Farscape first appeared on American television, it was in the form of a little-advertised program on the perpetually ailing USA Network. The cable station had primarily been an outlet for castoff major-network reruns and badly cropped B-grade horror movies and sex comedies. Since the mid-90's, however, USA had been branching out into newer fields of programming. They had begun to introduce more original series, many predictably awful, but some of sufficient quality to attain a sort of cult status (e.g., La Femme Nikita).
At roughly the same time, USA had also initiated the "Sci Fi Channel," dedicated to broadcasting the lion's share of the speculative-fiction programs that USA had amassed. The newly formed cable channel began showing old SF series such as Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, and Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, along with acquired programs such as the renewed Mystery Science Theatre 3000, picked up from Comedy Central. The channel had no original programming to start with, and the quality of most of its shows (apart from MST3K) was somewhat poor.
Then, in the spring of 1999, USA acquired a series called Farscape, co-produced by Hallmark Entertainment and the Jim Henson Company under the tutelage of Brian Henson. The series was created by noted writer-producer Rockne S. O'Bannon, who had previously worked on Spielberg's Amazing Stories and the critically acclaimed Alien Nation series. Filmed in Australia, the series featured from its first episode a unique visual style, cinema-quality special effects, hordes of animatronic and puppet characters designed by Henson's Creature Shop, and a talented and energetic cast.
Farscape ís simple concept -- a lone American astronaut is accidentally hurled across space, where he befriends several aliens, angers others, and is caught in the crossfire of a violent interstellar power struggleóturned out to be somewhat deceptive in light of its execution. The show ís storylines often veered away from typical SF, getting into slightly stranger territory. Themes of mysticism and tested loyalty were juxtaposed against military conflict, personal tragedies, and classic suspense. The show dealt with sexuality frequently, in a frank, open manner, grounded in enough emotional honesty to place it above mere titillation. Episodes offered up great dollops of humor, most frequently in tossed-off wisecracks, sometimes with slapstick violence, and often in the vein of the scatological (the series seems to have dealt with nearly every type of human bodily secretion, as well as some only produced by the show's alien characters).
No one on USA's staff knew quite what to do with this newcomer. So after airing roughly three episodes, they moved it to Sci Fi, touting it as a "Sci Fi Original Series" and placing it alongside other, somewhat lesser "originals" as G vs. E (a.k.a. Good vs. Evil, another USA transplant), First Wave, Lexx (based on an unfortunate series of Canadian made-for-cable softcore movies), and The Invisible Man.
One by one, these series cultivated their fan bases. But one by one, due in some cases to poor promotion by Sci Fi itself, the shows began to drop off, cancelled by the host network. Soon, only Farscape was lef - and its fan base was actually growing. The show's fans, who referred to themselves as Scapers, bonded together in Internet groups during the week and each other's living rooms on Friday nights, feasting merrily on what the latest episode had to offer each week.
Things went so swimmingly for Farscape that Sci Fi, during the show's blockbuster third season in late 2001, announced that it was renewing the show for an unprecedented two more seasons. Tom Vitale, Sci Fiís Senior Vice President of Acquisitions, Scheduling, and Program Planning, trumpeted the network's pride in the show, announcing:
In 2002, when the SaveFarscape campaign was just getting into full swing, Matttttt, one of the ChicagoScapers' founding members, wrote an article for a magazine about the SaveFarscape campaign and the participation of the ChicagoScapers. Sadly , the magazine folded before the article was published. The article was recently rediscovered after poking through the group's old archives. It is a pretty detailed discription of the early days of ChicagoScapers .