TV on DVD 11/17/09 – Far away to Farscape, on the road to Rome

The first trademark hit for the Sci Fi channel (long before they rebranded themselves SyFy), Farscape spanned four seasons (1999-2003) plus a mini-series to wrap the story that should have been the fifth and final season (fans were close to revolt when the Sci-Fi Channel abruptly cancelled their cult space opera). ADV, a home video label that otherwise specialized in Japanese anime and a smattering of live action Japanese genre cinema, has released the show in any number incarnations, constantly repackaging the episodes in larger and larger sets but never pulling it all together. Farscape: The Complete Series (A&E) finally does just that. If you missed the trip through the wormhole, here’s the gist of it: Ben Browder is John Crichton, an American astronaut flung to the far side of the galaxy through a wormhole and into a living ship filled with fugitives from a Fascist authoritarian force ironically named Peacekeepers.

Farscape, circa Season Two
Farscape, circa Season Two

There’s the usual panoply of exotic aliens, marbled worlds, and spacescapes that look ripped from the cover of Amazing Stories, but Farscape was more than space opera and pulp adventure. There’s huge cultural gap between the crew of six motley fugitives who band together to survive, all with their own (often clashing) agendas, and they are desperate: in one episode in the first season, DNA Mad Scientist, they’re offered a way home in exchange for a sample of their DNA and one of Pilot’s arms. They hack the appendage off with mercenary efficiency and then turn on each other. The crew is filled out by former peacekeeper soldier Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), the blue-skinned plant woman and priestess Zhaan (Virginia Hey), lion-maned, hot-tempered warrior Anthony Simcoe (D’Argo), overthrown emperor Rygel (a furry, self-involved Muppet), the giant mantis-like Pilot (another impressive Muppet, this one a huge creature whose scale we only discover in the above-mentioned episode DNA Mad Scientist) and, joining late in the first season, wild-child Chiana (Gigi Edgley). That’s right around the time that Scorpius, the ash white half-breed alien with an SS streak in him and the best villain on sci-fi TV of the past 20 years, starts his obsessive hunt for Crichton and the wormhole technology that is hidden somewhere in his brain, and their wanted status makes them a target any time they try to land. As you can guess, the totalitarian worlds and mercenary survivors they meet are a far cry from the Federation friendly universe of Star Trek and the dark art direction and wild, often grotesque creatures (courtesy of Jim Henson studios) made this the most imaginative and unpredictable science fiction show on TV in its pre-Battlestar Galactica day.

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