Farscape: the love of my life

In the last week or so, I’ve been wondering if it’s entirely normal to have next to no interest in TV, whether said lack of interest is a bit hipsterish and whether it’s something I want to work on. I like stories and I used to like watching TV, so maybe it’s something I can learn to at least tolerate again.

There’s just one thing that still really holds my interest and that’s a weird Australian scifi series from 1999-2003 called Farscape!

There were two things that really separated Farscape from all the other weird and wacky scifi of the late 90s/early noughties. The first was that to cut costs, they filmed in Australia instead of Canada, which gives it a really unique feel – no pine forests in Farscape, very few generic North American accents and guest stars you mostly didn’t recognise from “weren’t they in that thing?” The second is that they used those cut costs to build muppets.

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Brian Henson with Rygel

One of The Powers That Be on Farscape was Brian Henson, son of Jim, the man behind the Muppets. Sure, Farscape used a lot of rubber heads on human actors but they also used a lot of animatronic characters and all of it was built and acted by the Jim Henson Creature Shop. For non-fans, sometimes the muppets could be the line in the sand and some of them were terrible. Kabaah from Scratch ‘N’ Sniff was not one of the most lifelike ones. Pilot, on the other hand, part of the regular cast from day one, was amazing and I think he still looks good today. I think it speaks volumes for how good the Pilot puppet was that the cast could step over the puppeteers rolling around the floor under their feet, look into Pilot’s eyes and forget he was a puppet. Even Rygel – we know everyone hates Rygel but the puppet was brilliant.

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The women of Farscape. The costumes work a lot better in motion.

Something I appreciate on a more intellectual level than I did as a teenager are the female characters. All my favourite characters are the women and they’re all great and they’ve always been my favourite, it’s just that I didn’t really understand that that’s important at the time. Chiana – manipulative, too young, sexy, resourceful, broken. Jool – booksmart, realistically terrified of the situation she finds herself in, selfish, forcing herself to be brave. Sikozu – booksmart, arrogant, self-confident, distrusting. And the ones who weren’t my favourites. Aeryn, ex-soldier learning to be more human. Zhaan, anarchist assassin priest and mother-figure. Grayza, second biggest cheese in the Peacekeepers, absolutely ruthless.

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One of Talyn’s baby photos

And then there’s Talyn. Ok, so the series is set on a spaceship. The spaceship, Moya, is alive and communicates non-verbally with the crew through Pilot. Halfway through the first series, D’Argo breaks a contraceptive shield and Moya becomes pregnant with a genetically modified baby spaceship that’s part warship. That baby is Talyn, a living battleship with mental health issues, mummy issues, adopted mummy issues, a violence problem, a jealousy problem and teenager moods, who’s half peaceful Leviathan, part space Nazi and is captained by a renegade space Nazi who sometimes uses Talyn for his own gains and sometimes tries to be a good adopted father to Talyn. How can you not love that poor messed-up baby?

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John borrows a Tavloid gauntlet. “Tavlek!”

Season one is ok but I tend to skip it. The show is still finding its feet. I like that John, the one human, is the token alien – the one who doesn’t know how the doors or the guns work, the one who can work the alien technology because “What? It’s just like a VCR”, the one who says the wrong thing to the wrong person, the one who pokes black holes, the one who mispronounces all the aliens and the one who gets knocked out by passing aliens. It really gets going at episode fifteen, Durka Returns, which is when Chiana joins and the main arc, which continues right through to season four and the miniseries, gets going in episode sixteen, an absolute landmark in Farscape history, A Human Reaction. There are still two forgettable episodes in the rest of the season but this is where it all kicks in.

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Chiana in Taking the Stone

Season two is a masterpiece and there are not four hours of better TV in existence than the final four episodes. There are still some clangers in there, there are some generally unpopular ones that I love (Taking the Stone; Vitas Mortis), there are some generally popular ones that I don’t love (The Locket; Crackers Don’t Matter) and ok, season two is a mixed bag really but it’s where Farscape really became Farscape, where it became big and bright and loud and disgusting and clever.

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This was an actual part of an actual episode for Reasons.

Season three has all the big and bright and loud and disgusting and clever but it’s a lot darker. Yes, it’s bright and dark at the same time. There’s a bit too much John/Aeryn drama but I skip the worst of those episodes. This is where the ongoing arc climaxes – and then resets.

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The girls go off on their adventure.

Season four is similar, bright and dark and with far too much John/Aeryn drama. The Earth episodes are magnificent and the now-traditional Final Four is kind of a Final Eight, although the first of those eight is one of Farscape’s worst and only makes it in there because it’s the A-side of the one that follows it – the boys go off on one tedious adventure while the girls are off on a much better adventure that you see next week. Now you can skip Mental As Anything, you’re equipped with the information you need to go into the Final Seven.

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And then it got abruptly cancelled on a shocking cliffhanger and Farscape fans rallied and lobbied and protested and got it brought back as a four hour miniseries in which they attempt to tie up every single storyline ready to have a clean slate for whatever format came next – a series of comic books I never got my hands on, and an endless promise of a movie that will never come.

Have I sold it? Of course I haven’t. Farscape is notorious difficult to sell to new viewers. It’s got muppets and bodily fluids and Australian accents and Scorpius and living ships. And it’s original and intelligent and inspires genuine love in cast and crew, which I think is unusual, and it looks much higher budget than it actually was and the vast majority of it still looks good today, which isn’t bad for a show that got cancelled fourteen years ago (excuse seasons one-three for not being in widescreen format, that’s the only real thing that makes it look dated). Now go and find it on Netflix or Amazon or whatever, start at Durka Returns and tell me you’ve fallen in love with it.

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