Derivation

My wife has Star Trek: Next Generation on in the background, one of the better season 2 episodes, “Elementary, Dear Data.” Episode and series contradict the premise of my post. There seems to be much congratulation about the fine end of the series Battlestar Galactica. Ron Moore did a good job with it, I hear, as he did with the ST:NG series. Moore’s specialty with Star Trek: the many great Klingon stories.

I find myself much less impressed.

The problem with tv science fiction is an extreme lack of originality. When they do hit something good, they try derivatives, otherwise known as spin-offs. The X-Files: now that was original. Who would have guessed an FBI agent as a malcontent? Firefly, too: the best science fiction series since 1987 at least. Great imagination to combine a Western with science fiction. It was crazy, but it worked brilliantly.

To a degree Star Trek and the other two good series derived from stories told before. But they spread out a good bit from the first notion, and mixed in a good dollop of their own originality. It’s no secret that the Star Trek series subsequent to the Picard edition dropped precipitously from the source material in both quality and popularity. tv geniuses figured Star Trek fans would welcome more stories somewhat like the ones they loved. And to a degree, we enjoyed them. For a while. But unlike true science fiction geniuses, they aimed for the safe, the tried and true, and played the game only to hold on to as much of an audience as they could as long as they could. Risk-taking? The temporal cold war, a woman captain, and a tortured commander of a space station.

What made the spinoff programs as good as they were? The original idea carried them a long way, plus the acting and writing was occasionally good. What we were really hoping to find was something truly original like Firefly. tv networks and movie studios routinely can’t deliver.

The SciFi network is promoting another Stargate spinoff. Clearly, they’re not looking for new ground. I see promotion in full swing for the eleventh Star Trek movie. Great: let’s go to an idea that worked forty years ago and spin it twenty years in the past. It sounds more like a historical costume drama than real science fiction. Same idea with the prequel Battlestar spinoff: it goes back into the past, too. More history masquerading as real science fiction.

They just don’t get it.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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9 Responses to Derivation

  1. Gavin says:

    Season 2 was terrible, I thought. They got Pulaski, who was an unlikable anti-android bigot, the terrible uniforms, and dull TOS-esque plots. It took until season 3 or so for TNG to get some really good plots. And don’t get me started on holodeck episodes!

  2. crystal says:

    The X-Files was one of my favorites. STNG also, especially the later years. Stargate SG-1 too, though not quite as good. Did you watch Farscape? Babylon 5? Those had their moments. I was watching Battlestar Galactica until I had to give up cable. I liked Edward James Olmos, but the one thing I didn’t like about that series was how very seriously it took itself – even the X-Files could laught at itself :)

  3. Jimmy Mac says:

    There are so many good SciFi books that could be adapted for TV …. 2 immediately come to mind: Costigan’s Needle and a Canticle for Liebowitz. But that would be taking a chance on what are most likely unknown works from quite a long time ago.

  4. Todd says:

    There are numerous SF books that would make great movies, or even adaptations for television. I wonder if the networks demur when they have to search outside the writer’s guild? I’ll post several dozen examples of good SF that would make for good television.

  5. crystal says:

    Didn’t the sci fi channel do an tv movie of UrsulaLe Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven? I’d vote for making a movie of Downbelow Station or Forever War.

  6. Lee says:

    I was not impressed with the Battlestar finale. It was okay, but …

    I agree with you about Firefly and X-File. Both very original. Babylon 5 in its first few seasons also had some good moments.

    Star Trek: Next Generation was an improvemnt over the original – and better than any of the following programs – but too formulaic. It got predictable and boring – though I thought the final episode was better than Battlestar’s.

    Have you ever seen The Prisoner?

  7. Jim McK says:

    Like books, tv has its own conventions, and tv series even moreso. Scifi has always leaned toward the plot based, while tv almost has to be character driven. And a series has to more or less not allow development in the character!

    BG started out with some very static premises, with an almost fundamentalist theology. The newer version played with that somewhat successfully, but could not avoid the inevitable — Adama and Eve wind up east of Eden, in paradise. The best element was making Bob Dylan/Jimi Hendrix the proxy for the harmony of the spheres, God’s persistent presence. But it had the faults of its underlying story. (I am surprised modern earth was “150,000 years later” and not 6,000.

    Lathe of Heaven has twice been used as the basis for a film. The ’80s version is truer to the book, and the more recent — well, I cannot think of anything good to say about it.

    Canticle for Leibowitz might make an interesting film, but I suspect not. It could not even hold up in a sequel!

    Fahrenheit 451 is probably the best SF film from a book, though Solaris and 2001 come close. 451 benefits from the ambiguous absurdity of not being on paper!

    I liked Babylon 5 among tv series, though its conclusion could have been better. There was a sense of real religions believed in by real people, in contrast to BG’s shallow forms. Was there no one to offer decent advice to Laura or Baltar? No one to say something like “generally 85 percent to 90 percent of people who say they are possessed by the devil simply “need someone to listen. They need a prayer. They need a long walk and a glass of water.””

    Sorry for going on…

  8. crystal says:

    Interesting the Mormon roots of Battlestar Galactica.

  9. Micha Elyi says:

    “Great imagination to combine a Western with science fiction.”

    Yeah, sure. Battlestar Galactica in its first incarnation was hailed as Wagon Train to the Stars by TV Guide.

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