TV Rewind: Why Farscape Is the Genre Revival We Deserve Right Now

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TV Rewind: Why <i>Farscape</i> Is the Genre Revival We Deserve Right Now

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our TV Rewind column! As the pandemic continues to halt television production for new and returning shows, the Paste writers are diving into the streaming catalogue to discuss some of our favorite classic series as well as great shows we’re watching for the first time. Come relive your TV past with us, or discover what should be your next binge watch below:

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More than 20 years after its original debut, Syfy’s Farscape still represents the best of everything that science fiction storytelling is supposed to be: a sprawling space opera complete with poignant character dynamics, incredible Jim Henson puppets, complex female characters and one of the most epic love stories to ever appear on television. This is a series that never really got the attention it deserved when it was on the air. (And remains one that far too few people even know about even now, all these years later.)

Farscape premiered in the late 1990s to critical acclaim but consistently low viewership, and was canceled after four seasons amid much fan outcry after one of the most brutal cliffhangers of all time. (Don’t worry, it all works out in the end, thanks to a wrap-up miniseries that came a year or so later entitled The Peacekeeper Wars).

In the most basic sense, Farscape is the story of a human astronaut named John Crichton, whose experimental spacecraft is flung through a wormhole. Finding himself far across the universe, he winds up on a living spaceship crewed by a ragtag bunch of criminals and misfits that include an exiled priestess, a deposed amphibious aristocrat, and a belligerent warrior. Ostensibly, the narrative follows Crichton’s attempt to find his way back to Earth, but in reality, it’s about the life he builds for himself beyond it and the found family he discovers there.

In our current era of rich genre storytelling, it’s sometimes hard to remember that it wasn’t always this way. For all that shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica tend to get the credit for it, Farscape helped pioneer the sort of thematically darker, character-driven, serialized storytelling we now associate with science fiction today, doubling down on multi-part episodes, dense plots, and shocking twists. There are complex space politics, metaphysical ruminations on the meaning of life, and a romance that has really never been equaled anywhere else on television.

This is a science fiction show that makes its aliens as “other” as possible. It drives its lead mad and never fully lets him recover, but also doesn’t shirk from playing out the very real effects of that madness onscreen. It kills off multiple characters in a variety of heart-wrenching ways, and the effects of their deaths reverberate throughout the rest of the series. Choices have consequences, sacrifices have meaning, and love can be life-changing—but isn’t a panacea for anyone’s problems.

To say it is one of the most original television series of all time is something of a (massive) understatement.

The true genius of Farscape, however, is found in its central romance, a blazingly hot pairing between the very human Crichton and a Sebacean named Aeryn Sun. (Sebaceans look a lot like humans, just with most of their emotional awareness and empathy bred out of them.) The duo is pretty much identified as endgame within the first twenty minutes of the show’s pilot, and goes on to become an example of how to tell a love story without sacrificing either character’s individual arcs or forcing the audience to sit through years of will-they-won’t-they drama. Plus, they both love to wear leather pants, which I think we can all agree is a trend that our modern-day science fiction needs significantly more of.

John and Aeryn are the ultimate romance. They fight with and learn to trust one another in turn, they teach each other about the universe and the value of emotion, and they flip many of the traditionally established gender norms in science fiction on their heads, proving that putting a series’ leading pair together isn’t the end of their story—it’s only the beginning.

The duo act on their feelings for one another fairly early on in Farscape’s first season, before loving and dying and pushing each other away, and ultimately clawing their way back to one another just as another tragedy inevitably strikes. Their story is full of angst and longing, as well as big, uncomfortable decisions, painful consequences and stolen moments of joy. John and Aeryn’s journey is a rollercoaster of emotions for both characters and fans alike—they let a coin toss decide the fate of their relationship at one point for God’s sake—all set against the backdrop of a race across the stars, pursued by a fleet of aliens chasing the wormhole technology hidden in John’s brain.

Given all this, it’s more than a bit shocking that no one has tried to remake Farscape in the years since it ended, or at least give us another series set within the same universe. (The original series would probably be a pretty hard act to follow, after all, so maybe a sequel is the way to go.) The show’s richly detailed world building, fully realized alien cultures that exist as more than just different flavors of humans, and absurd plots that almost defy straightforward explanation have never been quite matched by any series that’s come after it. And today’s savvier audiences, raised on a diet of prestige television and puzzle box sci-fi dramas, would likely be more open to multi-part narratives and the complex storytelling featured in the “Look at the Princess” or “We’re So Screwed” trilogies. In short, there is—and should be—space for a show like this in our current television landscape.

The original Farscape always had a tremendously expansive view of the idea of the word universe and all the creatures that inhabited it, and the show worked hard to create a world that felt as though it existed well beyond Moya and her crew. Is now the time to revisit it? Maybe. Maybe not. But given everything that’s currently going on in the world around us these days, the idea of a show that embraces the complex ideas of what makes us all human—even if you technically aren’t—has never felt more timely. Or, quite frankly, necessary.

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Lacy Baugher is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.

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