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Friday, 17 March 2017

Syfy ho hum

Too many science fiction series are just westerns. A colony of plucky miners is threatened by the hired thugs of evil businessmen. Outlaws ride into town (or land on the planet) bringing danger to the settlers. Somebody wants to drive the railroad/stargate through a peaceful backwater, riding roughshod over the rights of its lawful inhabitants. And then the magnificent six or seven show up to fix it all in a blaze of gunfire.

They were peddling these exact formulae eighty years ago and I've seen SF television shows and B-movies that add almost nothing to it. The weapons fire photons not bullets, but otherwise it's all been done many times before. Even the dialogue sounds like a Gunsmoke repeat.

Why this is a waste: the future offers so many fascinating new stories to tell - just look at Black Mirror, District 9, Blade Runner, Ex Machina. Technology, alien contact, and space travel throw up new opportunities, new perils, and new moral conflicts. If writers stretch their imaginations they can find those stories. Or they can indolently retread a western or a monster movie remembered fondly from their youth.

Have networks decided that SF geeks are content just as long as there's a spaceship in the frame? Don't those viewers care about startling concepts that stretch the imagination? Don't they want drama with compelling characters rather than leather-styled ciphers? Because TV networks are lazy when it comes to SF. They'll continue to fob us off with repurposed western and crime scripts unless we demand great science fiction every time.

19 comments:

  1. Speaking of SyFy, The Expanse is really, really good.

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    1. So far I've only seen one scene. That was on YouTube and it looks as if acting isn't the show's strong suit. But one of my gaming group was enthusing about it last night, so I'll definitely give it a go.

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  2. And of course Firefly wears its heart firmly and brilliantly on its sleeve as a sci-fi western.

    Black Mirror is interesting; the first two series were innovative and unsettling, but the third felt like it had lost its way. The themes felt a bit more obvious. Social media can be bad. The military can be bad. They're kind of a given.

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    1. I haven't seen the third season yet, but (much as I liked those) I suspect I might share your opinion. There's only so far they could go with that social disconnection vibe.

      Must admit I never got into Firefly. Not because of the western aspect, in fact, as I could have accepted that as dyed into the theme of the show rather than being an excuse to rehash creaky old plots. But I think the visual design overdid it - the clothes, the look of the guns, it's as if the show is shouting DO YOU GET THAT IT'S A WESTERN? WELL, DO YOU? So much as I like most of Joss Whedon's work, I don't think I'll ever get back to that one.

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    2. There's certainly no getting away from the theme in Firefly, and it doesn't change in the series (too short) run. So if it didn't grab you from the outset, chances are it won't at all. It's the ensemble cast that make it work for me; just a well-crafted group of characters, and Nathan Fillion is roguishly charismatic.

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    3. I could not get into Firefly either, preferring Dollhouse over it.

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    4. I liked Dollhouse season one, but felt that it fell apart in season two. Maybe Joss was too rushed on other projects.

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    5. Joss had to backtrack when Dollhouse was suddenly uncancelled. He filmed a mini-movie to wrap up the loose plot threads and it was pretty good, but he did not want to retcon it, so the second season was not up to par.


      For my pick of top-tier Sci-Fi, Fringe has yet to be bested. I know we discussed Fringe before on this blog :-)

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  3. Have you tried Westworld (the tv series) yet Dave ? It is not a western masquerading as a sci-fi show but - quite explicitly and fundamentally - the other way around.

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    1. I'm looking forward to it, John. From the sounds of things it satisfies my criterion of being based on an essentially SF premise that couldn't be transplanted to or from another genre.

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  4. Person of Interest was a science fiction show that disguised itself very well as a "crime of the week" procedural.

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    1. I followed it for a couple of seasons but kind of lost track of it with everything else that's coming out. Maybe I should get back to it.

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  5. I've not heard of quite a few of the series mentioned. They look interesting so will give some a try. I really tried to like Westworld but found it hard going. Perhaps one to be admired rather than enjoyed. I'm off now to be spoon fed my regular dose of Blake's 7!

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    1. I'm intrigued by the theme of Westworld, but haven't seen it yet. I know what you mean about shows that are more to be admired than enjoyed, Andy -- there seem to have been quite a few of those over the years.

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    2. Mike, assuming that question was directed at me, no I'm not. If it transpires to be mistaken identity, I'm not going to be overly critical, having mistook a female Dr Who assistant for Dave in a previous post. Unless it was an obscure Blake's 7 reference I'm missing?

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  6. There was an Andy who created the Fabled Lands Yahoo group in my childhood, who went by greyarea13. I wanted to thank him :)

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    1. That's Andy Wright. He's been interviewed by Stuart Lloyd and used to run his own blog, on which he discussed FL and Heart of Ice among other things, but he hasn't been active in gamebook fandom for a while now.

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  7. Ah! Well, let's hope he stumbles across this at some point. :)

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