Friday, 23 January 2009

The Recapper's Guide to Stargate SG-1

So, I was trying to do a Top Ten Stargate SG-1 list of episodes that I was possibly going to recap. It was too hard. So here's the Recapper's guide to Stargate SG-1. Thanks go to Wikipedia from whom I shamelessly ripped my episode descriptions.

Stargate: The film
Daniel’s dead, sir: Part 1
It was buried in the sands of Egypt. But it’s not anymore and we can travel through it to other planets! How cool is that? Plus, James Spader!

An interstellar teleportation device, found in Egypt, leads to a planet with humans resembling ancient Egyptians who worship the god Ra.

Children of the Gods (101 & 102)
It’s the beginning. Other than that: not much to say. (Did you know that Carter’s a GIRL!)

The Stargate Program is revived when Apophis, an alien of the same race as Ra, comes to Earth through the gate seeking hosts. Jack O'Neill and new SG-1 recruit Samantha Carter are sent to Abydos to locate, and bring back, Daniel Jackson.

O'Neill and Daniel befriend Apophis' first prime Teal'c, a Jaffa (one who is an incubator to a larval Goa'uld), and Teal'c joins their side. He helps SG-1 return to Earth, though they cannot save Daniel's wife Sha're and his friend Skaara, who have been taken as hosts.

Cold Lazarus (106)
The phallus tries to heal Jack O’Neill by finding him a son. Don’t blame the phallus; it’s just trying to survive. Oh, and it has Carter’s face. No, really.

By the work of a strange blue crystal, a duplicate of Jack O'Neill returns to the SGC in his place. When the real Jack returns, they locate the alien, who, they discover, was only trying to heal Jack's pain over the loss of his son.

Singularity (114)
I cried. ‘Nough said. Amanda Tapping kicks ass.

On the planet Hanka (P8X-987, ), SG-1 rescues a small girl who turns out to have had an inoperable Naqahdah bomb put in her by Nirrti to destroy the SGC.

Solitudes (117)
Ok, so it was probably made to save money on sets and extras but this little character piece is pretty darn powerful, mainly because Amanda Tapping kicks ass.

Carter and O'Neill are stranded on an icy planet when the Stargate malfunctions on their return journey to Earth.

There but for the Grace of God (119)
Everybody dies. Daniel lives. Am I watching the right show?

On P3R-233, Daniel finds a strange alien mirror and is accidentally transported into an alternate universe. Before he returns, he learns that Apophis will attack Earth in ships from a certain Stargate address.

Within the Serpent's Grasp (121) and The Serpent's Lair (201)
Listen to Daniel, Daniel is always right: Part 1.
Daniel’s dead, sir: Part 4.
You want Stargate, it’s all here. Goa’uld and running around mother ships and “Jaffa! Kree!” and Daniel dies and well, let’s just say, I suggest the drinking game.

SG-1 uses the Stargate to go to , the address Daniel discovered. This turns out to be Apophis' ship, where they find that Skaara has been made host to Apophis' son Klorel. The ship reaches Earth, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Teal'c's former mentor Bra'tac joins their fight and together they embark on a mission of planting bombs to destroy Apophis' ship and halt the attack on Earth. Eventually they destroy the two ships and escape in Death Gliders.

One False Step (219)
A minor episode that most fans barely remember but that I enjoy. Daniel’s a goose and that’s always fun.

After a UAV crashes into a large white plant off-world (PJ2-445), SG-1 encounters inhabitants who appear to be dying en masse. SG-1 discover that the aliens depend on the large plants for survival because of an essential infrasound they emit, and rectify the situation.

A Matter of Time (216)
Between you and me, I LOVE technobabble.

SG-10 stranded on the planet designated P3W-451, which is close to a newly formed black hole. The SGC opens the gate to find out what happened, but they can't shut it down afterwards. Soon they realise that since the planet is near to a black hole, its intense gravity is causing time dilation, so if they don't shut down the gate very soon, it will destroy the SGC, and in time, the entire planet.

Forever in a Day (310)
The writers remember one of their characters has a life and move swiftly to rectify the situation. Bye-bye Sha’re “the porn star version”. You were miscast but hey, at least they remembered you existed.

After being found on P8X-873, Daniel's wife Sha're is killed by Teal'c to prevent the Goa'uld controlling her from killing Daniel. Jackson then starts seeing visions of a residual thought transferred to him by Sha're in the last moments - he must find her son, a Harcesis.

Maternal Instinct (320)
I love Daniel, you love Daniel, even powerful ascended beings love Daniel!

Daniel knows that the Harcesis is on a planet called Kheb; Bra'tac knows how to get there as it is the planet that the Jaffa believe to be the destination of their soul after death (P9C-292, ). They find a Zen monk who teaches Daniel about the ways of Ascension and an ascended being (Oma Desala) saves the child.

The Other Side (402)
Listen to Daniel, Daniel is always right: Part 2.

SG-1 travels to Euronda to help a technologically-advanced world of humans who are losing a war against an unknown enemy. Jack and Daniel fall out because Daniel believes they’re hiding something but O'Neill does not want to jeopardize their alliance.

Window of Opportunity (406)
Jack and Teal’c are the fruit in the loops in this episode where Jack’s breakfast says it all in less than 10 seconds. Consistently voted best Stargate SG-1 episode ever.

After an encounter with an Ancient time device on P4X-639, O'Neill and Teal'c get trapped in a time loop that only they know about.

The First Ones (408)
I love Daniel, you love Daniel, even Unas love Daniel! Meet Chaka for the first time and eat Goa’uld.

While helping with the excavation of fossilized Goa'uld on P3X-888, the homeworld of the Goa'uld and the Unas, Daniel Jackson is captured by the Unas Chaka. The rest of SG-1 tries to find him.

2010 (416)
In case you didn’t know that accountants were evil, meet the Aschen.

In an alternate timeline, Earth has defeated the Goa'uld with the help of the Aschen, a bland and humorless advanced people from an world designated P4C-970. Earth discovers too late that the Aschen plan to depopulate the planet by secretly sterilizing much of the population through life-extending drugs.

2001 (510)
Accountants are evil. Oh, and the Aschen are evil too.

SG-1 discovers an agricultural planet named Volia (P3A-194, ), whose inhabitants introduce them to their more technologically advanced neighbours, the Aschen, who propose an alliance with Earth. Sequel to season 4’s 2010.

Wormhole Extreme! (512)
Sci-fi shows are ridiculous. Let’s find out why.

When Stargate Command learns of a television show whose premise closely resembles its operations, SG-1 investigates. They find that an alien named Martin Lloyd is giving the producers their ideas.

Fail Safe (517)
“I saw this movie. It hits Paris.”

SG-1 must stop a rogue asteroid on a collision course with Earth using their Goa'uld cargo ship.

Menace (519)
I love Daniel, you love Daniel, even psychotic civilisation-destroying robots love Daniel!

The team finds an android that somehow managed to survive a Replicator attack. They learn she is the mother of all Replicators, but has the mentality of a young child.

Meridian (521)
Daniel’s dead, sir: Part 5.

Daniel incurs lethal radiation exposure when he prevents a potentially cataclysmic accident in a weapons laboratory on the planet Langara (P9Y-4C3). While the alien government responsible for the lab accuses him of attempting to sabotage their research, the Kelownan Jonas Quinn tries to negotiate with SG-1.

The Changeling (619)
I can’t snark. This episode’s great. Oh, and it has Daniel in it.

Teal'c finds himself jumping between different realities of Earth; one where he is a firefighter about to undergo an operation to remove a kidney.

Full Circle (622)
Jonas? Who’s Jonas?

Daniel contacts Jack O'Neill and tells him that Anubis has located the Eye of Ra, an enormously powerful weapon. SG-1 must get the Eye from Abydos, before Anubis. Anubis appears over the planet and threatens to destroy it.

Fallen (701)
Daniel. Naked. Oh, and other stuff happens too.

Daniel is found living on Vis Uban ("place of great power", P4T-3G6), a planet where the Ancients began building their greatest city when they were struck by a plague. Although Daniel has total amnesia, he helps SG-1 to destroy Anubis' superweapon.

Revisions (705)
Do you remember back when SG-1 had the budget to, you know, actually travel to other planets?

P3X-289 has a toxic atmosphere but there is a forcefield dome protecting an idyllic village. That is, idyllic except for the fact that its inhabitants are disappearing one by one without noticing it themselves.

Enemy Mine (707)
Listen to Daniel, Daniel is always right: Part 3.

SGC have found a planet with rich deposits of Naqahdah but the local population of Unas do not welcome the mining team.

Heroes Parts 1 and 2 (717&718)
Best. Episode. Ever.
Crap ending. No really, what was with those last 3 minutes? Why take an intelligent and insightful and emotional and bloody tragic piece of fantastic story-writing and drape the American flag over it? Best episode ever about them making what was apparently the worst documentary ever.

A film crew arrive at SGC to make a documentary but find their welcome less than enthusiastic.

Help is sent to rescue of an SG member who is unable to get to the gate. However, on the mission, a member of the SGC is killed.

The Lost City Parts 1 and 2 (721&722)
Space battles. Things explode. What more could you possibly want?

The SGC locates a Repository of the Ancients on P3X-439 and when Anubis attacks, O'Neill downloads their knowledge into his brain again. Finally, Bra'tac warns SG-1 that Anubis plans an attack on Earth. Hammond is replaced by Dr. Elizabeth Weir.

As Anubis' fleet arrives, SG-1 flies to Proclarush Taonas ( ), a planet with an Ancient outpost and a ZPM. SG-1 locate another outpost in Antarctica back on Earth, from where O'Neill is able to destroy Anubis' fleet using the Ancient weapon.

Prometheus Unbound (812)
Silliest. Episode. Ever. Ok, silliest episode ever until like the entire of Season 9. Suggest the drinking game – for at least four hours before you watch it.

The crew of the Prometheus are incapacitated and removed, except Daniel, when it is hijacked by Vala Mal Doran.

Citizen Joe (815)
If you feel you absolutely have to do a flashback episode (and you don’t, people, you really don’t), then this is best you could do.

An Indiana barber who carries the ATA Gene has his life ruined when, through an Ancient device, he begins to have visions of SG-1's missions. His life is given back to him when O'Neill informs his nearly-divorced wife of what had been going on.

Reckoning Parts 1 & 2 (816 & 817)
Daniel’s dead, sir: Part 6.
Amanda Tapping kicks ass.
But it all turns out ok in the end because of the phallus. The phallus will save us all.

Teal'c is preparing the Jaffa rebellion to capture the Holy planet Dakara, where the first larval Goa'uld implantation took place. Daniel is abducted by RepliCarter so she can discover the location of the Dakara Superweapon in his subconscious. Ba'al also moves his forces to Dakara by the order of Anubis.

Struggling with RepliCarter, Daniel halts the Replicators long enough for Samantha Carter, Jacob Carter, and Ba'al to use a combination of the device that dials every Stargate in the galaxy and the Dakara Superweapon to destroy all Replicators. But RepliCarter kills Daniel Jackson.

Threads (818)
The show’s been cancelled, right? Let’s wrap it all up. You know what that means? Yep. Daniel. Naked. Oh, and the Goa’uld are destroyed and the Jaffa are finally free or something. Don’t forget to worship the phallus.

Daniel Jackson must choose death or powerless Ascension whilst Anubis plans to end all life in the galaxy using the Dakara Superweapon – until Oma Desala stops him. Jacob Carter and Selmak are in trouble. Daniel is returned to human form on Earth.

Avalon (Part 1&2) and Origin (Part 3)
Oh crap, they've given us another season and everyone has resigned or taken maternity leave. Hey, bring back Vala. She's fun and annoys Daniel a.k.a our only surviving staff member. Claudia Black kicks ass, ridiculous outfit notwithstanding. Shave, Daniel, shave.

Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell is recruited by the SGC as leader of SG-1 but finds the original SG-1 has disbanded. Trying to find out how to bring them back together, Vala Mal Doran arrives with an artifact which could reveal an ancient treasure, and he finds this his only opportunity to reunite the team.

After passing all of the tests found in Avalon, the makeshift SG-1 discovers the treasure, along with an Ancient long-range communication device. Hoping to find actual Ancients, Daniel and Vala are given control of the bodies of two people in a distant galaxy. Although... it's not what they expected.

Daniel and Vala discover the Ori. The Ori, like the Ancients, are ascended beings, but evil entities that feel the need to be worshipped. Now that the Ori know of life in another galaxy, they begin to send their missionaries, Priors, through the Stargate. The first planet visited by a Prior in the Milky Way is P3X-421.

The Powers That Be (905)
Vala has met Daniel reincarnated and now her redemption begins. Claudia Black kicks ass.

In order to steer the planet P8X-412 away from Origin, SG-1 is tricked by Vala into going to the planet she previously ruled as a Goa'uld. The inhabitants of the planet know nothing of the downfall of the parasites, and they believe that Vala is still their god.

Prototype (909)
Listen to Daniel, Daniel is always right: Part 4.

SG-1 finds a man frozen in Ancient stasis on P3X-584, and brings him back to the SGC to find out his story. But when Daniel researches the laboratory where the man was found, he discovers that he was grown by Anubis to be a genetically advanced human.

The Fourth Horseman Parts 1&2 (910)
Struggling to find a decent episode in Season 9? This is pretty well it.

When a disease breaks out across America, evidence leads it to be the Ori's doing. Preparing to track down a viable cure, an old friend takes on an unfamiliar human form to help out, but it might not be enough when the team's adverse ally joins the Ori.

While Orlin is working on a cure for the Prior plague, Mitchell and Daniel capture a Prior offworld to further the research of the antidote. Teal'c tries to stop Gerak, now a Prior, from corrupting the entire Jaffa Council towards Origin.

The Scourge (917)
Yes, it’s a shameless rip-off of every “base under siege” horror film (and Starship Troopers of course) but they hung a lantern on it so we don’t care.

When a group of Earth diplomats go on a tour on the off-world Gamma Site research base, it is over-run with a carnivorous Ori-engineered “space bug” able to strip a human to the bone in moments.

Counterstrike (1007)
The phallus is out of control! Destroy the phallus!

Deadly battles erupt between the Ori, led by Adria, and the Jaffa, after 100,000 villagers are wiped out by a powerful energy wave that Adria believes was SG-1's doing. She captures Daniel and Vala and uses her powers against them to determine the nature of the weapon.

200 (1006)
Bwahahaha! An entire episode where every word out of everyone’s mouth is a sci-fi/SG-1 n in-joke. Fantastic! 10/10. Awesome. Actually, I think I’d better go watch it again…

Martin Lloyd contacts the SGC, looking for their assistance in writing a feature movie to follow up Wormhole X-treme, allowing the audience to see some of the team's most creative fantasies. It also marks Colonel Mitchell's 200th time through the event horizon, and is the 200th episode in the series.

Memento Mori (1008)
I love Daniel, you love Daniel, even Vala loves Daniel. Oh, we already knew that.

During a dinner out, Vala is captured by the Goa'uld Athena, where she attempts to pry memories out of Vala's subconscious during her time as a host. When things go wrong, Vala develops amnesia and goes on the run.

The Quest Part 1&2 (1010&1011)
I love Daniel, you love Daniel, even Adria loves...Baal? Oh, don't get me wrong. It's cool and Claudia Black kicks ass but otherwise? You need to watch it for Season 10 to make sense. Tell me what you think about my theory that Vala communicated her love for Daniel to Adria when she carried her. Hey, it's worth watching just for Vala's "Darryl?" line.

SG-1 continues its search for the anti-Ori weapon, whilst Ba'al appears to be one step ahead of them. They visit a medieval world where they have to pass a series of tests... which none have ever passed. Now SG-1 must team up with their enemies to find it.

The Quest continues for the anti-Ori weapon, with Adria close behind. Eventually they find Merlin, frozen in stasis. Because the first Sangraal was destroyed, Merlin starts construction of a new one, but when he appears to die it is up to Daniel to complete the weapon.

Bad Guys (1016)
Why do I like this episode? I don’t know. It’s just fun.

The team gates to a planet where they discover that the DHD is a prop in an exhibit, in turn, when they ask for help they appear to have come out of nowhere. Now SG-1's mistaken for hostage-taking rebels and they are forced to play the part in order to survive.

Unending (1020)
Remember the Asgard? Well, they’re dead. But whether you like this episode or hate it, “that’s it folks!” so it’s best to just go along for the ride.

The Asgard summon SG-1 to tell them that their experiments to halt their genetic degeneration have failed, meaning they are a dying race. Because of this, the Asgard have decided to give "everything [they] have and know" to the Tau'ri. When the Ori show up Carter puts up a time dilation field around the Odyssey to prevent its destruction.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Emo-puritanism in a pretty wrapper

As promised, I've written my review of Twilight. It can be found here.

Please feel free to comment. I know at least one person disagrees with me. I would be very interested in your opinion.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Torchwood farewell

It’s probably obvious to all my dedicated readers (who will now be sending me recommendations for a universal emoticon of sarcasm) that my enthusiasm for recapping Torchwood has waned significantly in the last year. While 2007 was characterised by a freezing Canberra winter and a number of dedicated Torchwood watchers (and recap readers) in my immediate vicinity, 2008 in the tropical North was nothing but blue skies, balmy days and barely a science fiction fan to be seen. I’m also studying full-time and have dedicated a considerable amount of time to my research.

Ultimately though, it’s the show’s lack of improvement that is most dispiriting. Torchwood is everything I dislike about the new Doctor Who bundled up into its own flawed and incoherent mess: an entire series of “Daleks in Manhattan, “New Earth”, “Gridlock”, “The Runaway Bride” and “Journey’s End” with never an “Empty Child”, “Doctor Dances”, ”Blink” or “Human Nature” to spare us from the interminable grind of monotony.

In a way, the sheer unapologetic awfulness of last season made recapping the show very easy. This season, the writers have welcomingly taken away the histrionic absurdity that made Countrycide so painful to watch and such a joy to recap but, instead of re-focusing that exuberance into the quality off-beat sci-fi dramedy Torchwood should be, the writers have replaced it with pure mediocrity. Season 1 was a clichéd jumble of sexual innuendo and cheap voyeurism designed to titillate rather than stimulate. Season 2 is just dull.

Plots are still contrived, relationships forced, characterisations confused and wooden, dialogue painful, and continuity poor. Watching John Barrowman hammily clunking his way through inconsistent drivel is bad enough. Being forced to see quality actors such as Burn Gorman and Naoko Mori marginalised in favour of the writers’ inexplicable love affair with the persistently-unlikeable Gwen is akin to a root canal without anaesthetic: a root canal with a manic dentist explaining how the procedure is all for our own good.

I’ve long maintained that a truly enjoyable recap can only come from a writer who either loves, or loves to hate, a show. At this point, I am neither and I think my delays and the quality of my work reflect this.

While I may decide to continue my recaps in the future for the simple fact that I hate to leave any work undone, I will be in no hurry to do so. The lack of commentary or feedback from my readers is certainly a factor in my decision. If you really do enjoy my recaps and want to read more, please let me know. Otherwise I can only assume you’re as bored with it all as I am.

Why Twilight is not just good prepubescent fun

Bella loves Edward. Edward loves Bella. Bella and Edward won’t have sex because sex is dangerous and evil. Welcome to Twilight, the latest in US-based religious extremism and neo-puritanism currently sweeping the world and making sure all your children are aware of right and wrong. Right of course being puritan morality and wrong being everyone who is different.

In some places, of course, Meyer’s New World protestant Puritanism is downright laughable (the evil and powerful Volturi live in Italy and try to dictate the standards of behaviour of all other vampires…um, do you think that could be the CATHOLIC CHURCH. Geez) but in others it is more insidious.

According to Stephanie Meyer, the apple on the cover of Twilight represents "forbidden fruit" (religoius imaginative). The author openly states that she chose this to represent "the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil" from Genesis, which represents Bella’s temptation and her choice.

This is American (read United States) neo-puritanism at its worst. The idea that in the choice between good and evil, a nearly-adult’s consensual relationship with a boy ostensibly her own age could be portrayed as a classic morality tale on temptation is disgraceful.

In True Blood (and its PG-equivalent Buffy), Sookie the mind-reader chooses a relationship with a vampire in spite of (because of!) her inability to read his mind. This is the metaphor of the danger of sex: opening yourself up physically and emotionally to somebody who can potentially hurt you (he has quite literal fangs) when you are never sure what is happening in their mind.

In Twilight, Edward and Bella believe they can never have sex because she will be crushed. This is not a metaphor for the danger of sex or, as the writer says, for abstinence. The true puritan subtext is that sex between two consenting adults before marriage is akin to suicide, disease and death. This is one of the most disgusting messages I can imagine imparting to the young women in my family, many of will be in the grey area of negotiating their own sexual relationships in a few years.

The subtext is taken to horrific levels by book 4, where Edward and Bella finally consummate their relationship (after marriage, of course); an experience that’s described as painful and dangerous, resulting in extensive bruising on Bella’s body and, even more disturbingly, an unnatural pregnancy that nearly results in her death.

Sex and death may be linked in many art forms, but here Meyer has taken it to a new level. In the world of Twilight and beyond, sex is no longer like death, sex is death.

In a scene that is akin to the resurrection, Bella dies (as a direct result of sex in her human body) but is finally reborn, liberated from all this fleshy sin and disgusting bodily functions by being made into the perfect American aspirant: beautiful, forever young and wealthy. Of course, none of this happens by her own ingenuity, hard work or ambition. No, all this was achieved because a man swooped down and made it happen for her.

Bella loves Edward. Edward loves Bella. Bella and Edward’s love transcends physical appearances.

Not that Twilight buys into any undergraduate attempts at racism. Unlike the tired analysis of some commentators who concentrate on the roles of American Indians and African Americans in the text, Twilight is exclusive in the truly nasty sense of the world as it embodies the cultural-exclusiveness that has begun to underpin the powerful myth of the ‘American Dream’ and the more egalitarian Australian ‘Fair Go’.

Here we have the new, and more insidious, racism found, not in outdated accusations of anti-Semitism or the use of the word ‘nigger’, but in a society that is willing to accept physical differences as irrelevant just as long as the ‘other’ chooses to behave exactly like us. The Cullens embody this philosophy. They are the ‘other’: a different species defined, as most ‘others’ are, by their physical differences and their exotic attraction. We are, however, exhorted to accept them (and by extension Bella and Edward’s love) because, unlike others of their kind they choose to play by the rules.

This concept has been very well explained by Marcia Langton in "The politics of Aboriginal representation" entitled "Well, I heard it on the radio and I saw it on the television -- " : a 1993 essay for the Australian Film Commission on the politics and aesthetics of filmmaking by and about Aboriginal people. She quotes African-American writer Michelle Wallace who discusses the representation of African-American people in films and television and in particular the Cosby Show: "that blacks are shown as characters who possess 'positive' attributes of white culture, which are really the attributes of a hypothetical and impracticable absence (or commodification) of culture. 'Culture' is then reduced to a style of consumption...indeed the show seems to suggest...that no one is ultimately different, since culture is something you can buy at Bloomingdale's, a kind of wardrobe or a form of entertainment."

Meyer has adopted this philosophy wholeheartedly. The Cullens may look different, says Meyer, but so long as they live in a house, go to school, have jobs, and most importantly play baseball and have wealth then prejudice is unacceptable. Otherwise, it’s completely understandable. People are right to hate and despise vampires (read Muslims as the ‘other de jeur’, if you wish but you could just as easily choose Indigenous Australians), unless they choose to completely eschew any outward form of vampirism (you obey all the laws of the country but heaven forbid you want to wear a head scarf to school). This is the horrific flipside of the ‘American Dream’, where people from different cultures are only accepted if they stop behaving like they’re from a different culture.

Contrast this with the far-superior True Blood, which asks through the introduction of a wide-variety of complex characters, the extent to which a society should adapt to other cultures with which it comes into contact and the extent to which the other culture should adapt to mainstream society. True Blood doesn’t answer these questions because it accepts that the solutions are not self-evident. Twilight doesn’t even raise them. ‘We’ live the right way; ‘they’ must change or leave.

Of course, there is much more wrong with Twilight than I've outlined; namely its modern disgust of the human body (no, no Puritan antecedents there!), its blatant sexism (fortunately for my readers, a feminist analysis of the text could fill an entire book so I won’t) and the simple fact that Bella is shallow, vapid and self-absorbed. Because the entire series is in first person, this makes all Meyer’s other characters mere one-dimensional cardboard cutouts; ghosts of other people that flitter in and out of Bella’s vision as she walks myopically and self-centredly through life. Despite herself (I suspect), Meyer has actually managed to produce a new genre: emo puritanism. The cult of American individualism and distate for the physical...with beautiful cinematography.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Flash Gordon: So what if I was doped up at the time?

So, I have a confession to make. I recently had an operation and, while I was recovering with icecream, jelly and a truckload of painkillers, my brother rented Flash Gordon for me to watch. He said it was the perfect recovery TV show and I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. So, regardless of the effect this will have on my reputation (assuming I have one), I've written an argument as to why the show deserves a second season.

It's called, rather unimaginatively, Flash Gordon: Why it deserves a second season and can be found here.

You can choose whether to take my general anaesthetic and subsequent drug regime into account when assessing my analysis. But I say, so what if I was doped up at the time?

Flash Gordon: Why it deserves a second season

I’m increasingly ambivalent about what’s coming out of the SciFi channel and their decision first to remake and then to cancel their 2007/08 version of Flash Gordon is a prime example.

On the one hand, I admire the channel’s tendency to persist with a show that isn’t rating. When compared to networks like Fox, which infamously cancelled Firefly after 13 episodes, SciFi will always inspire some affection for honouring their commitments. Satisfactorily-resolving Flash Gordon’s main plot contributed significantly to my enjoyment of the season. And Stargate SG1 fans will always be grateful that they picked up the show after Showtime ditched it despite its solid ratings at the time.

On the other hand, there’s an increasing trend for their shows to be written to a formula, a criticism I recently levelled at their production of Sanctuary. While the webisodes had their flaws, they did have a freshness that, with each recurring episode of the SciFi version of the show, has been slowly stripped away. Last weekend’s season-finale part 1, for example, was incredibly poor.

It is this formulaic writing that led to Flash’s downfall yet the show is not beyond salvation and, considering the surprisingly-excellent main story arc, it deserves the opportunity. A few changes can redeem nearly everything that went wrong while retaining the things that made an otherwise poor-quality show highly-enjoyable to watch, namely one of the best-constructed arcs I have seen in years.

With only a few exceptions, each A plot in each episode of Flash built the arc to the overall conclusion; everything contributing to the plot, everything being relevant, every plot twist being well-flagged and every character development logical. Mongo became a coherent, believable, complex, multi-cultural society struggling with many of the same issues we are, while still retaining a mildly-enjoyable campness. On an albeit much smaller and less-complex scale, this was Babylon 5-inspired plot construction and while it’s obvious no one gave much thought to the rest of the show, least of all what to do with non-arc storylines, someone put a lot of thought into this. Considering the tendency of modern shows to eschew anything resembling internal logic or consistency (Torchwood, where the hell is that going anyway?), Flash deserves a second chance for this alone.

So, what went wrong and how do we fix it?

Unfortunately, there’s little anyone can do about the casting even if, by some chance the show does get renewed. While Karen Cliché is truly excellent as Baylin and was given superior character development as a result (the ass-kicker is over 30 and looks and acts like a mature woman, yay!), Gina Holden is woefully miscast as the one-dimensional Dale Arden. As well as looking as though a skeleton has walked from a grave and stolen someone’s skin, Gina has no sense of comic timing and frequently buried some of the best one-liners of the show. It defies logic why the writers kept handing her great punchlines when she merely stumbled over them to get to her next cue. Casual viewers of the show probably didn’t even know it had wit. While she and Eric Johnson have a nice dynamic, it’s more akin to people who dated in highschool and have forged a firm friendship as adults not people who are supposedly still in love. If sexual tension was what they wanted they bombed out and I’m probably not the only one who hoped Flash would hook up with Aura.

On the baddie side, I thought John Ralston was good as the redefined, more complex, Ming, but the show would have benefited from the kind of shivery charisma John Glover brought to Lionel Luthor in Smallville. Great bad guys should steal every scene, not merge into the background, and Ming regularly had his scenes stolen by Jonathan Lloyd Walker as the fascinatingly multi-layered Rankol. I was also surprised to enjoy Anna van Hooft’s Aura. Apart from a tendency to mince out of every scene as though she was on a catwalk, she did a good job.

That’s nice but what about the things we can fix?

First off, the use of an A plot, B plot structure. What is this, 1973? No one writes likes this anymore and the reasons are obvious. While the A plots of Flash Gordon are (Conspiracy Theory and Life Source notwithstanding) interesting, well-developed, cohesive and employ nice continuity to build to a very satisfying season conclusion, the B plots are lame, derivative and very obviously used to fulfil an actor’s contractual obligations for screen time. The perfect example of this is the otherwise-excellent ‘Sorrow’, which is marred significantly by the painful “comedy” of the Zarkov B-plot. So moved was I by the comparative leap in quality this episode demonstrated that I watched it again: this time with judicious use of the remote control. It was even better the second time round, particularly when my personal editing process removed Zarkov completely. The B plot of Infestation, where Dale tries to keep Nick alive at a wedding by being mean to him is another episode where “meanwhile, back on Earth” transcended dreadful and it’s no surprise that at this point many viewers simply turned off.

Secondly, the extensive Earth cast. What to do with them? Nobody knows, least of all the writers and certainly not the viewers. If you must have them use them more sparingly because nobody cares about Nick Gilmore cleaning cars or whether Dale’s boss wants to (rather understandably) fire her. And since killing Joe was very obviously an attempt to conveniently remove Flash's only sexual rival it rang cynically false. Better to not have introduced the character in the first place.

Finally, the special effects. With the amount of money saved on casting, you’d think they’d have more funds to put into special effects. While other parts of the production were fine (the lighting and camera work for Mongo in particular was very good) the special effects were laughably woeful and couldn’t even be redeemed by the “but it’s supposed to be a comic book” defence. All the women may be dressed to look like they’re in a bad harem movie and all the men from a gay nightclub floor show but that doesn’t excuse an audience yelling “fake!” at the screen for 42 minutes.

The point though, is that all of these things can be fixed but I fear audiences won’t care enough about the cancellation to start a campaign. While I hate to compare Flash Gordon to the far-superior Firefly, one should note that these are cancelled while other shows of similar or less quality are still on the air. It's a shame because I for one was looking forward to finding out what happens in Season 2.

Hopefully it involved Eric Johnson in more Dactyl outfits.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Apparently I'm not a 14-year-old girl

Is it just me or are vampires everywhere I look these days? In the last fortnight I've been exposed to the bizarre cult world of Twilight and all I can say after seeing the film and reading all the books True Blood. It's better. In fact, for its lush production, seventeen layers of subtext, ability to make you truly think (and its tendency to wander over into soft porn on occasion), I have dubbed True Blood the anti-Twilight.

And if you are stuck somewhere between self-absorbed teenage emo and adulthood remember the adage that almost always applies in these situations: BDID (Buffy Did It Better).