Archive for the ‘Opinion/Analysis’ Category

A Subjectively Obscure Sci-Fi Primer: Otherworld

Otherworld Title CardThe Primer is back with another odd, forgotten series: Otherworld. Originally debuting on CBS in 1985, Otherworld tells the tale of the Sterling family, who get lost in an alternate, dystopian world called Thel after being ditched in a pyramid by their tour guide during a once-in-10,000-years planetary alignment. Stranded in a world of androids, beastmen and authoritarian rule–how did they get there, and how can they get back? Given its short, 8-episode season, the odds are against them, but let’s find out. Read more

The Philosophy of Good Sci-Fi

This week saw the premiere of APB, yet another in a long line of police procedurals with a thin veneer of sci-fi slapped on top (the thinnest yet), the third on FOX in particular following the abysmal receptions of Almost Human and Minority Report (still can’t believe that got the green light). The basic premise is a Libertarian power fantasy: a tech billionaire, personally affected by crime, takes over the incompetently run police precinct by throwing his money around against the city’s politicians and turns it into his privately run force that works perfectly through the use of apps and drones and tech buzzword #37 not found. Admittedly, the premise annoys me on its face; this kind of billionaire “altruism” is just not true to reality, and by forcing this into the setting of a real, modern city like Chicago, it just makes the difference that much more stark. Yes, I’m aware it’s “inspired” by a real event, and the show had a female cop to voice the audience’s potential concerns in the pilot…

But, ironically, that’s exactly where it falls apart. In an attempt to head these off, they fall back on standard police tactics even where it doesn’t make sense, eschewing the tech advantage that they’ve built for “experience and street smarts beat all.” Trust me, the show had plenty of other issues in terms of acting and storytelling, but if it could commit to the idea at its core, it wouldn’t fall into the same category as its predecessors. Because after looking at dozens of these sci-fi TV shows over the last few years, there’s a pattern that’s emerged:

The longer a show has run, the more likely it is to have a clear philosophy to its story. Shows that aren’t founded on a core belief inevitably flounder and fail.

Why? Let’s take a look.

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A Subjectively Obscure Sci-Fi Primer: Legend

Legend 1995 TV title cardThe Subjectively Obscure Sci-Fi Primer returns for the new year with another unusual genre crossover. We’ve done the SF legal drama; we’ve looked at a sci-fi soap opera; and now, it’s time for the Western genre to have a taste of science fiction goodness. While we often hear about the Western influence on the sci-fi genre, through shows like Star Trek with its “Wagon Train to the Stars,” or most obviously in Firefly, it’s not too often that this influence flows in reverse–but 1995 UPN series Legend is one such example. There have been others, and more notable ones, too, like The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., so what makes the brief, 12-episode Legend worth a look first? Come along and learn why.

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What Could Have Been: Alphas Season 3

alphasSince the end of Battlestar Galactica, Syfy has had a tough time finding a new flagship show. Continuing BSG in the form of Caprica failed, and Stargate Universe died around the same time. Defiance seemed a possible successor, but it bit the dust last year, and it’s only recently that the heir apparent came to be in the form of The Expanse. In between came Alphas, a show about people with superpowers that were pretty toned down compared to the heroes dominating the big screen at the time. And much like SGU, Alphas was canceled in its second season on a notorious cliffhanger. I’ll be honest; I never was much of a fan, getting bored with it after the first two episodes, but I’m not one to turn down a special request if I can fulfill it (especially since I’m not always able to). So here’s what I found, from the mouths of the writers and cast, on the lost future of Alphas.

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A Dismal Reflection: Apocalyptic Alternate Realities

turn-left-titanicWhen it comes to TV, things are always at risk of getting stale; if a series has a twenty episode season, for example, then a savvy viewer might realize that the lead actor’s character won’t die in episode 10. Characters rarely die at all, in fact, and permanent injuries mean permanent makeup (just ask Coulson how long he went one-handed). Even sets are rarely destroyed, since so much money goes into building them; with so little seemingly at stake (usually), it can be easy for the audience to stop seeing the enemies as threatening. How can you show the danger posed by our enemies without upsetting the status quo? Enter sci-fi’s favorite trick, the parallel universe/alternate timeline, where events and circumstances differ from the primary setting of the show in specific ways. By using these familiar-yet-strange settings, the writers can explore facets of the characters and the world in which they live that would usually be unavailable: how they might react to the destruction of their home, or the death of a critical character. Better still, since this alternate world is only around for an episode or two, massive changes to the status quo can be made, giving the writers a chance to explore apocalyptic themes that are usually out of reach.

What? No, it’s an utter coincidence I’m writing about apocalypses the same week as the election…

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A Subjectively Obscure Sci-Fi Primer: Space Rangers

space rangers title cardThe Obscure Sci-Fi Primer is back once again, this time looking at the shortest show we’ve ever seen, clocking in at only 6 episodes. Space Rangers was a 1993 military/action series, following a team of part-police, part-military Rangers on their adventures out of the growing colony of Fort Hope on the planet Avalon. Space Rangers was created by Pen Densham (the 90’s Outer Limits) and originally aired on CBS, right at the time where numerous other amazing scifi series got their start on other networks (or in Star Trek‘s case, no network at all!). Did Space Rangers get the short end of the stick, or was it just as bland and generic as its name implies? Let’s find out.

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A Subjectively Obscure Sci-Fi Primer: Star Trek: The Animated Series

star-trek-tas-titleIn keeping with the theme of celebrating Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary recently, I’ll be looking at the most obscure show within that universe: Star Trek: The Animated Series. You might say it’s not that obscure, to which I would point at the “subjective” part of the title. With its odd art style, kid-friendly nature, and dubious canonicity, it’s undoubtedly the least watched and least appreciated of the various Star Trek shows. But does it deserve a second look, and is it worth watching for an adult viewer today? Or should it be tossed in the discontinuity bin alongside such “gems” as Stargate Infinity? Let’s find out as I watch it for the first time.

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Star Trek–The Humanist’s Guide to Morality

Enterprise TOS50 years ago today, Star Trek debuted on television for the first time. I know there’s no shortage of similar articles today; but whatever the motivation behind them, it all stands as a testament to the powerful impact the show has had, on both American culture in particular and the culture of the world in general. Star Trek, more than any other series, exemplifies the hopefulness and positivity in the future, to such an extent that it’s often the bar that other creators measure their work against. It was easy to be positive in the do-anything early days of modern sci-fi, but by sticking to its guns through 5 (and soon, hopefully, 6) live action series, Star Trek proved that it meant what it said.

But why does Star Trek appeal to the people that it does, and what makes it capable of staying so popular for so long? Let’s look at this briefly, by using myself as an example. That can’t be a bad idea, right?

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What Could Have Been: 4 Unproduced Star Trek Episodes

Unproduced Star Trek EpisodesWhile RetroPhaseShift’s focus is heavy on shows that didn’t make it so far, even sci-fi fans’ favorite shows, lasting several seasons, can have episodes that just never got produced, for whatever reason. Budget, practicality, or even the unfortunate demise of a character’s actor can all put the brakes on a script everyone was waiting to see. You’d think that with 7 seasons each, Star Trek‘s TNG-era spinoffs would’ve covered just about everything one could possibly want to say, and yet unproduced Star Trek episodes are definitely out there. Since we’ve already got a whole article dedicated to an undeveloped season of Enterprise episodes, I figured that this week, we’ll take a look at one episode from each of the other four shows and consider what could have been if these shows had been made.

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A Subjectively Obscure Sci-Fi Primer: Cleopatra 2525

Cleopatra 2525 titleA most unusual show appears this month as the subject of the Obscure Sci-Fi Primer in the form of Cleopatra 2525, from the same production company that brought us M.A.N.T.I.S. This 2000 series pretty much hits all the boxes on our obscure sci-fi bingo card: it was originally syndicated; it had a format change, moving from a half hour to hour-long in its second season; a campy, zany premise; low production values; abundant fanservice; and it debuted right at the tail end of the sci-fi boom that hit during the 90’s. It’s sort of got a “Charlie’s Angels after the robot apocalypse” vibe to it. We all know that shows with any one of those problems aren’t necessarily bad, but is there anything to be said for Cleopatra 2525 if it has all of them? Let’s find out.

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