I’ve been a science-fiction fan since I was a teenager, and I believe there is only one cardinal rule of the genre, a ‘prime directive,’ if you will: Create No Boredom. Here’s the deal. In theory, it should be impossible to create boring science fiction. Laughably bad sci-fi, I’ll watch. Campy sci-fi? Why not. Even really-disappointing-so-thank-god-i-didn’t-pay-to-see-it-in-the-theater sci-fi. But boring science fiction is as oxymoronic as…a groundbreaking Bon Jovi album…or…a substantive Sarah Palin interview.
If you are combining science with fiction, how in hell do you end up with something dull? You have all of science to draw upon (which is most of mankind’s collected knowledge) and fiction to work with (an essentially infinite amount of possibilities here, because…you can make up anything you want!) So how do you end up with the TV equivalent of a Swanson Chicken Pot Pie, where everything in it just sort of tastes…gray? How, in the name of James Doohan, do you do that?
The answer is, you waste time on romantic and family relationships. There was a short-lived show called Flash Forward which had, as its premise, the idea that every human on Earth blacked out for two minutes and seventeen seconds and during said blackout saw glimpses of the future. Okay writers—run with it! Or, don’t, and spend minute after leaden minute showing us the collapsing marriage of the lead investigator. Wuh…huh?
Incidentally, it seems like every third drama on television—X-Files, Flash Forward, V, Fringe, which I enjoy–involves some secret branch of the FB freakin’ I…how many of these little boutique divisions does the FBI have, fer chrissake? is anyone still investigating bank robberies, or mail fraud?
Back to my point (in case you blacked out)–not counting commercials, the show has about forty-five minutes to deal with explaining a rip in the time-space continuum. This means we don’t have time to waste on some character’s personal demons. I don’t care if our hero has a drinking problem—he’s got shit to figure out! Get back to the weird stuff that’s never happened in the history of the planet!
Now V had some potential. It has extra-terrestrial life forms—AND they’re lizards! How cool is that? And for the first nine minutes of the pilot, man, does it ever deliver. Check that—the ninth minute delivers, because that’s when we get the money shot of the spaceship. After that, set phasers to ‘snooze.’ The skeptical commanding officer. The ambitious reporter. And. The. Relationships. The rebellious son. The naïve fiancée. C’mon–show us the lizard people!!!
Again, you’d think that, in an hour-long show, there would be scene after scene of lizard-people–eating humans, shorting out our brain waves, or at least—doing something other than talking! Stop talking!
It can’t be possible for a show to jump the shark in the third episode. But there it was, a scene in which the brooding teenager glances longingly at the lizard-person-who-looks–like-a-hottie—the almost palpable melancholy as he realizes he won’t be able to date the Lizard Hottie (see, they’re from two different worlds). Stop it! Then there’s a scene where Mom comes into moody kid’s bedroom to thank him for not getting involved with the Lizard People (because see, she knows they’re up to no good), after which he stares at the picture of Lizard Hottie on his cell phone. Cut to blah.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying science fiction should be just spaceships and aliens—sure, spend a little time making us care about the people fighting the mysterious visitors. Then get to the good stuff! I’m just sayin’ that there are very few classic science fiction stories that I can think of where I’ve thought afterwards, “Yeah, that was a compelling look at an alternate reality, but why didn’t they show us more about that guy’s relationships?”
Even something as iconic as Star Wars—if George Lucas had dropped the whole Han Solo/Princess Leia, Sam-and-Diane love/hate thing, I don’t think we would have missed it. Because every scene of people doing…people things means one less scene where aliens do…alien things, and that’s what I want from science fiction. If I want to spend an hour watching people deal with their relationships, I’ll watch Brothers and Sisters.