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Fall 2000: "FreakyLinks"

We here at TeeVee had such high hopes for FreakyLinks. When the new shows for this season were handed out and I received FreakyLinks, I thought I'd been given a plum assigment. "Well," I said, rubbing my hands together, "this is going to be great."

Not "great" as in "a great show." No, we all heartily expected FreakyLinks to be absolutely terrible. But we expected it to be great fun to savage, to be the perfect punchline for many a joke, to be a one-word laff generator along the lines of Shasta McNasty.

See? You're laughing already.

Early in the summer FreakyLinks looked like it was going to make for interesting TV. Again, not that the show itself would be interesting, but that the way its life played out would be. The hype machine was just gearing up for the show. Brought to us by the producers of "The Blair Witch Project"! Given that that film was built almost entirely on hype, we had a lot to look forward to.

Things began to get more interesting in mid-September, when a couple of TeeVee staffers in L.A. for the wedding of prolific Vidiot Ben Boychuk found, on the street, a copy of the script for FreakyLinks' fourth episode. Was this just a mistake, or was this some kind of genius guerrilla marketing technique? We didn't know. Leaving scripts around for people to find could be a brilliant stroke of public relations -- or just an accident.

Shortly after that the promise began to collapse. The creators of the show were running away from it as fast as they could and it was clear that Fox wasn't pinning all of its hopes of world domination on it. Our interest in the script began to wane, and six out of eight of us pegged the show to be one of the first casualties of the itchy cancellation fingers of the networks.

We were all wrong -- FreakyLinks ended up being put on hiatus, not cancelled, even though in programmingexecutivespeak "hiatus" means "unplugging the life support to see if Grandma can breathe on her own." The show ended up, not by making a giant splash of awfulness and getting bits of itself all over Rupert Murdoch; rather, it quietly wandered off after the hype faded and it turned out no one had bothered to tune into it.

No one but me, of course. I had tuned in so I could write a review. But before I could get to the keyboard, poof! It was gone. FreakyLinks, we hardly knew ye.

This is sad because, really, FreakyLinks just wasn't that bad a show. I'll readily admit that I have never been a fan of The X-Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or any of those other silly shows which pass for sci-fi these days. Even so, while I could see that FreakyLinks was not up to that level of quality, neither could I see that it was too far below it. Like Buffy or X-Files, FreakyLinks was shot in the style I like to call Late Twentieth Century Murk; like those other shows, it put up cheesy latex masks in place of interesting villains; like those other shows, it relied more on its soap operatic machinations for audience interest than it did on the plot of any individual episode.

FreakyLinks didn't step too far wrong. It only had two problems that I could see. The first was tone: If your material is going to be as silly as this, you have two choices on how to play it. You can play it all in deadly earnest no matter how stupid -- this is the X-Files approach, and the one taken when actors started pretending Gene Roddenberry was William Shakespeare. Or you can play it like Bruce Campbell did in "Army of Darkness" -- make like Tim Curry, camp it up, and dance, baby! FreakyLinks chose the middle way, trying to be both serious and happy-go-lucky at the same time. The humor made it hard to take the rubber tentacles seriously; the fact that people's arms were being ripped off in gruesome detail made it hard to laugh.

The second problem was simple chemistry. Ethan Embry, as the lead, Derek Barnes, had charisma, and was able to project that grungy bed-head charm that made it seem like he had body odor but it didn't matter. Lisa Sheridan, playing Chloe Tanner and obviously there for the will-they-or-won't-they angle (call it the Mulder/Scully Element), is pretty enough and showed plenty of skin just below her navel. But the two of them sometimes seemed to be acting from different soundstages. Meanwhile Lizette Carrion's Lan Williams was beamed in from another city; she was supposed to have a crush on Derek, but there was no clear reason why, and no reason to care, either. And Karim Prince was on set as Jason Tatum, playing essentially the same part he played on Malcolm in the Middle, with the unfortunate problem that, with his six minutes of screen time on Malcolm, he was perfect, but with his much larger role here, his deadpan act turned him into set dressing. Half the time you'd forget he was even there.

Even so, these were not major flaws. The show could have surmounted these. And in terms of writing, there was nothing here that couldn't have been transplanted almost directly into X-Files or Buffy or any of those shows.

Perhaps FreakyLinks was simply a victim of timing; perhaps the era of The X-Files and its brood is simply past. One can but hope. It would nice if someone went out and produced one of the good science fiction shows which I'm sure are lurking out there, waiting for someone to find them. One can only take so many Farscapes and Lexxes and Andromedas -- so many Xenas, Herculeses, Cleopatra 2525s, Earth: Final Conflicts, Star Trek repackagings, Dark Angels and the rest of those murky, digitally-enhanced spools of videotape.

Maybe someone will find some actual science fiction for once. Babylon 5 can't be the only show out there.


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