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10 Reasons to Watch 'Farscape'

Farscape's back. The wildest, messiest, most ridiculously entertaining space opera to hit the small screen rises from the dead after two long years with The Peacekeeper Wars, a four-hour Sci Fi Channel miniseries that kicks off Sunday, Oct. 17 at 9 p.m. ET.

So why should you care?

Why did fans around the world launch an unprecedented campaign to save a Australian-filmed show that inexplicably combines laser guns and Muppets? Why did this simple sci-fi series about a lost astronaut in a distant galaxy snag the Vidiots' Best Hour Show award in 2002, and Most Unjust Cancellation in 2003? I've raved about the show before, but for the uninitiated, here are ten simple reasons why Farscape is first-rate viewing, and why The Peacekeeper Wars will almost certainly be worth your TV time.

1. There's something for everyone. Farscape strikes a fantastic balance between action and romance, drama and comedy. Science fiction fans will dig Farscape's unusually savvy take on the genre, with a fresh spin for everything from time travel to gender relations. Sci-fi haters will appreciate Farscape's absolute refusal to take itself seriously; characters make fun of their own technobabble, drop Star Trek references and aren't afraid to interrupt a tense moment by announcing their urgent need to pee. Adrenaline junkies will love the massive, John Woo-inspired gun battles and thrilling space dogfights, while soap opera enthusiasts can get hooked on the tortured romance of astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) and exiled soldier Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black.)

2. This ain't Star Trek. Honestly, aren't you just a little bit sick of that happy-happy future world where we're all part of one big Federation? Don't you wish that at least half the cast of Enterprise did something more than fill chairs on the bridge? Thanks to creator Rockne S. O'Bannon and executive producer David Kemper, Farscape subverts every tired Trek cliche you can think of. Our heroes make mistakes and deal with the consequences. Happy endings aren't guaranteed, and things don't always get back to normal at the end of every episode. And Farscape's characterization is unusually sharp, allowing for arrogant, destructive heroes and surprisingly sympathetic villains.

3. One hell of a cast. Let's face it -- too many science fiction actors are just showing up, reading their lines and collecting a paycheck. On Farscape, you get the sense that the actors are having an incredible amount of fun, and really care about their characters. Ben Browder has peerless comic timing and real dramatic chops, not to mention combustible chemistry with his superb costar Claudia Black. Anthony Simcoe makes the burly warrior D'Argo an appealing regular Joe despite his fierce looks. Gigi Edgley's Chiana could be a thankless stereotype -- the sexy thief girl with loose morals -- but she's warm and sassy and more than a little bit damaged. Wayne Pygram brings a droll, delicious charm to the evil Scorpius, a ghoulish supergenius with a pronounced leather fetish. Unlike most sci-fi baddies, he actually gets a sex life -- a seriously kinky sex life -- courtesy of the equally brainy and ethically challenged Sikozu (Raelee Hill), who used to side with the good guys. Even the Muppets are terrific; Rygel XVII, the tiny deposed emperor, is a delightful little bastard with a keen mind, a voracious appetite and an ego the size of a small planet.

4. It's Buffy gone sci-fi. You don't have to be a fundamentalist Whedonite to enjoy Farscape, but Buffy and Angel fans will find a lot to enjoy here. A hero who's torn between ordinary life and an epic destiny. Smart, kickass women and fascinating antiheroes. Witty dialogue loaded with pop culture references. Characters who grow and change over time. Season-long story arcs with neck-snapping surprise twists. Farscape is very different from the late, lamented Firefly, but it's nonetheless a worthy complement to the Joss Whedon canon.

5. It looks like a million bucks. Farscape's behind-the-scenes talent is some of the best in the industry. Production designer Ricky Eyres' resume includes Saving Private Ryan. Visual effects team Animal Logic contributed to the Matrix trilogy. And Dave Elsey's team of makeup artists and creature creators are back for the miniseries after being handpicked by George Lucas for the third Star Wars prequel.

During its four-year run, Farscape managed to look consistently superb despite filming at a breakneck pace in the un-air-conditioned buildings of an abandoned air force base. The miniseries promises to raise the bar even further: for one thing, the producers exhausted Australia's supply of explosives during filming, and had to send for the States for more.

6. The writing has real meat. What started as the simple story of a band of escaped prisoners has escalated over four years into a gripping political epic. When a wormhole, a hole in space and time, spat John Crichton out on the far side of the galaxy, all he wanted was to find a way home. But when he found it, he discovered that the same wormhole technology could also create planet-destroying superweapons. Crichton and his fugitive pals are now trapped between two rival galactic empires who hate each others' guts and hunger for wormhole weaponry: the fascist Peacekeepers and the genocidal reptile Scarrans. That conflict promises to boil over in the miniseries, and the results should be suitably explosive.

7. Anything can happen. Will our heroes chop off one of their kindly Pilot's arms to buy themselves a way home? Yep. Is that lovable little slug of a Muppet going to decapitate his hated foe, then tool around waving his nemesis' head on a stick? Absolutely. The only rule on Farscape is that there aren't any.

Take the series finale, for example. John and Aeryn have been stuck on the relationship merry-go-round for four years. In the last two minutes of the show, they manage to finally reconcile their differences and begin a happy, stable relationship.

And then a weirdo alien swoops out of nowhere and blasts them both into fishtank gravel.

The kicker? Knowing full well that the show had been cancelled, the producers still ended the series with a big, fat To Be Continued.

8. It respects your intelligence. Farscape moves like lightning, packing as much story as it can into every episode. Attentive viewers are rewarded with rich character insights and compelling plotlines; more casual viewers may struggle to keep up with the admittedly dense and dizzying narratives. (New viewers and returning fans can get caught up at farwhat.com.) You get the sense that the producers are just so excited about the stories they're telling that they can't bear to slow down. Unlike most series, the creators of Farscape seem to have faith that their audience is smart enough to keep up.

9. It's a victory for the little guys. This miniseries never should have happened. When Sci Fi opted out of an already-renewed fifth season and cancelled Farscape in 2002, the show was dead. When last-ditch negotiatons between Sci Fi and the show's producers couldn't revive matters, it was deader than dead. Undaunted, the show's dedicated (and, in some cases, slightly insane) fans launched an amazing campaign to get Farscape back on the air. Their considerable efforts attracted the attention of a group of independent financiers, who helped the Jim Henson Company produce the miniseries. Both David Kemper and Brian Henson, CEO of his father's company, have repeatedly credited the fans' efforts for bringing Farscape back to television.

10. It's just plain fun. Think of Farscape as The Princess Bride of TV science fiction. You've got handsome heroes, beautiful heroines, fights, chases, narrow escapes, valiant companions, evil villains, and true love. All you need to bring is an open mind and a big bowl of popcorn.


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