…But first, my own favourite sandwich: and it’s gotta be banh mi, doesn’t it?
This may turn out to be relevant later, but I think it may just have a longish fuse on it…
But in any case — sorry, Clone! — now that the votes are all in, here are mine:
1. Mind Traders Of The Milky Way, by Kieran
Kieran, man…what can I say? It’s like Space: 1999 crossed with Harsh Realm crossed with Alien Nation crossed with Solaris crossed with Farscape crossed with Planetary, and as bizarre as it sounds I think it would be possible to make…and so how can I not make it my #1? At the skeletal level it’s nothing we’re unfamiliar with: the space-bazaar, the sociopolitical first-contact SF drama…that’s good, solid stuff, and shows have been built on it before, but it’s been begging to be defamiliarized and weirded-up a little for a while now, so I can’t help but admire how elegantly you do that job. Simply strip off the representations, and let the thing be exactly what it is underneath? Let the skin float away from the bones, and then see which one the viewers really care about deep down? Well of course, why didn’t I think of that?
2. Lighthouse, by Justin
And then on the other hand, here’s something that plays the conventions all perfectly straight, to make absurdist comedy. Dry, deadpan SF sitcom parody? There’s something just a little “space is Canadian” about this too, I think, that made me choose it even over Phosphorescent Beetles — bureaucratic military resource-based outstation social satire, believe me when I say I’m feeling that, Justin! As conceptually-spare as Kieran’s is baroque, what made me choose this one over The Whale was its universality as an imaginable piece of television entertainment — Jonathan’s LaGrange point gives the whole thing just enough of a solid and specific justification for the space-setting, not to mention a nice clean Big Metaphor, that nothing much else is needed from the idea, and nothing much else is missing. This is “stripping off the representations” too, in a way: we’ve seen this type of story before, many times, and it’s always attractive…but I think a big part of that attraction is the embedding of the characters in some sort of alter-world that in many ways might as well be out in Jovian space as on Earth. The military hierarchy, the public school system, Southeast Asia, Africa, the polar regions…Lighthouse just literalizes what’s underneath all that, tossing in some genuine Cold Equations-style inevitability. Only it’s in a form that can be played with again and again, never needing to terminate. Because a comedy about the status quo is always welcome, isn’t it? So it’s just a matter of finding a place where it gets to hover near said status quo, and not have to move very much itself.
So this one’s perfect…and really, Justin, you should consider just writing that, you know? I’d read the hell out of it, at least…
3. Seventh Son, by Harvey
And then there’s this one, which actually fits in pretty well with the other two: because it looks for all the world like it fell out of John W. Campbell’s Astonishing but then stubbed its toe on the Sixties of Haldeman, Malzberg, Lafferty…even Dick. Is it John Carter on the set of The Starlost? Is it Zardoz, only with Susan Calvin buried somewhere way back in the mix of the SF history? Or maybe it’s Waldrop, or maybe it’s Farmer…maybe it’s Pohl, or Van Vogt. Hell, maybe it’s me: it seems to be everybody all at once. Which is potentially an appealing thing even for people who aren’t SF fans tired of treating the same old tropes as though they still hadn’t blended into one another: everybody likes carnage, everybody likes an apocalyptic scenario and a puzzle, but all too often you get stuck yelling at the main character not to be so stupid, you wonder why he or she always takes the wrong turning, you grimly suspect that’s the only thing keeping the unclosed seriality of it all going — that the protagonist is too dumb to get to the mystery, because the writers are too dumb to figure it out themselves. Well, we have played with this expectation before: Farscape, for one, specialized in the protagonist who got it, who was as educated about the genre he was in, as we were…but I sense in this one something a bit crazier: the progressive destabilization of even the “smart” protagonist, as the exterior mystery and the interior one start to get uncomfortably cozy with one another, and the representations start to, not peel away, but flake off. And seriously, how long has it been since somebody tried to do that right? This reminds me of Harsh Realm as well, a little bit: not that I had any extra-special fondness for that show, but it did accomplish the defamiliarizing/destabilizing goal pretty much as well as Farscape did (maybe better!), and to my eyes at least it seemed interested not just in creating a milieu in which you could set a bunch of different stories, but in imbuing old tropes with a new sense of mystery and implication, that maybe made them worth visiting again. You did not actually know what was going to happen in HR, because it wasn’t just a Matrix-like SF virtual-reality environment, but instead it was a stylized VR that operated solidly on the principles of a video game — a game as a game, and perhaps HR was even the first such game-based televisual entertainment? — or, have there actually been any more of them since? — and so it exactly blew up what it exactly laid down: no parallel or divergent “realities”, no literal translation to a fantasy-based universe that allowed the uncomplicated convenience of a truly “dual” role by skirting the issue of sanity — because it’s all about the Platonic identity-crisis, folks, not the Machiavellian identity-fantasy! — and can you believe they are still not grading that first-year Compare And Contrast essay right, in our universities’ humanities departments?! — but instead the new twist on these old conventions was that it was all lived experience, which is right where the issue of sanity does and ought to build its so-relevant nest. And that’s just what I see going on in Harvey’s effort here, too: very pressing warm-blooded existential problems with a very crunchy genre coating on them. The thing, once again, is exposed for exactly what it is.
Which is what all three of these proposals have in common, that made me pick ’em — because this is the current TV landscape we’re talking about, that can now tolerate things like Mad Men: shows where theme truly skeletonizes plot, in order to create an unusual focus. And all these three seem like they could really run with that sort of thing, to me…
1. The Whale, by Justin
…Unfortunately, as a result of me being into that aspect of showmaking at the moment a lot of really excellent ideas got passed over. Justin’s second effort is one of ’em, and I have to say it was a really close shave, ’cause I love this too. Well, but how do you not? The damn thing’s got everything we look for in an SF show, including uncertainty…and I note with some strange satisfaction the recourse some of you are having to what I suppose is the basic “lost in space” template, which I think it goes without saying could also use some updating and weirding-up! Lost in space…yeah, there’s some meat on those high-concept bones yet, but it’s something that (one senses) the Book says you should not even try, doesn’t work, people don’t want it anymore. Which is of course untrue: you couldn’t have had BSG without it, for one thing. And then there is again Farscape, and what the hell: people even seemed to enjoy Quantum Leap, now that I think of it. All stories of the great Fugue, but what’s particularly charming about The Whale is how it fuses the political with the picaresque, all inside a great big confining shell of frustrated navel-gazing, a generation ship without the Heinleiney bits…and an edgy humour lurking around the edges, that doesn’t inform the drama so much as it contends with it…which is some good design right there, if you ask me. The factions don’t seem like crazy people, and the effects of the politics are (just as here on Earth) ultimately not directly observable; and therefore they’re difficult to classify for good or ill or purposeful or pointless — because after all, you can’t have sides without a centre. So this one may have the broadest scope of possibility concealed inside it, and I almost did pick it because I like it as much as anything…except I want to see “Lighthouse” just that tiniest bit more, even if this one’s a more precise fit to the requirements of TV, and the other could work just as well in short stories, and so there you go.
2. Dark Matter, by Mike
But with this one, things are a lot simpler: I just want to see a show that bucks a certain trend, and returns to a certain form.
It’s just a prejudice!
I’m just sick of SF narratives on TV preferring military men to scientists, that’s all!
Not that they should never ever do so, but it’s bloody tiring when that’s all you ever see: SF as nothing much else than “cop drama” with coloured lights in the sky, wherein every professor is an effete sexual deviant and every artist is a hypocritical moral coward, and the subliminal instruction is that authority figures are by definition more noble, more ethical, and more sensitive than thou…and therefore you can no more fail to trust in their ineffable instincts, than you can succeed in judging their failures. Not that I’m uninterested in the story of practical people exercising their practical courage, in the dark if necessary…but how one yearns for at least an SF show to dare to suggest that sometimes in order to deal with the “dark matter”, you’ve got to have the grey matter! Eh? And rely on something other than submission to whatever the local equivalent of priestliness happens to be. Hey…we accept it when it happens on House, don’t we?
Well, but even there it doesn’t quite happen in the right way. And “instinct”, like inspiration, is a very fuzzy sort of plot-hammer…or should that be “plot-tweezers”? Forever being used to make discriminations too fine for intellect’s blunt force to get away with — well, but maybe it’s time to have intellect make some fine discriminations of its own, like: maybe you can’t trust instinct or inspiration to do your job for you. Maybe they don’t exist, at least not as we’re so happy to believe they do. Maybe human knowledge has limits, that can only be pushed back at cost.
And that might be the Wrong Reason for me to like Dark Matter, when you get right down to it…but what can I say? It kind of grabs me.
Grabs me! I don’t know; I just want to see it, that’s all.
3. Tall Tales, by Matthew
And finally, I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve just about decided I don’t really know how filmable Tall Tales (such a good name!) would be in truth…but again I’ve just got to fall back on prejudice. Like “The Whale”, how do you not like this for a show, unless your heart is so stubborn as to be called flinty? Its virtues speak for themselves so well, I think, that I don’t even need to describe what I like about it…
I was just thinking about the problem of “American mythology” recently. It’s tough, right? Can’t use the myth of the place you left…can’t use the myth of the place you’ve arrived in. So you’ve got to improvise. And that’s a powerful mythic activity in itself! Lumbering up from the bottom of nowhere, with no base, and trying to fit your hand around an idea good enough to throw. I am minded of old Can-Am weirdoes like Ernest Thompson Seton, of Audobon, of Franklin W. Dixon…all architects, in their twisted ways, of the unbeknownst American landscape, of mystery and murders…or maybe I am minded of Kim Stanley Robinson, who had his Mars settlers clue into their new ability to make a myth, Islamic Zen Taoist or Christian, but however you look at it you get Big Man Mars…
…Who’s simply a fact of life, like Khidr the Green Man, or Father Time, or Baba Yaga, or King Snowden, or Mother Mary. I’m not sure what Tall Tales might not do, in an animated form. It would take some pretty diligent writing! Because after all most adults suck pretty bad at kids’ stories. Still, I trust Matthew’s “oh why don’t I just throw this one out there” instincts…
…As a matter of fact: I’m counting on them!
…And so we come to an end, here. Or: almost an end. Counting my votes, I make it for the Prize Round as follows:
Mind Traders Of The Milky Way, with 9 votes
Phosphorescent Beetles, with 8 votes
Zerojidu, with 7 votes
Lighthouse, with 6 votes
Seventh Son, with 5 votes
Tall Tales and The Whale, each with 4 votes
Dark Matter, with 1 vote
But the Swing Vote may change everything!
It’s Tall Tales that wins it, by just one vote over Venus No. 17 and Seventh Son, both pushing towards the direction of bursting the tape…but in the end, by a nose, it’s Matthew who gets to cast two votes to a favourite-not-himself in this game. All the while knowing that, whatever happens, he’ll place in that precious Top Three regardless…
There has already been some action in the “guess-who-I-was-pretending-to-be” sidebar-contest, that he doesn’t know about…!
But we’ll get to that in the comments, I think.
It is not yet decided how ties will be settled. Except that they will not be settled in a way that leaves people thinking “well, what a whole lot of crap for nothing, I’m through with blogging, this sucks.” Promise, folks.
Okay, let’s play!
Matthew, cast your newborn votes!