Let’s get something politically correct here: real aficionados abbreviate science fiction as “SF,” not “sci-fi.”
Enthusiasts detest the term for its negative connotation, just as fans of the late Gene Roddenberry’s best-known work prefer the appellation “Trekkers” to the derogatory “Trekkies.”
Now that we’re clear on that, here’s a look at the newest SF on TV.
Highlander: The Series, based on the first of two movies starring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery, focuses on Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul), born 400 years ago in the Scottish Highlands.
Produced in Canada, Highlander features stunningly choreographed swordplay, and creative camera work and directing. Guest stars have included rockers Joan Jett, Vanity and Sheena Easton, Lambert reprising his movie role as Mac’s cousin, and former porn queen Tracy Lords.
Expect the unexpected. The second season began with the death of two series regulars, including Mac’s lover, Tessa. The other, a young man named Richie, returned from the dead as a potential rival for the “Prize” the last immortal will claim.
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. As a comics fan, I had high hopes for this show, but doubted television could pull off the big guy’s stunts effectively.
The debut was on target: the chemistry between the lead actors was hot and the special effects were excellent. Subsequent episodes haven’t matched the premiere in scope, but the tongue-in-cheek repartee has been fun to watch.
seaQuest DSV, the Spielberg show with the misplaced capital letter, has lots of flash in the sets, but little flicker in the writing. And the acting is often as murky as the underwater special effects.
A plus is interesting ideas for episodes: the crew finds the sunken Library of Alexandria and mediates an international conflict over its contents; they rescue a band of children trapped on an undersea station for years after their parents died; they explore a haunted, sunken ocean liner.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s second season got off to a rollicking start with a multi-part story featuring guest Frank Langella. Dogfights reminiscent of Star Wars films supercharged the action beyond even Star Trek: The Next Generation standards.
Avery Brooks (Commander Sisko) leads a strong ensemble into a grittier, darker, yet more spiritual look at the 24th century. Driven by moving character studies, strong writing and hard-hitting SF action, Deep Space Nine could be called a New Age Trek for the 90s.
Star Trek: The Next Generation, the best of Trek’s incarnations, is a kinder, gentler version created for the late 1980s. The show garners high ratings and critical acclaim for engaging stories, special effects and multidimensional characters. The depth of writing and creativity involved in most episodes is staggering, and the show has earned awards in numerous categories.
Captain Picard and his crew may leave the first-run syndication airwaves after this season, but Paramount isn’t ready to give up on them yet. The program will hyperspace-jump to the big screen in December 1994 in a rumored time travel story uniting the casts of New Trek and Trek Classic.
Time Trax is a syndicated series produced in Australia for American audiences. Darien Lambert (Dale Midkiff) is a futurecop tracking criminals who escaped justice by hiding in our here-and-now.
He’s aided by a tiny computer — disguised as a credit card — that projects a female hologram. And he’s armed with a stun weapon — disguised as a key chain fob — that can also zap people back to the future.
For all his police training, Lambert misses a lot of obvious things in his path. And the series doesn’t make sense sometimes, like the episode where Lambert became a professional boxer to teach a time bandit a lesson. Why not just zap him? Guess that wouldn’t have filled out the hour.
The X-Files is a borderline SF in that its protagonists are FBI agents investigating unexplained phenomena, such as hauntings, cannibalistic wildmen, UFO abductions, and other National Enquirer fare. This Fox series’ production values are high, special effects are flawless, and the heroes react in believable ways to unbelievable situations.
Babylon 5 is a space station where the races of the galactic community meet for trade, diplomatic summits, and so forth. The first four stations were destroyed or disappeared without a trace. The crew must discover their predecessors’ fates while walking a tightrope between aliens, pirates, and assassins to reach the goal of universal peace.
The pilot movie aired in Spring 1993. Despite cool computer effects and a hot soundtrack by Stewart (The Police) Copeland, the show was slow. Time was wasted as people described how the space station worked or talked about why they felt a certain way.
But this one actually has promise. Some of the big names in SF are writing screenplays for the upcoming syndicated series, including Harlan Ellison and others who made the original Trek a classic.
Robocop will be based on the movie series of the same name, but won’t star Peter Weller, who played the cyborg Murphy in the first two films. He wasn’t in the third one, either. Smart move, Weller.
Star Trek: Voyager is the big news on the SF TV frontier. An all-new, starship-based adventure from the people behind Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, the new Trek is apparently intended to remind fans of Captain Kirk’s early deep-space exploratory trips.
Tekworld, based on novels by Trek’s William Shatner and produced in his native Canada, will launch a group of syndicated TV films that might grow into a weekly series.
Jake Cardigan is a 23rd Century version of Shatner’s old TJ Hooker cop character, who fights a personal war against futuristic smugglers, kidnappers, robots, drug dealers, and virtual reality addiction. The first movie will air in January.
The Invaders is Fox Network’s upcoming revival of the aliens-among-us program that starred Roy Thinnes in the late 1960s. The original series currently reruns weeknights on cable’s Sci-Fi Channel. Thinnes will return for the new show.