Entertainment Weekly has a nice article on how the SyFy Channel is planning to get back into the actual science fiction business. This news isn’t quite as shocking as, say, MTV going back to showing actual music videos, but it is welcome news nonetheless. Ever since shows like SyFy’s rebooted Battlestar Galactica ended, SyFy got away from big, and expensive, space epics. They’ve done “reality” shows like Ghost Hunters and lighter, and less expensive, scripted shows like Warehouse 13 and Eureka. They’ve had some success with those shows but conceded the territory of epic sci fi and edgy fantasy to other networks such as AMC with The Walking Dead. As the EW article states, this year they brought in new programming chief Bill McGoldrick who comes from networks like USA. SyFy will be adding 5 new shows this season including space epics Ascension and Expanse. Click over to the EW article for a complete rundown on SyFy’s new shows and a Q&A with McGoldrick on the changes coming.
I am glad to see SyFy getting back to actual sci fi, but I’m still concerned. I’m concerned because I wonder if I’ll be able to watch these new epics with my 10 year old geekling. It seems from where I sit that for a dramas to be successful on TV anymore they not only have to be “edgy” but also very violent. The rebooted BSG was not a kid friendly show and I sure as heck would not let my geekling watch Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, or True Blood. You see, I actually liked now cancelled SyFy shows like Eureka because they were, sort of, sci fi and didn’t have a whole lot going on that you had to tell your kid to close his eyes during. Dr. Who may be the only in production sci fi show I can watch with him and even it likes to veer into almost horror once in a while. (The episodes this season haven’t seemed as good this season anyway, although I do like Peter Capaldi as The Doctor.) Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is the only other must see show we watch that is sort of sci fi and it had a pretty high body count at times.
I know I’m “of a certain age.” I cut my TV sci fi teeth on reruns of Space:1999 and Star Trek in the latter half of the 1970s. And, like everyone else, I was blown away by Star Wars when it hit theaters during my sixth grade year. About the same time I discovered The Six Million Dollar Man and, after TV execs saw the dollar signs of Star Wars, ABC gave me the original BSG. Going into the 1980s, for better or worse, we got Buck Rogers, which was fun but set back drama by about 20 years. Finally, in 1987, thanks to the success of Star Trek theatrical movies, Star Trek: the Next Generation premiered in 1987 giving us good space epic sci fi, even if it took a couple of seasons, and better costumes, to find the show’s groove. The shows I grew up on were a mixed bag, mostly good to great, a few not so much (sorry, Captain Rogers and Colonel Deering).
They all had one thing in common, though: you could watch them as a kid, even if you didn’t get all the “subtext.” There was violence, sure. But, the violence wasn’t gratuitous nor was it gory. And, yes, there was some sexual innuendo. (You know he had a good time when Captain Kirk is sitting on his bed putting his boots on.) And, frankly, I believe we should be more worried about violence in our entertainment than naked boobies anyway. My point is, my parents did not have to worry about any bad influences on me from watching my sci fi shows, except for possibly my lack of outside playing while I watched them. The good ones were good adventures that fired my imagination and, occasionally, got me thinking about social issues of importance. Both aforementioned Star Trek franchises, especially the Original Series, would slip in stories addressing racism, war, and human rights. The shows of my youth and early adulthood were fun, mind opening, and, for the most, safe for kids 10 and up. By contrast, the rebooted BSG started with a 2 hour TV movie that opened with a sex scene between Baltar and the Cylon and within 20 minutes had the same Cylon murdering a baby out of curiosity at its fragility. I never watched another episode. Give me Boxie and his robot daggit, Muffin any day.
Times change, I know. The shows of the 1950s were certainly hokey and outdated to the audiences of the 1970s and 1980s. The same is true of many of the sci fi shows I watched growing up when watched by modern audiences. Tastes change. But, I have to think it is possible to write good sci fi TV with great stories, occasional socially relevant themes, dazzling effects, humor, and action without buckets of blood and acres of corpses littered everywhere.
Welcome back to sci fi, SyFy. I’ll give your new shows a try for sure. But, I’ll screen them without my Geekling first to make sure he can watch them too. And, if I decide they’re not appropriate for him, I probably won’t watch them either. I don’t want to shoo him away when I watch TV. I’ll just keep showing him classic sci fi streamed online or from my video library. We’ve got a lot of TNG to get through yet.