Generally, a network will cancel a TV show that does poorly in the ratings. If there are no viewers, then there’s no way to get enough ad revenue to continue airing it. The occasional prestige, critical darling sort of show aside, networks rarely cancel anything that is doing well.
That would be why it was a surprise to fans when the Sci-Fi Channel canceled Farscape after four seasons. At the time, the show was the network’s biggest hit. It was also the most expensive, and it showed on the screen.
It was also a gem of a space opera.
Farscape started as the story of Earth astronaut John Crichton, played by actor Ben Browder. While on what was meant to be a routine scientific voyage testing a new rocket booster of his own design, something goes wrong, and Crichton is blasted to the other end of the galaxy, where he accidentally causes the crash of a fighter of some kind that is pursuing a large vessel. Crichton managed to get onboard the larger ship and finds it crewed by a group of aliens. The ship, the Moya, is alive, and was being used as a prison vessel. The three aliens onboard, all of a different species, are trying to escape the Peacekeepers, a fascist military force, and Moya and her Pilot (a large alien grafted into Moya‘s control systems) are helping them. They managed to grab Crichton and one other Peacekeeper pilot before hitting Moya‘s version of Warp drive and taking off.
There are some problems. The Peacekeeper, a woman pilot named Aeryn Sun, isn’t very friendly, but her race looks human so the others assume initially Crichton is another one of them. Crichton’s just far too ignorant for that to stay the case for very long, and the pilot he accidentally ran into was the younger brother of the Peacekeeper commander who was chasing the Moya. The other crew members consist of Ka D’Argo, a large member of the warrior Luxan race; Zhaan, a plant-based lifeform that was a priestess for her kind; and Rygel XVI, former Dominar of the Hynerian Empire.
The series was a roller coaster of fun. To start, given the nature of the series, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for Moya to pick up new passengers here and there. Aliens on Farscape often seemed to be completely alien. It helped that the alien make-up and animatronics was a product of the Jim Henson Company’s Creature Shop. Rygel was only about a foot and a half tall and scooted around in a hover throne. Pilot was a massive blue being with multiple arms. Even the seemingly human Sebaceans, who make up the majority of the Peacekeepers, are vulnerable to extreme heat given they may be partially cold-blooded.
Another treat was, given in part the series was partially produced by Australian television, there’s a really weird but fun sense of humor behind a lot of this stuff. One episode showed Crichton hiding from D’Argo for most of the episode. Luxans are vulnerable to something called “hyperrage” and Crichton was waiting for D’Argo to calm down. In the meantime, he imagines the chase between the two in the style of a Roadrunner cartoon, with himself as the Roadrunner and D’Argo as the Coyote. The animated sequences mimic the style of the old Warner Brothers shorts, and pop culture was one of Crichton’s best ways to deal with the weirdness around him. That no one else understood a single reference he ever made actually made things more fun.
The series only really hit its stride near the end of the first season with the introduction of Scorpius. Played chillingly by actor Wayne Pygram, Scorpius may have looked like a member of Star Trek‘s Borg with a bondage fetish, but he was more than that. Cold, calculating, and implacable, Scorpius got it into his head that Crichton understood wormholes, and that wormholes would make a hell of a weapon against the Scarrans, horse-faced aliens who gave off high amounts of deadly heat. The Scarrans were the Peacekeeper’s enemies, and they actually made the Peacekeepers look like the reasonable side of the war.
Farscape had a lot of intelligent work going on. Characters evolved over time, with some enemies becoming allies, and friendships and love growing between the various members of the crew. Just about every possible sci-fi trope was used at some point, often creatively. Body-switching, time-travel, black holes, planets of every description, and more were routine occurrences onboard the Moya. The series itself, available on Netflix, ended on a cliffhanger, but the producers did manage to reward loyal fans with a three-hour movie, The Peacekeeper Wars, wrapping up most of the plot lines and ending the show in a fairly appropriate manner, complete with tons of fan service cameos from all manner of characters. This one is well-worth the viewing for any fan of good space-based science fiction that has a good sense of humor.