Science Fiction Television Experiencing Renaissance?

scifisunrise
Is the sun rising on a new era in television science fiction programming? Yes. Yes it is.

Renaissance might be too strong, but it does seems like science fiction offerings on the small screen are increasing in quantity, if not always quality.

Long, long ago, in the primitive years before cable (B.C.), television science fiction was doled out in small doses by the Big Three broadcast networks. Its artistic merits were not an issue. Good or bad, like it or not, if you were a science fiction fan, you watched what was available — and you were grateful.

Fast forward to 2015 A.D. (after digital). Science fiction offerings are so plentiful that you can actually pick and choose what you will watch. Quality and personal taste have come into play.

Take the barrage of programs you got this summer. Some, including Killjoys (Syfy) and Humans (AMC/Channel 4)have been gems. Others, like Dark Matter (Syfy) and Extant (CBS), have been just so-so. Still others, including Zoo (CBS) and The Whispers (ABC), have been abysmal.

I usually give each new series several episodes to win my heart before I decide if they stay on my DVR recording schedule. Getting a feel for the settings and characters often takes a bit.

I have given some shows extended opportunities to convince me that they are watchable. I so badly wanted to like Defiance (Syfy) that I stuck with it for the first half-season. I could not bring myself to like any of the characters, and the show suffered from alien overload.

I watched and enjoyed Continuum (Syfy) for its first full season. I had to bail midway though season 2 when the time travel paradoxes became too mind-boggling.

I didn’t quite make it to the opening season halfway mark of 12 Monkeys (Syfy version of the Bruce Willis movie) for the same reason. Time travel is an entertaining concept, but it really needs some basic rules. I suppose that if I were able to turn off my brain’s logic function, I might enjoy it more. I can’t, so I don’t.

On occasion, a show has gotten the ax before my first episode viewing has ended. The show which most recently got that reaction was Syfy’s Z Nation, which is such an obvious cheap rip-off of The Walking Dead (AMC) that it is a global insult to zombie fans — and zombies.

Some shows have such a dumb-ass premise that I don’t give them a shot. These have included Under the Dome (CBS), an up-sized version of Big Brother (CBS – coincidentally?). Let’s trap a bunch of people in an mysterious forcefield and see what happens. Frustration? Personality conflicts? Drama, drama, drama? Oh, my!

Another that went into this category was Revolution (NBC). The world suddenly loses its electricity, and nobody knows why? The trailers for this offering did their best to jump on the Hunger Games blockbuster film bandwagon, but I was not tempted.

Regretfully, I made an exception for Zoo (CBS). Animals organizing to rid the world of planet-destroying humans, as appealing as that premise may have been to animal rights groups, was a dumb human trick the show could not perform.

I’ll try anything featuring zombies, my favorite showbiz monster; but I have little interest in shows featuring vampires or werewolves. I tried True Blood (HBO) after it was recommended by a friend, but I just couldn’t get into a supernatural soap opera romanticizing blood-sucking killers.

One exception was the wittily comical Buffy the Vampire Slayer (WB/UPN), but even that show eventually fell prey to a soap opera element. Sorry, Sarah Michelle Gellar, your schoolgirl crush on David Boreanaz was the low point of an otherwise stellar show, although that star-crossed love had tough competition from Alyson Hannigan and Seth Green as cutest witch and werewolf couple  — ever.

So much for grousing over the past. Several promising new series are on, or just over, the horizon.

The Syfy will continue to churn out bona fide science fiction offerings in the next few months. These include Childhood’s End (http://tinyurl.com/ChildhoodsEndTrailer), a mini series slated to launch in December. With a great book author source in Arthur C. Clarke and a cast which includes Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) and Colm Meaney (Star Trek: The Next Generation), fans could be in for a super-sweet sci-fi treat.

The Expanse (http://tinyurl.com/TheExpanseTrailer), another series with potential, is also scheduled by Syfy in December. Based on the works of a pair of best-selling sci-fi authors, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franc, jointly writing as James S.A. Corey, this series might fulfill the promise of Ascension, had that Syfy mini-series ever gotten off the ground.

AMC will add Into the Badlands (http://tinyurl.com/BadlandsTrailer) to its high-quality program schedule in November. Think Mad Max meets Bruce Lee. Well-choreographed martial arts scenes are always entertaining, and AMC has an admirable habit of doing everything well.

HBO plans to present Westworld (http://tinyurl.com/WestworldTrailer), a remake of the 1973 film thriller, “coming in 2016.” Alas, this will be more than 30 years too late for the late great Yul Brynner to make a cameo appearance. Maybe through the miracle of CGI?

Broadcast networks are also bellying-up to the sci-fi happy hour bar via the film rehash route.

Fox will begin airing its series reincarnation of 2002’s Minority Report (http://tinyurl.com/MReportTrailer), set for launch, Monday, Sept. 21. Can the network that killed Firefly and Almost Human, after running episodes of both shows out of order, redeem itself? I won’t be holding my breath.

CBS will take another shot at sci-fi with 2011’s Limitless (http://tinyurl.com/LmtlssTrailer), scheduled to debut on Tuesday, Sept. 22. Something tells me that Bradley Cooper’s screen time in this series will be somewhat less than limitless.

Other new shows in the fall channel lineup include Heroes Reborn (NBC. Sept. 24) and Supergirl (CBS October). No doubt I have missed some, but a quick Google search should unearth any additions for die-hard couch potatoes who thinks they need more shows to fill their time.

Think of this season as a sci-fi potluck dinner. Everybody is going to bring something to put on the table, but not all of these dishes are going to bring you back for second helpings.

The New Zoo Re-Review

It was a very slim possibility, but the CBS version of James Patterson’s Zoo has not managed to make a silly premise watchable.

A global, organized animal movement to eradicate the pesky humans who seem bent on destroying the earth is an idea more worthy of a Syfy Channel movie than a CBS series, but I had hoped that a well-crafted presentation would enable me to willingly suspend my disbelief and enjoy the show. That has not happened.

Bats bring down a private jet at high altitude, and a pack of wolves take a prison? Really? Bats repeatedly cover solar panels to cut a research facility’s power? Really? Oh, did I mention that these bats show up in Antarctica? Also, one of the bats manages to ride into the facility on a scientist’s back and short out the backup power supply? Really?

I think CBS owes Syfy royalties. All CBS has done is substitute normal (well, except for that “defiant pupil” inter-animal telepathic communication thing) animals for the standard giant dinocrocodilepythonsharktopusspiranhasaurus featured on Syfy every Saturday. Now, if CBS had thought to have the animals delivered by tornado, the network might have created a smash hit.

I’m out! I think I heard my DVR breathe a sigh of relief and murmur “thank-you.”

I have a suggestion for CBS executive decision-makers. (I’m certain they have been closely monitoring this blog.) Why try something like James Patterson’s Zoo, when you obviously prefer the more economic alternative of reality shows and endlessly recycling participants among them?

The new Zoo I propose, minus the book author’s name, I imagine, would feature 16 of the nastiest, most despicable contestants who ever graced the likes of Big Brother, Survivor and The Amazing Race. It’s a gigantic pool for selection.

The show would be set in (you guessed it) a zoo. Each week, contestants would face some sort of task involving an animal — riding a tiger, dancing with a bear, walking an angry pit bull. The biggest loser would be put in cage with a hungry, extremely pissed off big cat, given a chair and a whip, and challenged to survive for 5 minutes.

Those who did would be given another shot the following week. Those who did not, well, that would just be “good television.”