Friday, July 13, 2012
Great Science Fiction & Fantasy: What not to watch ... on TV?
Ahh ... the pursuits of Summer! Finally, it's time for some R&R. I know, perish the thought, but its time for some non Math related activities! In fact, I'm off for the whole Summer for the first time in 30 years! Can you believe it? I'm still pinching myself. I guess this is a practice run at retirement? Now I finally have plenty of time to devote to walking, biking, swimming and eating right! For me, the Summer is a spiritual time to regroup and fortify myself mind, body and soul for next school year. I like to focus on outdoor activities for exercise and a good diet. Its also time for more soulful activities of Wood and Stone such as playing chess and classical guitar. I'm attending to some of my old hobbies such as gaming, reading and catching up on genre TV and film.
This posting was supposed to be about great SciFi TV that you can't watch on TV much anymore, but you can see, mostly FREE, on Amazon Prime and on your Kindle Fire. I'll get back to that, but first, here's an update on more current SciFi you can watch on TV! BTW, I've had Amazon Prime for years to get free 2-day shipping on all my books. Recently, this service was upgraded to include tons of TV episodes and movies, many for FREE. It's like getting NetFlix for FREE! Well, not FREE actually, as I was already paying $69 per year for Amazon Prime. I will also note if each series is available on Amazon Prime and Kindle Fire and provide links to sample episodes. BTW, Amazon Prime is built into your Kindle!
What follows is a list of my top 10 genre TV shows, past and present. The first 4 are the current shows and the last 6 are off the air listed in chronological order of appearance on TV. I'm not playing favorites here, but I am partial to Merlin of late!
(1) OK, I admit it, this is my guilty pleasure. I got hooked on Supernatural when I was home sick with the flu a few years ago and caught a pile of reruns on TNT. I know, I know, this isn't Science Fiction nor is it Fantasy, its more like Horror, but the whole stopping Armageddon story arc was fascinating! This past season was post apocalyptic and not all that exciting until Arch Angel Castiel (youtube link) came back. It was interesting how they got Bobby, Sam and Dean's pseudo father figure and mentor demon hunter, back into the fight as a ghost for a while and touching when they finally let him go.
(2) Now, this series is a lot of fun for the Fantasy genre, unless you think Camelot was real! Merlin chronicles the adventures of the young wizard. That's right, we meet Merlin before he's come into his full power. In fact, he's Prince Arthur's man servant??? I think it took 4 seasons (youtube link) before Arthur becomes King and takes Excalibur from the stone! There's even a great dragon character with the perfect voice of John Hurt. I caught the first season by accident a few Summers ago as a filler on NBC. Then, this series was snatched up by SyFy and each season is better than the last. I think it originated on the BBC.
(3) Wow, what a shame this one was cancelled. So, I guess I lied, you can't watch this one on the air after all! The first season is on Kindle, so enjoy. TerraNova (youtube link) is about a family from 2149 that goes back 70 million years to start a colony in the midst of dinosaurs and all kinds of weird threats. Good thing too, the future is overpopulated with few remaining resources - you can't even breath the air without a rebreather! TerraNova was on during the Fall of 2010 for a half season on Fox. I thought it was coming back in the Spring for another half season, but it never did. Gotta love those half seasons! It was cancelled before the Fall of 2011. I hope SyFy picks this one up as it had a very promising beginning. Fox finally got a genre series on that I liked! Sorry, I never really got into the X-Files, Heroes or Fringe....
(4) Falling Skies (youtube link) is great! It's about a present day family thrust into combat with invading aliens and the aliens are winning! The alien invaders have destroyed every major city and taken many humans as slaves. There's but a few resistance forces left. Noah Wyle plays the father, Professor Mason, of three boys. This history professor soon becomes a leader in the 2nd Mass. This resistance cell is in Massachusetts and is fighting the aliens in the spirit of our own revolutionary war against the Red Coats (hence, the history professor connection)! The first season was produced by Spielberg and the current season is being produced by Noah Wyle of ER and The Librarian fame. After each show, http://www.fallingskies.com has an interview with cast and crew conducted by Wil Wheaton. Don't miss this series currently on TNT!
Now, back to what not to watch on TV. I've been watching great SF&F TV and Movies since the 1960s as recommended below and reading great SF&F novels since the 1970s. I remember the days before VCRs and DVRs when you had to watch every single first run episode live! I think I've watched every single first run episode of all the Star Trek series live since the very first season in 1966 even when VCRs became all the rage. In fact, I still have every single Star Trek: The Next Generation on VHS that I taped live starting with my first VCR in 1987! BTW, I am using SF&F here to stand for Science Fiction & Fantasy as opposed to Science Fact & Fiction as in the case of I-CON and my EBay store: SFFBCLUB, the Science Fact and Fiction Book CLUB.
What follows is a list of my favorite SciFi TV shows that I've been watching loyally over the years. I think that I've seen most as first run episodes with the exception of the first Twilight Zone series and the first Outer Limits series. I recommend all these shows, however, I highly recommend those with an (*) mark. For instance, the original Twilight Zone was far superior to the remakes. However, the 1995 version of Outer Limits on ShowTime was a vast improvement over the original! Also, I note whether or not each series is available on Kindle Fire and whether its FREE on Amazon Prime. For the starred seasons, I also linked my fave ep! BTW, please note that the Kindle Fire is not just a great ebook reader, its a fabulous 7" Droid Tablet with WiFi!
1) Twilight Zone, 1985
1) Twilight Zone, 2002
I grew up with the Space Race and Star Trek: The Original Series. In conjunction with that, I was introduced to the wonderful world of reruns watching I Love Lucy, Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. When anyone brings up the best Twilight Zone (youtube link) episode, they always go with the Shatner episode with the gremlin on the wing at 20000 feet or "The Eye of the Beholder." However, my favorite episode, by far, is "Time enough, at last" with the legendary Burgess Meredith (linked above). This episode is about a poor old bookworm who can't seem to find enough time to read. Of course, there's a classic twist at the end, but I won't ruin it for you if you haven't seen it yet. T-Zone has always been one of the best written shows on TV. This show follows in a long tradition of live plays on early TV and SciFi short short fiction. Don't forget that Rod Serling also wrote the first Planet of the Apes movie in the same twisty style!
2) Outer Limits, 1963, $1.99 per episode on Kindle Fire
The New Outer Limits link I selected is actually a remake of an original series episode. "I, Robot" (youtube link) stars Leonard Nimoy and is loosely based on the Asimov stories about robots. What's interesting here is that Nimoy starred in both episodes. In the original version, I think he played a minor role as a newspaper reporter. In the remake, directed by Adam Nimoy no less, Leonard plays the defense attorney in a case where the Robot is accused of murdering his creator!
3) Star Trek: Voyager, 1995, ALL Seasons FREE on Kindle Fire
3) Star Trek: Enterprise, 2001, ALL Seasons FREE on Kindle Fire
Star Trek is, IMHO, the best of the lot. The acting was good, the Shakespearean themes were current and the music was based on impressionist classical scores! I remember growing up on such fare in the 1960s. Then, of course, there was nothing but reruns in the 1970s until the Star Wars franchise changed all that in 1978! The rest is, as they say, history as Star Wars took off in theaters and Star Trek: The Next Generation took off in the 1980s back on TV. So, these linked episodes are indeed my all time favorites. For ST:TOS, I chose the episode that introduced the Romulans for the first time and the great Mark Leonard (who, for some strange reason, I confuse with Martin Landau from Space 1999). Leonard (youtube link) played the Romulan commander of an invading force with a top secret weapon. This weapon was a powerful plasma cannon coupled with the first cloaking device. This episode was a great game of cat and mouse with Kirk giving chase in the classic style of a WWII silent running submarine movie. Leonard, of course, went on to play Spock's father in later episodes of both TOS and TNG as well as the movies. ST:TNG's link is "The Inner Light." I think this one won an Emmy for Patrick Stewart. In this episode Picard is swept up in a dream life on another world. He actually experiences an entire life on that planet and learns all about the other 1000 year old culture now defunct. This is one of the most impressive episodes of TNG. Dr. Crusher chalks it up to an ordinary dream but Picard even remembers how to play a recorder after he returns to his normal self - something he never knew how to play before. That flute comes out in subsequent episodes too! How amazing it must be to experience an entire lifetime in just 15 minutes of real time be it a dream or not! There's lots of great DS9 episodes, but I had to pick "Trials and Tribbulations." Gotta love those Tribbles! This ep is marvelous as it includes Sisco and Dax traveling back in time and joining the crew of Kirk's first Enterprise during the the original "The Trouble with Tribbles" story!
4) BattleStar Galactica, 1978, $1.99 per episode on Kindle Fire
4) Caprica: 2009, $1.99 per episode some FREE previews on Kindle Fire
The original BattleStar Galactica was a bit campy, but the newer version was great! Too bad its over! Edward James Olmos (youtube link) was awesome as Admiral Adama. The writers really fleshed out the whole Adama family dynamic. The new female StarBuck and Boomer characters were fantastic too. Speaking of campy, I've avoided those shows that were not really "hard SciFi." Which shows am I referring to? Here's the 1960s short list: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants and Lost in Space. I can't list anything in the 1970s as there was no new SciFi TV to speak of! The 1980s and 1990s were great due to Star Trek, StarGate and The New Outer Limits. Here's a more recent short list: Hercules, Xena and Legend of the Seeker. Of all these campy series, only Seeker is FREE? Actually, I don't mind Lost in Space so much as I like Billy Mumy who was also in Twilight Zone, Babylon 5 and even TNG. The jury is still out on the likes of Dark Shadows, Night Gallery, Dr. Who, Space 1999, DarkSide, SeaQuest DSV, Quantum Leap and Farscape. Note: the Space 1999 and DSV links are not Kindle links and DarkSide is the only series I couldn't find on Amazon.
5) Crusade, 1999, $1.99 per episode on Kindle Fire
I remember meeting Joseph Michael Straczynski at I-CON years before he started work on Babylon 5 in earnest. He had some mini screen plays and short stories about the space station that he read at the con, but that was about it. I could tell right away that Michael was very talented and was going places! His stories, his world and his characters were nothing short of genius. Too bad Babylon 5 was cancelled early! Yup, you heard right. Michael had fleshed out a 5 year story arc which was very dense. However, the original network, PTE: Prime Time Entertainment which aired on WOR Channel 9 in NYC, cancelled Babylon 5 after only 3 seasons. Luckily, SciFi (not yet SyFy at the time, don't get me started) picked up the series but only for one more year. So, Michael had to condense the last 2 years of his story to 1 year. I still don't know how he did it. Maybe that's why he still had material left over for Crusade? I almost didn't get to see the pilot episode of Babylon 5. At the time, cable TV was not yet that common and I was on rabbit ears (google it). So, I was waiting with baited breath for the long awaited pilot in February of 1993. Wouldn't you know, that was the same day that the World Trade Center was bombed for the first time? Darn terrorists decided to load up a MiniVan with exposives, park it in the subbasement and blow it up. Luckily, that did not bring down the towers but 6 people were killed and many more were injured. So, neeless to say, power was out in the building and the antennas on the roof were not serving up Channel 9 that night. I was actually able to watch the pilot in March when they re-aired it which was not usually done. The link above is of a great episode with Michael York as guest star. York plays a traveler that everyone seems to think is delusional when he claims to be King Arthur. The only one who believes the story is G'Kar (youtube link) who is dubbed the Red Knight! G'Kar was my favorite character possibly because he was played by the phenomenal Andreas Katsulas. Bill Mumy was a regular star and Walter Koenig played a secondary character in the cast. Did you know that Walter, of ST:TOS Pavel Chekov fame, is soon to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?
6) StarGate: Universe, 2009, ALL Seasons FREE on Kindle Fire
Thank goodness for StarGate. Of all the SciFi on TV, I think this is the one series to keep alive the spirit of wonder and exploration that was at the heart of Star Trek. The writers, characters and actors in these series were all grand! StarGate also had a lot of humor and references to other great series. The SG-1 link above is one such story about Major O'Niel's getting stuck in a 24 hour time loop with Teal'c at the base and all the funny problems they get into trying to unravel the problem. I especially like the treatment of the scientists in these series. The Atlantis link above is about two of my favorite scientists in the series. Dr Jackson from SG-1 and Dr. McKay from Atlantis work together when a hidden lab on Atlantis is discovered. Now that I think about it, there was a comical episode of Atlantis where McKay goes back to Earth to attend a conference during a short leave. Who does he encounter there but Niel DeGrass Tyson and Bill Nye (youtube link) playing themselves! There was even one actor there that was supposed to be Stephen Hawking in his iconic wheel chair complete with synthetic voice. That character was never shown from the front, so I don't think it actually was Hawking. It would not be unheard of that Hawking make such a cameo as he has done so on TNG.
So, as you can see, this is the best thing since sliced bread, don't you agree? The Kindle Fire with Amazon Prime is just like Youtube but for free full-length commercial products! I am all for free, online, on-demand, video streaming of all my fave TV series on any Flash enabled device such as a droid smartphone or tablet as well as any Linux or Windows PC.
Well, that's all folks. I hope you enjoyed my latest blog on Summer diversions. I know it's unusual for this blog to touch on genre related topics and hobbies and such. You can expect, however, a few more along this vein this Summer! Here's some other blogs I've written along similar veins:
***UPDATE*** Here's some cool San Diego ComicCon 2012 YouTubes: