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December 27, 2009

The Dumbies 2009 - TV

There was a lot of Science Fiction television in 2009, so much so that I couldn't watch it all.

Dollhouse started disappointingly, seemingly just a Joe 90 rehash, but by episode five it started to take off and Joss Whedon's true intentions were revealed. The show was not about the Dollhouse and the actives reoccurring "adventures", it was about what happens when the technology goes wrong. Out of all the TV this year I think it's the most Science Fiction, in premise and execution. It starts discussions, it asks difficult questions and it explores what happens when cool shiny technology is exploited. It's a shame that it's been cancelled, because once again Joss Whedon delivered.

Being Human took what sounded like a clichéd crazy joke: a ghost, vampire and a werewolf share a house, and turned it into something great. The story focussed on how the characters were trying to cope with their exceptional conditions, and produced some emotional plots. The vampires were lead by the scariest vampire of all, a policeman who looked normal. No gratuitous effects or flashy but unnecessary detours. And, as is usual with UK TV shows, there were only six episodes making the story arc tight and finished. It's back in January for a second series, having been a big hit for the BBC, and I'm looking forward to it.

Battlestar Galactica finally ended, thank goodness. Two great seasons then the down hill slide, resulting in a truly terrible finale. Really terrible. Although by that time I just didn't care, the whole show had been lost in its own self importance, going all mystical and, well, not Science Fiction. Whereas the original appeal of the show was the gritty true SF feel and stories of survival in a rag-tag fleet. And because of the rubbish ending it's stained my memory of the show. Sad.

Also ending was The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It was a strange show in many ways, quite low key despite dealing with time travelling killer robots, but I liked it. Every time I thought it was going to do something stupid (the singer from Garbage as a T1000!) the plot defied my expectations. I enjoyed Lena Headey as Sarah Connor, quiet and hard, even the story of John Connor as a difficult teenager steered away from cliché. Nothing mind blowing, or genre changing, but good, enjoyable Science Fiction that went out with a woah

Heroes didn't go out with a woah. Is it still going? I stopped watching it because it was terrible.

Late in the year FlashForward started with the hype out stripping the reality. The core concept was interesting, as indeed it should be taken from a SF novel, but the execution was poor and flabby and I didn't care one bit about most of the cast, except for saying what else they'd been in: it's Jack Davenport from This Life!

Defying Gravity was cancelled before it was even shown on the BBC, however I enjoyed it immensely (as I type I have yet to see the finale). I liked the intertwining of the back story and the current time line, the back story actually being worthwhile an interesting. The space scenes were nicely rooted in reality (or at least attempting to be) and the stories of the characters was genuinely interesting. Nice journey, ended too soon.

Doctor Who, the staple of the last few years, only appeared with a couple of specials. One not good, one pretty good. I'm hoping the Christmas Day episode was good, I will write my reactions once I get back to this blog.

And then there was Torchwood Children Of Earth, going from the biggest groan inducing show in history to something dark and difficult and primetime and actually pretty good. The tactic of showing one episode a day for a week worked really well, generating a lot of viewers, a lot of press, a lot of attention and tight, complete story arc. It wasn't perfect, but it was proof that five hour stories are better than one hour stories, and actually left me wanting more.

Stargate Universe began. I think there was some disquiet amongst Stargate fans but I didn't really follow it too much. Unfortunately it's still Stargate, just now with Robert Carlyle, who is excellent, but the stories are nothing special and there's magic stones to communicate with the rest of the Stargate franchise.

Last, and most of all, there was Lost. I love Lost. I have always loved Lost. I love Lost even more now than I used to. Season 5 turned into a time skipping mosaic that was immensely enjoyable. What is great about Lost is that it contains not only awesome bonkers fun plots, but also characters that I care about and hate and love. The last episode of the season was really emotional and a great payoff for all the craziness. It's fun and clever and great and I have every faith that it will conclude in 2010 in the most awesome way.


I think what killed Dollhouse was precisely because it took 5 episodes to get to anything good. I stopped watching at ep. 4. That and Dushku was not a good fit for the show.

I disagree with you on Battlestar, but I guess your love of Dollhouse and dislike of Battlestar is an exact opposite of my own joys (loved Battlestar, hated Dollhouse).

I haven't seen most of the other shows, though. I never got into Heroes either, but wanted to see Defying Gravity...

I agree with pretty much everything you said here, and I *emphaticaly* agree about Galactica. That whole last season sullied the concept of the show, and the finale just utterly destroyed it. I can't watch it anymore, not even the good episodes.

I disagree slightly about Stargate Universe, but only slightly. At its best, Stargate has always been a swashbuckling character-based show with the occasional thought-provoking episodes, not terribly unlike Dr. Who. This new show...well, I *do* kind of like it, but it's a very uncomfortable fit in the 'Gateverse, and it seems like it knows what it doesn't want to be, but it doesn't know what it *does* want.

Help me understand something.

When you say BSG went all "not Science Fiction," are you saying BSG was more or less "Science Fiction" than a "timelord" flying around in a phone booth?

Let me put it this way. There's no cinematic (ie, TV & film) genre I love more than sci-fi. Yet most sci-fi shows are unwatchable, and I've watched most of the shows you list. They're merely special-effects vehicles with embarrassing writing.

I agree that BSG's finale was a major disappointment. But I think the show has experienced some backlash for having raised expectations so high and then not delivering.

I've got this crazy system I've devised where I divide the number of SF ideas by the ammount of whatever it takes to get 'em across, and the number tells me whether it's a good idea. For instance, I divide the number of ideas by the number of episodes of a show, if it's a book, I divide the number of pages by the ideas, etc.

Thus "Atlas Shrugged" has a score of about .005 (1100 pages, three ideas), Star Trek rates about .0014 (Since the only real idea there is "Gene Roddenberry is god, and you'd damn well better like it") and The Man From Atlantis has a score of about .110. Not a perfect system, since it tends to favor short series rather than ones that just freakin' run forever, but anyway, Galactica comes in at about.038