A list! An internet list! Ooooh, Shiny! Clickey-clickey!
Let’s face it, despite our brains being larger than that of the general populace, even sci-fi fans are drawn to internet lists like Mynocks to Kessel running smuggler ships. It would be easy to cobble together another “Top 10 best sci-fi series EVAR” that get pushed out by lesser websites, slap it on the site for people to howl that I left off their favorite show and call it a solar day.
But that’s not how I roll, peeps.
Instead, I present the worst moments of sci-fi. We’re still in a golden age of sci-fi where every network carries at least one show and we even have a channel that shows only Science Fiction (and wrestling… um, wha?), but that was not always the case. The Cause stumbled for many years and still has missteps of judgment where we all grimace as the skeptics nod their heads and proclaim that sci-fi is just for kids. So I have cobbled together the top 5 moments, the ones that slow us down or stopped us altogether. They are actually in chronological order, but we do love lists so —
7 . Lost in Space — When they lost their nerve.
Mention “Lost in Space” nowadays and you instantly think “Danger, Will Robinson”, Dr. Smith’s bumbling idiocy and if that chimp they strapped the phony ears to ever went on a rampage and ripped off a cameraman’s face.
But did you ever watch the first 10 episodes? They were compelling, thoughtful, dangerous stories of a family that’s trying desperately to survive in a hostile universe. Watch the pilot episode and Dr. Smith actually KILLS a guy, and then tries to kill the Robinson family using the reprogrammed robot. Now that’s good sci-fi.
So what happened? Well, for one, it’s hard to justify keeping a guy on your ship who wants to kill you every episode, so the writers had to soften Dr. Smith down. The comedy trio/uncomfortable sexual grouping of Dr. Smith, Will Robinson and The Robot instantly appealed to the youth market and the network seized upon it. From that point on, it became dumbed down, space pirate, camp that resembled the Adam West “Batman” more than a survival series. Nonetheless, the short-term effect was ratings gold, GOLD I say Will!
The long-term effect was to play into every skeptics hands that Science Fiction was silly, children’s fare. In this case they were right. Well, at least Star Trek was on the same years so it offset the… uh oh…
6. Star Trek — “Spock’s Brain”
Trek fans rejoice! Your long hours of letter writing (present day emailing), picketing NBC (present day sending nuts) and pamphlet circulating (er, blogs?) have done the impossible! You have actually saved your show in a first ever decision from a network! Huzzah, you’ve earned this! Here is the premiere episode of season three: A planet of intellectual morons, ruled by women (no jokes here!) steals Mr. Spock’s Brain and puts in a computer (huh?). Kirk and company beam down with the brainless body of Mr. Spock and are captured by the Sudoku challenged women (no jokes here!) and must free themselves and return Spock’s Brain to it’s body!!
Considered one of the worst of the 79 episodes, “Spock Brain” was the ridiculous, insulting episode served up to the fans following their tireless work to save the show. True, NBC did the series no favors by slashing the budget and shifting it to the Friday at 10pm time slot. Still, the sight of Spock, brainless but controlled by a hat like device, stumbling around put a bad taste in the fans mouths and guaranteed the show would be cancelled.
This of course left William Shatner time to…
5. Bill Shatner Performs Rocket Man.
In the pre-Star Wars 70’s, we almost lost the thread on sci-fi. SF Shows were few and far between and films were a joke. Even worse, someone let Shatner out of his cage and he went ahead and recorded his now famous album “The Transformed Man”.
He followed this up with a performance during the Science Fiction awards where he outdid his Star Trek episode “Two Kirks” bit with THREE SHATNERS. The universe shuddered that day as a sweaty Bill spoke his way through the song with two pretaped versions of himself (If they were real, then this becomes Sci-fi’s BEST moment.). The audience, shocked and disoriented mustered applause at the end, but were later found washing those same hands crying “dirty, dirty, dirty…”
I’m not sure many saw the broadcast, but you only need the disaster to happen once for the memories to linger. Speaking of that…
4. The Star Wars Holiday Special
It is the stuff of legend. Let’s see we got:
- 1. A story line set around a family of Wookies who DON’T speak English, leaving us to guess what they are saying.
- 2. Bea Arthur
- 3. A drugged out Carrie Fisher singing some terrible “festival of light” song to the Star Wars theme music.
- 4. Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill sleepwalking through their performances.
- 5. Harvey Korman as a 4 armed cooking show host.
- 6. Art Carney as a friend of the Wookies (Bet you a million dollars he had no idea what a Wookie was before the show. Probably still didn’t after.)
- 7. Jefferson Starship (I can see the pitch “Hell, they got the name ‘Starship’ in their title”) as a holographic rock and roll band.
- 8. Bea Arthur.
This was a franchise killer if there ever was one. It only aired once and Lucas wisely has destroyed every legal copy around. Unfortunately, for those of us who stayed up and WATCHED the thing, it is seared in our minds as only traumatic events can. Aside from the mildly interesting Boba Fett appearance, this show was a cheaply made, awkwardly produced money grab by Lucas and company. He learned his lesson — until…
3. Jar-Jar Binks!
For all the Lucas haters out there, the line of incrimination begins at the Star Wars Christmas Special and runs through Jar-Jar. This cloying, irritating CGI abomination almost instantly reduced any goodwill from a Star Wars fan to the franchise by half. Aside from the fact that he was vaguely racist, he just wasn’t FUNNY, a prerequisite for characters billed as “comic relief”. The only “relief” came when Lucas wisely pushed Jar-Jar into the same vault as the Christmas Special and locked the key. The damage was done and the next two films had to work extra hard to escape the Gungan’s insidious plot to make the second trilogy unwatchable.
2. The Matrix Reloaded
When The Matrix came out, the Singularity of Science Fiction had arrived. With amazing special effects, badass fight sequences, Star Wars-like mythology and trendy people in trendy (black) clothes, The Matrix showed the world that sci-fi could be mainstream and cool.
Then they made a sequel.
Reloaded isn’t terrible, just self-indulgent. Gone was the lean, sharp story telling; replaced now with a bloated plot, too many characters (Jada Pinkett? Really?) and too much CGI. What was once a simple story of “Beat the bad guys”, morphed into keymasters, dreadlocked twins and French dudes that we just didn’t care about.
Of course, what I’m really building up to is this: The rave.
Yup, an entire franchise was sacrificed so that hip, trendy people living underground could dance in a sweaty sexy montage. This was when sci-fi fans just lowered their heads in their heads in the movie theater and shook them slowly.
1. January 1st, 2001
I’m not talking about the classic Stanley Kubrick movie, I’m talking about the actually date. See the movie 2001 is a masterpiece of Science and Fiction — a best guess as to how the future could/should turn out from one of the world’s smartest scientists and authors. With moon bases, commercial space flight to orbiting space stations and a manned mission to Jupiter, it seemed logical and desirable. After all, the very next year we landed on the Moon. The Frelling Moon!
January 1st, 2001 is embarrassing to all Science fiction fans because we’re still stuck on Earth. 32 years after that film came out and 29 since the last Apollo mission, we still haven’t gone back to the Moon, much less landed on Mars (But we have probed Uranus!) Sure we have the internet, Xbox and the carpool lanes but the basic tenet of Science Fiction to explore has fallen by the wayside and as guardians of the future, we have to take a little blame for it. We can only look to the hazy sky now and know that we missed a golden opportunity. There will be no real life Star Trek, Star Wars or 2001 for our generation. Most people recovered from bad hangovers January 1st, 2001. Science Fiction fans sighed and pulled out their copies of “2010” and “3001”, hoping maybe they’ll get one more shot.
Well, there it was. You know what the best part of internet lists are? They’re always right! Let’s print this baby out and put it in a time vault for the next generation to learn from. This is pure gold pressed latinum!
Wuzat? You have a better list?! Well, there’s a comment section on this site, Admiral, use it! Take me to task or tweak the list but be warned: bring your “A” game or you just might make next years list. That is, if there is an internet next year…