Published on September 3rd, 2012 | by Yellow Magpie0
Most Underrated Television Series: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Farscape, Studio 60, Enterprise And Ultraviolet
Most Underrated Television Series Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Television is a medium that has enjoyed unprecedented success in the last two decades. Long gone are the days when TV was looked upon as being the poor relation of cinema. Now the acting, writing and production values are very much on a par with anything the silver screen can produce. What’s more, television is a much better format for characterisation as it allows the writers and actors to create fully-rounded, multi-faceted characters and the platform is well-suited for long-term character development.
It is no doubt due to the abundance of good television that some series simply slip through and do not receive the praise and acclaim that they deserve. It is also true that many of these great television programmes are unjustly cancelled for different reasons. Here is Yellow Magpie’s selection of The Most Underrated Television Series.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
One of the best television programmes to hit the small screen in the noughties was Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. What set it apart was how it treated its audience. The series was both highly sophisticated and uncompromising in its direction and elevated the Terminator franchise to a level far beyond what the films achieved.
The characters were much more rounded and developed than their filmic equivalents. This was encapsulated with the story always taking precedence over action sequences.
This may somewhat explain why the series was relatively unpopular and became prematurely cancelled after just two seasons. Those expecting nothing but fast-paced action with relief scenes just to extenuate more visceral set-pieces were solely disappointed.
The greatest achievement of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was creating characters that seemed real. The series brought the audience to a place that the films never could. The longer format allowed much greater character development by creating a more meaningful emotional connection with the viewers. Followers of the series genuinely cared about the characters which accentuated the drama and in turn only strengthened the connection between the show and the audience.
The outstanding personalities in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles were the leads of Cameron and John Connor. Cameron was something that the Terminator franchise never had before – a humanised cyborg that hinted at something much more than the sum of its parts.
John Connor by the very nature of being a messianic figure tasked with saving humanity was acutely enigmatic. Placed in an everyday context with the twin onerous responsibilities of avoiding being killed by Skynet’s cyborgs and becoming the warrior that the human race is counting upon – Connor is one of the most interesting characters in television’s history.
Similarly, Cameron commanded a mesmeric fascination. This was fostered through a clever combination of good acting, astute writing and solid direction. Always difficult to define and full of mystery Cameron was much more than just a cyborg.
While the main cast in many television series are usually of a high calibre, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was no exception, the support cast can leave a lot to be desired. It is the quality of the actors filling in the support roles that defines the hallmark of the series.
For those that are interested in these things, the mise en scene and frame composition utilised in Terminator is usually only found in well-thought out films – not generally in television productions. To be able to do so involves writing that is razor-sharp as the character development and future plots have to be accounted for from almost episode one and is the reason why this is generally left to films.
Accompanying, such masterful precision is the soundtrack by Bear McCreary which sumptuously blends the soulful human side of the series with the power and mechanical coldness of the terminators.
The saddest aspect of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was the fact the it didn’t have either a film or a mini-series to finish up its cliff-hanger ending, one of the best of any television series. The premature cancellation of the series left many of the intriguing possibilities for next season unanswered. Fans of The Sarah Connor Chronicles could feel themselves especially aggrieved as even the hugely overrated Firefly got its own film. Hopefully, this could change as such a series deserves a fitting ending.
An astronaut experimenting with gravitational assist finds himself transported through a wormhole to a distant part of the Milky Way galaxy. There he finds himself aboard an escaped living ship called Moya with alien people who intensely dislike him.
Perhaps the single greatest television series set in space, Farscape brought science fiction to a place where few have ever reached breaking many unwritten rules along the way.
What set Farscape apart from other series was its characterisation. Many, if not all, of the characters were self-centred and fed off conflict. The effect of all of this tension was to cause the series to be grounded in reality and made great television.
Gender and sexual relations played a pivotal role in Farscape. The female figures in the television series greatly deviated from the normal prosaic sexual objects. Tough, intelligent and unwilling to act as bystanders, women in Farscape were a dominant force not to be underestimated. What’s more, Farscape gave these characters a fierce independence that was not to be idly trifled with.
Set in the background of a hostile world was the love story of John Crichton and Aeryn Sun – the remarkably human-looking Peacekeeper solider. The most interesting thing about the Crichton/Sun romance, apart from great chemistry which was heightened by fate intervening, was the reversal of gender roles.
Traditionally males have played the role of the strong, all-action, unemotional figure bolstered by masculine bravado. Whereas female parts have consisted of weaker, somewhat indecisive and thoughtful characters playing second-fiddle to their male counterpart. Farscape completely deviated from this model. Sun was the strong, all-action (to the point of being reckless) figure. It was Crichton that was the weaker and more thoughtful of the two.
Farscape paid close attention to characterisation and in particular the concept of good and evil. In the series there were very few truly evil characters. Pay closer attention and you quickly realised that every action was thought out and had meaning. In effect, what Farscape did for the most part was deny the presence of good and bad people and instead replaced it with the more realistic concept of people who made personal choices.
Unquestionably the most memorable character was Scorpious, a terrifying alien hybrid with the most arresting of physical appearances. An unnerving mix of controlled rage and dangerous intelligence – Scorpious never took unplanned actions. Every gambit and counter-move was calculated in the hope of achieving what he believed was a justifiable outcome.
When you talk about Farscape it is very difficult not to mention the rather disagreeable, self-serving and hilarious deposed royal, Rygel XVI. Crude and cruel, Rygel despite all his faults remained charming. Although he gained insight and understanding as part of the crew of Moya he still always managed to remain true to his selfish ways.
Inevitably, Farscape is compared to the Star Trek franchise as both are set in Space. So we shall endeavour to differentiate betwen the two. With the notable exception of Enterprise, Farscape is character-based rather than story-based. Whereas Star Trek is generally about the events that befall the crew, Farscape is about how the crew of Moya react to events beyond their control. The acting in Farscape was also of a much higher calibre and a premium was placed upon realism and subtlety.
Farscape was also one of the pioneers of non-linear storytelling. Many episodes took the form of a disorientating mystery which was revealed as the story unfolded. Visually, the television series had a aesthetic that was very distinct. Makers of the series have commented that there was nothing that has looked like Farscape and there has been nothing since. They are correct.
Studio 60: On The Sunset Strip
One of the best examples of good drama and storytelling, Studio 60: On The Sunset Strip was a sophisticated mix of smoothly polished, quick-witted dialogue and a masterful weaving of plot.
Set in the world of a weekly comedy sketch show called Studio 60, Studio 60: On The Sunset Strip took a behind-the-scenes look at the television industry. After a breakdown by the producer executive of the sketch show, Wes Mendell, in which he rails against the station’s declining standards two former employees come in to save the fate of the show.
Producer/director, Danny Tripp, and writer Matt Albie are given the burdensome responsibility of restoring Studio 60 to its former glory. As luck would have it they also have the extraordinary recently appointed NBS vice-president, Jordan McDeere, on their side.
Studio 60: On The Sunset Strip provided a good insight into the world of television. From cut-throat executives to inane and unneeded Federal Communications Commission representatives and from pressure groups to the constant drama of working with a large crew, Studio 60 gave a very good account of television.
The undoubted star of Studio 60: On The Sunset Strip was the dialogue. Fast-paced, witty and smart it is completely distinct to Aaron Sorkin. Existing in its own distinct hyper-reality the conversations between different characters revolved around everyone being on the same spectrum. Essentially, every character in Studio 60 spoke with the same voice. In practice this resulted in quick-exchanges that were crafted into a mix of finely honed points of repartee and barbs.
[Star Trek] Enterprise
Enterprise, later renamed Star Trek: Enterprise, is set in the middle of the 22nd century. It has only been a few decades since the human race has discovered the superluminal Warp Drive. Finally, they are ready to take the voyage into deep space in their Warp Five spaceship. Completely unprepared but armed with an excellent crew they find things to be a lot tougher than they expected.
Star Trek: Enterprise was a terrific amalgam of solid acting and storylines. It is only when you compare with an open mind the series to other Star Trek franchises that you come to appreciate just how good it was.
Arguably, the best of all the Star Trek series it had a terrific well-rounded cast of actors something the other series lacked. Unlike Star Trek: The Original Series, which had token female roles and stories which sometimes patronised the audience, Enterprise had fully-formed independent women. And at no time were viewers exposed to risible plots such as in Man Trap where a McCoy imposter and other facsimiles rambled around the star ship like inebriated zombies without any crew members remarking upon such oddities.
While Star Trek: The Next Generation was an improvement on the original Star Trek there were many episodes that were quite average and the main cast had several weak actors. Star Trek: Voyager was a poorly constructed affair that struggled with focus. While Deep Space Nine, due to its nature of being set on a Space Station, missed out on the romance and adventure of Space exploration. Enterprise had none of these issues.
One of the differentiating aspects of the series was the realism of its main cast of characters. Tempers flared and relationships sometimes became fraught and difficult.
Enterprise put an emphasis on developing long plot arcs that continually built up tension and drama. If there is one abiding quality that the series had it was balance. The subtle interplay between visceral action sequences and the dialogue achieve an arresting mixture that resulted in great television. Its story-lines were imaginative and engaging and it is very difficult to recall any poor episodes with an obvious exception.
Above all, if you are planning on watching this series for the first time make sure you don’t see the final episode, These Are The Voyages... Butchered by Brannon Braga and Rick Berman’s bizarre choice to include two actors from Star Trek: The Next Generation, it is probably the worst finale of any series. Resist the temptation or you will be guaranteed to regret it.
Series ending apart, Star Trek: Enterprise remains the high point of the Star Trek franchise.
Ultraviolet took the well-worn horror concept of the vampire and infused it with urban realism and gritty acting. In the process it elevated a genre.
Detective Sergeant Michael Colefield finds himself investigating the murder of an informant while at the same time dealing with the disappearance of his best friend, Jack. Things become a whole lot stranger for Colefield as mysterious individuals in a covert, off-the-books, organisation begin to turn his world upside down. Disorientated and struggling to deal with loss, the detective sergeant becomes aware of immortal virulent parasites that recruit humans and threaten the existence of the entire human race.
Ultraviolet excelled at inverting the genre and placing the viewer in a semi-permanent state of uncertainty. The undead humans, ‘Code Fives’, were highly manipulative and intelligent adversaries. In short, they were engrossing villains . Code Fives differed widely from most vampire portrayals on television and film in that they were first and foremost strategists despite being physically superior to humans, albeit somewhat diurnally-restricted.
Ultraviolet demanded that truth and trust needed to be constantly accessed both from the character’s point of view and the audience. The manipulative and convincing nature of the Code Fives meant that certainty was at times an unaffordable luxury.
The television series also brought the vampire mythology into the modern secular, scientific age. The wooden stake gave way to carbon bullets and garlic was replaced with allicin – it’s active ingredient. There was also a clear attempt to present factually accurate medical information without resorting to either condescension or ruining the integrity of the storyline. In Ultraviolet doctors simply spoke like doctors.
Very much an ensemble piece, Ultraviolet had a very strong cast and enigmatic lead that was very difficult to pin down and categorise. Jack Davenport’s Michael Colefield refused to follow stereotypical characters. Self-absorbed, at times highly selfish and pig-headed, Colefield was periodically rather dislikeable. Often his choices seem to be motivated by personal desires and he had no qualms about manipulating others to do his will at great emotional cost to themselves.
Stand-out performances, amongst others, were delivered by Davenport, Susannah Harker and Idris Elba. The hallmark of a well-chosen cast and a good series is the actors ability to refrain from going overboard. With few exceptions, the cast of Ultraviolet gave subtle, well-rounded portrayals. One to definitely watch.
For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access: Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles Farscape , Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip , Star Trek: Enterprise and Ultravioletfrom here.