This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Agony Booth review: Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda (2000-2005)

My latest Agony Booth work looks at one of the worst sci-fi series ever.

The start of the 21st Century brought us a series which, by all rights, should have become a classic. That series was Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, which ran in syndication from 2000-2005.

The show was based on notes left behind by Star Trek creator Roddenberry. It focuses on a spaceship captain in the far distant future named Dylan Hunt whose ship, the artificially intelligent Andromeda Ascendant, gets caught on the outskirts of a black hole just as a war erupts involving his Federation-esque interplanetary society the Systems Commonwealth. The ship’s proximity to the black hole causes Hunt to be frozen in time for the next 300 years, until a crew of mercenaries then pulls the ship away from the black hole, reviving Hunt. It’s a rude awakening, however, as he realizes that not only are his rescuers intending to loot his ship, but the Commonwealth has fallen during his long nap. Eventually, he recruits said mercenaries to help him restore it.

Roddenberry’s name was added to the title to make it more viable for TV, but Andromeda wouldn’t become a reality until Kevin Sorbo, then hot off the success of playing the title character in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, agreed to play Hunt and also serve as one of the show’s producers.

The show gained more attention when Robert Hewitt Wolfe was hired on as the show’s main writer. Wolfe first gained fame by writing the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “A Fistful of Datas”. He then became a writer for Deep Space Nine until the end of that show’s fifth season.

Not surprisingly, there were lots of comparisons to Star Trek prior to the show’s premiere. Sorbo, in particular, seemed eager to compare Hunt to Captain Kirk. Perhaps this was an omen for how the show would end up sucking big time.

The show’s first two episodes, “Under the Night” and “An Affirming Flame”, do an okay job of setting things into motion. In these episodes, Hunt and his ship’s AI, represented by a holographic avatar (Lexa Doig), are ambushed by a race called the Nietzscheans, who are an offshoot of humans in the same way that Romulans are an offshoot of Vulcans. Hunt’s crew is evacuated and/or killed, and he has to contend with his traitorous Nietzschean First Officer Rhade (Steve Bacic). Hunt manages to kill him just before he and the ship are frozen in time.

Jumping forward 300 years, a ship captained by Beka Valentine (Lisa Ryder) is preparing to pull the Andromeda out of the black hole’s rim at the request of the unlikeable Gerentex (John Tench). Beka and her crew, spiritual Rev Bem (Brent Stait), bubbly Trance Gemini (Laura Bertram), and sarcastic engineer Seamus Harper (Gordon Michael Woolvett) manage to get onboard the Andromeda. And wouldn’t you know it, they come upon Hunt, who intends to hold onto his ship.

Gerentex counters by revealing that he stowed a group of Nietzschean hunters aboard, led by Tyr Anasazi (Keith Hamilton Cobb). As they attempt to take the ship from Hunt, Beka and her crew begin to realize that Gerentex is too crazy for even them to deal with. When Gerentex attempts to send them all back into the black hole, Beka, Tyr and the others agree to join forces with Hunt to defeat him.

“Flame” ends with Hunt declaring his intention to restore the Commonwealth, and asking Beka, Tyr, and the others to help him on his mission. They agree, on the condition that they remain on a first-name basis.

The remaining episodes of the first season were not great by any means, but the moments of discontent and conflict between Hunt, Tyr, and Beka provided some entertainment. It was this occasional tension which allowed us to forgive clich├ęd-filled episodes such as “To Loose the Fateful Lightning” (in which annoying children attempt to take over the ship) and “Star-Crossed” (the inevitable “Andromeda falls in love with another AI” tale).

The first season finale, “Its Hour Come ‘Round at Last”, was also entertaining. That episode involved Andromeda going berserk and sending the crew into a fight with Rev Bem’s people, the Magog. The season ended with the ship crippled, Tyr and Harper captured by the Magog, Rev going off to find them, and the rest of the crew down for the count.

The second season premiered with “The Widening Gyre”, in which the crew is reunited and escapes, but not before Hunt uses a nova bomb, which is powerful enough to destroy a sun, on the Magog World Ship, a massive spacecraft that’s actually made up of interconnected planets. This damages the ship, but doesn’t destroy it, and as Hunt notes, this makes a restored Commonwealth all the more necessary in order to combat it.

Alas, all of this development was rendered moot afterward. This is because, like Star Trek: Voyager, Andromeda basically jettisoned its premise by its second season and was content with simply being an action show, with an ineffectual captain to boot.

It was during this season that Tribune Entertainment, which distributed the show, decided to give Wolfe his pink slip. Sorbo personally explained that this was because Wolfe’s scripts were too intelligent. He also said the show would become more episodic, claiming that this was closer to Roddenberry’s original vision. Also, to better ensure that the show would be a copy of the original Star Trek series, Sorbo announced that Hunt would be getting more love interests, citing how Kirk always had a love interest. (Never mind that Kirk-as-ladies-man was just one aspect of his character, and not the whole reason he was such a heroic figure.)

Coincidentally, Brent Stait left the series during the middle of the second season, because he was developing an allergic reaction to the Magog makeup he was wearing.

Sadly, fans’ fears that the show would go south after Wolfe’s departure proved correct, as the show became a mindless hour of action each week. For example, the second season episode “Lava and Rockets” had Hunt pretending to be Kirk by engaging in an arbitrary romance. But that’s where the Kirk similarity ends, as Hunt does nothing heroic in that story, unless you consider hijacking innocent vessels heroic. In addition (and here’s where the comparison to Janeway comes in), Hunt’s crew clearly views the man as a god. Though I guess at least that makes Hunt different than Hercules, who was half-god.

A worse offender is the later episode “The Things We Cannot Change”, in which Hunt is rendered unconscious, but in his mind he’s living a happy family life. In other words, this episode was basically the great TNG episode “The Inner Light”, but with none of the power and nuance of that tour de force.

Oh, and the original premise of rebuilding the Commonwealth was quickly resolved in the second season finale “Tunnel at the End of the Light”, in which a new Commonwealth is formed and Hunt turns down the offer to lead it, because it would be too much work and prevent him from sleeping with lots of women. We also get new aliens attacking our heroes with, you guessed it, no consequences for the rest of the series.

Sure, there was still the occasional mention of this new Commonwealth, as well as that big-ass Magog ship. But that became just as much of a footnote as showing Voyager struggling to survive, because we can’t allow anything to overshadow heroics such as blowing up crap and bedding women, can we?

The emphasis on how awesome Dylan Hunt is led Keith Hamilton Cobb to leave the show after its third season, even though Tyr would later return to randomly sleep with Beka and then randomly get killed. In his place, we got the return of Steve Bacic as a descendant of Rhade.

Not surprisingly, the show, again like Voyager, lost viewers with each passing season. In fact, the show was originally supposed to end with its fourth season finale “The Dissonant Interval”. That story proved that Hunt was indeed Captain Hercules, when it was revealed that his father was a god-like being while his mother was mortal (even Janeway couldn’t make that claim). Also in this episode, most of the characters are supposedly killed off, but because of a deal Tribune made with the SyFy Channel, the show inexplicably got a fifth season in which, surprise, the crew was still alive.

I’d go into what happened in the show’s final season, but it’s just as nonsensical as the previous three years. Not that it mattered much, since most viewers gave up on the show by this point anyway.

Regarding the other cast members, the only one who managed to stick out was Cobb, because (for the first season, anyway) he played the only character willing to stand up to Hunt. One could call him a cross between Worf (in that he’s a warrior) and Garak (in that he has his own mysterious agenda). So it’s not surprising that Cobb elected to jump ship once he realized that his character was starting to become as much of a Hunt-worshipper as the rest of the crew.

In fairness, the seeds of this Dylan-worship were sown from the beginning, when it was revealed that Andromeda herself was in love with Dylan. What she sees in him, I don’t know, as he’s downright rude to her on plenty of occasions.

Needless to say, none of the other cast members were particularly noteworthy. I mean, even Voyager had Robert Picardo’s Doctor and Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine to occasionally give things a bit of a spark. Speaking of Seven, this series’ version of her is the title character, in that she wore revealing clothing, but unlike Seven, didn’t have much personality.

After Andromeda was put out of its misery (and ours), Sorbo changed career directions by starring in Christian-based movies, such as God’s Not Dead. Fine, but what irks me is that he eventually said that removing Wolfe from the show was a mistake, which begs the question of why he championed it so much when it originally occurred. In recent years, Sorbo has also claimed that Hollywood stopped giving him roles because he’s a Christian, and the fact that he’s simply a lousy actor has nothing to do with it.

To draw another Voyager comparison, the few fans Andromeda still has claim that the show was good for what it was. But this excuse raises the question of why the show would go through all the trouble of establishing a unique premise if said premise was just going to be tossed out and replaced with never-ending emphasis on explosions, nonsensical adventure, and how awesome the captain is.

It’s sad that the first science fiction series to premiere at the turn of the millennium held such promise, but eventually became something only Sorbo could love.

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