Entry for August 15, 2007: Flash, SFTV, and Wieringo

Since several friends have asked for my review of the SciFi Channel's new "Flash Gordon" series, here it is again. I first posted a version of it on the "Dimensional Corps Online" Yahoo message board: http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/dimensionalcorpsonline/.

As a fan of space opera, I'm familiar with the 1930s "Flash Gordon" comic books and serials (which I have on DVD), as well as the campy early 1980s movie, which, like fantasy swashbuckler "Highlander," was made more memorable by a Queen soundtrack.

The cable network has said that "Flash Gordon" is intended to fill the lighter-toned adventuresome slot recently vacated by "Stargate SG1." Although it isn't as dark as the revisionist "Battlestar Galactica," the new "Flash" doesn't have the production values, creativity, or instant cast rapport of shows such as "Farscape," "Heroes," or even "Eureka."

The acting was adequate, but the script was weak, and I was hoping for more ray guns, space ships, and strange aliens of the pulp classic and the pioneering Buster Crabbe cliffhangers. There was a clever bit involving an alien map hidden and sought after called the "Imex," based on a misreading of Flash's father's watch brand. In previous postings, I've pointed out the opportunity for speculative fiction to be both entertaining and provide social commentary through allegory.

Ron J.K. complained that the latest "Flash" incarnation is overly politically correct in making interplanetary despot Ming the Merciless a typical (for this generation, anyway) Eurotrash Caucasian villain, but I'm less upset with the dropping of the racist anti-Asian stereotype (dictators come in all colors) than with the absence of winged Hawkmen and exotic locales (Vancouver again?).

On the other hand, I think that many television critics were overly harsh on the cast and pilot episode, which did show some promise. In terms of overall quality, I'd give this reboot about a 6 or 7 out of 10, somewhere close to the BBC's latest "Robin Hood" or "Smallville" prior to its most recent season. Both the bumbling sleuths on "Psych" and genre veteran Bruce Campbell on "Burn Notice" manage to have a lighter touch with amusing characters.

I'll give "Flash Gordon" a few more weeks to see how it develops, but there are better shows on the air right now, such as animated fantasy "Avatar: the Last Airbender." With the recent cancellation of the decent "Dresden Files" and mediocre "Painkiller Jane," the "SciFriday" lineup this autumn will rely on "Stargate: Atlantis," whose cast recently had some changes, and "Doctor Who," whose current season (Series 3) David I.S. and I are enjoying, despite the complaints of some British fans.

On the latter show, Dave and I feel that companion "Martha Jones" is more the Gallifreyan Time Lord's equal than many of his past companions, and we're already disappointed at the rumors of actor and character turnover in Series 4. Dave and I have also been enjoying the digitally remastered episodes of the original "Star Trek," which is only whetting our appetite for J.J. Abrams' cinematic reboot, but as the Schwartz would say, "We shall see." I'll probably also try "Doctor Who" spin-off "Torchwood."

Already, the mainstream TV networks have delayed or retooled derivative genre pilots such as the vampire private detective show "Midnight" (think Joss Whedon's "Angel") and immortal cop show "New Amsterdam" (think "Highlander: the Series"). There are a number of others in the works, including "Journeyman's" time travel (think "Quantum Leap"), a "reimagining" of "The Bionic Woman," droll horror in "Pushing Daisies" and "Reaper," espionage spoof "Chuck," and the "Terminator" cyberpunk spin-off "Sarah Connor Chronicles." I won't have time for most of these.

In other sad genre news, comic book artist Mike Wieringo died of a heart attack at the age of 44 this past weekend. I liked his work on "Fantastic Four" and the fantasy "Tellos." It's a shame that his life ended so soon, but the outpouring of grief from his colleagues and fans online has been inspiring.

Speaking of inspirational material, I've had some interesting exchanges with Ken G. regarding "Blade Runner," part of genre film's watershed year of 1982, on Showbits.net, and I've been going regularly to Bedrock Comics in Framingham, Massachusetts, with co-worker and fellow comic book fan Brian F.

I do look forward to the so-called Season 8 of "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer" and Season 5 of "Angel," which have moved from television to comic books, thanks to creator Joss Whedon. Speaking of prematurely canceled shows, I'm mildly curious about the "Babylon 5" direct-to-video movies, but I'm more excited about D.C.'s "Superman: Doomsday," "New Frontier," and "Batman" anime projects, as well as the computer-animated "Star Wars." Next time: Dexter V.H.'s visit and gaming updates!