Farscape, the sci-fi TV show from the late ’90s that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel, has received some attention lately and it’s quite warranted. It’s undeniably one of the very best sci-fi TV shows ever made. Created by Rockne S. O’Bannon and produced by Jim Henson Productions and Hallmark Entertainment, Farscape rivals such classics like Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica thanks to the way it presented truly alien characters and worlds and more importantly well-written scripts with complex, nuanced characters. Though it was cancelled in 2003, the show has come back to the limelight with its availability on Netflix, daily airings on the cable channel Pivot and with recent news that one of the show’s writers (Justin Monjo) is penning a screenplay for a Farscape film.
The show starred Ben Browder who played John Crichton, an American astronaut who was testing an experimental mini-space shuttle called Farscape One. While in space, his shuttle gets sucked into a wormhole and Crichton wound up on the other side of the universe. Once there, he inadvertently joined a band of escaped alien prisoners on a prison ship they commandeered called Moya that is actually alive. This gets him into trouble with the prisoners’ pursuers, the Peacekeepers, a militaristic power, who ironically enough look human. Think of them as xenophobic, intergalactic Nazis. One of them, Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black) also wound up in cahoots with Crichton and the prisoners even though she’d just as soon throw them back in their cells. For most of the show’s run, Crichton and his eclectic group evaded the Peacekeepers and other foes, while he looked for a way to create a wormhole to return home. During his experiences he bonded with his reluctant alien allies, including Sun.
No Ordinary Space Hero
From the start, Farscape had an offbeat vibe to it and it started with the main character John Crichton. He easily could’ve been the typical stoic and rugged hero, but thanks to Browder’s acting chops and comedic skills, Crichton was much more than your standard space hero. He often referenced pop culture; specifically genre fare. At every opportunity he mentioned Star Wars, Star Trek, Looney Tunes and other genre classics. Actually an animated version of Star Trek’s Enterprise ship appeared in one episode as part of a hallucination he was experiencing!
It was all part of the way he dealt with the bizarreness that he experienced during his travels. Many of these references and his sometimes erratic behavior were downright hysterical and lessened the tension during many nail biting sequences. Rather than being the straight man, Crichton was the comedian who was able to see the absurdity of many situations he was stuck in.
Yet, he was heroic and often the voice of reason amongst the crew of Moya. Despite his bravery Crichton sometimes made bad calls out of good intentions. More often than not he just charged into a situation and improvised on the fly. Certainly that got him and his friends into more trouble, but he accepted responsibility and tried to make amends. These faults made him more fallible and relatable. And when it came down to it, these characteristics made Crichton someone to root for whenever he made a humorous quip and fired away with his beloved pulse pistol affectionately called Winona.
But this didn’t mean that Crichton lacked a serious side. It was clear the humor he exhibited was to alleviate the stress he was undergoing. Crichton was obviously homesick at the start of the series and he knew returning to Earth was an impossibility, yet like a modern-day Quixote he continued looked for ways to do this. Later in the series, he realized that going home would lead to more problems and it conflicted with the life and deep relationships he established with his comrades. Often, he found himself making sacrifices for others and was rewarded with deep emotional bonds, both good and bad.
Like any good sci-fi show Farscape had its share of exotic extra-terrestrials, but unlike other shows, they truly seemed alien. Sometimes it was from the way they viewed life, other times it was from the way they appeared. The The Jim Henson Company was used to create these marvels and they went out of their way to present creatures that weren’t actors wearing bumpy prosthetics on their faces. In fact, two main characters were so alien they couldn’t be performed by actors.
There was Rygel (voiced by Jonathan Hardy), a diminutive, Falstaffian, toad-like alien who was a deposed royal ruler. To the casual viewer, Rygel was just a puppet in the vein of Yoda (Crichton at times jokingly made that comparison), but thanks to the skills of the puppeteers and the writers, Rygel was so well presented that it was easy to overlook the fact that he was a puppet. The other major non-human character was Pilot (voiced by Lani Tupu, who appeared on the show as Commander Crais, a Peacekeeper obsessed with hunting down Crichton, but later became his ally), who served as Moya’s pilot. He was huge, multi-limbed and sported a natural cowl with weary eyes. Gentle in nature, he alone was able to communicate with Moya since he was bonded with the ship. In one episode (“The Way We Weren’t”) it was revealed that he harbored a dark secret about the bonding. This revelation added a lot of depth to his character.
The other main aliens in Farscape were your human actors in makeup, but they were so flawless in execution. Start with Ka D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe), a fierce, hairy alien warrior, who was actually tired of his warrior lifestyle and just wanted to find his missing son and retire to a quiet life. Straddled with a fierce temper, at first he and Crichton clashed, but over time the two grew to respect each other and became the best of friends. They confided in each other and gave the most soulful advices when they weren’t bickering with one another.
Then there was Chiana (Gigi Edgley), a white-skinned alien who was a former con artist and thief with a pixie-like appearance. Headstrong and cunning, she was quite formidable in a fight and full of conflicting emotions. Other intriguing female alien co-stars were Jool (Tammy MacIntosh) a spoiled debutant, Noranti (Melissa Jaffer) a slightly daffy medicine woman and Sikozu (Raelee Hill) a mysterious adventurer who joined the crew late into the series. Each had fascinating back stories and quirks and brought something to the table.
Still, the most captivating and unique alien had to be Zhaan (wonderfully played by Virginia Hey). She was a blue-skinned, plant-based (!) being that had a violent past but turned to a peaceful religion during her prison sentence. Eventually, reaching the status of a priestess, her pacifistic and virtuous ways seemed at odds with everyone onboard Moya. Somehow, she was able to appeal to their better natures and was one of the first ones to befriend Crichton. Their platonic relationship reached a deep, emotional level in the first season episode “Rhapsody In Blue” where their souls combined as he helped guide her away from reverting to her violent behavior. She was so highly regarded and beloved by the other crewmembers that when she died in the third-season episode (“Self-Inflicted Wounds (Part 2): Wait For The Wheel”) it left a deep void with them. In reality, Virginia Hey had to leave the show because she became allergic to the makeup she wore for the role.
The relationships with these aliens were important and impactful to John Crichton because they helped him to cope and survive his ordeal. However, his most significant connection would turn out to be with the human-looking Aeryn Sun.