Story arcs are what I like best in SciFi TV. Sure there are some decent episodes of good SciFi shows that aren’t sweeping in scope, but more often than not, that seems to be the downfall of SciFi TV – bad stories, bad continuity, nothing to bring you back for more. There is definitely something to be said for the old cliff-hanger endings of pulp cinema. And if you aren’t going for the episodic feel, make sure your SciFi TV is at least space opera. If you’re going to have minimal story-telling you’d better at least have lots of FTL spaceships, energy weapons, and aliens. The ultimate SciFi TV, of course, was Babylon 5. It had story and space opera, all rolled up into one great five year journey. Perfect. Some would say we have more “genre” shows on TV now than any other time, sadly though, B5’s formula has not been reproduced to any degree. Still, I continue to watch, or dvr, portions of the SciFi airwaves each week in hopes of being fractionally entertained. Here’s what I’m watching.

For some interesting characters, take a bunch of regular people who have flaws and make mistakes, give them some super powers, which seems like a bad idea, and let them figure out who the good guys are and who the bad guys are for themselves. But don’t make it easy, introduce a lot of intrigue, ulterior motives, hidden agendas, and clandestine plans to alternately destroy or save the world. Who you thought was bad might become good and what you thought would destroy the world might save it. Or maybe not.  Your guess at who is right and who is wrong is as good as that of the the characters. They have no more idea than you do. And that’s what makes me come back week after week to watch Heroes. It’s not your dad’s comic book heroes we’re talking about here. No Captain Do-Right-All-The-Time or Doctor So-Evil-He-Eats-Babies. The superhero archetypes have been completely destroyed by this show and remade into more realistic (albeit still outlandishly fictional) portrayals of super powered people who have to struggle against those that would manipulate them into choosing a side – good vs. evil, save vs. destroy – when it isn’t at all clear which is which. It’s almost like the cyberpunk equivalent of superheroes. Call it Superpunk, maybe. There is an overall story arc to the show, and they know how to keep hooking me to come back for more. Well worth the watch.

When Fringe premiered, I found it so hokey that I laughed through the whole episode. I decided to give it a couple of more viewing chances, and although I continue to laugh, I’m glad I did for now. There is some real promise of a story arc with “The Pattern” and “The Observer” and there are a lot of mysterious and intriguing carrots that get dangled in front of you each episode, but they will need to keep it up and make sure that they reveal just enough to hook me each week, otherwise, I might recoup my Tuesday nights for some other activity. Actually, the danger for this show is that it will keep me guessing for too long and not deliver enough to keep my interest going on a weekly basis. In my opinion, this is the problem with the other J. J. Abrams property, Lost. If I hadn’t watched all the four seasons back to back online, then the speed at which all those mysteries get exposed would have “lost” me after the first several episodes. The one saving grace for this show, if things move too slowly, will definitely be Walter. What a great character! Who said mad scientists have to be evil geniuses?  It’s just fine for them to be insane, burned-out druggies from the 70s who tinker in a secret lab somewhere in a Harvard basement and keep a cow on hand for the occasional experiment and a good glass of milk. Brilliant.

For months on end, the SciFi channel hyped up its new show with the chick from Stargate, now sporting black hair, still pretending to be young and sexy, and laying on an English accent so affected, that in some scenes, it reverts back to an American accent. Advertising did its job, though, and I was there to watch the first episode of Sanctuary when it premiered. After all, it was going to be great, brought to you by some of the same wonderful talent that brought you Stargate SG1 and Stargate Atlantis! And so far, it shows. There are two dimensional plots that have been done time and time again, weak characters that I don’t give a crap about and one insipid “SciFi TV” cliché after another. And what is up with the Geiko Neanderthal? His sitcom was a bust, so he came over to the SciFi channel to be in this show? And why does he sound suspiciously like a Wraith from Stargate Atlantis? I’m still watching, hoping that some interesting story arc will present itself, but if it doesn’t, I might not be tuning in for much longer.

Stargate Atlantis. Could there be SciFi TV more vanilla than this? Somewhere in Hollywood, I swear they have a SciFi TV combobulator. You input the names of some boring characters, choose from a few stereotyped aliens, choose one of four different plots, and out comes an episode of Stargate Atlantis. Change a few parameters and you’ll get an episode of Stargate SG1, Enterprise, or even Star Trek: Voyager. You never need to pay writers ever again. The only real difference between the two franchises being that in order to be alien, everyone in Stargate’s universe needs to live in a primitive village in the forest, even though they have something as technologically advanced as a Stargate or a spaceship at their disposal, and everyone in Star Trek just needs to have some kind of a bump on their head. I can’t figure out why I keep watching this show every week. I guess that no matter how stinky the stories and characters are, there are sometimes FTL spaceships and energy weapons, and in lieu of real space opera, this is all we’ve been getting while Battlestar is on its seemingly never-ending hiatus.

Anyone who knows me knows that I pee my pants every time the Star Wars theme starts up, even if it is in a different time signature. Yes, I am talking about The Clone Wars here. Who cares if this show looks like the Star Wars universe was genetically reengineered by the Thunderbirds. So what if the battle droids channel bad Penn and Teller routines. So what if a tweeny little padawan calls R2, Artooey, and Anakin, Skyguy. This is Star Wars! There are more FTL spaceships, energy weapons, aliens AND droids than you can shake a random, clumsy blaster, or a more elegant lightsaber for a more civilized age at. In the first episode, where Yoda and a bunch of clones are ambushed by battle droids, Yoda cackles like the crazy Yoda from Empire. It was so cool to see my generation’s Yoda surface once again. Although there is no mysterious overall story arc to pull me back week after week, the tales have been good, especially the three-part stint about General Grievous and his super battleship the Malevolence. The overall tome of the show is more light-hearted and adventurous like the old school Star Wars of the original trilogy era. It may be telling that George Lucas only produces and not writes or directs this series. Sure it is geared towards a younger crowd, but as I’ve posted before, I was a kid when Star Wars sprang into existence, so I have no problem with that. If I had to choose just one show a week to watch, this would be the one.

There are also a myriad of other shows out there that the networks tout as “SciFi”, Knight Rider, The Sarah Conner Chronicles, Eleventh Hour, Life on Mars, My Own Worst Enemy, etc., etc. I’ve seen a couple and wasn’t that impressed, and besides, I just don’t have the time or energy to invest in more than a few shows a week, especially when most of them won’t make it past a season or two anyway. I’ll let someone else review those. Now there is actually one more show I would watch if it were on, and maybe sometime soon, we’ll actually get to see it and finally find out how Battlestar Galactica ends.