Farscape, one of the most memorable science fiction sagas to ever blaze a trail through the television universe, turns 20 years old this week. It premiered March 19, 1999 in the US and a few months later in the U.K.
There’s good news if you never saw Farscape and have always been meaning to dive in: All four seasons and the wrap-up Peacekeeper Wars miniseries, which had been unavailable on streaming for a while, arrive in HD on Amazon Prime Video on Tuesday, the show’s US anniversary date. (Stream Farscape on Amazon right here beginning March 19.) The Amazon deal makes it available to Prime customers in the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Nordic nations and several other countries (Farscape is also available on iTunes and DVD).
There’s a viewing guide for newbies below, but even hardcore Scapers may want to take the whole ride again, as I recently did. I can report that Farscape’s frelling* magic is intact. If anything, on a TV scene that still doesn’t have enough energetic, character-driven, risk-taking sci-fi series (aside from my beloved Killjoys, which ends this year), the wild and woolly Farscape continues to stand out.
In a lot of ways, Farscape was ahead of its time: Over the course of its run, it adopted an increasingly serialized form of storytelling long before that was in vogue. Though that approach helped build its loyal fan base, the show got “enormous pushback” from its international array of broadcasters for going that route, according to Brian Henson, one of Farscape’s executive producers and chairman of the board of the Jim Henson Company, the studio behind the show.
As Henson pointed out when I spoke to him last week, a couple of decades ago, Star Trek’s model of serving up standalone episodes and avoiding season-long stories was very much the sci-fi norm — and that’s what TV networks wanted.
It was just always weird, and it still is weird, in a really great way.
“We brought it out when Star Wars [was the standard] to a degree, but really, Star Trek was the vision of space-opera science fiction,” Henson said. “In Star Trek, everything is very clean, emotions are very under control, characters are very intelligent. I love watching Star Trek and watching people be so smart.”
“Farscape wasn’t that at all,” Henson said with a laugh. “We went into it like, our characters are going to be very emotional.” The EP added that the characters wouldn’t necessarily understand — or even need to completely understand — the advanced tech they would come across (which means there is blessedly little technobabble aboard Moya).
“It just has its own unique tone — its unique Farscape tone and energy that doesn’t date,” Henson said of the show, which was created by Rockne S. O’Bannon. “It was just always weird, and it still is weird, in a really great way.”
Agreed. Farscape can be uneven, especially in its first and second seasons, but at its best, it prioritizes character development and an immersive atmosphere while serving up individual episodes and longer arcs that are propulsive, energetic and surprising. Its strengths are its focus on a compelling array of ever-evolving friendships, romances and conflicts, a nimble approach that melded moral choices with acerbic and even goofy humor, and its dedication to taking risks on a number of fronts.
Given that the television industry is in love with reboots, is a return to Farscape’s Uncharted Territories possible? Henson said it might be, but he added that the idea of re-telling the original story with a new cast holds no appeal. And though Henson has floated the idea of a Farscape movie in the past, he said he currently believes that a movie isn’t the right fit, and that Farscape would need to come back in some kind of longer format.
Most importantly, if there is a return to the Farscape universe — something that is purely theoretical at this point, it should be pointed out — the project would feature some familiar faces.
“I can’t be specific,” Henson said of a potential “next chapter,” “but the characters were so integral to the fan base of Farscape that I don’t think there would ever be a scenario where we would drop all of them.”
That is frelling good to know. Moya’s found family is one for the ages.
Your Guide to Watching Farscape
Farscape was a radical show that took a lot of chances, so I feel comfortable offering this perhaps unusual recommendation to newcomers: Don’t watch every episode.
This advice is not just given to save you time or money. I firmly believe that the quickest way to create more Farscape fans is to get newbies get to the strongest episodes of Season 1 as quickly as possible.
Here’s the speediest possible “Could I Be a Farscape Fan?” test: Watch the pilot and “Nerve.” If those two hours don’t convince you to keep going, it’s probably not the show for you — which is fine! Farscape never set out to be for everyone, which is an admirable philosophy.
I’ve been a bit more expansive in the season-by-season recommendation lists below (there are a few episodes between the pilot and “Nerve” that provide helpful information and context, if you care to take a slightly longer route through Season 1). Below, I’ve sorted each season’s episodes into three categories: Essential, Optional and For Completists Only. The Essential and Optional rosters are made up of a mixture of standalone and serialized episodes, though the more mythology-heavy episodes tend to land in the former category; they’re just that good.
If you enjoy your science-fiction tales with healthy doses of subversiveness, heart, imagination and ambition, Farscape may be for you.
Farscape takes a lot of big swings and not all of them connect, and if you watch the whole series, you are pretty likely to develop your own list of irritants that you could do without. But in its 90-installment run, there are also many thrilling moments, and I’ve done my best to indicate which episodes are must-watches.
Despite the ups and downs, there’s a reason that I wrote about this show a lot back in the day and eagerly revisited it this year. If you enjoy your science-fiction tales with healthy doses of subversiveness, heart, imagination and ambition, Farscape may be for you. So watch the whole thing or cruise through the high points. The choice is yours — but if you love science fiction, you’re missing out if you don’t at least give it a whirl.
Head to the next page for our Farscape Essential Episodes Guide.
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