Tuesday, March 17, 2009

That's a Wrap! Top Nine

Welcome to the That's a Wrap! TAWp Nine, where your faithful and intrepid That's a Wrap editors pick their top three favorite titles in a selected category. Together the picks combine to create VOLTRON! Well, ok, not quite as cool as robotic kitties of doom, but it's close. We combine the lists to form one super cool list of nine things that we really like.

Given that this is Battlestar Galactica Week here, we thought it appropriate to show off our top scifi television shows. Of course, BSG itself and Lost are ineligible until they actually complete their runs. Don't feel bad though. We promise BSG isn't lonely here at TAW! this week... and someday Lost will get a week of their own. But for now, read on... if you dare...

3. Jim - Firefly (2002)

Some things aren't meant to last. Especially if the marketing and distribution for said thing is being handled by the morons at Fox. But this show was right up my alley from the word go. I love science fiction. I love westerns. Both are inundated with very basic ideas of a group being out on their own on the fringe of things with nothing to rely on but each other and their ship/horse. I mean there was a reason Gene Roddenberry first referred to Star Trek as "Wagon Train to the stars."

Perhaps because of its short run, I'm more protective of this show than Joss Whedon's other efforts. I fell in love with the entire cast in the first week (which thanks to Fox was actually the second chronological episode) and have always found the two-part premiere (which Fox showed last, after the show was canceled) one of the best pilots in the last decade and an excellent way to introduce the show to friends and family. And of course, this is the show that first showed many of us the utter cool that is Nathan Fillion... can't let that go unmentioned.

3. Garrett - Quantum Leap (1989-1993)

NBC's late-80's and early-90's foray into Quantum physics, Scott Bakula portrayed Dr. Sam Beckett who can time travel into different times throughout the course of his life, but into other people's bodies. Some of my favorite episodes included the one where he was Dr. Ruth, and of course the Leap Home. I have to laugh that the show starts in the year 1999 and he never leaps into the years 1993-1999 due to the fact that writers obviously had no clue how to tackle the future. Quantum Leap lasted only 97 episodes which is a good run for a sci-fi show. I guess all I have left to say is 'Oh, Boy!'

3. Billy - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)

It might not be as coherent or good as Babylon 5 but it doesn't have to be. Comparisons to the two series were inevitable - both were set on space stations, both dealt with arc-based story telling, hell, both even had a story about alien xenophobia resulting in someone being branded on the head. Bizarre similarities aside, Deep Space Nine (executive produced by modern Battlestar Galactica creator Ron Moore) offered the kind of thought provoking story lines that we saw in Star Trek: The Next Generation, but with darker plots and deeper characters. You know it's not your dad's Star Trek when the main character hates Jean-Luc Picard and punches Q right in the kisser when they first meet.

But that's not what made DS9 great. No, DS9 took everything that was great about Star Trek and amplified it. We had real villians, who we got to know fairly well. Some complained that it was Star Trek without the ... ya know...star trekking, but the show was fine without planet hopping. Of course, when the producers introduced the Defiant it got even better. With the Defiant we could jump to other worlds whenever the show needed. Plus we got to see the most thrilling Trek space battles ever created.

At the very least there were no Borg episodes. Those were Star Trek Voyager's dead horse to beat.

2. Jim - Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001-2004)

There have been few times I've been more comfortable waving my DC fanboy banner than when this show was on. Evolving out of the Batman and Superman animated series of the time, this show helped make Hawkgirl and the John Stewart Green Lantern household names and had a big advantage over the earlier shows. While it's always fun to watch Batman being Batman and Superman being Jesus Christ reborn, its the different pair and team-dynamics that the larger roster allowed that helped improve and diversify the stories week after week.

It had been years since Marvel's X-Men series of the early 1990s went off the air. Since then there hasn't been a superhero team-based show to come close to JL/U. The more mature, multi-episode storytelling on the show makes it just as accessible to an adult audience as children... a necessary ingredient in any cartoon enduring. It's the main reason I cherish those Justice League DVDs and revisit them just about every year.

2. Garrett - Alf (1986-1990)

A sci-fi sitcom. Now there's a recipe you don't hear often. Another late-80's NBC show which became one of it's top programs. ALF (aka Gordon Schumway) has escaped from his planet Melmac which has been destroyed. Gordon has gotten lost in the universe and finally was stranded on planet Earth. He crashes into the garage of the Tanner family and comedy ensues. Most episodes involve ALF eating the Tanner's out of house and home and trying to hide from people coming to the door. ALF had a solid four year run, but oddly the show was left with a cliffhanger. A made-for-TV movie, Project ALF was made a few years after the show's run to try and tie the loose ends of the finale together, but it wasn't the same since the Tanner family was not in the film. Paul Fusco, the shows creator and voice behind ALF, still brings our furry alien out on occasion to make a quick buck so our love for this long nosed creature probably won't die.

2. Billy - Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007)

Never has a mediocre film produced such a fine television series (sorry, Jim, I still won't watch Friday Night Lights). Stargate (the film), bought to us by the auteur behind Independence Day, was an OK movie with plenty of potential that was just wasted. Thankfully, SG-1 picked up where the movie left off by adding new characters and expanding the mythology beyond the narrow scope of the movie. But all of that would be moot if not for the excellent portrayal of Jack O'Neill by Richard Dean Anderson. Anderson took the morose military man presented in the movie and created a sad, but funny and lovable main character. Anderson's O'Neill was just what the series needed to get off the ground and solidify the other characters. Daniel Jackson, Teal'c and Sam Carter might not have been the original draws for the series, but all soon became excellent parts of the show. One of the great things about SG-1 was the solid call backs to previous episodes. If a piece of alien technology was cool, you could expect to see it in a future episode, at least once.

It's not high art, in fact I would compare it to old pulp science fiction stories. SG-1 is a solid action-adventure sci-fi show. Though it may be gone, it certainly lives on with spin-offs and direct-to-dvd movies. After ten years of SG-1 it's hard to think of it as coming from a movie, it's grown beyond the film that spawned it to form a cult following that rivals even Star Trek.

1. Jim - Babylon 5 (1993-1998)

While I agree with Billy on his top choice, this show is a benchmark of the sci-fi genre worthy of any comparison to the other greats. The brain-child of writer J. Michael Straczynski, the entire series was designed like one of his novels. He went in with a prepared beginning, middle and end. This closed-ended storytelling was used to offer a more adult-oriented adventure than previous shows had and in the spirit of JMS' heroes Arthur C. Clarke and Frank Herbert, he wanted to create something that was both good science fiction and good television.

A more gritty and humanistic future than that of Roddenberry, Babylon 5 took huge leaps forward in visual effects and was forward-thinking enough to shoot the episodes in 16:9 and pioneered using the internet for promotion. That made them about a decade or more ahead of most of mainstream television. It's the middle three seasons that stand even higher above the bookend years. The arrival of John Sheridan and his war against the Shadows and his actions in opposition to a corrupt Earth government are as excellent as any stories told in this or any other medium and in this or any other genre. Good television and good sci-fi. Mission accomplished.

1. Garrett - Futurama (1999-2003)

In Matt Groening's go the future, we see just how crazy his take on the years to come can be. Futurama is essentially a workplace sitcom whose plot revolves around the Planet Express delivery company and its employees, a small group that doesn't conform to future society. Episodes mostly feature the central trio of Fry, Leela and Bender. Our show began with the character Fry, being unfrozen from the year 1999 to emerge in the 31st century in New New York City. This show has great comedic timing while working as a sci-fi cartoon. It is great to hear that next week Comedy Central will be taking over the exclusive syndication rights to the show and will be airing DVD movies broken up into original episodes.

1. Billy - The X-Files (1993-2002)

I was twelve years old when this series began. I remember watching it because I was both enamored and frightened by the "grey" alien phenomenon and I knew that it was going to be a major focus of the show. Little did I know that I would become such a staunch disciple of the show so many years later. I love this show so much that I revisit it on DVD once a year. I can say with very little hyperbole that this is my all-time favorite television show, sci-fi or otherwise. I am adamant in my praise that this is the greatest American television show of all time. Fox Mulder and Dana Scully's search for the truth of a vast conspiracy within our government was just the kind of anti-establishment show for the '90s.

The smart writing, creepy creatures and great acting all helped to make this show a must see for me and many other X-philes. I'm not sure if I can prove this, but I'm pretty sure The X-Files was the last Fox program to escape the FRIDAY NIGHT DEATH ZONE(tm) unscathed, that shit just doesn't happen! Friday nights are a black hole on Fox, sorry Dollhouse.

This show seems to catch a lot of flak for perceived weaknesses that I just don't see. Most people complain that the story was never resolved. It was. Several times in fact, so that the dullards in the audience could catch up. The biggest gripe that viewers had was Fox Mulder exiting the series. David Duchovny wanted to pursue his film career and skedaddled from the show. Robert Patrick (former killer robot in Terminator 2) joined the cast as Agent John Doggett. Many fans disliked the change, but I (usually an ardent hater of change) loved the new character and what he brought to the series. I will fully admit that it created such a new dynamic that it was practically a new series and probably should have garnered a spin-off title.

Understandably many people passed this series over because of the alien story, but to avoid it because of that is just absurd. It's so much more than aliens, I dare you to watch an episode like "Pusher," "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" or "Bad Blood" and not fall in love with this show. It's ridiculously good.

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