Saturday, December 18, 2010

In Appreciation of: Space: Above and Beyond

Karen: As a kid, I grew up reading a lot of science fiction. In my tweens and early teens, one of the books I really enjoyed was Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Leaving out the politics -which as I got older, became more troubling -it's a great space war story. Later on, I read and re-read Joe Haldeman's Forever War. The backdrop of war is always a rich lode for writers; you can tell so many different types of stories, when your characters are constantly confronted with choices to make, particularly choices of a moral or ethical nature. Add in the element of science fiction, and the number of choices increases.

Karen: In 1995, Fox television broadcast a show that dealt with war between humans and aliens less than a hundred years in the future. It was called Space: Above and Beyond, and sadly, it lasted only one year, 22 episodes. But luckily for people like me, who remember it fondly, the entire season is available on DVD.

Karen: The show focused on a group of Marines, the 58th Squadron or "Wild Cards", caught up in a war between a united earth (although the Marines were definitely USMC) and a group of aliens commonly referred to as the Chigs, for their
physical resemblance to a chigger. There were side issues too, such as the troubling involvement of corporate juggernaut Aero Tech in the war, questions over the treatment of artificially gestated humans known as in vitros (or tanks), and the alliance of the aliens and a race of androids (the AIs) that had fought a war with humans just decades earlier.

Karen: Of course each m
arine had their own story: Nathan West's fiancee had been a member of a colony that was wiped out by the aliens, but she was taken as a prisoner of war, and Nathan was determined to find her; Shane Vansen's marine corps parents had been killed in the AI wars, and she needed to prove herself; Cooper Hawkes was an in vitro trying to figure out his place in not only the marine corps but with humanity as a whole; Paul Wang struggled with feelings of unworthiness; Vanessa Damphousse sought some sense of direction. The characters were well-realized, with both admirable qualities and flaws. For example, Nathan's devotion to his missing fiancee was touching, but it sometimes became an obsession that threatened the safety of his team.

Karen: Space: Above and Beyond never allowed the viewer to get comfortable; like in any war, questionable actions were undertaken at times by our protagonists, and they had to take a hard look at themselves frequently. The aliens were not always displayed in a harsh light either; they even appeared to help the Marines find their way home in the episode "River of Stars". The show also had plenty of action, with the Wild Cards fighting in both space and on land.

Karen: I wish this show had been given a chance to succeed. As Fox often did with many shows, it jerked
Space: Above and Beyond
around from one time slot to the next, with an erratic schedule. I missed a number of episodes, including the two final shows, which served to conclude the story, more or less. Considering the success of the recent Battlestar Galactica series, which mined a similar vein, I think that the Marines of the 58th squadron could have lasted several seasons, if only they had been given a fighting chance.


Edo Bosnar said...

I remember watching a few episodes of this when it was aired here (in Croatia) a few years after its cancellation in the States. It really was a well-made show, and I remember being suprised that it only lasted one season. One of those few episodes I saw was the last one (actually, about the last half hour of it), and it was obvious that the ending was rushed - you can tell the writers slapped it together and quickly closed all of the plot threads. It's a real pity, considering how many really crappy series seem to go on forever and ever. . .

Karen said...

"It's a real pity, considering how many really crappy series seem to go on forever and ever. . ."

Isn't it amazing how some series just go on and on without any apparent real talent? I guess that old chestnut about appealing to the lowest common denominator is really true.


Anonymous said...

Hi Karen,
The guys who created that show - Morgan & Wong - are real faves of mine. They did some superb X files and created the subversive slasher movies 'Final Destination' (where the baddie is actually Death), but my absolute favourite piece of their work is the 2nd series of Millennium. Chris Carter gave it to them because he had to make that as well as a series of the X files and the X Files movie all at the same time, so he handed Millennium off to them and was horrified at what they did with it. Personally, I thought it was great. I thought Kristen Cloke was a far more interesting female protagonist than Black’s wife. She, incidentally, is Shane Vansen in Space Above and Beyond . She’s also in Final Destination. Although being married to James Morgan might be a factor in the casting there.


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