Rant #3: A ‘Charmed’ Spin-Off? What the Hell is Wrong with Fans???

There’s a mobile billboard parked across the street from our offices; and, more pertinently, across the street from CBS Enterprises, a television production and distribution company.

It was placed there by a group of fans demanding a Charmed spin-off.

What the HELL has happened to fandom?

Are we so desperate for sci-fi and fantasy content, we’ll not only put up with crappy novelizations (Star Wars and Star Trek books), crappy TV movies (I’m thinking anything produced by the Sci-Fi Channel), lousy comic book adaptations (I’m looking at YOU, Jessica Alba), and execrable TV shows, but we’ll BEG FOR MORE?

Why, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, did America’s legions of sci-fi fans make themselves known by clamoring for the return of Star Trek? Maybe because many episodes of that show were brilliant, written by top genre scribes? Maybe because there had never been anything like it on television before? Maybe because it offered a hopeful future free from racism and war? Maybe because it was the only alternative to the “talking carrot” seasons of Lost in Space?

But the legacy of the successful effort to save Trek, here in the 21st Century, is that every time a sci-fi show gets cancelled, someone has to rally to save it, whether the show deserves it or not. Occasionally, the effort is worthwhile (Firefly). Other times, it’s simply baffling (Enterprise, Stargate SG-1).

Should every sci-fi show, regardless of merit, last forever? And merit doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it — where were the legions to save the live-action The Tick, a show genuinely worth saving? Or Max Headroom?

I’ve gotten a lot of grief for daring to criticize Babylon 5. But you know what? Good or bad, B5 was a labor of love by one man, J. Michael Straczynski. I think the people who worship that show are basically responding to the man and his vision. Like Chris Carter or Joss Whedon or even Gene Roddenberry, Straczynski had a message and was able to get it across. B5 may have been art of inconsistent quality, but it was art.

Charmed was not art. It was PRODUCT. It was not a labor of love. Tori Spelling saw The Craft, and told her dad, who said “hey, I could sell that pile of shit to 13-year-old girls.” Charmed was focus-group-driven pablum, pretty actresses surrounded by cheap and lazy special effects. As an “occult drama” it had all the depth of Bewitched (but none of the charm).

Christ, it’s not just that Charmed was bad. Lots of worthwhile things are “bad.” It’s that Charmed didn’t matter. At all. Nor did its creators intend it to matter. It was designed to fill an hour of network time, and lure teens with undeveloped tastes into watching commercials for skin cleaner.

My message to the people who want a Charmed spin-off: all the money you spent on that billboard could have been spent to feed the homeless, cure Cystic Fibrosis, or bring back Firefly. Try developing some discretion. The creative community can do a hell of a lot better than Charmed — and so can you.

Why I Dislike ‘Babylon 5’

Well, my story on Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV Openings got FARKed, and my blog got slammed with hits, which is a very good thing. I originally wrote it for GGL – but our new editorial direction is to get away from “Gamer/Geek Lifestyle” stories, and stick to “professional gaming” stories. Which is fine – I’ll just write for my blog.

Lots of people had suggestions for the best and worst list. Some of them were even polite. After reading them all, my only regret is that I did not consider the original opening sequence for Red Dwarf for the best list.

I was surprised to learn that some Firefly flans don’t like the Firefly theme song. That’s crazy. I hate Country music as much as the next intelligent person of taste; but that theme is great. (Please note: Firefly fans are referred to as “Browncoats” or “flans.” If you don’t understand why we say “flans” or “flanvention,” please read the following two words aloud: “Firefly fan.”)

Of course, I got slammed for hating on Babylon 5. That was my point about why B5 fans are so annoying. It’s not that people enjoy B5 – knock yourself out. It’s that they get so incredibly upset when you point out the fact that their show is mediocre.

I watched the first episode of B5 when it first aired. Wanna know why I stopped watching? An alien is murdered when a poisonous skin patch is applied – to his environmental suit. Not to his skin, but to his spacesuit. That’s when I stopped watching.

But some of my friends went on about how great the writing was, how the overarching storyline was so cool (although they admitted that often, the individual episode stories were quite lame). But I couldn’t get over the disconnect between the expensive CGI exteriors (which were often so busy, you couldn’t tell what was going on – see BSG, or even late-season DS9, to learn how to do space battles properly) and the CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP “sets.” I mean, we’re talking Buck Rogers-level sets.

Now Doctor Who has always gotten by on great writing with cheap production values. But Doctor Who’s production values were consistently cheap, and the writing was consistently great. So was the acting, as the show had the entire stable of classically-trained British actors to choose from. Even die-hard B5 fanatics will admit that the acting was a mixed bag.

B5 was not a bad show. But it was not a great show. It was not the fantastic touchstone of modern sci-fi its fans want you to think it was. Again, if you’re a fan, good for you. But stop trying to convince me that B5 is worth my time. It’s not.

The Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV Show Openings (Part 2)

Photos and YouTube links updated 12/17/09.

Check out the 10 Best.

The 10 Worst

10. “Land of Lost” (1974-77)

No, this isn’t on the “worst” list for the silly “special effects,” or for the dialogue during the giant dinosaur puppet attack. (“C’mon, let’s get out of here!” ORLY? You’re not going to stick around and become Tyrannosaurus food?) No, it’s the song. The lyrics are okay, explaining what plot the show had to impressionable Gen X kids. But the music? Yee-haw! I reckon’ it’s a hoe down! Grab a jug of moonshine, Cletus, and we’s gonna go bugger us some Sleestaks!

(Oh, and if you never understood why Will Ferrell’s character in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” was named Marshall Willenholly — now you do.)

9. “Manimal” (1983)

Once I had this weird dream. I turned into that pretty British man from “Falcon Crest.” Everything was strange colors, and I was attacked by a bird and a cougar. It was so dramatic! Then suddenly I was in a wacky romantic comedy with that nurse from “St. Elsewhere!” Wha–? What happened to the bird/cat guy? Why am I standing around with my bi-racial posse, cracking wise and sharing a hearty laugh? Wasn’t there something about vertebrate polymorphism? Now some wacky woman is stepping on my foot! HA! A passing car just sprayed us with water! HA! Oh ho ho, my sides are splitting! And then… then I fell asleep and had the dream. (Stay tuned after the credits for an expository monologue so long I never made it all the way through).

8. “The Bionic Woman” (1976-78)

Despite its flaws, “The Bionic Woman” was a much better show than its progenitor, “The Six Million Dollar Man.” For one thing, Lindsay Wagner is STILL hot – I’ll climb into her Sleep Number bed any time. Also, she never ever befriended Bigfoot. But the opening sequence is just a lame attempt to rehash the “Six Million” credits, and it fails utterly. There’s too much reading; and is that the only photo of Wagner the producers could find? And why do the credits emphasize Jaimie Sommers’ teaching career, and Oscar’s unrequited love for her? She’s a freakin’ superpowered crime-fighting robot who works for a super-secret spy agency! Her opening credits shouldn’t look like a douche commercial.

7. “Xena: Warrior Princess” (1995-2001)

“Xena” and “Hercules” were good shows. Either you “got” it, or you didn’t. I wasn’t a huge fan, but I got it. And no one expects a show this bi-polar to have a brilliant credits sequence. Let’s review the charges. (1) Bagpipe music? Okay, this show could never quite decide where or when it took place. But I’m pretty damn sure it’s not in medieval Scotland. (2) It’s got a terrible expository monologue. Like we even need one — “it’s a chick in a steel bikini” would cover it. The monologue is read by that “In a world…” movie preview guy. It goes on and on and on. We don’t get facts about the characters and plot, just the kind of vapid marketing-speak you would expect in a movie trailer. “A mighty princess forged in the heat of battle?” That’s not even a real metaphor. Seriously, all we needed was some generically exciting music and clips of two ancient Mediterranean lesbians kicking ass.

6. “Charmed” (1998-2006)

How dare you motherfuckers ruin The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” How DARE you?

I won’t even start in on the cheap-ass visuals – ooh! Somebody took a class in After Effects! No, I can’t get past the music thing. I’m too angry. I need to go calm down. How many lives will Shannen Doherty ruin?

5. “Babylon 5” (1994-1998)

There are two kinds of sci-fi fans who just can’t shut up about their favorite show. Browncoats are pathetic because, while “Firefly” is one of the best series ever made, there are only 14 episodes (and a movie). B5 fans are pathetic because, while they have 110 episodes comprising a complete story arc, every single episode sucks.

Each season of B5 had a different opening, but each was as bad as the last. Longest expository dialogue ever. Longest credits ever (must have saved on episode costs, just like the cheap CG and the cheap “sets”). “The name of the place… is Babylon 5!” Yaaaawn.

4. V: The Series” (1984-85)

Marc “BeastMaster” Singer takes out a reptilian evil alien baddie – with his genitals. And that’s the best part of this cheese-ridden opening, an 80s-era Supercuts ad scored with the “space music” setting on a Casio.

(Anyone notice the weird overlap between the “V” opening and the “Firefly” opening? Spooky.)

3. “Battlestar Galactica” (2003, 2004-present)

Possibly the Best Science Fiction Show Ever, and its here in the “Worst” list. Why?

Is it the music? No, the original American theme, Bear McCreary’s “Two Funerals,” was just fine; the new theme from the British version is even better. Is it the clips from the miniseries? No, they’re fine. The lame expository subtitles? (You know, “The Cylons were created by man…” blah blah.) Nah, they’re useless, but not really annoying. Maybe there’s not enough Grace Park? True, the titles need more Grace Park. But that’s not the problem.

Then what’s wrong? I’ll tell you what the frack is wrong. Each episode beings with 30 seconds of clips from the episode itself. Brief images designed to tease? No. SPOILERS. There is not an episode of BSG that has not had some big dramatic turn ruined by the opening spoilers. Ron, buddy, listen – if I’m watching the opening credits, I’m already watching the show. You don’t have to sell me. BSG is clever and fast-paced, full of unforeseeable twists and turns – unforeseeable, that is, if you close your eyes during the opening titles. Otherwise, you’re screwed.

The fans have been complaining about this for two seasons, Ron. Cut it out. Oh, and we want more Grace Park. Maybe a spin-off series where Boomer discovers a planet of sexy Amazons and opens a lingerie store.

2. Zoe, what are you doing?  Is this because Wash got killed in the movie?“Cleopatra 2525” (2000-2001)

Before this article went to press, I ran my choices past my friend Paul. After hearing my “worst” choice, all he had to say was, what about “Cleopatra 2525?” I have never watched the show; but I trust his opinion, so I checked it out.

Oh. My. God.

That’s “Firefly” star and Mrs. Laurence Fishburne, Gina Torres! What the hell??? Is that her impersonating Geoffrey (“Crisp and clean! No caffeine!”) Holder in the expository monologue? And let’s talk about this song for a moment. Zager & Evans’ 1969 “hit” “In the Year 2525” was craptastic enough without this histrionic cover with the cutesy lyrics. Yeah, take a crappy show with crappy effects and crappy costumes, and add a crappy monologue and a crappy cover of a crappy song, and know what you get? Crap. (By the way, for 60 seconds of fun, check out the opening to “Cleopatra’s” “sibling” show, “Jack of All Trades.” We love you, Bruce Campbell!)

1. Brannon and Braga's 'fuck you' to the world.“Enterprise” (2001-2005)

Worst sci-fi show of all time? Of course not – that was “Small Wonder.” But “Enterprise” was a close second. Tragically, the opening credits for this show were visually brilliant – a nifty little history of humanity’s exploratory spirit. So why is this one of the worst openings of all time? That song – OH GOD THAT SONG. Please, give me something sharp to dig through my ocular cavity and into my brain, until all memory of it is gone. (Although you have to admit, the “Mirror” opening is pretty cool.)