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.

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.)