Stargate Universe. Firefly. Angel. Bionic Woman. Invasion. Jericho. Terra Nova. Etc. Etc. Etc.
The list is pretty much endless.
The last ten years have seen a vast array of science fiction blast onto our screens, and too often fizzle out very quickly. In the cinema, endless sequels such as X-Men, Men In Black, even the upcoming Star Trek threaten to milk the cash-cow of each franchise dry.
People ask why science fiction is dying. Some debate whether its decline is even an actuality, but it’s difficult to argue with the ratings and the facts.
The answer is simple: originality and understanding. Lest we forget, Star Trek: The Original Series was cancelled back in the day before its time, and has gone on to be one of the most enduring series in the history of television and cinema.
Yet today, little is appearing on our screens with the originality of Star Trek. Today, we lack a visionary like Gene Roddenberry to transport our imaginations into a plausible future. Television networks are afraid to go too far out for fear of losing their audience’s understanding: science fiction today is almost always diluted with some form of contemporary normality. Lead characters are characters from today, transplanted into a science fiction setting (think Stargate). Some shows like Jericho are allocated in a science fiction genre when, thirty years ago, they would barely be considered. True science fiction – the really visionary material – is not being written. Shows are stagnant, over-produced, under-thought and woefully advertised.
There’s not a lot of good television being written, period. It’s not exclusive to science fiction. But whereas realities and dramas continue to be popular with lousy storylines and hapless acting, maybe because they often provide a form of less intellectual and hard-talking escapism, science fiction can fall very swiftly from the realms of tremendous to absolutely awful. (Disclaimer: I love good dramas, but there are a lot of terrible ones that remain popular.)
Perhaps hope is not entirely lost.
One could argue Firefly was original, different and visionary to a degree. It presented likeable characters with great storylines in a plausible future. Yet, the network had no idea what to do with it. Was it a western? Was it a sci-fi? What they failed to grasp, of course, was that the beauty of Firefly lay in its synthesis. It blended the two uniquely, and created an original, dynamic and entertaining universe. A bit too much for the American audience to handle, FOX mused.
Until we have someone truly talented and with the vision to project humanity’s future onto our television screens in an entertaining, touching and ground-breaking way, science fiction will continue its slow and sad decline. We can, it seems, but hope.