When a new show bursts onto the scene, rarely is it truly a new concept with no discernible roots in past fiction circles. Many aspects of todays SF&F series can be traced back to the spooky ABC series Twin Peaks.
Proceeding the X-Files by a couple of years was FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan. TP began with the story of a murdered high school girl that would be played out throughout the first season, with story lines that often spanned multiple episodes and for the short time it was on the air, could be considered the precursor to the serialized drama as we know it today.
Likewise, todays incarnation of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica is not the first kid on the block to deeply mix the aspects of drama and science fiction that gives us what we now know can be immensely popular -- dark sci-fi.
While the X-Files was in its prime, two of its producers in Glen Morgan and James Wong set off on their own adventures with the SF series Space: Above and Beyond.
Set nearly three-quarters of a century into the future, the series primarily featured a war between the human race and aliens called Chigs, and shared much in common with the X-Files visually and creatively.
Though the war was the center piece, the series often explored modern day issues through their characters eyes and their own unique situations, such as a previous uprising of AI beings, discrimination against humans that were created outside the human womb, drug addiction, and all the horrors that come with wars such as cowardice, suicide missions, facing challenges you aren't ready for, and of course losing as many fights as you win. If you're lucky.
The show only ran for one season on Fox, though by todays standards that's actually a pretty significant accomplishment.
There is little question in this fan's mind that SAAB shares much in common with BSG in how they portray the way real people react to stressful and dark situations.
Every character had flaws, each their own reason for being in the military (including one that had no choice.) Many of them suffered losses and took on new roles as the season progressed and they were continually forged by their experiences in the war.
The series begins with humanities initial attempts to colonize space, when two human colonies are destroyed by the bad guys (Chigs, as they are called, were hidden away behind helmets and deathly allergic to water.) The human military response is devastated, leaving our guys out manned and in serious trouble from the very outset.
Having lost so many of our veterans right off the bat, the series follows a small fighter squadron of newbies as they step into the breach to fight the Chigs, quickly gaining notoriety for their skills and successes and becoming the envy of the fleet. They are led by an ace pilot whose own squadron, the previous top dogs, were wiped out in the initial conflict. He now serves as their commanding officer, and as an added facet of conflict, exists as an artificially gestated human being, something many people are bigoted against.
Unfortunately for them and luckily for the fans at the time, this didn't devolve into a good-guys-win-every-time but overall-we're-still-losing parody of war; the situation is desperate and our guys are living it day-to-day while the war rages on and people die.
The ending was as depressing as the entire first season, with a lot of the cast being killed off in the finale. Bummer.
Though SAAB was criticized by many for being too dark and the way the military was portrayed, the special effects were outstanding for the day and the show garnered four Emmy nominations during its short run and a rabid fan base, the kind that shows like Firefly quickly find, people that appreciate quality writing mixed with solid entertainment.
Many people such as myself look back and believe that SAAB, like many shows before it, failed not because it wasn't good, but because it was a pioneer that people simply weren't used to. BSG and SAAB would be a perfect compliment to each other today, and it saddens me that networks don't have the patience to let audiences discover break out shows such as this.
Dark science fiction has been with us before in books, theaters, and on television, and will continue to grow well into the future I believe as new quality minds find interest in the genre.
If you enjoy Battlestar Galactica, I suggest you run over to Amazon and seriously consider buying this show. It was released last year, full season set, and I promise you will not be disappointed.
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