By Jeffrey Francis
Sci-fi shows are once again proving popular on cable TV. While I grew up with only Star Trek: The Original Series in syndication and Doctor Who on PBS (and their constant pledge drives), today's geek can watch a bevy of shows that are currently being made. We have the new Doctor Who on BBC America, and SyFy has Killjoys, The Expanse, Dark Matter, and a few more on the way. There's even a new Star Trek series coming, although it's only streaming. That being said, the TV gods are often cruel and capricious when it comes to sci-fi shows. Many of them have suffered a quick dismissal after a single season, and the graveyard of TV shows is littered with series that only had a handful of episodes. I figure it's time to pay some respects and take a look back at some sci-fi shows that didn't get a chance.
Special Unit 2
Our first show is Special Unit 2, which lasted for two seasons back in 2001 and 2002. Special Unit 2 was broadcast on the UPN network and was a mixture of sci-fi and comedy. Its premise was that the Chicago PD had set up a secret unit to combat all the weird things that lurked in the night, and these entities were called "links." This was a cop show married to the monster-of-the-week, and it really worked. The two leads had great chemistry, and the snarky nature of the main detective, Nick O'Malley, was fun as hell to watch. His plan to fix everything was to bash its head in. A particular highlight was the informant, Carl, who was a gnome who had a very larcenous nature. It's not often that comedy and horror/sci-fi go together well, but Special Unit 2 pulled it off.
Next up is Fantastic Journey from NBC back in 1977. Fantastic Journey capitalized upon the popularity of the Bermuda Triangle, which was rampant at the time. This show featured a family that became lost and were shipwrecked on an island in the Bermuda Triangle. They were joined by a man from the future who eschewed violence and instead used a tuning fork weapon to stun and disorient foes. In the second episode, they were joined by Roddy McDowall, who had created a society of androids. Each episode featured a different setting, allowing for quite a diverse range of adventures. My brother and I loved this show, and it was quite thrilling to us to see the Bermuda Triangle serving as a vortex for both time and space, which mean that people from any time or from the stars could crop up on the show. However, Fantastic Journey only lasted ten episodes.
Another show that featured a different setting each week was Otherworld, courtesy of CBS in 1985. The premise of Otherworld was that the Sterling family (mom, dad, daughter, and two sons) were transported to a different world from inside an Egyptian pyramid. This alien world was comprised of different zones, which were totally cut off from one another. Only the Zone Troopers, minions of the oppressive central government, were allowed to travel between the different zones. A zealous Zone Trooper served as the main bad guy as he chased the family from zone to zone. Again, I love shows that weave multiple settings into their fabric, and each zone was pretty interesting. One of the more amusing episodes was located in a zone where women ruled supreme. While the dad was a scientist, he was found only eligible to do menial work because of his gender. Otherworld tried to capitalize upon the public's interest in Egyptian mythology, but it came out a decade too late. The show only lasted for eight episodes.
Network TV is never nice to sci-fi, as is evident with Almost Human. This Fox show lasted for one season that comprised thirteen episodes. Set in the near future, it starred Karl Urban as a police detective and Michael Ealy as a synthetic police officer that shows signs of emotion and consciousness. Almost Human showcased the potential dark side of our increasing reliance upon technology, but the highlight of the show was the back-and-forth between Karl Urban and Michael Ealy. The show took a few episodes to find its footing, but it really started clicking the last half of its only season. This was especially frustrating as they were really building an interesting world that I wanted to know more of. Just when you see an entire landscape being laid it before you, the door gets slammed shut in your face.
A list of sci-fi shows canned before their time would not be complete without mentioning Firefly, another victim of the Fox axe. (Of course, every network is guilty of such actions.) I won't bore you with any more on Firefly except to say that this was one of the few shows that really hit the ground running. I'll be in my bunk.
G vs E
To show the importance of giving your show a good name that's also memorable is G vs E, which was later renamed to Good vs. Evil. This show debuted on the USA network in 1999 and then switched to the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy) for its second season in 2000. G vs E had a great premise: an agency, The Corps, composed of souls who were on the cusp of going to Hell were offered the chance to earn their way into Heaven by ferreting out those individuals who had made a deal with demons. The two main characters were Chandler Smythe (who died in the pilot) and Henry McNeil, who died in the 1970s and still dressed like that crazy decade. G vs E featured a good deal of action, a fast pace, and a lot of humor. Football player Deacon Jones was a hoot as the head of The Corps. However, the show could suddenly veer off into teary-eyed land on a dime, such as when McNeil gave up his reward time (which he had been saving up to talk to Jesus) so that Smythe could talk to his deceased wife, who was in Heaven. This was one show that was hard to pin into a specific genre, and the name change and swapping networks didn't help.
Bringing the insanity of tabloid newspapers to the small screen was The Chronicle. This show lasted only one season on Sci-Fi Channel back in 2001. Like some of the others on our list, The Chronicle deftly mixed humor, horror, and sci-fi. The hook of the show was that everything reported in a tabloid, The Chronicle, was actually true. Every week, the journalists would investigate some crazy story, eventually defeating the bad guy and getting a completely bizarre story to publish. The best characters were Jon Polito as the editor of the paper and Curtis Armstrong as Sal the Pig-Boy, the genius who lived in the basement lab of the building. The Chronicle was a fun show, and my father was especially crushed when it was cancelled.
These are just a handful of sci-fi shows that were never given a good chance to succeed, and the sad thing is that there are many more. The good news is that most of them can be found in DVD (or on bootlegs), so they can still be enjoyed. Overall, it's sad to see how quickly sci-fi shows can get canned, which is why I'm hesitant to become committed to them until at least they hit a second season now. Growing up, I didn't have that luxury as we were lucky to get a sci-fi show on the air every couple of years.
Jeff Francis has been a lifelong geek, be it for toys, comics, Star Trek, D&D, classic horror, or Doctor Who. He once owned a game shop for over a decade and has been an online gaming journalist for over seven years by the moniker of Jeffprime. You can visit his personal website at Starbasegeek.com to read more of his mad ramblings.