Farscape [1999]

Smart-talking American astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) is flung through a wormhole and comes out in the midst of an interstellar prison escape on the other side of the universe. Bad luck for Crichton: the galactic cops (called "peacekeepers") mark him as the new public enemy number 1. This 20th-century boy is forced to ally himself with the colorful convicts: D'Argo, a hulking warrior with a fleshy Rastafarian mane; Zhaan, a blue-skinned priest of indeterminate age (played by Road Warrior alumnus Virginia Hey); fugitive peacekeeper Aeryn (Pitch Black's Claudia Black); Rygel, a greedy and troll-like exiled king; and Pilot, the giant insect-like nerve center of their living ship, Moya. It's an impressive-looking made-for-cable series, with imaginative production design and mix of state-of-the-art digital effects and sophisticated puppetry (or rather Muppetry, courtesy of co-creator Brian Henson), but it's the sharp writing and vivid characters that have built--and kept--the show's following. Premiere introduces each character and the basic premise, a sci-fi Fugitive by way of Voyager in a world far from the Federation-friendly universe of Star Trek. Crichton's welcome is anything but warm, and the cultural and philosophical differences of the fleeing outlaws, as well as their pure self-interest, clash under the constant threat of capture. In I, E.T., a hidden homing signal forces Moya to hide in a terrestrial bog while the crew tries to disarm the device (which has been fused to the ship's nervous system), and Crichton makes first contact with the planet's pre-space flight inhabitants. "Spielberg was all wrong," he remarks while dodging military patrols and soothing the fears of a sky-watching scientist. Well-timed to fill the void left by Babylon 5, this is the promising start of a fresh sci-fi franchise. --Sean Axmaker

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