Quirky, Cheesy Science Fiction

More than any other genre, I’m a science fiction person. I consider myself a fan of science fiction/fantasy (SFF) in general. I occasionally read straight fantasy, and I enjoy the genre a great deal, but what really gets me going is the technological and speculative end of the SFF spectrum.

Xfiles caracature And more than that, I just love it when SF does not take itself so seriously. Cheesy, quirky sci-fi is one of my favorite things in the world. It’s different than cheesy, quirky fantasy because fantasy is a step further from reality because it doesn’t generally involve a “what if” or speculation of things we’re already familiar with; it involves a new rule set. And that makes it much harder to see it as being pertinent .

Now, don’t get me wrong: I love heavy, serious SF, too. Battlestar Galactica might be one of the most serious television shows, SF or not, I’ve ever watched. I loved almost every minute of the series. But now that Jennifer and I are re-watching the series on DVD (her, for the first time), I find that I can’t watch very much of it in one sitting because it is so serious. It’s so intense without any relief that I find it hard to stay interested, even though I love it.

There’s just something about SF that doesn’t take itself so seriously that makes me tune in and watch in awe. I think it’s the “train wreck” effect, but there also seems to be something very pure about it, too. There is no hidden agenda or social commentary to be had in cheesy, campy, quirky SF. It’s fun, and it’s all (or mostly) about the storytelling.

Cheesy sci-fi is made, first and foremost, to entertain the audience, not speak to some greater good. It embraces what some consider to be ridiculous about the genre, but never strays from the essentials. Ideas are still brought up and can be discussed, but cheesy, quirky sci-fi often hides such commentary better than its heavy-handed, dramatic brethren. When there is a comment that needs to be made, it’s woven into the story rather than being shoved in the audience’s collective face.

That’s why I love shows like Eureka and Warehouse 13. These shows are quirky, and because of that, I am more open to what they have to say. I have watched Eureka from the very beginning, when my father and I accidentally channel surfed into its premier. We fell in love immediately because it was like nothing that was on TV at the time. Since then, I’ve rarely missed an episode on its air date, and those I have, we recorded so we’d never be more than a few days behind. I loved it because it was just simple fun, but by the end of season 3, I realized it was much more than that.

You see, Eureka made me think. And it made me think because it did not scream at me that I eureka had to. It made me start pondering ideas about the possibility/probability of such a genius collective, the same way that Warehouse 13 plays into making me really wonder the same about conspiracy theory-laden, covert government facilities. Even though it was so awful and over-the-top, the moments of “what if” stand out so much because they are legitimate. Would a city like Eureka be as fun in real life as it is on TV? Well, no, of course not. But the concept behind it certainly is.

And on top of making me think, Eureka made me feel. Because it is so immersive, I did not realize I was emotionally attached to the show. At the end of season 3, I had tears in my eyes. I looked at my dad and said, “But Eureka isn’t supposed to make me cry!” I knew right then and there that the show was deceptively complex, and its complexity was fully hidden beneath the façade of it being superficially simple. I cared more about the characters than I thought I did. Their relationships meant something to me.

If I am invested enough to have such an emotional reaction to a show, then I would be far more likely to pick up on any commentary the show makes because I would not think that the show itself was made for any other purpose than to entertain me. To me, storytelling and entertainment are the most important aspects of art; the message and commentary should be integrated alongside, but not supersede, them.

And this is not limited to just series, either. SyFy Original movies hit me the same way that this kind of quirkiness does. I recorded Sand Serpents during the Sci-Fi Channel rebranding, and my roommate gave it a 50/50 chance it was an accident or on purpose. He knows I just love the silly SF stuff that comes in. I adore the off-the-wall series that Starship Troopers spawned. No, they’re nothing like the book, and the last two movies are even more ridiculous than the first one, but they’re fun. And to me, that’s what matters. I have a DVD set of ‘50s sci-fi movies, and I love them. Why? Those B-movies and pulp movies are not great pieces of cinema, but they’re fun to watch. Sometimes I get invested, sometimes I don’t, but every time I get a good, happy feeling from watching something that I know was created more to make audiences have a good time instead of instill some political ideal.

And that’s what I want more of from SF in the future. I get that it takes a special kind of person to love quirky, silly fun stuff and that heavy, dark, gritty drama sells (see: The Dark Knight and the outpouring of garbage grit afterwards). I just really hope that for every new show like LOST and Battlestar Galactica, there is a Warehouse 13 or Eureka to balance out the equation. Here’s hoping that this fall and winter’s programming will have a reprieve from the serious. I have no doubt that I am going to adore V, Stargate Universe, and Caprica; I just worry about having a hard day at work or at wedding planning and not wanting to sit down for something so heavy, letting my DVR pile up even more than it already is. SyFy in particular has a great opportunity to let campy, quirky shows dominate their network and boost ratings; that is what the network is good at.

Comments

  1. pasmith

    Ha, we still have Sand Serpents on the DVR. 🙂

    Have you caught Primeval on the BBC? (Now sadly canceled, but there are 3 seasons awaiting you if you haven't watched.)

    I'd also add Sanctuary to the Sci-Fi quirky list, but I guess that's more fantasy-ish.

  2. Beej

    I never caught Primeval, but I saw an ad for it last night while I was watching Warehouse 13, and I became intrigued. It *looks* like the kind of sci-fi I love, but I couldn't be sure enough to include it in this as an example. I definitely want to check it out, though.

    I thought Sanctuary was more serious, but if it's this type of quirky, then I'll add that series to my Netflix queue/DVR.

    And Sand Serpents was fun, and a little higher quality than other stuff like Dragon Fighter or Gryphon, but nowhere near as fun as stuff like Tin Man or Earthsea.

  3. We Fly Spitfires

    Can't say I was ever really big into cheesy sci-fi but I like most things. I like BSG, Enterprise, Firefly etc. If a show's good, I don't care what genre or style it is. I guess I like a bit of everything 🙂

    BTW, some of the guys in my office read your article on griefing and were talking about it today. Small world eh 🙂

  4. Longasc

    http://www.amazon.com/Debatable-Space-Philip-Palmer/product-reviews/0316068098/

    I cannot say I can recommend it to anyone, but it definitely is quirky. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, but at the same time I cannot really recommend it. 😛

    Regarding Scifi series on TV, I am not sure about Caprica. SGU seems to be one more Stargate series, I am not really that excited about it.

    So well… back to reading books. But Peter F. Hamilton's "Void" trilogy is quite bit boring at the moment. 🙁 I am reading "Mistborn" by Brandon Sanderson right now.