In Which We Embark on a Journey Together

For those who don’t remember (but, really, how could you not?) seaQuest DSV was a sci-fi show from the ‘90s.  It followed the exploits of that guy who killed that big shark, the Raimi brother who played a lovable goofball in every ‘90s genre TV show, Jonathan Brandis as the official Wesley, and their pet talking dolphin as they traveled the seas in their super high-tech submarine, protecting the people of the far-off year 2018.  I watched the show religiously back in the day and was delighted to discover it is now on Netflix.  Since I haven’t seen the show since it went off the air we’re going to be firing up the ol’ Netflix box here in Gedsmoland and liveblogging the experience.  Kinda.

The problem with seaQuest DSV was that it went off the rails following season 1.  I didn’t realize it at the time, as I was 13 and we didn’t have sophisticated internet discussions[1] to tell us exactly what was going on and how it was the worst thing ever.  The problem was that ever-so-common TV issue of re-tooling.  After season 1 they replaced half the cast to appeal to a younger audience[2].  They also lost Stacy Haiduk, which seems like the sort of thing that got in the way of the whole “appealing to pubescent geeks” demographic.

The big complaints, though, were based around the outlandishness of the plots in season 2.  People complained that the show split from its season 1 science adventure and went all crazy monster of the week.  I’ve now watched season 1 again.  Let’s take a look at a few of the episode plots (beware, spoilers!).

“Knight of Shadows:” Captain Bridger is accosted by a ghost in his quarters and leads the seaQuest to a hundred year-old wrecked ocean liner.  It turned out that three people survived the sinking and lived in an air pocket at the bottom of the sea for over a year.  The crew of seaQuest have to release the ghosts from their torment so they may be free.  Guest starring the dude who eventually played the uptight detective guy on Psych as a parapsychologist with a really skeezy pony tail.  The parapsychology angle?  Yeah, that’s a bad omen for the show…

seaWest:” The sub gets a mysterious distress signal from an underwater mining colony.  They discover the guy who plays Ducky on NCIS is a corrupt sheriff and also that underwater mining colonies look exactly like mining operations from the 1800s and are populated by people who dress like they’re in an old Western.  Because “shoe-string budget,” “wildcat operations,” and “drunken mob at a saloon” go perfectly with “ocean floor mining outpost.”

“Hide and Seek:”  William Shatner shows up as an ousted Balkan dictator with a positively Selleckian mustache summoned to seaQuest by a dream that everyone has been having because Darwin the dolphin is implanting images in their minds by slapping the water with his tail.  No, really.  That is actually the plot.

“Abalon:” Charleton Heston lives 30,000 feet below the surface of the ocean.  He’s been using his isolation to create humans who are capable of breathing underwater and surviving unprotected some six miles deep in the ocean.  They’re also capable of walking about on the surface.  I’m still not entirely sure if this is unbelievable because something that could survive that deep would blow up like a balloon at sea-level air pressure, something that could survive at sea level would be compacted like one of Wall-E’s metal bricks down at 30,000 feet, or because they wouldn’t be able to stand up under their own strength upon leaving the water.  Also contains one of the most singularly ridiculous fight scenes of all time.

“The Last Lap at Luxury:”  Lucas declares the Spin Doctors one of the greatest rock bands of all time.  The rest of the episode was probably fine.  The bit about the Spin Doctors took me right out of the moment, though.

“Such Great Patience:” the crew discovers a million year-old alien spaceship from another galaxy buried inside the planet’s crust.

“Higher Power:” In the season 1 finale an underwater power plant that looks basically like a wind farm somehow destroys a whole shitload of planetary crust.  As the upwelling magma will basically boil the oceans the seaQuest has to stop it.  The solution: blow up the sub inside the river of magma.  Because television!

And this was the believable season.  Each episode ended with Robert Ballard, also known as the guy who discovered the wrecks of the Titanic, Bismarck, and Lusitania, pops in to tell us stuff about the ocean, most of which were supposed to be related to the episode’s goings on.  I assume he spent a lot of time hitting his head against the wall after reading the synopses.

The problem that seaQuest had was pretty simple.  It was attempting to operate as a new sci-fi franchise in a world where pretty much everything was Star TrekThe Next Generation was just wrapping up.  Deep Space Nine was just beginning.  Babylon 5 started up at the same time as season 2 and DS9 wouldn’t go with the overarching narrative playing out against a cosmic backdrop structure until after the world saw B5‘s overarching narrative.  The primary understanding of serial sci-fi for the American audience was a weekly one-off problem-of-the-week structure with minimal character development.  That’s really hard to do without the advantage of traveling the galaxy, meeting aliens, and occasionally getting sucked into wormholes and black holes and some such.  No one was going to tune in to see the seaQuest discover and catalog a new kind of fish.

That said, seaQuest did some things that were revolutionary compared to the earlier Star Treks.  For one, it put world-building front and center.  The writers were much more interested in asking the question, “What will the world look like?” than Star Trek was during the original series and The Next Generation.  They also worked on character development.  The biggest place for this was with Jonathan Brandis’s Lucas.  He was the Wesley of the show: a 16 year-old computer genius who somehow managed to be in the middle of every episode.  Unlike the trope-naming Wesley, however, he was written as a 16 year-old living in world of adults and trying to figure out how to cope.  He also doesn’t know everything about everything.  He’s a computer genius in that weird way the early ‘90s imagined that a computer genius could do friggin’ anything and hackers were magic.  But he couldn’t solve every single problem and was often left out or ignored by the adults because he was a kid who didn’t know anything.

In sum, the show was equal parts stupid and great.  It was also just about the most ‘90s-looking sci-fi program possible.  The place where that’s most obvious was in the computer displays.  They all looked like they were rendered in 400×600 on a 386 computer.  They were probably pretty futuristic looking in 1993.  In 2014…well, the word “dated” definitely applies.  We see much higher resolution cat gifs these days.

Still, join me.  We’re going to watch season 2 together.  It’s gonna be epic.  I hope.

———————–

[1]I have opinions about True Detective and Game of Thrones in spite of the fact that I’ve seen zero minutes of either show.  The opinions aren’t particularly sophisticated or worth sharing, but I have absolutely no interest in either show, yet they’re so omnipresent that I can’t not know things about them.

[2]I’m probably the only person who thinks this is a terrible decision based on the fact that they cut Royce D Applegate and Morgan Sheppard, who played Generals Kemper and Trimble, respectively, in 1993’s Gettysburg.  They leant the show a certain sense of gravitas.

3 thoughts on “In Which We Embark on a Journey Together

  1. Eh, kids these days! Why, in my day you young whippersnapper we had a show called Space: 1999.

    Actually the reason I’m mentioning it is because it had exactly the same thing happen. Series 2 was when Sylvia Anderson left and Gerry brought on Fred Freiberger to “wow it up”. There are still fans who complain that the serious science content of series 1 was gone. Series 1, where a nuclear explosion on the Moon blasts it out of orbit so fast that it visits other star systems, but it’s still in one piece and the people on the moon base survive the experience.

    I was never a seaQuest fan. I think I may have seen half an episode once.

    Thank you for noticing that long-form storytelling in TV didn’t begin with Buffy.

    • Hey, the Moon could totally travel faster than the speed of light without tearing apart. That’s believable…

      I watched all the space opera sci-fi shows I could get my hands on. I still fondly remember Space: Above and Beyond and I loved Andromeda but I can’t remember why just now.

      Also, just in case anyone brings it up, I also know that Babylon 5 didn’t start long-form sci-fi storytelling in TV, either. For one, I know the original Battlestar Galactica did it and Doctor Who did it to some extent back in the day. It wasn’t really a way to get ahead in America until the 1990s, though, and B5/DS9 pretty much kicked it off as a viable format and were almost immediately followed by Star Trek: Voyager, Space: Above and Beyond, Stargate SG-1, and Andromeda. Speaking of, I did not realize that Voyager kicked off in 1995. I thought it came later. Huh.

  2. I added seaQuest to my Netflix list when it showed up in the menu in 2014 or something. Like you,I’d watched the show like a fiend possessed when it first aired on NBC — and I’m guessing we’re about the same age because i was 12/13 when I watched first season. Managed to get the whole thing taped when SciFi did re-runs oh, in the late 90s early 2000s, (video tapes, oh nostalgia) and just about wore those out.in time for the DVD sets of season 1 and 2 to show up.

    Tiptoed around watching the series on Netflix, but I went and broke my knee on Memorial Day of this year, and with nothing else to watch in the queue once I finished Psych and Hawaii Five-0, I fired up my inner nerd again, and watched Farscape and seaQuest in some sort of childhood daze.

    (And holy submarines, Darwin, I know my comment is a bit late on a year-old post, but I was doing some interawebz searching and Google suggested I check this site out.)

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