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Sci Fi's 'Farscape' takes a far out twist

Sunday, June 02, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Sci Fi Channel's ambitious and startlingly original series "Farscape" returns for its fourth season Friday, but fans may come away from early episodes a bit perplexed.

TV Preview
When: 10 p.m. Friday on Sci Fi
Starring: Ben Browder, Claudia Black.

When last we saw human astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder), who is lost in space far from Earth, he was adrift in his shuttle pod. Sentient spaceship Moya had plunged into a wormhole taking Jool (Tammy Macintosh) along for the ride. Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), John's beloved, took off for points unknown, pregnant with the child of the other John, an exact duplicate who was killed last season.

Friday's premiere clears up exactly none of that with a confusing, muddled episode that begins "some time later." A bearded Crichton is aboard a dying Leviathan ship that's boarded by members of a warrior race and a female alien, Sikozu (Raelee Hill). Chiana (Gigi Edgley) also comes crashing in, bringing new, unexplained powers with her.

This season's second episode reunites more of Moya's crew - plus the creepy three-eyed old woman (Melissa Jaffer) introduced in April's season three finale - but again offers few explanations for where the characters have been or how they got back together.

Fans may be frustrated, but executive producer David Kemper said it's all part of a grand plan. That second episode is part one of two, and Kemper said more will be explained in the new season's third episode.

"We've built in some mysteries," Kemper said in a phone interview last month. "Some of the questions won't be answered for quite a while, but they will be answered by the time we get to the end of the year."

Kemper said resolving such mysteries up front would be playing it safe. A meeting with Browder, Black and other cast members and writers, revealed a sense of ennui after 66 episodes.

"We were getting bored and too predictable," he said. "You've got to make the show for yourself, and if we're interested and surprised ourselves, then you'll have to be surprised, too."

So, SURPRISE, there are scenes in the "previously on" prologue to this season's second episode that were never seen in past "Farscape" episodes. Kemper said the scenes were cut to allow the story of new bad gal Grayza (Rebecca Riggs), who dresses like the J. Lo of outer space, to drip out over the course of the first four episodes of the season rather than to reveal her character right away. That's likely to include an explanation of the strange control the sweat from her cleavage has over Crichton and others.

Kemper said most mysteries won't be answered in flashbacks; rather, they'll be revealed when the past crashes into the present.

"We're a much more immediate kind of show," he said. "Chiana has this power now that she didn't have before. The audience now can't take her responses for granted. Hypothetically, if she'd stolen some paintings, the people whose paintings she stole are more likely to show up in the present than we are to go back and have the story of what happened to Chiana told to you."

Last season, Kemper found a unique way to placate fans but also keep the dramatic tension in the budding romance between Crichton and Aeryn by splitting Crichton in two, allowing one to romance Aeryn while the other was on another ship elsewhere. The romancing Crichton died, leaving Aeryn conflicted about her feelings for the remaining Crichton when he returned. It was an imaginative way to keep the show from getting painted into a corner.

"If Crichton and Aeryn get married and have babies, people will start watching another show," Kemper said. "You're looking for dramatic tension, and you get dramatic tension from people who haven't decided things. When you're happy and there's no friction, what's the tension? Crichton wants green sheets and Aeryn wants white sheets?"

Despite a recent rash of babies on genre shows that either matured quickly ("Angel") or were given up for adoption for their own protection ("The X-Files," "Roswell"), Kemper said "Farscape" will handle Aeryn's pregnancy in typically unexpected style.

"Our baby or our pregnancy or our Aeryn or everything is so not what you have seen before," he said. "It is so 'Farscape.'... We are doing something different and unique."

At the moment, Kemper and crew look to continue doing the different and unique for two more years. In addition to the premiere of the fourth season, Sci Fi also ordered a fifth season of the series. There's been talk of a "Farscape" feature film, but that couldn't happen until the series ends its run.

"We are always working toward keeping the franchise alive in many different ways," Kemper said. "Right now we're making a television show, and there would be no way to make a movie while making the television show."

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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