Movie: Science fiction is conversely the easiest, and most difficult, genre for television producers to present these days in large part because fans are so critical, and forgiving, when they start getting into a series. Whether or not this is due to the lack of quality shows in the genre or just the willingness of the fans to overlook critical elements in order to appreciate the big picture a show may offer, I can't say but in a genre that has fans arguing online about the most trivial facts of any given series (check out any forum with numerous Star Trek fans to see what I mean), the ability to disregard larger plot elements or variances in established human nature by these fans is legendary. One such show I recall from the 1994-1995 network television season would be Earth 2: The Complete Series DVD set I got in last week for review.
The show was set in the year 2192 and an ensemble cast (several of which had roles in the remake Outer Limits show when this one folded) was established as space colonists on a new planet. The driving theme was geared towards an environmental message as much as the egocentric viewpoint most of us seem to have, revisiting the issues of the American West set in the future. Initially, the lead character, Devon Adair (Deborah Farentino) led a large coalition setting up a colonization plan against the wishes of the centralized government. Born of privilege, she provided the forceful identity for a group of 250 families (1000 people total) that all had sick children who suffered from a disease that defied a cure. Much of mankind lives on a series of space stations with Earth having long been polluted to the point where only the poorest of people came from the planet. After fighting tremendous amounts of red tape, Devon is set to head out on the expeditionary flight to a planet known as G-889 in order to save her own afflicted son, Ulysses "Uly" Adair (Joey Zimmerman), a planet far enough away that it will require everyone to enter suspended animation for 22 years.
Joining her on the trip was Alonzo Solace (Antonio Sabato Jr.), the pilot of the ship, Dr. Julia Heller (Jessica Steen), her son's teacher Yale (Sullivan Walker), one of the crew, John Danziger (Clancy Brown) and his spoiled daughter True (J. Madison Wright), a government hack, Morgan Martin (John Gengenhuber) and his beautiful wife Bess (Rebecca Gayheart) and a host of other bit players. On the eve of the maiden voyage, a chance interception of the morning newscast sets them all in a panic when it has the explosion of the space ship as the lead story. Knowing they are marked for death by the government, they set out early and eventually wake up above their new home world, Eden (AKA: Earth 2). While making preparations to begin the orderly process of launching supplies to the designated landing site on the planet, they find that a second sabotage event has been planned as a backup to stop their progress and the cast jettisons down in landing pods with supplies sent in separate carriers. Needless to say, that's where the series really begins.
Scattered across the globe in small groups, the handful of colonists and ship's crew all seek to make the best of a bad situation, using their technology as best they can. They run into various forms of wildlife and sentient species, from the mysterious Terrians (who are more plant than animal) to the semi intelligent Grendlers. The biggest surprise is that they run into humans pretty frequently, something they aren't prepared for as they thought they were the first. The humans they run into cause them the most trouble (no big surprise there!) but the frequent misunderstandings with the natives were certainly no walk in the park either. As the series progressed, it became apparent that for all the noble intentions of the expedition, humankind hadn't changed significantly in terms of how they approach a situation; using a shoot first, ask questions later approach almost as often as they seemed willing to abandon their principles at the drop of a hat when it suited their immediate needs.
Devon becomes the de facto leader due to the loss of the ship's captain with her overriding focal point the safety of her young son. The planet cures him of his disease but at a cost that links him to the natives in ways that are never truly explained completely. Danziger shares a bond of sorts in that his first order of business is to protect his ten year old daughter True (only slightly older than Uly). Morgan seems most willing to sell everyone else out or stab them in the back due to his cowardly nature, while his wife Bess seems to be his conscience. Alonzo also shares a bond with the natives, most likely because of his many trips across space have left his subconscious impaired ("I don't dream") have left him open to their influence as he sort of sleep dreams their intentions. And Yale, the passive teacher, is found to be a former criminal who was brainwashed into becoming submissive but his programming, like that of his entire "production line" begins to fail, marking him as a threat to all. The group forges an alliance of necessity as they trek across the planet in search of New Pacifica, the place where conditions are supposed to be ideal for the upcoming colony, little knowing the dangers from weather, the flora and fauna, and from each other they pose. In all though, strip away the science fiction setting and it was simply a combination of a "head west young man" wagon train (sort of like Battlestar Galactica's original run was) and an ecological morality tale where mankind's second chance proves the limitations of the species.
In all though, the biggest weakness of the series (it only lasted one season) was the manner in which the episodes appeared. First off, I distinctly remember the show playing on Sunday nights after football. That meant any time shift programming I did to capture the show usually missed 30 minutes of an episode, if I got it at all (I'm not a sports fan folks). This happened with numerous series over the years and to this day pisses me off (I can't wait for Space: Above and Beyond to come out on DVD later this year). Further, the order of the episodes was shown out of order, much like the more appealing Firefly or Crusade, which threw folks off whenever it happened since there was definitely a soap opera aspect to the show. The obvious last episode was All About Eve but it was followed by two episodes that had plot elements from far earlier in the show (I can't say more without spoiling it for you though). This break in continuity might not be disastrous for a situation comedy or more generic show but the point of the series was to show the cast's growth as they progressed on their journey.
The next biggest weakness was the writing of the show. Far too many episodes would focus on the native species, almost to the point where two thirds of the shows dealt with the misunderstanding of the week (much like the villain of the week of similar shows). While I understand that the mulligan most of the time "could" be such cultural differences, beating the audience over the head with how greedy, stupid, arrogant, and otherwise flawed humankind is doesn't always make for an entertaining show. On a related note, the dreamscape sequences of Alonzo and friends was so mishandled that many great opportunities were tossed aside or at least left hanging, not something you want to do in the first season of a series left tossing in the wind.
Still, there were a number of occasions where the show stood typical network television conventions on their heads, allowing the writers to take chances in ways that sometimes paid off. Most of the situations appeared to be converted from stock characterizations (as though someone were just dressing up standard stories with a science fiction element) but still had a glimmer of hope at something better. A great many shows don't take off until later seasons, most shows in fact, so had this one been given a chance, it could've become pretty interesting to see if the initial advance group's adventures were surpassed by the actual colony said to be following 18 months later. The best episodes of the season had some futuristic element to them (look into the future more than the technology at hand), including All About Eve, The Boy Who Would Be Terrian King, and Redemption, so there was definitely a lot of untapped potential to be had. In all, I found the boxed set to be worth a rating of Recommended for all its faults, but the DVD set might've placed the episodes in their proper order and provided some audio commentaries or other significantly improved extras to add value.
Picture: Earth 2: The Complete Series was presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color as aired on network television over ten years ago. It looked almost as if made more recently, with few visual flaws to speak of, with no compression artifacts, limited pattern noise, and accurate colors. There were a few times during the night scenes when the picture wasn't optimal but those were few and far between so at least the show looked as good as I remember it.
Sound: The audio was presented in the original 2.0 Dolby Digital English track with optional English or Spanish subtitles. The show never made great use of stereo separation, even if you use headphones, and the dynamic range was limited but all the original music appeared to be present, the vocals were clear, and the audio special effects held up well over the years (better than some of the visual aspects in this regard).
Extras: The extras included 8 deleted or extended scenes from a handful of the episodes, not adding much to the storylines and looking weaker than the fully processed final cuts but at least there was something specific to the show here. There was also a short blooper reel but it didn't add much value to the set for me (and I like such reels). There was also a bonus episode from two other science fiction releases, the series opener for Cleopatra 2525 and an episode from the third season of Sliders, both recommended shows for fans of science fiction.
Final Thoughts: Earth 2: The Complete Series was one of those series that you'll either love or hate with little middle ground in my experience. The dramatic elements were stock soap opera, the technological aspects were interestingly handled at times, and the writing a mish mash of concepts that appealed to the higher brain functions even when they didn't quite make it yet, in an overall sense, it managed to spark some thought in me that continues to this day. The DVD set also helped me find closure because when the series aired, I had missed so much of it that I thought I didn't "get it" for some reason other than the scheduling of the show (missing major portions of many episodes has that effect I'm told) but the way that the episodes were shown out of order certainly contributed to that too. It wasn't the best boxed set of the year but I'm glad it finally came out and the technical values of the presentation were high enough that the relative lack of extras wasn't damning by any means.
Disc One: Side One:
1) First Contact 1 & 2: (November 6, 1994):
2) The Man Who Fell To Earth (Two): (November 13, 1994):
Disc One: Side Two:
3) Life Lessons: (November 20, 1994):
4) Promises, Promises: (November 27, 1994):
5) A Memory Play: (December 4, 1994):
Disc Two: Side One:
6) Water: (December 11, 1994):
7) The Church of Morgan: (December 18, 1994):
8) The Enemy Within: (January 8, 1995):
Disc Two: Side Two:
9) Redemption: (January 22, 1995):
10) Moon Cross: (February 5, 1995):
11) Better Living Through Morganite, Part 1: (February 19, 1995):
Disc Three: Side One:
12) Better Living Through Morganite, Part 2: (February 26, 1995):
13) Grendlers In The Myst: (March 5, 1995):
14) The Greatest Love Story Never Told: (March 12, 1995):
Disc Three: Side Two:
15) Brave New Pacifica: (March 26, 1995):
16) After The Thaw: (April 2, 1995):
17) The Boy Who Would Be Terrian King: (April 23, 1995):
Disc Four: Side One:
18) Survival of the Fittest: (April 23, 1995):
19) All About Eve: (May 21, 1995):
20) Natural Born Grendlers: (May 28, 1995):
Disc Four: Side Two:
21) Flower Child: (June 4, 1995):