Farscape (1999–2003) is an Australian science fiction television series, produced originally for the Nine Network. The series was conceived by Rockne S. O'Bannon and produced by Jim Henson Productions and Hallmark Entertainment. The Jim Henson Company was largely responsible for the various alien makeup and prosthetics, and two regular characters (the animatronic puppets Rygel and Pilot) are entirely Creature Shop creations. Although the series was under contract for five seasons, it was abruptly cancelled after production had ended on its fourth season, effectively ending the series on a cliffhanger.
Co-producer Brian Henson later secured the rights to Farscape, paving the way for a three-hour miniseries to wrap up the cliffhanger, titled Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars, which Henson directed himself. In 2007, it was announced that the creator was returning for a web-series, but production has been repeatedly put on hold. A comic book miniseries was released in December 2008 that was in continuity with both the series and the hoped-for webisodes. In 2013, the channel Pivot began airing the entire series in syndication.
Farscape features a diverse ensemble of characters who are initially escaping from corrupt authorities in the form of a militaristic organisation called the Peacekeepers. The protagonists live inside a giant space-dwelling creature named Moya, which serves as their ship. In the first episode, they are joined by the main character, John Crichton (Ben Browder), a modern-day American astronaut who accidentally flew into the entrance of a wormhole near Earth during an experimental test flight. On the same day, another stranger is picked up by Moya: a stranded Peacekeeper named Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black).
Despite his best intentions, John does make a few major enemies; the primary of these is known as Scorpius. There are a few stand-alone plots, but the show gradually unfolds progressive arcs beginning with their recapture by the Peacekeepers, followed by John’s search to find another wormhole back to Earth, and an eventual arms race for weaponized wormhole technology. Secondary arcs explore the way in which the characters change due to their influences and adventures together, most notably John over his obsession with wormhole technology, his relationship with Aeryn and the neural clone of Scorpius that haunts him in his brain.
Farscape first ran on Australian TV Channel Nine Network and the Canadian YTV channel, then in the US on the Sci-Fi Channel and on BBC2 in the United Kingdom. The series was originally conceived in the early 1990s by Rockne S. O'Bannon and Brian Henson under the title Space Chase. The series is told in a serialized format, with each episode involving a self-contained story while contributing to a larger storyline. Nearly the entire cast originates from Australia and New Zealand, with the exception of Ben Browder, who is an American actor.
Farscape’s characters frequently make use of suggestive slang such as "frell", "dren" and "hazmata" as a substitute for English expletives.
The series’ original broadcast on Sci-Fi was noted for its erratic scheduling, with hiatuses lasting months often occurring mid-season. For example, the final four episodes of Season 1 aired beginning in January 2000, nearly four months after the broadcast of the preceding episode; the final four episodes of Season 3 were separated from the rest of the season/arc by a gap of more than six months.
Between 2000 and 2002, Farscape won two Saturn Awards for Best Syndicated/Cable TV Series and Best TV Actor (Browder). Additionally, in 1999, it received nominations for Best TV Actress (Claudia Black as former soldier Aeryn Sun) and Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress on Television (Virginia Hey as the Delvian Priestess Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan). In 2002, it received nominations for Best TV Actress (Black), Best Supporting TV Actor (Anthony Simcoe as the Luxan warrior Ka D'Argo), and Best Supporting TV Actress (Gigi Edgley as the Nebari rogue Chiana).
On 14 July 2005, Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars received an Emmy Nomination for "Outstanding Special Visual Effects For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special." In 2004 and 2007, Farscape was ranked #4 on TV Guide's Top Cult Shows Ever.
In 2012, Entertainment Weekly listed the show at #22 in the "25 Best Cult TV Shows from the Past 25 Years," calling it "one of the trippiest space sagas ever, with portions of some episodes taking place in Crichton's subconscious" and remarking, "Before Battlestar Galactica popularized frak as geek slang, there was Farscape’s very liberal use of frell." EmpireOnline ranked it #45 of "the 50 greatest TV shows of all time" in February 2013.
In September 2002, the Sci-Fi Channel (then-owned by Vivendi Universal) unexpectedly opted to withdraw its funding of the fifth season, canceling the show, just before the fourth season was to air. While there was much fan criticism of this decision, the Sci-Fi Channel concluded that the series was too expensive to renew, as ratings had declined during the third season.
According to the DVD featurette "Save Farscape", Henson, Kemper, and Ben Browder announced the cancellation during an online chat with fans, and within hours fans began mounting a massive letter, phone, and e-mail campaign, hoping to restore the show or transfer it to another network. Early plans to scrap the sets after production were postponed after news of the cancellation broke, partly as a result of the fan campaign. The sets were instead put in storage pending a possible future revival of the show.
Cartoonist Bill Amend, creator of the syndicated comic strip FoxTrot, addressed the series' cancellation in an 8 October 2002 strip wherein the character Jason Fox petitioned to have the Sci-Fi channel renew Farscape. Soon after the strip ran, Amend remarked that it "generated more e-mails from readers than anything else I've done in the past. I had no idea that so many people owned computers, even I shudder to think what the mail boxes at the Sci-Fi Channel must be like these days."
The 2010 DVD release of the series on A&E Home Video includes footage of producer David Kemper addressing the cast on the final day of shooting, in which he read a draft of a column for TV Guide by critic Matt Roush, who wrote that, in his opinion, the premature cancellation of Farscape will be looked upon by future generations in the same light as science fiction fans look upon NBC's cancellation of the original Star Trek in 1969.
Farscape's cancellation received considerable notice by news media. Thanks to the attention generated by the fan campaign, various financial backers in Europe offered their support to Brian Henson, and in 2004, The Jim Henson Company produced a three-hour mini-series to wrap up the series storyline entitled Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars.
Stargate SG-1 parody/homage:
Following the series' cancellation, Ben Browder and Claudia Black were both cast as series regulars on Stargate SG-1 during its final two seasons. In the 200th episode of the series, which was entitled "200", Black's character Vala Mal Doran, an alien who develops a skewed interest in Earth pop culture, pitches an idea for a movie to a producer, who immediately recognizes it as The Wizard of Oz.
She then pitches a second idea the producer recognizes as Gilligan's Island. He advises her that if she is going to rip something off, it should be something more obscure. This leads into a parody of Farscape, with Black reprising her role of Aeryn Sun, and various SG-1 characters dressed as D'Argo, Stark, Chiana, and Rygel. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) stands in for John Crichton, an in-joke referencing the sexual tension between Vala and Daniel on SG-1 as well as the fact that Browder and Shanks look very similar, a joke made before in the series. Shanks was originally intended to play Stark, with Browder reprising the role of Crichton, but the parts were switched the day before filming at the behest of the actors.
The scene also parodies the wide array of invented swear words used in the show. When the scene switches back to the real world, the producer replies that he has "no idea what that is", likely referring to Farscape's relative obscurity. Coincidentally, the announcement of Stargate SG-1's own cancellation was made shortly after this episode ran. The first time that Claudia Black's character came to the Stargate Command she looks at Ben Browder and says, "I know we haven't met. That I'm sure I would remember" Ben Browder responds, "Nice outfit."
On 15 July 2007 it was announced that Farscape would return in ten webisode installments. The episodes are expected to be a few minutes long each and may eventually be broadcast on the Sci Fi Channel. The webisodes were to have been launched as early as fall 2007. In an interview with TV Guide, Brian Henson stated that the webisodes will be 3–6 minutes long and may feature D'Argo Sun-Crichton. TV Guide also reported that Ben Browder is in talks to appear in the webisodes. Sci-Fi Wire reported that Brian Henson and Rockne O'Bannon would pen the episodes.
Several news sources have reported that the web series may lead to an on-air revival of the series, but Sci Fi general manager Dave Howe said that there were no plans to revive the show. Brian Henson has stated that he hopes the webisodes would lead to a TV sequel.
At the Burbank 2007 Farscape Convention in November 2007, Rockne S. O'Bannon stated that the webisodes would likely be released in 2008.
Farscape star Ben Browder told SCI FI Wire that he looked forward to reprising the role of astronaut John Crichton in the webisodes. The 2008 writers' strike put a damper on the plans, and Browder said that it was too early to figure out to what extent he would be involved. Browder said that he had a brief discussion with Henson about the Web series at last year's Comic-Con International in San Diego:
"They haven't come to me with any specifics yet, and I don't read anything into that. But at Comic-Con, Brian discussed it and said, 'Yeah, we're still figuring it out.' The writers' strike happened immediately after that, … and a lot of things went on hold, and it will take a little while before a number of things get going again.”
At Comic Con 2008, Rockne O'Bannon announced that the ongoing Farscape comic series would tie into the upcoming webisodes. The first comic was scheduled for release in November 2008. On 4 December 2008, O'Bannon told MTV "There's a new character that you'll meet in the very first comic book who ends up a significant player in the webisodes. Villain or hero? I'm not saying!"
On 10 June 2009, Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune announced via Twitter, "Farscape webisodes are 'still in play.' they're still being developed but not yet at script stage."
At the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con, Brian Henson stated that the webisodes were "ready to go" but that they were still looking for financing on the project.
At the 10th Anniversary Farscape Convention in Los Angeles, 2009, Brian Henson again stated that they are still waiting for funding. Ben Browder was asked how the fans could help with funding, and said he wasn't sure what could be done. The last-ever Farscape Convention, titled the "Final Frelling Farscape Convention", was held on 17 November 2011 at the Marriott LAX hotel in Los Angeles. Chris Hardwick of The Nerdist Podcast announced in March 2012 that The Nerdist YouTube channel would host classic (re-released) Farscape minisodes (not new ones). The first minisode, hosted by Ben Browder, went online on 14 July 2012.