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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

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Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

The summer doldrums are upon us. There are three SF shows on TV that aired new episodes in July, and all three are becalmed. I read science fiction for the excitement of the new but most TV writers think of writing in terms of giving the audience what they expect. I can be continually surprised by art based on life, most TV writers base their art on other TV shows they have seen.

Let me give you three examples.

Dr. Who "Smith and Jones" (**) by Russell T. Davies
Doctor Who The template for most Dr. Who shows runs something like this. The Doctor and his companion encounter something bizarre. They investigate. Their lives are endangered. They run away. They sneak back, investigate further, and discover that not only their own lives but the entire planet/galaxy/cosmos is threatened. They are captured, and the villain explains to them his/her/its nefarious plot. Everything looks hopeless, but at the last minute the Doctor, often by means of the sonic screwdriver, turns the tables on the villain and saves the day.

So, the plot of a Dr. Who episode is pretty boring. It is the snarky dialogue that keeps things interesting. I do enjoy that dialogue. And it's kinda nice that, in some episodes at least, Dr. Who is set in the future, with spaceships. You don't see many spaceships in the movies or on television these days.

Eureka "Phoenix Rising" (**) by Jaime Paglia, season two premiere
Eureka This episode runs a Butterfly Kid shtick, where the hero, reliving the same time period over again, tries to get his girlfriend to fall in love with him like she's supposed to and, of course, fails miserably. It is mildly entertaining. The show could, however, greatly benefit from some of Dr. Who's clever dialogue. When I can tell what a character is going to say before he says it, we're in the "what cliché comes next" school of TV writing.

The 4400 "Try the Pie" (**) by Michael Narduck
The 4400 I watched the first episode of The 4400 three years ago. It didn't hold my interest, and so I gave up on the show. I expected, after the short first season, to have seen the last of it. But, here is it, back for season four.

Sadly, as I watched the new episode, I found myself wondering -- how much longer before it's over. The nice people were too nice, and the nice lady who can make you nice just by talking to you I found scary as hell. Yes, people can be extraordinarily nice. But what makes us human is a mixture of qualities, and too much goodness seems to me almost as bad as too much evil.

It's a sad reflection on the quality of TV entertainment when the fifteen second Geiko Caveman commercial has more humanity in it than the story.

Copyright © 2007 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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