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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.

FlashForward Time magazine picked Battlestar Galactica as one of the ten best television series of 2009, and the Dollhouse episode "Briar Rose" as one of the best episodes. About ten million people tuned into the beginning of V and FlashForward, and last year to the beginning of Terminator and Fringe, a year or two before that to the beginning of Heroes. Those are substantial numbers these days. But for all of these shows, the numbers fell off rapidly. There are a lot of people who want to watch good science fiction, but television isn't giving them what they want.

I think there are two problems. One is that the shows are too complicated. Lost got it right -- first appealing, memorable characters. Complications later. The other is that the shows are too grim. In bad times, people want Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, not millions dead or hopelessly powerful aliens.

Heroes The first season of Heroes got it right, with appealing characters and an upbeat slogan. "Save the cheerleader, save the world." Because we like the characters, and because there's hope, people kept watching. Now? Well, saving the world is a hard act to follow, but with the carnival story line, I think Heroes is back on track. Whether viewers will come back to it is another question, and it's on hiatus until March.

Smallville Even Smallville has left behind the warmth of the Kent family and farm for the filth and violence of Metropolis, which these days is almost as bad as Gotham City. Superman wears black.

Dollhouse Dollhouse has memorable characters, and some of the best writing on television. But it takes grim to a new level, so that it is almost painful to watch. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, things are going to get unimaginably worse and never get any better ever again.

I think maybe people would like a little upbeat science fiction, a little boldly go where no man has gone before. I don't mean another Star Trek series. I mean a science fiction series in which the future of mankind isn't totally hopeless.

Copyright © 2009 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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