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Sci-Fi Vacuum.

By Coury Turczyn

JANUARY 31, 2000:  You'd think that after 50 years of science fiction series on television, there'd be some producers out there today who could learn from the failings of their predecessors. Instead, producers and their networks seem only inspired by the schlock that has come before—and aspire to mediocrity rather than struggle to avoid it.

Case in point is pretty much the entire slate of original programming on the Sci Fi Channel. There is, for example The Sentinel (Tuesdays from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.) about a fellow (Richard Burgi) who "subsisted for nearly two years on his raw animal instincts" in the Peruvian hinterlands after an Army plane crash. Now that he's back in civilization, the police lieutenant discovers he has extraordinary powers of perception that allow him to capture terrorists and whatnot. The result is something like those high-concept action series of the early '80s—a Manimal for a new generation. Sadly, the cheeze factor isn't high enough to overcome the A-Team-style storylines.

Then there's Farscape (Fridays at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.), about an astronaut (Ben Browder) on an experimental space mission who is "accidentally hurled across the universe into the midst of an intergalactic conflict." Not a bad idea, as far as plot devices go, but what does our hero discover across the universe? Muppets. Or at least space aliens who look like leftovers from the The Dark Crystal (note to producer Rockne S. O'Bannon: Jim Henson Co. puppets may be cute, but they kinda undercut the suspension of disbelief).

And don't forget First Wave (Sundays at 7 p.m.), about a former thief (Sebastian Spence) "who has discovered a vast conspiracy of alien infiltration on our planet." Which basically means he gets to go around killing aliens who are disguised as humans...kind've like V, but without the big saucers and lizard masks. Which is pretty mundane stuff, especially coming from executive producer Francis Ford Coppola.

But the absolute ne plus ultra of cruddiness is the Sci Fi Channel's newest crown jewel, Lexx (Fridays at 10 p.m.). Relentlessly hyped by the network as a "sexy" adventure show "not suitable for younger viewers," it instead seems as if it were written by underage boys—and produced by a high school A/V class. Wretched writing, horrible special effects, C-movie acting—anybody remember The Starlost from the '70s? Lexx nearly meets those levels of patheticness. Xenia Seeberg stars as a "transformed love-slave" on a bug-spaceship, and she mostly pouts her collagen-plump lips and acts horny for bad actors in lousy costumes. The only appeal Lexx may have is for those enjoy truly awful science fiction shows—too bad the guys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 aren't still around to screen it.

If you want at least some satisfactory sci fi cheeze, then rent the debut episode of Stargate SG-1 (originally aired in 1997), now on video. Based on the movie, this Showtime series at least knows how to combine schlock and action with flair. Plus, Richard Dean Anderson does a good imitation of Kurt Russell imitating Clint Eastwood.

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