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SF OBSCURE: THE STARLOST

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Welcome to a New Year and a new set of SF Obscure. I know it’s been a long break-and I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays. I also want to thank all the people who have tweeted and Facebook-ed the various Obscure posts. Wow! I am not always sure people even read it, and its kind of neat finding out they do.

This week’s feature…The STARLOST.

The Starlost is one of those shows I’ve heard rumors about over the years, but never got around to watching.  The consensus was that it was a show best forgotten; a disaster; a show worthy of ridicule. Some went so far as to call it the worst SF television show in SF TV history.

Naturally, I was intrigued. Something that bad must be seen.

I do need to say The Starlost  is not as bad as I thought it would be. Oh, I won’t call a great show or even a particularly good one. It’s a mixed bag of episodes from awful to kind -of -interesting. It’s a show mainly failing in execution than concept. The production of the show was riddled with budget problems and creative differences Harlan Ellison was the creator but so unhappy with the final product, he quit before the first episode aired and is credited under a pseudonym. There are some other notable SF contributing writers/consultants-Ursula LeGuin  and Ben Bova.

The premise is that humanity builds a multi-generational ship, Earthship Ark, to save the remains of humanity from imminent destruction. The Ark is arranged in separate biospheres which house different cultural communities so that humanity can find a new planet eventually and rebuild.

Things go wrong. The biospheres are shut off from each other; the command crew dies; various systems begin to break down.

The main heroes are three young people from a sphere called ‘Cypress Corners’ which are basically techno-space Amish. The Elders keep the realities of being on a starship from the populace. One man named Devon, questions this world,goes wandering around Cypress Corners, discovers its a ship and thus the adventure begins. He is later joined by Rachel, the woman he loves, and Garth, the man she was arranged to marry.

Each episode basically centers around Rachel, Garth, and Devon discovering new biospheres and looking for a way to fix the Ark.  Most of the tropes of the classic era of SF TV are here:  mad scientists, doomsday machines, mind control implants, (IMPLANT PEOPLE) even a strange episode about giant bees that I never really figured out. (BEEHIVE)  One episode, THE GODDESS OF CALABRA, has a biosphere in which no more females are born so Rachel is declared a goddess. It was based on a concept by Ursula LeGuin, and I am certain deviates, very, very, far. Mostly, it was an group of  men dressed as roman soldiers and/or bright orange leotards dancing around and playing music with water glasses. And something about ‘learning to love’.

All of the episodes aren’t that silly. Even the GODDESS OF CALABRA has great performances from its guest stars. The problem, really, are the main characters of the show. Rachel, Garth, and Devon aren’t terribly interesting people. You would think with a built in love triangle, you could create drama but this never happens. The acting is wooden. From episode to episode, they just ‘accidentally’ open a door, or ‘accidentally’ find a computer that infodumps, or ‘accidentally’ run into other biosphere members. A lot of screen time is wasted walking around corridors and looking out of windows.

They never seem to learn anything about technology.  They never seem to pool their knowledge, or forge lasting alliances of people with knowledge to fix the ship, or even find a half-way decent ship map to keep getting lost in corridors. Everyone they meet is either too ignorant to help fix the Ark or a crazy megalomaniac who won’t.

The redeeming feature happens to be the guest stars and their independent ‘biosphere’ stories. Nothing new, but standard SF fare. If you ignore the main characters-which is generally easy to do because they contribute little to the plot- and just watch the individual stories, it’s a much better show.

 

So Smart Girls Readers, any good holiday SF watching out there?

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8 thoughts on “SF OBSCURE: THE STARLOST

  1. It’s a shame about the poor execution. Serious or funny, it could have been great with a premise like that. Thanks for digging it up for us! Sadly, I didn’t discover any wonderful SF over the holidays. I did watch a few episodes of Invasion Earth. Originally aired 1998. there are only 6 episodes on Amazon Prime and I wouldn’t be surprised if that is all there is. Not a bundle of fun. Typical, Earthlings have brought disaster on themselves by shooting first and asking questions later.

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  2. Was this the one with Keir Dullea? Wasn’t too bad but I do agree that the lead characters didn’t glean much of anything from their encounters with the other biospheres to fix the friggin’ ship! I mean a civilization gets shot into space without proper space handymen/women/people on board to repair stuff? Bad planning, plotting. Anyway, from the few episodes I recall it did have a Velveeta goodness to it.

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