Archive

Monthly Archives: November 2011

Here’s one for the sword-and-sorcery crowd this week, with a great cast and crew, and a few laughs along with the action and drama.  With tongue firmly in cheek, it was inspired by a book that was later turned into one of the best and most beloved movies of all time… but before we visited the movie theatre, this came into our homes.

Five quotes:

He’s such a hero that, when he’s in full sunlight, he practically has a halo.

…especially when there are parties to plan and shoes to buy, and a potential wedding in the future…

“…as far as the look was concerned, it was always supposed to be just a little off-center.”

…with a silky evil grace and ridiculously tight-fitting leather pants.

“…satire is a very difficult genre to do on television.  It’s a difficult genre to do anywhere.”

Besides, where else are you going to find a medieval continent shaped like a dragon?  Only right here, this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central!

–Tim R.

Advertisements

“People would paint this as teenagers in tinfoil hats.  That’s not what this is.  These are educated professionals.”
–Clarke Ingrahm, one of the founders of the movement to save Jericho

Some people on the edges of society become “Survival Nuts”; the type that believe Armageddon is just around the corner.  They have their shelters already outfitted with weaponry and non-perishable food to last through what they perceive is coming, their own idea of “the end of the world”.  Now, while most TV shows have nothing to do with this, at least one well-remembered short-lived series didn’t just portray “the end of the world,” but showed dramatically what actually might happen afterwards.

In the 2006 CBS series Jericho, the residents of a small town in Kansas have to face the unthinkable:  a nuclear detonation has occurred in Denver, and although the explosion is far enough away to preserve the town, their existence is now changed forever.  Slowly, they learn that many other locations in the United States have been devastated as well, and now they must discover how to survive in a place where supplies are limited, and where order has turned into chaos.  They and their fellow residents are suddenly showing, in their reactions to the crisis, whether they are going help each other, or decide it’s now “every man for himself”.

Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) has previously been someone who believes in the “every man for himself” principle.  He left the small town of Jericho, Kansas a few years before, leaving his family behind (as well as his troublesome youth).  On the fateful day of the explosion (or is it an attack?), he’s visiting for the first time in ages, but all he seems to want is an advance on his family inheritance and as little “connection” with them as possible.  Of course, the radical events in the country around him suddenly change all that, and now he’s back in Jericho with no other place to go.

Eric and Johnston

He decides, reluctantly, to help rebuild both his family and his town, thanks to his stalwart mom Gail (Pamela Reed) and his stoic father Johnston (Gerald McRainey).  Johnston is the current mayor of Jericho, and recruits his prodigal son into helping organize the town, attempting to provide for their well-being in the aftermath.  Jake is reunited with his brother Eric (Kenneth Mitchell), and also with an old flame, the newly married Emily Sullivan (Ashley Scott).  Emily’s new husband is missing, and possibly dead in the attacks, so Jake has to confront the possibility of rekindled feelings and reconciliation.  Everything is uncertain, as the world has suddenly changed.

Mimi and Stanley, with Jake

The rest of the town is uncertain as well, particularly about how it will survive.  Johnston has a rival in Gray Anderson (Michael Gaston), who has different ideas about how the town should be run in this “new world”, and Gray soon opposes him as leader of the community.  At the time of the attack, a visitor from Washington D.C., Mimi Clark (Alicia Coppola), was in town to foreclose upon the land belonging to local farmer Stanley Richmond (Brad Beyer) and his deaf sister Bonnie (Shoshannah Stern).  With foreclosure now meaningless and the goal of survival more important, a relationship ultimately develops between the young farmer and his former adversary, much to the dismay of the sister.

Elementary school teacher Heather Lisinski (Sprague Grayden) is most concerned, initially, with the children of Jericho, and she starts to develop feelings for Jake after he saves one of her charges.  But after she herself is injured, she ends up in a military hospital where she finds out about far more of what is going on in the outside world than most of Jericho is aware of.  One of the older students, Dale Turner (Eric Knudsen), decides that “the ends justify the means”, and becomes a valuable (if ethically shady) member of the community, with the resources to gain many of the items needed by the community (such as medicine and food).  But you may not want to know exactly what he did to acquire them, or who you’d have to thank….

Lastly, there’s new resident Robert Hawkins (Lennie James) and his family, who says they are from St. Louis.  He seems to be an expert in many technical areas, supposedly from training he received as a police officer there after 9/11.  He becomes a friend to Jake, although his background and motives still seem a mystery, even to his family.  Oh, and there’s a few other things…. he’s got hidden military skills, a link to a satellite dish, and a nuclear bomb, like the ones used to blow up Denver, Washington D.C., and assorted other places in the country…..

“We’re trying very hard to create a landscape that the audience can put themselves into and say, ‘Wow, what would I do?  How would I survive?  How would I react in that situation?’  We realize that we’re asking the audience to take a huge leap with us in that there’s this massive attack.”
–Carol Barbee, Executive Producer of Jericho

The stories of these many residents intersect, as each tries to figure out exactly how life will continue in their new situation, and their first problems (after basic survival) concern what is going on in the world around them.  Contact is made with a nearby larger town, New Bern, and while it is initially peaceful and beneficial for both locales, conflict soon ensues.  At the end of the initial season’s worth of shows, a cliffhanger ending presents both cities on the brink of a pitched battle to defend what is left of their way of life.  After the nuclear blast and surviving the imagined “end of the world”, is this new threat going to signal the true final outcome of the town of Jericho?

Well, yes, according to CBS.  Despite a good start, the series was canceled, likely due to a significant scheduled hiatus in the middle of the season.  Many previous viewers thought the series had ALREADY been given a pink slip, and didn’t find it again the following spring when it returned for the second half of its season.  Ratings dipped, and just like the explosion in Denver, Jericho paid the price despite not being at fault.

“We consistently held 8 or 9 million viewers, even going up against [Fox’s American Idol], so everyone was really surprised and shocked that we were canceled.  You have to move on and let go, but you see all this fan support and you keep that tiny bit of hope in your heart.”
–actor Brad Beyer

“Nuts!”
–Jake, responding to New Bern’s demand of surrender

In that final cliffhanger ending episode, Jake is confronted by the leader of the invading town.  Echoing the response of General Anthony McAluffe at the Battle of the Bulge in WWII, Jake’s response to the question of surrender was the same as General McAluffe’s:  “Nuts!”  Both were faced with insurmountable odds, and yet believed in their cause so completely that they were willing to make a stand… and succeed.

The resolve of Jericho fans was also hardened upon news of the cancellation, and a campaign was soon mounted to hopefully change the minds of executives at CBS. In this case, as a way to gain the studio’s notice, fans decided to send in something other than letters and e-mails to make their point.  Just as Jake had referred to General McAluffe, they wanted something identifiable as part of the defense of Jericho.  They literally sent in “nuts”.

Packets of peanuts, cans and jars, and boxes and bags of assorted kinds, all containing nuts, were received by CBS over the next few weeks and months.  They were inundated by the stuff, so much that individuals were hired just to help the overloaded staff with them.  In all, it is said that 20 TONS of various types of nuts were sent in support of Jericho‘s renewal.  On one day alone (May 29 of that year), over 10,000 pounds of nuts were received at the CBS New York offices!

While campaigns to save cancelled shows have been tried in the past, most have not been successful.  Television is still a business in the end, and many times a show that had ended simply has too many hurdles to leap in order to return in the first place.  Sets have been dismantled, cast and crew members have scattered to new projects, and a show already has the stigma of “failure” in the television world to fight.  For business reasons alone, it’s harder to effectively “re-mount” a production than it is to start something else fresh.  But this show had the unique combination of fervent audience base, heroes who believed in the show at the network, a large percentage of nearby location shooting (which meant, in this case, that important exterior sets still existed), and a staff, both on-screen and behind the camera, who wanted to continue telling the unique stories only possible on Jericho.

Thanks to quick work on the part of the fans, the network, the production company, and all the rest involved, Jericho did not face yet another ending, but was renewed for seven episodes as a mid-season replacement.  But the renewal didn’t come without a warning to those who were ready to celebrate their success.

“You got our attention; your emails and collective voice have been heard.  In success, there is the potential for more.  But, for there to be more Jericho, we will need more viewers.  A loyal and passionate community has clearly formed around the show.  But that community needs to grow.  It needs to grow on the CBS Television Network, as well as on the many digital platforms where we make the show available.  We will count on you to rally around the show, to recruit new viewers with the same grass-roots energy, intensity, and volume you have displayed in recent weeks.”
–Nina Tassler,  CBS Entertainment President, announcing the renewal of Jericho

Oh, yeah, and they also asked people to please stop sending nuts.  Fans being fans, they didn’t, but in gratitude, sent care packages of MORE nuts to various food banks and charities instead.  CBS followed suit, and donated what they had received to other organizations, including one which sends various care packages overseas to military men and women stationed far from home.  In a definite win-win situation, fans benefited, charities benefited, CBS got some well-needed good publicity for listening to the fans, and everyone was eager for what was to come.

A seven-episode second season debuted that next February, resolving the cliffhanger ending and, although the critical reviews were generally positive, Jericho still didn’t find enough of an audience for it to survive.  A comic book version followed (commonly referred to as “Season 3”), and rumors of a revival or sequel movie on cable persist, but the televised story of what happens after “the end of the world” finished after two hard-fought seasons for survival.  And 20 TONS of nuts.

SKEET ULRICH (Jake Green) was a regular in Miracles before he landed in Jericho, and was also the star of Law and Order:  LA before the show was rebooted and his character was eliminated.  His stage name “Skeet” comes from his first nickname as a little-league baseball player, when he was known as “Skeeter”.

PAMELA REED (Gail Green) starred in the HBO spoof on elections called Tanner ’88, and in the short-lived comedies Grand and The Home Court.  She has a recurring part on Parks and Recreation as the lead character’s mother, and her best known movie role was as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s partner in Kindergarten Cop.

GERALD McRAINEY (Johnston Green) has been a lead in two very successful series, Simon & Simon and Major Dad.  He’s also had featured roles in Women’s Murder Club, Promised Land, Deadwood, Undercovers, and currently on Fairly Legal.  He also appeared multiple times on Designing Women, playing the ex-husband of Delta Burke’s character, and the two hit it off so well that he later married Burke in real life.

KENNETH MITCHELL (Eric Green) first was seen as a recurring character on Showtime’s quirky series Leap Year, before appearing on many episodes of Odyssey 5.  After Jericho, he had an occasional part on Ghost Whisperer.  Most recently seen in episodes of Castle and The Mentalist, he’s an avid horseman, and he also has a degree in architecture.

ASHLEY SCOTT (Emily Sullivan) is familiar to genre fans, having appeared in Dark Angel and as one of the three leads in the television series adapted from the comic Birds of Prey.  Originally a fashion model before taking up acting, she was featured in both 2005 and 2008 in Maxim Magazine on their annual list of the world’s hottest women.

MICHAEL GASTON (Gray Anderson) is a popular TV actor, and has been a regular in Deadline, Blind Justice, The Mentalist for one season, Terriers, and currently on the CBS hit Unforgettable.  He was also featured in story arcs on The Sopranos and Prison Break.  Prior to his television work, he’s appeared in live theatre both on- and off-Broadway.

ALICIA COPPOLA (Mimi Clark) got a soap opera start on Another World, before moving to prime-time guest spots in shows like Sports Night, Star Trek: Voyager, Crossing Jordan, and CSI.   She portrayed a naval lawyer in multiple episodes of both JAG and NCIS, and was a regular in Cold Feet, Bull, and American Dreams.

BRAD BEYER (Stanley Richmond) originally took an acting class for non-theatre majors in college, before one of his instructors told him he should think about acting as a profession.  He was seen in numerous episodes of Third Watch, and is a regular on the upcoming January 2012 ABC series entitled G.C.B.

SHOSHANNAH STERN (Bonnie Richmond) had to learn English as a second language, as she was born into a deaf family, and the primary language in their home was American Sign Language.  She’s learned English and lip-reading proficiently, and works as an actress with no special interpreter.  Her recurring role on the short-run series Threat Matrix was specifically written for her, and incorporated many of her unique abilities, and she also had a featured part on the Showtime series Weeds.

SPRAGUE GRAYDEN (Heather Lisinski) was a regular on the FOX series John Doe, and also had significant parts on Six Feet Under, Joan of Arcadia, and Over There.  She was the female lead in the recent Paranormal Activity horror franchise, and also had appearances on Sons of Anarchy and 24.

ERIK KNUDSEN (Dale Turner) has appeared in primarily Canadian productions, although audiences in American may have caught him in episodes of Flashpoint or the movies Saw II and horror/parody movie Scream 4.  Genre fans would find him as part of the cast of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (and yes, I’m biased, but this is a fantastic film… go see it!!!!)

LENNIE JAMES (Robert Hawkins) is actually British, although you’d never know it from his speech patterns on Jericho.  Much of his work has been in Britain, including appearances on many BBC dramas and radio plays.  In America, he was featured in the AMC remake of The Prisoner, and also on AMC’s The Walking Dead.  He is also an award-winning playwright, with his works having been featured on the BBC as televised stage productions.

Even after Jericho “ended” the second time, it was still too strong to die.  The CW Network (also owned by CBS) reran the show in place of its quickly canceled series Valentine during the 2008-2009 season, showing the entire 29-episode run.  CBS also tried at one point to work out a deal with the Comcast cable network, similar to the one which kept Friday Night Lights in production with initial airings exclusive to Dish Satellite before their network broadcasts, but that fell through.  Fans can, however, still relive memories of what does exist.

Both seasons one and two of Jericho are available on DVD, with plenty of extras.  The first season is streamable for those with Netflix access, and the entire second season is available with commentary on the CBS.com site.  The “third season” comic has been combined into a trade paperback edition, with a story created by those involved with the series, so it is a genuine continuation of the televised events on the show.  A decent website concerning the thoughts of some involved in the “Nuts” campaign is found here, and there’s a wiki concerning the events, characters, and settings of the show found here.

This was the iconic image of the show, from one of its first scenes.  The idea of a series about what happens after an apocalyptic event like a nuclear bomb explosion was enough to gain the interest of many.  A fervent following for the show wanted to see even more, and although the audience was ultimately too small for Jericho to become a hit, they were active, well-organized, and discovered a way, like the citizens of Jericho they watched each week, to try and save something they believed was important.

Those fans weren’t “tinfoil hat” crazy, they just found a battle they believed worth fighting, even when the odds were terribly against them.  In the case of Jericho, “Survival Nuts” meant something far different from someone barricaded in a fallout shelter with a year’s supply of canned goods and weapons.  It meant a way to keep telling stories of people, both heroic and not, and how they faced what many consider “the end of the world”.  Only those fans refused to see an end.  Just like the residents of Jericho.

Vital Stats

29 episodes — all available on DVD — none unaired
CBS Network
First aired episode:  September 20, 2006
Final aired episode:  March 25, 2008
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  No, it aired originally on Tuesday nights, and although it got bumped a bit on the schedule, the biggest problem was a three-month hiatus during its first season.  Sadly, on television, there is an “end of the world”.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s time to realize all we have, and all we take for granted… and how easily it could all be gone.  How would you react if it was “the end of the world”?  What would you do?  This week, a series that dealt with that very scenario, and the efforts of many to keep the show alive.

Five quotes:

“People would paint this as teenagers in tinfoil hats.  That’s not what this is”

…he’s got hidden military skills, a link to a satellite dish, and a nuclear bomb…

“We’re trying very hard to create a landscape that the audience can put themselves into…”

“…you see all this fan support and you keep that tiny bit of hope in your heart.”

Those fans weren’t crazy, they just found a battle they believed worth fighting…

In the case of this show, the end of how we live every day is just the beginning.  Come visit some people fighting for each other, and for their survival, this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

“We’re trying, as we go along, to deal with what war is about.  We’re looking at how our guys, as soldiers, see the war.  They’re not really involved in the big happenings or decisions, but they get their orders and go about obeying them.”
–Glen Morgan, Co-Creator of Space: Above and Beyond

Mankind has always been a species of conflict.  Wars have been fought for the noblest of reasons, and for the least worthy as well.  But there’s a great deal of science fiction, both literary and televised, which posits a future where mankind has put aside its conflicts and joined together in a journey to the stars.  A journey into Space: Above and Beyond.

Of course, since the essence of good storytelling is the drama of conflict, the obvious antagonists for a united planet are those we discover elsewhere.  But just because there’s an external threat doesn’t mean that the only conflict has to be “us vs. them”.  Sometimes, the best drama is found in discovering exactly how people will react when faced with something that threatens their very existence and the way of life they believe in.  Will they find courage?  Will they hide behind others?  Or will they simply discover their own essence along the way?  The people you never thought worthy might just be the wild cards you need to survive.

In the 1995 FOX series Space: Above and Beyond, viewers follow the members of the Fighting 58th Squadron of the US Marine Corps Space Aviator Calvary.  In the year 2063, a united Earth has begun to colonize outside our own solar system, thanks to the discovery of predictable “wormholes” in space that let humanity travel great distances despite the lack of faster-than-light engines.  When one of the colony ships is attacked by a previously unknown race, the Fighting 58th and their fellow “Space Marines” must protect both Earth and its colonies, and try to battle the unknown enemy.

Nicknamed the “Chigs”, these aliens, and their fights with our humans, form the backdrop for stories of heroism and doubt, bravery and cowardice.  1st Lt. Nathan West (Morgan Weisser) was slated to be one of the crew of the attacked colony ship, where he and his beloved girlfriend were planning to start a new world together, literally.  At the last minute, he was replaced on the mission, and decided to enlist with the Marines and pursue his only way to rejoin her.  His motivation is purely for her, and when he has the chance to find her again, he goes AWOL for a brief time.  While his initial priorities are not with his squadron, he soon learns to have their backs… just as they have his.

“Everyone–Grab the ass of the person to your right!  Well now, isn’t that beautiful.  Do you feel it?  His ass is yours!  Her ass is yours, and yours is theirs.  You may fly in individual rockets, but you are a squadron!  You are a team!  And if you risk your ass, you risk the team.  You people have been here six weeks now, and you still do not know how to work together!  Well, you WILL learn to work together, or that fatty clump of flesh in your hand will be blown to the far corners of the universe–And yours will be right behind it!!!”
–Gunnery Sargeant Frank Bougus, instructor for the early training of the 58th

Capt. Shane Vansen (Kristen Cloke) is the leader of the squadron.  While a youngster, she watched as her parents were killed by “Silicates”, an early version of Artificial Intelligence that rebelled against humanity (in a conflict known as the “metal wars”).  Wanting to prove herself and driven by her past, she joins up to face her fears, and to (hopefully) become a member of the “Avenging Angels”, the best squad in the Marines… until that group is decimated in the first major Chig battle.  Now, she’s got nothing but inexperienced people hoping to turn into soldiers, literally a set of “wild cards” that she hopes will be ready when called upon… but can she trust them with her life?

Because of the “Silicates”, mankind has a negative impression of any “non-human” creations, including the newer, more advanced “in vitros”.  Biologically human, they were created rather than “born”, and their version of an umbilical cord is located in the back of their neck.  Seen by some as second-class citizens, their own fight for recognition as “normal” is what led to Nathan West’s bumping off the colony flight… and the addition to their squadron of 1st Lt. Cooper Hawkes (Rodney Rowland).  Nicknamed “tanks”, Hawkes and his fellow “in vitros” are essentially “born” at age 18, and while their emotional growth is limited at best, their physiology is stronger and more durable than most humans.  While some in the military see them as “disposable” pieces to be sent in to make the way for the “real” humans, the 58th (after a rough start) begin to see him as one of their own instead of just cannon fodder.

1st Lt. Paul Wang (Joel de la Fuente) probably has the farthest to go to become a soldier, as early on his most endearing trait is being a screw-up.  But when he’s captured and subjected to torture, he has to make a choice with consequences for the rest of his life.  1st Lt. Vanessa Damphousse (Lanei Chapman) is his closest friend on the squad, and she’s also their tech expert.  After leaving another relationship behind, she’s looking for a fresh start with the Marines, and may finally have found a group of people where she belongs… if they can all just stay alive.

Their commanding officer is Lt. Col. T.C. McQueen (James Morrison), formerly the leader of the “Avenging Angels” and the only survivor of their run-in with the Chigs.  He’s an “in vitro” as well, and while he understands the feelings some have for his kind, he also knows the military, and sometimes men and women are ordered to lay down their lives for their comrades in arms.  He realizes that those decisions have absolutely nothing to do with who you’ve been or how you were born.

“Courage.  Honor.  Dedication.  Sacrifice.  These are just the words they used to get you here.  Now the only word that means a damn to you is Life.  Yours.  Your buddy’s.  The one certainty in war is that, in an hour, maybe two, you’ll either still be alive, or you’ll be dead.”
–McQueen’s opening speech to the 58th, his new command

The military is a completely different life from that which the rest of us lead.  Personal identity is often subsumed in the quest for preparedness and the immediate obeying of orders, with no questions asked.  The job of a soldier is to do what he is told, and not to question those who outrank him or her.  Many believe that the military is wrong in eliminating, at least initially, that which makes each of us unique.  But the goal is not to eliminate the person, it is simply to eliminate the doubt, not just in each other but in each person themselves.

There is duty, honor, and tradition in the service, but those things are earned, and earned with the hard work of all.  It’s a long and difficult road to travel, even in the best of times.  And the universe presented in Space: Above and Beyond was far from ideal for all its soldiers.  Racism reared its ugly head in the perception of both the alien Chigs (about which we knew very little) and the “in vitros” (which were simply a different type of human).  Situations were faced by the crew with little or no information, and sometimes misinformation (which was even worse).  And yet, one of the most important questions is asked by one of the characters in the pilot episode, one which every soldier has to answer to his own satisfaction.  We all have something to live for.  But for soldiers, the question is also “What would you die for?”

Ready to battle. But for what?

Most people never even think about such a thing.  I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve never had to realistically face death in my life.  Injury, yes, multiple times.  Emotional pain and sorrow I wouldn’t wish on anyone else, of course.  But to come to terms with a person’s own death is something beyond my ken.  And yet, a soldier has to ask themselves that question every day, and come up with an answer that allows them to keep going, to work and endure a harder life than most can imagine, especially during wartime, and still be expected to be as human as the rest of us.

The amazing part is that most succeed, and come home to us all safe and sound.  Some suffer, and some valiantly end up sacrificed so that the rest of us can go on, never having to even ask the question of ourselves.  But we should all be thankful for their service, both in peace and in war, for making it safe enough for the fellow humans to, hopefully, continue to strive for ourselves and those we love in other ways.  Someone has to make the choice so many others do not, and for those people we should be more than grateful.

The stories of Space: Above and Beyond were set in a future with spaceships and aliens, but at the series core was an examination of what it takes to be a soldier, to answer those questions no one else in society really dares to ask, and to find a way to live through the worst.  Just like the title of the “Avenging Angels”, the men and women of the 58th got a nickname for their group as well.  It was, as you’ve likely already guessed, “Wild Cards”, due to their unpredictability and their own natures.  And, even though it was never explicitly stated for all of them, the name was probably also due to their own answers to the question  “What would you die for?”  They each had an answer for themselves, and that was part of their journey as Marines.  Capt. Shane Vansen said it best:

“Even if we are trained to die, we have got to believe that we’re going to live.”

The Fighting 58th were well and truly “Wild Cards” to the end.

MORGAN WEISSER (Nathan West) guested in numerous series, including The X-Files, Quantum Leap, Alias, and NCIS.  Born to an acting family, his father started multiple theatre groups in Los Angeles, and Morgan has been active on both the television screen, in movies, and on stage.

KRISTEN CLOKE (Shane Vansen) appeared on numerous episodes of Millennium, plus was seen on Quantum Leap, The X-Files, Felicity, and Men of a Certain Age.  She gained more than most out of Space: Above and Beyond, as she became happily married to producer/creator Glen Morgan after the series, and they’ve produced two children, along with her two step-children.

RODNEY ROWLAND (Cooper Hawkes) started out as a fashion model before a colleague convinced him to try acting, and Space: Above and Beyond was one of his first roles.  He also appeared on The X-Files (sensing a pattern here?) and was a regular on Pensacola: Wings of Gold.  He’s most recently been a recurring character Veronica Mars and Weeds, both under his preferred name of Rod Rowland.

JOEL de la FUENTE (Paul Wang) starred in 100 Centre Street and High Incident, and has been featured in ER, All My Children, and Canterbury’s Law.  He’s best known these days for his recurring role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, on which he’s appeared occasionally for almost a decade.

LANEI CHAPMAN (Vanessa Damphousse) had already found her way into “space” previously, having appeared as an Ensign four times on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Other roles included series such as The Pretender, Judging Amy, Grey’s Anatomy, and Cold Case.  She’s changed her name slightly, so that her more recent roles list her as “Lanai” instead of “Lanei”.

JAMES MORRISON (T.C. McQueen) was ALSO on Quantum Leap, Millennium, and The X-Files (I told you there was a pattern here…) in addition to recurring roles in HawthoRNe, Private Practice, and 24.  A many of almost too many talents, he’s a singer/songwriter, has written and directed award-winning stage plays, produced short films which have appeared in numerous festivals internationally, and is a certified yoga instructor (and still teaching both yoga and theatre currently).

“Had it been created in this era of cable channels and websites dedicated to science fiction, I wonder if it would have run for a hundred episodes.”
–Jesse Alexander, Producer and Writer on such series as Alias, Lost, and Heroes, when asked about Space: Above and Beyond a decade later.

The complete DVD set for Space: Above and Beyond was released in 2005, and although it contains no extras, you can still get all the series episodes, unedited, including the amazing finale.  While the majority of the show is not found easily on the internet (as rights holders have been cleaning up youTube lately), the two-hour pilot (in hour episode form) can be streamed here.  Although they haven’t been updated in a while, some of the best fan sites for the show are located here and here, and lots of information can be found about the adventures of the Fighting 58th.  A number of novelizations were written based on episodes of the series, six in total, and there is also a small private company that makes custom resin model kits of many of the spaceships seen in the series, available for purchase.

“These characters are always facing what may happen in the last minutes of their lives.  What do you say to the last face you may see before you die?  What are you thinking at that moment?  These characters experience those feelings a great deal on [Space: Above and Beyond], and facing them together, over and over again, makes them very close.  So, it’s in those moments that everyone’s true colors are revealed.”
–Kristen Cloke

Some disagree on the necessity of war, and rightfully so.  There are unjust wars, and unjust reasons for fighting them.  But even if the true goal of humanity is peace, there are still those individuals who would prefer power over justice, and their own way for all over allowing people to choose their own path.  When all else fails, these people must be confronted, for the good of the rest of us.  Thankfully, there are those who believe that justice and choice are worthwhile values to be protected, even at the cost of their own lives, so that others can continue to live without threat of fear or oppression.  While we can’t always agree on any particular fight, we must all surely give thanks for those who are willing to stand up, not for themselves, but for their loved ones, and for people they’ve never even met, in order to protect the ability to freely live.  And the amazing thing is, most are willing to protect even those who disagree with them, just because it is the individual’s “right to choose” they are defending and not the actual choice.

While I wish this piece could have been posted a week ago on Veterans Day, it was these thoughts throughout that week that led me to Space: Above and Beyond and the ideas in this article.  Veterans Day is a time to reflect, in whatever way appropriate, on what those who choose to serve have done, and what they continue to do.  No single individual is perfect, and mistakes are made by the humans involved, both in real life and in the depictions of them on television.  But that doesn’t make the idea any less proper, or any less worth the time and effort (and yes, sometimes sacrifice) those men and women make for all of us.  Space: Above and Beyond may have only been a science-fiction television show, but it dramatized the type of people we all desperately need to be real.  Because without them, we’d have already lost.

Vital Stats

A two-hour pilot and 22 hour-long episodes — none unaired — all on DVD
FOX Network
First aired episode:  September 24, 1995
Final aired episode:  June 2, 1996
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  Not initially.  The show premiered on Sunday nights, but was promised a spring slot at Friday 8/7 Central for a steady run… which was promptly pre-empted by FOX anyway.  Although it did well there, the Fighting 58th had already lost the war for viewers.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

I wish I’d posted this upcoming article last week, but the idea was inspired by the holiday observance a few days ago, and a show which did its best to portray those kinds of people that far too many of us take for granted the rest of the year.  Five quotes:

The people you never thought worthy might just be the wild cards you need to survive.

“You are a team!  And if you risk your ass, you risk the team.”

It’s a long and difficult road to travel, even in the best of times.

“What would you die for?”

When all else fails, they must be confronted.

I simply write about old TV shows.  These articles are a far, far cry from what some people go through, every day, to allow me that privilege and that choice.  With my words I thank them for their efforts above and beyond the call, this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

There is always a connection but, if the link has never been made before, nobody knows it’s there.”
–Scientific historian James Burke

In the typical American school, children are taught history in a similar fashion.  Since time is a one-way street (unless you’re on Quantum Leap or some other time-travel show), events have a ready-made timeline to be placed upon, making teaching the subject as easy as A, followed by B, followed by C.  We’ve all been through this in our lives, and most people generally learn about and relate to the world in this linear fashion.

Then there’s British technical historian James Burke.  When he sees history, especially the history of science, he doesn’t see just a straight line of dots, each representing one stop on a line of invention.  He sees a web of Connections.

Originally seen on the BBC, Connections debuted on American television on PBS stations in 1978.  Rather than the dry, pedantic scientific dirge many had expected out of pure documentaries, Burke’s impish way with words and surprising methods of jumping from one topic to another allowed viewers a new way of seeing traditional science.  Connections was a globe-trotting adventure through history, and Burke’s topics ranged from ancient Egypt and Greece to NASA and rockets… and the best part was, they could be in the same show, because Burke didn’t use the old linear way of storytelling.  He was the one presenting the Connections you never learned about in school.

To Burke, history is not just the path of a ball as it rolls inevitably downhill from the past to now.  It’s more of a crazy pinball, with ideas bouncing to and fro, and success in one arena ultimately causing success in a far different one, with luck and happenstance having as much to do with advancement as planning and preparation.  The right mind, in the right place, with the resources and ability to perceive a new way of doing things was much more important than all the libraries and laboratories in the world.

this little machine affected millions

In his first episode, Burke starts out with the stories of numerous New York residents from 1965, each involved in various parts of life.  There’s a mother-to-be in the midst of giving birth, a subway train full of workers on their way home, and the typical bustle in the “city that never sleeps”.  And then, he shows us how one simple gadget could turn everyone’s lives upside down.  A trigger relay, part of an electrical line in upstate New York, was overloaded and sent electricity to another line… which also became overloaded, and a chain reaction started.  Within moments, millions of people were without power.  Hospitals were without light, and life-saving machinery (which had been taken for granted) was useless.   Subways and traffic, and essentially life as normal, ground to a halt in a darkened city.

Burke uses this event to show how fragile our technological ecosystem is, and how dependent upon it we’ve become.  Few of us have the ability to fix the problem, we simply rely on the fact that someone out there knows what the problem is and they will fix it for us.  But in some future calamity, could any of us really take care of ourselves if the electricity were essentially gone… for good?

In a potential tomorrow where a more permanent disaster occurs, computers and phones would be useless, cars will only go as far as there’s gas, and food won’t be available unless you know something about its growth and rudimentary agriculture.  Burke shows us we’re mere months (if that far) from a pre-industrial agriculture age, and that’s assuming we have access to a horse and plow.  We’ll have to rebuild the technological world again.  And this is where it gets interesting….

“Why should we look to the past in order to prepare for the future?  Because there is nowhere else to look.”
–James Burke

Through the 10 episodes of Connections, Burke shows (through both recreations and travels throughout the world) those moments where science and humanity changed, and the oddities that allowed the advancements to happen. Napoleon and his troops actually were important to the development of the computer!  Here’s the story:  In his conquests of the world, French troops in Egypt took a liking to finely woven silks, creating a fashion craze back home.  Local merchants developed a method to weave the intricate designs using perforated paper patterns to control their mechanical looms more precisely.  American engineer Herman Hollerith adapted the paper roll to a more portable and interchangeable method, a series of punch cards, which could be used to quickly calculate numbers.  And finally, the first computers were developed using punch cards to represent various functions and allow for a wide variety of information to be manipulated with simple holes on the cards representing a large variety of alpha-numeric characters.  From Napoleon to the early ’80’s, in just a few steps, but who knew silks in Egypt and an invading army would lead to you being able to read this in your own home on your monitor?

Even an adventurer like Columbus was lucky enough to have a newly popularized style of painting and art be instrumental in convincing King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to give him the ships to find a “shortcut” to China.  Previously, important items in a painting were either larger, or higher up (as in “closer to God”).  The burgeoning idea of “realism” in art, including the use of a “vanishing point” for perspective, was used to convince the royalty that there really was something beyond the horizon, and Columbus believed he was the man to find the long-sought path to the Orient.  Just because the riches of the New World were found instead only means Columbus didn’t actually find what he was looking for — he found something better.  That’s what Connections is all about.

One of Burke’s main theories is that people created the advancements, not because they knew what would happen, but because of more immediate concerns.  Profit, personal theology, individual social mores, and simple curiosity are much more potent than any brilliant thesis about building rocket ships or combustion engines, and those likely wouldn’t exist without so very many inventions by others along the way.  The Dutch traders didn’t have plastic in mind back in colonial days, but their search for a method to keep their perishable cargo fresh led to the building blocks that gave us everything from DVDs to Tupperware to heat shields on space capsules.  Those are the kinds of Connections Burke presents, and they are unlike any taught in the vast majority of schools.

“Besides making the material accessible, this kind of approach teaches people that they’re not stupid. Everybody has a hundred billion neurons, so did Einstein.”
–James Burke

Like all good teachers, Burke in Connections is not teaching you “what” to think, but teaching you “how” to think.  And the radical presentation of Burke is that ALL things are, in some way, interconnected, just as each of the millions of people in New York that day all suddenly had one small piece of machinery that connected them, even if they didn’t know what it was.  No one creates ideas in a vacuum; they simply utilize what has gone before, what they are familiar with, and then make a small change or adaptation in some way that sometimes revolutionizes society.

Knowledge, in the past, has always been the province of those in power.  Even the idea of literacy amongst the masses is relatively new, if you take the historical view.  Human history encompasses thousands of years, the printing press only hundreds.  Access to knowledge, and the ability to use it proficiently, is the way for humanity to either grow or be left behind.  And a new way of learning is necessary if that’s going to happen.

Burke saw this, even a generation ago when Connections premiered.  Home computers and instant communication with smartphones were still fanciful dreams back then, and yet Burke realized that a revolution in learning and information not only was taking place, but that it HAD to take place.  The rapidness of change and growth of knowledge was proceeding at an amazing rate (and it continues to do so today).  The old linear model simply couldn’t stand up to the pace, and significantly specialized knowledge would simply be beyond the ability of most to acquire… unless a new model was developed.

“The so-called technology revolution will enfranchise people because it will make material accessible in this webbed, networked way I’m trying to do on these programs.  This approach invites people in because it’s easy.  You don’t need a Ph.D.  In fact, we’ve got to stop teaching people to have Ph.D.’s.  Specialism and reductionism was fine up to yesterday, but it will not do for the future.”
–James Burke

Long before the pervasiveness of the World Wide Web, James Burke imagined a similar construct for this necessary new way of learning and thinking.  Like hyperlinks in a webpage, links between similar ideas can be established in a non-linear manner, and the modern version of “surfing the web” is a far cry from the kinds of dedicated and specific search for knowledge previously available.  The democratization of the Web experience is almost exactly what Burke envisioned, where a visit through the ideas of history are more like a pinball game instead of a simple slide with a beginning and end.  The unique and almost serendipitous path from idea to idea is strengthened through experience, and new ideas are happened upon by accident, paralleling the way they were discovered in the first place.  This “pinball” effect is the best way to synthesize all the various ideas being developed as we speak with the knowledge we already have, incorporating all we know with all we discover.

Burke, and Connections, was already there three decades ago….  And he’s always been willing to help light the way.

“The key to why things change is the key to everything.”
–James Burke

JAMES BURKE earned his first Master’s Degree in Middle English, and has always believed that his importance was in studying people and not just history.  After teaching in Italy, he became a reporter on the BBC series Tomorrow’s World, and later was the chief presenter during their Apollo coverage, including the first landing on the moon.  His writings for both Time and Scientific American magazines emphasized the human dimension of invention over the purely scientific, and he developed his ideas much more fully in both his television presentations and his many books.  Known for his impish sense of humor and delight in puns, he has no problem making fun of himself, and even appeared in, of all things, a country-rock music video parodying his own television persona in Confederate Railroad’s Elvis and Andy.  Now retired from both television and academia, his efforts are put towards development of The K-Web Project, from which the picture above was taken.

“When you read a book, you hold another’s mind in your hands.”
–James Burke

If you want to see Connections, it is available in many ways.  The original episodes are available both in chunks on YouTube, and as a remastered DVD set.  There were two sequel series done for The Learning Channel, Connections² and Connections³, each episode half the length of the original but with a faster pacing and just as many interesting and amazing bounces through history.  Burke used to write a column for Scientific American magazine, and many of those articles have made their way into his books, including companion tomes for his TV series Connections and The Day the Universe Changed.  Other books include The Pinball Effect (a most unique book, in that it was designed deliberately NOT to be read in the traditional cover-to-cover manner), The Knowledge Web, Circles, and American Connections (which uses the signers of the Declaration of Independence as the starting point for each journey).  Finally, there is Burke’s project of The K-Web, an outgrowth of the publication of The Knowledge Web, showing in a more demonstrative form just what kind of learning and growth is available if Burke’s ideas about the World Wide Web are used effectively.

Burke had to travel the world; you now can travel the web!

“We’re on the edge of a revolution in communications technology that’s going to make that [access to knowledge] more possible than ever before.  Or, if that’s not done, to cause an explosion of knowledge that will leave those of us that don’t have access to it as powerless as if we were deaf, dumb, and blind.”

“But maybe a good start would be to recognize. within yourself, the ability to understand anything because that ability’s there, as long as it’s explained clearly enough.  And then go and ask for explanations.  And if you’re thinking right now “what do I ask for”? ask yourself if there’s anything in your life that you want changed.  That’s where to start.”

–James Burke, in the final episode of Connections

We live in what has been called “The Information Age”, where there is more knowledge and discovery going on around us than ever before.  And yet, there are a great many who almost actively disdain the pursuit of science and the gathering of fact in favor of their own small world, collectively acting like an ostrich with its head in the sand, believing they are safe and comfortable.  It’s merely an illusion.  And it’s not that the comfort isn’t there, it’s just that those who act in such a manner would rather not have to do the work involved in learning and gaining the facts discovered every second of every day.  But as James Burke and Connections showed, no one has to learn everything all at once.  Just ask yourself what in your life you want changed…

…and once that journey starts, like the Connections portrayed on-screen, it never really ends.

Vital Stats

10 original episodes, plus two sequel series
PBS Network in America, originally a BBC production in Great Britain
First aired episode:  October 17, 1978
Final aired episode:  December 19, 1978
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  The PBS series was originally broadcast on Tuesday nights, but local PBS stations had the right to air all programs on their own schedule.  In some areas it was paired with other science documentaries like Nova and Cosmos, but in others it was paired with fellow British series Doctor Who.

(A quick aside, just because it didn’t fit in the article:  In Connections, James Burke is almost always seen in the same cream-colored suit throughout the ten episodes.  The reason for this is that the scenes were filmed out of order, in locations around the world, so all the “Paris” shots would be photographed at the same time, no matter what episode they were from.  The same “costume” was used so all the shots would match up in the final editing!!)

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

This week, a documentary series… but one which was anything but boring and pedantic.  It taught the history of mankind from ancient times to the edges of the new century, chaining together some of the most amazing discoveries of science in ways you probably never knew before.  Five quotes:

“…if the link has never been made before, nobody knows it’s there.”

It’s more of a crazy pinball, with ideas bouncing to and fro…

“Because there is nowhere else to look.”

Profit, personal theology, individual social mores, and simple curiosity are much more potent…

“The key to why things change is the key to everything.”

Despite jokes to the contrary, Al Gore didn’t create the internet.  But the host of this show might have, and even if he didn’t, he was advocating some of the ideas years before it became a reality.  See where it might have begun, and the unknown relationship of so many other things, this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

%d bloggers like this: