“We came to this planet a group of strangers. And now we head out, still strangers, but united toward a single purpose, braving this new land. Four days ago, aliens landed on a distant planet, and we are them. Now, we struggle across an unknown planet, an uncharted world, looking all the while for that moment when we must fulfill our promise, and wondering what will stand in our way.”
We’ve all heard the old adage “History repeats itself,” but have we really ever thought about it? My grandmother used to say that she believed humans were destined to live history over and over again until we got it right, but so far we hadn’t. Perhaps she was on to something…
The 1994 series Earth 2 started with a world that definitely hadn’t gotten it right quite yet. In the year 2192, much of mankind was living in giant space habitats, orbiting humanity’s birthplace. Previous generations had pretty much used up their homeworld in terms of natural resources and livable space. Although great stations had been built to house most of the people, the youngest generation, born in the sterile controlled environment, was soon discovered to be suffering from “The Syndrome”. Physically weak and unable to even breathe without extensive technical support, these children typically didn’t live past the age of nine.
The mother of one of these children is Devon Adair (Debrah Farentino). She is a wealthy builder of the very stations which may have contributed to this new malady, and dreams of a better life for her son, eight-year-old Ulysses (Joey Zimmerman). Distraught by guilt over her possible role in the advent of “The Syndrome”, she decides that the disease was caused by “an absence of what nature can provide — an absence of Earth”. Against the wishes of the planetary government, she organizes The Eden Project, colonization of a world 22 light years away. In all, 250 Syndrome families and crew enter “cold sleep” (suspended animation) for the journey to planet G889, braving the unknown to build the colony they hope will become “New Pacifica”, and creating what they hope will be their brand new world.
Unfortunately, the mission goes awry, and the colonists are forced to leave the space station early (due to sabotage by the tyrannical Earth government). Then they must hazard a crash landing on G889, with many of the people in the advance party arriving on the opposite side of the planet. Devon, and those others stranded nearby, decide to make the journey back to the intended site of New Pacifica, in the hopes of finding their lost comrades. Having few of their original supplies, their harrowing trip through unknown territory begins.
Others on the trek include John Danziger (Clancy Brown) and his daughter True (J. Madison Wright). John is a former worker (read: slave) on one of the space stations, and becomes a protector of the group, while True ultimately develops a bond with Ulysses (“Uly”, for short). Yale (Sullivan Walker) is a cybernetically-altered former prisoner, now a tutor to Uly whose memories have been erased. He’s beginning a different life on the new planet (although not with the approval of all the colonists). Unwillingly along for the ride are Morgan and Bess Martin (John Gegenhuber and Rebecca Gayheart, respectively). Morgan is a lower-level functionary for the government who had no knowledge of the sabotage, but is now the only apparent representative on-site. His relationship with his wife Bess is rocky, to say the least, but with a fresh start (but no preparation) she’s ready for a new adventure with the colonists (much to Morgan’s chagrin).
Dr. Julia Heller (Jessica Steen) is a genetically engineered human, youthful in medical experience and yet the only doctor around for the stranded colonists. She starts to develop a relationship with Alonzo Solace (Antonio Sabato, Jr.), the “cold sleep” pilot who helped the colony ship get to G889. Alonzo’s “dreams” become important windows into the native populace of the planet, uncovering some of the mysteries the colonists have to face in their adventures.
“This time, WE are the aliens….”
–Promotional tagline for the series
The indigenous population and their relationships with the newcomers are complicated at best. Contact is made with the Grendlers, traders who scavenge for anything of value. We learn of the mysterious Terrians, who communicate their essential connection with the environment through Alonzo’s dreams. Kobas seem like friendly leather teddy bears, but react violently to protect themselves. Although they may seem strange to the humans, it is no wonder the natives feel threatened. It is we who are the invaders
And humans are definitely a threat… especially when it’s discovered that the Earth government (known as the “Council”) has been using G889 as a penal colony, much like Australia was used in the old world. To cover up their hidden prison, the Council was willing to sabotage the colony ship… and perhaps one of the colonists is an agent for the Council, so the threats aren’t just from the unknown planet. Our people have brought the enemy with them….
“On this planet, we are a new generation of pioneers, moving westward as fast as we can, trying to outrun our own dangers – I’d like to think danger is less likely to hit a moving target. And while I push us forward, I can’t help thinking of the one danger we can’t outrun – the danger within.”
The reference to Australia and the old world isn’t the only parallel to our history. In some ways, Earth 2 is reminiscent of the colonization of North America. History saw various peoples from Western Europe sail across the Atlantic to settle in this new land of what became North America. Many of those colonists were just as desperate to find a new life as Yale (with his criminal past) and John Danziger (who sought freedom far away from a life of indentured service). What those long-ago pilgrims found here after their journey from Europe was a land already inhabited by an indigenous race, the Native Americans. They found new customs, unfamiliar ways of living, and a raw and untamed world, just as the New Pacifica colonists did on G889. And, as both old and new groups discovered, their past lives were something they couldn’t completely get away from, no matter how different their “new world” was.
You could easily make the case that both the colonization of America and the later westward movement of the early settlers both have parallels in the travels of Devon Adair and the future New Pacifica residents. While many wanted a new, fresh start, old ways warred with both new ideas and newly encountered cultures. When one of the colonists is found to have been an informant for the Council, the rest of the group has to decide what to do. Killing them is abhorrent to most, but stranding them along the route is hardly merciful… and yet, the resources are scarce and there is no infrastructure for dealing with major transgressions against their new society. Leaving one type of social order, good or bad, means having to set up another… which could also be good or bad, depending on the specifics. Earth 2 dealt with these issues, plus ones of racism, fear of the unknown, and even mystical belief.
“In the last 200 years, we’ve formed some pretty good theories about the origins of emotions. Now, halfway across the universe, we stumble around on this new planet finding that we know so little about what makes us human – what makes our hearts shiver with grief, our chests pound with fear, and why is it that a species so different from us can possess these same feelings we hold so essential to humankind.”
While literary science fiction has long handled major social issues, science fiction on television has lagged behind. Unlike Star Trek: Voyager (which premiered at approximately the same time), Devon Adair was the leader of this errant colony because, quite frankly, she had the necessary skills to be a leader. Her gender was never an issue, whereas much was made in the press about the first female starship captain to lead a Star Trek series. While many female leads on television up to that time had existed, their characters always had an element of sexual attraction as part of their makeup. Debrah Farentino certainly was not unattractive by any means, but her character of Devon was there because she was the leader, no more, no less.
So, Earth 2 was a great series, and its premiere garnered great ratings. But airing on Sunday nights, often delayed for odd times due to NFL Football, meant even dedicated viewers had trouble accurately finding the show. The continuing plotlines meant audiences had to follow along, because situations and characters would change over the course of a couple of episodes. And the mysteries of the indigenous races on planet G889 were, at times, almost as inscrutable to the audience as they were initially to the colonists. NBC didn’t help matters by airing episodes out of order. Although Earth 2 was nominated for 3 Emmys (winning one), ratings went down, until the final episode aired late the next spring to only 9% of the Sunday television audience. Despite hope for a second season (and ending the show on a cliffhanger), television viewers never learned if the colonists ever made it to New Pacifica to start their new lives.
DEBRAH FARENTINO (Devon Adair) has been featured in more one-season series that you can count on one hand. She had regular roles in Hooperman, Equal Justice, EZ Streets, Total Security, and Wildfire, before becoming a recurring player in longer running shows like Eureka and Wildfire. She’s also an accomplished stunt driver, trained in performing precision auto maneuvers.
JOEY ZIMMERMAN (Uly Adair) has grown up in the acting business, having been nominated for Young Actor awards five different times. He starred in the Halloweentown series of Disney movies, and has become an avid swordsman, challenging Earth 2 co-star Clancy Brown to a match at a convention.
CLANCY BROWN (John Danziger) is best known to genre fans as The Kurgan, villain in the original Highlander movie. He was also seen in the HBO series Carnivale, and in a pivotal role as a brutal prison guard in The Shawshank Redemption. He’s much more often heard in numerous animated shows, the voice of Mr. Krabs in SpongeBob SquarePants, Lex Luthor in various Superman-related series, and Raiden in Mortal Kombat.
J. MADISON WRIGHT (True Danziger) had a brief but stellar acting career, having been specifically cast by producer/director Steven Spielberg in Earth 2. While she had other guest roles, she gave up acting a few years later and moved back to Kentucky with her parents. At the age of 15, she was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy, which required a heart transplant. Although healthy for a few more years, she passed away of a heart attack at the age of 22.
SULLIVAN WALKER (Yale) portrayed Dr. Huxtable’s colleague as a recurring character on The Cosby Show prior to his adventures on Earth 2. His career has turned to theatre, where he was featured on Broadway in August Wilson’s Two Trains Running. He’s currently active in efforts to assist fellow Caribbean actors in their professions in America.
JOHN GEGENHUBER (Morgan Martin) guested on Star Trek: Voyager, Seven Days, Murphy Brown, and Mad About You. He’s currently working with the Open Fist Theatre Company in Los Angeles, coordinating their educational outreach program, in addition to acting and directing in various productions there.
REBECCA GAYHEART (Bess Martin) jumped from Earth 2 into a recurring role on the original Beverly Hills 90210. She was later a regular on Wasteland, Dead Like Me, and Vanished. Gayheart should have been featured in the Firefly article on this site, as she was originally cast in the role of Inara. But creative differences led to her being replaced after only one day of filming, and her scenes were reshot with new actress Morena Baccarin.
JESSICA STEEN (Dr. Julia Heller) actually has been featured here previously, for her role as Pilot on Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. She was also a regular in the short-lived series Homefront, and was featured in the movie Armageddon. She’s currently appearing in the successful Canadian series Heartland.
ANTONIO SABATO, JR. (Alonzo Solace) is a soap opera heartthrob, originally appearing in General Hospital for three seasons before making the jump to prime time. A regular on Melrose Place, he later returned to his soap roots in both The Bold and the Beautiful and General Hospital: Night Shift. He was also the winner of the short-lived competition series Celebrity Circus, likely due to his grandfather and mother both having performed under a Big Top.
Earth 2 was released on DVD in 2005. Sadly, there are no extras, but at least the series can be enjoyed in its entirety, complete with the never-resolved cliffhanger ending. (Of course, it would have helped tremendously if NBC had aired the episodes in order, instead of the cliffhanger ending airing before two other episodes that had no mention of it!!) Interestingly, a few college thesis papers have been written using the show as a significant reference point, talking about Earth 2 and “The Gaia Hypothesis” (illustrated by the relationship between the Terrians and the environment); and also the nature of fans to want closure, and their desire to write their own “fan fiction” conclusions to unfinished sagas (specifically, Earth 2). A great FAQ on the series can be found here.
“I’m the queen of critically acclaimed failed television series. After all these years in television, I never have known a series to go more than one year. I’ve got friends who have been on shows for five years and I go, ‘What’s that like?”
There are no guarantees, in television or in life. Earth 2 ended after 22 hours of episodes, with uncertainty about what would happen to the brave souls who set out towards an uncharted world and a fresh start. Much like their ancestors who set out for the New World, or made the trek across unknown territory in the hope of better lives, their story had no ending already planned. While the characters could hope for the best, it was the journey which made them stronger, exposed their weaknesses, and melded each of them into the mothers, sons, fathers, and daughters of the future.
While parts of humanity may never change, it is in the challenge of discovery and the desire for a better life that we find the better parts of ourselves. Earth 2 helped us, by showing the historical process that made our lives great and our world greater, sometimes despite our own foibles. It reminded us once again that, no matter how dangerous the journey, exploration is not just into the unknown world around us… but into the world we create for ourselves and those we love.
21 episodes aired (one 2-hour pilot and 20 hour-long episodes) — none unaired
First aired episode: November 6, 1994
Final aired episode: June 4, 1995
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central? Sunday nights for Earth 2, which as noted caused problems with sports delays.
Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.