20 Years after its premiere on March 19, 1999, Farscape is still a groundbreaking, funny and emotional sci-fi TV show, with devoted fans all over the world. After being hard to find for many years, Amazon finally added the complete series to Amazon Prime Video (in the UK, US and several other countries), and it’s easier than ever to stream and watch.
If you never watched Farscape – or if you did but you’re due for a rewatch – this article will help you understand why Farscape was so good, why it was ultimately cancelled – and why you should start watching it right now.
Note: There are no major spoilers in this article, but I will discuss a few minor plot elements and characters.
What Is Farscape?
Farscape was an Australian-American co-production that aired in the US on the Sci-Fi channel (before it was called Syfy) for four seasons (and a mini-series), between 1999 and 2003. In the UK, it aired on BBC2.
The show was created by Rockne S. O’Bannon (also known for Alien Nation and SeaQuest DSV) and Brian Henson (Jim Henson’s son). It was produced by The Henson Company, which were also responsible for the puppets in the show – which were used for some of the alien species.
Farscape follows astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) who, during an experiment, stumbles into a wormhole and is thrown across a thousand galaxies to an alien world. Crichton finds himself aboard a living starship populated by alien prisoners on the run. Crichton must fight to survive in an alien world, keeping one step ahead of the Peacekeepers, a race of deadly mercenaries who will stop at nothing to capture him.
And that’s just the beginning…
1. Farscape Was Fresh, Funny And Emotional
There was no shortage of science fiction shows in 1999 – from Star Trek: Deep Space 9 to Star Trek: Voyager, the endless (then) X-FILES, Sliders, and the list goes on and on.
But while all the other shows were great (some more than others), Farscape brought something fresh and unique to the table, especially when you compare it to the Star Trek shows.
It was often funny, and often sad, and always emotional. The good guys often did bad things, the bad guys turned out to be good (then back to bad), and the stories often went to very unexpected places.
While these elements all sound like something you would expect from any good TV show today, remember that Farscape was created 20 years ago – and thus was ahead of its time with how it broke the mould (and in fact inspired many of the shows that came after it).
2. Farscape Got Better Every Season
Some TV shows start with a bang and then fizzle out as the writers run out of ideas and the actors get tired.
Not so with Farscape, where it’s actually the other way around. Season 1 showed a lot of promise and had some excellent episodes, but the show was still trying to find its feet.
The characters even looked a bit like Star Trek clones in the very beginning (Ka D’Argo was almost a copy of Worf), and most episodes were singular “monster/crisis of the week” episodes.
Things improved immensely on Season 2, and while there were still a lot of stand-alone episodes, the show started getting more serialised, with episodes connected to each other.
Seasons 3 and 4 were the pinnacle of the show, both in terms of storytelling, and some crazy episodes where the creators weren’t afraid to take risks and experiment (there’s even a cartoon episode on Season 3).
3. Farscape Had Great Actors And Characters
Most of the Farscape cast were relatively unknown when the show debuted (or only known on Australian TV).
Ben Browder, who played the show’s leading character, had some TV roles before Farscape (most notably as a small guest character on Party of Five).
Claudia Black, who plays Aeryn Sun, had a few roles on Australian TV. Anthony Simcoe (Ka D’Argo) was also a relatively unknown (outside of Australia) actor. And Virginia Hey (Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan) had a longer TV career in Australia and the UK, but was also not a household name.
Yet this cast managed to bring their characters to life in such a wonderful way. The fact that they were unknown actually helped (you weren’t seeing ‘that guy from that movie with a big alien forehead’), and they dealt wonderfully with such complex characters that were often both good and evil.
My favourite character is actually Dominar Rygel XVI, who was a puppet that was voiced by the late Jonathan Hardy. An overthrown royal ruler of the Hynerian Empire, Rygel is selfish, cunning, caring and funny – all at the same time.
4. The ‘Heroes’ Actually Did Bad Things
While this is a typical TV trope these days, back in 1999 it was quite rare for TV characters – especially on science fiction shows – to do ‘evil’ things.
In Star Trek, it mostly happened when the characters were under some alien influence. On Babylon 5 it was a more common occurrence, but was an integral and complex part of the ongoing plot.
In Farscape, our heroes sometimes did bad things – simply because they’re… not perfect. Far from it (Remember, they’re all escaped prisoners for various reasons).
They betray each other, they stab each other in the back when there’s something to gain, they put each other at risk for selfish reasons… And while their bonding improves over the seasons, and they learn to better trust each other – their own personal motivations remain intact, which keeps leading to unexpected character turns and twists.
And yes, even the major villains aren’t your run-of-the-mill evil masterminds, even if they look the part. And Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), in particular, is a fascinating character (and I won’t say more than that, to avoid any spoilers…)
5. Farscape Was Campy, Colourful And Crazy
Remember those weird Star Trek episodes when they were inside someone’s head, or a crazy dream, or a crazy alien fantasy world? Well, in Farscape, half the show looked like that.
With bizarre electronic music, weird colours and crazy shapes, every set looked like a set designer smoked something before he built it.
Yet within that crazy universe, it all fit.
6. Farscape Had Strong, Female Leads
Again, this is something you would expect from a modern TV show – but wasn’t a common occurrence in 1999.
Claudia Black’s Aeryn Sun is a badass feminist without even knowing it. She often kicks Crichton’s butt, and just as often saves his life (as he sometimes does for her).
She’s the opposite of a damsel in distress (some might even say that’s Crichton’s role), and from a strong position, she still manages to have a romantic connection with the male lead.
And Zhaan is the “doctor” (of sorts) of the show as well as a peaceful priest. Well, not so peaceful at times, as she sometimes becomes quite violent, and capable of pretty horrifying deeds, escaping that boring “female healer” stereotype.
7. Farscape Wasn’t Afraid Of Sex (Even With Puppets!)
Back in 1999 (and before), TV shows in general and sci-fi shows in particular were quite prudish. Can you remember any direct sexual references in any Star Trek show? Sure, there were hints here and there, and Captain Kirk was a big kisser, but generally speaking, the characters were almost always, well, dressed.
Farscape was different – it was never blunt, there was never any explicit nudity (hey, still 1999), but it realised its characters were, for lack of a better word, human. So they had intercourse, they talked about it, and Zhaan kept self-pleasuring herself (yes, in THAT way) with sunlight (it’s a long story).
The show was also quite liberal and ahead of its time when it comes to interracial, interspecies and inter-puppets relationships. The characters all wanted each other without thinking about race, alien-form or even gender.
And while unfortunately there were very few direct references to sexuality, Chiana (Gigi Edgley) is believed to have been bisexual, or pansexual, or everything-sexual (I don’t think they had labels in her universe).
And don’t even get me started on what Scorpius REALLY wanted from Crichton…
8. Farscape Set The Tone To Movies And TV Shows To Come
Although Farscape was never super-popular (ratings-wise), it was a major influence – whether directly or indirectly – on TV shows and movies that came after it.
Most notably is the Guardians of The Galaxy film, directed by James Gunn in 2014. Farscape fans were quick to notice how similar the set of characters – and the general tone of the film – were to Farscape.
James Gunn even admitted it on Twitter:
Ben Browder said that other directors and creators also admitted to him that Farscape was an inspiration to them:
“I’ve had conversations with Bryan Fuller and…Farscape. Russell T. Davies…Farscape. When I met James Gunn, I introduced myself and he said ‘I know who you are.’ And I said ‘Yeah, I thought you did because I saw your movie, bro.”
9. Farscape Still Has Vibrant Fan Communities
It’s usually the mark of a great franchise, when 20 years after its release, fans still talk about it.
10. Does Farscape Have An Ending?
Yes, Farscape has a proper ending – but this was a close call. Due to falling ratings, the SciFi channel unfortunately decided to cancel the show during Season 4. At that point,
there was no time to redo the ending of the season, and fans were left with a nerve-wracking cliffhanger.
Update: Following the original publication of this article, Ricky Manning, who was an executive producer on Farscape, added that they DID have enough time to change the ending of Season 4 – they just chose not to.
However, Farscape’s fans initiated a successful public campaign to renew the show – or at least give it a proper ending.
And indeed, in 2004 (one year after the show’s cancellation), a three-hour mini-series called Farscape: Peacekeeper Wars was produced.
Peacekeeper Wars solved Season 4’s cliffhanger and tied up most of Farscape’s loose ends, while leaving an opening for a continuation at some point.
So, unlike some other shows that were cancelled before their time, Farscape will give you a full experience, with a beginning, middle and a satisfying end.
11. Farscape Might Still Get A Reboot/Sequel
Twenty years later, and fans are still calling for a new Farscape series (or a movie). Luckily, the show’s creators (and cast) are also interested in continuing the story – it’s just a matter of finding funding and a channel for this.
Brian Henson and Rockne S. O’Bannon both mentioned on several occasions that they want to revisit the Farscape universe, and Rockne was reportedly working on new Farscape stories.
In a 2018 interview, Rockne said he hopes we haven’t seen the last of Farscape. “Once the show was cancelled, Brian [Henson] pretty much immediately said ‘no, we should try to get this up and running again.’ It was just a matter of coordinating schedules and that sort of thing.
“Right now, we’re in the midst of working on a script… It would be great if we could actually get this up and running next year sometime.”
While these are just talks for now – we’re still hoping for some more Farscape…
Where Can I Watch Farscape?
- Streaming: You can watch all four seasons of Farscape as well as Peacekeeper Wars on Amazon Prime Video in the UK, as well as in the US. (If you don’t have a Prime subscription, you can get a 30-days free trial).
- DVD Player: You can buy the full series on DVD, on Amazon.
- Blu-ray Player: There’s an older edition of the complete series on Amazon UK. However, there’s a new Farscape 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, currently available on Amazon US.