Monday, July 20, 2009

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Imagine Lesser?

The Sci-Fi channel has changed their name to SyFy. The reason is to attract more women in the 18-49 year-old range by softening the name and the content. Their once much desired 18-25 year-old male demographic has fled for the greener pastures of Spike TV (boobs) and video games (killing without character development). This shift is evident in their new marketing campaign, a Skittles-on-LSD commercial which feature no robots, monsters or space ships, only paper unicorns, magic carousels and hip young people (I’m not making that up). The message is clear: leave your hardcore nerd at the door, we wanna go mainstream!

And you know what? I’m okay with that to a certain degree. The name is ridiculous to be certain and I will never, ever write the phrase SciFi (SyFy) channel without the appropriate parenthetical demarcation. SciFi stood for Science Fiction at one point in time and I’ll not bastardize it further so that that it one day becomes a question in some future etymological trivia game. But back to the point, SciFi (SyFy) needs to sell ads to make money and if they think that puppies wings and magic kittens lure in the ladies, who am I to argue?

But I am going to take issue with lazy storytelling and borrowed premises. I’m desperately trying to work my way through Warehouse 13, one of the new shows to debut on the network that’s now heavily relying upon the “And sometimes ‘y’ is a vowel” rule to rebrand itself. It’s a difficult prospect and like a hiker ascending Everest, I need to take slow steps and pause often lest I suffer from episodic hypoxia.

What’s this show about? No clue. That’s not to say that it’s so nuanced, subtle and mysterious that I can’t fathom it. Rather, I submit that Warehouse 13 has lifted from so many other sources that I can’t plumb the depths of plagiarism to find an original idea.

Let’s use the ol’ SciFi (Syfy) subterfuge and see if we can’t separate the parts into their individual stolen components…
* our leads are two attractive government agents. They crack wise with each other and feign indifference when in fact there’s a spark between them that may lead to something else. AS SEEN IN X-FILES and FRINGE.
* A strange warehouse in the middle of nowhere houses unusual artifacts. AS SEEN IN RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
* A ‘Crazy’ lead scientist who oversees the project. He’s both brilliant and a little off, providing comic relief. AS SEEN IN FRINGE, EUREKA and BACK TO THE FUTURE.
* Mysterious benefactor/boss who speaks in cryptic sentences and hints of larger conspiracies (yet to be fleshed out by producers). AS SEEN IN X-FILES, LOST.
* Monster of the week AS SEEN IN…EVERYTHING.

I could go on and list the Men-in-black, Friday the 13th (the Series), even The Invisible Man connections (boo-yah!), but why bother? The creators obviously pitched this show to the network (whose name I shall not invoke!) using those very series as direct references. They promised a Frankenstein patch-work of a series and they don’t care if people recognize that they dug up their loved ones for spare parts. This is a shambling ‘mediocrity monster’, stunning everyone in it’s path with a ‘meh’ or a ‘it’s not so bad’. The only thing that can kill it is counter programming as it hypnotizes those that watch it with just enough promise to warrant another episode. That will never come, of course and once he show has run out of ideas to drain, it will flee from the schedule to haunt Hulu for the rest of its days.

Look, I get that all ideas are modifications with enhancements on the other ideas. But I gotta take a stand on this. If someone is gonna take the time to change their name and be all trendy (Of “Trendi”?), they can’t just be the same old person. SciFi ditched their name, created a pretty ad campaign and then serves up something that they claim to be indicative of their new direction. It’s only on inspection that inside the shiny box is the same old feldercarb.

Sorry SyFy, bring us compelling stories, interesting characters and bend our imagination or don’t show up at all. Your tagline is “Imagine Greater”, and you need to heed your own advice. Take a chance and greenlight a series that will truly let our imaginations soar to new places and times with magic and science that seems like magic. You take the leap and we’ll be there to catch you. You trot out derivative shows like Warehouse 13, and we’ll box them up an store them in our own warehouse of lesser Science Fiction/Fantasy works, never to be thought of again.