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The sad tale of seaQuest DSV should forevermore be inscribed into a
producer's guide of "what not to do" to a TV series.
The first season was hands-down one of the greatest seasons of sci-fi adventure television ever. The premise, the characters, the writing, the acting, the production design, and even one of the most inspiring opening themes ever...
I was a huge fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in many respects the first season of seaQuest DSV, airing opposite TNG's seventh season, was a more interesting show. It succeeded by not copying the Trek science fiction formula, but by complementing it, with a mythology grounded more in science fact than fiction. The series just exuded the feel of smart television, whether that feeling came from the subtle nods to current scientific research coming true or the almost Sorkinesque highbrow dialogue or Dr. Rob Ballard's involvement as a consultant.
And then, well, to adapt a common internetism, the show "triple backflipped over the shark."
Perhaps the one in the opening credits.
All of a sudden, four of the more interesting characters (those played by Applegate, Beacham, D'Aquino and Haiduk) vanished into thin air. The remaining cast were neutered to shells of their former selves. The show took a nosedive as far as plotting was concerned, and instead of thoughtful stories about real issues we got pulp culled from the worst of the worst of cruddy science fiction. Psychics! Laser guns! Time travel! Plants taking over the sub! Gigantic Crocodiles! Evil Aliens(tm)! Genetically-engineered slave warriors in skimpy wetsuits!
Wherever the show could have stunk, it did. NBC, still no doubt rather proud of the fact that they'd cancelled Star Trek twenty-five years earlier, wanted silly lowest-common denominator sci-fi to grab an even bigger share of the ratings. Unfortunately for NBC, as the ratings attested, even the lowest common demoninator of Americana really had no wish to have to endure an hour of second season sQ DSV.
There is some online opinion that show redeemed itself in its third season, although I personally feel that "seaQuest 2032" was no less odious than the year that had preceded it. After pushing the magic reset button as hard as they could following the events of the second-season cliffhanger finale, the writers essentially remade the show, turfing Scheider and any pretext that they'd attempt to tell smart television ever again. The show became a hammily-acted excuse of a drama, ditching the wide-eyed wonder of the first season and turning it into a geekfest of underwater shoot-em-ups with an evil bunch of pseudo-Australian pseudo-Fascists wrapped in a coat of paper-thin political intrigue(tm). Now more of an underwater Babylon 5 (and even that's being too kind) than an underwater Star Trek, I cried few tears when NBC put the show out of its misery.
So, for all you wanna-be producers out there, a few lessons: (1) If a show is smart and popular, consider the fact that making it dumb will probably make it unpopular. (2) Never, ever toss aside characters for no reason other than to get people who'd look better in a wetsuit. (3) I'll take a talking dolphin over a bald tattooed version of Forrest Gump anyday. (4) Despite what your polling data may tell you, submarine fighters are not cool. (5) If a friggin' genius like Rob Ballard has agreed to work on your show, you're doing something right. If said friggin' genius leaves your show and you replace him with Michael deLuise attempting to read fascinating facts about penguins off a teleprompter, you're doing something wrong.
Should be a phrase ingrained in the minds of every would-be hollywood
director/producer, especially after what Harrisburg and Co. did to SeaQuest
DSV; which was (in my opinion) one of the best tv shows ever due to its
original concept of exploring the oceans, rescue missions, and minor
international conflict displayed in the first season.
But why oh why did the producers feel the need to change the set up from science fact to silly science fiction upon season two? Did it have something to do with the end of Star Trek: TNG and the producers wanting to fill its shoes? Perhaps... but I'm sorry, the sci-fi concept did not work for Seaquest and the ratings (or lack there of) proved that!
I did have to commend the producers for trying to make a come back in the third season with science "fact" and continuity, but the stories weren't all that good and the casting of Cap. Hudson was one of the series ultimate down-falls. On the other hand, had Bridger remained at the helm the series would've at least survived the whole third season (my speculation). Thankfully SeaQuest has home on the Sci-Fi channel.. as long as they stop rescheduling it back an hour!
It's always the same thing. No matter how good or bad a show is, the
ratings alone decide it's faith. With good ratings a show is renewed
every season and nobody will make changes to it's format. With bad
ratings a show is canceled after (or during) it's first season.
But what if the ratings are not good enough to have the show renewed for another season, but not bad enough to have the show canceled either. Then they always make a second season that is so different from the first one that the few fans it had will stop watching and no new viewers will tune in. Will they ever learn it's better to cancel a show than to dramatically change it? Changing it will only make you lose the audience it has. It will not bring in new viewers! And that is what happened to SeaQuest DSV. It was a great show in the beginning. But the changes they made to the format didn't just scare the few fans it had away, it even scared it's lead (Roy Scheider) away!
Sci-fi shows are often unappreciated in their time because the subject matter is too foreign for the general public to accept. Only years later do we realize that an innovative show has gone before its time. With the recent re-runs of DSV on sci-fi I realized how much potential the show had. Exploring the oceans is as exciting as exploring space. I especially enjoyed the episode where they uncovered an air pocket which preserved much of our ancient history only to have nations fight over who owned the artifacts. I've read opinions of people who thought the acting was sub-par and the plots stupid. Let me counter by stating that even the most successful sitcom is absurd in its premise and if the laugh tracks were not in place I doubt many people would even realize something funny was going on. Sci-fi makes you think. It tries to broaden your horizons. I realize that the masses prefer being spoon fed entertainment that they can watch while chasing the kids or cleaning the house but if you take a few minutes to watch these episodes perhaps you will see the value of such entertainment. As for me, I enjoy science fiction and this show was definitely worth my time.
I was a bit of a sci-fi nut growing up, so you can imagine the joy I
experienced when sci-fi on the small screen made a strong resurgence in
the early to mid 90s. Yep, those were the days, back when I found
myself glued to the television, eagerly watching and awaiting the
newest episodes of shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep
Space Nine, The X-Files, Earth 2, Sliders, The Outer Limits, and NBC's
Seaquest caught my attention for three particular reasons: the premise of an undersea world was immensely appealing, the series was being executive produced by none other than Steven Spielberg, and the star of the show was one of my favorite actors, Roy Scheider. With all these ingredients, I just knew this was going to be a sci-fi classic and given how undemanding a sci-fi fan I was back then, this show won me over from the start. Watching season 1 again, it's a bit tougher to imagine why I was so fond of this show in the first place.
Certainly, there's a handful of bright spots to be expected. Scheider, as always, does a great job of playing the fatherly authority figure/everyman role that I'm sure he's grown used to. The f/x and sets, very "90s" in look and style, were quite impressive for its time and are still passable enough today that they don't often distract the viewer. The series even occasionally delivered its share of high adventure and mild suspense. I also liked John Debney's main theme, which is actually kind of catchy.
But the series never came together like it should have. From the start, Seaquest was clearly aping ST: TNG, what with the UEO/Federation parallels, the captain/ship's doctor romance, and the brilliant but annoying teenager who served no other purpose than to draw in a younger demographic (even though Jonathan Brandis, RIP, was a better actor than Wil Wheaton, I still found Lucas far more irritating than Wesley Crusher).
This would all be perfectly forgivable if the show actually delivered on its fantastic premise. Unfortunately, Seaquest is cluttered with too much vanilla-bland writing and cheesy dialogue. Seemingly 3/4's of the episodes attempt to deliver an important "lesson," but this tends to come off as self-consciously heavy-handed and corny. The show was also clearly intended for a family audience, hence the mostly light tone and lack of any material that might come across as potentially offensive; this must almost be entirely attributed to Spielberg's presence, as I cannot imagine Rockne S. O'Bannon pandering to younger audiences.
Looking back at the first season's 23 episodes, I wouldn't say they're awful; in fact, I found most of them just plain and mediocre. The only one that stood out was Episode 4, entitled "Games," which managed to deliver sharp suspense for most of its duration, still unfortunately marred by a cheesy climax, which became a staple of the series. Of all the shows I mentioned above, this rests with Earth 2 as the worst of the bunch (TNG still the best, of course).
Is Seaquest a bad series? For the most part, yes, but I've got too much of a sci-fi slant to hate it. Anyone completely weaned on today's sci-fi shows (Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, Firefly, Stargate, Enterprise) aren't going to find much in Seaquest that would appeal to them. But those who grew up on early 90s sci-fi...well, you've undoubtedly seen this show enough times already to know if it's up your alley or not.
I'm sorry to all those people that didn't enjoy the show, but I think some people didn't like it because they didn't understand it. Because the writers kept changing over, I guess it was a little confusing, but it was something you had to get used to. It was a unique show and the actors/actresses were all excellent in it. I thought that changing the writers and directors each week actually brought new life to it and made it different. People made such a big deal when it came out, and when it wasn't what they thought it would be, they didn't bother to watch anymore. I think if they'd just given it a bit more time they would have discovered how great it was. I think the cast and crew worked as hard as they could for that show, but they weren't appreciated for it - great performances, I'm sorry it had to be taken off the air.
I remember, that I was at school when the pilot was aired. But after
that, I saw every episode.
Hmmm, I remember being madly in love with Stacy Haiduk and her lovely smile. I guess I love her to this day.
Of course Rosalind Allen also caught my hart , but not as much as Stacy.
The first season, or at least until destroing the first boat was the best. All others was just a little bit worse, a little bit but always.. What more can I say? Nowedays THEY do not make shows like that. Now it's time for Reba, for Christ sake who, how, for how mach made a TV series about a woman who sing country - that will be a mystery for me, until the end of days.
Bring back that time, when Seaquest ruled the deep.
At it's heart SeaQuest wasn't a bad show. I think done today it would
greatly benefit from the fact that computer graphics have become so
commonplace and affordable. An issue that was one of the major problems
at the heart of SeaQuest. At 1 Million an episode (Unheard of at the
time)there was obvious cuts that showed up on screen. The perfect
example it in an episode where the SeaQuest has a giant bioillumenesant
squid invading through the moon pool. The interior scenes have a number
of old tricks that were obvious lifted from 1950's monster flicks.
"Don't go in that room captain! It's in there!" and a clear rubber
tentacle with blink lights, that is without a doubt silly looking and a
budget crunched effect. Very Lost in Space-ish.
The next issue at hand is story. While not being awful in the first season the plots are often centered around you taking away an ocean lesson, which would later be echoed by Dr. Robert Ballard of Titanic fame. More often the not what was meant to be fun, comes off as silly, and what should be threatening or action packed is not. The menacing ball pit from Brothers and Sisters comes to mind. Even with these issues SeaQuest doesn't show any weaknesses that any other first season Sci Fi show hasn't had. It's struggling to find an identity, and establish itself. The first seasons of Star Trek:The Next Generation, and Deep Space 9 have the same sort of growing pains as well, but turned out fine once they had found it's voice.
The third issue which doesn't really show on screen is Roy Scheider himself. Roy clearly hated the show, and put the bad mouth on it as often as he could. In interviews both in print and on TV. In reflection the cut corner effects, and silly plot devices may have had something to do with Scheider's complaints, but face it when the star of a show torpedo's it how much longer is it likely to survive? Season 2 of SeaQuest saw a change in were it was filmed, which helped, and unfortunately a change in cast as well. Most of the principal cast stayed on, but the loss of Stacy Hiduk (spelled wrong I know) stunk. However we did get several new cast members that balance out the losses.
The effects didn't really get any better, but I think the crew got better at making the show, and it's effects budget run and look better.
The stories were starting to shape up a bit as well, but unfortunately not well enough.
Budget, coupled with sinking ratings, and the star bad mouthing the show made the changes that were coming for season 3 unavoidable.
Season 3 changes the format of the show considerably. It takes place years later, and Roy is replace by a man who has been in seemingly every bad movie ever Michael Ironside. While the show is dead in the water at this point. The stories started to get better, and were actually beginning to become something that might work.
Only problem is it was way too late. Ratings were in the toilet, the show was pre-empted for everything. It no longer had a standard day, or time slot. The cast had yet again another round of changes made for season three, and most of what the audience was familiar with had changed so much it no longer held interest to the fans that could find the show.
I gotta be honest. I loved SeaQuest, and as I watch season 1 on DVD I still do. I really wish SciFi channel would resurrect it like it did with Battlestar Galactica.
I recommend it with a sense of not overanylizing the show. If you do that I guarantee you won't like it, but given half a chance I think you'll find a buried treasure of sorts.
Did I use enough bad sea related jokes in this review?
It is with deep regret that I see yet another brilliant SciFi series that was brutally axed by the powers that be, because it did not make the ratings. For more than forty years producers and studios have been making the same mistake. A decent SciFi series take a while to get going, and be appreciated. Let's face it, "Star Trek" was a flop the first time round, and was axed because it did not make the numbers, fortunately, it was given a second chance and a new life. "SeaQuest DSV" has not been so lucky, and along with "Crusade", "Space - Above & Beyond", "FarScape" and "Earth Star Voyager", lays broken and incomplete. The producers, directors and studios need to realise that SciFi is intellectual and projective, and will almost never be appreciated by the ratings majority, and these programmes need to treated as an investment in the future of entertainment. They need to be allowed to run and complete, and grow at their own pace. Oh yes, the only reason that I gave SeaQuest a rating of 9, rather than a perfect 10, was because of the discontinuity in the episodes. Particularly the sudden reappearance of Luetenent Brody, who was previously killed in action.
Here are my favourite episodes of seaQuest DSV:
To Be Or Not To Be (90 minute pilot). Despite being known as a movie star, I wish to say that Roy Scheider did his best acting in this pilot episode. Roy very reluctantly takes command of the supersub and his exchanges with the crew and confusion over the workings of the sub make for great viewing. However, not a perfect ep, no seaQuest ep is perfect, the CGI underwater effects do not work for me as my lifetime exposure to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea has given me views on how a submarine series should be produced.
SeaWest (episode 10) The supersub goes to a rather false looking (and false sounding) Australia, underwater. But despite being phony (to an Aussie like me), this story of down and dirty miners is cool. Note: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea never went Down Under! This was the first episode since the all-important pilot to really capture my interest.
Greed For A Pirate's Dream, highlighted by great characterisation from the regulars and that nut scientist from episode two returns. The scripting here is very good and we have shades of a disaster movie as the island folk refuse to leave the island despite knowing that doom is around the corner.
Whale Song, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea-ish episode as the military orders Bridger to take the sub into combat and destroy a sub. The early scene of the remains of a beached whale is of motion picture standard. The all-male crew of the trouble making submarine has a Voyage/Sea-look. Abalon (see my review of this episode on the episode list link).
Higher Power, season final and things really do end, characterisation moments come thick and fast in this gem of an episode.
Daggers (year two opener), Genetically engineered people cause trouble in this high energy ep.
Meltdown, A 200 foot crocodile makes trouble for everyone...and the ending of this hour is very well scripted. Not a very popular episode with many but this stuck-in-Irwin Allen monsters-reviewer likes it.
Lostland, The crew get taken over by the curse of an ancient warrior's helmet and Scheider's bad guy acting makes this. A top episode that captures tiny shades of 1960s Irwin Allen.
Thanks to a DVD release, seaQuest is getting new viewers who can be thrilled by NINE minutes of "deleted" footage from the pilot! The footage should never of been removed, however, I admit that one deleted moment on the enemy submarine looks a bit too goofy and Voyage/Sea-ish (a crewman gets zapped to death), this bit just does not fit the pilot...but I like it.
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