December 3, 2010

What's with sci-fi on TV?


I know TV is bad, so when I turn it on I don't expect much. TV is where ideas go to die. Still, as a writer of sci-fi and horror, I'd love to discover interesting new shows and movies in these genres on TV. But TV has no such offerings.

Have you ever watched any of the "sci-fi" movies on the SyFy channel? My word, they're awful! And what bright light decided it would be better to stop calling the sci-fi channel the Sci-Fi Channel, and suggested SyFy would be a better name? (I think of it as the Siffy channel ever since the name change.) I'd love to know how the other decision makers at the station initially reacted to this suggestion. Did they cheer? Does anyone work over there and are they actually paid?

I know we have to keep our TV expectations extremely low. TV is the sick cousin of the entertainment family. But seriously, those movies on the SyFy Channel are the best the station could come up with? They only use three plots in their weekly movies. Essentially, they just recycle the same movie week after week -- as a new product, no less. They don't even rearrange the elements. It's amazing. It's like slacker chutzpah: a lazy "who cares what we put out?" attitude. They figure we'll watch any damn thing they produce, what with us being idiots and all. Inspiring, isn't it?

One of their approaches (you could make an argument that it's their only approach) is "let's create an inartful, unlikely CGI character out of thin air and have it attack, oh, I don't know, maybe some teenagers in the woods or mountains or a tunnel." They like this one. They like it a lot. Usually each "new" movie is this story. Occasionally they use different actors to fool you -- though they always try to stick Stephen Baldwin in 'em, if they can.

So let's recount. In just about every movie there is a creature that has no valid reason for existing and does not look real in any way. A band of people run from it and try to kill it but it destroys its way through the movie until the inevitable scene where it is blown up. There is no other way CGI characters can be killed; it's in their contract: each and every one of them must be blown up -- or there will be consequences, serious consequences. But don't worry, they always blow it up. Phew.

If the CGI entity is the result of those wild-eyed scientists, as it most often is, we're also treated to scenes where the "scientists" can't pronounce the words they blurt. They're always shown alongside the same little rack of eerie, glow-in-the-dark, colored test tubes. They just haul the set up from props each week, turn on the black light and it's a go. You'd think a new element might appear in one of their movies now and then, but it doesn't. There are only givens in the Siffy world, and we don't wanna mess around with givens, now, do we?

The only other movie ideas they have concern comets or asteroids or planets or stars hitting the Earth; or an evil creature that can only be calmed by the meaningless incantations of priests. Great job, Siffy! This totally covers the sci-fi spectrum. Your job is done.

And let us pause for a long moment to note the most striking thing: there is never an exciting idea in any of their movies. Not one. Ever. Savor this: In "sci-fi" movies, with all the possibilities of the universe at their disposal, they never present a new, intriguing idea. Plus, nothing in their movies ever has a scientific basis. It's all vapor, nonsense, dreck.

In the end, it's a good thing they changed their name. They didn't understand the "sci" part of sci-fi and now they'll never have to. They can just continue to create illogical, improbable and unbelievable creatures, let them run across the screen for two hours, and then sell it to companies who will litter the movie landscape with commercials that no one will ever see. (Good business model, too, Siffy. Gangbusters all around.)

Apparently this process will continue until the channel dies a boring death, some months or years hence. In the meantime, they will just continue to rinse, repeat and present the same movie each week as a ballyhooed "original movie". Cuz that's how they do it in Siffy land.

I hope that one day there will be a real sci-fi channel on TV, a place where soaring ideas are the hallmark, and opening minds to new ideas is the game. It won't happen, but I can dream.

One last thing I want to mention is that in its last incarnation as the Sci-Fi channel, the station really had something going on for a brief period of time. There was magic in the air and their shows displayed originality, charm and humor. They were still a bit silly but things were looking up. At that time, creativity was alive and well at the Sci-Fi channel. What I fail to understand is why those in charge let such a good thing slip through their fingers.

Because that's what they did. With everything going for them and good writers on hand, they could have taken it up a notch and brought the whole thing to a new level. But with the golden ring within reach, they decided to toss it all away. Instead of doing something great, it seems they sold the farm, fired the talented writers, hired hacks and transferred the place to raiders who were content to let the channel rot like garbage on a hot Paris sidewalk: redolent-like.

Crack work, Siffy guys! You're doin' a heck of a job! What you present is just what we want: idiotic garbage. Woo hoo! Keep up the good work!

PS to the SyFy Channel: Now that you're all my best friends over there, I offer you an out: contact me. I've got about 30 story ideas that would be perfect for a new Twilight Zone-type show. How'd you like to make something great for a change? Nah, I didn't think so. Still, the offer stands. 

3 comments:

casey/a r t a n d c o l o u r said...

I swear SyFi is the epitome of how stupid Americans are becoming. We can't even deal with spelling abbreviations correctly! I agree about the quality of science fiction today, it's all about the CGI. My word, Rod Serling produced some of the best sci-fi ever, and the vast majority of his shows could be produced today on a highschool stage with $5 and a dream with the same eerie, thought-provoking results.

casey/a r t a n d c o l o u r said...

haha, I couldn't even spell SyFy correctly, it's such an absurd acronym!

writenow said...

Casey,

Re: $5 and a dream with the same eerie, thought-provoking results.

You are so right. It's a paucity of ideas, not money. There's nothing at the heart of any of these stories. Where are the writers? You could fetch a few random people from a bus stop and they would have have better ideas.

Thanks for stopping by. Keith