Monday, November 23, 2015

Dear Science Fiction Fans: You Need To Let Things Go

You'd think that since science fiction* is all about exploring new ideas and seeing the world in a different way, science fiction fans would embrace change, but that's not entirely true. Sure, they're open to new ideas and are always willing to give the latest movie, TV show, or book series a shot (as long as it has spaceships/vampires/guys with swords, at least). The problem happens later, when they've decided they like that new thing. Once a science fiction fan's decided a thing is "theirs," they don't want to let it die.

In and of itself, that isn't a problem. Science fiction "fictons" (to use a word stolen from Heinlein that the Hex Games crew has been trying--and mostly failing--to popularize for years) are by their very nature ripe with possibilities for new premises, new characters, and new stories. The problem is that sci-fi fans don't want to see creators exploring all these possible stories, they want to see the exact same thing that made them enjoy the thing in the first place. They want to see the same characters doing the same shit over and over again, even when it's gone on for so long that it can't possibly be fun for anyone anymore.

I understand the nostalgia thing. Hell, I almost missed out on the Buffy TV series (which turned into one of my favorite shows of all time) because Kristy Swanson was "my" Buffy, which may be what forced me to re-evaluate the resistance to change that makes science fiction fans complain whenever there's a remake or sequel that's different than the one they grew up with. I promise you that even though we all know that Harrison Ford and Mark Hamil and all the rest will at best be doing long cameos in the new Star Wars movies, there will be fans who complain that Abrams spent too much time on all the new characters instead of focusing on "the real heroes." These people would honestly rather see a geriatric Han Solo lumbering around shooting at storm troopers than something new and (shudder) different.

As an aside, this insistence on a "right" way of handling things is even sadder when it comes to comics, because the "right" way to do a comic is always the way it was done when the person doing the talking started reading them. People who started reading comics during the Frank Miller years will completely discount the decades of Batman not being a grim psychopath to insist that Batman should always be a grim psychopath.

There are people who still hope for more Firefly. It's been over a decade, everybody's moved on, and thanks to Serenity they were able to give the story an ending, but if somebody suggests that there might be a reunion in the works, thousands of fans will piss themselves in joy. I was right there with them for a while, but there's a point when you just have to accept that Firefly was a thing and that thing is over now. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see more stories set in that universe, maybe even with some of the characters from the original show. I'd love to see (most of) that group of actors work together again, and look forward to watching Fillion and Tudyk's web series. But I don't want anyone to try to make more episodes of Firefly.

Why? Because there's no way for it to be Firefly. For starters, at least two of the characters are dead, and based on what Whedon's said a third one would have died in the interim unless they try to pretend that everyone aged prematurely from the stress of stuff that happened on Miranda. Also, as much fun as it was to watch Adam Baldwin being a terrible person as Jayne, I've got a feeling it would be less fun now that we know he's a right-wing asshole in real life. The main reason I don't want to see a Firefly reunion, though, is because I've seen Red Dwarf: Back To Earth.

I loved Red Dwarf. We used to rent the VHS tapes of the show at the comic shop I worked at, and it was one of my go-tos for background noise. A few years ago, someone sent me a DVD of Back To Earth, which I hadn't even heard of. It was a 3-episode reunion show made in 2009, ten years after the show had ended. The crew ended up on modern-day earth where they had to meet their creator, and it was full of Blade Runner references and fourth-wall breaking and stuff I'd normally really enjoy, a starbug made out of a Smart Car, and lots of other good stuff. If they'd made it ten years earlier, it would have been great, but it wasn't.

What was wrong with Back to Earth? You know that really awkward scene in Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back where they show up at Holden MacNeil's door and Affleck stiffly repeats some of Jay's lines from Chasing Amy and it's just weird and awkward for everyone? Back to Earth was like that. You could tell that the actors really wanted to recapture the magic of the old episodes of Red Dwarf, but it just wasn't there any more. Even the bits that worked came across as sort of stilted and sad. It was depressing to watch.

That brings me to the thing that inspired this blog post: They're making more episodes of Red Dwarf. Here's a picture from it:

Even without the example of Back to Earth, this picture should tell you why this is a bad idea. Look at how old Craig Charles is today. The other guys look older, too, but even though they're the characters that shouldn't age (being a robot and a hologram), it's Lister looking old that's the real problem. If you had to boil down the character of Dave Lister to three words, they would be "young and stupid." He's the trickster archetype of the group, the untamed id who makes things interesting for everyone else, and that's not a character that ages gracefully.

I'd love to see more Red Dwarf, but I'm pretty sure that this series, which looks like more of the same Red Dwarf, is going to be as uncomfortable to watch as Back to Earth. And if anyone claims that the premise of the show doesn't allow doing anything without these characters, they weren't paying attention. Despite the "last man alive" premise, they ran into all sorts of other characters during the show, and that's before you remember that they regularly traveled through time and to parallel dimensions. There are ways to keep the Red Dwarf ficton alive without making us watch Dave Lister go from young and stupid to old and pathetic.

*I'm using the term "science fiction" in its most imprecise form to represent sci-fi, fantasy, super-heroes, horror, and the whole spectrum of geeky shit.

"Love us with money, or we'll hate you with hammers"--Milk & Cheese

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