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Friday, 14 May 2010

Come on lads, it's meant to be sci-fi.

Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo.I know, I know, they've made movies and written video games and all that other good stuff that multi talented Hollywood types do but come on. Say the names Rod Serling, Gene Roddenberry, Joss Whedon, JJ Abrams and people know who you mean; instantly. Say the names Joe Straczynski, Chris Carpenter, Don Bellissario, Daid Greenwalt and assuming the people you are talking to are even slightly geeky, they'll know who you mean; instantly. Bilson and DeMeo, though? Not quite on the same level are they?

Nor should they be. They aren't as good. It's as simple as that. Which is not to say that their work is without merit.

Their adaptation of The Flash, starring John Wesley Shipp, is one of the best true comic adaptations I've yet seen and their two mid 90's shows, The Sentinel and Viper, are two very well put together examples of the car chase and shoot out school of cop show. What they are not, are good examples of sci-fi shows. And sci-fi is what they purport to be.

Viper is a show set in the future about a team of undercover cops fighting a crime wave in a sporty little vehicle that has the ability to morph into a virtually impregnable supercar complete with machine guns, remote control drone cameras, rocket launchers and, in the final season, a hovercraft mode for water pursuits.

And yet week after week they investigated murders, kidnapping, armed robberies and the odd bit of domestic terrorism when they felt like pushing the boat out. Where were the supervillains, the evil geniuses, the global corporations intent on overthrowing governments? The case of the week plots were no more fantastical or outlandish than your average TJ Hooker.

At least Viper had the car and the gadgets. The Sentinel had a cop with super senses. Which he used to sniff and taste evidence and read license plates from a long way off. That was about it. Detective Jim Ellison, played by stalwart 24 psycho, Harpers Island corpse and occasional resident of Wisteria Lane, Richard Burgi, is gifted with enhanced senses after spending some time in the jungle during his Army days. They lie dormant when he returns to civilization, until he goes camping. Or something like that, it's a long time since I watched the pilot. Anyway, he returns to the city with these new abilities and sets about using them to fight crime, alongside anthropologist Blair Sandburg (Garret Maggart), whom he agrees to allow to study him, in exchange for help controlling the powers.

There is some intriguing stuff in their about the origins of said powers in the South American native cultures but I'll be honest, it never really goes anywhere. Instead the writers seem much more interested in the same bog standard case of the week type episodes that Viper suffers from.

Burgi is, as he usually is, good value but it's Maggart who really made the big impression on the fans. Indeed, when the show was cancelled after 3 seasons, ending with Blair Sandburg apparently dead, their was a big fan campaign to save him, which resulted in a (truncated) 4th year. In fact though, I'm fairly sure I've read that the writers had not 'apparently' killed him to engineer a cliffhanger from which he would return but rather had fully intended to leave him dead in any 4th season, Instead, they brought him back for a fairly lacklustre final run.

This did at least mean we got to see more of new girl Anna Galvin, who had appeared as a new regular toward the end of season 3 playing another cop who learns Jims secret and would crop up a few times in Season 4, credited now with the "special appearance by" tag, since presumably the budget had been cut and no longer stretched to a full cast complement. Last in, first out, as they say.

Anyway, The Sentinel is toast as far as the Quest is concerned. Done, dusted and hands wiped of. Viper on the other hand has proved more problematic. FX (greatest channel on the Sky grid, bar none) screened seasons 2-4 as daytime wallpaper a few years back but omitted season 1, presumably due to the rights issues being more complicated. Season 1 had been a network show but after being cancelled it was brought back in first run syndication and I'm guessing thats gotta make a difference. Probably why Airwolf season 4 isn't in the DVD box sets. Although that could just be down to overall cackness.

Now, with season 1 unavailable I wouldn't normally have watched. And I didn't here, opting instead to go with filling up shedloads of vhs tapes. These tapes sat, neglected, until I did a little digging and found that when the show was ressurected it was an almost total reboot. Armed with this handy justification I decided to jump in. Problem was, having moved around since then I found that 2 of the tapes had gone astray. Aaah! So now Viper lies abandoned, for the time being at least, with 12 eps at the front and 8 at the back unnacounted for. I'll get them some day.

Final note - no matter how dissapointing his shows may be, Danny Bilson will forever hold a special place in my heart for 2 equally important reasons. 1) His part in putting The Rocketeer onscreen and 2) Rachel Bilson. Mmmm Summer.

Next : A look at the origins of the Quest. Or me moaning about the lack of channels when I was a kid. Take your pick.

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