Monday, August 27, 2007

Deservedly Discarded

ABC's Masters of Science Fiction aired its final episode last night--and after sitting through all four sub-par hours, I can see why the network chose not to air the remaining two episodes that'll be seen only in Canada (and on some syndicated cable network in a few months, I'll bet). All four hours were ham-fisted, preachy, and poorly developed, and three of the four were also cliched and embarrassing in their scripts as well as production values (only the Heinlein episode had a few moments of redemptive writing, although much of it was reduced to absurdity that detracted from the central point of Heinlein's story).

Last night's episode, based on Harlan Ellison's "The Discarded" (and featuring Ellison himself in a cameo), was the worst of a bad lot. The story itself was the sort of inept socio-commentary that all too frequently typifies bad science fiction: plague-infected outcasts (some would inaccurately call them mutants, I guess, even though a mutant must be differentiated genetically from prior generations, not modified by disease) are found to bear the antibodies for a cure that will help save the planet that has ostracized them. Of course, after they sacrifice their own ethos for the chance to return to Earth, the planet that once shunned them uses them and subsequently discards them once again. Take that tired and predictable format, add inappropriate film noir private eye music for no apparent reason than the fact that they must have had some on hand, add in laughable effects and acting derived from the "yell the lines loudly and they won't sound as stupid" school of delivery, and you have a painful hour of television.

I know that Ellison is capable of writing better--and in fact, has done so for television as well as for print. However, this was below the standards of the worst episodes of the relaunched Outer Limits, and rivals the abominable quality of those avert-your-eyes-in-pity original films on the Sci Fi Network.

Bear in mind, though, that the producers of this series managed to reduce a well-crafted Robert A. Heinlein short story to a dull, plodding experience; I am convinced that everyone associated with this show must secretly despise science fiction. That's the only way they could possibly try to sell this to the public as the Masters of Science Fiction....

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