Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Space Rangers (TV)

Created by
Pen Desham
Starring Jeff Kaake, Jack McGee, Marjorie Monaghan, Danny Quinn, Gottfried John, Linda Hunt, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Clint Howard
IMDB Entry

Sometimes a TV show has everything going against it. Comparisons to another show.  A network with little commitment to it, and which insists on showing the episodes out of order.  Attempts to be different that aren't accepted by the conservative viewing audience.  And a show like that always fails.

So Space Rangers failed.  But it deserved much better.

CBS has never been a hotbed of science fiction.  Oh, there was The Twilight Zone and The New Twilight Zone, but they were more fantasy than science fiction. In general, though, they stayed away from the genre, especially something that's out-and-out space opera.  But evidently something was in the air in January of 1993.  Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was coming on the air, and Babylon Five was in development.*  So producer Pen Desham created Space Rangers and got CBS to air it.

Space Rangers The show's premise was also similar:  it follows the adventures of a space police force stationed on the space station Fort Hope.  The crew was led by Captain John Boone (Keff Kaake).  Jojo (Marjorie Monaghan) was his pilot, Zylyn (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) was the token alien, and Mimmer (Clint Howard) was the resident geek. They were led by Commander Chennault** (Linda Hunt) and were sent out on various missions to protect the station and rescue others.

Desham tried to do things a little differently.  There were no ray guns.  Instead, the Space Rangers fired real guns with bullets.  This raised scorn from a lot of sci-fi fans -- the bullets might pierce the hull -- but it really wasn't impossible if they were designed not to.***  He also had the pilot's chair set up so JoJo lay prone on it.  The Rangers were portrayed in a blue-collar world, where they expected hazard pay for risking their lives.

Now the show was no Babylon 5.  And it also hurt it that it premiered the same week as Deep Space 9.  Trekkers heaped scorn on it, mostly because it wasn't Star Trek.  I remember one heated debate that complained that in the first episode, JoJo banged her fist against a piece of malfunctioning equipment to get it to work.  Trekkers derided the show, saying this was impossible and a sign that the writers didn't know science fiction. Until I pointed out that in the Deep Space 9 premiere, Sisko banged his fist against a piece of malfunctioning equipment to get it to work. 

The show as pure space opera, and handled in a bravura manner.  Whereas DS9 took  a season or so to hit its stride, Space Rangers hit it from day run, a mix of action and adventure that was a lot of fun to watch.

Alas, CBS ran the shows in a really messed up order.  Episode three was first, then two, then one, then four, then it was canceled. This wasn't an arc heavy show like Babylon 5, so it wasn't a disaster, but it did confuse some people.***

The cast list is interesting.  The name that pops out is Linda Hunt, who had won an Oscar in The Year of Living Dangerously.  She always was a superb actress, and seemed to be enjoying herself as the station commander.

I liked Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa's Zylyn. He looked alien enough and was a violent warrior (and cannibal) with strange blinked out eyes.  Majorie Monaghan was also a standout as the tough-as-nails pilot. There's also Clint Howard, Ron's younger brother. Clint usually plays bit roles; this was one of his few regular roles in a TV show.

After the show, the actors moved on, none becoming major names.  Interestingly, both Tagawa and Monaghan appeared in Babylon 5. Producer Desham was back in TV a few years later with the revival of The Outer Limits that was pretty good and the second revival of The Twilight Zone, which wasn't.

Space Rangers wasn't great SF, but had a lot going for it, a fun, likeable puppy of a TV series that had too many strikes to overcome.


*There was a lot of speculation that Deep Space 9 was created primarily to block Babylon 5 from the air. The show had some strong superficial similarities -- set in a space station -- and J. Michael Straczynsky had pitched the idea to Paramount.  It seems likely to me that DS9 had taken some of B5's elements when they were creating the series.

**A reference to  Claire Chennault, commander of the Flying Tigers squadron in World War II.

*** I also was amused at the fact that this implied people thought the only way to do good science fiction was to make sure it had ray guns.

***Actually, I liked one element of this:  instead of starting with an episode that fills in all the backstory, they jumped right into the action and worried about the background later.  I think SF shows should do this more often (it also worked nicely for Firefly).


Azriel said...

i remember this series and always loved it. watched every episode faithfully even though the dumb butt's got the ep's outa order. i was watching this series while awaiting the birth of my first child & watched the last few ep's after he was bornm my lil sci luvvin baby. :D

i LOVED Jojo and Zylyn, really ALL the characters could have been expanded on, the premise while kinda cliched was, with this cast of characters, promising. i was ticked when it got canceled it was an awesome fun bit of sci fi fluff that could have been so much more!


Anonymous said...

So is there no episode order? Wikipedia gives one order, IMDB another, but I guess from what you're saying it doesn't matter? I've never watched it but found episodes on line and am curious.