Appellate Judge Dave Ryan should really do his homework before he starts implying that certain new Andromeda cast members may be skanks.
You never get a second chance to make…um…a fifth impression.
When last we left the crew of the Andromeda Ascendant, they had just lost their big showdown with the Magog, and everyone was dead—except for Dylan, who somehow managed to find himself transported into the last episode of The Prisoner. Drink up everyone, that's a wr --
Er, not so fast. Despite the fact that half of the cross-border production partnership responsible for Andromeda didn't want the show to continue, somehow it was rescued from oblivion by the SciFi Channel. The cost of survival, however, was that the production budget for the show was substantially reduced. To compensate for the lower budget, the producers significantly restructured the show. Setting the action for the entire season within a single solar system, the Seefra system, definitely cut down on the number of required sets and planets-in-space effects. But it also forced the show to reinvent itself from a storytelling standpoint. No more would Dylan chase around the universe looking to do good; instead, a new story arc would find him searching for meaning in the strange and desolate Seefra system.
It's not often a show gets to essentially recreate itself in the middle of its run—but there's no guarantee that the reinvented show will be any good…
Facts of the Case
Dylan Hunt: savior of the universe. Andromeda Ascendant: (1) ship of the savior of the universe; (2) hot robot avatar of said ship. Wacky, loyal crew: still wacky; still loyal. Systems Commonwealth: restored, after heroic efforts by Dylan Hunt (see: savior of the universe). Magog, The Abyss: bad guys.
At the end of Season Four, Dylan (Kevin Sorbo, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) had passed through the Route of Ages in a slipfighter after watching the Magog slap the Andromeda silly. Therein he met himself, or someone who looked an awful lot like himself, who gave him a knowing look of some sort. And so ended Season Four. Now, we find that the knowing look was not the end of things. Dylan wakes up on a strange planet, with a strange man looking after him. He learns that he's fallen into the Seefra system, a planetary system that cannot be accessed via the typical slipstream routes used for faster-than-light travel. Hence, it's essentially isolated from the rest of the universe—a planetary desert island. Specifically, he's on Seefra-1, the main planet in the system. Dylan quickly realizes that he recognizes many landmarks on Seefra-1, and that Seefra-1 is, in fact, Tarn Vedra, the homeworld of the Vedran race. (The Vedrans, a hyper-intelligent bunch of blue centaurs, were the core of the old Commonwealth; Tarn Vedra was the world where Dylan was born and raised.) The Vedrans had destroyed the slipstream routes into Tarn Vedra during the Old Commonwealth times—but Seefra-1 was nothing like the old Tarn Vedra. What happened? Why had the Vedrans isolated their homeworld, then left it inhabited only by humans?
Dylan's crewmates from the Andromeda are nowhere to be found…yet. But there's a lot of room in the Seefra system, and a lot of mysteries to be solved…
Andromeda: Season Five, Collection One contains the first five episodes of the show's lone SciFi Channel season. As with prior sets, the shows are presented in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital surround audio. The episodes included in this set are as follows:
• "The Weight (Parts 1 and 2)"
Beka's in the hands of another local thug—the Seefra system is beset by a surplus of local thugs, you see—who threatens to blow up Andromeda and/or kill Beka. His secret weapon is The Core, a box that contains some sort of harnessed energy source…which turns out to be Trance (Laura Bertram) in her solar form. Trance recharges the Andromeda, Dylan and Rhade save Beka, and all is well for the moment.
• "Phear Phactor Phenom"
• "Decay of the Angel"
• "The Eschatology of Our Present"
Andromeda: Season Five, Collection One is one of the stronger sets of these Andromeda collections. But this is a completely different show than Seasons 1-4. The show didn't just reinvent itself; it recreated itself. Every character is changed, some profoundly (e.g. Rhade). Gone is the self-contained episodic structure that Bob Engels brought to the show when he took over. In comes a thematic arc structure—not a pure multi-part story arc, but a series of episodes that each add to a greater season-long storyline. (In fact, the show uses a very similar structure to one of Engels' past projects—Twin Peaks.) The changes are so dramatic and so sweeping that they were off-putting to many fans. This is not your father's Andromeda. It's a darker, less Roddenberry-esque take on these characters. They're no longer the white knights riding in to save the universe; they're just ordinary joes trying to survive like everyone else on Seefra.
If you're an Andromeda fan willing to swallow the change, the fifth season of Andromeda has a lot to offer. It is, ironically, a throwback to the Robert Hewitt Wolfe era of the show. (Wolfe, the show's developer and first creative mastermind, was eased out of the show in the middle of the second season. The show's financier, the Tribune Company (and, allegedly, Sorbo), thought the show would sell better if it ditched Wolfe's story arc and focused solely on Dylan and his quest.) To jump ahead a little—yes, it was too good to be true; and the story arc in Season Five got a bit frazzled and silly towards the end. But it's still better than a lot of what passes for science fiction these days.
If you're new to Andromeda, you can still pick up this collection and get up to speed very quickly. Thanks to the drastic changes, Season Five is almost self-contained. You'll lose the shock value of seeing how these characters have changed, but you can still enjoy the quality writing and acting that have been the hallmark of the show since its creation.
The cast members seem to enjoy the chance to play these characters in such different ways. Especially Steve Bacic, whose performances are miles away from the stiff, self-conscious characterizations he put forth when he first joined the show. Bacic isn't just eye candy for the ladies anymore; he's grown into a legitimate actor. At the other end of the spectrum is Laura Bertram, who still seems trapped by the writers' intentions for the Trance character. Ever since Purple Trance went away and Gold Trance came in, she's seemed handcuffed by the seriousness of the character. Bertram is too naturally sweet to be the hard-ass they want her to be. Purple Trance was perfect for her; non-Purple Trance hasn't been.
The biggest cast change was caused by Lexa Doig's pregnancy. After considering their options, the producers decided that the best course of action was to keep Doig, and therefore Rommie, off the show until she had her baby. (Explaining how an android became pregnant was just too daunting a task, I suppose.) Hence, the inclusion of Doyle, Harper's new android creation. Now, I've taken my shots at Brandy Ledford in the past, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Not only is Ms. Ledford incredibly attractive (although I guess tastes do vary, so I shouldn't speak in absolutes…), but—wonder of wonders—she can actually act. Don't get me wrong, this isn't Meryl Streep Jr. we're talking about. But Ledford is far from a hot bod with an empty skull. She brings a great deal of depth to her character, even in the limited time Doyle is on this disc (only two of the four episodes), and does a lot of the little things that bring a character to life. Kudos—and apologies—to you, Ms. Ledford. That still doesn't excuse your voluntarily being Vince Neil's sex kitten for a spell…but I digress.
This Andromeda set, like those before it, continues to impress in the visual department. The widescreen transfer is quite clean, with good contrast and color balance. (With only two episodes per disc, requiring far less compression, one would hope that were the case.) Extras are comparable with those on the previous sets. They are fewer in number, but make up for that with more substance. On this particular set, Sorbo and Engels discuss the show's near-cancellation in fairly good detail, rather than regurgitating the usual "we love making Andromeda" spiel. A particularly good extra is the behind the scenes featurette with Gordon Verheul, the director of photography for the show, which is basically a tour of the show's fixed sets. Verheul shows us how the lighting is set up and controlled, how various physical effects are done, and other neat little behind-the-scenes tidbits. It's as close to a real live studio tour as you can get. The standard blooper reel, set of TV promos, and visual effects stills round out the package.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
These discs are still a bit pricey for what you get. When full 22-26 episode seasons of network television shows are retailing for $40, it's difficult to rationalize spending $35 (or more, depending on your retailer) for four episodes. Given that Andromeda is still readily available on cable TV, it's difficult to see these discs being purchased by anyone but the hard core fans.
Sound also continues to be problematic on these Andromeda sets. The Dolby mix has a tendency to overwhelm the dialogue in favor of the incidental music, making it difficult to follow sometimes. Plus, it's a stereo mix. No surround for Andromeda, unfortunately.
Finally—not to be a broken record here—this is a very different experience than prior seasons of Andromeda. Fans looking for more of the same from Dylan and his crew will be disappointed, although they may find that the new Andromeda is just as enjoyable for them as the old one.
Andromeda: Season Five, Collection One marks the start of a new (and short) era for the show. By breaking out of its mold—and taking the risk of alienating long-time fans—Andromeda managed to maintain its overall quality while reducing its production budget. It's still a great show for what it is; a show that I feel hasn't been properly appreciated by science fiction fans. Since this season is a reinvention of the show, this disc is a marginally acceptable starting place for new fans, although I'd still suggest watching the show from the beginning. If only they cost less…
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