Judge Aaron Bossig picked up this DVD set and asked himself "Earth 2? Could the sequel be better than the original?"
This time, we are the aliens.
Thanks to the TV-Shows-on-DVD boom, TV fans have been blessed with many of these "complete series" packages. Back in the days of VHS, only shows like Cheers and I Love Lucy, which had attained ultimate timeless popularity, would be given a full home video release. Then came DVD, and suddenly any moderately successful show has become a candidate for a disc release. Now, for the same price as a single season of some series, you can get the entire series run of another…which is really a polite way of noting that particular series never ran more than two seasons. When I look over a package such as Earth 2: The Complete Series, I get suspicious. Am I about to watch a casualty of network idiocy or a bad show rightly nipped in the bud?
Facts of the Case
Earth has become an environmental wasteland, only inhabited by miners too impoverished to go anywhere else. The rest of humanity has fled to giant orbiting space stations to start life anew. However, an alarming number of children born on the stations suffer an affliction known only as The Syndrome, guaranteeing their death at an early age. To provide a real answer for humanity, Devon Adair (Debrah Farentino, Storm of the Century) takes her Syndrome-suffering son Ulysses (Joey Zimmerman, Very Bad Things) and leads a colonizing mission to the Earth-like planet G889. Disaster strikes when her crew lands on the wrong side of the continent, forcing them to cross thousands of kilometers by foot in an unknown wilderness. A thousand more colonists will be arriving in little less than a year, and if the Eden Project is to succeed, Devon and her followers need to reach New Pacifica first.
Science fiction, as a genre, depends strongly on either excellent writing or groundbreaking special effects. At 90 minutes, a movie can gain a sizable audience just from dazzling special effects. A TV show, however, can't rely on eye candy to carry it through from season to season. To build an audience, it should be well-written from the first episode. If you can stimulate the minds of your audience, and make your viewers care about the characters, your sci-fi series can last for years. The only other option is to show some cleavage, and for the purposes of this review, we'll call that cheating.
The first season of Earth 2 (which, after cancellation, amounted to Earth 2: The Complete Series) was an excellent setup for a long-running series. Lots of characters (over nine regulars and numerous recurring characters) were created and nurtured. Unlike many shows which were popular at the time (such as Star Trek: The Next Generation and SeaQuest DSV), this group didn't consider themselves to be on the same team. Many, like mechanic John Danziger (Clancy Brown, The Shawshank Redemption) are there by accident, and have no motivation to help the rest of the team. John is not at all optimistic about the Eden Project's predicament, and doesn't hesitate to speak his mind when he thinks Devon is making a mistake. His lack of concern for authority is picked up by his daughter True (J. Madison Wright, Shiloh) who both annoys and endangers the adults by not following the rules.
Settling on a new world, the Eden Project finds many nonhuman characters, each of which bring out the extremes in our regular cast. Driving a lot of the story are the Terrians, a pacifistic race that seems to have a symbiosis with the planet. In order to establish a trust, the Terrians cure little Ulysses of his illness and give him the ability to understand them, essentially giving Ulysses the keys to the planet. We, the audience, are left to wonder what the Terrians could ever expect in return for such a gift. The group also bargains with creatures called Grendlers, ogre-like creatures who live by bartering. Both races have dubious agendas, to which Devon's group responds with everything from irrational trust to blind and violent paranoia.
Call me a geek, but I think even bad science fiction is better watching material than most of what is on TV. Good science fiction, then, is something to appreciate, even get excited over. Earth 2 is a classic well-done sci-fi series; its episodes being composed of exceptionally well-written stories, all of which fall into a larger narrative. Even halfway through the season, new characters pop up and old ones reinvent themselves. A great deal of the Eden Project is built on lies. Some characters are lying about who they are (no, of course I won't tell you which ones!); others find out that everything they knew about their situation or themselves was a lie. Earth 2 starts out with a tangled web of confusion and deception, which presumably would have provided numerous story opportunities down the road.
Earth 2 was clearly written to be a long-running series. The first, and possibly second, season of the show would have been devoted to the Eden Project's slow land journey to their goal, New Pacifica. When the rest of the colonists land, they would need to organize a rudimentary government and create a community out of 1,000 people. Devon, John, and the others would need to show hundreds how to live on a foreign planet they themselves don't understand. What would happen when the space station government starts to impose itself on the new colony? Would the Eden Project stay loyal to the authorities that manipulated their mission, or would they rebel? Hints were dropped in either direction throughout most of Season 1. The colonists arrived in order to try and save the Syndrome children, but what if not all of them could be healed by the planet? There was no promise that this would work, and no one expected the miraculous recovery bestowed on Ulysses by the Terrians. Furthermore, if the Terrians can select which humans they wish to share the planet's secrets with, can humans accept that their fate is in the hands of these mysterious tribal aliens? This is how we can measure what's lost when a series ends too quickly: the quality of stories that can never be told.
The DVD package makes this show very easy to get into. While it does feature every episode from the series, it places them in airing order, so that "Natural Born Grendlers" and "Flower Child" are at the very end of the set. You'll do yourself a big favor if you watch "Natural Born Grendlers" after "Promises, Promises" and watch "Flower Child" after "Survival of the Fittest." The picture quality can vary, often getting soft and exhibiting color bleeding, but the experience will hardly be ruined. You'll also get some extended scenes and a blooper reel, which are always welcome additions to any DVD set. There aren't any trailers in the collection, instead, we get full episodes of Sliders and Cleopatra 2525. While they certainly must take up a lot of space, a whole episode is a much more effective advertisement than a 2-minute trailer.
After watching and enjoying every last second of this DVD set, there's no question that Earth 2 had all the potential it needed to be a great series. The only question is, what truly killed it? Was it a ratings issue? Was there a creativity conflict behind the scenes? Did NBC just feel like getting rid of a decent TV show?
The court will grant the appeal and overturn the previous ruling by NBC. Earth 2 was a fantastic show full of promise. Rumors from the cast have indicated that, were there a second season, the show would have taken a very different path and probably lost most of its charm. It's possible that Earth 2 should be remembered as a song unsung, having never been given the opportunity to jump the shark.
To me, it seems like a risk that would have been worth taking.
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