We were interested in what it all means - the big questions of
life," says Rockne O'Bannon, creator of the Sci-Fi Channel show
"Farscape." "Are we alone in the universe? Is there good and evil
Speculative fiction is hot stuff right now on TV: NBC's ghostly
"The Others" debuts tomorrow at 10 p.m.; a new post-Apocalyptic
series, "Total Recall 2070," premired in national syndication last
month; and as a special-event all nine episodes of the near-future
show "Harsh Realm" air this spring on the FX channel.
So why is this genre of "what if?" shows expected to attract
"Speculative fiction gives us the ability to do allegorical
stories that cut very close to the bone of what people care about -
and do it in a disarming way," says Mark Stern, executive producer
of Showtime's "The Outer Limits," an updated version of the classic
1960s sci-fi anthology.
In a coming episode called "Judgment Day," the show lambastes the
future of scandal TV. A man is framed for a murder, tried, and
convicted by the Judgment Day Network, and then released for the
murdered woman's sister to hunt down and kill. In the futuristic
context, the episode attacks the entertainment industry's cynicism,
the danger of privatization of correctional institutions, and what
is arguably a growing trend toward vengeful retribution. It asks
"what if" TV could mete out capital justice, as Judge Judy metes out
Speculative fiction, from sci-fi to fantasy, horror, and the
supernatural, asks "What if?" Space operas like "Farscape,"
"Stargate SG-1" (Showtime), and "Star Trek Voyager" (UPN) propose
worlds beyond our own. "What if" technology makes deep-space travel
inevitable? What will other worlds be like? Other life forms? What
will be the issues facing humankind in such an expanded experience?
In "Farscape," the various species on board the spaceship
Leviathan distrust and care for each other by turns - each wanting
only to return to their own worlds. Loyalty, courage, compassion,
and tolerance are important to survival.
Near-future and futuristic earth sagas like "Now and Again"
(CBS), "Pretender" (NBC), "Harsh Realm," and "Total Recall 2070" ask
what if technology changes us? What could happen to human societies
as technology becomes more advanced? How will mores change? In their
own way, each of these shows deals with moral issues without
sounding simplistic or moralistic.
'What science can do' and ethical dilemmas
Scholar and writer Jennifer Krammer says that "some sci-fi
represents hidden fears of science - and what science can do." That
is, euthanasia, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and
cloning present new ethical dilemmas.
"Total Recall 2070" suggests a bleak future where democracy and
personal freedom have been relinquished in favor of a corporate
culture. The stunning design of the show recalls the retro-future
look of "Blade Runner" rather than the movie "Total Recall."
Smartly written and performed, this high-minded, entertaining
thriller takes on the dehumanizing prospect of a machine-centered
culture, corporate greed, and environmental and human-rights issues
that would not be tolerated in any other TV genre.
"Harsh Realm" was precipitously yanked from Fox after only three
episodes last fall. It pictures a virtual-reality world in which the
hero, Hobbes, is trapped. The only way out creates a terrible
predicament for him, because in order to return to reality, he must
destroy the virtual world. But the virtual characters "have some
kind of validity," says executive producer Frank Spotnitz. In other
Meanwhile, Hobbes's sidekick, the ever-selfish Mike Pinocchio,
"is better than he knows and he keeps doing the right thing despite
Both "The X-Files" (Fox) and "Harsh Realm" are the offspring of
Chris Carter, and "what they have in common is that there is more in
the universe than we can understand," Mr. …