Friday, 28 September 2012

Actors in American Sci-Fi

It is interesting to keep an eye out for guest (and sometimes semi-regular) high-quality actors in American Sci-Fi series.

Some of the more recent series, such as Earth: Final Conflict and the new versions of V and Battlestar Galactica, have previously unknown (at least to most of us) performers more-or-less throughout, although the latter did have the excellent Michelle Forbes guesting as Captain Caine of the Pegasus for a couple of episodes. I first encountered Michelle as the Bajoran ensign Ro Laren in Star Trek: The Next Generation some years earlier.

Other series, such as Andromeda and Stargate SG-1 have featured easily-recognisable actors like Peter Wingfield, Sam J. Jones, Tony Todd, John Savage, Carmen Argenziano, Hiro Kanagawa and Kevin Durand, among others. If you want to see what I mean, pick a name from that list and take a look in Google Images and you'll immediately say to yourself "Oh, him!' and probably follow that with 'I wondered what his name was..." Betcha!

I, of course, have (predictably!) been storing these names mentally for years, and a large number of others too, starting decades ago with names that most people alive today wouldn't recognise, such as Jeff Corey (not a brilliant actor, by the way, but always enjoyable to watch, funnily enough) and Michael Cavanaugh.

The series are good showcases for acting talents, as the characters are often more interesting than parts in other genres. For example, Sam J. Jones – hardly one of the greats in terms of acting – had an excellent outing in SG-1 as a bounty hunter in one episode. It really suited his style! It was certainly a long way from the movie Flash Gordon he played all those years ago, opposite Brian Blessed and Timothy Dalton...

Sometimes bringing relatively unknown names into prominence in a big production can work – and sometimes it just doesn't. The new V was cancelled after two seasons owing to poor viewing ratings (all-important in American TV!), and I am reasonably certain that this was largely down to the relatively low acting standard and lack of believability of the main characters – apart from the always-excellent Morena Baccarin as Anna, who was the only name I recognised from the entire cast.

Mind you, Christopher Sher who plays Marcus looks to have potential, but the only other really good performer had his character killed off in the very first episode (Alan Tudyk, who was great in both Firefly and Dollhouse).

Conversely, the Galactica cast turned out to be generally up to the challenges, so that despite the dodgy (almost free-wheeling) writing style of the series, it did go all the way to the story's conclusion. Some of the regular cast made names for themselves in that series and have since appeared elsewhere – perhaps most unexpectedly 'Baltar' becoming Merlin in one production(!)

It's a funny old business, though; and the tendency of series to be cancelled after just one or two series (anything with Eric Close in it seems to last just one season, such as Dark Skies and Now and Again) means that one should never get too deeply into an American series because of the risk of being left hanging.

It can happen here too, though it is relatively uncommon. For example, a number of years ago, two of the three stories of The Tripods were made into a series each, but the third and final story was never made. That was frustrating, as it had become far more interesting during the second season than the first.

I bought the book, though, so I know what happens!


  1. XX Brian Blessed and Timothy Dalton...XX

    I know who those two are. The others, and I mean 100% of them, I have never heard of in my bloody LIFE.

  2. That's what I'm getting at in that point: most people would recognise the images of those who keep popping up in these series, but they wouldn't recognise the names.

    I am the odd one (as I indicated) by actually bothering to find out who they are and memorising that info: I don't expect anyone else to do so, though you are very welcome if you ever become that interested(!)

  3. I DID have a great interest in Sci-Fi. But I think, in some ways, it was spoiled by the Star Trek series. I mean, how can you top that?

    "Das Boot" did the same for submarine war films.

    For me, any way.

  4. It's not a matter of 'topping' necessarily (although many series have done so) but of being a different story, so that one doesn't get into a one-dimensional mindset.

    The whole point of the genre, when properly done, is to make us think in a different way by confronting us with new scenarios, so we need a range of sufficiently different series, movies or whatever to keep us thinking anew, and considering previously unencountered situations and how to deal with them.

    I encourage that; and I have found it valuable to do so myself in broadening my appreciation of the sheer variety of 'possibles' that lie out there somewhere...

  5. The trouble is, there are not SO many "stories" that you can play with.

    O.K. So, Seven Samurai, became Magnificen seven, and led, If I remember rightly, to the Clint Eastwood "man with no name gendré.

    I feel that in the last few.... na I don't know how old the episodes are when WE get them, but say seasons, even Star trek is seven samurai, and any number of crimi/soap lines with added technology. Deep space nine was "Crossroads" with a laser pistol.

    At present each "new" film appears to be a repeat of older films, or a "remake" with better "F/X".

    Independance day was good, and on a boring Sunday, I will watch it again, and again. But when you boil it down, how different was it from Battle star Galactica/Star Trek? Or, how different, in content and story line, was Battle Star Galactica from the origional "Flash Gordon" (Was there in silver underwear, Claud Rains was the invis.... Sorry got carried away there. But at least the Rocky Horror had a different take on it) :-) )?

    It is not the artistic potential, be it acting or technology/graphics that are lacking, rather the fact that "the human condition" has only so much potential.

    Today, there are so many films, I feel they have exhausted "the pool."

    Pity, but....

  6. There is a lot of 'writing by committee' in the USA, leading to generic and repetitive storylines. Also, the basic premises are limited in range to some extent.

    Star Trek: The Next Generation and ST: Voyager were notorious for this, the former all too often fitted within the formula 'character of the week (Troi story; Riker story; Data story etc) / particle of the week (part of the infamous Treknobabble) / HoloDeck malfunction of the week'.

    Even ground-breaking series such as Babylon 5 had elements of some of that, but managed to turn a lot of it on its head and producing surprising and sometimes even shocking outcomes. In many respects, it remains today (nearly twenty years on) one of the most original, different and intelligent series ever created within the SF TV genre.

    So, it can be done!

  7. I must admit to never really having seen "B5", but I think I will try and get copies and watch thm. The same with "Deep Space 9."

    Whatever happens, they (anything "Star Trek") ARE good to watch.

    Thanks for the interchange. I have enjoyed it.



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