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[ANDR] Jammer's Review: First Season Recap

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This lengthy recap article contains plentiful spoilers for the entire first season of Gene Roddenberry s Andromeda. In brief: The series shows
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 3, 2001
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      Warning: This lengthy recap article contains plentiful spoilers for the
      entire first season of "Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda."


      In brief: The series shows promise on its big-picture front, but many of the
      episodes themselves have left much to be desired. Overall, a more
      disappointing season than I had expected.

      -----
      Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: First Season Recap
      Capsule Reviews & Season Analysis

      For episodes airing from
      10/2/2000 to 5/14/2001 (USA)

      Series created by Gene Roddenberry
      Developed by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
      Executive producers: Majel Roddenberry, Allan Eastman,
      Adam Haight, Jay Firestone
      Co-executive producer: Robert Hewitt Wolfe

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      -----

      Welcome to the first Jammer Review of an entire season of Andromeda. The
      format for this article will follow the same look and feel of previous
      seasons/series I've reviewed. The first lengthy section has capsule reviews
      for each of this season's episodes; the second lengthy section has a
      commentary on the season as a whole. Altogether, this makes it the most
      comprehensive review of Andromeda that I'll write this year (to recycle a
      phrase). Feel free to agree, disagree, or punch your computer screen.
      Followed by trashing the room you're sitting in. (No, don't do that.) Let's
      begin.

      --
      PART 1: CAPSULE REVIEWS

      "Under the Night" -- Airdate: 10/2/2000. Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe.
      Directed by Allan Kroeker.

      Pilots can be difficult to rate, as "Under the Night" was to some degree. I
      wasn't thrilled with it, but nor was I disappointed. Simply put, this
      episode gets the job done. It establishes the Commonwealth premise, freezes
      Dylan Hunt in time for 300 years, and then pulls him out after The Fall,
      where he must start his life over again. The story moves fairly efficiently,
      although suffering occasionally from moments of undesirable exposition (like
      Rhade's poorly delivered speech about why he is betraying Dylan), and
      moments of questionable production (I still can't help but chuckle at the
      bug costume that's supposed to represent the Than). The regular characters
      are adequately established (save Tyr, who would get plenty later), as are
      some major backstory pieces involving the Nietzscheans. A marginal
      recommendation.

      Rating: ***


      "An Affirming Flame" -- Airdate: 10/9/2000. Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe.
      Directed by Brenton Spencer.

      Better than "Under the Night" by a bit, "Affirming Flame" is essentially a
      "Die Hard" premise with Captain Hunt as John McClane. The inane first few
      minutes show Tyr Anasazi blowing away a bunch of robots, which accomplishes
      the weird job of setting the stage with little promise for a character that
      would later turn out to be the season's most interesting. Meanwhile, Trance
      dies and then un-dies, which paves the way for revealing some character
      traits among Beka's crew. Alas, Trance's mysterious death is about as
      effective here as what her general air of mystery would be for the bulk of
      the season -- which is to say, not all that much. Gerentex turns out to be
      more of a cartoon character here than in part one, albeit not as much as in
      "Fear and Loathing in the Milky Way." Despite my qualms, we have a story
      that accomplishes its major goals and helps itself by supplying Dylan's (and
      the series') Mission Statement: Rebuild the Commonwealth.

      Rating: ***


      "To Loose the Fateful Lightning" -- Airdate: 10/16/2000. Written by Matt
      Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer. Directed by Brenton Spencer.

      A common theme this season of "good intentions, not-so-good execution" is
      abundantly clear in "Lightning," which is a parable on the evils of hate
      carried out with some very bad and unconvincing plot developments. We have a
      group of children who have been descended from the Commonwealth, but with no
      explanation for how they've survived on their own in such harsh surroundings
      with no resources or opportunities to learn. The concept itself simply
      defies explanation. Meanwhile we have Dylan playing the part of Captain
      Dunce, voicing his worries about these youngsters' violent tendencies while
      at the same opening the doors that allow them to take ships and weapons and
      destroy an entire star system and billions of Magog. Hello? Put these
      problems next to a grossly inappropriately hidden subplot about Harper
      building Rommie's android body, some frankly annoying teenage performances,
      convoluted issues about the High Guard elevated to godliness, and a poorly
      conceived ending, and you have one of the series earliest episodes doubling
      as one of its worst.

      Rating: *1/2


      "D Minus Zero" -- Airdate: 10/23/2000. Written by Ashley Edward Miller &
      Zack Stentz. Directed by Allan Eastman.

      A passable show that sets some of the ground rules for space combat on
      Andromeda. I liked the tension between the characters, particularly between
      Beka and Dylan (which can be summed up with one nice exchange -- Beka: "I'm
      not big on trust." Dylan: "Then it's time to learn"). The underlying story
      is simple, featuring Our Heroes vs. the Bad Guys, and the issue is simply
      how Our Heroes deal with surviving the unprovoked attack by the silent,
      faceless Bad Guys. If execution then becomes everything, I'm pleased to
      report that the execution here is good, with narrative clarity and character
      interaction that works, as Dylan comes to realize, in Tyr's words, "You
      haven't the first idea how unforgiving this universe has become." Too bad
      what came out of the setup here is later a disappointment: Given all the
      secrecy here, it makes little sense that these bad guys are the Resters,
      whose extremist terrorism shown later doesn't track with the ominous secrecy
      here.

      Rating: ***


      "Double Helix" -- Airdate: 10/30/2000. Written by Matt Kiene & Joe
      Reinkemeyer. Directed by Michael Rohl.

      One of the season's best, this episode is the first clue that the
      Nietzscheans would become the most interesting standing element in
      Andromeda's freshman season, and that Tyr would become the most interesting
      regular character. Tyr is a completely convincing persona of
      self-survival -- of "doing what's best for Tyr." Keith Hamilton Cobb can
      turn Tyr on a dime from calm to exploding with emotion to calm again, and
      make it all perfectly plausible. Equally good is Dylan struggling to find
      his own answers about Nietzscheans, as he recalls his relationship with
      Rhade, his first officer who betrayed him. The connections between the
      flashbacks and the current plot evoke nicely drawn parallels, showing one of
      the best examples this year of a meshing A-story and B-story, something that
      hasn't always gone well. The story's plot itself -- involving the
      Than/Nietzschean conflict that Andromeda gets puled into, isn't nearly as
      important as all the backstory and tests of loyalty that come with it.

      Rating: ***


      "Angel Dark, Demon Bright" -- Airdate: 11/6/2000. Written by Robert Hewitt
      Wolfe. Directed by Allan Eastman.

      As far as I'm concerned, this is by miles Andromeda's best effort to date.
      Time travel is hardly a new idea in science fiction or anywhere else, but
      what "Angel Dark" does is tell a story where time travel becomes the avenue
      for one of the heaviest and most provocative television stories I've seen in
      quite some time, where characters must make impossible choices. The depth
      and implications of this story are extraordinary, inviting us to stop and
      consider the cosmic significance of a single ship at a single, crucial
      moment in history. It's not about saving the Commonwealth (which is already
      beyond saving at this story's juncture); it's about minimizing suffering in
      the universe. Dylan and his crew are forced by fate, divinity, destiny,
      *something*, into making the decision to kill tens of thousands of people,
      such that war and history will play out the way it should ... or must. For
      once, Trance is put to good use by demonstrating her Knowledge on a Higher
      Plane alongside dialog and character interaction that really works, using
      her as a true piece of the story that subconsciously knows what's going on
      at higher levels while consciously not, if that makes any sense. Virtually
      every character has a key moment and intriguing arguments. If Andromeda
      could approach this level of sophistication every week, we'd be in great
      shape.

      Rating: ****


      "The Ties That Blind" -- Airdate: 11/13/2000. Teleplay by Ethlie Ann Vare.
      Story by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz. Directed by David Warry-Smith.

      "Ties" is a labored, convoluted plot that begins to look more and more like
      Swiss cheese before it's all over. The fundamental problem is that it
      becomes very difficult to care about Beka's brother, Rafe, through all this
      mess. Who is he working for? Who isn't he working for? Who cares? The story
      is in love with its cons and audience deception but doesn't do enough to
      convince us that anyone involved has much at stake. It strikes an odd note
      of disconnect, wandering through a plot with no emotional undercurrent.
      There are some attempts at sibling chemistry between Beka and Rafe, but they
      can't redeem a story full of uncertain exposition. The story at various
      points involves the Wayists, the FTA, and the Resters. None of it is
      memorable, and none of it figures out what it's trying to say. Rafe bounces
      around the plot while we're constantly left unsure which side of the game
      he's on, or who he's working for or double-crossing. By the end, the lesson
      apparently is that Rafe is mostly about himself -- a predictable resolution
      that was telegraphed from the outset.

      Rating: **


      "The Banks of the Lethe" -- Airdate: 11/20/2000. Written by Ashley Edward
      Miller & Zack Stentz. Directed by David Winning.

      This episode is unremarkable and full of sappy sentimentality, but it
      could've been saved by good acting. Unfortunately, the key guest performance
      here -- by Sam Sorbo as Sara -- is one of the show's biggest liabilities. A
      shame, because Kevin Sorbo is actually quite good in many of these scenes --
      scenes that, alas, sink because they can't fly without both players carrying
      their weight. The idea of crossing 300 years in the name of love is true but
      trite, and worse is the way the story has no real focus. Do we really need
      ships attacking in the present and in the past, in a way that doesn't add
      up? The idea of trying to outsmart predetermined fate is your typical
      example of time-manipulation confusion (without the benefit of thought
      evident in "Angel Dark, Demon Bright," an episode whose messages are
      contradicted by this one's). Meanwhile, the issue of the Perseids joining
      the Commonwealth is relegated to the back burner as an afterthought, which
      given this series' mission statement is a gross injustice. When the most
      entertaining scene is of Harper blowing up melons, we're probably in
      trouble.

      Rating: **


      "A Rose in the Ashes" -- Airdate: 11/27/2000. Written by Ethlie Ann Vare.
      Directed by David Warry-Smith.

      A disaster. It's a cheap hour of dreck where absolutely nothing works,
      featuring a premise -- no, an entire story -- hammered together out of bland
      cliches and scraps of Socially Redeeming Content with no vestige of insight.
      The prison "action" is pathetic, starting out with a lame yard fight between
      Dylan and an oversized Muppet, and then eventually going on to include
      remote-controlled helicopters with machine guns, somehow built by people who
      can't even grow their own food. Trance is exploited as a contrivance device
      of the worst kind, Rommie runs out of battery power after being "in a cage
      in a studded leather bikini top and disco pants" (to quote Lexa Doig), Dylan
      naively delivers several Meaningful Dialog Scenes that require endurance to
      sit through, and the ending is so badly implemented that it's
      unintentionally hilarious. There is no rose in these ashes.

      Rating: 1/2*


      "All Great Neptune's Ocean" -- Airdate: 1/15/2001. Written by Walter Jon
      Williams. Directed by Allan Harmon.

      Here's another example of "good intentions, not-so-good execution," in which
      the whodunit plot is rehashed as a way of showing the sad aftereffects of
      long-ago tragedies and prolonged political strife. I'm of the opinion that
      the politics and moral issues should be the prime focus when the politics
      and moral issues are what's interesting. "Ocean" apparently thinks otherwise
      , thrusting the whodunit to the forefront as if it mattered. The plot
      operates on assumptions that probably don't hold any water, like the idea
      that the murderer would know Tyr would end up alone with the victim long
      enough to be framed for the killing. The key clue in the investigation turns
      out to be something so silly as the presidential music not being played at a
      crucial moment. And the unimpressive guest stars manage to sabotage the
      proceedings yet again, most notably Mikela J. Mikael as Colonel Yau. It's
      nice that a murder mystery had its roots in Andromeda-style Larger Themes
      (where even the killer has noble political intentions), but the story's
      details are far too banal to be of any genuine interest.

      Rating: **


      "The Pearls That Were His Eyes" -- Airdate: 1/22/2001. Written by Ethlie Ann
      Vare. Directed by David Winning.

      Sigh. The shoddy middle of the season dragged on with this mediocre
      installment, which benefits from some angst-ridden backstory for Beka
      regarding her drug-using father, but with far too much transparency to be
      compelling. The "corruption of capitalism" message is almost painfully
      obvious; the moment I saw John de Lancie as Uncle Sid, I knew he was the
      villain and I knew his motives were all about protecting his empire and
      little else. Fortunately, de Lancie can turn even an underwritten role into
      something worth watching; here he balances menace and charm together into a
      package of overall self-serving pragmatism. But the episode's cause is not
      helped by a pedestrian, mostly disconnected B-story about Andromeda waiting
      out a storm in space while dealing with a con man. Nor by the cartoon-level
      action involving henchmen who look like they stepped off the pages of a
      comic book. Nor by Our Heroes jumping out of a window onto the decks of
      their ship. The ending also strains credulity, resolving itself with dialog
      that assumes Beka and Sid can actually believe what the other has said when
      neither is in a position to do so.

      Rating: **


      "The Mathematics of Tears" -- Airdate: 1/29/2001. Teleplay by Matt Kiene &
      Joe Reinkemeyer. Story by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz. Directed by
      T.J. Scott.

      Perhaps the best cure to the mid-season blues is this fundamentally silly
      but imaginative and entertaining sci-fi piece, which takes some pretty
      outlandish ideas and spins them together into something worth watching. If
      for no other reason, this episode is worth the hour's view for the climactic
      showdown on the Maru between the main characters and the robots of the Pax,
      Andromeda's long-isolated sister starship gone mad. This extended finale
      features inventive stunt scenes and blasters firing, all underscored by
      Wagner. Yes, Wagner. And it ends with one of Tyr's best lines of the season
      (though he's had many to pick from). Aside from the technical work, the
      story rides on elements of classical tragedy, featuring an AI that is deeply
      warped and wounded. It's not a masterpiece by any means, but it demands
      respect for its ingenuity.

      Rating: ***


      "Music of a Distant Drum" -- Airdate: 2/5/2001. Written by Robert Hewitt
      Wolfe. Directed by Allan Kroeker.

      This is probably the best episode of Andromeda that I can't bring myself to
      recommend. Yes, we have all sorts of tying together of Nietzschean culture
      and the further fleshing out of Tyr's backstory. Yes, the Drago-Kazov Pride
      is established here as a noteworthy piece of Andromeda mythos. But many
      elements of the plot are completely on autopilot, with derivative action
      including stranded characters, amnesia, hostage taking, and boring goons as
      the Drago-Kazov players who terrorize everyone else. The relationship
      between Tyr and Yvain can't generate the chemistry to become anything
      resembling moving, although it does manage to muster pleasantness. "Drum"
      might be a perfect example of the Andromeda pattern right now: a show that
      proves its creators care about the series' bigger picture, but an episode
      that on its own merits is markedly underwhelming. It's a respectable outing
      that can't transcend the limited reaches of average.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Harper 2.0" -- Airdate: 2/12/2001. Written by John Whelpley. Directed by
      Richard Flower.

      This one can squeak by with a pass. The episode is probably the season's
      most significant in terms of setting up plots that will play out in the
      early stages of season two (after the finale, "Its Hour Come 'Round At
      Last"), revealing the connection between the Magog and the shadow-man, and
      the mysterious cover-up at the massacre of Brandenburg Tor. Aside from
      larger arcs, the concept of one brain holding all knowledge is an
      interesting one, if not original. Jeger is a bit of a cliched thug and the
      camp surrounding him sabotages many of this show's attempts to be more
      serious. I'm also a bit annoyed that the mass of information is stored
      somewhere (apparently in Trance's tattoo, no less) but never mentioned again
      by any of the characters. But for once Harper's hyperactive craziness is
      more than justified, and we get to see him bounce off the walls in a way
      that is sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic.

      Rating: ***


      "Forced Perspective" -- Airdate: 2/19/2001. Written by Matt Kiene & Joe
      Reinkemeyer. Directed by George Mendeluk.

      Here's yet another that can be herded into the "good intentions, not-so-good
      execution" camp. Probably the biggest problem is how it puts forward issues
      tied to exceptionally complex situations of government, and then tries to
      deal with those issues in simplistic, unconvincing ways. The show thinks it
      can solve its problems (at least to the satisfaction of the audience) with
      hopeful last-minute dialog. Dylan doesn't kill Venetri -- fine and good --
      but having Dylan offer simpleminded "solutions" to the strife on planet
      Mobius undermines the story's whole notion that some situations are not
      easily solvable. Trying to extract hope from hopelessness or uncertainty is
      only clouding the issue here; the end result is a muddle. Trance's
      speechmaking about good intentions borders on condescension, while MacKenzie
      Gray's performance as an overly anguished Venetri is uncomfortable to sit
      through. The show is thoughtful in stretches, but the ending can't pull it
      together.

      Rating: **1/2


      "The Sum of Its Parts" -- Airdate: 2/26/2001. Teleplay by Steven Barnes.
      Story by Celeste Chan Wolfe. Directed by David Winning.

      Note to creators: In my opinion, Matthew McCauley needs to be reined in when
      it comes to trying to forcibly cue emotions with his scores. Few things
      annoy me more than music that tells me when sentimental notes in the story
      are being played (as here when Trance gets misty-eyed over the forthcoming
      death of HG). HG is disappointing as a sci-fi creature, roughly at the same
      Convince-O-Meter level of the bug costume in "Under the Night." But I
      digress; the real problem is that this show is more like the sum of parts
      plundered from the Star Trek and general sci-fi archives. The "Consensus of
      Parts" is about as close to the Borg one can get without violating copyright
      laws, and I'm still baffled as to why Dylan wants to meet the dangerous
      Consensus anyway, unless he has some sort of death wish. The latter half of
      the story includes elements that look like they were ported in from a cheesy
      supernatural thriller, although the final act manages to benefit from some
      ideas that are in the spirit of sci-fi imagination. Unfortunately,
      everything here has been done before, and better.

      Rating: **


      "Fear and Loathing in the Milky Way" -- Airdate: 4/9/2001. Written by Ashley
      Edward Miller & Zack Stentz. Directed by David Warry-Smith.

      Argh. "Fear and Loathing" plays like an hour of testosterone combat, with
      Harper and Gerentex sneering and barbing and arguing and posturing until
      even Trance gets fed up and bitches them out. Good for her. I'm honestly not
      sure if this is supposed to be a comedy; either way, I'm not enthused. There
      are a few good lines and moments, and I especially liked Trance's "I can get
      away with things because I'm cute" speech, but those moments are in contrast
      to many others where Gerentex turns into a complete self-parody, or
      borderline-laughable "action" where "bounty hunters" with big guns chase
      Harper, et al, through cave sets. (These creatures look like they were
      borrowed from the production of a 1950s Saturday-morning serial, and I'm not
      exaggerating.) There's also a subplot that has little to do with anything,
      which is haphazardly edited into the episode. Granted, we did acquire the
      Perseid slipstream diary here, which the Continuity Patrol happily notes
      would later be used as the impetus for "It Makes a Lovely Light," but that's
      not enough to justify an hour that so often prompted the word "argh" to be
      generated by my brain's Onboard Reviewing Processor.

      Rating: *1/2


      "The Devil Take the Hindmost" -- Airdate: 4/16/2001. Written by Ashley
      Edward Miller & Zack Stentz. Directed by Allan Eastman.

      File this one under "shows that should've been better than they were," or
      perhaps, "good intentions, not-so-good execution #12." Rev gets some
      respectable depth, especially as we begin to realize how he has values and
      desires that are constantly suppressing his inner-instincts that direct him
      to be a predator. You know me -- always a sucker for the characters filled
      with self-torment. Unfortunately, this one doesn't come together to become a
      well-working story. The early acts suffer from routine plotting
      characterized by only occasionally insightful dialog. And good guest
      performances once again prove to be in incredibly short supply -- or no
      supply. Even the best-written characters are only as good as the actors who
      portray them, and here the characters are only so-so while the acting can't
      even reach mediocrity. The resolution involving the Magog-Tajira hybrids is
      a gutsy and original idea, but by this point the episode has run out of time
      and crams all the issues surrounding this solution into less than two acts
      when, really, the episode could've sustained such an idea for twice that
      length.

      Rating: **1/2


      "The Honey Offering" -- Airdate: 4/23/2001. Written by Matt Kiene & Joe
      Reinkemeyer. Directed by Brad Turner.

      More Nietzscheans = more fun. That seems to be the trend of this season,
      where Nietzscheans provide instant depth and political intrigue to the
      stories they populate. "Honey Offering" begins with a perhaps overly
      traditional story about a Nietzschean woman of high social standing who's to
      marry into the royal family of a long-standing enemy pride as a symbol of
      peace. Andromeda is to provide her transport. When she turns out to be an
      assassin, the game is on, with Dylan as the one who must stop it. It works
      mainly because we have action scenes that exist in context and guest actors
      who are mostly solid. And because we have Nietzscheans and their volatile
      history of self-preservation and inflexible principles. I'm not so sure the
      ending bears scrutiny -- Dylan is able to incite a war by leading entire
      fleets around with the Maru -- but I do enjoy the grand notions of galactic
      chaos that are shown.

      Rating: ***


      "Star-Crossed" -- Airdate: 4/30/2001. Written by Ethlie Ann Vare. Directed
      by David Warry-Smith.

      I still can't think of any good reason to give a High Guard warship's AI the
      capacity to love. "The Mathematics of Tears" supplies pretty conclusive
      evidence for why it is in fact a very BAD idea. Nevertheless, we have
      "Star-Crossed," which is not weakened so much by the question surrounding
      this foundation, but by the fact that Rommie is thunderstruck by love so
      instantly and without due or believable motivation. Android Gabriel, as
      played by Michael Shanks in an unaffecting performance, is a colossal bore
      who never convinces us that he has the ability to catch Rommie's interest,
      let alone ours. The episode also introduces Gabriel's super-warship, the
      Balance of Judgment, apparently controlled by the Resters. Subsequent
      developments that reveal the Balance's AI founded the entire Rester cause
      beg the question (not sufficiently answered) of why it did so, and how it
      recruited its human following. As a story arc, the Resters are decidedly
      this season's big weak point. I liked some of the implications of an AI torn
      between its directives and its desires, but the final act drowns in the
      tears of its own maudlin excess. With all due respect to Lexa Doig, I prefer
      her (and my starships) with a level head and a grip on the emotionalism, not
      crippled by agonized sobs.

      Rating: **


      "It Makes a Lovely Light" -- Airdate: 5/7/2001. Written by Ethlie Ann Vare.
      Directed by Michael Robison.

      This traditional television bottle show turns out to be a winner because it
      puts Beka in a tough spot and allows her to make mistakes. It also permits
      the other characters to challenge her about these mistakes, meaning we get
      external *and* internal character conflict. One could say Beka is determined
      to a fault -- it's a determination that leads her down a dangerous path into
      drug use and instant addiction. As message shows go, this is hardly opaque,
      but I did like that the arguments are presented without preaching anti-drug
      polemics. The story acknowledges that drug abuse is destructive but without
      needlessly moralizing. Tyr, ever the pragmatist, even turns a blind eye as
      long as Beka's drug use is of benefit. The episode contains one of my
      all-time favorite Harper moments, when he drops the sarcasm and hyperkinesis
      and shows some sobering sensitivity. It'd be nice if this episode wasn't the
      last word in Beka's struggles with addiction, but we'll see.

      Rating: ***


      "Its Hour Come 'Round At Last" -- Airdate: 5/14/2001. Written by Robert
      Hewitt Wolfe. Directed by Allan Eastman.

      The season finale is a good example of too much ambition and not enough
      workable insight. The goal of the action was apparently to be so extreme
      that it would come across as intense and exciting, but I can't say that goal
      was accomplished effectively. The problem is that the relentless Magog
      assaults are so incredibly pervasive that they become mechanical,
      repetitive, and eventually completely implausible. With every Magog corpse
      that hit the ground, my suspension of disbelief was further eroded, until
      the whole thing took on the air of a very loony technical exercise: How Many
      Magog Can We Kill? My theory is that enemies should be fearsome through
      their qualities, not simply their quantities. And more here proves *not* to
      be better, as the Magog are fish in a barrel. That's a shame, because "Its
      Hour" boasts some of the best production values of the season, a number of
      Andromeda-mythos points that could (followup-permitting) have vast
      consequences on future episodes, and some good character interaction between
      Harper and Tyr, and Dylan and Beka. But because the show is an oversold
      cliffhanger that seems to offer No Way Out, I'm unsure what we're looking at
      right now, and don't feel that this provides enough on its own merits. Time
      will tell whether it works as a piece of the puzzle.

      Rating: **



      --
      PART 2: SEASON ANALYSIS

      "Be careful what you wish for; you might get it."
      -- old saying

      With the close of Andromeda's first season, one that overall I found to be a
      disappointment, there's an irony that has not been lost upon me.

      Which is:

      Andromeda, in its broad strokes, is the anti-Voyager.

      From all accounts, Andromeda's fictional universe is one that has to some
      degree been planned and pre-considered from day one. Like most TV series,
      the show works from a background "bible" that explains what the show's
      premise is about, describing the major players, and in this case probably
      even hinting at some important events that will take place sometime during
      the course of the show's life. There are societies that I know exist (or
      will exist) in this universe but have not yet made it to the television
      screen. The show's official Web site provides details about the societies
      and history of this fictional universe, which is sure to be mined in future
      episodes. I think it's beyond safe to conclude that gradually we will see a
      lot more of this universe's makeup on the TV screen.

      So Andromeda is, in theory, a show that wants to be a series with its own
      carefully constructed mythos, as opposed to the Voyager-like pattern where
      our gallant crew boldly goes forth to encounter this week's random
      adventure. Sure there will be standalone shows here, but there will also be
      another agenda: the Big Picture.

      The crippling problem with this first season of Andromeda is that it also is
      the anti-Voyager from an execution point of view. That's not a good thing,
      since Voyager is usually exceptionally well-executed from a technical and
      pacing standpoint. Andromeda is fraught with problems when it comes to
      script pacing, directing, acting, and just flat-out filmmaking. The result
      is a freshman season that overall I felt was less enjoyable and involving
      than this season of Voyager, despite the noteworthy number of established
      elements we've already seen in this universe.

      Andromeda's premise gives it a structural balance that lies somewhere
      between Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Like DS9, it's about building something
      (the Commonwealth) and the relationships between different societies. Like
      Voyager (and the Treks before it), Andromeda is about exploring the unknowns
      of space, where the unknown is made up of the vast areas that were once part
      of the now-fallen Commonwealth. I've heard the argument made that Andromeda
      might as well be another Star Trek series simply because of the premise of
      people on a starship out exploring the galaxy. There's merit to that
      argument, because Gene Roddenberry's idea of what space exploration should
      look like is abundantly apparent on Andromeda. It doesn't take a genius to
      see that Andromeda is modeled on the past decade (and more) of Star Trek's
      general look, tone, and feel. The differences come in the underlying premise
      and characters.

      Tricky part is, if you're replicating Trek without being called Trek then
      you really need a fresh angle. Heck, I've been arguing that Trek itself
      needs a new angle. So if you're Andromeda, how do you do Trek better than
      the guys over at Paramount, who have umpteen seasons of experience and a
      bigger budget at their disposal? A frequent problem with Andromeda so far
      has been a lack of exploiting that fresh angle. We hear a lot of general
      noise about the Commonwealth, but it seems to be a vague and peripheral
      aspect of the series at this point rather than a specific one. The series
      lives in the Commonwealth lore of the past ("Under the Night," "Angel Dark,
      Demon Bright," "Mathematics of Tears," "Forced Perspective," "Its Hour Come
      'Round At Last," etc.), rather than the present. Fine and good -- this
      demonstrates how history is important -- but there's a significant problem
      about Dylan Hunt's mission, which is that there doesn't seem to be real
      urgency to it. Dylan comes across as the crazy loner trying to change a
      universe that may very well be unchangeable. Also fine and good, but we've
      seen very little evidence beyond blind idealism on how he thinks this
      rebuilding is supposed to happen and what other cultures really think about
      it. The few episodes where we've had worlds join the Commonwealth ("All
      Great Neptune's Ocean," for example) played this important angle as
      background noise, which simply will not do.

      There have also been a few painful cases of "been there, done that"
      syndrome. A key violator, for example, was "The Sum of Its Parts," which had
      a machine society that played like a blatant rip-off of the Borg. And that
      was hardly the only familiar element this season. No one has re-envisioned
      the notion that space combat means a shaking camera and flying sparks
      (though that's admittedly not the biggest issue in the world), and nearly
      all alien civilizations seem to be human. Are they? Because I'm not even
      sure.

      And following in Voyager's footsteps of What Today's TV Must Be has been
      Andromeda's temptation to succumb to excessive, lackluster action scenes.
      Andromeda, let's face it, does not have the budget and resources of a Star
      Trek production like Voyager, DS9, or the new Enterprise. Yet, oddly enough,
      even more than Voyager, its creators have made the decision to have some
      sort of major action scene just about every week, even if the story doesn't
      justify or need it. Many of these scenes are presented with a madcap zeal
      that makes the series harder to take on its Serious Intentions.

      I've already come to intensely dislike the ship's "internal defense system,"
      which is nothing more than a way to create contrived action of the worst
      kind -- that which does nothing for the story and exists only for the sake
      of itself. In "The Ties That Blind," Tyr and Trance go running through the
      ship (in super slo-mo with lotsa sparks) while the internal defense system
      shoots at them in a perfect example of gratuitous, mind-numbing action. Our
      crew is also shot at needlessly in "The Mathematics of Tears." Of course,
      when it would make perfect sense to use this system, during the Magog
      onslaught in "Its Hour Come 'Round At Last," the plot has already turned it
      off. (Roll eyes here.)

      These sort of scenes are distracting, often illogical or unconvincing, and
      *not exciting*. I don't understand the motivation. You'd think with a
      limited budget the show would step back and rely more on dialog and
      storyline than on action scenes, but go figure. (Actually I do understand
      the need for action to some degree, because the show is being advertised and
      sold into the syndication market as an action hour, but that doesn't change
      the fact that a lot of it hasn't worked.) The season's best-executed raw
      action was in the finale, "Its Hour," but even there it didn't entirely work
      because the action was upstaging the content and went too far into excess to
      keep the story from running off the rails. Action works best when it's an
      organic part of the story that serves a purpose, like in "The Honey
      Offering" (where Nietzschean chaos was the point); the two-part premiere
      (where characters had strong motivation); "Music of a Distant Drum" (where
      Tyr was on the run from enemies well established by backstory); and
      especially this year's true standout, "Angel Dark, Demon Bright" (which had
      big space battles with equally big consequences).

      Action isn't a bad thing. Not at all. Done well, I like action. Besides,
      even lame gratuitous action is not nearly as big an issue for me as the next
      point, which is probably my biggest problem with Andromeda right now -- the
      guest acting. I don't know how to say it without either being untruthful or
      by sugar-coating the matter, so I'll just say it: The guest acting on this
      series thus far has been abysmal. I'm not sure how to account for this,
      whether the blame falls on the actors or the directors. But whomever is
      responsible, there have been so many, many shows this season that have
      suffered because the guest stars were not credible.

      The stage was set in "Under the Night" with Steve Bacic's wooden performance
      in the important role of Gaheris Rhade, and John Tench hamming it up as
      Gerentex (which he later reprised even more hammily in "Fear and Loathing in
      the Milky Way"). That was just the beginning, and unfortunately the pattern
      followed along these lines all season, with key guest actors delivering
      sub-par performances that undermined episode after episode. Some guest stars
      have been acceptable or even good (John de Lancie was engaging despite an
      underwritten role in "The Pearls That Were His Eyes"), but too many have
      been a liability to their episodes, whether it was portrayals of Hayek in
      "To Loose the Fateful Lightning," Sara in "Banks of the Lethe," Colonel Yau
      in "All Great Neptune's Ocean," Venetri in "Forced Perspective," Thaddeus
      Blake in "The Devil Take the Hindmost," Gabriel in "Star-Crossed," or most
      everybody in "A Rose in the Ashes." It's literally amazing how long this
      list goes on; this is something that needs to improve dramatically and
      immediately.

      Andromeda also reveals an odd mix between the mysteriously subtle and the
      glaringly obvious. There are elements of some of the stories that are so
      subtle that sometimes I think I missed something or am watching ambiguous
      hints dropped by the writers (witness most of Trance's existence). Other
      times scenes come filled with obvious dialog, blunt one-liners, or
      simpleminded violence.

      This dichotomy is sometimes evident among the regular characters. Some of
      the characters often have a comic-book attitude to them. Beka and Harper
      both feature a snappy, sarcastic, in-your-face "edgy" sense of humor that
      sometimes hijacks the characters and makes them come across as one-note.
      (One of my favorite moments was when Harper dropped the sarcasm act and
      existed as a serious human being for two minutes in "It Makes a Lovely
      Light.") Rev -- even though I like him -- has probably a few too many pithy,
      musically cued Meaningful Dialog Scenes that should be preceded with title
      cards that say "INSIGHTFUL SPEECH AHEAD"; he seems like a convenient
      conscience sometimes, though I was heartened by his depth in "The Devil Take
      the Hindmost" (among other shows) and think he's got plenty of potential.
      Efforts to give characters some development are appreciated, like Beka's
      backstory concerning her brother and father, and Harper's troubled past of
      growing up on a Magog-infested Earth. But I'd like to also see these
      characters in the here and now in well-oiled stories that use more areas of
      their personality. The Beka/Dylan and Tyr/Harper interaction in "Its Hour"
      is a good start.

      Although each character has his/her own points of interest, so far the two
      characters who seem to me as consistently well-rounded and convincing are
      Tyr and Dylan. Tyr, my favorite of the Andromeda bunch, is the perfect mix
      of elements -- he's threatening yet cautious, smart but sometimes impetuous,
      funny but in a dry and cynical way, and with a central Nietzschean backstory
      that provides most episodes he's in with an immediate angle. Plus he gets
      all the best lines, delivered with that deadpan style Keith Hamilton Cobb
      has mastered. Dylan is interesting because he's a motivated leader with a
      believable and tempered attitude -- though sometimes he can be slow to catch
      on, or inconsistent (sometimes following rules like a career military man
      while other times taking extreme actions like in "The Honey Offering"). And,
      well, there's something about his conviction that's appealing; rebuilding
      the Commonwealth may be one of the most absurd ideas ever hatched, but this
      guy's gonna try it. Based on the evidence I've seen this season, Kevin Sorbo
      is an effective but not riveting actor; he paints Dylan with a workable mix
      of seriousness and levity, knowing when and when not to take plots too
      seriously.

      And then there's Trance. (Deep sigh.) Trance is the ultimate frustration,
      because we know there's more to her than meets the eye ... but that
      unfortunately becomes exactly the problem, because the writers have focused
      too much on Trance being weird and elusive in an unspecified way such that
      she has little value as a *character* in most stories. Laura Bertram's take
      on Trance comes across as too relentlessly innocent and sweet, when we know
      better. She's cute and innocent and hiding something and that becomes the
      beginning and end of her character ... and it isn't working for me. Indeed,
      I find it downright annoying. Trance's weirdness hasn't come out of anywhere
      or led into anyplace; she's like one of those damned mysterious,
      always-deferred-payoff "X-Files" characters -- which is not a good thing
      since I consider "The X-Files" to be one of the infuriatingly worst shows on
      television, precisely because its deferred-payoff mysteries are an
      unintentional self-parody. I'll have nothing against Trance as a symbol
      rather than a character if it's interesting or meaningful, but so far --
      with the exception of "Angel Dark, Demon Bright" -- I haven't seen nearly
      enough depth in Trance that makes her hidden agenda/meaning remotely
      worthwhile. It's a gimmick without payoff. Patience is a virtue, yes, but
      there should be a better reason for her existence in the here and now.

      Despite the fact that I can't recommend this first year of Andromeda, I am
      hopeful about its second season. I'd better stress that this year of
      Andromeda, despite a lot of awkward implementation, managed to establish a
      number of story arcs and that the effort on the part of the writers to
      eventually reveal a bigger universe has been made abundantly clear. The
      relationships between the Nietzschean prides and the ideology behind their
      cultures is good background, and the role of the Magog and the mysterious
      shadow-man who appeared in "Harper 2.0" and "Its Hour Come 'Round At Last"
      show promise. (By contrast, the use of the Resters and FTA ended up an
      unsuccessful mess.) I only wish "Its Hour" had explored its ideas more
      thoroughly rather than overreaching by way of Yet Another Pointless
      Cliffhanger, borderline-comical action extremes, and plunging our heroes
      into a pit of such desperation that we begin fearing the dreaded Reset
      Button -- though the season premiere might allay those fears.

      There wasn't often hope for Voyager to transcend itself, because it was
      content to stay within the safe confines that had been established in the
      seasons preceding it every year. Andromeda strikes me as a series with
      ambition and a desire to go somewhere and do something new. It has the
      possibility to offer very rich character and civilization stories on a grand
      canvas that we can step back and admire. Its writers genuinely care what the
      fans think, as evidenced by their candor and participation in online fan
      circles like SlipstreamWeb.

      What the creators need to do is work on the execution of their stories in
      getting there, with vastly improved performances, less frenetic and
      confusing pacing, significantly better flow between A and B-stories, more
      coherent visual design of action sequences, and more evidence that the
      writers on this show (aside from mastermind Robert Hewitt Wolfe) hold keys
      to what Andromeda and the Commonwealth is about and are willing to share
      some of the finer points with the audience. Despite all the groundwork, I
      still feel very much uninformed, and too many adventures along the way have
      been less than stellar. About the only episode this season that I found
      truly groundbreaking was "Angel Dark, Demon Bright," while a lot of shows --
      an awful lot -- landed in the realm of mediocrity. When I can only recommend
      nine of 22 episodes (some of those barely squeaking by into recommendation
      territory) that to me says something about the current state of the series.

      I will admit that my expectations for Andromeda were high -- perhaps
      unreasonably so -- which might be a partial reason why I found this season
      disappointing. Hype -- which this series came full of prior to its
      premiere -- can be a powerful advantage that can equally powerfully bite you
      in the ass. That may be the case here, at least from my perspective. If I'm
      being hard on Andromeda, it's because I expected something fresh and so far
      I feel I've seen too much that's familiar.

      The rest of the case might be that this series has potential but has not yet
      realized it, and has had problems when it comes to story execution. That's
      okay; it's only one season and another one waits just around the corner.
      Weaknesses involving acting, production issues, and story implementation --
      though currently plentiful -- are likely to subside as the series continues.
      I will be watching for that improvement in the coming season, and hope to
      see this series mature and expand.

      -----
      Copyright 2001 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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