One of the many great things about Netflix is how many old TV shows that you forgot about end up there. Twenty-two years ago, Steven Spielberg brought a Rockne S. O’Bannon (creator of Farscape) show to NBC about a vision of the near future where the oceans were the new frontier and the guy from Jaws was the man in charge of a giant ship protecting it.
In other words, seaQuest DSV.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been watching seaQuest. I only saw a couple of episodes back when I was a teenager, and now I understand why. It’s… well, it’s not a very good show. But it had the makings of one, if only it had been handled a little differently.
Here are six of the worst things about seaQuest DSV. Warning: spoilers.
6. The stupid capitalization. — First things first: it’s a lot easier to spell something when the capitalization is in a normal place. A few decades ago, there was a dive equipment company named seaQuest, and I’m pretty sure they paid to have the ship named after them. But it’s a royal pain to spell it with the correct capitalization, and it makes my brain hurt.
Fun fact! There was also an officer on the ship named O’Neill — which is a surfwear company. I wonder if they paid too.
5. Forcing shows to be about the kid. — Nothing against the late Jonathan Brandis, but his star was on the rise when he was cast in the show. He was always near the top of the credits — the producers I guess were hoping to get kids watching by making him important in many episodes — but there were a lot of them, especially in the second season, where he felt forced into the narrative. To its credit, the show did a great job with the relationship between the captain and Lucas (Brandis’s character), but there were a lot of episodes that are cringe-worthy because of how he was used.
Fun fact! When Lucas became an ensign in the third season, I think the character took a big step forward in terms of maturity. Bridger (the captain for the first two seasons) coddled Lucas too much; Hudson (the captain in the third season) didn’t put up with his BS and that helped a lot.
4. Replacing the doctor. — I’m sure Stephanie Beacham had her reasons for leaving seaQuest after its first season, but replacing her with the smug, smartass telepath Dr. Smith shot a lot of relationships (including the doctor and Bridger as well as her and Lucas’s mentor-like relationship) in the foot. The second season skewed more toward the fantastic, and I guess having a telepathic doctor helped it get off on the right foot, but Smith was a combination of Crusher, Deanna, and Wesley — and none of the good parts of those characters, either.
Fun fact! Stephanie Beacham played Moriarty’s girlfriend, the Countess, in the second Sherlock Holmes episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation. Also, Beacham is deaf in one ear and only has 80 percent hearing in her other ear.
3. A severe lack of realism. — Okay, I get it, the show is science fiction, but one of the great things about the first season was how much actual science was involved. The ship found the lost Library of Alexandria, dealt with “for the greater good” computer hackers, rescued astronauts, and even found an alien ship. All of these things were handled, for lack of a better term, in a straight fashion: the writing was such that the characters acted like scientists and military officers. But in the second season, the show veered off into such plotlines as spirits of gods, the discovery of Atlantis, evil crocodile dinosaurs, and anti-aging pills. It was a huge effort for me to stick with it through that season, because it was clear that even the actors were like “what the hell are we doing here?” Thankfully, the third season was much more realistic, even if it also became more militaristic.
Fun fact! It was partly due to Michael Ironside’s hiring for the third season that the show took a more realistic turn. Though it was pretty weird seeing him as a good guy, because I’ve never seen him as one in anything except seaQuest. He has villain-voice.
2. NBC. — According to the show’s Wikipedia page, it was often pre-empted and shown out of order, leading to difficulties in building a fanbase. When you have a show that’s this slow, you have to be very careful about making sure you’re going to have regular viewers who know where it’s going to be and when. It aired in the era before DVRs; you could tape it and watch it later, but not if your timer wasn’t set to the right time. NBC is one of the main reasons that the show failed.
Fun fact! It’s pretty obvious that this show was intended to be “underwater Star Trek“. But copying other things can only take you so far; eventually you have to be original.
1. It didn’t take chances. — For all of its science, mysticism, and militarism, the show didn’t take a ton of chances. It came out in the early 90s. Most of the cast was male and white — no season had more than two women in the opening credits. All relationships were heterosexual. And when relationships did happen later in the show, they were between characters who had almost no chemistry — Ford and Lonnie had zero, O’Neill and Lonnie had zero, Bridger and Smith had zero. When Lonnie finally realized she had feelings for Brody, he got shot and killed. If the show had come out in the 2000s there might have been more, but seeing it these days, the problems are glaring.
Fun fact! The dolphin character was voiced by Frank Welker, the legend who brought us Fred from Scooby-Doo and Yakko from the Animaniacs, among others. But the actual creature was a robot. No actual dolphin interacted with the cast.
I recently made my partner sit through one of my favorite films, The Abyss. If you’ve never seen it… well, why haven’t you? It’s almost Bay-esian in its premise: a military team is sent to the edge of a bottomless trench to work with the crew of an underwater oil-drilling rig in an attempt to discover why a US nuclear submarine crashed down there. But when the military goes after the sub’s nuclear weapons and some underwater aliens show up, it’s up to the rig crew to save the day before the Navy starts World War III.
The film was written and directed by James Cameron, and it’s very realistic in its portrayal of underwater hazards. Plus, the special effects are pretty neat (except for the part where Bud is in the chute; that’s clearly a green-screen). For a film that came out in 1989, it’s pretty damn well done, and worth three hours of your time.
(For what it’s worth, she didn’t much care for the movie. But you can’t win ’em all.)
Got an idea for a future “Six of the Best” column? Tweet it to me @listener42.