Nothing says “this is a militaristic science-fiction show!” quite like a mutiny episode.
When producing a show like Space: Above and Beyond, doing a show based around a mutiny in wartime is a given. It’s no surprise that Mutiny is the third regular episode of the show. Indeed, when Battlestar Galactica – a show that owes a sizeable debt to Space: Above and Beyond – wanted to establish its own militaristic science-fiction credentials, it produced Bastille Day as the third episode of its first season – another story about an uprising on a spaceship in a time of crisis.
Mutiny is also notable as the first episode of the season not credited to the creative team of Glen Morgan and James Wong. Of course, as executive producers, Morgan and Wong would have had a massive impact on the development and the writing of Mutiny. Stephen Zito is credited as the writer on the show. Zito is a veteran television writer and producer, working in the industry since the late eighties. He departed Space: Above and Beyond halfway through the first season, moving on to a long run on J.A.G.
Mutiny is far from perfect – indeed, it is often quite clunky in places. At the same time, it is a lot more comfortable in its skin than The Dark Side of the Sun was.
Space: Above and Beyond is half-way between an epic space opera and a wartime saga.
The Dark Side of the Sun confirms something suggested as early as The Pilot. While creators Glen Morgan and James Wong have a firm grasp of the war story aspect of the show, they are a bit less comfortable with the science-fiction elements. While The Farthest Man From Home was a solid old-fashioned “love in wartime” epic, The Dark Side of the Sun is steeped in stock science-fiction elements and interesting ideas, but seems to falter in the execution.
It feels very much like Morgan and Wong are trying to push the show’s science-fiction elements to the fore, but aren’t entirely comfortable with those elements. The result is a curious little episode, one that does a decent amount of character and world-building, while also baking some intriguing ideas and concepts into this potential future for mankind. At the same time, there’s an awkwardness to it all, as if The Dark Side of the Sun is trying to establish the show’s sci-fi credentials and can’t quite figure how everything fits together.
The Dark Side of the Sun is a show that feels like it could have used a bit more time and another draft or two, perhaps a reminder that Morgan and Wong are still relatively new at this sort of thing.
In interviews about the show, Glen Morgan tended to play up the war aspect of Space: Above and Beyond, emphasising the debt that the show owed to classic war stories and media:
Jim and I see this not so much as a SF piece as kind of a WW II movie or a war piece in space. We’re drawing, as I said, from All Quiet on the Western Front, but also from Twelve O’Clock High, Guadalcanal Diary, and Air Force. So, our look is much darker than you’ll see on some other shows. Our people sweat and bleed and their hair is messed up. The vehicles they fly in are very cramped and, just like an aircraft, hot and sweaty. We’ll probably be much more action-oriented than some shows, but we don’t want to do action just for action’s sake. It should tell you something about the characters as it happens. We have a great deal of respect for all of the other shows out there and we’ve watched them and said, ‘Well this is what they do’ let’s not rip them off or copy them. How can we be different?’ That was what dictated our choices.
Due to network anxiety about the investment in Space: Above and Beyond, The Pilot had a very clear three-act structure building to a very explicit resolution. Not only did The Pilot figure the beginning of the war with the aliens, it also featured a crucial moral-boosting victory. It ended with the squad fully-formed and ready for action. It packed a lot of stuff in, and worked quite well as its own self-contained story; even if it left a host of broad narrative threads for the rest of the series to follow.
The Farthest Man From Home is pretty solid as far as first standalone episodes go. Free from the constraints of having to work as a potential movie-of-the-week, The Farthest Man From Home is free to do a little development and foreshadowing, but doesn’t have to wrap up everything in a neat bow by the time that the closing credits role. It’s also spared a lot of the exposition that made The Pilot feel so heavy – Hawkes’ status as an InVitro is fleetingly mentioned, and the Silicates don’t come up.
Instead, The Farthest Man From Home is free to focus on the story that it wants to tell, and in marking out narrative space for the development of both the larger war arc and West’s own personal journey. The Farthest Man From Home is a rather loose episode, but it’s loose in a way that makes sense for a second episode. It eases the audience into the world of Space: Above and Beyond a lot more fluidly than The Pilot did.
Review of the Pilot by Darren via them0vieblog.
Space: Above and Beyond made a great deal of sense in the context of the mid-nineties. Fox had begun its life as a scrappy little network that had trouble producing seven nights of broadcasting, but had rapidly solidified itself into a credible alternative to the big three networks. There were lots of reasons for this. The X-Files was one reason, but the network had also solidified itself with a slate of popular young dramas like Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place and Party of Five. Securing the NFL rights in 1993 didn’t hurt.
By late 1995, Fox was largely past the growing pains stage of its evolution. The network had been announced in late 1985, and first hit the airwaves in late 1986. It was approach the end of its first decade by the time Space: Above and Beyond was broadcast. Fox was no longer a small network fighting for scraps, but a viable challenger to the so-called “big three.” This change in outlook would lead to great success in the twenty-first century, but would also lead to change in how Fox did business.
The X-Files had been the right show at the right time in a number of ways. It landed at the perfect point to speak to a generation that grew up in the shadow of Watergate, but also to tap into millennial anxieties and insecurities. From a commercial perspective, The X-Files launched towards the end of the period where Fox could take chances on young shows struggling to find an audience. The first season of The X-Files was a cult hit, but not a breakout success story. The network had faith in the show, and that faith paid off.It is interesting to wonder whether The X-Files would have received a second season if it débuted even two years later. After all, Fox would develop a reputation as a network with a ruthless tendency towards cancellation and plug-pulling. If The X-Files had first appeared in September 1995, would it have enjoyed the same fate as Space: Above and Beyond?
There’s an incredible confidence to Space: Above and Beyond, and it is possible to read the series as an attempt to cash in on the resurgent popularity of televised science-fiction in the wake of the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Indeed, Morgan and Wong have conceded that Fox originally suggested a show that would play off a proposed Starfleet Academy spin-off, potentially beating it to the punch. Morgan and Wong decided to take that idea their own direction.
Found some Saratoga blueprints and other interesting stuff on one of my hard drives. No idea whether these were the actual stuff used in production, although I remember at least the McQueen uniform being one and the pistol. Just thought they’d make an interesting addition to the site, no matter whether fan-made or from the production 🙂