One more review!


System Lord of
Jul 21, 2000

A Good, Long Look At ANDROMEDA
El Cosmico here, with my take on the latest series from beyond...Andromeda. Lots of spoilers in here. Lots of you have seen Herc's review, which I think is fair based on what he's seen, but then, he's only seen half of the pilot episode.

I've seen both halves of the pilot, and the two episodes that follow it, so I think I have a pretty fair handle on where the show is going, and what we can expect. First, let me give you some background info. This show bears Gene Roddenberry's name, but from what I've heard, is based on notes he wrote, not an actual script or fully fleshed-out concept.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. The same is pretty much true of another show I like, Earth: Final Conflict. Not that I think EFC is a work of genius, mind you, I just think it's fairly different and original, and I think the cast is pretty cool.

Like EFC, this show comes out of Canada, which again, is not a bad thing. So does EFC, so do a lot of the English-speaking world's best comedians, and so does Lexx, a show that I appreciate for its weirdness and camp quality, as well as for its thoroughly attractive female lead. So, Andromeda comes from a place with potential, and experience in sci-fi.

I must confess that when I first saw the designs and descriptions for Andromeda, I was completely underwhelmed. I didn't like the costumes, and the descriptions sounded, either cheesy or hokey. Well, a good bit of both. Of course, the inclusion of Kevin Sorbo as the lead threw me for a loop. While I think he's done a fine job as Hercules, I couldn't really picture him in a serious sci-fi show.

Add to this, an enormous amount of hype being generated by the show's PR people, including comparisons to, of all things, The West Wing. The word repeatedly coming out of the Andromeda folks has been that this will be a new, different show, that takes science fiction to new places, new heights. There was mention of no more playing fast and loose with the laws of physics just for convenience, that there were scientific advisors to help the writers make the genre more consistent, and more believable.

All of this hype, I basically ignored. Seeing the website that was up for a long time, I didn't think that the hype matched what little substance I'd seen. Finally, last week, I saw the two-hour pilot and the following two episodes.

"If the Commonwealth's High Guard had a weakness, it was this: Its officers were too competent, too caring, and too brave." So begins the pilot...and so begin my problems with this show. Can someone explain to me how competence, caring, and bravery are weaknesses? The flip side of this, of course, is that incompetence, coldness, and cowardice would be strengths. Coldness I might understand, but incompetence and cowardice?

Okay, I tell myself, that's just a writer trying to be a fancy-pants, just get past it and watch the show. First off, they're all wearing ROCKETEER uniforms. Okay, that's not a big deal. A little blatant, but by episode three, Sorbo changes into a better uniform anyway. The "Nietzchiean" first officer is annoying. It turns out, they all are. Again, not really a big deal, they're just obsessive type-As, generally cold bastards.

Interface elements are cool. Layouts of command and control displays throughout the three episodes I've seen are consistently well-done, definitely respectable. Borrowed from recent Star Trek series? Yes. That's okay, though, and there are moderate changes to give them a different look.

The aliens in the crew are terrible. Just awful makeup. The pilot has an insect at the conn. It looks...really bad. Further episodes feature a "Magog" creature, which is annoying for other reasons, but in any case, also looks really bad. The one good looking alien is Laura Bertram, as Trance Gemini. Essentially, she's a cute purple girl with a tail. Mind you, there's no real purpose for her character, but, at least she's not bothersome, and easy on the eyes. Also in the pilot, there a grey guy with tusks coming out of his face, again, I say, this is truly terrible alien design. Oh, I didn't mention the other thing I don't like about the Magog. It's part of a cult called "The Wayans" (No, not the Wayans Brothers), basically this means that he spouts off frequently in a manner that well, sounds like new-agey psycho-babble. Trying to be profound, but really just sounding pretty lame. Quite awful dialogue.

The Andromeda, headed by Captain Dylan Hunt (Sorbo) is beseiged by a Nietschean attack. The Nietscheans are an overachieving, supposedly more highly evolved race, who, as mentioned before, are cold bastards. During this battle, I have a couple of problems. First, the Andromeda's weapons array consists of either using small drones for offense and defense, and "Nova Bombs", strategic weapons which can each destroy a world or star. Throughout the episodes I've seen, there are seemingly no weapons of moderate strength. You either go all out, or have piddly little pea-shooters. In the third episode, the main weapon system used is a set of small physical projectiles. No serious energy weapons, no deflection array. Defenses are conducted by manual control.

There is a serious problem in this ship's design. Without the use of energy weapons, relying on mass-weapons, the ship is sure to exhaust offensive capability VERY quickly, with no means of replenishment after events unfold in the pilot episode. Drones are used to provide sensor capability and defense, and when they are eliminated, the ship itself loses ALL sensor capability and ALL defense capability.

WHAT? You mean that there are no on-ship sensors or defensive weapons of significance? That's right. This is a warship, remember. Of "The High Guard". The guys who are supposed to be "too competent". To add further confusion, the chair where the conn officer sits moves. In fact, it rocks back and forth on a pivot when damage is being done to the ship, or a particularly rapid movement is being made.

One might say that this is done to compensate for motion, but this could only be true if other members of the crew were affected, and they are generally LESS affected by motion than the conn officer. In fact, the conn officer is thrown about, barely able to hold onto the chair. I say to you: this makes no sense.

Another problem, which can only be attributed to sloppy writing, is when the Nova Bombs must be used. Remember in STIII: The Search For Spock when Kirk, Scotty, and Chekhov self-destruct the Enterprise, using their separate access codes? This is a security measure, similar to that used by nuclear weapons facilities and nuclear submarines. The reason measures like this are taken are to ensure ONLY ONE THING. That one person can't operate the weapons alone. This protects against both rogue captains and against mutinies.

By the time the Nova Bombs are used, the Andromeda Ascendant has lost its original crew. Captain Hunt apparently doles out access codes to his new crew, made up of a band of shipwreck salvagers. It seems to me that this COMPLETELY DEFEATS THE PURPOSE OF HAVING THESE CODES IN THE FIRST PLACE. Total lack of security for a weapon that can destroy an entire solar system. If the captain can just give out access codes to anyone, what's to stop him from killing his first officer and command crew and replacing them whenever they disagree with him? This was simply not thought through. No explanation is given. It's called sloppy writing.

Back to ship design, Andromeda, the ship's computer, played by Lexa Doig, complains when she loses her androids, which assist her in running the ship. My question is this: why would a ship's computer need androids to operate systems that she's already hooked up to? Lexa Doig is definitely attractive in her role, she does a fine job with what she's given, but the way she's written doesn't make any sense. She not only expresses, but acts on human emotions. She's too emotional. She reacts sexually to the captain. This is an AI unit. Sexual impulses are chemical. I suppose they could be programmed, but why would someone program an AI to do things that could only interfere with it performing its duties well? Why would an AI be given motivations that are counter to its design purpose? This makes no sense. Providing a friendly interface is one thing, but this goes too far. It's bad design.

Kevin Sorbo does a fine job in his role, he has all new "high-tech hair", and in my opinion, performs well. I think Hercules fans will like this show simply because he's in it. Even though Hercules is a more humorous and enjoyable show, Sorbo does well with what he's given. Again, though, I have a problem with the material he has to work with. His character is non-chalant, very casual. This is supposed to be an elite captain, guarding an immense commonwealth. He doesn't seem to take matters seriously. Even after he is presented with his new...situation, and must try to rebuild the commonwealth from scratch, the gravity of the situation is not reflected in his actions. By the end of the third episode, I began to see signs of improvement, both in the lines he was given, and in the actions he performs. Hopefully, the trend will continue.

There's no perfect place to say this: their handheld weapons look like dildos. In dildo form, they fire energy pulses. It seems to me that a dildo-shaped device would be exceptionally poor at aiming. They also extend to form staves, which can be used to beat upon one's opponent. There's not much more I can say about that.

I know this is sort of all over the place, but here's another issue. When the tow-ship is pulling the Andromeda Ascendant out of the grip of the black hole in the pilot, tow cables begin to snap. Now, the laws of physics dictate that this would increase the tension on the remaining cables. So, how do they get out of it? Increase thrust. Okay, but that would GREATLY increase tension on the remaining cables, ensuring that the remaining cables would snap. The way to escape safely without losing more tow cables SHOULD have been to decelerate. Laws of the universe. Again, this makes no sense, and it's sloppy writing.

The salvage crew's engineer is a likable character, although I'm not sure why growing up in a refugee camp makes a person have a weak immune system. The new Nietschean has long hair, which is generally a symbol of vanity, which one would think would be counter to Nietschean philosophy, as it could hinder survival. In addition, it seems that the Nietscheans haven't learned what the Romans did...if you have long hair, your enemies can grab onto it. The creature who hired the salvage crew looks like a pimp, which I suppose is fine, the captain of the salvage vessel isn't terribly likeable, but I'm not sure that she's meant to be at first. In any case, the captain of a ship, ANY ship, needs to inspire confidence. This captain, however, is constantly unsure of herself. Definitely not inspiring.

There are also really REALLY blatant Matrix ripoffs throughout the pilot, most apparent when Captain Hunt fights a cyborg. No, it's not well done, it's obvious and cheap. Then, of course, there's also the sequence when the engineer goes into the virtual world of the ship's jacking in through the plug in the back of his neck. Ring a bell?

There's mention during the final crisis of the pilot episode that black holes exit in other universes. The idea that a ship, especially THIS ship could survive a black hole... give me a break. Then, they use Nova Bombs to blow up the black hole, which creates a "white hole", which they describe as a miniature big bang. Man, this is wrong in so many ways.

Let's see, what else...crewmembers can operate any station, seemingly with nearly no training. The ship's defense systems, the drones I mentioned, are MANUALLY targeted. Why exactly did they put an AI, and massive computer systems into this ship, if they don't DO anything? THIS MAKES NO SENSE!

Okay, I could go on and on. I think you get the point. This show has a lot of problems. In succeeding episodes, I was hoping that these issues would be addressed, that things would improve, but they didn't.

The performances weren't great, but they weren't terrible, and some were good. The general premise, I think, is actually interesting and different. The idea that the captain of an old commonwealth vessel emerges three hundred years later, and wants to rebuild what he's lost, well, that's got serious potential. I think the wardrobe is a bit too wacky. This isn't a serious problem, because of course, outfits can be changed at any point. No big deal. The alien designs are...bad. Not a show-killer, in fact, they ALMOST killed off the Magog in the second episode. Maybe next time. The main problems I have with this show are: design choices aren't thought through, the science and engineering isn't even close to being sound, and the writing is average at best, and very sloppy at worst. Not terribly imaginative, pretty standard fare, in fact. Not thought through, cutting corners, inexcusable.

So, Andromeda's start is nothing stellar. But, remember how Star Trek: The Next Generation started out? I hated those uniforms too, thought the characters weren't compelling, and the first few episodes were, well, nothing to be thrilled about. In fact, I thought the pilot of ST: TNG was pretty dumb. Is it fair to judge Andromeda differently? Probably not. Here's how I see it...Andromeda has gotten off to a mediocre start, like a lot of shows do. Problem is, so many of these shows have been done already, is that really an excuse anymore? The producers need to take a good hard look at this show, and decide where they want to take it. Either they make some serious changes and improve the situation, or this will be yet another average sci-fi show, not really worthy of note. Not as good as EFC, not as good as LEXX, not even as good as Farscape, and definitely not as good as Babylon 5. As good as Voyager? Maybe so. Only time will tell. There's still a LOT of time for this show to improve. Maybe it will, and the commonwealth will be saved. I hope so.

-El Cosmico

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