Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lexx is Wretched

I have a fondness for science fiction series that are imaginative but not, as a whole, successful. Farscape, I'm talking about you. Even, occasionally, those that start out promising, but which turn into complete failures -- failure can occasionally be interesting. At least, it serves as an object lesson for how a story line can go so very far wrong. Andromeda, I've got your number. I can deal with very dated CGI -- Babylon Five is still generally good and often great. So I happened to come across discounted boxed sets of Lexx, the whole series, at my local Target store. They were dirt cheap. "How bad could it be?" I thought. Well, now I know. At least, I know part of the story.

First off, Lexx is not something I can show my kids -- pretty much at all. Season 1 has a surprising amount of very fake gore in it -- brains and guts flying everywhere. That didn't really bother them -- I think they got that the brains were made of gelatin -- but it was getting to me. Watching characters carved up by rotating blades, repeatedly; watching characters getting their brains removed -- that got old. Body horror, body transformation -- pretty standard stuff for B grade science fiction, or anything that partakes of the tropes of such, but not actually kid-friendly. So we didn't continue showing the kids.

Still, I thought it might make more sense to watch them in order, so I watched the second two-hour movie (1:38 without commercials). The second one has full frontal nudity, which startled me a bit. I'm not really opposed to looking at a nubile young woman, per se. There is some imaginative world-building and character creation here, but ultimately it's just incredibly boring. It's like the producers shot the material, not having any idea how long the finished product would be; they shot enough scenes to actually power an hour show (forty-plus minutes without commercials), but also shot a bunch of extended padding sequences, "just in case." And so after a repeated intro that lasts just under four minutes, we get a two-hour show with endless cuts to spinning blades slowly approaching female groins, huge needles slowly approaching male groins, countdown timers counting down, getting stopped, getting started, getting stopped... endless fight scenes, endless scenes of the robot head blathering his love poetry, a ridiculous new character eating fistfuls of brains... et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Every time something happens, I'd get my hopes up, thinking that maybe the writing has actually improved, but then it's time to slow down the show again, because we've still got an extra hour and twenty minutes to pad. And it's all distressingly sexist and grotesquely homophobic. Again, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't like to look at Eva Habermann in a miniskirt, but given that the actress is actually young enough to be my daughter, and especially given that she has so little interesting to do, and there's just not much character in her character -- it's -- well, "gratuitous" doesn't even begin to cover it. She's young, but Brian Downey was old enough to know better. And let's just say I'm a little disgusted with the choices the show's producers made. The guest stars in Season 1 are like a who-used-to-be-who of B actors -- Tim Curry, Rutger Hauer, Malcom McDowell. There's material here for a great cult show -- but these episodes are mostly just tedious. They're actually not good enough to be cult classics.

The season consists of four two-hour movies. After watching the first movie, I didn't quite realize all four season one movies were on one disc, so when I tried to watch some more, I put in the first disc of season two by mistake. I watched the first few episodes of season two -- these are shorter. I didn't notice any actual continuity issues. In other words, nothing significant changes from the pilot movie to the start of season two. There are some imaginative satirical elements. Season 2, episode 3 introduces a planet called "Potatohoe" which is a pretty funny satire of the American "right stuff" tropes. But it's too little, and it amounts to too little, amidst the tedious general adolescent sex romp. Then we lose Eva Habermann, who was 90% of the reason I even watched the show this far. I'm honestly not sure if I can watch any more.

It doesn't help that several of the discs skip a lot. It might have something to do with the scratches that were on the discs when I took them out of the packaging, which come from the fact that the discs are all stuck together on a single spindle in the plastic box. And the discs themselves are all unmarked, identifiable only by an ID number, not any kind of label indicating which part of which season they hold -- so good luck pulling out the one you want.

I'm told the later seasons have some very imaginative story lines. People say good things about the third season. It seems like the universe has a lot of potential. Is it worth continuing, or am I going to be in old Battlestar Galactica's second season territory?

UPDATE: I have continued skimming the show. The scripts seem to get somewhat more interesting around season 2, episode 5, called "Lafftrak." It finally seems to take its darkness seriously enough to do something interesting with it, and not just devolve to pornographic settings. The pacing is still weak, but the shows start to feel as if they have a little bit of forward momentum. Of course, then in the next episode, we're back to Star Whores and torture pr0n...


Janika said...

I invite you to experience Lexx in a different perspective of mythology, philosophy, and social context. See my Lexx fan blog at grandfortuna.xanga.com in particular "Why Lexx is important" at http://grandfortuna.xanga.com/2012/12/07/why-lexx-is-important/

Lexx is a little bit of a shock, but there is method to the madness. ;)

Paul R. Potts said...

Janika, thanks. I have read your comments and I have watched most of the rest of the series -- I am partway into season 4 now. It really is a very frustrating show to watch. I think fans like you put a lot more thought into it than the producers did, and give them far too much credit. I think that's a version of the "sunk cost fallacy" for TV watching -- when fans have invested time into watching a show, we want to believe that it had some value. It's why I watched all of "Andromeda" even when it became obvious that the head writer had left and the show was just a confused mess with no real story arc anymore. It's why I watched all of "Stargate: SG-1" even when half the original actors were gone and replaced by refugees from "Farscape" and the writing was going nowhere.

Season 3 has a lot of really beautiful _moments_. I love what they did with the sets for Fire and Water and the concept, even with a low budget. The episode "Brigadoom" takes big risks for the actors but is really touching and funny. "The Web" and "The Net" have a pretty intriguing setup and it is neat to see the story from different perspectives. But overall, most of the episodes are just far, far too padded. The gondola sequences are gorgeous, but there just _is not enough story_. "Boomtown," "K-Town," "Garden," "Girltown" -- they all suffer from the same problem. The only things moving the story along in these episodes are adolescent sexual gratification and homophobic gags.

The show is funnier when it is performing some kind of specific parody of a genre, like in "791" and "Wake the Dead." But so much of it just shows no character development and no drama at all. Over 40 shows in, and Stan and Xev are still motivated primarily by their desires to get laid. It really want to make it to the end, but it is such a slog. As the episodes get weirder in season 4 and anything can happen, this has the paradoxical effect of draining away all the drama and interest, so I am really having a hard time continuing. I find myself fast-forwarding a lot. I have written a little more about Lexx on my other blog here:


I am considering a project in which I study each episode in more detail, at least the ones that I feel deserve some consideration.

Unknown said...

Hi. I just read this, I was actually having a mental debate about whether it was truly homophobic. What I mean is I get this impression of a mix between homoprogressive, homosubversive and homophobic. At the time there wasn´t a lot of truly homosexual representations on "normal" tv. Homosexuality is not just in homophobic gags, but also various characters, but then they're all villains and not particularly cute. So it felt like a step forward at the time, having SOME sort of relationships/representations on screen. And the show was imaginative and a unique universe. But in an age where Archie comics has a positive gay character among its main cast, it seems only homophobic.

But yeah, there is a lot of shclock (not the good kind), and when rewatching it the first season did feel longer than I remembered. But part of that would be that shows nowadays have a LOT more going on, a lot less downtime. Watching old movies (like from anything from the 70s or earlier) has the same effect. Amy Sherman-Palladino actually commented on this once in an interview while working on Bunheads. So I wonder how much of that is what makes the show feel somewhat worse than before.

But the universe is in itself worth it, as are certain episodes as others here commented. I liked how in the first season we see order as a force of evil (it's not that common, especially when it's a "light vs dark" dichotomy for the universe. Then there's the fact that basically everything seen in the "light" zone isn't all that good. The concept of the "afterlife" and all that.

In my opinion the fourt season is more of a variety show, filled with sketches and skits, it was a way to move the storyline forward despite not really knowing where to go. The show tends to work along the lines of just destroying everything (the light zone, the universe, the afterlife, and yet by its very own mythology, things be go own or be reborn, for time is "circular" (I quite liked that take on prophets and why they can see the "future").

But yeah, the first season is good for creating the universe and for a smattering of moments. The second for certain episodes and how it finds its legs. The third is great, on so many levels (but often bears many of the flaws from the rest of the show in general). The fourth is more of a time killer.

To be clear, I rarely sit down to watch tv. I generally multi-task, which makes watching certain things, especially those with pacing problems, much more tolerable.

And yeah, SOOOO not kid friendly in most places.

But there is something I DO have to give it props for. Even if I haven't seen any of it for several years, I do occasionally have Kai's battle song pop up in my head or some of those from "Brigadoom".

Paul R. Potts said...

Great comments, Unknown. I agree with you about "Brigadoom." What a strange but beautiful episode!