April 10, 2013

A Slightly Longer-Lived Showcase: Introducing Starhunter

NOTE: Technically, Starhunter doesn't fit our criteria for a Short-Lived show, as it ran for two full seasons instead of just one. It's side a project I've wanted to do for a while with Igor, and now, with the Showcase in hiatus, it seemed like the perfect time to take it on. And since it didn't fully fit the regulations of this site, we were going to host the project at Made of Fail's First Impressions and Second Time Around blog. But I kept looking at the Showcase, which had been the most successful and widely read of the blog projects I've created, and how it just suddenly cut off with its future still up in the air, and I figured, why not. No, this series isn't Short-Lived, but I figure exploring it for the next 44 weeks* is just what the Showcase needs to keep running while we sort out that eventual future. Igor is a great writer, and I hope you all enjoy him as a new member of the team. And while Tony's currently in the middle of a bunch of stuff at the moment, I won't give up on gently tugging him back, so we'll see where he's at once things are settled.

[* There's a good chance this may only run 22 weeks for the moment, as Season 2 has suddenly become incredibly elusive, with DVD sets out of print and going for wild collectors' prices and legal streams suddenly pulled offline. Either way, we'll see Season 1 through.]

With that out of the way, let's move on to our Intro to Starhunter.


I discovered Starhunter the way I discovered a lot of Canadian shows: on WCIU, Channel 26. Back in the days before digital broadcasting and sub-channels, it was the only major Chicago area television station that wasn't affiliated with a national network. They did some original programing - Svengoolie, a tongue-in-cheek B-movie showcase, being the most famous example - but for the most part, they aired syndicated programming and infomercials. And when they needed to fill airtime late at night, they tended to resort to TV shows imported from Canada.

Like any self-respecting teenager without much of a social life, I spent my high school years staying up late and watching whatever was on. Thanks to WCIU, I was exposed to Cold Squad, Da Vinci's Inquest, and, yes, Starhunter.

On the surface, it seemed like something I could really get into. A science fiction show about a bounty hunter, traveling though the solar system on a former cruise spaceship, with a no-nonsense security guard type person, a witty artificial intelligence, and a sarcastic teenage girl to keep him company? Sounds like a recipe for an exciting adventure, with interesting character dynamics to boot.

But, as I quickly realized, I got my hopes a bit too high. The acting was uneven - and when I say uneven, I mean that only half of the cast bothered to make their characters into something resembling real people. The scripts had some interesting ideas, but the execution left much to be desired. And the dialogue... oh God, the dialogue. For every clever, natural-sounding line, there was at least one line of melodramatic, cliched tripe. It was as if someone took the scripts from a character-driven indie and a soap opera, shredded all the dialogue parts, and tossed them into a blender.

Why did I keep watching? I think a lot of it came down to potential. I liked the good parts, and I kept hoping that they would overcome the bad parts. The banter between the ship's A.I. and Percy (the aforementioned sarcastic teenage girl) went a long way to make the show palatable. The overarching myth arc that eventually started to emerge was actually kind of interesting. I was intrigued by some facets of the world they were building. And to be honest, part of it was that, for better or for worse, Starhunter was unlike any other show I've ever seen. I wouldn't quite compare it to a train wreck. More like an abandoned factory. It looks sad, being all abandoned and not running like it's supposed to, but you get hints of what it was and you can't help but appreciate that.

So, when Noel asked if I'd be interested in taking a look back at Starhunter, I was intrigued. What would it look like after all those years? Would I still find it interesting? Are the good parts better than I remember? Maybe, nearly a decade later, I would be able to appreciate it the way I wasn't before.

Of course, it's always possible that Starhunter was actually worse than I remembered. Much worse.

Either way, I figure Noel and I will get some interesting blog entries out of it.


My memories of Starhunter are pretty vague. Mainly, I remember it playing late at night, around 1am weekend mornings on channel 45 (a local affiliate for sitcom libraries and the occasional movie, which has since been replaced by ThisTV, MeTV, and Antenna TV - thanks, Chicago). I had just gotten out of high school the summer before it debuted, and was working the night shift, so my not having seen more than a handful of episodes had less to do with the time it was on than it did with me just not having settled into following shows at the times. Even the great Farscape, airing at the same time, was something I'd just occasionally catch, not really following religiously until DVD.

Speaking of Farscape, that's where most of my memory lies, as Starhunter was a darker scifi show from that millennial time of uncertainty where things had an edge. It wasn't as bold as Farscape, or as balls-out insane as Lexx, but it was airing around the same time (I think 45 even had it back-to-back with one of the others) and fit in nicely with its world-worn aesthetic and ethically grey cast of characters. When Firefly debuted two years later, all I could think of was how much it resembled Starhunter. Not to say Joss was knocking off the earlier show, but I'm surprised I didn't hear as much comparison between the two as we did with Outlaw Star. Granted, I wouldn't be surprised if far more people have seen Outlaw Star than Starhunter.

I only remember two people from the cast off the top of my head. The lead, the captain of the ship, is played by Michael Pare, well after his A-list career in the 80s had gone belly-up as he followed the Eric Roberts route of being the person worth watching in dreck z-grade movies that should otherwise be avoided. He's one of Uwe Boll's go-to regular actors. That should tell you all you need to know about where his career's gone. The other person I remember, though I can't recall either the character nor actor's name, is the deadpan snark geek girl who was awesome at computers and things, and who I mostly just remember because I kinda had a crush on her at the time. I know the series went through a big cast shift in Season 2, but I don't recall having seen any of those episodes, and only know the deadpan snark geek girl stayed behind, but Michael Pare jumped ship as a new captain came in.

Watching the opening title sequence, there isn't much to the theme, but it's not a bad bit of music, combining vocals and percussion in a way similar to Farscape, but mellower and less alien. I like the voiceover, which clearly states the ultimate goal of Pare's captain: that his son was taken from him a decade ago and he's wandering the stars trying to find him. I see two women - Tanya Allen plays our deadpan snark geek girl - but nothing to say who their characters are, so I'm looking forward to that discovery in Episode 1. The visual effects, which do have the plasticine sheen of 90s TV CGI, aren't bad. Their movement looks good and the composition of shots is solid, so everything still has a nice weight to it.

I'm looking forward to finally revisiting this show. I've had the DVD set for a couple years now, and keep seeing all of Season 1 in discount bins for $5 or less, so I hope they've managed to find their way to their audience and picked up some new viewers. Mostly, I very much look forward to working on this project with Igor, who I've enjoyed as both a writer and a person, and I'm glad we finally found a project to bond over.

We'll be back this Saturday with a look at Episode 1 "Peer Pressure". Yes, we're going with the episode order on the DVDs, as that's the order in which they were originally produced and meant to be seen, not the order in which they aired.

If you'd like to watch along with us, the entire first season of Starhunter (labelled "complete series", because season 2 was rebranded Starhunter 2300) is available on DVD through Amazon.

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