October 12, 2013

Starhunter, Season 1 Final Thoughts


Here's the thing about Starhunter... for a period of nearly two years, it was a short-lived show. It had been cancelled, the cast had been let go to find other work, the sets had either been tucked into storage or slated to be re-used on other low-budget scifi affairs. This show had ended. And there's a very simple reason why...

Starhunter is a bad show.

The plot of a rag-tag crew of space bounty bounty hunters dealing with an oppressive government and violent freedom fighters was something that hadn't really been explored in a live-action series before, but it still wasn't exactly a novel concept as it came on the heels of the popular US releases of Outlaw Star and Cowboy Bebop, neither of which it holds the tiniest remaining wick of a candle to. But hey, cliched is perfectly fine as long as you play the cliches well. This show didn't, painting everything in as simple and dull a fashion as it possibly could. And while it did try to weave a few interesting threads in there - the Orchard, the Raiders, Travis, the Divinity Cluster - it couldn't really keep all of those straight enough to ultimately work. I did butt heads with Igor over this in the reviews, as I still enjoyed a lot of their use in individual episodes, but in terms of the series as a whole, yeah, it didn't work. And it all ultimately led up to a payoff which I found more frustrating than compelling. And to clarify, it's not the cliffhanger I have a problem with. I actually like elements of that, what with Percy and the Tulip blinking out of existence and Luc at the end of a gun as all of her father's plans fall apart around her (I even like Dante and Travis grasping hands as they plunge into the atmosphere, though it should have ended there instead of capping things with the odd additional moment). No, my problem is that it didn't earn those moments. This series had ideas and made promises that it ultimately wasn't capable of living up to. And those promises came amidst a morass of cheap, bland execution which never changed or improved.

The lead cast was mostly compelling. The standouts are the dry snark of Tanya Allen as Percy and the bravura acting talents of Claudette Roche as Luc, both of whom were far to good for this muck, which ultimately wasted their talent instead of their shining lights elevating it to watchable. Michael Pare is... Michael Pare. He's got that casual likability, that everyman hero swagger, but more often he's given material that plays to his weaknesses than he is his strengths, and it's not hard to see why his once promising leading-man career of the 80s ultimately didn't play out the way he'd hoped. Rounding out the cast are Murray Melvin as Caravaggio, who always dependably delivered his very basic role, and very much rose to the few occasions they gave him, and Stephen Marcus as Rudolpho, who's amusing, but so peripheral to the series that he's ultimately kind of pointless as he rarely actually ties into events. And they're all backed up by some of the blandest, most talentless and wooden surge of guest players I've ever seen on a professional series from episode to episode. Sure, there were a few highlights, but the bottom-of-the-barrel acting pool this show kept dipping from just added to the air of visible cheapness they were dealing with behind the scenes.

Ultimately, this is a disappointment of a show. I did get some entertainment out of it, liked the occasional episode, and am still a fan of Percy, but I'm glad the full season sells in bargain bins for just a few bucks, because you really do get your money's worth out of that discount. Even then, it's not more widely discussed among fandom because I'm betting the few who shill out those few bucks when it catches their eye end up ultimately making it just a few episodes in before trading the set off to a friend or dropping it on a shelf or in a corner where it winds up largely forgotten.

And it's worth pointing out that there is a reason why it ultimately came back for a second season. In the 28 months between season 1 ending and season 2 debuting, there was a bit of an event on television which you may remember hearing about...


Yes, Starhunter beat Firefly to the punch, and the early episodes (particularly the one dealing with Miranda) are littered with suspicious similarities to the later series, but whereas Starhunter came and went with little in the way of a blip on the radar, Firefly was this sensational and talked about thing which gained even more popularity in the wake of its cancellation as outcry flooded into launched campaigns and browncoat-sporting fandoms started filling every convention. Instead of being angry and lashing out at Firefly as a ripoff, the creators of Starhunter saw a fancy pair of tailcoats they could latch onto in the hopes of catching some of its popularity as it rushed past. Thus, Starhunter was suddenly sold into quick syndication (albeit to little-watched channels at odd hours). Thus, a second season was hurried into production, regardless of the fact that they couldn't round the majority of the old cast back together. Thus, after Firefly quickly became a massively successful best-seller on DVD, Starhunter discs hit quick and cheap with covers which minimized the title and maximized select key art designed to emulate the casing covers of Firefly. And thus, now that Firefly has fumbled to answer to demands by fans for a web series continuation, a video game, and a comic (yes, there have been Firefly comics, but they've been sporadic and are only now starting to act as an actual continuation), the producers of Starhunter are running after the fans saying "Hey, we're actually planning to make all that stuff! For our show! Which isn't your show but is totally the same thing! Watch us, please!"

While Starhunter didn't begin life as a mockbuster, that's what the franchise has become as it desperately continues attempting to sell itself to uninterested fans of Firefly. It's a bit sad in a way, but hey, they get to keep their silly little show chugging. And whether or not the further adventures in that universe actually come about, here's hoping Season 2 eventually comes back in print on DVD, as the only reason we're not covering it next week is that it expired and used prices shot up quick just as we were starting this project. Which is fine because I could use a little space to recharge after my anger last week. I am interested in seeing the next chapter, though, in how it handles the waters of the big cast change, how it does with a new head writer, and how it works out of the hand of the producers/creators, as Daniel D'or and G. Phillip Jackson were booted by the network just 8 episodes in.

So that's where I end, curious to see if this piece of crap got any better, but eager to first move one from it for a while. The first season of Starhunter is ultimately a waste of the time, money, and "talent" of the people involved... but I still got my $2.99 worth.


Noel and I are not drinking men. The closest thing we get is that groggy feeling when we're tired and can't think straight. We both originally saw Starhunter late at night, and while neither of us remembered it as being especially good, we both found it fascinating enough to look back on it so many years later.

And, having seen the show, I can't help but wonder how much of a role the tired-drunkish state played in this.

As I reviewed this show, one word I found myself using again and again was "potential". This show could have worked. We know a show with this basic set-up - a crew of bounty hunters with a captain with a dark secret, a warrior woman, and a gifted young genius, stumbling upon conspiracies - could have worked. Firefly, Cowboy Bebop, and Outlaw Star showed us as much. And the later two were even created before Starhunter. And now that I've seen the season, I can safely say the show wasn't as good as any of those shows (even when they had bad episodes).

It's not that there weren't good parts. On the contrary. Percy proved to be the most fascinating character of them all, and not for the reasons I initially thought she was. She was a snarky genius, yes, but she was one of the very few characters who had layers. She kept her emotions close to her vest, didn't lose her cool easily, and didn't let the antagonists get to her. It was kind of refreshing to see a character react non-nonchalantly to threats. Yes, she was scared, but she wasn't going to let the person see she was scared, and she wasn't going to make stupid decisions because she was scared. She was quite capable of standing up for herself without being boringly invincible, and she could think of her feet and be creative. The fact that she didn't put up with other people's rubbish was her strength and her weakness, which made her a more interesting character.

In my first Starhunter post, I compared Luc to Mace from Strange Days, and looking back, I stand by that comparison. A capable fighter with a caring heart, she was usually a compelling figure to watch. She had just enough humanity and dimension to avoid coming off like a recycled archetype.

Caravaggio. I haven't said much about the show's resident AI in recent posts, but I would list him along the good parts. A long-suffering, sarcastic entity who showed quite a bit of emotional depth over the course of the show, he was always a welcome presence. Even when the show underused him. I think the show ultimately did underuse him, which is kind of shame.

Rudolpho... It's a tough one. His opening monologues were superfluous to the show, but they offered hints of a complex, flawed individual whose good impulses warred with ruthless pragmatism and a lifetime of disappointments. We didn't really get to see him on the show, which is kind of a shame. I know that he gets a more prominent role in the second season, and I can see why.

And then there's Dante. Bloody Dante. In my recap of the first episode, I called him the show's weakest link because of his lack of charisma, and boy do I ever stand by that. He had some moments of warmth and humanity, but it never seemed enough. And ultimately, Dante just wasn't that likable of a character. Stubborn, impulsive, spiteful, pathologically incapable of picking up on clues and putting them together. He was ridiculously easy to fool and watching him try to learn from his experiences was a grind. I never understood why Luc cared so much about him. I'm not sure how much of all this was because of Pere and how much of it was because of the writers, but the character just didn't work as a lead. Or a large part of an ensemble.

But, ultimately, the show's biggest weakness was its constant inability to live up to potential. There were so many missed opportunities that I'm struggling to come up with a good metaphor that probably captures just how badly the show dropped the ball. It hinted at potentially interesting backstories and refused to develop them. It introduced characters and never made good use of them. It had far too many characters which could have been interesting, and refused to expand them beyond archetypes.

The setting was under-developed. The antagonists - both the Raiders and the Orchard - were horribly under-developed. The plots followed cliches without much deviation.

Starhunter could have been good, but after watching the entire season, it's clear that the creative team weren't going to be able to take advantage of the potential that was there.

And yet, somehow, the show doesn't die. Another season aired a few years later. And, as Noel and I were shocked to learn, the creators intend to bring back the show and do a game and graphic novels to tie in with it.

How do these creators manage to keep Starhunter going when other, better shows fall by the wayside, never to be heard from again? There's no justice.

Ultimately, the show is not entirely irredeemable, but the bad parts wind up overshadowing and overwhelming the parts that work. While I can't exactly discourage people from seeing Starhunter, I can't, in good conscience, recommend it. Instead, I would recommend a few obscure fantasy/sci-fi shows that ended too soon. Charlie Jade, a Canadian/South African co-production that spun an interesting story of parallel worlds with some innovative storytelling choices. New Amsterdam, a tale of an immortal New York City detective that had a dubious honor of being cancelled before it even aired, but has, on the scale, more good parts than bad parts. I'd even recommend Three Moons Over Milford, a show that was a conceptual mess and had some pretty dire subplots, but still managed to be more involving and have more heart than Starhunter ever did.

I bought, I watched, I ground through it. Good bloody riddance.

Tony makes his triumphant return next weekend as we announce our next Showcase!

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