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The Year That Was in Network Sci-Fi (angel mention)

Sunday 23 May 2004, by Webmaster

The networks have all announced their fall schedules, and it’s a mixed bag for the sci-fi/fantasy/horror class of 2003-2004. Even before the announcements, we knew the fates of several genre shows, and some weren’t pretty. Let’s survey the dead and the living. The Dead:

"Angel" (The WB): Despite one of the most impressive fan campaigns in TV history — which included mailings, a food drive, a moving billboard and a rally — the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" spin-off about a noble vampire (David Boreanaz) lost out in the ratings-vs.-budget cost-benefit analysis and bit the dust after five seasons with a rock’em-sock’em finale that left some unanswered questions. There may yet be TV-movies or even a further spin-off, but fans now face their first fall since 1997 without a show set in the "Buffy" universe. End of the world, indeed.

"Jake 2.0" (UPN): The promising science-fiction drama, with "Angel" co-creator David Greenwalt at the helm, showcased the acting chops and comedic timing of former "Popular" star Christopher Gorham (who was also pretty hunky), playing a cybernetically enhanced computer tech who becomes a spy. Intelligent writing combined with a sense of humor for this update on the "Six Million Dollar Man" (which was cheeky enough to have Lee Majors as a guest star), but competition from "Angel," "The West Wing," "The Bachelor" and especially "The O.C." proved ultimately fatal. Gorham, does, return though, on the NBC show "Medical Investigation."

"Tarzan" (The WB): Despite star Travis Fimmel’s killer cheekbones and impressive abs, this updating of the Edgar Rice Burroughs tale never quite decided what it was about in time to capture viewers (and we hear Fimmel was no walk in the park to work with, either, more’s the pity). High concept didn’t translate into high ratings, which should have been a lesson during this development season — but we’ll see about that.

"Wonderfalls" (FOX): This midseason romantic comedy-drama starring Caroline Dhavernas as a slacker receiving cryptic messages from animal figurines was quirky, thoroughly charming and original — which means it had to die. FOX has acquired an unfortunate habit of greenlighting innovative shows and then axing them quickly, from "Undeclared" and "Pasadena" to "The Tick," "Firefly" and "Keen Eddie." And FOX always has a show or two that never sees the light of day, which leads us to ...

"Still Life" (FOX): There was a faint flicker of hope that this drama about a family seen through the eyes of its slain son (Jensen Ackles) would air this summer, but with show-runner Marti Noxon off to another pilot, the odds of more episodes ever being produced are about nil. And it’s not on any of FOX’s three schedules.

The Living:

"24" (FOX): Anti-terrorist agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) had the third worst day of his life in the real-time espionage drama. After a gangbusters start, things faltered a bit midseason (this year’s baby will be enshrined with last year’s cougar and the previous year’s amnesia as ideas that should have died in the writer’s room) before kicking into slamming high gear with a deadly-virus storyline that should have been front and center all along. As part of FOX’s new year-round schedule, "24" returns in January with promises to air straight through without pre-emption.

"Alias" (ABC): Sydney the super-spy (Jennifer Garner) will live to break hearts and kick butts this fall, after yet another rollercoaster season of family betrayal, multicolored wigs and bizarre Renaissance prophecies. And, as it turns out, there is another ... as Sydney acquired a previously unknown half-sister (Mia Maestro) and a very scary aunt (Isabella Rossellini). Like "24," "Alias" returns in January with plans to run nonstop through May.

"Charmed" (The WB): The power of The Charmed Ones remains undimmed, as the sister-witch Halliwells (Alyssa Milano, Holly Marie Combs, Rose McGowan) are assured of a seventh season, and maybe an eighth, of hot costumes, demon-vanquishing and quippy dialogue.

"Joan of Arcadia" (CBS): Joan (Amber Tamblyn) talked to God, and America listened. Proving that Friday night is not always a graveyard, this freshman drama about a teen receiving divine influence firsthand blended comedy, drama, a sweet wistfulness and even a dose of theology to prove that you didn’t need a burning bush to light a little fire under the ratings.

"Smallville" (The WB): Heavy on the Superman-origin mythology, season three of the drama about the teen years of the Man of Steel explored all aspects of father-son dynamics, both with the increasingly tortured Clark Kent (Tom Welling) and the emotionally battered Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum). Young Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) acquired a spine, and teen reporter Chloe (Allison Mack) inched toward the dark side. Alas, there was no promised appearance by the pre-Batman Bruce Wayne, but one can’t have everything. But the finale was a real barn-burner, with Clark sucked into a wall by his alien dad, Jonathan Kent (John Schneider) out cold, Lex choking on apparent poison, Lana off to Paris, Chloe apparently blown to smithereens, and jailed Lionel Luthor (John Glover) getting a very portentous haircut.

"Star Trek: Enterprise" (UPN): After earning renewal by the skin of its bulkhead, the "Trek" prequel can say the third time was the charm. A 9/11-inspired storyline about an alien attack on Earth propelled the starship Enterprise into uncharted territory, offering fresh story lines for the characters and badly needed focus. Now it’s up to fans to prove that they’ll follow the show to Friday night.

"Tru Calling" (FOX): Buoyed by the sheer star wattage of former "Buffy" and "Angel" guest star Eliza Dushku, and a loyal cadre of teen viewers, this drama about a morgue attendant who can turn back time and prevent death (as her mother did before her) was able to pull a similar trick on itself. The introduction of Jason Priestley as Jack Harper, Tru’s death-dealing opposite number, late in the season was a needed shot in the arm, along with the revelation that Tru’s beloved dad (Cotter Smith) plays for Harper’s team. And this fall, the show gets FOX’s powerhouse "The O.C." as a lead-in, which could bolster its chances up against CBS’ "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and NBC’s "The Apprentice."

On a side note, strong DVD sales for genre shows prove there’s more than just ad money to be made out there, and that could become very interesting in the next few years. It’s a lot of the reason that Joss Whedon was able to resurrect "Firefly" as a feature film called "Serenity." Who knows what could rise from the dead next?

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