Of course, I haven’t watched every show out there. Stargate remains a complete unknown to me, for example.
And sci-fi is so vast a field that it really is implausible to put them all in one group. The X-files was nothing like Star Trek at all (thankfully). Star Wars and Gattaca…. it seems wrong to even put their names in the same sentence [in case that is not clear: it is demeaning to Gattaca]. Dark Angel could be labeled many things. It is post-apocalyptic, but nothing like Mad Max or any of those things. Most of the show’s great aspects could be put in a private-eye drama with a contemporary setting.
Some of my attraction to the show is rather idiosyncratic. I was pastoring in Auburn, Washington when it first aired and I caught maybe the first five shows. Dark Angel is set in Seattle (filmed somewhere in or near Vancouver BC). The Northwest feel both in sets and in rural locations is quite authentic..
The Seattle of the show is a “post-pulse” Seattle. Terrorists set off a nuclear warhead that was too high up to do a great deal of damage but sent out an electromagnetic pulse that wiped out all the computers in the (at least Western half) of the US. This triggered an economic meltdown which, in turn, destroyed the US as a unified entity. While it is still held together under some sort of national leadership, the idea of states are gone. The local governments are pretty much military bases which are able to get away with a lot of corruption. Hoverbots patrol Seattle and our protagonists “squat” illegally in an abandoned building, paying “rent” to the local cop who drops by on patrol and radios in that there is no one in the structure.
But before the pulse, in the forests of Wyoming, there was (and still is we find out) a secret base known as Manticore. Throught a combination of genetic engineering, psychological programming, and regimented training from infancy, crop after crop of “supersoldiers” were raised as their own unit/family taught to follow any order. At one point, shortly before the pulse, a dozen of these X-5s escaped.
Max was one of them.
She now wears her hair long enough to cover the barcode on the back of her neck (removing it at a tatoo parlor only works for a couple of weeks before it reappears). She is a bike courier by day and a burglar by night, trying to avoid detection on the part of the government/military agents that want to get their “kids” back.
In Seattle there is also a rogue reporter–the eyes only streaming freedomcast–who has found a way to hack into all broadcasts untracably (this may be the most unbelievable part of the whole scenario) and report on the real news hidden by the banana-republic powers-that-be. His identity is secret but Max meets him when she breaks into his penthouse apartment to steal. He slowly gets her to abandon her amoral survival-instinct-led life and take chances on helping others.
What makes the show is Max’s hard-boiled attitude, both in conversation and in voice-over monologue, that is combined with outbreaks of great emotion. I think if I had seen the script I would have doubted anyone could pull it off without sounding fake, but Jessica Alba pulled it off (and was much more interesting than she was in the Fantastic Four, no surprise). There are plenty of thin plots where her secrets and those of Eyes Only should have been revealed to the world. But entertaining TV shows have contained worse problems. These are probably only noticeable because the show naturally leads you to expect higher standards (if Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t understood as campy, would any of us really take it seriously?).
That parenthetical off-the-cuff mandates I say more, I guess. I suppose it was natural that in 2000 people would compare the show to Buffy because they both involve superheroines. Almost all such comparisons would be superficial since DA is a much more serious sci-fi show (the fact that both BtVS and DA are sci-fi is more evidence of the uselessness of the genre; the genre has no reason to exist other than to allow some people to feel too important to participate in it…). But one comparison does stand. Buffy’s survival record has a good deal to do with her rejection of a loneliness and insistence on staying close to friends. Max has a similar commitment, even though at one level it endangers her, it also allows her to de-soldierize despite Manticore’s comprehensive brainwashing and get reprogrammed through socialization. We see some interesting (and sad) glimpses of what happened to the rest of Max’s “family” of refugees and how they did or didn’t escape the internal hold of Manticore.
I could say more, but I’ll stop here. It was truly a great season. I understand that the second season was not nearly as well done, but I’ve never seen it so I can say nothing first hand.
(By the way, I am not recommending the show for children not only due to language, but also because Max’s friend Original Cindy is an out Lesbian. The good news is that the show only descends into soft-porn conventions [i.e she makes out briefly with a girlfriend] in one episode. The rest are pretty tame).
(One other thing: it is funny to see how the present has surpassed the near-future scenario. The flatscreens are all as thick as my iMac and there is not a USB port in sight. Everything is connected with big clunky cables and multi-prong outlets. The rotary phones are there on purpose, but the rest is simply an outdated set.)