Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Did Eureka just jump the shark?

We've been hooked on the television show Eureka since its first episode. The premise is clever, the characters are likable and well acted, and the scripts tend to be pleasantly witty.

But tonight's (9/11/07) episode annoyed me considerably. Some parts of it were fine, but the underlying theme of the town's scientific geniuses finding religion because of mild stress made me grind my teeth.

At the start of the episode, it's clear that almost no one in town is interested in churchgoing. Given that Eureka is filled with the world's greatest scientific geniuses, that's appropriate. Studies show consistently that scientists tend to be much less religious than the general public, and the more advanced they are in their field, the less likely they are to be religious. However, when a series of rather minor (by Eureka standards) calamities strike the town, the geniuses start heading to the church. (It wasn't clear if there's more than one church in town.) This didn't happen in previous episodes, when Eureka faced much more serious dangers. We also know that it doesn't happen in real life -- that not only are there atheists in foxholes, the experience of the foxhole tends to destroy people's faith, creating more atheists. More atheists come out of foxholes than go into them!

Moreover, at the end of the episode, it's made clear that many of the brilliant scientists have retained their new-found religion, even though they have discovered that the town's recent problems were manmade! Aargh!

I assume this was due to network pressure, in turn due to pressure on the network from rightwing/fundamentalist religious groups. I don't know that; I haven't read anything to that effect. It could have been simple cowardice on someone's part. Or ignorance.

I guess I don't really care what was behind it. I only know that I'm quite pissed off right now.


Chris said...

I'm a fan of Eureka as well, and I agree last night's ep was sub par, but I disagree as to the cause. It's true it may be pressure from the network, but Eureka is by far their most-watched show, so I doubt that's the case. And seeing the latitude given to Battlestar Galactica to explore some unsavory topics, it doesn't seem SciFi's style.

What seems to me to be happening is a dilution of the original concept. The first season was largely penned by the series co-creators, and showed a remarkable balance between the season-long arc and some truly engaging monster-of-the-week style plots. This year, they've brought on a bevy of new names (including a story credit by one of my favorite TV writers, Jane Espenson, who I think missed the mark a bit with a zany ep about Fargo's granddad). I think that in doing so, they've strayed from the core ideas and characterization that make the show so compelling. They're still getting great performances, but the show seems to be meandering toward its finale. I've seen season one twice now, and that one, by comparison, rocketed toward a spectacular finale. Now it feels like they're vamping to fill airspace. Here's hoping they get back on track...

David said...

Thanks for the long, thoughtful comment, Chris. You may be right about the real cause of the problem.

I do miss the zaniness and offbeat flavor of the first season. The second season seems to rely too much on technobabble instead of creative silliness. On the other hand, I like the dark subplot involving Henry and Kim, Jack's part in all of that, his flashes of memory, and Beverly's sinisterness. They'd better do something with all of that and not just drop it, though.

I'm always willing to cut some slack for a second season or the second movie in a franchise. Those often meander, with #3 often being excellent again. If the meandering continues next season, that could be the end of it. That's what happened Battlestar Galactica, I think.

Chris said...

There are so many quality threads still unresolved, I really hope they pull it out. And the more I thought about last night's ep, the more I wonder if this was all a haphazard attempt at juxtaposition; in the face of all evidence to the contrary, Stark is convinced that Kevin healed his mother. While the rest of the town turns to religion as an outlet for their faith, Stark turns once more to the Artifact. Still, it was a flimsy plot to get us to that point, wasn't it?

As far as BSG goes, Moore has pretty much said they turned out some crap to stretch last season at the behest of the network. I hope that's not what's happening here. I've long thought that's one of the benefits of British TV -- if you've got a story that takes 15 hours to tell, that seems to be fine by them. Nobody tries to get you to stretch it to 22.

Yeah, I'm a big TV dork...

David said...

Then there's the weird thing that happened with Babylon 5. What was intended to be the last two seasons of the story arc was crammed into one season because the series had been cancelled. Then the series was extended for another season, after all, so the last season, which should have been an exciting wrapup of various threads, meandered quite a bit and had a lot of entirely new elements thrown in.

Despite which, and the occasional bad episode, I loved that show and still think it's the best science fiction I've seen on TV.

Chris said...

You know, I've never seen Babylon 5! I suppose I should check it out. Were you a fan of Firefly at all?

David said...

Gasp! Haven't seen B5! Gasp (again)! Yes, do check it out; it's on DVD. One interesting thing about it is that it's not only one man's vision, it's also mostly one man's writing, so it's very consistent. (That man being Joe Straczynski, who told some of us all about it on the GEnie online network before it appeared on TV, which was very cool.)

I liked Firefly a lot, both the TV and movie versions. I'm still sad that it didn't make it on either the big or small screens. There were elements that annoyed me, from the manufactured slang to the science (breaking atmo! ack!), but I'm willing to cut a lot of slack for Whedon because I was such a fan of Buffy and Angel.

Lahdeedah said...

Babylon 5 is the bestest show there ever was for Sci Fi.

The Shadow were actually terrifying and scary and awesome... and well anyhow...

I also was annoyed with Eureka. I don't see scientists ever really embracing religion. The best you can hope for with science and religion is a belief that umm... yes, so science and religion are pretty much anathema.

Also, none of the things that happened were so clearly biblical that an entire town would rush to church.

I mean, how can you honestly cry 'apocolypse' (sp i know) without raining frogs, rivers of blood vs. a tank of blood, and locusts, did I miss the locusts?

David said...


Yes! All of what you said!

Eureka has endured crises where it seemed that the entire town, and possibly the entire world, was about to be destroyed, but no one rushed to church.

I think it was Henry who said that people turn to faith in times of crises. Wrong, Henry, as you should know, being such a know-it-all genius in every field.

I have to stop here or I'll go into my rant about how there's no such thing as rocket science, and having done mechanical work on the Space Shuttle wouldn't mean that Henry is exceedingly smart.

Chris said...

Or, for that matter, how the really really smart are portrayed as brilliant global thinkers rather than quibbling, socially retarded specialists. Or why they're so darn pretty despite the fact that my experience indicates the bulk of scientific research is fueled by coffee, Snickers bars, pizza, ramen, and cases upon cases of Coke.

Heck, I think their portrayal of scientists is more fanciful than the plots themselves! Then again, maybe that's why I, dork scientist that I am, watch it.

David said...

Maybe you should try to think of Eureka as science as it should be. Exciting! Adventurous! Glamorous! Pretty! Drudgery free! Unlimited budgets! Extraordinary and exotic problems that nonetheless yield quickly to really nifty solutions via technobabble! And really pretty.

Somewhat relatedly, I'm always annoyed by the depiction of the software biz. The onscreen version is pretty, but that's to be expected. But why do they either wear ties, dress, shirts, etc. or else go to the opposite extreme of grunginess? Why do they have weird office architecture, with all kinds of different levels and little short staircases and lots of glass walls and so many private offices? Where's the standard uniform -- jeans, t-shirt, running shoes? Where are the row upon row of soul-destroying cubicles?

Gee, this deserves a post of its own! Maybe tonight, after watching the pretty young people on Smallville. Who knew everyone in little Kansas farm towns was so beautiful? Or that central Kansas had giant trees, deep gorges with rushing rivers at the bottom, immense dams, or snow-capped mountains in the distance? Whenever we drive through Kansas on the way to Kansas City, I always think that I wish I could find the route that goes through the Smallville scenery. So much more interesting!

Daniel Dvorkin said...

Chris, that's funny -- I'm usually annoyed by pop-culture portrayals of scientists as out-of-shape, funny-looking, asexual (or sexually frustrated) nerds with no concept of how to interact with other human beings. Because we're not.

There is a difference in fields, I admit. More mathematicians, physicists, and computer scientists tend to live down to the stereotype; biologists and chemists, OTOH, tend to be quite pretty. Being right in the middle of that divide, I guess I'm, well, right in the middle. ;)