Episode V: A Mini Celebration

Last year at this time, Farscape fans were waiting to hear if all our efforts would pay off, if the To Be Continued we were promised at the end of the last episode would be fulfilled. We suffered through the entire weekend waiting for a word that would not come. Although suffered isn't entirely accurate; we were being told in every way except a direct statement that Farscape would indeed be back.

Now flash forward to November, 2004. The promised Farscape miniseries had aired, the four-season-long story had come to a satisfying conclusion, the efforts of all the fans had paid off. And so we prepared to celebrate, while at the same time asking ourselves what next? Is this really the end? Or are there more stories waiting to be told. Enquiring minds want to know...

Day one: Ricky, Bianca, Wayne & the band

Creation's fifth annual Burbank Farscape convention began with the appearance of Richard Manning, Executive Producer, writer and all around loon. I'll know that the Burbank con has ceased to be the first time I don't see Ricky's name in the lineup. More than any of the cast, Ricky is the heart and soul of these events, our connection to the people in charge and their connection to us. Ricky used this first session to talk about the mechanics of making a television show and in particular, the history behind the making of Crackers Don't Matter, a season two favorite that was to be the basis of a commentary at the end of the con. But his talk was about more than mere mechanics; it revealed the kind of Farscape genius that turned the necessity of doing a low budget shipbound episode (a "bottle" show) into the sort of inspired craziness that kept us all coming back. And how a minor plot device, the appearance of Scorpius in John Crichton's delusions, led to the creation of Harvey, Farscape's most original character. (And if that didn't make any sense, go watch the first two seasons in their entirety. I'll be here when you get back.)

Next up after Ricky and a well fought trivia competition was Bianca Chiminello, the beautiful if excessively tall former model who played Peacekeeper assassin Jenavian Charto in the Look At The Princess trilogy. It is perhaps a mark of what makes Farscape cons different from other genre events that a one-shot actress most of us had already met at last year's Scapercon and Burbank con would be welcomed and appreciated not just for her connection to the show but for herself. Bianca talked about her work and her life with warmth and good humor, delighting us with a word picture of her breaking into her own car. Twice. Her time was over too quickly, as she took her bow and then went to sign the banners that would be auctioned off later. (And demonstrating another of her impressive aspects.) Which did make me wonder yet again: What the heck do the winners do with these enormous banners? Who has ceilings that high? But I digress.

Following an auction of some genuinely cool artifacts from the show, as well as a lot of junk (I bought a piece of the former, although it might have been the latter), we were treated to a little award ceremony. The Henson people had put a little contest together to reward some of the fan promotional activity. At left we have some of the Chicago Scapers who somehow managed to Scape an entire marathon. I've seen pictures of their efforts and admit to a bit of awe. But I'd love to have seen that sea of yellow Scorpius balloons among all the race fans that day. One hopes that when Farscape goes into syndication next year our publicity efforts can achieve similar levels of enthusiasm and success.

Of all the cast members on Farscape, Wayne Pygram may be the most changed by his experiences. Before playing the articulate and menacing Scorpius, Wayne was mostly used for working man kinds of parts. Now he's in demand for more sophisticated roles, including, if rumors are to be believed (he would neither confirm nor deny), that of Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars III, the part played by Peter Cushing in the original. Wayne was also more energetic and opinionated about Farscape and Scorpius, including his disagreements with the Powers That Be about some of his character's actions. It was great to see him so fully recovered from his long, and long undiagnosed, gluten allergies. And equally great that the movie business had discovered what Scapers have known since the beginning. Wayne was gracious enough to pose with all the Scapers in the Mambo Lost Weekend shirts he'd made famous on the show. How goofy do you have to be to wear something just because some actor did in some show? What losers these people are! (Your humble webmaster is in the lower right corner of the picture. Which I think proves my point.)

After a dinner break, we were back in the room for a special treat: a performance by Wayne's other band. Two years ago they called themselves Number 96; now they're Signal Room. The band is a labor of love on the part of its members. As songwriter, lead vocalist and sometime actor Anthony Simcoe explained later, acting is what he does professionally; music is his passion. And passionate the band members certainly are; they had the room rocking! And my ears ringing; sometimes having a front row seat is a mixed blessing. Fortunately, I'll have more control over the volume when I listen to the band's CD.

The concert should have been the day's end. But there was one last item on the schedule: a commercial free presentation of Farscape: Peacekeeper Wars, the miniseries we'd fought so hard to get. How could I miss that, both a chance to see the mini on a big screen and in the company of the bestest people on the planet? I couldn't, of course. And somehow I made it through to the end, dragging myself up to my room at 1:30 Saturday morning. Could have been worse, I suppose. I could have spent all that time in the hotel bar. (Which I did Thursday night. And Saturday night. And a little bit of Sunday night. Gee, I think I'm detecting a pattern here.)

Day two: Brian, David, Gigi, Anth & Fran

Brian Henson, co-president of the firm with his sister Lisa, director of Peacekeeper Wars and the man who never gave up on the show or its fans, opened day two of the con. In his too-brief appearance, he explained a lot about his family's buyout of the Jim Henson Company, why being a small production house is really a benefit (the networks that do distribution don't see you as competition), why selling the Muppets to Disney was the right move and how his father would have looked at Henson's new direction. He talked about directing the mini, his desire to tackle a Farscape feature film now that the main storyline of the series has been wrapped up and the connection between the fan activities and his own efforts. He tried to give us all way too much credit, which is why we all appreciate him the way we do. He accepted some fan-produced awards, laughed at a Kentucky Scaper being named by the legislature the state's official Farscape representative, waved goodbye and was gone. And I thought that it won't be long before a whole generation starts thinking of the Muppets as the long ago creation of Brian Henson's dad.

Next up was David Franklin, loyal Peacekeeper officer and Smithers to Scorpy's Mr. Burns. David has made the leap from Oz to Lalaland and is working hard on his American accent, despite casting directors' interest in his more exotic natural sound. He talked glowingly about his calendar, made during the filming of the mini's complex battle scenes. Apparently there was plenty of time between setups for a naturally mischievious soul like Mr. Franklin to get himself and his colleagues into trouble. One pose shows him wearing a large metal orb and a pair of sweat socks. (For the moment, the calendar is available here.) We even got him to sing; Captain Braca does a pretty impressive Elvis along with his more military skills. Truly a man of many talents and hidden depths.

Taking pictures of Gigi Edgley presents special challenges. And I'm not just talking about the difficulty of getting an attractive image of someone so fundamentally nonphotogenic. (Kidding, I'm kidding. So please, no threatening cards, letters or emails.) No, the hard part is getting Gigi to slow down long enough for the camera to do its thing. Farscape's little perpetual motion machine has been busy since Bad Timing, with major roles in two Australian television series. (Her part in the long running cop drama Stingers sounded particularly meaty, the kind of storyline we haven't seen on this side of the Pacific since Jerry Springer closed up shop: a manic/depressive detective with a major fixation on her older superior, who turns out to be her father.) Gigi did have a few words to say about the mini, including the difficulties she had getting Chiana's new cat's eye contact lenses to stop rotating the wrong way around. And of course there's her dramatic turn in that shocking scene where... but of course I wouldn't dream of spoiling it for any furriners who haven't had the pleasure. Suffice it to say that our little Chi is all grown up and one hell of an actress. I just hope she won't be too big and successful when Henson comes calling again.

I had one big wish for this year's con. Well, one wish in two parts: first, that they'd play the D'Argo video I'd written to Da Vinci's Notebook's Enormous Penis in front of the Scaper multitudes; and second, that they'd choose that particular video to introduce D'Argo's slightly shorter but much funnier alter ego, Anthony Simcoe. It doesn't happen often, but occasionally wishes are granted. (I knew I should have asked for something else. Great wealth. Or more height. Damn.)

But enough about me. (More than enough, I hear you say.) What about Anthony? How did he react to that big... nope, still can't talk about it. And what's he been working on since the mini wrapped? Anthony told us about his personal project, a sci fi comedy called Eddy's Place in Space, self-funded and cast with unpaid volunteers, including Farscape regulars Jonathan Hardy and Lani Tupu and a few very lucky Scapers. Sadly, Anth wasn't terribly optimistic about the show's chances. I guess people in the entertainment business have never seen Red Dwarf. Or maybe they don't think it's a comedy. That would explain the absence of laughs in the American remake.

Last for the day, but certainly not least, was utility player Francesca Buller, most recently seen as War Minister Ahkna, the real power behind the Scarran throne and one scary woman. Which is one hell of a contrast from the real Fran, a lovely, warm and petite lady who has appeared as four of Farscape's more memorable characters, one for each season. It took some doing to get the con organizers to invite Fran. Fortunately, Scapers are nothing if not persistent. ("Don't make us angry. You wouldn't like us when we're angry.") And Fran was surprised and pleased to discover that she had her own fan club in matching Fran's Fans baseball caps, who presented her with a magnificent hat in honor of Ahkna's own remarkable headgear. Bet her husband Ben wishes he had fans as devoted. Oh yeah, he does. But that's another story for another time.

Scapers are a talented bunch. Disturbed but talented. And what better to show off that talent (and the disturbance) than a talent and costume contest? With those world renowned judges, Ben Browder, Francesca Buller and Ricky Manning. Who in their reactions and overreactions were easily as entertaining as the entrants, as good as they were. And they were very good indeed, both the performers and the costumers. The song parodies made quite an impression, with fans begging for the lyrics to the talent winner's version of If I Were a Rich Man before most of us had returned home. Fortunately, both the author and the con organizers obliged just as quickly.

The official part of day two ended with a dessert reception for those of us who'd paid for the expensive con package. The draw for the event was a chance to spend a moment with some of the guests. This night it was Wayne Pygram, Anthony Simcoe and Ricky Manning. And moment is no exaggeration; each would appear, give us a chance to say hi and then move on. Except Ricky and his lovely wife Cheryl; they stayed long enough to regale us with the true story of Harvey the neural clone's Mambo shirt in Crackers Don't Matter. It may have been the shirt off Ricky's back as we'd been told earlier. But it wasn't his; it was Cheryl's. Ricky had borrowed it that day when they were trying to find something interesting for Harvey (who wasn't Harvey yet) to wear. Hey, who says these things aren't educational?

Day three: Rock, Felicity, Claudia & Ben (not Michael Shanks)

Day three began with the traditional charity breakfast, in support of the James Ellis Foundation at Hofstra University. This year's silent auction included the amazing quilt at left, yet another Scaper project coordinated at WatchFarscape.com, as well as the usual collection of autographed photos. But for most of us, the high point of the breakfast is the chance for another encounter with some of the cast. This time it was Ben, Gigi and David. Ben was the first to arrive at our table. (First being a relative term; the wait was interminable!) And as much as I enjoyed teasing the women at the table about their reaction to Ben, I have to admit that there's just something about this guy. When he focuses his attention on you, it's like everything else in the room recedes. I take pride in the fact that I didn't lose my power of speech. But I have to wonder why he isn't a huge star. This is a man with charisma to spare, both on and off the screen.

The Creation folks had ordered that there be no posed photographs, in a faint attempt to make the trains run on time. Gigi Edgley, anarchist that she is, would have none of it. Not only did she move from person to person at each table she visited and take the time for pictures, she made sure she didn't miss anybody. Gigi is as gracious as she is lovely, which is saying a lot. David Franklin tried to follow the rules, spending his time with us talking about his experiences as a new actor in Los Angeles. (His first gig was for a nicotine therapy product, a fitting job for a recent ex-smoker.) But if he couldn't pose with us, we'd just have to pose with him.

A year ago, Farscape's creator Rockne O'Bannon walked out onstage with a piece of red tape covering his mouth, a clever way of telling us that he couldn't tell us anything about the miniseries. This year he wasn't sure what to tell us. After all, we'd all (or mostly all) seen the mini. And we all (or mostly all) knew about the history of Farscape; he'd start a sentence about the show's original name and the first network to express interest and let us finish it for him. (If you haven't been as obsessed as the rest of us, the answers are Space Chase and Fox.) But that didn't leave him completely unprepared. Rock shared his amusement at discovering that there's an Asian bootleg DVD of Peacekeeper Wars, with some peculiar alterations. At right he's holding a photocopy of the disc's cover, called something Knights, and which has a bearded John from Jeremiah Crichton, D'Argo, Zhaan and some unidentified woman (neither of whom appear in the mini) and a couple of light sabres that clearly belong to a galaxy a long time ago and far away. (You can see a better picture of the cover here. Gotta love those Nikon optics.) Rock was much cagier about his current projects. Guess we'll just have to be patient. Scapers are good at that. We've had to be.

I was excited when Felicity Price was added to the guest list. Not because she's pretty and blonde (okay, not just because of that), but because she's the one guest at this con whom I hadn't met at a previous event. In fact, this was Felicity's first convention appearance. Not that you'd know it; she was as comfortable in front of the Scaper hoards as anyone I've ever seen. Then again, what would you expect of a genuine certified princess? Felicity isn't a real princess, of course; she just plays one on TV. She was Katralla, the title character in the Look at the Princess trilogy. Fortunately, Felicity's a lot warmer, livelier and less severe than the character she played. And she handled the inevitable "what's it like to kiss Ben Browder" questions with grace and wit. Now if only we could get Scapers to stop asking such stupid questions...

Which leads us to these two ugly, ugly people: Ben Browder and Claudia Black, AKA the first couple of the Uncharted Territories. Creation had decided to bring out Ben and Claudia together in one long session. Which was inspired; as good as they are individually (and they are very good indeed), they're even better when they have each other to play off. There can be no doubt about the amazing chemistry between these two performers, either onscreen or off.

The horseplay started almost immediately, as Claudia attempted to seat herself while wearing a skirt whose lack of length caused quite a sensation. And that led to a series of incidents, as she dropped water bottles and papers, asked Ben ever so politely to retrieve them for her, and then gave him a not exactly colleagial stare as he bent over to do so. I think most of us realized how much we must have missed by not being on set before and after the cameras rolled.

Poor Ben. Most of the questions were for Claudia, about her role in Naked In London (where she is not the former, although she is the latter), a planned film called One in which she will star and which she will co-produce, how she prepared for the delivery of Aeryn's baby at the end of the mini, whether Ben or Michael Shanks, with whom she acted in an episode of Stargate SG-1 was the better kisser. Oh, and how Brian's call to the cast for the mini threw her wedding plans into a tizzy and forced her to postpone her honeymoon. (Disappoint millions of Farscape fans? Disappoint the new Mr. Claudia Black? Which would be the greater sin?) It would be uncharitable to suggest that there was anything more than good fun in Ben's enlisting the audience in a prank when Claudia had to answer the call of nature. But we played along; when she returned to the stage, everyone in the room headed for the exits. Her expression was priceless; sadly, I was too busy exiting with the crowd to photograph it.

It is a tribute to the lady that she didn't try to retaliate when Ben paid his own visit to the plumbing a little while later. Although she didn't fight too hard when we, her (and supposedly his) loyal fans insisted that we had to do something. That something was very clever and very funny: one Scaper ran out to the dealer's area, bought a photograph of Michael Shanks and gave it to Claudia to prop up on Ben's chair in his place. His reaction was all we could have wished.

One of the things I've noticed from Ben and Claudia's appearances, both at the Burbank cons and at this year's San Diego Comic Con, is that they're never stuck for an answer. No matter how odd the question, they can find something interesting to do with it. One Scaper asked about a scene in The Locket; an aged John and Aeryn are walking in the woods. John says something and Aeryn breaks into a big smile. What did Ben/John say to get that reaction, the fan wanted to know. Ben and Claudia clearly couldn't remember; it was one moment in one of eighty-eight episodes. And after a moment they suggested that he might not have said anything, that they were simply following the director's instruction: "Aeryn should laugh as if John has said something funny." And to make the point that they are, after all actors, they both laughed uproariously as Claudia does in the picture at right.

No matter how much time Ben and Claudia had, it wasn't enough. But we still weren't done with the FCotUTs. They were joined by Ricky Manning for the promised commentary on Crackers Don't Matter. Unsurprisingly Ricky's comments were mostly around aspects of production, Ben's and Claudia's around how a scene or a line was played. I found it challenging to keep switching my attention between the episode on the screen and the commentary. It's a tribute to Farscape that knowing how it's done and why it's done doesn't reduce the magic at all. And that no matter how many times I see these episodes, they still manage to suck me in.

And that was it for the guests at the con. But there was one last event before we were done for another year: a musical introduction to Farscape put on by some very talented fans. This abbreviated Scaper opera was the Reader's Digest Condensed version of something that was a tradition at Scapercons past, including the one I attended. It boiled four years of episodes into thirty minutes of song parodies, good costumes, bad gags, gross overacting and general good humor. One would think that the performers were asking for trouble by following three days of good times. It is a tribute to them, and to their audience, that they were one more high note of a weekend that was nothing but high notes.

One final note before I return you to your regular web browsing: the Burbank cons have all been held at the Hilton across the street from Burbank Airport. And although we tend to monopolize the hotel lobby, the hotel is brave enough to schedule other events while we're there. Which makes me wonder what the normals (or mundanes or muggles or whatever you choose to call those who haven't been bitten by this particular bug) think when they see us coming. Did the high school reunion think they were having drug flashbacks? Did the business seminars have trouble concentrating on their multi-level marketing or whatever is the scam du jour? And what about the event at right? I never did get to find out who the SoCal BARF group were or what they were doing in the hotel. I just hope they weren't there for a lunch meeting...1


  1. Guess I wasn't the only one who was curious. Thanks to the Scaper who found this.

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