Saturday, September 27, 2008

How To Handle Thrilling Wonder Science Cheese

AKA: Saving Flash Gordon
... Yeah, I know it's too late.

On the left, we have a dummy displaying a slavegirl costume worn by harem slaves of Ming the Merciless in the Flash Gordon TV series. On the right, we have a slavegirl designed for a Second Life character by an anonymous female fan. The fans are trying to tell you something, movie and TV executives! They've got more mojo in their little fingers than you have in your entire production staff.

(By way of introduction: this is a post I put on a message board around November 2007. As you will observe, it offers cogent advice and plenty of it for the executives responsible for the SciFi original series Flash Gordon, based on my cheese-o-analysis system. Unfortunately, Flash Gordon was cancelled by the SciFi Channel, brought about by poor ratings caused by the fact that it really, really stank, not to mention its executives never took any of my advice. This is about the time we would have been seeing a Season 2 series of Flash Gordon had it not stank and not been renewed, so I thought I'd post this in hopes that maybe some future Flash Gordon producer or other sci fi thrilling wonder story series producer (the principles are pretty much the same for all of them) will see it and do things right next ... oh, sorry, gotta go, the flying pigs are here with all my lotto winnings!)

As we all know, Flash Gordon will

Sa-a-ave the Uni-verse!

And now folks, it's our time to save Flash Gordon.

The first season is a stinker and right now there's no reason to believe the second season will be any different. Flash is in danger because the people who made the original program have no idea what the hell they are doing. The ratings dropped by half from the premiere to the second episode.

Flash being a guy who'll risk his life to save the universe from Ming, I must risk my credibility as anonymous Internet posters to save Flash, by posting whatever harebrained, whackadoodle schemes I can come up with to save the series on a message board which probably isn't read by the producers of Flash Gordon, but MIGHT be read by 1 or 2 people in Vancouver, Canada, where the show is produced.

And that could produce a chance ... a slim chance, but a chance nonetheless ... that someone from Vancouver might read these ideas and be so overwhelmed by one of them and then be so moved that they go out and kidnap a Flash Gordon executive from the set of Flash Gordon, and force them to listen to the idea, and then the exec is so overwhelmed by the idea that they retool all the remaining episoldes based on the new idea, and it's a HUGE SUCCESS because it's actually fun to watch.

It ...

(But it probably won't and please don't anybody construe this as urging people to do something illegal. I get enough grief for my own illegal activities, thank you very much.)

It's pretty clear that the people who created the Flash Gordon series don't understand why people enjoyed the original Flash Gordon. The original series offered both Thrilling Wonder Super Science cheese and Exotic Adventures in Foreign Lands cheese.

Thrilling Wonder Super Science cheese isn't all that hard to do. There's a SciFi Channel series that is doing a topnotch job of delivering that brand of cheese right now: it's called "Eureka." Every week the wacky scientists of Eureka come up with some strange new invention or project, or unexpected side effect of a strange new invention or project that Sheriff Carter has to deal with.

It is topnotch thrilling wonder super science cheese with good writing and characterization to boot, I happily watch it every week.

The orgiinal Flash Gordon series delivered the thrilling wonder super science cheese with its stubby spaceships and ray guns and so forth, and it worked because that was new and exciting stuff to see in a movie or TV series at the time. It won't work now because it's old hat: to reuse it you just about have to do it as camp, like the 1984 Flash Gordon movie did, and the Flesh Gordon parody did, both to good effect.

Updating the thrilling wonder super science cheese won't be hard, just give the Mongonians nanotech and artificial intelligences and they'll be fine.

Unfortunately, the Mongo that we've seen so far looks, well, primitive and dirt poor. Feudal. Not the sort of place you'd expect to find advanced super science in. Frankly, the impression I've gotten of Mongo is that a single armored cavalry division from ANY of the world's top 20 or 30 armies could take the whole planet without a whole lot of bother. With the excepton of Ming's palace, the place is a dump.

(Of course, it's easy enough to handwave away Mongo's primitiveness by postulating that the Mongonians inherited super science tech from a more advanced earlier civilization, making them dangerous for all their apparent primitiveness, but no one has bothered to do that yet.)

Otherwise, if they want Mongo to look dangerous and advanced, it ought to look richer than Earth, not poorer.

The other cheese that the original Flash Gordon delivered was strange adventures in exotic lands. This cheese cannot be served by having Flash spend so much of his time wandering around the outskirts of Vancouver, Canada. He needs to be on Mongo, seeing strange and exotic plants and animals, meeting with strange and exotic peoples, and visiting strange and exotic cities full of weird looking buildings and such.

(I have to say, if the creators of the series had even a HINT that this kind of cheese was part of what viewers want when they watch Flash Gordon, in a recent episode when an animal came to Earth via a stray rift (an excellent plot device, BTW) they would have delivered something different than a slightly larger than Earth sized dragonfly. Maybe a flying snake with glowing green eyes and batwings. Something, you know, exotic.)

Of course, it does take money to really do nice sets and great CGI graphics and such to totally deliver that otherworldy look. But I think viewers would accept a little tacky so long as they're delivering the cheese. And frankly, the mistakes that have been made so far have been products of not knowing what they're doing rather than just budgeting. For example, it probably would have cost no more to deliver a CGI flying batwinged snake lizard than it took to deliver that slightly larger than earth sized CGI dragonfly.

And there's an additonal bit of cheese that could help a lot: sexy cheese that plays into the Exotic Lands cheese. Start all the costume design for young Mongonian women with string thongs. Add a few wisps of silk, some metallic armbands, headbands and whatnot, and stop right there. Fanservice has always worked for any kind of medium whose audience is primarily male, so there's no reason it wouldn't work for Flash. Hell, have the guys run abound in jogging shorts and shoulder harnesses and nothing much else if you want to be sexually egalitarian and all. (Though you really need to remember that your core audience is male and straight and put the cameras on the gals most of the time. Otherwise you'll start hearing "Flash Gordon" jokes along the lines of -- well, you remember the song "I'm A Sweet Transvestite from Transexual Transylvania" from "Rocky Horror Picture Show" where the gay lead sings to another guy, "We can take in a few Steve Reeve movies"?)

Cheese theory alone won't make a show a success. You still need good writing and characters. But cheese theory does help deliver good writing, because it forces writers to think about the audience appeal of their works.

There, I've said what I have to say, albeit in a place where it has a snowball's chance in hell of doing some good. I have done as much to save Flash Gordon as any human being not employed by the series may reasonably be asked to.

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