Why didn’t they bring Street Hawk back?
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It’s hard to quite figure out what goes on in the mind of a television channel executive who decides which show gets a second season. We certainly don’t know what they were thinking when Street Hawk, Freaks And Geeks, and Firefly didn’t return with another season. Each show belongs to a distinct decade: The 1980s, a time when technology could do no wrong; the 1990s, a time of teenage angst of a newly-minted generation of television viewers; the 2000s, a time when post-irony was permanently hardwired in our brain. Each of these shows had a political subtext, and offered its viewers a new way of looking at their times.
Street Hawk (1985)
Mach followed in a line of American heroes, kitted with Cold War-inspired (post-IBM, post-Apple) machinery that not only burnt up the roads but also gave the viewer the chance to feel that good triumphed over evil, technology was indeed the new super-power and the Americans were in control, after all.
By Dhamini Ratnam
Freaks And Geeks (1999)James Franco, Jason Segel and Seth Rogen—you can begin to surrender to its many incidental pleasures. This cult 1980s-set school comedy, 18 episodes of which aired in 1999-2000 before it was cancelled by NBC, is winsome and wise, often moving, always funny. Because each episode was for 44 minutes, creator Paul Feig and executive producer Judd Apatow could tell stories at a leisurely clip, exploring not just the trials and triumphs of the Weir siblings, Sam and Lindsay, but their friends, the awkward “geeks” and the older “freaks”.
One of Feig’s inspirations for the series was Berlin Alexanderplatz, the Rainer Werner Fassbinder miniseries about misfits and lowlifes in 1920s Berlin. This might seem like a strange inspiration for an American TV comedy, but then Freaks And Geeks is no ordinary series. Like Dazed And Confused a couple of years before it, Freaks And Geeks is that rare work about teenagers that has the courage to be thoughtful and evocative along with being gross and nostalgic and all the other stuff you expect from high school stories. There’s a depth to the storytelling and the character arcs that reveals itself as the series progresses. It’s only because we’ve gotten to know Samm Levine’s Neal as a Groucho-loving ham that the sight of him cycling through the streets at night, trying to find out if his dad’s cheating on his mom, is so affecting.
The cast is perfect. Segel, Franco and Rogen are still developing the idiosyncrasies and performing styles they would parley into successful movie and TV careers a decade later, and it’s fascinating to watch. Linda Cardellini is indelible as Lindsay Weir. There are cameos by Rashida Jones, Shia LaBeouf, Ben Stiller, Jason Schwartzman and Lizzy Caplan. But it’s the geeks—played with zero vanity by Levine, Martin Starr and John Francis Daley—who make the show uncomfortable, spot-on and memorable.
By Uday Bhatia
One of the greatest “what ifs” in television history, Joss Whedon’s Firefly is the regret that never goes away. An engaging, and often quite brilliant space-western, the show tells the story of a spaceship called Serenity (it’s a “Firefly class” spaceship, which are shaped like, well, fireflies, down to the lit-up tail) and its crew, a collection of odds and sods helmed by its enigmatic captain, Mal. A veteran of a civil war for the control of a planetary system, Mal came out on the losing side, thereafter making a career out of smuggling goods and living as much as possible outside the jurisdiction of the victorious Alliance.
The show, commissioned for Fox, ran for just one season, before being terminated for not pulling in enough viewership numbers. But what a season it was! The space travel in the series isn’t on “at the speed of light” spaceships, so the action is confined to the star-system (it isn’t the solar system) and the people living on the terraformed planets and moons are descendants of humans who’d migrated from earth and its star (the sun, of course) many generations before. This frontier ethos pervades the pilot and its 14 episodes. As Mal and his crew get into fresh adventures, we travel to strange planets—including one inhabited by the savage and cannibalistic Reavers—which are space versions of the Wild West, with very little or non-existent government control. All the characters are highly compelling, from the elegant Inara Serra, a Companion (we would call her an escort) whose running romantic tension with Mal is an intriguing subplot. Then there’s Kaylee, the ship’s intuitive mechanic, the psychic River Tam or the deadly The Hands of Blue.
The show has become a cult-classic, considered to be one of the best sci-fi shows ever. Ironically, the year Firefly was pulled, another show began, called Battlestar Galactica, which ran for four seasons, and stole, what many fans feel, Firefly’s thunder. But, from its iconic space-western-steampunk costumes to its beloved characters, the legend of Firefly lives on.
By Bibek Bhattacharya
The DVD box set of all three shows are available on Amazon.com. Street Hawk for $25.64 (around Rs.1,645), Freaks And Geeks for $69.97, and Firefly for $49.98.