20 May 2016

FWS Military Sci-Fi Oddities: SeaQuest DSV and SeaQuest:2032 (1993-1996)

It is often said that the "real" accessable final frontier is the mostly unexplored oceans of Terra. While science fiction has explored the coldest depths of outer space for over an hundred years, underwater sci-fi is more rare. In 1993, NBC greenlit one of the most expensive sci-fi television shows of all time: SeaQuest DSV. From 1993-1996, SeaQuest DSV and SeaQuest: 2032 would struggle to find stories, viewers, and a purpose among the icy depths of Earth's oceans. In this installment of Military Sci-Fi Oddities, we will be exploring and attempting to explain the oddity that was SeaQuest DSV and SeaQuest: 2032.

What is SeaQuest DSV and SeaQuest 2032?

In 1993, some big names in the American entertainment sphere pushed out a very different science fiction show on a mainstream American network, NBC. Universal, Amblin Entertainment, Steven Spielberg, and even Dr. Robert Ballard were involved in creating an underwater more-science-than-fiction-television-show that would showcase scientific discovery, the nations of Earth attempting to use the oceans to solve the ills of society peacefully, and different types of stories using the aquatic setting. The first two seasons of the show were set in 2018(!) with the original purpose of the SeaQuest DSV 4600 being an US naval military submarine, the largest and most advanced. Then after the Livingston Trench Incident and the near nuclear war, the United Earth Oceans (UEO) was formed to attempt the peaceful use and settlement of the oceans...and the SeaQuest DSV 4600 was placed under UEO command as their peacekeeper, explorer, and symbol.
The original DSV 4600 is destroyed at the end of Season One, and the UEO constructs an new SeaQuest with new technology and a more organic design. In the 2nd Season, the show would set stories on dryland as well as the deep oceans. This season would display some of the more outlandish plots of the whole series, with the new SeaQuest DSV being abducted and transported to an alien world called "Hyperion", which is in the middle of an civil war and millions of lightyears from Earth. The new DSV is destroyed at the end of the episode, and the crew is trapped on Hyperion.
With Roy Scheider leaving the show and cancellation all but certain, it was believed that this was the end of the show. Surprise! NBC gives the greenlight to an 3rd Season with a jump in time to 2032 with the DSV reappearing on Earth in the middle of a cornfield and as the world is falling apart both above and below the water. The new captain of the DSV 4600 is badass actor Michael Ironside. While the new theme and tone of 3rd Season was more realistic than Season Two, despite a time travel episode similar to the 1980 film The Final Countdown it was too late for the wounded series and it was cancelled just 13 episodes into season three.

Historical Context of SeaQuest DSV
Here in the United States, there have been few science fiction shows that have survived more than a few seasons on major network TV. The four major US networks: NBC, FOX, ABC, and CBS; all have a lukewarm track recorder with keeping science fiction shows on more than two seasons. While there are few, the landscape of cancelled TV shows is packed with sci-fi shows. Even franchises like Trek have had issues remaining on the airwaves. During the 1990's, sci-fi was becoming more popular on non-main stream networks, and all the major networks attempted to bring sci-fi shows to their schedules...only Star Trek: Voyager would survive on UPN for years and multiple seasons.
NBC gambled with two shows that I watched back in the day: Earth 2 and SeaQuest DSV. One day, FWS will cover Earth 2 for posterity, but like other shows in the 1990's, they struggled to justify their budgets and boost their low ratings. By the end of the 1990's, only Star Trek: Voyager was still on the air on a major network, and Babylon 5 was shipped to TNT...if that counts. During the middle of this major network expansion of sci-fi shows, SeaQuest DSV would take its chances on NBC during one of the network's golden eras of popularity and ratings. However, like the vast majority of sci-fi television shows of the time period it would be cancelled at the Season 3 mark.

What Happened to SeaQuest DSV?
The simple answer this that the show collapsed under it's own concept, low rating, big budget, and the pressure from NBC executives. The high standard of scientific adventures, exploration, and peacekeeping of Season One could not be fulfilled in a weekly show format. Soon after the pilot, SeaQuest DSV was in trouble with so-so stories and dipping ratings. The show also attempted to market itself with an line of toys, an SNES/Gameboy/Genesis video game, models, books, and comics. But it did not help. This forced a change in the types of stories told during Season Two that alienated the star of the series Roy Scheider, who was quoted as saying "It's childish trash...I am bitter about it. I feel betrayed." That is a damning indictment of the series and it direction after Season One. The second season storylines had aliens, time travel, an ocean god, and the SeaQuest vehicle being transported to another planet! It could have been interesting to have the original premise of the show being an oceanic expedition to another world, similar to 1990's Expedition by artist Wayne Barlowe. By alas, none of Season Two added up to anything, because Season Three altered the crew, mission of the DSV, and the basic setting of show. While SeaQuest:2032 is much better than Season Two, the damage had been done, and the audience had jumped ship. On June 9th, 1996, SeaQuest aired its final episode, just 13 episodes into the third season. One of the reasons the show was not cancelled earlier was due to some of the people behind it, the popularity of NBC at the time, and that there was no good replacement for the show. If it had been today, an crappy reality show would have replaced it for much cheaper. The network didn't help the show either with football cutting into the show and airing some of the episodes out of order as well. The final episode of Season One also felt like the end of the series all together, and many did not think it would come back after the destruction of the SeaQuest submarine...and it some ways, it did not.

Is SeaQuest DSV Even Military Sci-Fi?
Yes and no. Throughout the internet and this blogpost, much is made of the original founding concept of the show: Star Trek underwater. It wanted to be a show about using the oceans for peace and a positive future for mankind, and not to be an "sci-fi show" with aliens, laser guns, and combat. The original ideas about the SeaQuest DSV submarine, the UEO, and the crew is comparable to Starfleet, where it is an organization of peacekeeping and exploration rather than modern naval organizations. The show throughout Season One & Two flirted with military themes and combat, but it was not until Season Three that the SeaQuest DSV submarine, the UEO, and the crew became more like an aquatic military organization, making the final season in the military Sci-Fi category.

Why is SeaQuest DSV an Military Sci-Fi Oddity?
The very concept of SeaQuest is an oddity in of itself because of the setting. There are few science fiction television series that take place underwater in general, and the setting is rare in science fiction literature, games, movies, and comic books. One of the oddities of SeaQuest is that it is military science fiction at all. The original concept and the first season attempted to show the submarine and the UEO as a peacekeeping organization that used words over laser beams or torpedoes. The basis of the show was to be underwater exploration, not combat. The creators and producers wanted to take the high-minded storytelling of Trek, but change the Enterprise to the SeaQuest, the Federation to the UEO, and outer space to the oceans.
However, this did not last. Over the course of the nearly three season run of SeaQuest, it changed format no less than three times, alienating the original actors and producers enough to force the bulk to leave by Season 3. The more science show of Season One was replaced by an more sci-fi "monster-of-the-week" format in Season Two, then followed by the more realistic political/military theme of Season 3. In the 3rd Season, SeaQuest was a shadow of its original self, and it was more of an military sci-fi show with it being retitled SeaQuest: 2032, and showing tensions between the UEO and the Macronesian Alliance. There have been few shows that have survived a major shift in characters, producers, and setting; SeaQuest was not one of them. All of this adds up to SeaQuest being an oddity of sci-fi television.

SeaQuest Today
For some science fiction works that fail to find an original audience in the time of their release, they can transition into the status of Cult Classic, like BLADE RUNNER, but others do not, and they languish in obscurity and memory. The interwebs helps with some forgotten works to find an audience, but SeaQuest is not one of them. Even searching today, there is not much on the series. Some site, like this one, devoting some time and space to the series, toys, and unqiue place in science fiction. Even Youtube is devoid of any real videos about the series with a few clips here and there.
Today in 2016, this mainstream underwater sci-fi series is relativity forgotten by the masses, and even Universal has a prickly relationship with the series as seen in the home media releases of the show. It took years for the show to be released on DVD and even then, it was only Season One. At the moment, you can buy an fully fleshed out DVD edition of Season One, and a barebone DVD release of Season Two, but Season Three is yet to be released on physical media. However, the entire series is available on NetFlicks for streaming, and Blu-Ray editions are being released for Seasons One and Two. Once again, Season Three is the odd-man-out..again.
What gives SeaQuest DSV some longevity is the DSV 4600 submarine itself. The overall design is organic and bold, making the SeaQuest the real star of the show and not that fucking talking dolphin! Even today, when type certain phases into Google, the show's submarine pops up, and the the model kits of the SeaQuest DSV command a great price than all of the toys released for the series combined. This speaks to the uniqueness of the series in the community of sci-fi. SeaQuest DSV was one of the few underwater sci-fi TV shows, and the futuristic submarine itself was one of the few seen in all of science fiction. This rarity makes for some hits on searches and index sites, like TV Tropes. Hell, it is hard to get high-res images of the series, that is why much of the images here on this blogpost look like they were taken from an old worn-out VHS.

My Own Experiences with the Series
This show would air during a time when most people I knew were tuning into NBC, and the network made a big deal of SeaQuest DSV at the time with tons of promos and adverts. When the show premiered on September 12, 1993, when I was an Junior in high school in Oklahoma. I would watch the pilot episode with my mom and dad, who hated it calling it "hippie, tree-hugging shit." Which meant that set my VHS to tape it...and some of the time, football ate into the show, making the show hard to find and support. While the premier episode was rather good, the following episodes were not. Week after week, SeaQuest DSV could not delivery the stories to compel us to make the show a priority. By the end of Season One, I was pretty much turned off. Then Season Two happened, and I stopped watching after the insane plots and storylines. I never saw much of Season Three because I didn't care and I was in college up to no good.

Next Time on FWS...
Star Wars is often given the label of military science fiction by many, including io9.com, but the connection is weak, at best. In 2005, the world of Star Wars would finally get an out-and-out military science fiction video game shooter: LucasArts' Republic Commando. In this game, you are RC-1138 "Boss", commander of the elite Delta squad Commando unit. You are the best-of-the-best of the Republic Army, and you and your brothers are tasked with the hard missions during the Clone Wars. This first person shooter set in the Star Wars universe is beloved by fans and gamers, and it is considered of the best SW games of all time. However, this game was lost to time after an cancelled sequel and lack of updating. In the next blogpost, FWS will be discussing The Forgotten Classic Republic Command

10 comments:

  1. The best part of the series was the first few minutes of the first episode. The seen opened with a human skeleton tied to a "NO Trespassing" sign on the ocean floor. A prospector in a one man sub tears pass it.

    He starts calling for control to start closing the hatch.

    They inquire as to if he had been prospecting in a restricted area.

    The prospector finally gets control to start closing the hatch, and he uses this to evade his pursuers.

    The small attack subs break out their attack, and larger combat subs enter the area.

    Had they kept that type of storyline, it might have been a decent show.

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    1. Agree! Something more in line with underwater Firefly them underwater ST… although NBC likely would had sink underwater Firefly faster than FOX did it to space Firefly, bastards…
      Yoel

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  2. I barely remember it at all. I always passed on it as a poor attempt at a reboot for Irwin Allen's Voyage to the bottom of the sea. Which I watched on VHS and late night cable. perhaps I should give it a second go.

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  3. I really wished I could have found a few episodes on Youtube to give this blogpost most backbone and research. Thanks the memories and comments. An underwater FIREFLY would be cool...like the recent Expanse on SyFy

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  4. I remember watching episodes of the show, though the one that stood out the most for me was from Season 2 and in particular the Medusa/Poseidon one, the Daggers and the man-eating trees. Granted, I only recall portions of said episodes but with the whole Poseidon and tree thing, probably for the best. I even had a model of the DSV, but at the time I wasn't really big into models, especially those that required glue....

    A few years ago or so, I started watching the show on Netflix, though I only watched select episodes of Season 2 and one episode of Season 3. Still, it was probably one of the few sci-fi shows where the use of naval terms and operations actually make sense, what with it being a submarine and all.

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  5. I've rewatched the first season with my kids on Netflix, they enjoyed it, I did too, but probably from nostalgia. When I was in Afghanistan I was desperate for anything to read, I came across an online "book" series called Seaquest Alantis. The "book" series is far more militany, but entertaining and suprisingly well done for a fanfic. If you like the Seaquest world (as I do, it is unique) I would recommend it.

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  6. I always thought we were gonna settle the ocean floor before we got into space, and I even thought about becoming an engineer to help make it happen. Considering how competitive the engineering field is, and how I'm not the most politically correct person, I would most likely only get funding from a corporation and I didn't want a city I designed to be owned by one person to do as they please.

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  7. I always thought that we would settle the ocean floor before we settle space. It makes more sense, probably cheaper, there's untapped resources in the ocean, and if something happens help can get there faster. The only question is how would the borders look? Would the cities be independent coty-states, or will they be colonies of larger nations? How would we deal with rebellion, or an attack on one? These are questions that would have to be answered.

    As for the show, I've only watched a few episodes on Netflix, but I enjoyed it. If they ran out of ideas for the second season they could've had a war season. It's not that hard.

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  8. One of the best episodes in the series is "Treasures of the Mind" (Season 1). It's one of the most "Trek-ish" in the best sense of the word. Strong message in both the A and B plot, and Scheider got to play the best elements of the intellectual-minded Picard and resolute and innovative leaders Kirk and Sisko.

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