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Ben Browder on Differences Between Farscape vs. Stargate SG-1: 'Farscape is Like Sci-Fi Crack’
Exploring the depths of Earth-based sci-fi... and sci-fi that’s just plain far-out.
Along with Battlestar Galactica, Farscape and Stargate SG-1 ushered today’s SYFY channel through an especially creative (and ardently praised) period of deep-space sci-fi exploration from the late 1990s through the early 2000s. Along for the ride for two-thirds of that journey was Farscape star Ben Browder, who also would go on to join the late-series cast of SG-1 not long after his Farscape stint had ended.
Besides fellow Farscape star Claudia Black (who likewise ended up as part of the later SG-1 cast), there’s probably no other actor so qualified as Browder to reflect on the two series’ similarities — or, for that matter, their vast and far-ranging differences. As luck would have it, Browder happened to do just that right at the transitional moment when Farscape (streamimg now on Peacock!) had recently wrapped its four-season run and he’d boarded the SG-1 cast as Season 9 newcomer Cameron “Cam” Mitchell — a role he’d go on to repeat through the show’s 10th and final season as well as a pair of spinoff feature-length films.
Speaking in 2005 with Stargate fan site GateWorld, Browder went into fan-pleasing detail about what distinguished Farscape’s ambitiously out-there brand of imaginative science fiction from the more human-focused military saga that defined Stargate SG-1.
“[B]oth of them have long arc stories,” he said, while also noting “a fair amount of character-based development and interaction. They’re both obviously science fiction.” But, he admitted, there’s just something a little extra about his Farscape role as lost-in-space IASA astronaut John Crichton, who shared a sentient living spaceship with a gaggle of truly alien crewmates: “You know, Farscape is like sci-fi crack or something,” he joked.
It’s not just Farscape’s more colorful, creature effects-heavy lore-verse — enlivened by practical puppets and visual details from Jim Henson's Creature Shop — that distinguished the Rockne S. O’Bannon-created series from its more plausibly reality-grounded SG-1 counterpart. In fact, said Browder, Farscape is probably the more challenging binge between the two… not least because it’s rich in wholly unique lore and reach-for-the-stars world building that especially reward fans’ focused attention.
Farscape, Browder explained, “moves so fast and so quick, and it moves so much visually. There’s an element of Farscape which is almost overwhelming and it’s not good, casual viewing. You have to pay attention. You really have to pay attention. It was a conscious choice on the part of the creative team down there to say, ‘You know what, we’re just going to go balls to the walls and see how far we can push it.’ And sometimes it’s just too far.
“There’s obviously differences, but the differences always come out in the way the stories go,” Browder added. “Farscape is set in a completely alien landscape and therefore becomes denser and denser and more difficult, in a way, to understand, because the alien mythology — you’re completely immersed in it. Whereas something like Stargate has Earth-based mythology as well, and you have an Earth setting, so you don’t have to explain how the toilets work. On Farscape you kind of have to explain how to open the doors, how to use the toilet, ‘Where do I get tooth paste?’ So there’s a lot of unknowns, and that makes it particularly dense.”
There’s an enormous gulf, in other words, between Crichton’s left-behind IASA confines on good old, familiar Planet Earth, and the completely alien deep-space adventures that Farscape stranded him in — adventures that in SG-1, by contrast, at least had some shared frame of reference with an Earthly civilization that humans themselves had made.
“[I]t sort of feeds the story in a way which is different from the basis of Stargate,” Browder said. “Stargate has a more accessible entry point which is: ‘American military going through the gate to an alien world.’ So there’s familiarity, and in a way, in that sense, it’s easier on the audience. But at the same time there’s more that carries balance between the real and the unreal.”
Just as Black similarly shared with SYFY WIRE in 2022 while reflecting on her time with both shows, Browder noted a balanced fondness for both Farscape and Stargate SG-1 — despite the two series’ unique and distinguishing science fiction features. You can catch Browder in all four seasons of Farscape here on Peacock, where the SYFY classic is streaming ‘round the clock.
Want to dive even deeper into the Farscape universe? Followup miniseries Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars is also streaming on Peacock.