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SYFY WIRE Farscape

Farscape's Brian Henson Explains How the Iconic SYFY Series Differed from Star Trek

SYFY's Farscape wasn't Star Trek, and that was on purpose.

By Tara Bennett

For decades, Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek franchise was the blue print for space-based episodic dramas on television. Along with a starship home base, all five Trek series leading up to Enterprise (2001) were known for their hopeful storytelling around a Federation crew that amplified the evolution of humankind past many of its basest issues, working well within a melting pot of species hoping to discover strange new worlds and alien species. 

But SYFY's Farscape wasn't Star Trek, and that was on purpose.

For the 25th anniversary of the beloved series, series executive producer/director Brian Henson recently sat down with SYFY WIRE and reflected back on how he and creator Rockne S. O'Bannon wanted to make a show that challenged the norms established by the Star Trek franchise and other space series. 

For More on Farscape
Farscape at 25: Ben Browder, Creators Talk Series Legacy - and Ideas For a Series Revival of Moya's Crew
Why Farscape Ended With a Miniseries Event - The Story of the Peacekeeper Wars
Ben Browder on Differences Between Farscape vs. Stargate SG-1: 'Farscape is Like Sci-Fi Crack’

How Farscape and Star Trek differ in their galactic paths

farscape john aeryn guns

Farscape was an original series created by O'Bannon and executive produced by Henson and The Jim Henson Company. It was meant to break the mold of typical space exploration storytelling. Aside from their ingenious integration of animatronics and puppetry alongside human actors, Farscape also inverted the trope of the heroic, white, male savior in space, as seen in early episodes of Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Lost in Space.

By having human astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) get accidentally sucked into a wormhole that takes him to the far reaches of the Milky Way, his agency as a competent character is undercut. Being the "outsider" found by the rag tag crew of the living ship, Moya, constantly keeps the character off balance and audiences guessing. The aliens on the ship — Zhaan (Virginia Hey), D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), Chiana (Gigi Edgley) and Pilot — don't get what he is, and certainly don't see him as heroic in any way. 

From the start, Henson said he and O'Bannon wanted to move away from the silver spaceships of television and instead try something entirely new. "In early development, we were loving the idea that technology eventually is building itself. So, at a certain point, the sentient beings that are using the technology may not have any ability to build it. They're just operating it," Henson told SYFY WIRE regarding their initial idea of setting the series on a living spaceship.

"And so Moya, for instance, is a leviathan and was originally built thousands and thousands of years ago," he continued. "But since then, the leviathans themselves have been procreating and recreating themselves so technology takes on a whole different point. And then we realize that we can have really tribal, quite primitive cultures, who are still being able to use technology to fly from planet to planet. It allowed us to make a show where instead of all the emotions being turned down to two — like you have on Star Trek — in Farscape we wanted emotions to be able to dial up to 12 and allow for some real fun, spirited character interaction and emotional stories that you couldn't do on Star Trek. We were able to set a world and a tone that allowed us to do a whole different type of storytelling."

Is Farscape coming full circle?


Audiences who found Farscape bonded with it because the show was so unexpected in every way. At the time, it may have been a little too ahead of its time with some traditional science fiction fans who didn't get it. But over the last two decades, the world has seemingly caught up to what O'Bannon, Henson, and the whole team was going for in terms of originality and subverting expectations. Henson said he hears it all the time from Farscape fans, old and new.

Is the world and the industry ready for a return to Farscape's ambitious storytelling? "I do think now, there's much more of a hunger to when we first made Farscape," Henson said of more adventurous audiences and studios who want shows that standout even with tighter budgets. "When we first made Farscape, we said, 'Oh, we'll make a show that's bigger and more exciting than Star Trek. But we're also going to make it for a lot less money than Star Trek.' And we kind of had to be able to say that. I think doing it in a scrappy way, the way that we did the original Farscape, is probably the solution going forward because I think these giant TV series are going to become fewer and far between. I think we're going to see filmmakers, such as myself, be allowed to do ambitious pieces, using techniques that are are not a million dollars per second techniques."

Watch Farscape and The Peacekeeper Wars on Peacock now!