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The Coming Thing

July 31st, 2006

Last Thursday was my forty-second birthday, and one of my gifts from my darling wife was the boxed set of DVDs from the defunct TV western The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.. Starring cult favorite Bruce Campbell as bounty huntin’ Brisco, the short-lived series showcased his range as a comedy-action hero much more than the Evil Dead films ever could. Watching these again, it’s hard to fathom how the charismatic Campbell never hit the big time.

Brisco was an odd duck in several ways. Premiering in the same year as The X-Files, it kicked off Fox’s Friday night lineup. While Fox tended toward the offbeat in its selections, Brisco‘s humorous horse opera still seemed out of place. In another bit of strangeness, Fox seemed confident enough in the series to order six extra episodes past the traditional 22 hours, yet it cancelled Brisco at the end of a single season.

Brisco appeared most informed by the movie serials of the ’30s and ’40s, and went as far as to give each act of any given episode its own chapter number and title. It recalled genre-busting entires like the Gene Autry sci-fi/western The Phantom Empire by mixing modern and futuristic technology into its late 19th Century setting. (It was also a bit like the ’60s spy/western The Wild, Wild West in that regard, but most of its technological devices were more plausible than the latter’s super-science.)

As was the case with so many other one-season wonders, Brisco‘s premise was quest-centered, but unlike most of those, it had the good grace to wrap up its continued storyline before shuffling off to TV heaven. Not only did Brisco manage to track down the 13 members of John Bly’s gang that killed his father, but the nature and purpose of the mysterious golden orbs which were the McGuffin of the series was revealed.

Brisco County, Jr. himself was an unusual character. Lawyer by education, bounty hunter by trade, he had a fascination with “The Coming Thing.” The turn of the century was right around the corner, and Brisco sensed that it would bring great technological change. And he wanted to be part of it. Brisco, the series, simultaneously looked back and forward, and found that both had something to offer.

More examples of “The Coming Thing” can be seen in the new series Eureka, airing Tuesday nights on the Sci-Fi Channel. It’s got a great premise: a federal marshal stumbles upon–and eventually becomes sheriff of–a secret town filled with scientific geniuses where the fix-it shop guy is a former NASA engineer and the children scrawl complicated mathematical equations in sidewalk chalk.

The thing that I like about Eureka is that it celebrates science. Sure, it’s not above showing its dangerous consequences, but at the end of the day, it says that smart people are good to have and that science can bring wondrous new ideas that make the world more interesting.

It’s interesting that Eureka (the fictional town) was established and continues to be funded by the U.S. Government. Make no mistake, it’s largely for reasons of defense research, but still, it’s a charming notion that our government might be interested in being beyond the cutting edge in all sorts of technologies. Unlike our current, real-life administration, which has done everything possible to undermine and discredit scientists in order to serve the twin-headed monster of religious fundamentalists and petroleum corporations. That’s why Eureka is a Sci-Fi Channel drama, not a documentary.

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