BLOG The last episode of Eureka airs in the UK tonight after five successful years. SFX Editor-in-chief Dave Bradley explains what surviving shows should learn from it
The series finale of (A Town Called) Eureka airs tonight in the UK. It was broadcast in the US on 16 July so many visitors to SFX.co.uk today will have already seen it, but for those who haven’t rest assured this blog won’t reveal any big spoilers. Instead, I’d like to look back across the seasons and analyse some small but important components of the show’s DNA.
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It started as the highest-rated series launch in Syfy’s history and went on to garner public acclaim for its special effects and its use of technology and logic (even winning an Independent Investigations Group Award for its scientific and critical thinking content). Unlike much of the gritty TV and cinema crashing into our eyeballs in the 21st century, Eureka was effortlessly fun and optimistic. On occasion more sitcom than sci-fi drama, with plots slaved to a well-worn formula, it nonetheless had a distinctive charm that warrants a closer look. So here, in no particular order, are five lessons sci-fi shows should learn from our chums at Global Dynamics:
1 DON’T BE AFRAID TO HIT THE REBOOT BUTTON
Time travel in Eureka wasn’t just used as a convenient plot device. During the course of its run we’ve actually seen a number of different timelines, including a particularly dramatic shift at the start of season four when characters changed roles entirely. Allison’s autistic son was replaced by a smart, articulate teenager, Henry gained a wife and erstwhile comic relief Fargo found himself director of Global Dynamics. The resulting new universe breathed a breath of fresh air into the show and prevented the characters becoming stale.
But it wasn’t the first time Eureka had played with its status quo – remember Kim’s death and Henry’s use of Section 5’s tachyon accelerator to save her? Accidents saw characters like Nathan Stark written out entirely and even when the show was just messin’ with us, it still enjoyed re-writing the rules temporarily (that “four years in the future” scenario of the evil Matrix was fun). Eureka ‘s writers were confident enough with their characters to try them out in different roles and relationships; even after five seasons, the town never felt too familiar.
2 INVITE GEEK-FRIENDLY GUEST STARS
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Chuck was perhaps the most successful at this, but Eureka was close behind. When you know your audience is sci-fi savvy, you can raise a few extra smiles if you introduce some familiar faces. From the beginning, veteran actor Joe Morton ( Terminator 2: Judgment Day , Smallville ) was a key part of the cast. In recent times, Wallace Shawn (from The Princess Bride and Deep Space Nine ) popped up a couple of times. Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day became (fantastic) recurring cast members. Previous series regulars like Nathan Stark (Ed Quinn, back briefly after his move to True Blood ), Senator Wenn (Ming-Na from Stargate Universe ), Dr Grant (James Callis from Battlestar Galactica ) and Taggart (Matt Frewer, Max Headroom himself) were all fan favourites. And then, of course, Stan Lee made an appearance.
3 KEEP IT GROUNDED
So often on TV it seems the lead characters are cleverer, better looking, quicker witted, stronger and more “together” than everybody around them. We’re very used to seeing Sherlock Holmes or the Doctor being two steps ahead of everybody, Apollo and Starbuck being the finest fighter pilots in the fleet, Merlin or Olivia from Fringe having unique powers… By comparison, Eureka celebrates the underdog. Sheriff Carter is – as he acknowledges himself – an Everyman. Ostensibly the hero of the story, he’s surrounded by people who are have more qualifications, who have achieved more and travelled further than him. His own daughter is a Harvard prodigy, his fiancée is chief medical officer of the DoD’s secret research base and his best friend can fashion cutting edge gadgets in his garage.
But him? He’d rather be at home with a beer. As a law enforcer he’s not even as good a shot as Jo Lupo or as robust as his robot deputy. Carter is just a guy, and not even a particularly shrewd one. It’s part of the show’s template that he solves problems through his courage and his people skills. As such, it makes it easy for the audience to connect with him and provides an excellent conduit through which we can experience the outlandish technology and mishaps of the scientists.
4 BE AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES EMPLOYER
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The female characters in Eureka hold positions of power in town and the plot never pushes them into the background. I write more on this subject in SFX 226’s new View Screen section so let’s not labour the point; in short Eureka feels like a show where men and women meet on equal terms. A villain is as likely to be arrested by Jo as Jack, Allison is not only the most senior government employee for much of the series but arguably the most competent problem solver too, scientist Grace is the obvious choice to captain the Astraeus space mission, and so on… For a popular, formulaic, light entertainment show, it’s pleasingly short on TV stereotypes.
5 INVEST IN A GOOD CHRISTMAS EPISODE
It didn’t happen until the later years (early seasons didn’t broadcast in December) but the two Christmas episodes Eureka produced in its lifetime were amazing, particularly its 2011 holiday special, “Do You See What I See?” Set outside the continuity of the series, the episode showcased a number of different animation styles, turning the characters into stop-motion puppets and anime badasses. With giant snow ninjas, a talking jeep and Taggart turning into a polar bear, it’s awesome (think Community ‘s “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” awesome). Writing at io9.com , Alasdair Wilkins described it as “a minor masterpiece, a thrill ride that was equal parts exciting, emotional, and hilarious.” Following this, we feel cheated when a sci-fi series doesn’t show some Yuletide ingenuity.
What would you add to this list? Let’s feel the Eureka love for one last time…
You can watch the final episode of Eureka on Syfy UK at 9pm tonight .