Yeah I know the three series featured here don’t seem like an obvious combination, but bear with me…
There are certain characteristics that endear a series to me, and looking back at the SF series I’ve loved over the years I can pick out the things I’ve liked that they all have in common. The things that have made cheap special effects, bad writing, and wild inconsistencies forgivable, the things that have had me glued to every episode and trawling the net for websites, fanfic, media clips and discussion lists.
What I like…
Vital. Nothing turns me off a series faster than cardboard cut-out, two-dimensional characters. A clear feature of all the series I’ve liked is the unique, individual, real-seeming characters. No one could mistake Vila or Avon from B7, or any of the Lone Gunmen or A-team members for anyone else. They have their own personality, mannerisms, fashion-sense (or lack thereof), beliefs, way of speaking and interacting with each other. They’re believable, human and fallible. Like the rest of us they squabble, screw up, and get frustrated and annoyed when things don’t go to plan. They can be frivolous, contrary, grouchy, sarcastic or playful. Vila’s occasional moments of complete scatterbrainedness when he’s nervous, and Langly’s rather vocal frustration when one of the computers has packed up yet again, are very understandable and easy to sympathise with. The different reactions each of the A-Team have to Murdock's frequently bizarre behaviour are all different and intergral part of each character.
Just as important as the characters themselves of course, is the way they interact with each other, and again my favourite series tend to excel in this area.
The near-constant verbal one-upmanship and sarcastic byplay between Avon and Vila always has me rapt. Blake's subtle (and not-so-subtle) manipulations of the crew and the wonderful combination of tension and admiration between him and Avon turned what could have been just another space opera into something quite different.
Similarly the interaction of the characters in the A-Team was what made what was often just a string of stunts and pyrotechnics into a wildly entertaining ride.
The interaction of the three Gunmen is fascinating. You really do get the impression that these are characters who’ve have known each a long time and are well used to working and living together. A lot of that effect is in the little details. Watch them when a new bit of plot information is revealed—the little glances at each other, each of them checking out the others reactions. Verbally their interaction has something of the same sarcastic humour of the Avon-Vila banter about it, particularly between Frohike and Langly. That sort of teasing, half-insulting wordplay is something that I tend to enjoy (possibly because it’s the usual mode of communication among most of my friends) which leads nicely into my next point, which is…
I’m a language junkie. I love wordplay, sarcasm, clever use of language and (I’ll admit it) smart-arse remarks. If a series has got good dialogue and a clear distinctive voice for the characters, it’s probably a good bet I’ll like it. I love the back-and-forth banter among the characters, Vila’s stream-of-consciousness nervous babble, the wonderful, seamless way the Gunmen finish off each other’s sentences (and thoughts, it seems like sometimes) and the joking, planning and bickering among the A-Team always have me glued to the screen.
The ‘clever use of language’ is a bit harder to pin down and, but I know it when I hear it.
Murdock's loopy-but-not-quite-as-loopy-as-he-seems chatter frequently contains gems of one liners. ("I did not crash this plane! I simply landed it without the customary accompaniment of forward thrust or lift.")
In B7, almost the first words out of Vila’s mouth are, “I hate personal violence—especially when I’m the person.” I liked him instantly. Those kind of half-serious half-joking comments continued throughout the series. In the last episode his response when someone teasingly asks if he’s afraid of the dark is, “Only when it’s unilluminated.”
In LGM they play around quite often with words being misunderstood. Jimmy does it all the time, but my favourite is Langly’s complete failure to understand why a prison guard was unhappy about him turning up with a Firewire card. “They think it’s like explosives or something.” Maybe I’ve just got an odd sense of humour…
…Even in the face of It All Going
Wrong also tends to win me over.
In B7, a very dark show a lot of the time, there was the verbal sparring, and snipey little wisecracks and LGM always managed to retain a sense of humour through some ludicrous situations.
The humour in LGM tended to be a bit more on the physical slapstick side than B7, but some of bits which make me laugh out loud are the deadpan one-liners. When after hearing about a government assassin who accidentally shot himself, one character comments “Some professional!” and Langly immediately comes back with, “Hey, government contractor.” I was on the floor.
And of course the A-Team always had a smart-arse remark which which to annoy the bad guy currently threatening to kill them.
For a 25-year-old cheap Brit-SF show, an extremely short lived X-Files spin-off series, and a over-the-top 80s action show, these three series have generated an incredible amount of fan fiction, proof of the fascination the characters and their version of reality still generate. Perhaps the sheer quantity of the fanfic is due in part to the amount that was left untold over the course the series' and the fact that they had endings which many fans found rather unpalatable and promptly set about rewriting. Either way, it means that while there may be no more new episodes, there’s still plenty out there to enjoy!
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