Lexx is Wretched

Paul R. Potts

I wound up writing about Lexx several times in my newer blog, The Books That Wrote Me. This is an excerpt, a piece that I put on my older blog, Geek Like Me Too. Although it took me years to finish the series, I eventually did so. Like a scab, I couldn’t stop picking at it. I have an uncomfortable feeling that I have yet more to write about Lexx. Failure, I think, often has more interesting lessons to teach us than success.

Currently, you can find those two blogs at http://thebooksthatwroteme.blogspot.com and http://geeklikemetoo.blogspot.com.

I have a fondness for science fiction series that are imaginative but not, as a whole, successful. Farscape, I’m talking about you. Some shows start out promising, but turn into complete failures. Failures can be interesting. Tolstoy wrote that “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Failure, at least, can serve as an object lesson in how a story can go so very far wrong. Andromeda, I’ve got your number. I can deal with very dated CGI — Babylon Five is still generally good and often great. So I happened to come across discounted boxed sets of Lexx, the whole series, at my local Target store. They were dirt cheap. “How bad could the show be,” I wondered. Well, now I know. At least, I know part of the story.

Season 1 has a surprising amount of very fake gore in it — brains and guts flying everywhere. The brains are made of gelatin, but it started getting to me, and I didn’t actually want to give the kids nightmares. Watching characters carved up by rotating blades, repeatedly; watching characters getting their brains removed — that gets old. Body horror is pretty standard stuff for B grade science fiction, or anything that partakes of the tropes of such, but it is not that interesting.

Despite the unpromising introduction, I wanted to give the show a chance, and watch the episodes in order, so I watched the second two-hour movie (1:38 without commercials). The second one has full frontal nudity, which startled me a bit. I’m not really opposed to looking at a nubile young woman, per se. There is some imaginative world-building and character creation here, but ultimately it’s just incredibly boring. It’s like the producers shot the material, not having any idea how long the finished product would be; they shot enough scenes to actually power an hour-long show (forty-plus minutes without commercials), but also shot a bunch of extended padding sequences, “just in case.” And so after a repeated intro that lasts just under four minutes, we get a two-hour show with endless cuts to spinning blades slowly approaching female groins, huge needles slowly approaching male groins, countdown timers counting down, stopping, starting, stopping again… endless fight scenes, endless scenes of the robot head blathering his love poetry, a ridiculous new character eating fistfuls of brains… et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Every time something happened, my hopes rose, thinking that maybe the writing had actually improved, but then it was time to slow down the show again, because we still had an extra hour and twenty minutes to fill. And it was all distressingly sexist and grotesquely homophobic. Again, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t like to look at Eva Habermann in a miniskirt, but given that the actress is actually young enough to be my daughter, and especially given that she has so little interesting to do, and there’s just not much character in her character, it’s — well, “gratuitous” doesn’t even begin to cover it. She’s young, but Brian Downey was old enough to know better. And let’s just say I’m a little disgusted with the choices the show’s producers made. The guest stars in season 1 are like a who-used-to-be-who of B actors — Tim Curry, Rutger Hauer, Malcom McDowell. There’s material here for a great cult show — but these episodes are mostly just tedious. They’re actually not good enough to be cult classics. At least, not the classics of a cult that I would like to join.

The first season consists of four two-hour movies. After watching the second movie, I didn’t quite realize that all four season 1 movies, totaling over six hours of material, were on the same disc. This is because while most modern DVD releases encode 2 to four hours of video on a DVD, the Lexx DVDs use a lower-quality, lower-bit-rate format. So when I tried to continue, I accidentally put in the first disc of season 2. I watched the first couple episodes of season 2 — shorter, 45-minute episodes — without noticing any actual continuity issues. In other words, nothing significant changes between the second movie in season 1, and the start of season 2. After the first 2 episodes of season 2, we lose Eva Habermann, who was 90% of the reason I watched the show this far. There are some imaginative satirical elements in season 2 — for example, episode 3 introduces a planet called “Potatohoe” and is a pretty funny satire of the American “right stuff” tropes. But it’s too little, and it amounts to little, amid the tedious general adolescent sex romp.

It doesn’t help that several of the discs skip a lot. It might have something to do with the scratches that were on the discs when I took them out of the packaging, which come from the fact that the discs are all stuck together on a single spindle in the plastic box. And the discs themselves are all unmarked, identifiable only by an ID number, not any kind of label indicating which part of which season they hold — so good luck pulling out the one you want.

I’m told the later seasons have some very imaginative story lines. People say good things about the third season. It seems like the universe has a lot of potential. Is it worth continuing, or am I going to be in second-season-of Battlestar Galactica territory?

UPDATE: I have continued skimming the show. The scripts seem to get somewhat more interesting around season 2, episode 5, called “Lafftrak.” It finally seems to take its darkness seriously enough to do something interesting with it, and not just devolve to pornographic settings. The pacing is still weak, but the shows start to feel as if they have a little bit of forward momentum. Of course, then in the next episode, we’re back to star whores and torture porn…

Saginaw, Michigan
July 30, 2013

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