Altered Voyages

Article by Airwolf04 27 / Published 01 Nov 1994, 06:00
Last updated 13 Nov 2008, 09:26
Now refitted for science-fiction adventure, will "seaQuest" sink or swim in it´s second season?
FORD - DAGGERS: Season Two - "Daggers" Commander Ford waits for the Vid-Link to be properly booted up. Photo: Universal Studios
BRIDGER - DAGGERS: Season Two - "Daggers" Captain Bridger awaits the arrival of new crew members. Photo: Universal Studios
PICCOLO - DAGGERS: Season Two - "Daggers" Seaman Piccolo attempts to escape from an unlikely pursuant. Photo: Universal Studios
BRODY - DAGGERS: Season Two - "Daggers" Sitting in the office at the GELF Colony, Lieutenant Brody is unaware of the uprising taking place. Photo: Universal Studios
SMITH - DAGGERS: Season Two - "Daggers" Doctor Smith explains her psychic powers to Captain Bridger. Photo: Universal Studios
LUCAS - DAGGERS: Season Two - "Daggers" Lucas takes a friend for a ride around New Cape Quest. Photo: Universal Studios
DAGWOOD - DAGGERS: Season Two - "Daggers" The only Alpha Model-K serving in any capacity within the UEO, Dagwood, seaQuest's janitor. Photo: Universal Studios
DAGGERS1: Season Two - "Daggers" Piccolo explains to Bridger and Ford about his gills. Photo: Universal Studios
As the mighty submarine seaQuest sets sail again on the rocky seas of TV series competition, at least one issue from the first season that troubled some fans will be addressed. "I think you´ll see the stories taking a stronger science-fiction bent," says co-producer David J. Burke.

And supervising producer Carleton Eastlake concurs. "It´s odd that you´ll be seeing shows that are a little more colorful in terms of dealing with the future, while at the same time, they´re going to be more human." Well, most of the cast will be more human; there are doubts about two of the five new cast members.

In addition to the acknowledgement that this series is, after all, science fiction, there have been other changes aboard the seaQuest - and to the sub itself, of course, since in the first season finale, it blew up really good. The bridge has been redesigned so that the crew sitting around the edge face inward now. The idea, Burke says, "was to bring the actors closer emotionally by having them face one another." Other than the substantial changes to the bridge, though, the newly-built ship will look much the same - like a long, drawn-out squid.

Or, suggests Burke, a manatee. The show has shifted its production base from Hollywood to Florida. "we were shooting some test footage at Sea World," Burke explains, "with whome we hope to have a very good relationship; they have enormous facilities and can provide us with some interesting things. A manatee was floating by the camera, and looked startlingly by the seaQuest - which looks like a manatee in a flat hat."

Rumors floated around the nation´s computer bulletin boards that NBC had ordered the production to become "younger and sexier." Burke admits that, "Since the day I got there, they´ve asked us to make it sexier, but they´ve not asked us to make it younger. We´re having a wardrode change" to reflect that instruction. "Everybody was wearing these sort of stove-pipe jumpsuits that were totally unisex. Stacy Haiduk had a spectacular figure, but you couldn´t tell from the neck down is she were a man or a woman. So the uniforms will be a little more contoured, a little more relaxed. The science side of seaQuest won´t be in uniform, though."

Captain Nathan Bridger (Roy Scheider), Commander Jonathan Ford (Don Franklin), Lucas Wolenczak (Jonathan Brandis), Ortiz (Marco Sanchez) and O´Neill (Ted Raimi) are all due back, but four crew members have gone ashore permanently: Hitchcock (Stacy Haiduk), Krieg (John D´Aquino), Dr. Westphalen (Stephanie Beacham) and Security Chief Crocker (Royce D. Applegate), have left the show.

New Crew

There are five newcomers. "We have a character named Tony Piccolo," Burke says, "who will be a bit of a delinquent, and will be Lucas´ friend. Tony will be somebody who can sort of persuade Lucas to follow him into places where maybe Lucas shouldn´t go. He´s a young guy with a slightly SF physical characteristic that makes him pretty interesting."

"He´s a real product of technology," notes Eastlake, "because he has gills. But he´s also the most human of the whole crew, because he´s really very unsophisticated. He´s young, he´s a street guy, an enlisted man; in the two-hour premiere, he makes a deal to get out of the brig. He and Lucas are forced roommates, and it´s a real contrast. They´re about the same age, with Tony just a little older, but he´s very earthy, and Lucas is very intellectual. Tony is the ultimate collision of technology with an everyday living-with-it attitude." Tony will be played by Michael DeLuise, son of Dom.

Coincidentally, another son of Dom is joining the cast: Peter DeLuise, from 21 Jump Street. He is, incredibly, the ship´s janitor (we´ll ignore the question of whether ships like seaQuest even have janitors), who has a background even stranger than Tony Piccolo´s. He´s "the original genetically-engineered prototype," says Eastlake, who´s new aboard the seaQuest himself. In the first episode of the new season, the seaQuest encounters the "Daggers," a genetically-engineered warrior group; the term "Dagger" is a racial slue directed at them.

"This particular Dagger," Eastlake goes on, "is of an earlier generation, and doesn´t have their fighting abilities, nor their interest in fighting. He has adopted the name "Dagwood" because it was a way of softening the slurs against him, and because he´s so innocent; he didn´t have a name until he adopted this one."

Dagwood won´t be searching for a Blondie, but, says Eastlake, "hs is forever in search of a heart. He feels that hs isn´t human, but he´s really very human; he doesn´t believe it because he was genetically-engineered, and grown in a test tube, and never had parents. He doesn´t understand the superficialities of people, but of course, at the center of his heart, he is uncorrupted, because he understands values more than most people do."

Eastlake admits that the character has some similarities to Star Trek: The Next Generation´s Commander Data, but really, he says, "Dagwood´s the Tin Man, because he´s totally uncorrupted. In an episode I wrote, he´s the one person who´s able to stay sane when everyone else is going crazy, because while everyone else has a weak point, an impulse they´re repressing that they´re ashamed of, Dagwood doesn´t - he really is pure."

Casting of the DeLuise brothers as characters who are not related did give the seaQuest team some pause, but Eastlake is amused by the possibilities the situation presents. "It´s pretty clear that Dagwood was manufactured out of genetic material that was selected from the military population, and Tony is in the military, and his genetic material was available. They may be brothers and not know it."

Also coming aboard is Edward Kerr as Lt. James Brody, a special weapons and tactics expert. (No clues as to whether he´s related to Sheriff Brody of Jaws fame...). Eastlake describes him as "your typical young, wind-em-up-and-aim officer, he´s Tom Cruise in Top Gun, and really believes he´s invulnerable." Which, of course, will bring him into occasional conflict with Commander Ford, who´s very much by the book - even more in season two. "They´re both very military," Eastlake concedes, "but Brody never does it by the book. They both believe the answer is somewhere in the military culture, but one´s from the conservative wing, and one´s from the hang-loose-and-do-it wing. And of course, there is a three- or four-way conflict with Wendy Smith and Bridger, who prefer different solutions."

Wendy Smith, played by Rosalind Allen, is the new ship´s doctor. Her chief passion, says Burke, "is parapsychology, and how if manifests itself in the world we live in. She is third-generation Navy."

According to Eastlake, "Smith is a medical doctor, but very different from Westphalen, in that she´s a real window into the human emotions and soul; she´s a telepath. This is an erratic power that´s just emerging. In one script, there´s a reference we´re not sure yet if we´re going to follow through on: telepathic powers work a lot better underwater, and much better in confined environments, because there´s less static. If you´re standing in the middle of downtown Los Angeles with 10 million minds radiating, it´s harder to focus than when you´re underwater with 100 minds and far awat from the rest of the biomas."

The fifth newcomer to the series is Kathy Evison as Ensign Henderson. "She´s a very young, first-tour enlisted woman in the Navy, around 18 or 20," Eastlake says, admitting that she´s there to add some love interest. "We had young men on the ship, but really no young women, while the Navy hasyoung women on their ships right now, today. She´s an ordinary, attractive young woman, and she´ll be available for romances. When you look at the submarine control room next season, you´ll see something that looks closer to the way the Navy looks right now, with a mixture of men and woman in the crew."

SF Elements

One change some were hoping for hasn´t happened: seaQuest and ABC´s Lois and Clark are still opposite one another on Sunday nights 0 with Fox now throwing The Simpsons into the same time slot. "I have always tried to focus my attention soley on the job I have," Burke says, "and not on where it´s marketed or sold. I find most guys who spend a whold lot of time worrying about what the other guy is doing aren´t doing their own jobs as well as they ought to. I hope they keep seaQuest on the air, I hope it plays well, but when they start talking about demographics, and time slots, and reaching frequency, and all that stuff, my eyes spin in my head."

Eastlake has an impressive background in both action-adventure shows, including Street Justice and Hawk, and the highly regarded The Equalizer. On that unusual, intelligent series, Eastlake was the story editor during the 1986-87 season, wrote seven episodes, winning the Mystery Writers of America´s Edgar award for Best Television Episode. He also wrote segments of Murder, She Wrote (coincidentally, opposite seaQuest on Sunday nights), Airwolf, and "V."

He knows science fiction, and is perfectly comfortable with calling seaQuest by that honorable label. The show, Eastlake says, "is trying to do science fiction/action, but most of the episodes have a strong human component, a strong allegorical, emotional or moral component, depending on the story. I grew up on Robert A. Heinlein, a wonderful social anthropologist. What I´ve always loved is social science fiction; I think the different cultures Isaac Asimov would create, or the military cultures David Drake creates, or Andre Norton. I read everything Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle write, including the right-wing allegories.

Burke started as a broadcast journalist and producer of documentaries; in 1986, he began as a writer and story editor on Crime Story, later becoming supervising producer on Wiseguy. He created the submarine-less UNSUB for NBC, and created and executive-produced Tribeca for Robert DeNiro´s company of the same name. Because Universal had treated him more than fairly, when they asked him to take over seaQuest, he agreed even before he knew what the show was about. Burke came aboard seaQuest partway through its troubled first season, and got mixed signals from Amblin Entertainment and NBC.

"When I got here," says Burke, "I was told I was doing a family drama - adventure, action, a sort of family-oriented show. I was touted off one direction, then touted back on it. There were many different points-of-view as to what the show should be. The consequence of that situation was that the show didn´t quite know what it was the first season; that always happens unless the person with the passionate vision is driving it.

"The perception of science fiction was very different among the various people involved. For me, science fiction is The Twilight Zone - contemporary moral dramas and dilemmas that we face as society and individuals right now, places in the context of another world or another time. There´s another camp that thinks science fiction is anything with a guy in a rubber suit who disintegrates before your very eyes. It´s really a little of both, I guess."

During season two of seaQuest, Burke has nothing at all to do with the stories the series will be doing; instead, he´s concentrating on the show´s physical aspects. "I´m very committed to trying to make the Florida environment work, because it takes us physically underwater. I can put all my actors in futuristic SCUBA gear and and really see them function underwater. I´m trying to encourage those in charge of the scripts to utilize the water environments as much as possible. I will then polish out what comes to me in terms of making an outdoor location work. We are a show about the sea; we are a show about being outside in some ways, even if it´s underwater - and now we can do that."

But he does go along with the idea of making the show more science fictional. He feels the first season´s best episode was the one in which the seaQuest found an alien ships, although like almost everyone else, he also thought the one about the Alexandria library was excellent. "That was Steven Spielberg´s idea, a very good show. Boy, please put that in writing, because there were people who liked that script who got down on the show when it was finished because there was no overt aggression."

Burke directed one of the other best episodes himself, the one in which the crew has to confront a South American dictator. It did have some, um, repercussions, Burke laughs. "I´ve just been writing a letter to the ambassador from Brazil, who was not real happy." Burke will be directing at least one second season episode as well. "I think it´s very important for people who do what I do to have a sense of the problems on the set. It´s a gargantuan effort to get a show done in severn or eight days. So, I´ll do it once to get to know the crew, to get them on a first-hand, first-name relationship with me, and so I understand the vagaries of their faily business, as it applies in this environment." Les Sheldon and Bryan Spicer, who between them directed all the other best shows of the first season, will also be returning.

Story Scenarios

Eastlake is in a better position than Burke to talk about the directions seaQuest will take in season two. "In the second season opener, the two problems the seaQuest faces grow out of the real-world, right-now technological issues: genetic engineering, and the destruction of the rain forests; those two problems shape the entire episode."

Genuinely enthusiastic about the prospects of his new job, Eastlake feels that "the first season didn´t always go as boldly into science-fiction areas as it might have. There were good shows in the first season - that could have happened right now, in the present. I think the shows we´re doing early in this new season really do have a feel of where society and technology have evolved to a couple of decades from now - where we´re all going to be living. I was looking at the printout of what my pension plans holds, and there was one bond that´s going to mature into 2017 - when the seaQuest sails! I really felt like, whoa, Buck Rogers!"

As for the show, "the aliens are going to return, no question about that. And we´re going to deal with telepathy. Maybe six months ago, the first seemingly totally controlled and replicatable experiment was published where at least there was some indication of being able to measure a parapsychological power - it did go beyond mere chance. Now, of course, it´s going to have to be replicated a lot before you can really believe what is happening. We have an episode in which parapsychological technology has advanced, leading us into a world that´s actually very Jungian, or perhaps Freudian, very psychological, in which they discuss the analytical psychological theories of what happens when you split off different aspects of a personality. It can be pretty terrifying."

The episode sounds like a parapsychological explanation for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in that "they unleash absolute evil into the world, because Thanatos, or the shadow side, is no longer bound to Eros, or the self. Fiction can offer a wonderful insight into the different aspects of a personality. Instead of integrating a personality, as the Freudians would say, or individuating, as the Jungians would say, we take a component of the personality, and split it off; it expresses itself very explosively."

Speculation about computers, touched on several times in the first season, continues to be a part of the seaQuest saga. "If you take to a logical extreme the development of computer controls, computer games, in society," Eastlake says, "we really enter into a world where the reality is defined by the psychology of people who get into computer games and never get back out of them. Instead of virtual reality reflecting reality, reality reflects virtual reality."

"We´re doing a submarine warfare episode that examines Bridger. Bridger is a terrific warrior who doesn´t want to be a warrior; because he is such a terrific warrior, he knows that war is futile. For me - it make be different for other writers, or for Roy Scheider - Bridger is halfway between a warrior and a sage, not a scientist; he´s the philosopher, the man of wisdom, a decent, psychologically aware person whose values define the show´s human values." Eastlake hopes to emphasize this Wise Man aspect of Bridger more in the second season.

As for the other returning characters, "Commander Ford," Eastlake says, "is really the second-in-command on the board, a Bridger-in-training. But his roots are as a warrior; he is a boat commander though, not a mission commander yet. He is a by-the-book warrior, and that´s going to be emphasized more. His personality develops in interacting with Bridger; his initial impulse is to go by the book, but when Bridger focuses on the moral dimension, Ford gets it."

Jonathan Brandis´ Lucas "has an official role on the ship now," Eastlake says, "He hasn´t been drafted into the Navy; this board does have a civilian component. He is a science officer now."

Eastlake is impressed by Ted Raimi, whom he feels "gives very sensitive reactions; you´ll watch him reacting to something on film, and you´ll see this life and decency, this humanity in this character, and he lends that wonderful quality to the role. O´Neill is the most religious member of the crew - that came out in the alien episode. And he has a richly-developed cultural life; he speaks all these different languages, not just for the technology - he has read in those languages. Lucas has a very powerful technological life, and O´Neill has a cultural and religious life, which you don´t see too much of, because we have such a huge cast. But you go get hints of that, which is nice to see."

Also, "Ortiz (Marco Sanchez) is coming back, and he gets to walk. I was watching his dailies just now in which he´s funnier and livelier than he was able to be in the first season; he has been given a sense of humor." And, Carleton Eastlake hints, a guest star from the first season will probably be returning, but as the contract wasn´t signed at presstime, he´s reluctant to say who.

David J. Burke is aware that seaQuest has some fans who watch for the impressive computer graphics FX, but, overall, he feels, "I don´t think people are watching the show for neat graphics, they want to get into the character, into the situations, the circumstances and the world at large of the future that is not simply neat CGI shots. It´s how people behave with one abother that makes it interesting."

And with season two of seaQuest, that´s what they hope to emphasize: the people who live in this watery future.

Article written by Bill Warren, veteran correspondent to Starlog Magazine.

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