It boggles my mind to think that this fall marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of a little television series called seaQuest DSV.
I don’t know as many people really remember this show. For the most part, it had what I would consider a rather small cult following – for something that was on an actual network. And it existed at a time before the internet made it easy to communicate with other fans and followers of something that you love. I don’t think I could have really done that anyway – I was only 13 when the show came out.
Still, I remember being in 8th grade, turning on the television every Sunday night (I think it was) to watch the show. I recorded every single episode on VHS (remember those days?) and watched them whenever the show itself wasn’t actually being broadcast. I was obsessed – I had books, comic books, a model of the seaQuest DSV itself… I was hooked.
As I used to say to my step father – who was an avid fan of Star Trek – “It’s like Star Trek… in the ocean!” I felt like I had something that was mine – a show that would be a Star Trek for this generation… even though Star Trek technically already had one of those.
When I look back on the show now, though – and believe me, I still pull out DVDs or catch it on Netflix now and then – I realize how absolutely horrible it was. Actually, to be fair, it was more like the second season was the most horrible show ever. We’ll get there, don’t worry.
I don’t know if anyone is aware of this, but seaQuest DSV is rather notorious for being practically a completely different show each season of its run. We’ll get there, too.
It starred Roy Scheider (dead), as Captain Nathan Hale Bridger, an old Navy captain who had apparently retired after his wife (Carol or Barbara depending on whether you’re watching the tv show or reading the books – hey consistency!) had passed away. He is lured back into commanding the UEO’s (United Earth Oceans Organization) newest, state-of-the-art Deep Submergence Vehicle (where the “DSV” comes from) after its prior Captain (a crazy chick with menopausal revenge on the brain) loses her mind and tries to destroy an underwater colony of people.
Oh yeah, that’s the thing, by the way – seaQuest takes place in the future (2018) where the Earth’s Oceans are in the process of being colonized by human beings. It’s the seaQuest‘s job to police and protect the people of these colonies.
And Darwin (likely dead) – Bridger’s dolphin, who could talk through a device that Lucas Russian-kid had developed, speaking with a voice provided by Mr. Megatron himself, Frank Welker (though… unfortunately, he didn’t use Megatron’s voice – that would have been awesome)!
The first season of the show was very family-oriented, with stories that built upon the idea that seaQuest was a family. Lucas was estranged from his own father, so Bridger became a sort of father figure for him (which worked great because Bridger’s own son was assumed KIA long ago). In the meantime, Bridger had a growing romance with the ship’s Chief medic and scientist Kristin Westphalen, herself acting very much like a mother figure to Lucas. The dynamic actually worked because Bridger (though being somewhat of a scientist himself) as the father figure, commanded the military, while Westphalen, as the mother figure, directed the science side (the soft side) of the ship. seaQuest was on a mission not just to protect civilians in the undersea colonies, but it also – like the Enterprise – was a science exploration vessel. The first season dealt with many of the same things that other family dramas might deal with, making it an all-around family-friendly show.
Then they destroyed the seaQuest at the end of the season. And everything changed.
If the first season was about “family”, then the second season was about… I don’t know.
Gone were older characters like Kristin Westphalen and the Security Chief played by Royce D. Applegate (dead). In were twenty- and thirty-somethings that couldn’t act and had no depth of character. In fact, Bridger’s new love interest (who was definitely attractive but had to have been at least twenty thousand years younger than him) was Wendy Smith, played by Rosalind Allen.
She was a psychic. You know, kinda like Deanna Troy.
They also brought in two of Dom DeLuise‘s sons – Michael, who played a former convict grafted with gills – GILLS – and Peter, who played a Genetically Engineered Life Form – or “G.E.L.F.” – named “Dagwood“. That name, by the way, was a take-off on the racial slur for GELFs: “dagger”. If it wasn’t clear that he was made up of all races, then perhaps the fact that his makeup was done in such a way as to show patches of every color helped. Because, you know, in the future it gets boring to oppress one race of people at a time – let’s just stick them all into one guy and oppress them all at once.
Do you see where this is going yet?
Let me see if I can help. Here are some plot snippets from Season Two:
- A giant prehistoric alligator gets loose in the ocean and starts eating people.
- A robot submarine with Bridger’s artificial intelligence goes rogue and tries to nuke a city.
- Mark Hamill guest-stars as an alien (in two episodes) hiding from others of his kind on Earth.
- Some weird thing with Atlantis happens, which I still can’t recall properly.
- Killer plants (yes, seriously).
- A fire-breathing worm.
- Genetically-altering pills.
- seaQuest gets transported to the future where only two humans survive and play war games using Robotech mecha. Not joking.
To make it abundantly clear, seaQuest had become the kind of science fiction nonsense that even the SciFi Channel wouldn’t have touched. It had gone from being a show about family, scientific research and discovery, to being a show about… again, I don’t know… some monster-of-the-week crap.
It was like Star Trek… in the ocean! And I hated it.
So did Roy Scheider, who apparently referred to the show at one point as “babyish nonsense”. Even going on to say that Star Trek did what they were doing, only better! And this was a show created by Rockne S. O’Bannon (Alien Nation, FarScape – the latter of which I loved) and produced by Steven Spielberg.
I bet you’re asking, “Wait, didn’t you say that the seaQuest was destroyed at the end of season one? How is it in season two?” It isn’t. They built a new one. And the bridge was so cramped (season one’s was large and spacious) that you could almost get claustrophobic watching it. So… anyway, yes, they rebuilt it over the summer.
Doesn’t matter though, because they destroy this one at the end of the season, too. On an alien planet.
So by the time season two was over it was like Star Trek… in space! Or at least in an ocean in space. And I hated it!
But after all this, we still got a season three – or part of one. And despite some little nitpicks (as you’ll see in a moment) I feel like they finally got it right.
When seaQuest disappeared for that alien planet at the end of season two (allegedly in 2022… I’m not even going to bother with the timeline) the world’s oceans were left without a protector for a decade. Because, y’know, after they built that second ship over the summer, they had run out of material or someone had shredded the plans or something. As a result, new corporations and power-hungry confederations popped up seemingly overnight. One of those confederations was the Macronesian Alliance, a Soviet-type nation out of the Australian areas led by Alexander Bourne, played by Michael York. Macronesia was intent on destroying the UEO and taking over the world.
Meanwhile, Oliver Hudson (a UEO navy captain – not Kate’s brother), played by Michael Ironside, spent the decade trying to track down the seaQuest while the world stood idly by on the brink of war. In 2032, he found it.
Intact. In a corn field.
One more time.
The seaQuest was discovered in 2032. Intact. In a corn field.
Apparently the aliens from the season two finale transported the ship (again, somehow intact after it had been all blowed-up) back to Earth, along with some of the crew from season two (the rest, as Bridger notes in a guest-appearance, were lost to them). This meant that we lost the psychic, but we ended up keeping the “dagger”. Oh, and we got a new doctor, played by Karen Fraction (dead). The crewmembers that do find themselves in season three discover that ten years have passed due to the effects of relative space travel (hey, something the show got right. Maybe).
Thus, the show was retitled seaQuest 2032.
Season three tried admirably to undo the havoc wreaked upon the show throughout season two. While still episodic, the show now had multi-episode character and story arcs that showed us some really cool stuff – like a recurring villain in Larry Deon, the diabolical owner of Deon Enterprises; Larry Deon’s assassins; the afore-mentioned Alexander Bourne; returning crew members and villains from season one showing up in guest spots; political intrigue; and an overall tension brought about by a new, futuristic Cold War that revolved around the control of Earth’s oceans.
Hey, even Lucas Russian-name had to enlist as a member of the crew in order to stay on board.
And main characters died. It was suspenseful sometimes because there was a genuine threat that a character you might like might not be around anymore after tonight. This was before 24 was piling dead characters up every week.
It was Star Trek… in the ocean… during the Dominion War… and somehow I knew this four years early.
Sure, it was a bit more militant, and not as family-friendly, but it wasn’t science-fiction nonsense anymore. Somehow, despite everything it had gone through in the previous two seasons, the series had finally found some kind of footing.
So, naturally, NBC canceled it.
Honestly, I don’t blame NBC. The show had pretty much lost everything it had during season two, and while season three had somehow found a way to look past all that and totally save the identity of the show, by then no one was watching.
Interestingly, its cancellation helped spur the idea of fan-fiction as one of the earliest types of popular media on the internet. I remember, sometime in early 1996, a host of seaQuest fan-fiction coming online, including one of the most popular seaQuest 2047, in which Lucas Russian-man was now the captain of a new seaQuest during a war between the UEO and seceding American States led by the Carolinas (or “carrots” as they referred to them). These stories had their flaws, too, but when you consider the age range of the people writing them (barely in their twenties, if that) you couldn’t help but be impressed by what they were doing. Inspired by this, I actually wrote some of my own original fiction (“original” meaning based on my own ideas) and published it on the net.
Don’t worry about missing it. It wasn’t good.
I’ve often wondered if, with the right group of people behind it, the right actors and the right writers, the concept of seaQuest DSV could actually work in a reboot. Perhaps make the show some kind of blend between seasons one and three – the family-friendly atmosphere of research and discovery set against the background of a new Cold War. It could work, I think.
Then again, I saw what NBC did with Knight Rider. Gross.
So here’s to you, seaQuest, it was a blast!