Friday, January 27, 2012

Thoughts on "Brigadoom"

Watching the fourth season Sanctuary episode "Fugue," I was again struck by the tradition of "musical episodes" in recent television series, especially those in the science fiction and fantasy genres.

This is usually discussed as having begun with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Once More, With Feeling" – but as has been the case with many a genre trope, Lexx did it first, with "Brigadoom." And pulled off a very tough act.

It is worth mentioning here that when the show started airing on the Sci-Fi Channel back in 2000 (with a handful of episodes plucked out of the second series, without regard to the show's development, or the season's story arc), I wasn't impressed with what I saw. Lexx was certainly . . . different. I was intrigued by some of the characters and concepts, but the episodes themselves didn't amount to much. When I saw the commercial for a musical episode, I was skeptical.

But that didn't last, and neither did my earlier skepticism about the show. "Brigadoom" (cowritten by show creator Paul Donovan, and the late Lex Gigeroff) didn't simply have a few of the lines sung instead of spoken (the way Fringe's "Brown Betty" did, for instance), but instead offered a full-blown musical which dramatized the back story of a central character, and presented a turning point in the season's story arc (which was itself a whopper, the title of its final episode, "End of the Universe," not being overstatement).1 It helped, too, that the songs were memorable.

As the show's own writers have said in various interviews (mine included), the quality of the show varied wildly from one episode to another. "Brigadoom" was the show at its very best, which was great, and it has since been a fan favorite.

Alas, the achievement of cast and crew here has been overlooked in the general tendency to ignore or put down the show, which has been extreme, even compared with other TV space operas, toward which critics and audiences (hardcore fans aside) are famously ungenerous. Still, those writing about such episodes should remember that early moment in the history of television science fiction characters suddenly breaking out into song.

1. It is worth noting that this wasn't Lexx's first musical moment. The second part of the four-part miniseries that comprises series one, "Supernova" (which aired two years before "Brigadoom") also contains a brief but striking musical interlude.

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