25 Years Later, The Creators of Farscape Are Ready For More

An unforgettable premise (and Jim Henson’s puppets) made a 1999 show lightyears ahead of its time.

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The 1990s were a confounding era for science fiction on television. All sorts of sci-fi exploded onto the scene, but shows ranging from seaQuest to Babylon 5 had a hard time surviving. Even Star Trek’s dominance slowed down by the early 2000s as the nature of how people watched TV (and what was expected from television) changed dramatically. Into this maelstrom entered a sci-fi series well ahead of its time. On March 19, 1999, Farscape brought wayward astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) across the universe and into a sci-fi landscape unlike anything fans had seen before or since.

As Farscape celebrates 25 years, Inverse caught up with cast members Ben Browder and Gigi Edgley, and series creator Rockne S. O’Bannon, to look back on what made Farscape special and how they hope to continue its legacy.

The original Guardians of the Galaxy

In crafting Farscape with co-producer Brian Henson, creator Rockne S. O’Bannon’s first goal was to set the show apart from what audiences were used to seeing in space-based sci-fi.

“The phrase I used at the time was the ‘anti-Star Trek,’” O’Bannon tells Inverse. “I didn’t mean that in a negative way — I’m a gigantic Star Trek fan, but there were shows like Battlestar Galactica [1978] and others that obviously took place on ships in outer space with a military hierarchy on board and essentially a military mission. And I thought, okay, what’s the antithesis of that?”

The answer was to throw 20th-century astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) into a wormhole and have him wind up on a living starship called Moya, crewed by alien ex-convicts.

“I said to myself, what’s the most fractious situation I can create?” O’Bannon said. “And that’s what became a ship full of escaping prisoners. So they all had a common goal, which was to escape, but where they wanted to get to and how they went about it was as diverse and as different as they were in terms of their species.”

The human John Crichton (Ben Browder) and humanoid Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black) were two of Farscape’s core cast.

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“We had a lot of heroes,” Ben Browder says, noting that despite their ex-con status, the crew of the Moya were essentially good people. “It was vaguely transitional for TV. After the turn of the millennium you’ve got Sopranos, you’ve got Breaking Bad, you’ve got anti-heroes. But what you have in Farscape is characters who are tortured.”

Farscape’s format and the ragtag nature of its characters influenced one of the biggest Marvel movies ever: Guardians of the Galaxy. While the characters go back to 1969, James Gunn was inspired by the vibe of Farscape when he crafted the first Guardians movie in 2014. “[Gunn] is pretty clear that there’s an influence of Farscape on Guardians,” Browder says. “I mean, I met him, and he gave me a cameo in Volume Two.”

Aliens and Puppets

Johnathan Hardy (and several puppeteers) brought little Rygel to life.

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The organic feeling of Farscape is part of what makes it fascinating today. Nascent CGI was used for the spaceship’s exterior, but inside the Moya and other locales, the aliens were very real. The two stand-outs among the crew were Pilot (voiced by Lani Tupu) and Rygel (voiced by Jonathan Hardy). Pilot was a massive creature, while Rygel was a small but feisty alien. Both were puppets.

“I was doing this with the Jim Henson Company and Brian Henson, and what he was requesting from me was ‘a show with a lot of aliens,’” O’Bannon says. “So, with the puppets, it wasn’t just a human in a suit or an actor with prosthetics on their forehead. Pilot was enormous, I think he had 16 operators. They were very tactile, you could actually touch them. Early on, Ben grabbed Rygel at one point in a rehearsal. And the puppet, the people that were operating him, reacted to that in a good way.”

Farscape’s aliens also included series regulars like D’Argo and Chiana, played by Anthony Simcoe and Gigi Edgley.

“It’s the longest makeup I’ve had for sure,” Edgley tells Inverse. “Three and a half hours, five days a week, 16-hour-days for over five and a half years. There was a specificity that went into creating every little detail about every single character. They didn’t want to see me being human in my mouth, so that became black. They put so much into every little detail, whether it be story or character or creature. I think that’s something we’ve never seen before, nor have we seen since.”

Chiana (Gigi Edgley) and Ka D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) were some of Farscape’s more memorable aliens.

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A harbinger of things to come

When Farscape aired between 1999 and 2004, serialized TV was just starting to become mainstream. This made the show risky, but what O’Bannon points out is that, unlike so many serialized shows today, Farscape was upbeat.

“I think my interest is to not lean too heavily into dystopia,” OBannon says. “I don’t want to disparage anything else, but to me, dystopian is easy. At the end of the day, I wanted something that does have an essence of aspiration and a positive spin to it. Because they’re escaping prisoners and all that, I wanted fractiousness. But, they did develop into a family.”

For Gigi Edgley, that family connection never stopped, and she’s eager for Farscape to return with a continuation or reboot.

“I got to conventions, and it’s both the same fans and a ton of new fans because they’ve seen it on streaming services,” Edgley says. “I would come back in a heartbeat. The fans are looking for anything they can get their hands on. Every time I’m on a panel and that question comes up, I’m like, ‘Lock the doors, get a rope, tie up Brian Henson until he agrees.’”

“Brian Henson and I are always in conversations about the way to bring it back,” O’Bannon says. “So the question is, how can we affect that? Doing serialized stories was something the network wasn’t comfortable with back then, but now that’s not a challenge. I would want to honor the appeal of the original show, and that was to be bold and surprising. So the desire would be to be bold and very surprising again. It’s obviously not a particularly easy thing to do now, but it wasn’t easy back in the day, either.”

Where to stream Farscape

Farscape currently streams on Tubi, Peacock, and prominently on Shout! TV. On March 19, Shout! TV will run a 25th anniversary Farscape marathon, featuring new segments with Ben Browder, Gigi Edgley, and an introduction from Brian Henson.

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