With Pixar’s Finding Dory in theaters this weekend, it’s possible that you’re of the opinion—just like another Disney undersea creature, The Little Mermaid’s Sebastian the Crab—that everything’s better, down where it’s wetter. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case: for every piece of sunken treasure, there’s some horrific shipwreck… which is where this week’s Netflix selection comes in.
SeaQuest DSV was a TV series that had the potential to be great: Steven Spielberg was on board as executive producer, it was (all too obviously) built off the Star Trek: The Next Generation model—at the time, a beloved show coming to the end of its run — and none other than Roy Scheider had signed on to play the show’s lead character.
Moreover, it had a great gimmick: instead of being a space show about a space show, it was a space show about a high-tech submarine (the SeaQuest of the show’s title’ “DSV” stood for “Deep Sea Vessel”) that transferred all the wonder of the galaxy to what was happening beneath the waves. It was a (literally) unexplored space, and pre-launch, everyone thought that the series showed much potential… almost all of which it failed to live up to.
Revisiting the series now — all three seasons are on Netflix — is a curious, but enjoyable, way to spend time; between the dated-ness of it’s sci-fi elements and the ways in which the show is just plain not good, it takes on a strange siren song of crap that’s hard to ignore. Before you tie yourself to a mast and set sail for the depths of the entire series, however, consider this gentler voyage: the ten episodes you need to see in order to get the whole story.
S1 E1: TO BE OR NOT TO BE/THE NATHAN BRIDGER INCIDENT
The show’s premiere episode sets up the basic premise of the series in a manner that also sets the tone for the three years that are to follow: some good ideas handled in a not-so-good manner, with some added pirates because what else do you do with a TV show all about adventure on the high seas? The highlight of this episode might be Roy Scheider’s performance as Nathan Bridger, the lead character of the show for its first two years — he’s a charmingly irascible hero to build the show around, at least judging by this episode. (Don’t worry; that’ll change.)
S1 E18: HIDE AND SEEK
There are many reasons to adore SeaQuest, not least of which its seemingly sarcastic approach to guest casting. This episode features none other than William Shatner, a man who should be ideal for this show, with the obvious debt it owes to Star Trek. Of course, then, he’s given the role of the episode’s antagonist, a deposed dictator and dolphin trainer called Milos Tezlov. No, you read that right.
S1 E23: HIGHER POWER/AN OCEAN ON FIRE
By the end of the show’s first season, a combination of low ratings and writer frustration had combined to establish that something needed to change, and it’s to the series’ credit that they were willing to go as far as they did — this season finale doesn’t just get rid of a number of characters, it also does away with the original SeaQuest vessel itself, sacrificed to save the world from global warming. Well, it was the 1990s.
S2 E1: DAGGERS
For its second season, SeaQuest got a younger, more attractive cast, a new vessel and a whole new mission statement — namely, absolutely wacky sci-fi storylines that introduced aliens, time travel and all kinds of ridiculous, goofy concepts to a show that had previously tried to stay a little bit closer to reality. Take this opening episode, which introduces a group of genetically engineered creatures who want to destroy humanity, probably because they’ve been stuck with the name GELFs.
S2 E6: THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY
Of course, even wacky sci-fi can hit pay dirt every now and again; this episode, in which Roy Scheider’s character has to outwit himself — or, really, an artificial intelligence based on himself, back when the concept of artificial intelligences was still relatively unknown — is a surprisingly great piece of television, even with the traditional SeaQuest pieces of nonsense attached. For example, have we covered the talking dolphin on board yet…?
S2 E14: DREAM WEAVER
The first season had William Shatner, the second Mark Hamill, in that period of his career where he was trying his hands at building a career out of cameos on TV shows. Here, he’s playing a blind former child prodigy-turned-genius-scientist who also happens to be part-alien, and also one of the few people who can save the ship from an alien predator intent on hunting him down and killing him for… reasons.
S3 E1: BRAVE NEW WORLD
Even the second season’s infusion of WTF wasn’t enough to get people interested, however, leading to the show’s second makeover — a time jump a decade into the future, the creation of a fascistic Australian government as the series’ new antagonists and a new leading man: none other than Michael Ironside, who is every bit as camp-perfect as you could hope he would be. (The show was also retitled for this final year, as SeaQuest 2032 to establish the new era.)
S3 E9: GOOD SOLDIERS
But if Michael Ironside is the show’s leading man, you ask, what about Roy Scheider? Well, he got demoted to occasional guest-star status before his big finale in the season’s ninth episode. Except, “big finale” might be kind of over-selling it; even with the hint that maybe he wasn’t such a good guy after all, there was no great send-off waiting for him at the end. (He was intended to return in future episodes, so it’s not as if he could be killed off.)
S3 E10: SECOND CHANCE
Thankfully, the show had one last highpoint before it drew to its close — an episode in which the SeaQuest is sent back in time, giving the crew the chance to finally win that whole Cuban Missile Crisis thing before it destroys humanity. Oh, you didn’t know that the Cuban Missile Crisis had destroyed humanity? Guess their mission must have worked, in that case.
S3 E13: WEAPONS OF WAR
The show’s final episode is a bit of a damp squib (No pun intended) — the show was cancelled midway through the season, and a number of planned storylines and episodes were scrapped, leading to this disappointing finale for a show that really did deserve better, even if the entire series had failed to live up to its potential.