Thursday, October 30, 2014

Space Cases (anyone remember this underrated Nickelodeon gem?)

If you've never heard of the mid-90's Nickelodeon show Space Cases, get in line. It's likely going to be a lot longer and less lonely than those of us who watched and remember it as fondly as the likes of Rugrats, Clarissa, and Are You Afraid of the Dark. It's what introduced me to fan fiction, fandom, and re-ignited my passion for writing. Plus, it had a really catchy theme song that will stay in your head for days.

'Space Cases' was a sci-fi show with a premise that resembled the 1960's 'Lost In Space' (coincidentally, Bill Mumy, one of the co-creators of 'Space Cases', starred on 'Lost In Space' as Will Robinson). The other creator of the show was Peter David. The show ran for just two seasons, totaling 26 episodes, so all can be forgiven if you've never heard of it, much less seen it. The show was set thousands of years into the future, focusing on a group of 5 underachieving space cadets and their two teachers, who accidentally find themselves on the other side of the universe when they board a mysterious spaceship. The show focuses on the many adventures they face on their journey back home. The cast was from a variety of planets and galaxies in our own system, since man probably figured out how to create life on uninhabitable surfaces by then. All but one of them had some sort of super power that seemed to be something that just distinguished them from the crowd, and occasionally helped them out against the enemy. The show starred Walter Jones as Harlan Band, a cocky Earther who thought he knew it all and was the self appointed leader of the group (he didn't have any special powers, being from Earth I guess, so they made him the leader). Walter was best known at the time as the original black ranger from the mega-popular Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Jewel Staite played Catalina, a sassy Saturnian that was a rival to Harlan. She had rainbow striped hair, a sonic scream that broke mirrors and could level buildings, and an imaginary invisible friend named Suzee that only she could see. And she was an engineering genius. You may remember Jewel from another short lived sci-fi cult hit, 'Firefly', where she also played an engineering genius.

Rounding out the cast of characters was Bova from Uranus (played by Rahi Azizi), the pessimist of the group who always thought the crew was doomed and had an antenna on his forehead that could shoot electricity. He also said being from Uranus made him "the butt of every joke" (that seemed like such a forbidden thing to say once upon a time).

Rosie Ianni from Mercury (played by Paige Christina), who was super cheerful and positive about everything, and could shoot heat from her head and hands:

And Radu from the Andromeda galaxy (played by Kristian Ayre). Radu had super strength, spiral ears shaped like cinnabons that gave him super hearing, and long hair that rivaled any 80's heavy metal band. Radu made many a fan girl at the time swoon.

Our band of heroes attended a boarding school, appropriately named Starcademy, that orbits Pluto. The goal of this school is to train them to become Stardogs, so it basically seems like some sort of military style academy since the Stardogs protect the sol system. While the other students at the school are out on some sort of exciting field training on spaceships, our crew is stuck back at the Starcademy.  They are flunking and placed in the remedial class, and it appears they are going to be kicked out for poor grades. After getting a lecture from their teachers, Ms. Davenport (Cary Lawrence), and Commander Goddard (Paul Boretski), the students spot a bird like ship outside their classroom window. Conveniently they've been left alone by their teachers, so they decide to board the ship and see if they can make contact with what appears to be an unknown alien race (hard to believe that thousands of years into the future there are still parts of the universe left unexplored). The Commander and Ms. Davenport notice the students are MIA, and chase after them aboard the ship. The crew discovers the ship is completely deserted except for a malfunctioning but quirky android named Thelma (Anik Marten), who has been left in charge of ship operations. Given the fact that she is malfunctioning she isn't a lot of help, takes things literally, and repeats herself a lot. But Thelma proved to be comedy gold. She informs them the ship they are on is called the Christa, named after Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who was killed in the Challenger explosion.
Back to the series set up, before the crew is able to get back to the school, the ship winds up being caught in what is referred to as the white circle, which pulls anything in its path into its center and spits it out somewhere in the universe. Our crew winds up going through the circle, and end up facing a 7 year journey back home (7 years, 4 months, and 22 days to be exact). So you know this show's cancellation was premature, and I'm saddened to think of all the great story lines that we missed out on as a result.

Season 1 of the show provided the core set up and featured a lot of ongoing back story and the relationships between our characters. There's more focus on the adults and education aspect, with Ms. Davenport being a frantic and uptight professional who likes to have rules and regulations, while Commander Goddard is a little less conventional in his approach to teaching.  We learn that he was a Captain for a Stardog fleet, but wound up getting into some trouble and was demoted.  As part of his punishment, he was also forced to teach the remedial class of students, who refers to as "the space cases" (hence where the title comes from).  Of course, when the ship was pulled through the white circle, Goddard had the classic "I was 3 weeks shy of being done and going back out in space with a crew", the equivalent of the "he was 1 day away from retirement".  We learn that not too many years back, our solar system (known on the show as the United Populated Planets, or UPP), had been involved in a war against Radu's people, the Andromedans.
One of the more interesting relationship dynamics explored is between Harlan and Radu; Harlan's father was killed by an Andromedan in the war, and as a result he harbors resentment and prejudice towards his crew mate. Radu was a child when the war happened, so he obviously had nothing to do with anything involving the war or the death of Harlan's father. Just a few episodes in, however, we learn Radu is just as guilty of harboring prejudice and mistrust of another species-in the episode 'Spung at Heart', the crew encounters a young Spung princess named Elmira, who boards the ship for help. The Spung are a reptilian alien race that, save for Elmira, are evil and bent on universal domination at any cost. They also were responsible for the Andromedan's role in the war against the UPP. The Andromedans were captured and enslaved due to their super strength and hearing, which the Spung planned to exploit to win the war and take over the UPP. Though Elmira was also a child when the war happened, it doesn't stop Radu from showing her the same prejudice that Harlan shows him. The Spung are still considered the enemy to pretty much anyone that isn't one of their own. Since Elmira is only a recurring guest star, her and Radu come to an understanding at the end of that episode and realize they are both more alike than different, including being outsiders among their own people. Elmira is also an oracle who pretty much tells Radu they are destined to be together despite their species history with each other, and he winds up in love. The great George Takei did a cameo in this episode as well, introduced as Warlord Shank, leader of the Spung Empire. He appeared in a handful of episodes during the series run, constantly trying to destroy the crew and their ship.

There's also the relationship between Harlan and Catalina. Harlan constantly teased Catalina, from everything to her rainbow striped hair to the fact that she talks to an imaginary invisible friend. Likewise Catalina always rags on Harlan about being overconfident and a control freak. There was really some good banter between those two. There's also a small hint of a romantic attraction lying underneath.

Small references are made in a couple of episodes, but that only really comes to light in the season finale of season 1, 'On the Road to Find Out'. Which, as it turned out, was Catalina's last episode as a regular (Jewel Staite left the series for another opporunity, on NICK's rival Disney). In a more dramatic episode for a kids show, Catalina is seemingly killed when a ship she and the crew were exploring explodes. The crew mourns her loss, and that's where Harlan confesses he really liked her and wished he had the chance to tell her. However, in what some fans of the show referred to as network meddling, Catalina was not killed off (I guess it was considered too dramatic for a younger audience), but instead of replaced by her imaginary invisible friend, Suzee. Who it turns out was very much real.

Though the ship Catalina was on did blow up, Suzee said she pulled Catalina into her dimension and saved her. By accident, Suzee switched places and ended up on board the Christa. To say she was a controversial casting choice to fans was an understatement. Rumor had it that the creators wanted to add Elmira as a series regular. But allegedly, the execs at NICK thought she was too scary for children to be a series regular. They might have come up with some great story lines with her and the developing romantic relationship with Radu, but I guess inter-species relationships were still taboo back in the 90's. So the character of Suzee was apparently thrown together at the last minute, which led people to consider her as a Mary-Sue type. Too perfect, had gills and could breath in any atmosphere, super smart (Catalina credited her in the season 1 episode 'Desperately Seeking Suzee' with her engineering smarts. Apparently Suzee gave Catalina the answers and help with everything), was a big flirt, and it seemed as though Harlan and Radu forgot about their season 1 love interests to pursue Suzee. Elmira only made one more appearance in season 2, showing up in a dream to Radu to warn him about an impending attack by her people, the Spung. And Jewel Staite reprised her role of Catalina in a quick cameo role, communicating with Suzee from her dimension, after the crew found a device that let them call home. But no mention of Catalina after that. Why people disliked Suzee, you'd have to ask them. I didn't mind her. Of course I preferred Catalina and Elmira over her character. Suzee also had the ability to read people's minds and control their movements, though it was for very brief intervals.

Season 1 and 2. Season 1 focused more on the character development, back story, and relationships, as well as focused more on the education aspect of the crew. While Commander Goddard and Ms. Davenport played more parental roles in season 1 and had a greater presence, Ms. Davenport become more of a comedic supporting character in season 2, while the Commander was MIA for several episodes. In season 2, there was less focus on the school atmosphere, and more focus on the younger characters and the adventures they found themselves in. It seemed that the story took on more of a role where the younger crew took charge and figured things out for themselves, were more of the heroes, while the adults were just in the background. The first part of season 2 was also spent on a planet that the crew crash landed on while trying to escape from the Sprung.  We learned more about Goddard's back story and what exactly caused him to be demoted from captain to commander, as he encounters a space pirate he almost started an unauthorized war with.  After that episode, 'Long Distance Calls', Goddard took his first absence from the series, and it was explained the he was exploring the planet, looking for things to help them get back into space.  When the crew fled the planet in the episode 'Homeward Bound', Goddard was injured and put in a healing chamber, which explained his second absence from the show.  There was a lot more on the romance side of things between Radu, Suzee, and Harlan involved in their own little love triangle.  This of course came about after Radu and Harlan made peace with each other and become friendly.

One of the complaints about season 1, and where people think it went wrong, is that the episodes were shown out of order. You can tell which ones were supposed to come first, if for any other reason than references to the character's abilities and back story showing up in a later episodes, when the audience already discovered this early on from a different episode that wasn't supposed to air until later and not be revealing about the cast. We were already supposed to know certain things about them. A good example is the 3rd episode "A Day in the Life" which explains the character's super power-like abilities, such as Catalina's sonic screams and the revelation about Harlan's anomosity towards Radu because of his father's death. This episode followed 'Who Goes Where', which showed the distrust Harlan had for Radu without explaining it, the UPP/Andromeda/Spung war that Goddard brought up, Catalina's sonic scream that sent the not-hard-of-hearing Radu fleeing the room, and Rosie's ability to knock a nasty virus right out of you by her heat blasts. 'Who Goes Where' was meant to air much later in the season, but after the season premiere, NICK execs decided they needed something more exciting and adventurous than the standard getting-to-know-you episode. Despite producer meddling with the episode order, 'Space Cases' was picked up for season 2, sans Jewel Staite's Catalina. The final nail in the coffin came when the show's time slot was changed throughout season 2, without any type of promotion or warning, making it hard for fans to find (I ended up seeing a few episodes as re-runs that I had missed earlier). The show was left without any sort of resolution, and despite fans and producers best efforts to get NICK to reconsider or at least do something to wrap the story up, we just have to assume that the crew of the Christa is still lost in space somewhere, maybe forever. Fans and those in charge felt that the NICK execs simply didn't give the show a fair chance, likely didn't like it and just wanted to be done with it. It didn't get the same type of promotion many of its other shows received, except for the standard commercials. There were no guest spots by the cast on any NICK related shows or even the Kid's Choice Awards, which always featured NICK stars in some capacity. You would think having Walter Jones would be enough of a draw to get them to do that, and Jewel Staite had guest starred on two episodes of the SNICK hit 'Are You Afraid of the Dark?' at that point, among other credits to her name. Recently I ran across an article that said there was a re-make of 'Lost in Space' in the works, and with remakes being the big rage right now, my adult self would be excited beyond belief for this show to be given another chance. Then I hope it never happens, because I can't imagine anyone capturing the essence of the characters as well as the original cast did. And no one would ever replace Kristian Ayre as the adorable and loveable Radu. 'Space Cases' went a little deeper than the average kids show at the time, when you consider this show was about war, death, prejudice, romance, and growing up. If anything it could be described as a coming of age. Though some mocked it for the cheesy writing, acting, and effects, overtime I think it would have become as big a NICK classic that earned it's right to re-air as part of the 90's Are All That on Teen NICK. It just needed a chance and a little help. At the very least, I would have loved to have had one more season. Aside from Walter Jones, Rebecca Herbst (who went to General Hospital right after this series ended, so you wonder what would have happened there had the show continued), it seems most of the cast left acting and has pursued other endeavors. If a re-make ever did occur, I wonder if the originals would reunite for one last time. Though many fan sites and fan fiction have gone defunct over the years, there's still enough out there to give you a good feel for the passion the fans of this show had at the time.

So how exactly did 'Space Cases' get me back into writing?  Writing had always been a hobby for me, and one day I was reminiscing and remembering a catchy theme song from 90's NICK.  I thought it was from 'Space Cases', and when I looked it up, I not only re-discovered my passion for writing (as this show gave me an idea), but also re-ignited my love for this show.  Full episodes of both seasons are on Youtube.

Oh, and as for that theme song:


  1. I'd love to chat with you about Space Cases! Please shoot me an email at