Tin Man has got to be the weirdest thing I’ve seen on the Sci-Fi Channel in a while, and not merely because it’s a mildly disturbed reimagining of The Wizard of Oz as filtered through the mind of someone not quite sane. No, it’s evident from the decent effects and semi-respectable cast—Zooey Deschanel, that guy from Boomtown , the chick who maybe did 90210 —that Sci-Fi put some actual money and effort into Tin Man , and wants it to be good. And good, by definition, is something the Sci-Fi Channel can never really be.
Case in point: Within days of Tin Man ’s premiere, Sci-Fi also bowed Eye of the Beast , a giant squid movie unironically starring James Van Der Beek; meanwhile, Dec. 15 brings the premiere of Showdown at Area 51 , about two aliens who wind up fighting each other, presumably at or near Area 51. These are bad movies, but that’s what Sci-Fi is known for: repurposing genre reruns like The X-Files and every incarnation of Star Trek , and churning out some terrible original movies that could not possibly appeal to any remotely self-respecting viewer.
That’s also what makes the reimagined Battlestar Galactica so amazing: It’s a good show, and it’s on the Sci-Fi Channel. That alone is enough to raise eyebrows. It’s as if WE were to conjure up a solid, gritty cop drama, or if TBN suddenly mattered. Sci-Fi puts out the vibe of being cheesy and OK about it, which would make everything fine if they just resigned themselves to vintage reruns and bad originals. But the network is apparently determined to do more than that, and I can’t quite decide how I feel about that.
OK, I can: I think it will end badly.
It’s not that science-fiction programming necessarily must be lousy. At its best, the genre takes a back seat to the quality of the storytelling and the craft that goes into the characters, which is why Battlestar Galactica is so good. But it’s also why the rest of Sci-Fi’s original programming is pretty damn stupid. Sci-Fi isn’t just a place that accepts crappy shows; it creates them at a startling pace.
Maybe the best example of this was The Lost Room , a fun and deeply flawed miniseries that aired on Sci-Fi a year or so ago. The Lost Room was great at being what it was: a very nerdy miniseries with no greater aspiration than to be cheesy and melodramatic. That’s what Sci-Fi is built on, and the unconscious vibe is of low quality but high schlock, and of good times cheaply had.
Which brings me back, sort of, to Tin Man . It’s not terribly good, but it is above average, and that makes it an anomaly for Sci-Fi. (And, I guess, for sci-fi.) I was worried for a while that the miniseries indicated a turnaround for the network, which would now begin to do its best to create better programming all around and act all respectable. After all, sister network USA went from showing Silk Stalkings and American Gladiators reruns to creating better shows like Monk and Psych . But Tin Man was also peppered with ads for Sci-Fi’s other shows and movies, including the unavoidable Eye of the Beast . The commercials were thoroughly dumb, but oddly reassuring.
SEE IT: Showdown at Area 51 airs on the Sci-Fi Channel at 9 pm Saturday, Dec. 15.