BY PAMELA FOOHEY
“Earth 2?” Who remembers “Earth 2?” A short-lived, but really addictive show that aired on NBC for one season in 1994, “Earth 2” tells the story of an eclectic group of lost explorers. In 2192, humans leave Earth to live on giant orbiting space stations. Not unrealistically, by that time Earth has become environmentally devastated and only miners and other poor laborers are left on the surface. Although the space stations seem like seventh heaven for a while, a percentage of children born on the stations begin to contract an incurable disease at birth (vaguely similar to AIDS) that kills them by their eighth birthday.
Devon Adair (Debrah Farentino), a rich station designer and mother of an afflicted child, champions Eden Project: an expedition to found a colony for sick children on an Earth-like planet twenty-two light years from Earth. The hypothesis is that the children should get better once they are exposed to an Earth-like environment. The Project has trouble from the start, with Devon staging a mini-mutiny against the Council-the governing body of the stations-and launching her ship ahead of schedule. The ship reaches its destination, but crash-lands on the wrong side of the planet. The stranded crew now has nine months to trek across an unknown planet in order to reach their original colony site in time to meet the 2,000 families on their way.
Here’s where the wagon-train/Lost part comes in. The group loses almost all of its supplies in the crash. With almost no food, little technology, a few solar powered vehicles, and some tents, the group starts its journey. Moreover, the group is not really a group. It is comprised of: Devon; her child; her child’s tutor, a former criminal who was converted to a cybernetic tutor by the Council; the head of the operations team and his daughter, who were not supposed to land and are on the project only for the money; a doctor who was genetically engineered to be a physician; the ship’s pilot; a lower-level member of the Council and his Earth-born wife, who were stranded on the ship during Devon’s mini-mutiny; and seven other colonists. All of these people have different agendas and many have big chips on their shoulders, mainly directed at the others stranded with them.
In any other situation, the group would self-destruct within a single day, but “Earth 2” has many secrets that bind the group together. Despite what Devon was told, there is life on the planet, including one very intelligent species that lives beneath the surface. In fact, the planet itself may actually be alive, so alive that it has the potential to “reject” the colonists. In addition, they are not the only humans present: the Council had already been using the planet as a dumping ground for violent killers and other criminals. This leads to introduction of some great guest stars, including Tim Curry and Terry O’Quinn (“Lost”).
The combination of internal bickering, potentially deadly aliens, a planet that grows more and more mysterious, and an ever-watchful Council makes the characters grow on you. Underlying themes of environmentalism, indigenous rights, female empowerment, class and society, and repentance add more substance to what may seem to some as a run-of-the-mill sci-fi series from the ’90’s. These themes continue to resonate to present-day real-world issues. And for the really astute viewer, there are subtle references to Roanoke.
The main flaw of the series is that it ends in a cliffhanger, which raises new questions and leaves so many old questions unanswered that it makes your head spin. Knowing that they weren’t getting the highest ratings, but that they had a loyal fan base and a few Emmy nominations (and eventual wins), the producers tried to force NBC’s hand. Needless to say, they were unsuccessful. Doubtless, if the series had continued, there would have been plenty of storylines to pursue. Maybe it is the lack of closure and unanswered questions that make the series stay with you.
In short, the series is entertaining, consistent, and highly addictive. If it had been given a chance to succeed, it could have easily become the “Lost” of the ’90’s.
If I hadn’t been waiting to see “Earth 2” again for over ten years, the DVD itself would have been a big disappointment. First, the episodes are organized in airing order, meaning they are out of filming order. Because of the way NBC aired shows in 1994, the last two episodes on the DVD should be interspersed throughout the others. Not a big problem, but I really wanted to see all the episodes before I watched the finale. Useful tip: “All About Eve” is the last episode.
Second, the extras are less than spectacular. There are some interesting deleted and extended scenes and cute blooper outtakes, but the set includes “Cleopatra 2525” and “Sliders” bonus episodes. There is nothing wrong with those shows, but they do not belong on an “Earth 2” DVD. The packagers would have been better off getting rid of these episodes and just sticking with real extras, even if they only amount to ten more minutes of material.