The plan with any decent TV series — especially those of the fantastic variety — is to detail the full backstory in the credits – and if this requires a voiceover (as here, and most famously of all in Star Trek) then so be it. From the opening of Seaquest DSV (1993-96) we learn therefore that it is the 21st Century and people are living in bubbles under the sea, they are all pretty good looking and wear uniforms, and operate on decent American middle class values, having adventures as they go.
The basic template for the format would have to be, within recent memory at least, the above mentioned Star Trek; and SeaQuest DSV is pretty faithful to this idea.
There’s a captain on an ongoing mission, and a host of regular crew (including an officer with big ears, played by Royce D. Applegate) as well as expendable extras, and a new terrain or environment each week.
One of the troubles with SeaQuest DSV though, is how depressed Roy Scheider seems. You can see it in each episode and that’s a shame. Roy Scheider in SeaQuest DSV needs help, or coffee, or maybe he has money worries. I don’t know but he is certainly quite depressed by something. The whole point of being an actor after all, is being able to turn it on and bring to life the most mundane material, such as this. Material, I must add, that is not improved upon with the introduction into the cast of a trained dolphin.
Other names that appear in Seaquest DSV include Stephanie Beacham, who made a huge impression in the 1970s in Dracula AD 1972 and can be seen in Callan and UFO, and in the 1980s Tenko and Dynasty; the omnipresent Michael Ironside, a favourite of mine who has been on virtually everything on USA-TV (but best of all plays Darryl Revok in Scanners); Sam Raimi’s brother Ted Raimi, who has been in a similar heap of USA-TV and nearly every one of Sam Raimi’s films, including the Evil Dead and Spiderman films; Peter DeLuise, eldest son of Dom DeLuise and Carol Arthur; and the tragic Jonathan Brandis, who tragically hanged himself aged 27 in 2003, and was said to be depressed about his career.
The case of Jonathan Brandis, Hollywood casualty, is a shame, as it was a much finer career than many, and by the age of 27, Brandis had directorial and writing credits to his name, as well as a fairly decent acting CV. Still, it is a ruthless business, and TV is an easy place for someone bent on stardom to get trapped. Indeed, nearly 100% of the cast of SeaQuest were and continue to be largely (but constantly employed) television actors. But I like Brandis, even though he annoyed the viewers with his chipper exterior – hard to imagine this young guy drinking as heavily as they say he did, but once again, that’s Hollywood.
So enter Udo Kier – playing a Frenchman. The first we hear of him in this is that Roy Scheider says that he met Udo’s character, Guy Peche, at a Futurist conference – which really makes you wonder if Vladimir Mayakovsky and Fillipo Marinetti were there (there is no joke — the producers and writers had never heard of Futurism). Kier of course has a pretty poor part, but is quirky, hesitant, and his usual mysterious and good looking self. In a slightly ill-fitting hat, large coat and thick glasses, he dots nervously about in his relatively few scenes, like an autistic child; and although he often speaks to nowhere and is in constant motion, he may actually be as depressed as Scheider.
It reminds of what I like most about Kier, which are the Udo instars he goes through – from 70s Udo, to invincible 80s Udo; through pragmatic 90s Udo, into the man we see in films like House of Boys – the noughties Power Udo.
SeaQuest was only just bearable. Fortunately USA audiences would have definitely missed the fact that Kier never sounds even remotely French in this performance, but they were not to know that the 1990s were going to be looked back upon as the ultimate low point in Sci Fi TV series - I cite Hercules Legendary Journeys; Time Cop; Star Trek Deep Space 9; Space Precinct; Sliders; M.A.N.T.I.S.; Highlander; Farscape and oh so many more.
SeaQuest is very slow, and one would have to be glad if one had never seen any of it. In Udo Kier’s scene with Brandis and Beacham , Kier breaks down and his character leaves the scene – the standard and very poor tactic the SeaQuest producers and directors believe will create tension. That’s what they do – they just cut things short and someone leaves – and it is extremely ineffective.
At root, however, all of these stories in all of these USA-TV series are about becoming better people, although this is often lost in the boredom. Udo’s character does become better in his SeaQuest DSV episode; he discovers that alcohol is not the answer to his troubles, and by the end of the episode, he is wearing much more suitable clothing, and starts being both confident and nice to go with it. Hooray for America, above and below the waves!