Having Lexx For the First Time
Finally, after months of foreplay, Sci-Fi will let fans have Lexx this weekend. The offbeat new science fiction series promises mayhem, sex, battles, sex, explosions, sex, chases, sex, hijinks, sex . . . and more sex. Viewers can experience the big event for the first time Friday night, following a "Rated Lexx" special that introduces the audience to the characters and situations.
Sci-Fi's publicity has warned repeatedly that "some viewers may not be ready for Lexx, and after watching the first two episodes, it's no wonder. Attractive female lead Xev is punished for being a bad wife by being transformed into a nymphomaniac. The robot 790, whose decapitated head travels with the crew, has the hots for Xev and produces an endless stream of suggestive comments. Stanley, the ordinary jerk who becomes captain of the Lexx after serving as a low-level security guard, craves nookie so badly that when Xev turns him down, the monks on an all-male planet start looking good to him. If you don't like adolescent sexual humor, Lexx definitely won't raise your . . . spirits.
On the other hand, if you enjoy smutty humor and you get into weird, disjointed stories that feel like a cross between Doctor Who and Battle Beyond the Stars, the German-Canadian production has quite a bit to offer. The spaceship Lexx looks like a giant bug and remembers every scandal it has ever been involved with. Kai, the last member of a dead race, has lived for thousands of years and possesses the memory of everyone he has ever killed - rather like a Star Trek Borg drone broken away from the Collective crossed with the main character in the manga comic Blood of a Thousand. Stanley's a sort of Walter Mitty who inadvertently becomes captain of a starship.
All interested parties would be well advised to watch the "Rated Lexx" preview or at least to visit Sci-Fi's web site. If I hadn't read all of the promotional material, I wouldn't have had a clue what was going on in the first couple of episodes. The network is airing episodes out of order in order to maximize interest - this Friday's offering, "Nook," features Xev after her transformation into a nymphomaniac on a planet where the men have never seen a woman. It's more titillating than the official series premiere, "Mantrid," but in that earlier episode Xev has a different appearance and personality, so it's hard to rationalize her behavior.
We get a good sense of Stanley's personality in "Nook" without knowing his backstory, since he's supposed to be in over his head most of the time. But Kai - the 2000-year-old assassin who is technically dead and spends much of his time in cryostasis - says things which would make no sense to anyone who didn't know that he had been possessed by an alien entity who made him a murderer. Kai's body once housed the spirit of the last living insect in the universe, after insects tried to destroy humankind, but we don't learn that until "Mantrid". "Nook" makes a lot more sense after seeing the pilot, but with a week between the episodes' airings, it might get very hard to remember.
I have to admit to feeling conflicted the first time I watched Lexx. I enjoyed myself, but in a weird sort of way, like I'd been drunk and couldn't remember the details afterwards. Lexx wasn't as funny as I was expecting, with most of the sex jokes seeming obvious and crude, but it did make me think. I got very confused about how the various parts fit together, like something must have happened out of order or maybe I'd spaced out at a critical moment. There were lighthearted moments, but overall it was a lot more gruesome than I anticipated. I had the nagging feeling that I should have read a manual before plunging in.
The special effects cover a huge range, from spectacular (in the case of an exploding planet) to comically bad (a giant flying insect attacking a man). At times the Lexx resembles Babylon 5 while at other times it resembles The Fly. The casting seems uniformly fine; particularly creepy is Kai, who resembles Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands. The guest cast in "Nook" were terrific, a balance of humorous excess and dramatic subtlety.
I'm not sure what to say about the sexual politics. On the one hand, Xev is a disturbing character, a woman punished for her independence by being turned into a sex slave. There are no other women in the first two episodes - "Nook" concerns a planet of cloned men who have never even heard of women, while the characters in "Mantrid" are busy trying to save Kai's life on an isolated world. Moreover, the main characters seem to be relentless heterosexists--despite the fact that they've traveled all over the universe and met sentient insects who go through a larval stage. It's inconceivable to them that people might be attracted to members of the same sex.
On the other hand, the main male guest characters in both "Nook" and "Mantrid" fall in love with other men. Plus, Xev doesn't act much like a slave even though everyone describes her as one. She dictates the terms of the relationship to all the men she comes in contact with. After five years of agonizing over Captain Janeway's lack of a sex life on Voyager, I can't complain too much about a woman whose M.O. is to travel the universe seeking physical fulfillment. Yet, the potential for degradation and abuse makes me very, very nervous. In "Rated Lexx," we apparently will learn of 790's past as a sexual female, which might be funny but might also be used for cheap jokes about anatomy.
In future episodes, we get to witness Xev's transformation (courtesy a man-eating female plant), and her lusty behavior with an entire crew of space cowboys who accidentally come on board when Lexx swallows their ship. The ship also encounters a "bordello satellite" and takes on a crew of rowdy teenagers in an episode that turns into a whodunit when deadly results follow a party.
The most interesting upcoming episode might be "Lafftrak," in which the crew lands on a television planet where failure to achieve good ratings sends cast members to live-action death-match shows. It would seem the producers know exactly what they must balance for Lexx to survive.