Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “SeaQuest DSV”

Dear Frank,

SeaQuestDSV_S1_OuterBoxIt’s funny, to remember the year 1993, and the minor civil war that broke out between television-loving nerds: Specifically, the rift between those who chose to watch the premiere of Lois and Clark at 8 PM Sunday nights on ABC, and those who chose to watch SeaQuest DSV during the same time slot on NBC. Funny, because it’s a battle now made irrelevant by DVRs, and funny, because I’m pretty sure neither show was actually very good.

I know you were a Lois and Clark person, Frank, because of your deeply held Superman alligence, but I definitely fell on the SeaQuest side of things, for reasons that we’ll get into over the course of this retelling. However, it has been close to 20 years since I’ve seen an episode of this show, and I suspect that it doesn’t hold up. Let’s find out!

This thing opens with what I think is an old speech by John F. Kennedy and some stock footage of whales and dolphins, which, yay. How to win a pre-teen Liz’s heart, right off the bat? Motherfucking WHALES AND DOLPHINS. When I was a kid, I either wanted to be a marine biologist or a writer, and the major reason I went down the latter path is that I suck at doing actual science.

And now, THE NEAR FUTURE is literally the title card that pops up on screen; Frank, as I may have mentioned to you once or twice, “the near future” is my favorite time period ever for storytelling. I’d feel manipulated by SeaQuest for so deliberately baiting my interest, were my nostalgic fondness for it not so profound.

Said title card is followed by a submarine chase–

Wow, I just realized that SeaQuest was, at least in the 90s, my one weird exception to the I-don’t-like-things-that-take-place-on-submarines rule. (I have no good explanation for this rule; it just exists, and it means I’ve never seen The Hunt for Red October all the way through, but I’ve come to peace with it.)

Sorry, Sean Connery. I'm a fan but seriously, submarines are boring.

Sorry, Sean Connery. I’m a fan but seriously, submarines are boring.

There’s a border dispute now happening because some hotshot kid was doing something science-y on the borders of the North Atlantic Ocean — I think he mentioned a specific group of people he pissed off, but I missed it — and everyone on this deep sea station is very concerned.

Except that’s when something big appears on the radar! “There’s nothing that big out there…” a lady on the station says oh-so-dramatically. “Except SeaQuest!” We are getting RIGHT TO THE POINT with this thing.

Because it is in fact SeaQuest. SeaQuest is a really big submarine. And the first person we see on board is Ted Raimi! I had a minor crush on Ted Raimi, back in the day. I had no affection for the blonde lady commander, but that’s because a) she’s a bit of a rabble-rouser who wants to start a fight, and b) I don’t think she’s gonna be around much longer.

I mean, c’mon, she wants to set off a nuke! Whoops! But don’t worry, Frank, her first officer (a nice young man whose only other screen role I know of is this amazingly bad dance movie called Fast Forward directed by Sidney Poitier that I will tell you about someday, promise) stops her! She does not put up much of a fight. Perhaps she also knew her time on this show was limited.

And now we’re even further into the near future! 13 months further! And Fast Forward guy is being asked to help the United Earth Oceans Organization or whatever lure back “the only guy who can command SeaQuest again.”

That guy? Roy Scheider! Frank, because I was a wee lass, the irony of Roy Scheider starring in a thing that took place in the ocean (because of that other vaguely popular thing he was in that one time) was lost on me. I didn’t even make the Steven Spielberg connection! (Spielberg produced this thing, because it was the early 90s and nothing made any sense.)

Gotta say, Roy aged pretty well. (It helps that he lost the glasses.)

Gotta say, Roy aged pretty well. (It helps that he lost the glasses.)

Anyways, Roy’s living the beach bum life with his dolphin buddy Darwin in the Caribbean because dead wife also dead son super-sad, but he also apparently designed the SeaQuest, so yeah, let’s just all acknowledge that after he agrees to go visit SeaQuest, he’s gonna end up being captain. (There’ll be a lot of drama back and forth about whether he’ll ACTUALLY become the captain, but of course he’s going to become the captain, so there’s no point in telling you any more about that stuff.)

Oh, except I should mention that Darwin, the dolphin, is a hyper-intelligent dolphin who can communicate with humans. For pre-teen Liz? FUCKING CATNIP. I really loved dolphins, Frank.

Ooooh, Frank, it only took 15 minutes but the credits finished! And I’d forgotten that this was written by Farscape creator Rockne S. O’Bannon! And directed by Empire Strikes Back director Irwin Kirshner! Radsauce.

We’re on the SeaQuest now. It has lots of science on board. But also military people! Conflict a’brewing Frank! Well, maybe at some point.

Now that we’re done with checking out SeaQuest, it’s time to meet some evil industrialist doing evil industrialist things. “What does peace and harmony have to do with business?” he asks. Sigh. Oh, but he’s working with Blonde Commander Lady to destroy the SeaQuest! I guess I was wrong about her not showing up again. TWIST!

Aaaaaaaaaand we’re back on SeaQuest meeting people. Roy isn’t really getting along with anyone. Some of the new people we’re meeting are not much good at the actor-ing. But the dolphin is there! Yay Darwin! Darwin can swim through the entire ship thanks to a series of tubes, and there’s a voice synthesizer that lets him talk! TALKING MOTHERFUCKING DOLPHINS, FRANK!

And also… Sigh.

Happy sigh, for the most part.

Happy sigh, for the most part.

Jonathan Brandis, Frank, was my first celebrity crush. There is a very narrow window of young women who were butt-crazy in love with Jonathan Brandis, and I happen to fall right in the middle of that age range — to the point where I was one of the Brandis fans who, in 2003, helped spread online the tragically under-reported news that he had passed away at the age of 27.

I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT THAT, FRANK. I just want to remember the gloriousness of Jonathan Brandis, young and alive and a science genius who was a little shy and awkward with girls so if we went on a date together he’d be totally non-threatening and sweet. Jonathan Brandis is the inventor of the system that lets Darwin talk I LOVE HIM I LOVE HIM I LOVE HIM…

I take it all back, Frank. SeaQuest systematically, deliberately, ruthlessly brainwashed me into loving it. (Impressive work, SeaQuest.)

Time for more of Roy meeting people and wandering around the submarine; I do like the part where a lieutenant complains to another soldier about how their latest shipment of movies doesn’t include any porno. REAL SCENE, Frank. Actually, turns out that lieutenant’s job is Supply and Morale Officer — it is LITERALLY his job to supply those on board with porno. Way to fuck up your one job, guy!

Frank, I’m probably going into too much detail here. Let’s speed things up! Blonde Commander Lady fired on a sea station to lure out the SeaQuest. Everyone’s mostly okay. But battle stations are called! Interrupting Jonathan Brandis’s casual perusal of his own personal porno!

Hey, he's a young man in full bloom of manhood, I'm not gonna judge.

Hey, he’s a young man in full bloom of manhood, I’m not gonna judge.

And then there’s a submarine fight. Fast Forward guy chokes in the heat of battle, and feels bad about it, but it’s okay because Roy steps up and takes care of business.

Ah, now I’m remembering one of the reasons why submarine stuff often bores me — whatever action there is is immediately followed by multiple scenes of people walking down corridors talking about the damage they just took. Is there such a thing as a fast-paced submarine movie? I sincerely doubt it.

There’s some future tech that I’m sure blew my mind a little bit as a youth (“hyper reality probe” hahahaha) but more importantly JONATHAN BRANDIS DOES COMPUTER STUFF AND TALKS TO THE DOLPHIN AGAIN HELLOOOOOOOOO NURSE.

(Okay, I realize now, as an adult, that while Wesley Crusher has always gotten a bum rap for being obnoxious, Jonathan Brandis is at least three degrees worse than him. At least in this pilot. It doesn’t affect OUR DEEP AND ETERNAL LOVE, but I can see why someone who wasn’t a pre-teen girl might have found the character tiresome and channel-surfed over to some hot Teri Hatcher/Dean Cain action.)

The SeaQuest is vaguely fucked right now (computer has a virus and the ship took damage) but they’re working on fixing it. Also, they figure out that Blonde Commander Lady is the one piloting that other mean submarine, which WE ALREADY KNEW, but hey, good for them.

More fixing-the-ship montage-ing! Fucking submarines, Frank. Also, an undersea farming community is under attack, and that’s bad because if it explodes, bad stuff will go everywhere!

Roy and Blonde Commander Lady, at about this point, have a viewscreen conversation about how she shouldn’t be blowing up farms. Her counter-argument? “I kill for power. You kill for peace. We’re just heroes on two sides of the same coin.” Fantastic counter-argument, Blonde Commander Lady. Just fantastic.

Then Roy comes up with a plan to use Darwin to save the day — the lead scientist lady on SeaQuest (who I haven’t needed to mention until now, but gives off some hardcore Beverly Crusher realness WOW this show really was a Star Trek: The Next Generation clone), doesn’t like it. “You’re going to fire [Darwin] out of a torpedo tube?”

“No… He’s going to swim out of a torpedo tube.”

FUCK YEAH DARWIN. Fun fact: he was voiced by legendary voice actor Frank Weller!

FUCK YEAH DARWIN. Fun fact: he was voiced by legendary voice actor Frank Weller!

Frank, there is not nearly enough marine life or Jonathan Brandis in this pilot. Suffice it to say, undersea farm = not blown up. Mean submarine = sunk. Roy = captain of SeaQuest. Dolphins = the best. Jonathan Brandis = dreamy. Day = saved, largely by Darwin. (Go Darwin!)

And thus ends the pilot of SeaQuest DSV! My memory of the show is that future seasons went a little bonkers, shedding cast members and jumping EVEN FURTHER into the future.

I didn’t actually watch those seasons, because I hated change hardcore and even dropping one cast member was a deal-breaker for me. But I never dug into Lois and Clark either; I didn’t like the idea of jumping into a show without having seen the first season. Instead, I guess I did my homework on Sunday nights, like a good person.

And then I’d go to bed — probably, just probably, to dream of Jonathan Brandis.

(Because Dean Cain can suck it.)


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on February 13, 2014, in All the Spoilers, TV and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I watched SeaQuest DSV semi-regularly because my favorite show of all time was Earth 2, which had the 9:00 timeslot. I have a sudden and very urgent desire to revisit those DVDs.

  2. I had forgotten about this show! I used to flip back and forth, because I loved the romance (and villains) of Lois and Clark, but Sea Quest, at some point, had DeLuises. I also watched Earth 2, like Annika, …Clancy Brown. Because a Clancy Brown/Peter DeLuise sandwich….put me in the middle. Highlander–have you told Frank about that movie (you must have)? I rooted for Clancy Brown, even though I love Sean Connery. And The Bride with Clancy as the “monster” and Sting as Frankenstein? I feel an anti-Valentines Day fest idea coming on… Thanks for always entertaining with your posts!

    • I like me some Clancy Brown, but I will let you eat that sandwich all by yourself. 🙂 “Highlander” is in fact on the LTF list (though it’s technically a cheat, as Frank has seen it) but I’ll get to it soon. And thanks — I’m glad you liked the post!

  3. I LOVED this show. Dolphins! Roy Scheider! Jonathan Brandis! Sciencey stuff!

    And then Bob Ballard would come on at the end and connect to some real live oceany research going on! I actually had an eye out for job openings at WHOI (ones that didn’t mandate that I already, y’know, had a biology degree, which I was willing to get, mind you…).

    I met Bob Ballard at a book signing he was doing, and told him how much I loved his appearances on seaQuest. This was after it was all over. His face lit up and he said, “Yeah, I really loved doing that!” Then he sighed and said, “Then it just got goofy, and I had to stop.” I agree with him. That third season … I liked all the actors, but it just took a turn into loopy, plot-wise. It had started so promisingly, with real-life(ish) things like “What if we colonized the sea? What would mining it look like? What kind of science could we do down here? What kinds of things can go wrong, ecologically?” and then just got fantastical. Which is great in the right TV show, don’t get me wrong, but there are so many amazing things about the sea, why not tell about them?

    Also, I don’t know if you’ve gotten into Doctor Who, but I was watching the first episode of Season 6 and an actor came on who looked … vaguely familiar … couldn’t quite place him. Until he spoke. The Professor! W. Morgan Sheppard, with that unforgettable voice.

    (On a tangent, another fun fact: in that episode, his younger self is played by his son, Mark Sheppard — best known [to me] for playing Badger in Firefly. Six degrees of SF TV!)

    (And also, now I come to think of it, you mentioned Farscape … John Crichton’s dad was played by Cmdr Scott Keller, the astronaut whom the seaQuest rescued. Six degrees, Liz!)

    This got long, but I just wanted to say that I, too, loved seaQuest with a pure love, and thanks for reminding me all about it!

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