Flash Gordon is a science fiction television series that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel from August 10, 2007 through February 8, 2008. The series follows the adventures of Steve “Flash” Gordon who lives in Maryland with his mother and whose scientist father was lost in a mysterious accident when Flash was only 13, his reporter ex-girlfriend Dale Arden, her fiancée police detective Joe Wylee, and Flash’s missing father’s eccentric former scientific assistant Hans Zarkow. The trio encounter rifts in space that link with the distant planet Mongo. One of the Mongo natives, Baylin, a female bounty hunter, becomes trapped on Earth and joins the group to oppose the forces of Mongo, led by the ruthless dictator Ming.
On Mongo, Ming is otherwise known as” Benevolent Father” as he controlled the “Source Water” or the only drinkable water on Mongo. He rules Mongo with a benevolent but strong hand and keeps the lower houses in check by keeping them fighting amongst themselves. He has a daughter named Aura, an estranged son named Terek and an estranged wife and Queen, Azura. The peoples of Mongo are broken up into tribes or cantons. They include the Verdan, a forest dwelling people lead by Prince Barin, the Turin, the Dactyls, the Frigians, the Omadrians, the Tritons and the Zurn, a group of “Magic Men”, led by the estranged Queen Azura. One final group exists but is not considered an official tribe and are avoided and shunned by all. The Deviates are a mutated race whose ancestor drank the “dark water”. They are unofficially led by Ming’s son, Terek.
This version of Flash Gordon was a departure from the source material in many ways. One of the most significant ones is that as much action happened on Earth as it did on Mongo. The pilot episode follows the classic 80’s movie plot very loosely and Dale and Flash make it back to Earth before the last commercial. After that, they seem to jump back and forth with an almost unbelievable ease, thanks in part to a “rift generator” and also to the unsettling amount of rifts that are opening either naturally or from someone from Mongo traveling through. The aforementioned Baylin comes through to capture Flash but ends up joining his “team”, Flash’s father emerges from the rift and immediately goes on a killing spree because of Ming’s conditioning, various members of the group are dragged back to Mongo and have to be saved, a cure must found for a giant Mongonian bee sting, Ming’s visar Rankol steals an Earth lake which turns out to be poisonous to Mongonians and in the effort to save people, Joe is killed and Flash and Dale find themselves trapped on Mongo, just as a long prophesized war breaks out between the united cantons and Ming.
The over-abundance of Earth as the backdrop is just one of the departures. Another big one is that Ming is not “merciless”. He acts very much like a modern CEO or a dictator in the vein of Fidel Castro, very savvy of the media and careful to never be caught doing anything wrong. Ming is cunning and ruthless, but not the cackling evil thing that we all remember. Also gone was the flowing Asian inspired robes and décor. The castle is typically drab and Ming himself favors the all dark wardrobe of the modern villain. Even Flash is clothed most of the time in jeans and a t-shirt…hardly inspiring. The action was abundant, but far away from the wild chases and rocket battles that burst out of the comic strips. It was an okay series but it was widely panned, even to the point that a New York Post writer called it “a disgrace to the name of the enduring comic-strip-character-turned-movie-and-TV space hero”.
I believe I know why the series was canceled after one season…it wasn’t fun. There was no over the top craziness. No silly humor, no ironic comments and no soundtrack that at the same time celebrated and mocked the series. We want our “Flash….AH AH!” SyFy is full of alien vs. human stories but there is only one Flash Gordon. And this wasn’t it.