If you were a kid in 1996 and a fan of science fiction, chances are that you watched Space Cases at some point. Space Cases was the Nickelodeon network's mid-‘90s attempt to break into the science fiction market. Do you remember it?
It's not surprising if you don't. Space Cases ran for less than a year on Nickelodeon, spanning two seasons and 27 episodes. However, to a kid growing up in the mid ‘90s, it was a fun and entertaining show.
The story of Space Cases goes like this: A group of teenagers, who go to a boarding school in outer space, sneak onto an alien ship, the Christa. Two teachers follow them, and they all end up transported seven years away from the school. The kids, each from a different planet, have to learn to work together to get home. Harlan Band (Earth), Catalina (Saturn), and Radu 386 (Andromeda) are the leaders of the group, and Bova (Uranus) and Rosie Ianni (Mercury) tend to be the younger, secondary characters most of the time. Traveling with them are teachers T.J. Davenport and Commander Seth Goddard, and THELMA, a damaged android found aboard the Christa.
Along the way, they meet new alien species (much like Star Trek) and continually encounter the Spung, an evil alien lizard people. They end up taking a young Spung girl with them for a time, but she ends up going back to her people to avoid a war.
During the first season finale of Space Cases, the crew finds an abandoned exact duplicate of their ship floating in space. They examine it, and find that it had been attacked by the Spung. The Spung are waiting, and the evil Warlord Shank captures the Christa crew one by one. Commander Goddard ends up saving everyone except Catalina, who is pulled from safety at the last second by Warlord Shank. The duplicate ship explodes, and it's actually pretty shocking that a children's show, albeit a sci-fi one, would kill off a main character in that way.
However, they didn't end up really killing her off. All through the show, Catalina referenced her "invisible" friend Suzee, whom everyone else just assumed was a silly imaginary friend. The last shot of the first season is Suzee, back to the camera, shocked that everyone can see her.
Luckily, Space Cases was renewed for a second season and we were able to find out just what happened to Suzee and Catalina. The explosion caused Suzee and Catalina to switch places; Catalina isn't dead, but is actually chilling out at Suzee's home.
The crew spends most of the second season crash landed on an alien planet. They encounter multiple obstacles trying to fix the ship and leave. They leave the planet by the end of the season, but the series ends abruptly. We never do find out if or when they make it back home, or if Catalina is ever able to make it back to her own dimension.
Space Cases was notable for using celebrity guest stars to portray various aliens encountered by the Christa crew. Most notably, Star Trek's Sulu, George Takei, played a recurring role as the lizard-esque Warlord Shank. Robin Leach, known for Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, appeared as an "alien of the week" at one point. Mark Hamill even appeared in an episode as Pel, a British-accented alien tasked with blowing up the Christa.
Space Cases also launched the careers of some of its then-unknown child stars. Walter Emanuel Jones, who played Harlan Band, had already achieved some fame as the Power Rangers' Black Ranger. Rebecca Herbst, who portrayed Suzee, quickly moved on after Space Cases' cancellation to play Elizabeth Webber on General Hospital, a role that she still continues. However, the most famous actor to come from Space Cases is Jewel Staite, who played Catalina during the first season. Science fiction fans will remember her as Kaylee Frye in Firefly and Serenity, as well as Jennifer Keller on Stargate Atlantis.
The plot of Space Cases draws heavily from the earlier cult classic show Lost in Space, and its mid-1990s contemporary, Star Trek: Voyager. Bill Mumy, co-creator of Space Cases, had portrayed Will Robinson in the original Lost in Space show. Peter David, also co-creator, is a prolific writer of Star Trek fiction. By putting a twist on the classic Lost in Space premise by focusing the story on a bunch of teenage misfits, they created a show that was both familiar, yet geared toward a young teenage audience.
As a twelve-year-old budding nerdling, I was captivated by this "new show", having never seen the original Lost in Space at that point. Space Cases was a catalyst for coming into my own as a fangirl, and introduced me to some of the most influential television and cinema in my life. I was introduced to the Star Wars trilogy at about the same time, and shortly after Space Cases' cancellation I was introduced to Star Trek: Voyager, which was already in its third season by that time.
Space Cases is one of the main reasons for my love of Star Trek. Progressing from a Space Cases fan to a Star Trek: Voyager fan was natural. It was almost as if I had graduated to the grown-up version of my favorite show. While I still wish that Space Cases hadn't been abruptly cancelled, I still look back on it fondly. Sure, it was a low-budget kid's show, but it inspired my love of science fiction, and for that, I love it.
This post by Mary Staggs originally appeared at Panels on Pages.
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