Get ready for the adventures of the seaQuest DSV 4600, a deep submergence vehicle of the United Earth Oceans Organization (UEO). The UEO? Well, that group was created in 2018 — in the continuity of this show — after a battle within the Livingston Trench.
Designed by retired naval captain Nathan Bridger (Roy Scheider), the series begins as humanity finds itself out of natural resources and begins to mine the ocean floor. Several gold rush-style mining communities now exist within this unexplored territory and the seaQuest seeks to protect them from other countries and sometimes each other.
Bridger just wanted to stay retired, particularly after his son Robert died in a naval battle and he promised his dying wife that he would never go back to the sea. But you know…they keep bringing pulling him back.
This show debuted to great fanfare, with the first season’s plots all about oceanographic research, environmental issues, politics and the interpersonal relationships of the crew. By the end of the first season, low ratings led to a cliffhanger where Bridger sacrificed the ship to prevent an ecological disaster.
And that’s where things get weird.
When it was decided the show would come back, NBC and Universal moved production from Los Angeles to Orlando, which led Stephanie Beacham, who played Dr. Kristin Westphalen, to leave the show (all of the battles between the producers and network didn’t help either). It’s also why Stacy Haiduk (Lieutenant Commander Katherine Hitchcock) left, but Royce D. Applegate (Chief Manilow Crocker) and John D’Aquino (Lieutenant Benjamin Krieg ) were let go because NBC wanted a younger crew.
The original crew also had Lucas Wolenczak (Jonathan Brandis), Commander Jonathan Ford (Don Franklin), Lieutenant Tim O’Neill (Ted Raimi) and Sensor Chief Miguel Ortiz (Marco Sanchez). They’d be joined by the telepathic Dr. Wendy Smith (Rosalind Allen), weapons officer Lieutenant James Brody (Edward Kerr), genetically engineered gill-breathing Seaman Anthony Piccolo (Michael DeLuise), Lieutenant Lonnie Henderson (Kathy Evison) and Dagwood (Peter DeLuise), a GELF (genetically engineered life form) who served as the ship’s janitor.
Whereas season one often had serious science — and each episode ended with facts from oceanographer Dr. Bob Ballard, the technical advisor for the show, inspiration from Bridger and the man who actually discovered the wrecks of Titanic, Bismarck and Yorktown — other than finding an ancient spaceship, season two had a monster of the week feel to compete for better ratings. Demons, aliens, fire-breathing worms, the god Neptune, time travel, a prehistoric crocodile and so much more was, well, too much for Scheider to handle.
He referred to the new storylines, giving multiple interviews to the Orlando Sentinel where he said the show as “Saturday afternoon 4 o’clock junk for children. Just junk — old, tired, time-warp robot crap” and “…childish trash…I am very bitter about it. I feel betrayed… It’s not even good fantasy. I mean, Star Trek does this stuff much better than we can do it. To me the show is now 21 Jump Street meets Star Dreck.” That 21 Jump Street dig must have been directed at the DeLuise brothers, who were once on that show before joining the cast.
By the end of the second season, it seemed like the show would be canceled — yet again — so the final episode “Splashdown” has the crew being abducted by aliens, then fighting in a civil war that destroys the seaQuest — yet again! — and everyone dead.
And yet the third season happened!
Scheider requested to be released from his contract with NBC but was asked to appear in a few more episodes. Edwin Kerr asked to quit as well and was asked to stay long enough to die in season 3’s “SpinDrift,” while NBC’s scheduling — which contributed to low ratings as the series moved around all the time — caused the episode “Brainlock” to air with his character still alive.
Now, only Jonathan Brandis, Don Franklin and Ted Raimi stayed on, as if the show was a band playing ribfest with hardly any original members left (even Dr. Bob Ballard was gone). Now called seaQuest 2032, the crew arrived ten years back on Earth ten years later, Bridger retired and Michael Ironside came on as Captain Oliver Hudson. He immediately set some boundaries: “You won’t see me fighting any man-eating glowworms, rubber plants, 40-foot crocodiles and I don’t talk to Darwin.”
Oh yeah — Darwin was a talking dolphin voice by the man who is every talking animal, Frank Welker.
Elise Neal also joined the show as Lieutenant J.J. Fredericks as storylines moved more toward corporate greed running the world and political tension. Only 13 episodes aired before finally, the show was done for good.
There were model kits, trading cards, video games and even Playmates action figures (check out this article on seaQuest Vault), but the show always struggled to catch on with viewers, if they could find it.
Going back and watching this again in box set form, it’s fascinating to see how the show changes and struggles for direction in a condensed format. Week by week, it’s not as strange. When binged, it seems absolutely deranged. I’m glad in some way that I wasn’t in love with the show when it aired. It would have broken my heart.
The Mill Creek blu ray box set of seaQuest DSV has every episode of the show, plus new interviews and featurettes with the series creator Rockne S. O’Bannon, as well as the directors and crew. Plus, you get several deleted scenes. Get it from Deep Discount.