overthinking the idiot box

July 11, 2005

Rejected Column Titles: "Kirk Wouldn't Stoop That Low", "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot," "Resistance is Futile," and "some sort of Locutus pun?" This one goes out to all the nerds in the hizz-ouse.

Holographic wow
Battlestar Galactica: Watch This Show

by Alison Veneto

Battlestar Galactica is the best show on television. But I have not had a ton of success convincing people to watch it. It's an uphill battle being a re-imagining of an old series that airs on the Sci-Fi Channel. But this will not deter me from trying.

On Friday July 15th, the Sci-Fi Channel will premiere Season 2 of Battlestar Galactica. And while a lot of things happened in Season 1, I think it's easy enough to jump in and gather what's going on.

For the uninitiated, let me start at the beginning. The original Battlestar Galactica began twenty-some-odd years ago in a post Star Wars frenzy. It starred sci-fi hunks Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict as Apollo and Starbuck, respectively.

So they revamped this cult classic into a serious drama where the names and the basic premise are the same but plenty of other things are different. Needless to say, you don't have to watch the original to enjoy the new series.

Battlestar Galactica (or BSG) began as a two part mini-series on the Sci-Fi Channel that did well enough to merit a TV show. The mini-series is available on DVD, unfortunately the first season is not yet available. But the Sci-Fi channel repeats the episodes with some regularity.

The premise is as follows: An alien race, called the Cylons, have destroyed Caprica and all its colonies, leaving about 50,000 survivors who form a fleet on the run.

The episodes have a Quantum Leap-style double opening where they first give you some background letting you know that the Cylons are bad and some of them look like humans. And later there is a proper opening with credits and a little song at the end. But it's a Space:1999 style opening where there is a montage at the end that changes each episode showing shots of the episode you are watching.

This "re-imagining" was created by sci-fi TV superstar Ron Moore. Moore got his mythical start on Star Trek: The Next Generation when they used to have an open submissions policy. Lucky bastard. He continued on to write some of the very best episodes of Trek, including a co-writing credit on the masterful finale All Good Things... He left the Star Trek franchise after it grew stale for him.

A hero with nice cheekbones.
The BSG revamp was a hard sell for some fans. While the character archetypes remain (Apollo=Hero, Starbuck=rebel, Baltar=traitor), the changes are widespread particular in the mood and tone of the show. But Oscar nominated actors Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell brought some needed legitimacy. And Original series star Richard Hatch in a juicy re-occuring role soften some of the fan complaints. These veterans head up a cast of bright young actors. Of the young actors, I think Katee Sackhoff is the breakout. She brings great life to the "chick Starbuck" — a change that angered many fans (and she had previously shown herself quite capable on the underrated Education of Max Bickford — a show two Oscar winners couldn't save).

The BSG revamp also included Cylons that look like humans. Cylons are generally big robot-looking aliens. But also, in this series there are some Cylons who look like humans and can be/are secretly among our characters. And not all Cylons even know they're Cylons until their activation. There are supposedly 12 human Cylon forms and so far we've seen 4, so there's still a chance that anyone could be one.

Mary McDonnell plays President Roslin who became the de facto leader as the only surviving member of the cabinet (she was the Secretary of Education). She is a proper female leader — empathetic and reasonable. She makes the hard decisions but it's obvious she cares. But she has become a believer in vague religious prophecies — either she is the chosen one or a nutcase — creating a great tension on the show. The addition of a deadly cancer only complicates her situation — making one wonder if the stress of the job, situation and illness makes someone who is so good on the outside possibly unstable inside.

Already a man of dubious morals, he was seduced by a Cylon and accidently played a part in Caprica's ultimate defeat. Baltar is a certified genius, but you know what they say about that thin line.
To complicate matters the next in command is Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis). You practically need to be Freud to even do a character summary. Already a man of dubious character, he was seduced by a Cylon and accidently played a part in Caprica's ultimate defeat. Baltar is a certified genius but you know what they say about that thin line. Really he's a pretty weak man who's pretty horny most of the time. His little freak outs provide a lot of entertainment on the show. Ron Moore said Baltar wasn't necessarily supposed to be so comedic but the actor played him that way and now they write for him that way. (When I use phrases like "Ron Moore said" we're not like friends or anything, but I did assault him once at a convention with my vast nerditude). Baltar sees his Cylon girlfriend in his head and no one else can see her. Is she just in his head? Is she real but just visual to him? Have the Cylons put something in his brain? It's hard to know if he'll betray the human race again being under the command of this imaginary woman.

Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) and Captain Lee "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber) (who are father and son so I refer to them as 'Daddy Adama' and 'Lil Adama' respectively) are slightly more straightforward hero-types, a welcome break from the allegedly mentally unstable. They just have family problems. Big Adama, Lil Adama and Starbuck form a dysfunctional family unit torn to shreds by the death of their mutually beloved Zak. Lil Adama blames Daddy for the flight accident death of his brother Zak since Daddy pushed Zak into being a pilot when he didn't want to and wasn't very good at it. It turns out Zak's lover Starbuck takes responsibility for his death for her own reasons, the revelation of which didn't seem to mend the gap between the Adamas.

Lil Adama and Starbuck are totally hot for each other but the memory of Zak stands between them like the great wall — how could they be together without feeling like they are betraying him.

Daddy Adama clearly cares for Starbuck without any of the testerone-filled competitiveness that he has with his son.

Starbuck has any number of things going on emotionally and mentally and it's a bit difficult to know where to begin. But I believe her actions in the season finale shed some light on her angsty rebellious character. She goes rogue because she was lied to by her father figure — like an act of teenage rebellion. There are other elements to her decision, but behind her compensatingly tough exterior is her guilt, anger and vulnerability. She's a perfect rebel — as charismatic as her predecessor Dirk Benedict but as troubled as James Dean.

Then you have Boomer, the Chief, Col. Tigh, that blond Cylon, that guy on the planet — all equally complex and interesting even if I don't remember some of their names. There is so much to chew on in this show just on a character level and I haven't even started on the themes yet.

But these characters show the fragility of survivors of a human extermination who busy themselves with work to forget. They are interesting and complex but more importantly tenuous — there are several characters that could do anything and you're always wondering whether it will be for the good.

The season one finale drew up the battle of the sexes. Roslin heads up the government and has become a religious believer. The Cylons are all religious and all the Cylons characters we see a lot are female. And Starbuck has joined the religious cause.

Then men largely don't believe in religion. Daddy Adama and Lil Adama are militaristic through and through. And as much as Baltar's possibly imaginary Cylon woman tries to get him to believe, it's a tough sell.

But what BSG really succeeds at is satisfying on multiple levels. It has its militaristic, political and religious aspects and always has you asking who is right? The show is a good action show, a good thriller, a good soap opera and has so much to offer.

For example, the finale episode girlfight is human versus alien (a small scale instance of the large scale fight) but also 'you had sex with my boyfriend' — BSG works on all the right levels.

I think a lot of sci-fi fans have gotten awfully used to sci-fi fluff that a challenging show really turns them off. This show is still soft sci-fi with not a whole lot of tech talk: what it really is is the most complex human drama on television.
I think a lot of sci-fi fans have gotten awfully used to sci-fi fluff that a challenging show really turns them off. This show is still soft sci-fi with not a whole lot of tech talk: what it really is is the most complex human drama on television. What the creators have done with these characters and this story shows the very best of what the TV format can do.I may still not be able to convince anyone new to watch it, but at least I've tried.

Battlestar Galactica Season 2 premieres on the Sci-Fi Channel Friday July 15th at 10:00. It follows the premieres of Stargate SG-1 (with its new Farscapecast) and Stargate: Atlantis.

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