overthinking the idiot box

July 25, 2005

A chronicle of that most co-dependent of relationships: a girl and her TiVo

Bride of TiVo
Battlestar Galactica, Bookended

by Liz Shannon Miller

A personal admission: I can be insufferable on any number of subjects, including my pride in the successes SMRT-TV has enjoyed over the past four months and my combined SAT score. But by far, I'm at my most annoying when I'm bragging about how I loved certain TV shows way before anyone else.

And as the ratings plummeted and cancellation became inevitable, I stayed by the show's bedside, its metaphorical palm clenched tightly in my own, as we waited for the mid-season flatline.
For example: my admiration for Joss Whedon's Firefly was cemented six months before the first episode even aired, when a friend gave me a tour of the soundstages used for the pilot. I wandered around the cramped corridors of the spaceship Serenity, the rusted metal giving off its own sort of gleam. A gleam of potential, at least for me, who thought that a space western, even a badly executed space western, could be a marvelous thing. When that first, ill-received episode aired in September I was one of the few to defend it, adore it for what it was and what it would later be (they said I loved it blindly — isn't that always the way with true love, though?). And as the ratings plummeted and cancellation became inevitable, I stayed by the show's bedside, its metaphorical palm clenched tightly in my own, as we waited for the mid-season flatline.

When I lent out the DVDs, cackled triumphantly when my friends caved to the goodness, even I wanted to slap myself around a little. I didn't mean to brag, though. I was just so damned happy that now other people could see what I saw. Because in those days without the widespread use of TiVo, I had to tape new episodes every week so that others could see what I saw. Most people didn't watch Firefly because Fridays at 8 PM was an inconvenient time to watch TV — which leads one to suspect that maybe Firefly would have done better today, now that technology has made our lives a little easier. Especially given another little show that now airs on Friday nights.

Summer 2005 is such a delightful time to live in, because Battlestar Galactica is a smash hit with both fan and mainstream audiences, and I'm able to return from a week and a half away from Senior TiVo to find two new episodes waiting for me.

Ronald D. Moore: His writing is as luxurious as his locks.
And — that's right — I loved it first. The initial crushing happened during the spring of 2003, when in the course of websurfing for information about my favorite of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine writing staff, I found an essay, written by Ronald D. Moore, detailing his intentions for "a slumbering giant, its name known to many, its voice remembered by but a few."

Moore promised flawed characters, adult themes, and "to explore our own society, to provoke debate and to challenge our perceptions of ourselves and our fellow Man." All of which is candy to the Bride's ears. So, that summer, I went to the San Diego Comic-Con panel for the promotion of the BSG miniseries, due out December 2003. In attendance were Moore, Tricia Helfer, Jamie Bamber, Katee Sackhoff, and, filling half the moderately-sized hall, about a hundred attendees.

When the stars and Moore were introduced, the audience booed.

I had known that people were annoyed about the recasting of Starbuck as a woman, the decidedly darker take. But having to listen to several aging sci-fi fans stomp up to the microphone, full of rage at those who would mess with their childhood idols, was extremely disheartening. I just sat there, wondering why they were so angry, wondering why they couldn't hear what I was hearing; the promise of a new take, separate from the original, determined to reinvent science fiction television or fail trying. Even if it did fail, the fact that it wanted to be better, be bolder was inspiring, especially in the wake of Star Trek's descent into irrelevance and an unimpressive line-up of network sitcoms and dramas.

And honestly, who could continue to have doubts about Starbuck as a girl after seeing Katee Sackhoff grinning into her microphone? The best question asked during that panel: "Starbuck was an inveterate gambler, smoker, and womanizer in the original series; will you be maintaining these character traits?"

"Well, the gambling and the smoking, for sure," Sackhoff replied, "And as for the last thing: as long as I'm involved in the casting process..."

They screened a teaser trailer for the miniseries at both the beginning and end of the panel. It included space ships and Starbuck flipping over the card table to punch Tigh and yet more space ships. Watching it the second time, one of the few attendees left at that point, I just hoped like hell that the miniseries would work. The prospect of a full season? An impossible dream.

We here at SMRT-TV love talking about this show, so I won't ramble on about the show's quality writing, acting and directing — just understand that BSG's exceeding of expectations has come as the most delightful of surprises. There's just no way I could have imagined the scene, two years later, in the massive ballroom that Comic-Con 2005 was packing with fans, all of whom couldn't stop cheering.

They cheered when the actors took their seats. They cheered when Ronald D. Moore and co-producer David Eick came up. They cheered when a teaser of the upcoming season was screamed.

And they cheered when Moore and Eick and all the rest thanked the crowds — thanked us — for being intelligent viewers, for engaging with the show on a level beyond visceral, being willing to discuss issues of religion and politics and morality as presented in the guise of an original SciFi Channel series.

Maybe it makes me a pain in the ass. But I do so enjoy being right about good TV.

Especially when it means that I can share it with others.

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Return to Vol. 1, Episode 9.