elaine and i just finished watching the first season of SciFi channel’s battlestar galactica (BSG). in a nutshell, if crack could be distributed digitally, it would feel something like galactica on DVD, the only difference being that there’s a maddeningly limited supply of the latter.
i don’t remember the last time i was so enthralled and impressed by a TV show (in general, not just sci-fi TV). Deadwood comes pretty close in terms of uniform excellence and consistent, thoughtful entertainment, but i’d still give galactica the edge. when i think about the sci-fi genre in particular, BSG is head-and-shoulders above both its progenitor and the series to which it is compared (e.g., myriad star trek incarnations, farscape, babylon 5). i thought the somewhat gritty ST:Enterprise series was pretty good; galactica manages to make it look mediocre.
i resisted watching the series for a long time, not only because i don’t have cable, but because i just couldn’t handle the disappointment of another crappy sci-fi TV show. the premature death of ST:Enterprise signalled to me a need for a re-examination of the genre; it had become stale and formulaic in every way (ham-fisted writing, bad overacting, thin and clicheed characterization, derivative and unimaginative plotting, special effects cut from the same cloth). how could a reincarnated sci-fi show from the 70s possibly be a new hope?
i think andrew has already summed it up quite nicely in his review of battlestar galactica. i concur completely, as i do with the amazon.com synopsis.
a few more things i like:
- space cinematography: all space battles are rendered in a cinema verité style, something i’ve not seen done in the genre. it adds energy and uniqueness to the special effects, and seems like it even heightens dramatic tension. a refreshing, creative twist that i never get tired of watching, since it allows for a lot more variation, as opposed to the straightforward ships-flying-shooting-colored-lightning approach.
- sound effects: great sound design, in general. an example is the ship-to-ship communications, which are somewhat distorted and garbled in a believable way. this is the low-tech, high-tech future (see below).
- music: i find myself playing the theme song, and other musical elements from the show, over and over in my head. much better than either the orchestral approach of the old star trek series, or the new boltonesque attempt on Enterprise. in fact, i think this is only the second series whose soundtrack i’ve considered buying (the first being the X-files).
- low-tech: the (only) battleship in the fleet, along with its fighters, possess intentionally antiquated computer systems and technology, given that their enemy of the past was cut from this cloth, and thus able to infiltrate, corrupt and defeat these systems. again, this seems an original twist to me, and probably helps them with their production costs, since they can use found items from our time period.
- twists and turns: the show is not too predictable, which is refreshing when they’re trying to keep up a long story arc. episodic series like star trek had it a bit easier, since they could do one-offs that were only tangentially related to the broader story arc. without episodic digressions, BSG still manages to surprise, constantly (and not too gratuitously, in this viewer’s opinion).
and just to be vaguely even-handed:
- suspension of disbelief: willingness to go along is central to any sci-fi series. when it comes to imagining things so far out of our realm (FTL travel, for example), it’s pretty easy to buy it. it’s when you start veering closer to the physics of today that things get shaky. one example: in one episode, a single nuclear warhead is placed inside a massive Cylon base station; you can guess the result – boom, destroyed instantly. in contrast, when ship-to-ship nuclear warheads hit galactica, it’s damaged, but not too badly. one other example was the way the cylons just gave up an attack after the launch station was destroyed, despite outnumbering their foe by almost 10-to-1. this smacked of robotic defeatism and just seemed totally unrealistic; they did it that way because they needed a nice, tidy ending. but these gaffes are few and far between. i hope they continue to be as we watch the second season.
- conflict: one strength of the show is the complex relationships between many of its primary characters. sometimes, however, it seems the writers of the show are reaching to create and enhance the level of conflict between people. who knows? maybe it would really be like this after beig cooped up on a ship for a long time. sometimes, though, i just feel like saying, "hey…can’t you guys all just get along?"
my hat is off to the creators of battlestar galactica and to its excellent ensemble cast. as one other reviewer put it, this is frackin’ good TV.
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