Wednesday, September 27, 2006
The Best Frakkin' Show on Television
I've spent a good portion of my adulthood attempting to distance myself from my formative sci-fi geek years. It's true that once I discovered the Ramones and the Sex Pistols I put aside my Star Wars action figures and burned my life-size cardboard stand-up of Captain Kirk; I have no choice however but to admit to the fact that I owned these items to begin with.
Since this ceremonial rite of passage from space-obsessed dork to, well, music, alcohol and porn-obsessed dork, I've pretty much abandoned science-fiction television. This wasn't an intentionally calculated act; I simply never came across a show that didn't go the perfunctory route of gearing itself toward the very specific and generally goofy audience of late-teen-to-early-20s, emotionally-stunted man-children, who when they weren't masturbating to vidcaps of Mirina Sirtis's topless scene in Blind Date, were discussing at length how her character would fare were she suddenly called upon to aid Frodo and the Fellowship in returning the One Ring to Mordor.
It took the brilliant Joss Whedon to briefly change my view of latter-day sci-fi television by changing the genre itself -- effectively turning it on its end. My love for and loyalty to his fantastic show Firefly is well documented; for cancelling such a rare combination of excitement, creativity, humor and pathos, I'll hold a grudge against Fox that ten seasons of 24 won't alleviate.
After the demise of Firefly, I went right back to not caring one bit about science-fiction television.
Then in 2003, something truly surprising happened; a show from my childhood -- from the days before I realized that there are some things you simply don't admit to enjoying if you hope to ever get laid -- was resurrected. But here's the thing -- the original version of the show was one of the dumbest hours ever foisted on the TV-viewing masses week after week; the new version however, is flat-out one of the best.
Battlestar Galactica, which will soon begin its third season on the Sci-Fi channel, is quite simply the finest drama on television. It's science-fiction for people who hate science-fiction. It's smart and daring and tense and exciting and beautiful and moving. Lead by the always-excellent Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, the cast of otherwise relative newcomers don't play their characters so much as inhabit them -- a feat that's not only remarkable, but one which consistently draws the audience in and forces it to care about the thrilling and sometimes terrible plot machinations of which these characters are at the mercy.
The premise is essentially the same as the original series: after a devastating attack which killed billions, the last pocket of humanity is on the run -- pursued by a relentless race of killer robots known as the Cylons. But whereas in the original series, this supposedly merciless enemy was composed of slow-moving extras in clunky chrome suits -- making them infinitely less scary than Richard Hatch's haircut or Lorne Greene's overacting -- the flawlessly computer-generated Cylons of the new series are fast, fearsome and gorgeous. The new show also adds a clever twist by introducing a series of Cylons which appears human and is indistinguishable from the crew of the Galactica, piling on an oppressive paranoia to the already dark and claustrophobic atmosphere. This lends the series some of its biggest and best surprises, including a season-one finale that literally made me jump off the couch and stand in the middle of my living room with my mouth hanging open.
In addition to creating multi-layered personalities (Kara "Starbuck" Thrace, played by Katee Sackhoff, is easily one of the most complex and troubled characters on television), and ones which have changed drastically and realistically throughout the story-arc, show developer Ronald Moore has also brought a hefty dose of social relevance to the proceedings. The Cylons are man's creation, and consider themselves to be the beatified children of the one true god -- essentially making them religious zealots; they believe mankind to be guilty of apostasy, as it worships a series of supposedly false gods. Some have drawn parallels between the Cylons and al-Qaeda, or America's Evangelical Right; regardless, their elegance and focus stand in stark contrast to the flawed and fallible humanity of their quarry.
What may ultimately set Galactica apart from every other show on television though -- putting aside the astonishing interpersonal relationships and perfectly understated acting -- is its willingness to take chances. During the final moments of last season's finale, the show did something so ballsy and unconventional that it must've had network executives scrambling for bottles of Pepto-Bismol. Very few shows on network or even cable television truly take risks; this one has turned it -- literally -- into an art form.
Can't wait to see what happens next.
The season premiere of Battlestar Galactica airs next Friday, October 6th at 9pm on Sci-Fi.
Incidentally, this is one of the Cylons from the new series (Grace Park as Sharon Valerii). If that's not a reason to watch, I have no idea what the hell is.