Saturday, January 15, 2005


My Word: Damn Fine Programming.

It's only two episodes, but if that's what the new Battlestar Galactica series is going to be like, I may have found a new favorite show. After 24, of course. And, yeah, Family Guy is coming back. . . but you know what I mean.

I won't review the episodes in specifics-- I'm a dork, but not that much of one. Just visit this post at Ain't It Cool News to read the reviews, both professional (all excellent reviews; combined with good ratings, that bodes well) and from the British fans who first saw the series a few months back.

But I will tell you what I liked:

Drama: the show takes itself VERY seriously. In fact, this is probably the most serious science fiction show I've ever seen on television.

The season premiere had several 9/11 parallels without feeling obvious. The long corridor of photos of missing people as the Galactica crew sought out survivors they knew among the refugee fleet. The decision made to destroy a civilian ship, with innocents on board, that was heading towards a collision with the fleet.

Characters: The show is slooowly revealing the characters to the audience. No cardboard cutouts here-- everybody has their issues. And they all feel like real people interacting with other real people. My favorites? The new Baltar, who is a sniveling little shit genius having a running moral argument with an (imaginary?) Cylon seductress in his head. Boomer, who doesn't know she's a Cylon spy who doesn't want to be a Cylon spy but doesn't know it yet (follow that?). The crotchety Col. Tigh struggling to stay off the bottle (I'm enjoying his relationship with Adama, who seems to be the only person on the ship who appreciates, or even likes, Tigh).

The realism: Yeah, I know, it's sci-fi; what realism? But the show is rapidly establishing the parameters of its universe-- what works, what doesn't. The technical advisors to the show obviously understand their fair share of military operations, particularly naval operations. They don't do everything right, but for the most part, the Galactica feels like a real fighting spacecraft carrier.

It's only a few episodes in, but the situation feels realistic too. Sleep, water, food, police, basic governance-- all are concerns for the President (well played by Mary McDonnell) as she tries to keep 50,000 people alive. The old show never really exploited the potential of the fleet, but the new series recognizes that the conditions they've been thrown into mandate recognition.

The effects: Excellent for television. The ships look great, the space vistas look better. I love the muffled space sounds-- gone are the cartoony (and physically impossible) laser blasts; everything sounds like it's echoed inside a cockpit. And at least the lip service paid to at least a few physical rules is a nice change of pace (e.g., the maneuvering thrusters on the Vipers; the ability of the Vipers and Raiders to instantly change their axis in the absence of atmosphere).

The score: Not many people seem to like them, but I dig the bass drums. Combined with the hand-held camera work (an artificial effect, of course, with CGI), it gives the show a Blackhawk Down, "you are there" feel.

The hot chicks: Lots of hot chicks. What's not to like?

Now, what I don't like so far:

Weak Cylon effects: I like their design (although George Lucas might want to dust off his lawsuits), but not their execution. CGI in space I can excuse, but CGI on a planet, in front of a person, looks cheesy. They need to work on it, or perhaps even make some models.

Humor: I like that the show isn't witty and self-referential. No, let me rephrase that: I *LOVE* that the show isn't witty and self-referential. If Galactica were yet another wisecracking Joss Whedon/Stargate-style show, I'd shoot my television as if it were broadcasting Robert Goulet. The humor so far is found in human moments (I loved the conversation between Apollo and Starbuck about taking drugs to stay awake in the cockpit), but it doesn't feel forced. Thankfully, there isn't a "comic relief" character in sight. . . yet.

No, my complaint here is just that the show's strength-- it's gloomy seriousness-- can become its weakness if hammered into the ground. I hope the solution isn't to have a "humor episode," but there should be good days and bad days-- and drama to find in each.

Length: I wish the show were longer than one hour; it's that good.

So, my opinion? Battlestar Galactica is definitely a keeper. The Brits say the series gets a bit weaker as the season goes on, so perhaps I'll temper my enthusiasm, but it's done everything right so far.

Now that was some good TV. I missed the miniseries (except for scattered glimpses), but I could still follow the story arc. Good production values, good acting, taut directing, good stuff Maynard. Looking forward to the rest of the season.
The new series (we're waiting for the second-to-the-last episode over in Europe) doesn't exactly get worse, but it does have its high and low points. Personally, if you liked "Water," for me in retrospect that turned out to be one of my least-favorite episodes. Not bad, but not a highlight. Take that for what it's worth.

Watch out for ep 4 "Act of Contrition", which brings Starbuck's guilt over the death of Zack Adama to a head, and ep 10 "Hand of God," which starts with the fleet running out of fuel and being forced into a high-risk attack on a Cylon base. IMO, the best ep of the series so far; the last 20 minutes is as spectacular as sci-tv gets.

We're waiting for the season ending two-parter, "Kobol's Last Gleaming." Hope you guys watch and get this series renewed!
Thanks for the preview Scott. I've been diligently avoiding spoilers (I just glance at the U.K. reviews on Ain't It Cool to see if the episode is any good or not, and not to read the specifics). I enjoy being surprised.

As for "Water," I kinda dug it, so that should bode well for my enjoyment of the rest of the series (I like the Boomer subplot, and Grace Park is, well, yummy).

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