Battlestar Galactica seems to have generated a faithful following. You even find paeans to the show in such starchy environs as the National Review. This isn’t your father’s National Review!
I’m very selective about what TV shows I watch. Every TV show has a gimmick. After a while, the gimmick becomes predicable. I tend to drop out of a TV show long before the series sputters to an end.
Among SF shows I’ve sampled over the past several years are Codename, Earth: Final Conflict, Farscape, First Wave, The (new) Outer Limits, Prey, Red Dwarf, Roswell, Space: Above & Beyond, Stargate, The X-Files, and the many avatars of the Star Trek franchise.
One easy way to size up the potential of a new SF show is whether it has interesting and interesting-looking aliens. Codename, First Wave, and Stargate all had campy aliens. Those shows were doomed from the get-go.
Stargate has become bubblewrap for the SF channel’s Friday night slot. I bailed on that show long ago, with ne'er a backward glance.
Stargate illustrates the strengths and weakness of the SF genre. It gives the writer a pretext to explore the impossible. He isn’t bound by realism.
But, of course, our human experience is limited to just one world. Every fictitious world, however fantastic, is merely a veiled variant of our own.
It takes great powers of imagination to come up with a truly alien, and deeply textured vision of an alternative world. As such, SF raises an expectation which only the most gifted writers can rise to, and then, only for a time.
The X-Files was a quality product, a classic of its kind. But it’s a period piece. I can’t see that it will wear well over time.
Earth: Final Conflict, had a promising start, but quickly went south. The same could be said for Roswell.
Some SF fans regard Babylon 5 as the high water mark of the genre. I could never get hooked on it. Maybe I didn’t give it a chance. But the aliens were so dorky to the eye that I couldn’t bring myself to endure more than a few episodes. Maybe I’m missing something.
There were also some promising, but abortive shows like Firefly and Harsh Realm.
The Outer Limits had some fine episodes, but it was, naturally, episodic and uneven. I didn’t stay with the show to sort out the good from the bad.
The best of the lot were Red Dwarf and Farscape. Red Dwarf is a classic specimen of British satire: Monty Python in outer space. I didn’t stick it out to the bitter end, and judging by reviews, it went down hill.
Farscape was quite imaginative. I confess, though, that I tuned out after the screenwriters killed off my favorite character (Zhan).
For me, the SF genre suffers from an intractable tension. It’s at its best when it’s the most mind-bending.
But, by that same token, when it ceases to bear any resemblance to what I see out the window, it becomes completely extrinsic to life on earth. It’s not how I live, and it’s not how I’ll ever live—in this life or the next. The essentially vicarious dimension of the genre fires the imagination, but douses the heart.
And then we come to Battlestar Galactica. This is arguably the best of the current SF fare. It has, however, taken a fateful twist of late by trying to humanize the Cylons, making them sympathetic characters, and thereby according them equal rights, civil rights, and due process. Sound familiar?
Ultimately, there are no villains. Evil is relative.
The show also doesn’t quite know what to do with religion. It tries to make religion a component of the show—something that’s atypical of the SF genre. But, of course, Christianity is out of the question. So they come up with something Homeric for the humans, while the toasters are the mystics and seers. Like, sure.
Not surprisingly, the show also has a doctrine of cheap grace: remission without redemption or repentance.