Friday, January 20, 2006

Battlestar Galactica

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.

13 comments:

  1. I've only seen the first season of Battlestar. Can't wait to get a hold of the second! :-) Although it's sort of disappointing to hear that the Cyclons go the way you've described... Ugh. Ah well.

    Anyway...

    As for religion in Battlestar, there's apparently a strong element of Mormonism in the show. The search for Kobol (Kolob) is probably the most obvious. If you google for something like "mormonism" and "battlestar galactica" you'll get a few interesting websites about this connection.

    Here's one:

    http://www.michaellorenzen.com/galactica.html

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  2. By the way, I totally enjoyed Firefly, though, yeah, that's too bad about the network pulling the plug on the show. I don't know if you've seen the movie based on the show, Serenity, but it's pretty cool. Nothing mind-blowing or bending or whatever, but it's got a whole lot of charm, at least in my opinion.

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  3. The original series incorporated many Mormon ideas--some more subtly than others--I haven't watched the new one though--but it wouldn't surprise me to find them there--as pchan mentions.

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  4. One of the original BG episodes had that two-parter where the BG gang finds an old ancient crashed ship, with a charming but diabolical old man, who was haunted by streaming lights that would appear from time to time. He was "the devil" so to speak.... anybody remember that episode?

    I'm basing this all on memory, so I could be off on some specifics above. But wow, it was a great story.

    If any sci-fi fans are out there, I'd recommend A Canticle for Leibowitz by Miller [forget his first name]. Nice combo of sci-fi and religion.

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  5. I think the problem with Sci-Fi shows is that they run too long. Firefly worked because it ran for 1/2 the season before Fox canned it. X-Files is the classic example of a show running way too long, you know its time to bail when a leading character moves on. Babylon 5 wasn't that great, then it was threatened with the chop, whereby some of the best writing and storylines were unfurled.
    Lets hope that the golden age of tv sci-fi shows hasn't passed.

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  7. I cannot stand the new 'Galatica'. The original was a classic. It had John Colicos as one of the most over the top villains of all time, Lorne Greene as Adama, getting the idea of patriarchal leadership just right, and a believeable semi-alien culture. It also knew what to do with religion (Glen A. Larson, series creator, was a Mormon). True, the religion was false, but it was an integral part of the show. The new version has... whiz-bang special effects. Sorry, it needs more than that.

    PP. I remember the episode. (I have a brother who has the original series on DVD). Entitled 'War of the Gods', a two parter with Patrick Macnee from 'The Avengers' as the most charming devil in the world.

    What horrifies me is that the original didn't get a second season! I saw the pilot for the new show, and it BORED ME TO TEARS.

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  8. HH --- ah, yes, Macnee was that charming devil.

    Here's another little tidbit I remember about 70's BG: they used the same film shots over and over. I remember seeing the same shot of the laser cannons on the BG firing and hitting a Cylon ship. Overused stock footage for the win!

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  9. BTW --- HH is a great alliterative nickname. We're into alliterative nicknames at PP.

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  10. The Highland Host and the Pedantic Protestant are amiable and affable acquiantances. They've pleasantly provided others with cheerful chit-chat on this wonderful weblog, and personally, I've gratefully garnered a myriad of merriment, as well as noetic knowledge, in the reading, and receiving, of their courageous convictions.

    (Sorry, I'm sure for those of you who actually have a penchant and aptitude for the literary, this was a terrible example of alliteration. I don't know what else to say to excuse myself, except perhaps that I'm only 10 years old... in maturity of mind anyway. ;-) )

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  11. pchan --- with your initial effort at alliteration, you are not far from the Kingdom of God.

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  12. I think Stargate was much more enjoyable for me than you. Of course the aliens are cliched, but what was most enjoyable was the discoveries of the different worlds. Stargate Atlantis, a spinoff, is basically the same- though I found it more enjoyable than the original series.

    And Farscape? Was way too cheesy for me at times. I'm currently following Galactica, (into the third episode) and so I can't say much.

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