Tuesday, March 24, 2009

So say we all?

The series finale was last Friday. Some fans regard BSG as the greatest SF program ever. Let’s briefly consider the competition.

A number of SF shows were always pretty mediocre or worse, viz. Andromeda, The 4400, Prey, Painkiller Jane, Sanctuary, Star Trek: Enterprise, Code Name: Eternity; The Dresden Files, First Wave, Flash Gordon, The Invisible Man, Mutant X.

Some SF shows were good shows or promising shows, but were canceled prematurely, viz. Firefly, Harsh Realm, Jake 2.0, Now and Again, Space: Above and Beyond, The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne.

Some SF shows were okay to begin with, but went rapidly downhill, viz. Roswell, Earth: Final Conflict, Kyle XY.

Some SF shows were so-so, viz. Invasion.

There are also some SF shows I haven’t bothered to watch, viz. Eureka, Sliders, Doctor Who. For all I know, these may be terrific shows.

In terms of the best and the worst, BSG is clearly one of the better entries. But as far as I’m concerned, I don’t think it’s the best of the lot:


Except for Laura Roslin and Chief Tyrol, I don’t find most of the characters very sympathetic. Put another way, I don’t care what happens to most of them.

Bill Adama is an admirable character, and the casting (Olmos) is flawless. But he’s not all that likable. Indeed, his position requires him to maintain a professional distance from the rest of the crew.

Number Six is a complex and potentially sympathetic character–if it weren’t for the fact that she’s a classic femme fatale.

Ellen Tigh makes a good villain.

Felix Gaeta is a conflicted and ultimately tragic character. His resentment of favoritism towards the Cylons is justified. However, fomenting mutiny way out of proportion to the provocation.

It’s true that Adama constantly skirts the knife-edge of military dictatorship, but he never crosses the line. He’s not power-hungry. Although he can be ruthless, his decisions are driven by exigent circumstances.

Then you have characters like Apollo and Boomer who could be renamed Bland and Boring.

Apollo was typecast as the rebellious son. This would have been more effective if he’d chosen is battles better. Youthful idealism versus the old man’s seasoned pragmatism.

However, in a war for the survival of the human[oid] race, the stakes are too high to empathize with his concern for bureaucratic niceties. It isn’t that idealistic.

Youthful rebellion can take various forms, but one form is to rebel against traditions that have lost their utility. It’s a good thing to break the rules when the rules get in the way of what needs to be done.

Ironically, there’s almost a role reverse, where Apollo acts like a crotchety old man who’s too set in his ways to cut the red tape while his old man is prepared to bend or break the rules for the common good.

Kandyse McClure has beautiful eyes, but not much of a role.

Baltar is a juicy villain, but he’s also tiresome. Turning him into a Bhagwan-type cult leader made dramatic sense, but he’s still tiresome.

A villain is the character you should love to hate, not merely hate.

I never cared for Starbuck. An angry, depressed, self-loathing drunk. How much time would you want to spend in her company?

Col. Tigh only existed because Adam needed a friend his own age.

Helo would have been just another bland and boring stand-in, except that he betrayed the human race by sabotaging a chance to destroy the Cylons once and for all. Unforgivable.

Crewman Cally was such a wet blanket! It as a relief to see her flushed out the airlock.

Naturalistic Science Fiction

The producer decided to go for the genre of “naturalistic SF.” That has the advantage of character-driven plots. Character development is often a weakness in SF.

The downside, however, is that it fails to exploit the distinctive conventions of the SF genre. BSG lacks the creative imagination of a show like Farscape.

Political Allegory

The producer and screenwriters couldn’t resist the temptation to use BSG as their very own political soapbox–with heavy-handed allegories of the war on terror. There are two problems with this:

i) It alienates viewers like me who don’t share their leftwing outlook.

ii) The narrative ought to develop internally. Instead, extraneous plots are grafted onto the storyline, from CNN or the NYT.

Entertainment Value

The show wasn’t much fun to watch. You shouldn’t have to watch a TV drama out of a sense of duty, as if you’re supposed to appreciate what’s going on. The show took itself a bit too seriously. It’s kind of like folks who go to Ingmar Bergmann movies because they think it’s good for them. A way of proving how sophisticated they are.

You’re not supposed to like it. If you enjoy it, it wouldn’t be great art!

BSG was too humorless for its own good.


  1. I loved Jericho, and was sad to see how it was handled by CBS. If you get a chance, give it a viewing. The first season is absolutely fantastic.

    And, imho, the very best SF out there is the last three seasons of DS9. Admittedly, I like the fighting, but the characters were just outstandingly well developed through that series.

  2. Well, I don't feel as if I missed anything; I had no idea what BSG was and had to look it up.

  3. I'm a rube when it comes to SF. My vote is for the original Star Trek series.

    Heck, I still get a kick out of the old black-and-white Twilight Zone series.

  4. John,

    You had no idea what BSG was because you're a Cylon sleeper agent who's been programmed to think you're human until you're switched on!

  5. "...Cylon sleeper agent ..."

    Dang, Steve, first you give up Turretinfan, and now me. You are no good with a secret.

  6. Steve, I must confess I'm often astounded at your logical prowess, as well as your good taste. Which makes it even more astonishing to me that you would blow it on both counts. :)

    The Dresden Files was a great show and does *not* belong on that list. It belongs with the "promising shows that got cancelled" list. Sadly, the cancellation had nothing to do with the ratings (they were fine). It happened due to political infighting among the senior management at Skiffy. The guy who green-lighted the show and was its driving force at the network got run out by a woman ([Joker]A WOMAN![/Joker]) veep who just flat didn't like him and worked really hard to trash all the shows with which he was associated.

    You will no doubt ask me how I know. You may ask. :) Let's just say I have the info from the proverbial horse's mouth.

  7. Oh, and...

    Watch Doctor Who!!!!

  8. Jonah,

    You only think the Dreden Files was a great show because Sirota cast a spell on you to make you think that. You've been bewitched by Sirota's sorcery! Now we'll have to perform an exorcism on you to break the spell!

  9. "...Cylon sleeper agent ..."

    You mean an unplugged toaster?

    The Dresden Files was getting good when it was cancelled! And 'twas a fairly good book adaptation, too.

  10. 1) Watch Dr Who
    2) Check out "Steven Spielberg's Taken" from 2002. A miniseries that gave me the goosebumps.

  11. I agree, Doctor Who (the new series) is great! And a lot of fun too. (I've never seen the original or older ones though.)

  12. I have to admit I was shocked and vaguely disturbed by the fact that you didn't watch Dr. Who, I mean what's next your going to confess to not reading Terry Prachett's discworld novels?

  13. Dr. Who isn't bad to come into only now with the most recent episodes, but a full appreciation requires some exposure to the past few decades of sporadic seasons and earlier Doctors as well as an affection for grade B SF.

    And what - no mention of the greatest comedy SF series, SG1? Ok, it's more than comedy, but it's not much without it. Jack O'neill tells the grade B characters what you always wanted to tell them but couldn't as a mere viewer.