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Eric: Still, I miss Lucifer. And Cassiopia. And Lorne Greene. And the faux Egyptian thing. DAMN THEM!

So, this is something of a television review, because like many of my fellow geeks, last night I watched the series premiere of Battlestar Galactica.

I had watched the miniseries, and was somewhat underwhelmed. See, I was a young nipper when the original came on, and the disconnect between the original -- which was cheesy but also had style, and mythology and grandeur and a cowboy dimension and an epic scope -- and the new one, which seemed to want to do "American Realistic Military SF" with a few nods to the source material, was significant. Oh, the show itself was okay, back in the miniseries. As good, in its way, as Space: Above and Beyond, which itself was a pretty good SF show. But it wasn't anything exciting -- not like the Richard Hatch planned updating of the original would have been. It felt... generic.

Well, last night the first episode of the new series came on.

It'd be easier on me if it were named something else. Anything else, really. Because I still have certain associations with the words "Battlestar" and "Galactica." And so I resent it just slightly, because I still want to bitch and complain about the changes, and that's going to be hard to do while obsessively watching every second of this series.

This was exceptionally good. The characterization was brilliant, the execution of the two episodes (these were two episodes mashed into one, right down to them having two different names -- "33" and "Water." They were laden with style. Everything was tone, setting an honest feel of fatigue, of desperation, of despair barely being fought off. The first episode, "33," refers to the Cylons, who attack every thirty three minutes on the dot, no matter where or how the fleet jumps away. It has been five days of cylon attacks. Five days since anyone on the Galactica or Colonial One has slept. They're exhausted and horrified and don't have any way of escaping. The second episode, "Water," opens with Boomer opening her eyes in a strange place, soaked to the bone. The reason why highlights the scarcity of resources -- and the incredible odds against the humans -- in the setting.

One thing that stands as a triumph is a whiteboard. An absolutely normal whiteboard, like you have in your own office or take down phone messages. It's on Colonial One, where the President and her staff keep track of just how many human beings are left. As "33" progresses, the number slowly goes down. First over 50,000, then dropping below, then lower... lower... a number that constantly says "this is how many human beings are left alive. When this number gets too low, it's all over."

Only there are other human beings left behind. In a wholly unexpected and brilliant stroke, the series cuts back over to Caprica, the largest of the colony worlds that the Cylons have conquered. There, Helo -- one of the soldiers from the miniseries, left behind to give Baltar a chance to survive (because Helo figured his brilliance would be needed on the Galactica, not knowing Baltar was the reason the Colonies fell in the first place) is on the run from the Cylons, highlighting a world of humanity under conquest. And highlighting one of the best elements of Cylons who sometimes can look just like humans, all at the same time.

And, out of nowhere, there's something of the Mythic returned to the series. Not the original mythos, for certain... in an odd twist, it's the Cylons who have a sense of spirtuality. Not that the humans can take comfort in it.

This series is totally not Battlestar Galactica as we knew it. And yet, it's incredibly good. Ronald Moore -- the reason Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was the best Star Trek series -- has proven exactly what he can do without suits over him telling him what he can and can't do. This series has the potential to equal or even eclipse Babylon 5 in terms of sophisticated science fiction on television, and I'm bloody well excited to see it.

But weirdly, despite the fact that Babylon 5 is vastly better than the original Battlestar Galactica, I don't think the new version exceeds the original. In a lot of ways, it's sold its pedigree for superior -- but far less interesting -- generic SF tropes. They're pushing those tropes beyond all possible thought, but the Terra saga, the idea of Earth as a real hope and goal (instead of a panacea to prevent panic), the clues for the lost tribe, the mysticism, the political aspects, the cowboy aspects... they're all set aside for a very solid world of military SF and passenger liners trying to survive. The primary colors have been washed away in lieu of washed out grey. Hope has been set aside in lieu of defiance in the face of extinction. It's good, but it's not better. I really wish we could have seen what kind of glory an updating of the original premise could have yielded. Having lost that, I'm excited to see where this series is going.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at January 15, 2005 5:18 PM

Comments

Comment from: Wednesday posted at January 15, 2005 8:53 PM

What do you mean, premiere? It's been on for months --

Oh. Right.

Comment from: Wednesday posted at January 15, 2005 8:55 PM

Also: my only association with Galactica is Space Mutiny. I'm sure this totally screws me up. Net result was both boredom (because I kept coming in the middle) (no, not because Starbuck's hot) *and* not knowing why stuff was messed up.

Comment from: Tangent posted at January 15, 2005 9:24 PM

Unfortunately, I don't have the SciFi channel (primarily because I'm not willing to spend $35 extra a month just for one channel, and one show), but I am eagerly following this show. I recently purchased the DVD of the movie remake, and while this is not my original Battlestar Galactica, in many ways this exceeds the original.

The original show was campy and silly at times and yet had a charm and style that was quite endearing. The silliness is lacking (for the most part) with the remake... but what they've replaced it with just caught my attention and has made me quite excited at the premise.

A science fiction show... with realistic spacetime physics. The last show that did that was Space: Above and Beyond, and that unfortunately only lasted one season. Too many SciFi shows have Outer Space as some sort of ether in which ships can fly much like aircraft - to the point that if they run out of fuel, they stop moving. But in this show... you can drift through space, use pitch, yaw, and tilt to alter your course, and do all sorts of tricks that are rarely seen in Science Fiction TV shows. In addition, the ships use kinetic weapons, rather than futuristic "phasers" or "photon torpedos" or other technobabble devices. The fact that the Cylons *nuke* planets... and other ships... is ominous and yet realistic. It makes the show from some campy "what if" to something that you can very well believe is in the real world... and that these people have just lost their homes.

The last time I was this excited over something was when Relic came out with the game Homeworld. Much like Battlestar Galactica, it has the premise of a people who are searching for a new home for its people... and a powerful enemy who is hunting them relentlessly. Now... we have a return of an old favorite... but done in a way that is most unique and attention-grabbing.

Yes, there are elements of the show I dislike. I couldn't watch the part where the Cylon "6" snapped an infant's neck (though it was interesting to see the expression on her face afterward... it wasn't a happy or self-satisfied expression, but rather one of puzzlement and of sadness... or maybe unhappiness... this isn't just a cold heartless machine, but someone with a spirituality and passion that is strangely human, if sociopathic). The sex scenes seem a tad silly at times... but then again are understandable. When we're confronted by death and the chance of dying on a constant basis, it is human nature to respond by wanting to reaffirm life through the action of procration (sex).

And while I was originally most annoyed with having Starbuck being a woman... the actress pulls it off with style and skill... and has the approval of the original Starbuck. If he approves, who am I to disapprove? Besides, having a female fighter pilot being the *best* pilot on the Galactica is a nice nod toward the ladies out there, who often are every bit as good as men, if not better, and yet more often than not overlooked due to gender biases.

Well, I've blathered on enough about this. Now if only I can find a way to get the series recorded for me or somesuch... :)

Robert A. Howard

Comment from: Coydog posted at January 16, 2005 8:00 PM

Well, THIS incarnation of Galactica couldn't really have been done twenty-five years ago. An audience had to be grown and groomed for it which wasn't around when the first series was aired. I would bet that half the potential audience for the new series wasn't even born when the first came out, so THIS would be the first they saw of it. Seeing what they make of it will be the real test of its concept-worthiness.

Comment from: Slick posted at January 19, 2005 4:47 AM

I wasn't born when the first one aired, I haven't ever seen any of them. I like this one a lot and will continue to watch it. Then again, I'm the type of person who enjoys Andromeda, Farscape, and Star Trek, (All but the Voyager and whatever the one with Bacula was called, it almost makes me think the franchise needs to be put down, much as I love Bacula. ), oh, and that reminds me, Quantum Leap!

Comment from: Slick posted at January 19, 2005 4:47 AM

I wasn't born when the first one aired, I haven't ever seen any of them. I like this one a lot and will continue to watch it. Then again, I'm the type of person who enjoys Andromeda, Farscape, and Star Trek, (All but the Voyager and whatever the one with Bacula was called, it almost makes me think the franchise needs to be put down, much as I love Bacula. ), oh, and that reminds me, Quantum Leap!

Comment from: Slick posted at January 19, 2005 4:47 AM

I wasn't born when the first one aired, I haven't ever seen any of them. I like this one a lot and will continue to watch it. Then again, I'm the type of person who enjoys Andromeda, Farscape, and Star Trek, (All but the Voyager and whatever the one with Bacula was called, it almost makes me think the franchise needs to be put down, much as I love Bacula. ), oh, and that reminds me, Quantum Leap!

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