Saturday, April 02, 2005

Battlestar Galactica: It's Not For Kiddies Anymore.

I could barely watch the original Battlestar Galactica TV series. I tried a few times but it never measured up to my expectations. It always seemed too geared to a juvenile audience.

The current version of the series on Sci-Fi channel, on the other hand, works for three reasons. It's adult, adult, adult. This is science fiction so there are spaceships and uniforms and special effects. The effects are very well done, which provides a foundation of quality for the show, but it's the superstructure of the acting, the writing, and the plot that makes this the superior show that it is. It's got quality writing and the acting is understated and naturalistic. Indeed, the show rises to the level of ensemble acting led by Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnel.

The show chronicles the flight of 50,000 humans in a fleet of ships who are the last survivors of an attack by the Cylons, an android and robot civilization. It's a grim situation and the episodes are presented with the seriousness and tension such a situation deserves. The episodes don't end with everything put back just right in the way that many science fiction adventure TV shows do. Instead, in this series, each episode is a chapter in a continuing story without final resolution.

A big reason that the show works so well, for me anyway, is that although the creators of the show respect their characters, they don't seem to be in love with them. The characters are written and played as human beings with strengths and weaknesses. They act according to their character. They make decisions that are good and bad. They are not perfect heroes. Much like real life.

This was driven home by the season finale. Olmos's character, Commander Adama, makes what seems to me to be an incredibly wrong decision and stages what is for all intents and purposes a military coup. His son defies him and is arrested. A key character, unknown to the others a Cylon spy, shoots Adama in the final scene leaving him apparently dead or dying. This is practically sacrilege. My understanding of the tradition of Battlestar Galactica from the first series is that Adama is a wise leader. This Adama might be a good military commander but he is far from wise.

The season's ending is a cliffhanger with the Cylons apparently having gotten a huge upper hand over the humans. Ending the season with a cliffhanger is not exactly breaking TV ground. But where this show does continue to push the envelope for me is in how it pushes its heroes around so hard. The humans truly have no idea what they are doing. They continue to do the best they can with the limited knowledge they have. But it's the Cylons who have the fully developed plan, and it's they who are pushing the humans along to fulfill that plan. The Cylons are a menacing enemy. Not just because they are so powerful but because they know exactly what they are doing all the time. The plot is driven by that power imbalance and it makes for compelling drama.

I can hardly wait for next season's return in July.



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