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Time of the Season: MiniSeries / S1 of Battlestar Galactica (’03-’04)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 15, 2007

“God has a plan, Gaius. He has a plan for everything, and everyone.”

EW recently released a pretty decent list of the top 25 Sci-Fi moments (i.e. movies or TV shows) of the last 25 years. At #2, runner-up only to The Matrix, was the recent re-imagining of infamous late-70s sci-fi flop series Battlestar Galactica. I’d been hearing about the show fairly consistently for years now, but this put me over the top–I made it my first TV project of a sure-to-be-eventful summer of classic TV watching (besides, it starts with “B,” meaning I can go in alphabetical order)

Anyway, given that my recent article on the first and only season of Firefly reeived a record-breaking twenty comments within 24 hours of getting posted on a Joss Whedon board (most of them taking exception at me for criticizing Simon and River and spelling Zoe’s name wrong), and given that BSG’s fans are surely just as rabid, I’d like to add this disclaimer: Not all of my comments about Battlestar Galactica are glowingly positive, and they may or may not have some minor factual errors in them. Apologies if I do, but I’m low on time and it’d take all night to properly check this stuff.

Now, I’ll say this about BSG in general–I liked it. On the whole, it was a pretty enjoyable show–the premise (old-fashioned battleship, mostly kept for posterity, is suddenly forced to become the hub of the entire human race when all but the 50,000 people on the ship are killed in a war with man-made robots named Cylons) is as solid as anything I’ve seen in sci-fi recently, and doesn’t feel at all like a late-70s holdover. The characters–spunky top gun Starbuck, gruff but intelligent and charismatic military leader Capt. Adama, and the brilliant but weak-willed (and possibly insane) scientist Gaius Baltar–are strong fairly across the board, and the latter’s imaginary (?) verbal and physical tangoing with human-seeming Cylon Six make for the series’ most innovatie and memorable moments. And the visuals, while rarely stunning, are interesting and compelling enough to do the show’s geekier parts justice.

That said, I’m still not sure exactly why the show is getting such an unguardedly rapturous reception. The EW write-up of it for the sci-fi special said that BSG “[Proves] what sci-fi fans have known for decades: Science fiction is as legitimate a vehicle for human drama as any other genre.” I don’t disagree with that conclusion, necessarily, but I don’t understand why they think BSG works so well as evidence of this fact. To me, admittedly not much of an expert on the subject, it just seems like a highly above-average sci-fi show–one that, unlike even Firefly, I couldn’t possibly imagine seeing on any channel besides the Sci-Fi Channel.

All right, so maybe there’s some allegorical stuff in there supposed to tie in with modern day political and social issues (terrorism, importance of democracy, global paranoia, etc.) and that’s kind of noteworthy, but honestly, in this day and age, how could you make a show set on a warship and have it not seem like it’s a product and reflection of the times? And besides that, I don’t see what separates this show much from any other number of outer-space shows (including Firefly, which was in tone and content unlike any other show I’d ever seen, sci-fi or other). Sure, there’s some nifty future-speak and impressive new technology, as well as a compelling and feasible new-world scenario and some appropriately dramatic inner-crew subplots, but nothing I feel like I haven’t seen somewhere else before. (There are two exceptions to this, to be fair–Gaius and Six’s bizarre and fascinating sparring, and the story of the cyborg baby-to-be of the stranded Galactica pilots Helo and Boomer, a cylon)

It’s possible it gets better the more you know the characters in later seasons, and given that the first season ended on some fairly shocking cliffhangers, I hope I get back to watching the second season at some point. Butnow, though it may be the best sci-fi show currently on TV, as truly compelling, universally compelling dramatic television, I don’t really see it. Let me know why I’m wrong, I guess.

(Editors Note: I totally finished this article at 11:55 but due to continuous internet freezing, did not post until 12:05. I’m choosing not to count that against my once-a-day credo. Apologies.)

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3 Responses to “Time of the Season: MiniSeries / S1 of Battlestar Galactica (’03-’04)”

  1. Jane Average said

    You have a fascinating definition of “flame” (and “most,” come to think of it). Fear criticism much? You must be very sheltered if any comment disagreeing with your opinion qualifies as “flaming.”

    Since responding to that firm and confident request of “Let me know why Iím wrong, I guess” would put this post into “flame” territory, I’ll simply ask where your bar for “truly compelling, universally compelling dramatic television” in the sci-fi genre is set. If I knew what you considered high-quality in comparison, it might be clearer where you’re coming from.

  2. Andrew Unterberger said

    Actually, I will apologize for use of the word “flame,” definitely the wrong choice in that situation. Will edit accordingly.

  3. magnusbarfod said

    “…old-fashioned battleship, mostly kept for posterity, is suddenly forced to become the hub of the entire human race…”

    “…Capt. Adama…”

    “…nifty future-speak and impressive new technology…”

    “…spunky…”

    So, i’ve picked out the incorrect or crappy lines that i reckon will get up BSG fans collective noses the most, as a way of getting it out of the way first. I won’t bother correcting them, pedantry can only get you so far…

    I will, however, ask you if you actually pay attention to the programs you post opinions on? It’s not that I belong to that group of BSG and firefly fans who refuse to accept criticism of the shows they love; rather it seems to me that your views are poorly formed, display a lack of understanding of the subject matter, and seem to miss vital points.

    You say that apart from Gaius / Six & Helo / Boomer, BSG offers: “…nothing I feel like I havenít seen somewhere else before.”

    This one statement undermines any point of view you express, and you can’t duck the issue of your ignorance (of the genre or the details of the show) by putting a disclaimer in your introduction.

    Stating that your piece “…may or may not have some minor factual errors in them. Apologies if I do, but Iím low on time and itíd take all night to properly check this stuff.” just doesn’t cut it i’m afraid. How would you feel if you picked up a major newspaper, to see a disclaimer from the editor, saying ‘well, we think the articles are OK, but it was a late night, the sub-editors were shattered, soooo, sorry if we’ve got a few details wrong…’

    It wouldn’t wash, and just because your writing on a smaller scale, you shouldn’t feel the rules of fact checking and accurary don’t apply.

    As for why your’e wrong about the actual show…well, i’ve gone on enough. I’ll let others put you right there…

    “spunky”…christ…

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