Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thoughts on the Battlestar Galactica miniseries

One of my favorite TV programs, the superlative Battlestar Galactica, ended its run last Friday. Now, one of my only complaints--though, sadly, a major one, was that the Sci Fi channel, in its infinite wisdom and foresight, saw fit to hack the program to pieces, splitting up both seasons 2 and 4 in twain, and leaving fans as much as a year to sit on their hands waiting for the show's return. It was hard to keep interest in the show, let alone catch some of its subtler character arcs. Case in point, the genial, slightly incompetent, officer-turned-mad-bomber Captain Kelly.

Kelly starts out as effectively third in command of the ship. By season 2 he's a poor-man's Apollo (if you don't know the show, just roll with it. All Will Be Explained). By the end of season 3 he's planted a bomb under a space shuttle, and mid-way through season 4 he's redeemed. And this is a one-off character, somebody whose total appearances I more or less just chronicled. So instead of getting any satisfaction out of his story progression, I'm forever like that guy in Memento, facing a case of "Hey, it's that guy, what's he do?" every time I watch the program.

So I decided, not too long after the last shot had been fired on BSG, to rewatch the whole show. To see Adama, Starbuck, Tigh, and the whole gang over again without the yawning chasm of time between seasons and bits of seasons. I can't promise anything more eloquent or intelligible than the reams of material already written about this show, but I can promise it'll be captured in my own inimitable style, that is unless I'm too tired.

So. The miniseries.

Did they say frack? "Frack" became a euphemism for "fuck" during the show's run, and a pretty effective one. It's the hard "k" sound at the end. Satisfying. But I don't remember it in the mini.

The ship is pristine! And, really, so is everybody. Hard times ahead. The show was almost uniformly bleak throughout, and really the pilot is no exception, but at least they have running water and food that isn't algae.

Both Edward James Olmos and Michael Hogan's performances are slightly different in this than what they evolve in to later, and I'm talking here about voices. They have a softer, less gravely quality I'd come to associate with their characters.

Katee Sackhoff has a tattoo on the back of her neck. Also she is awesome as Starbuck, from day one.

A number of overt references to the 1978 show are present here, which at the time were meant to appease the classic series' fans, who thought this was an abomination. After practically every news program (including my beloved All Things Considered) ran bits on this show last week, it's hard to remember that at the time, this show was a risky proposition and there was at least some group of folks that were vehemently opposed to it.

The pilot was produced as a TV miniseries, what in TV terms is referred to as a "back door pilot." That's a show that tells you it's a movie but is secretly testing the waters to see if people will watch these folks again for an hour each week. It would be a year before the first batch of episodes made it to the network. You can tell the moment (and this is true of most TV pilots, front or back) where it stops being a movie and starts informing you on the premise of the show, and this is also the point where BSG begins to abandon its overt connections to the classic show. There is no planet Earth, not really. Commander Adama, who as the series progresses will become one of its most staunch atheists, has woven a homespun faith about a place to settle. It's not enough to live, he says. There has to be something to live for. And considering what these people have in store for them, he's damned right.

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