One of my favorite TV shows during the days of my early adolescence was Battlestar Galactica. During 1978, while most of my friends were feeding off of a steady diet of shows like Mork and Mindy, Charlie’s Angels, and Eight is Enough, I was caught up in the vast (albeit brief) saga that was unfolding on ABC’s prime time Sunday night lineup.
After 25+ years, the original Galactica definitely shows signs of aging. Unlike its contemporary inspiration, Star Wars, it now comes across as dated and campy space opera. It is still fun to watch, but moreso for nostalgic purposes than entertainment. Levi, my 13 year-old son, scoffs every time the subject comes up, correctly opining that Galactica is an obvious Star Wars knock-off.
This weekend, I had a chance to get my second look at the new Galactica, which is airing on Friday nights on the Sci-Fi channel, and – despite some negative publicity surrounding the show – I have been pleasantly surprised.
The overall premise of the new show is the same. Humanity, scattered across twelve planets, is virtually wiped out by a cybernetic race called the Cylons. A lone, surviving military ship (similar to an aircraft carrier), along with a fleet of vulnerable, civilian ships, is on the run, seeking to evade detection and survive until it can locate a legendary thirteenth planet/colony named (you guessed it!) “Earth.”
While the basic premise is the same, the new Galactica is a completely different show in most other respects. Starbuck, though still a rogue fighter pilot, is now a woman. Adama, played by Edward James Olmos, is a brooding, flawed figure – much different from the optimistic, larger-than-life protagonist played by the late Lorne Green. And the tone of the show is now dark. Very dark. The new Galactica is gritty, military sci-fi, much different from the campy space opera that characterized its predecessor.
Yet it is captivating in its own way. I’m coming to care about the characters in this show in the same way that I did for Mulder and Scully, as they strugged to make sense of their worlds in The X-Files. Deep, real characters are a rarity in science fiction, but they are present in Galactica. And the writing for this show leaves many other, more “serious” TV dramas in the dust.
Galactica poses some intriguing questions. While the old show assumed that humanity will always survive because it is strong-willed, innovative, etc., the new one isn’t afraid to ask questions such as “do we really deserve to survive?” The pilot/miniseries (avaialble on DVD) was filled with angst-ridden characters who were struggling to come to terms with their own sins and shortcomings in the context of an apocalyptic calamity.
I’m not quite sure what to make of the relationship between Baltar, the frighteningly believable “Judas” of the show, and the enigmatic Number Six, a Cylon agent played by Tricia Helfer. I like the way their ongoing relationship demonstrates that Baltar was and continues to be vulnerable to temptation, but a lot of the scenes involving the two characters seem tacked on and gratuitous. In a show that is otherwise well written and “real” (in the sense of the way the characters think and act), these scenes feel out of place, as if they are the product of a network exec’s demand that the creators appeal to the show’s nerd-ly, and largely dateless core audience of teenage and young adult males. In short, the Baltar/Six sub-plot is worthwhile, I just wish it could be toned down a lot.
I’ve always thought that good TV shows are comprised of two elements: interesting characters and good writing. The new Galactica has both, and in that sense it is worth checking out, not only because it is good science fiction, but because its a good show by any standard.