Saturday, June 10, 2006

So Say We All


I hate television. I hate the vapid, lowest common denominator-seeking, childish, superficial cesspool that is most American television.

So when I tell you that I have found something in that "vast cultural wasteland" that rises to the level of the most sublime art, something that could literally change the way that you view the universe, which is what art does, you should know where I'm coming from.

I was, as a child, an incredible fan of the original Battlestar Galactica. As a sci-fi fanatic who had just seen Star Wars for the first time a couple of years before, television's big budget, explosive, and action packed answer to it was designed to impress kids like me. To this day, the pilot film of Battlestar Galactica, which aired on ABC television in 1978, is one of my favorite sci-fi memories.

Years later, I was able to catch re-runs of my old obsession on the Sci-Fi Channel. It didn't age well. The obvious 70's hairstyles, the dated special effects that they managed to recycle over and over and the acting that could peel paint were sometimes hard to watch. But for nostalgia, you couldn't beat it.

So in 2002 when the Sci-Fi Channel started to air promos for the "re-imagined" Galactica, I was, as a purist, not so happy.

"I will have nothing to do wth such blasphemous filth", I said smugly. I had seen what "re-imagining" did to Planet of the Apes (shudder) .

So three years go by. The "re-imagined" mini-series brought in Sci-Fi's biggest numbers ever, so, of course, a full-blown series followed. I ignored it. Through the ubergeek grapevine I heard rumors of what they had done to my beloved show.

For God's sake! Starbuck was a girl, there were no lasers, and the Cylons looked like humans!

You bastards.

So it's 2006. I'm having a ball trying to find reasons to keep living in the midst of my divorce and the terrible separation from my Marcus. Oddly enough, my soon-to-be-ex father-in-law, a finer human being you will never meet (not sure what happened to his daughter) , loaned me his copy of the first season of the new Battlestar Galactica.

Oh well. It can't get any worse. I'll check it out.

On the DVD box, a blurb from Newsweek said "Best television show ever".

Oh please.

I had read another critic say that it was the best show, not just best sci-fi show ever, but best television show ever.

They were right.

Without exaggerating, and as an experienced drama and sci-fi television watcher for years, I believe Battlestar Galactica is the finest television show in the history of the medium.

It's just that good.

The premise: Colonies of humans exist in another galaxy. They are technologically advanced. Faster than light space travel, robot servants, all those good things we hope for someday.

But when the robots, the Cylons, decide they've had enough, they fight back by launching a surprise attack against the colonies. The nuke the home planets and destroy most of the human space fleet. The military is wiped out except for the last warship, the battlestar Galactica.

The remaining ships carrying the refugees from the Cylon genocide rendezvous with the last battlestar and set a course for a mythical planet that may offer them refuge. Their holy scriptures tell the tale of a lost colony, across the galaxy, where their human brothers and sisters settled. A planet called Earth.

To make things a bit more interesting, the Cylons, who have infiltrated the fleet, can pass for human, fooling even the closest medical scrutiny. Spies and operatives are evreywhere.

Out of hundreds of millions, 50,000 humans survive. The government is destroyed and the only member of the president's cabinet to survive is the Secretary of Education, Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) who then, in intentional and eerie re-staging of LBJ's swearing in on Air Force One, becomes President Roslin.

The commander of the Galactica is William Adama, played with menace and overwhelming heart by Edward James Olmos, and if you think you've seen no-nonsense military before, just wait. Olmos and McDonnell's characters are the yin and yang of the last vestiges of humanity.
The interplay between the two of them is powerful and topical. Neither is what their book cover suggests. She, a liberal former schoolteacher, has the ability to make tough decisions when she must, and he, the career military officer, is a thoughtful intellectual.

These are just the anchors that an incredible cast revolves around. I seriously have to keep reminding myself that these are actors in a show. Each one is that good. From James Callis' brilliant and somewhat insane (or is he?) Baltar, to Grace Park's alternately tender and deadly Sharon Valerii, each character is nuanced and so human it hurts to watch sometimes.

The shoot 'em up is few and far between and is always told from a different perspective than a normal show would follow. Often the clashes between the last of the Colonial fleet's interceptors and their Cylon pursuers is told simply from there point of view of those in left behind waiting to see if their friends, their family, will come home this time. One such battle had the flight deck crew, who figure just as prominently in the show, if not more so, than the pilots themselves, listening to the radio chatter of the battle over the ship's loudspeaker. The story of the battle was told, and the almost unbearable tension maintained, just by the expression on the faces of the crew waiting on the flight deck. Absolutely brilliant.

People hurt in war. It takes it's toll on humanity. What happens when you have to torture the location of a ticking bomb out of a religious fanatic who believes he's doing the right thing for God and his people? What does that do to your soul? One episode hits that head on and pulls no punches.

This show has no easy answers and it doesn't take shortcuts. How many times have you watched a show where a character is injured, sometimes badly, only to be fully recovered and healthy the following week? I knew this series was different early on in the first season when Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) injured her leg after a crash-landing on a hostile planet. The following week she was still in traction in the hospital. The next week crutches. Also a couple of scenes of physical therapy. When is the last time one of the main heroes on a sci-fi show needed re-hab for an injury? It was small thing, but it spoke volumes about the fragility of humans, and how these people aren't bulletproof.

Post traumatic stress, addiction, religion, love, terrorism, and loyalty are all handled in a way that will make you proud to be human. The good guys don't always win, and the bad guys aren't always bad.

And while my emotions are often right up there on the surface these days, the second part of the two-hour episode, Home, had me all choked up.

And that, my friends, is why I call it art. To be moved to tears. To forget your circumstance and be lost in another world you care about. To be a better person for what you have seen or heard.

I've only seen the first season and half of the second because those are the ones that have been released on DVD. Currently, the Sci-Fi Channel is airing the second half of season two, but I don't have Sci-Fi, so I await more DVD releases. A third season is currently filming.

One and a half seasons is enough for me to be sold for life on this show. Enough for me to want to prattle on this long about it.

Do yourself a favor and don't jump in the middle and start watching. Start from the beginning, the original mini-series, and go from there.

I wanted to share this little gem with the intelligent and sensitive people here because I know you will appreciate it if you watch. I know it will move and inspire you.

2 Comments:

Anonymous ML said...

It's a sweet show alright. Stupid SciFi channel didn't air an episode last night. After watching the first season, I was shopping for groceries and turned the aisle corner, and walked right into a woman who looked EXACTLY like Sharon. I literally gasped out loud and exclaimed in a frightened voice "Sharon!" before bolting to tell my partner, and then relaxing again knowing there are no Cylons on Earth.

Sat Jun 10, 06:10:00 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

None that we know of. I'm thinking Focus on the Family may be the forerunners....

I'm waiting very impatiently for Season 2.5 on DVD.

Sat Jun 10, 09:09:00 PM  

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