Hindsight: Battlestar Galactica



Original Air Dates:
2003-2009* on SyFy**
Creator: Glen A. Larson
Starring: Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackoff, Jamie Bamber, Michael Hogan, Tahmoh Penikett, Grace Park, Tricia Helfer, James Callis, Alessandro Juliani, Aaron Douglas, Kandyse McClure, Michael Trucco, Nicki Clyne, Paul Campbell

There are two things that I really, really love: sweeping, brilliant, epic narratives and hell-in-handbasket shoot-em-up action sequences. Battlestar Galactica provides both in spades, not to mention enough emotional strife for a Russian novel and a half. Add in the incredible production quality and you have one of the last decade’s most deserving hit series. It revitalized science fiction television – classic sci-fi, not that obscure semi-paranormal Lost-variety stuff. It was a cult hit and a big hit, bringing together some of the greatest production-side minds in television and a phenomenal cast. As an accomplishment, it is spectacular (especially since it’s a SyFy original series). As a television series, it is even more so. If you don’t like science fiction, you won’t like it. But if you are at least grudgingly willing to give it a shot, well, DO.

STRENGTHS

  • Soundtrack
    Bear McCreary‘s score for BSG is absolutely phenomenal. I don’t know all that much about music, so I can’t speak with any authority on the technical prowess (or lack thereof) that the soundtrack shows. What I can definitely speak to is how the music enhances the on-screen action and the tone of the show, and how it is also moving and fascinating all on it’s own. The score is at its boldest in the mini-series, which is my favorite part to listen to, but there is much more finesse demonstrated in the later, less obvious moments.
  • Production Quality
    The fact that this show was a SyFy show is mindblowing, because every aspect of the production went so far beyond the network’s standards when BSG broke out. The environment of the show – sets, props, costumes, special effects – is incredibly detailed and of immense quality. Cylon Centurions don’t show any of the typical flaws in SyFy digital rendering – hell, the production team won Emmys for them they were so well-done. The spacescapes, fleet shots, and battle scenes are magnificently done and, as production elements, second only to the exquisitely crafted properties.
  • Universe Creation
    BSG takes place in the paragon of parallel universes. It is not explicitly the future of the world we live in. Nor the past, nor the present. But it could potentially be any one of them. This is difficult to explain without giving anything away (and that is definitely not my interest), but let me at least instill the idea that the world of BSG is science fiction brilliance. It is different enough to satisfy sci-fi fans who like that sort of escapism, but (other than some major unnecessary weirdnesses like the octagonal paper) it is impressively subtle about it.
  • Lee/Kara Relationship
    You know how shows always have that one couple? The one that spends the entire series in the land of back-and-forth-are-they-or-aren’t-they-so-much-chemistry-but-doing-nothing-about-it-except-when-they-do? The one with the ability to make fangirl shippers both squeal and rip their hair out with equal ferocity? Well, this one is about the best-handled one of Those Couples ever. It is certainly angsty and ridiculous enough to satisfy that love of frustrating drama I like to pretend I don’t have. And it is also just satisfying enough that I never got tired of it. Can’t go into much detail without giving anything away. But seriously, it is masterful and amazing (and not just because the two characters involved are unfairly sexy).
  • Characters
    Speaking of characters, BSG has great ones. There are clear archetypes – the power-hungry creeper, the military asshole, the badgirl pariah/genius, and so on. But, hey, archetypes are fine as long as they grow into real people at some point. And oh boy do they. Any and every character on this show with enough screen time is absolutely human (even the robots!). Human in the sense that these individuals grow and change over the course of the show, have real relationships with real complications, and are always just that right combination of believability and unpredictability that can be expected from folks who aren’t scripted. Plus, they are all well-acted. All of them.

WEAKNESSES

  • Soap Opera Tendencies
    …I have a confession to make: I almost didn’t make it past Season One Part One. Why? Because all the crazy interpersonal drama started in before I actually got attached to the characters. There were a few episodes early on where it was way too prominent given the fact that these people should have been focusing a little more on the fact that, you know, the human race had just been obliterated down to fifty thousand people and there was a 90% chance that the rest of them were going to die in the next five minutes. Plus, some of the interpersonal strife over the course of the series just got absurd – I Fell In Love With My Cousin But Had An Affair With My Boss Instead level of absurd (Please note: that did not actually happen to anyone).
  • Pacing
    One inescapable challenge of the ensemble-cast epic is that forty-five minute episodes just aren’t enough time to do everything that a person might want done. The fact is, it is impossible to track multiple storylines, introduce and develop six or ten major characters, do an in-depth exploration of themes, and keep track of everything that is going on. As a result, it is easy to get lost along the way. It takes a lot of time for anything to get done. And when there are multiple episode gaps between the intermediary stages, the loss of flow is unavoidable. BSG‘s writing team did its best, absolutely, but [insert metaphor about building Rome or conquering the Great Wall here].
  • Real-World Relevancy
    As you are all undoubtedly aware by now, I do not particularly care that my television shows touch on issues that are directly applicable to real life. I watch things because of the escapism and the narrative. I’m an oddball that way. Obviously, because fiction is art and art is always a reflection of reality, some relevancy is inescapable (and even enjoyable). That said, BSG has some specific We Are Obviously Discussing “Important Issues” Under The Weak Facade Of Fiction storylines that just made my skin crawl a bit. Racism? Prison riots? Rights of religious minorities? Healthcare?! Jesus. (<- and yeah, that gets explored a lot too)
  • Good Humor
    …or, rather, the lack thereof. The whole show is just so dead serious. There are some smiles and the occasional punctuating chuckle, mostly provided by individual characters such as Gaius Baltar (James Callis) and Doc Cottle (Donnelly Rhodes). But even those points of comedy usually lean more ironic than truly light-hearted. Overall, there are precious few moments of genuine cheer to counteract the dark intensity of this series.
  • Finale
    The two-part finale of BSG isn’t a total disaster. The first half is actually pretty good. The very, very end is just painful. Obviously there is monumental difficulty in ending any show that reaches this level of epic. Obviously the pressure to conclude in a way that leaves the audience mostly happy is near-insurmountable. But seriously, BSG kinda really fucked up. The last five minutes, where everything really comes to a close and is wrapped up in philosophical conclusion, were painful for me. Painful as in I started banging my forehead on the table. Alas.

MY FAVORITE EPISODES

  • “You Can’t Go Home Again” (Season 1 Episode 5)
    This is actually the very first episode of BSG I ever saw, waaay back when the series first aired on SyFy. For that reason alone, it has fond memories. More importantly, its the first showcase of just how good Katee Sackhoff is in her role as Starbuck. It’s intense, emotional, occasionally genuinely comedic, and – my very favorite – gross.
  • “Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Part 2” (Episode 1 Season 13)
    So much happens at once at the end of Season 1, it’s hard to keep track. This an incredibly intense season finale. I got so wrapped up in what was going on moment to moment that I didn’t even realize it was the end of the episode until the credits started rolling, leaving several of the craziest cliffhangers of all time.
  • “Final Cut” (Season 2 Episode 8)
    The Big Reveal at the end of the episode probably has the most series-wide pertinence, but the part I enjoyed most was the interview-style character development of Gaeta, Dee, and other characters who hadn’t really been expanded on yet. Also, this episode includes a spectacular moment for anyone delighted by the male physique.
  • “Razor”
    As a supplemental side-movie, “Razor” is not necessary to the overall plot – it is excellent, though. It actually has some of the most horrific, intense, serious scenes out of the whole series. Sometimes to the point where it is a little hard to watch. But it is worth watching, if you can stomach it, because it explores much deeper into darkness than the regular episodes could and features some fantastic performances by guest stars Michelle Forbes and Stephanie Jacobsen.
  • “Unfinished Business” (Season 3 Episode 9)
    This episode is included in my favorites for no better reason than that it is pretty much the episode for the Lee/Kara relationship, which I am an unfailing sucker for. I won’t say anything specific because that would ruin the whole thing for everybody. But oh man – the love quadrangle involved really get put through their paces.
  • “Crossroads, Parts 1 & 2” (Season 3 Episodes 19 & 20)
    This two-part season ender is second only two the first season finale in terms of jawdropping. The court battle that takes up most of the episode is incredible to the point where I was too busy biting my nails to remember that Mark Sheppard was guest-starring in what is possibly my favorite of his roles. And everything else that happens is just as, if not more, stressful and adrenaline-rushy. “Crossroads” sets the standard for unrelenting intensity.
  • All of Season 4.5 (except the finale)
    The final season is just so good. It is beautifully executed. New, seasonal themes are introduced, but most of the mastery is in the way that all the stories from the series as a whole wrap up. The loose ends (well, most of them) are taken care of and the quality and genius of the narrative as a whole is marvelously clear when everything comes to a close. Plus, the build toward the two-part finale is an excellent study in adrenaline.

When BSG started, pretty much the whole cast was composed of talented total unknowns. Nowadays, they are pretty much everywhere. Tahmoh Penikett went to Dollhouse, followed by guest star Jamie Bamber. Michael Trucco’s been guest-starring, most recently on Castle. Katee Sackhoff has been all over the place, from Bionic Woman to The Big Bang Theory to 24‘s final season. Composer Bear McCreary moved over to Human Target and (at last count) four BSG cast members followed him into guest roles. McCreary is also working on Eureka, which this season added James Callis to its lead cast. Kandyse McClure is kicking ass and taking names in summer series Persons Unknown. Alessandro Juliani spent his summer doing Shakespeare up in Vancouver. And then there is BSG‘s biggest breakout star, Tricia Helfer, who hasn’t been out of work since the series ended. She started with Burn Notice, made a few guesting stops at Chuck, Human Target, and Two-and-a-Half Men, and now she’s joining the cast of TNT’s Dark Blue for its second season.

Battlestar Galactica has undeniably left its mark on the world of television, and not just because its cast continues to rule the airwaves. There are some science fiction shows that, despite their best efforts, cannot help but become the butt of jokes. This is not one of them. It demands to be taken seriously, and not just by Spock-eared twenty-somes who’ve never had a girlfriend. The reason is, BSG is not your typical science fiction. Sure, it does take place in space and there are sentient robots out for blood and the technology is far ahead of our modern day. But these things are largely peripheral. BSG isn’t about the science; it’s about the people. The focus of the show rests unerringly on the narrative and the themes of philosophy, theology, and social commentary. And those pack a serious punch. What Battlestar Galactica is at its core is an epic-scaled examination of the human condition (in space).

Sadly, you’ll have to put a little effort in to watch this show. It isn’t airing on any networks in the US and it isn’t (legally) available online. But DVDs are not difficult to come by these days. (You could also just watch spin-off/prequel Caprica, although it is not as good and definitely not as exciting. Or the original Battlestar Galactica, which is available on Hulu. Or wait for one of the other spin-offs that are supposedly on their way.) But really, this show is definitely worth your time.When I first started watching, I didn’t think it would be, but Battlestar Galactica ended up being one of my top five favorite series – it is slick, creative, emotional, and just generally all sorts of awesome.

imdbSideReelWikipediaSyFy

* I’m counting the 2003 mini-series as part of the whole for the purposes of this piece.

** The network was still called Sci-Fi at the time; also, the show aired pretty much simultaneously on various networks in multiple countries.

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Comments

  • Boycool  On August 16, 2010 at 3:10 AM

    Oh look, female Starbuck.

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