Vague ramblings

A palimpsest by Glen A Larson ( or not)

Posted in Musing by Ian Cundell on 17 March, 2006

Partly because iainjclark (a man of questionable attitudes to corsets, but generally sound taste in telly) says good things about it and partly because a neighbour has downloaded it I have recently been discovering the new version of Battlestar Galactica.

Blimey.

Who’d have thought a cheesey, clunky Star Wars knock-off staring The Host, Lorne Green could have been turned into something so impressive? As of this writing I have seen up to an including 1×10 The Hand of God (raid on the fuel depot) and this seems a good place to reflect because it crystallizes much that is good and the one thing that is actually irritating me a bit.

Now I should caveat all I say by stating that there is an important detail about one of the characters that I remember from the original. I do not know if this has been changed or is being held back, so I won’t say what it is. If you don’t know what I’m talking about it doesn’t matter, if you do please don’t spoil.

That which ranges from the “That’s cool” to the “bloody hell, that was good”

  • Pretty well all of the cast, except possibly Apollo (just a bit insipid) and another I’ll get to below;
  • Nodding so often to the original, while substantially ignoring it;
  • Simple things redone well: daft names becoming call signs, a proper “aircraft carrier” feel to Galactica; a convincing CIC; convincing radio traffic (something the original also did well for the first few episodes, before abandoning);
  • The Attack.
  • Bold use of 9/11 and post-9/11 imagery. Would have been easy to chicken out;
  • The swearing in of the President – just chilling;
  • Cigar chewing Chick Starbuck;
  • The use of “wireless”;
  • Somehow getting away with the “we lived because we are not networked” schtick. Don’t think about it too hard;
  • Several side characters we are seeing enough of to give a damn when they get killed off;
  • Mary McDonnell – I think it may be physically impossible for her to put in a poor performance;

That which is “me stuff”
Generally speaking cute Korean chicks should not be baddies. The should be cute. And Korean.

That which is less good or at least needs reining in
Two closely related things (and why 1×10 is a Good Place to Reflect(tm))

  • The God Stuff. Not that it is bad per se (certainly not, given the the not-what-you-might-call subtle underlying metaphor – this is very much a post 9/11 show) but that it is being ladled on with a trowel (except of course one ladles something on with a ladle)
  • Balthar. Generally speaking, Brilliant Fictional Geniuses who show no capacity whatsoever for rational thought, despite rambling on about it at some length, annoy me. I realise he is being played by Number Six (or his Inner Fundamentalist if he really did survive the explosion in the Mini Series, which I doubt), but she has used pop-psychology a 14 year old could see through. This is where the ladling is occurring. That there is a better than 50:50 chance he is one of the Cylon designs we have yet to see (thanks largely to James Calliss’s over-broad “I’m an Englishman in an American show, read into that what you will” performance), means that had I been either Adama or the President I would have had him on Chicken Soup Machine Maintenance detail for the duration.

Oh, and the CPO’s failure to see the bleedin’ obvious is a bit contrived too, as was the President letting herself be played by the Cyclon re Adama. A little too much plot-driven blindness for my tastes.

One final thing: I think it was a little early (although quite interesting) to have Starbuck pray for the Cyclon’s soul: he represented, unrepentantly, those which had just wiped out several billion people.

So…
There are several ways the show could stop me watching, but the most likely is cack-handed handling of the God Stuff, with excessive, 24-style plot-twist-for-the-sake-of-it a close second. Enemy Within” stories are always vulnerable to this. Have I mentioned that I find 24 unwatchable dreck? ”

JMS, in B5, realised that The Shadows were too implaccably unstoppable and had Sheriden realise that the Goodies needed a victory. The show needs an unambiguous human victory. I thought 1×10 would supply that, but then the writers threw it away with God Stuff. It needs its “Churchill Sinks the French Fleet” moment. In short it needs the Cylons confidence shaken by something more interesting than Boomer II’s (apparent) empathising with Halo.

There is much to admire in this show – much more than the source material suggests possible. If it can avoid drifting into pretentiousness and it can realise that Implacable Unstoppable Foes aren’t that interesting, it should be “must see”.

God, I really hope they never make the Galactica: 1980 mistake.

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  1. iainjclark said, on 17 March, 2006 at 10:24 pm

    Ever since William Shatner I’ve had a corset phobia…

    As for Battlestar Galactica I both love it and am frustrated by it in equal measure. For every great episode there’s a mediocre one. For every stunning and original moment there’s a hackneyed Plot-of-the-Week straight off the rack. For every tantalising promise of complexity there’s a refusal to engage with the real issues. And the characters don’t so much advance as meander, living in the moment and refusing to muse on the past or the future.

    I do like it lots though. There are moments that are just stunning, and episodes which are genuinely excellent. It’s not damining with faint praise if I say that it’s the best SF show on the air at the moment, because while the main competition may be mild entertainment like Stargate, Battlestar Galactica is good on its own terms. It’s also breaking new ground for SF television: if nothing else in its ordinariness and lack of formalised theatricality. It’s a far more “mainstream” kind of SF show, one that isn’t stuck in the same old stylistic rut of SF telvision that was first set down by Star Trek in the 1960’s. I love B5, but while that show is truly smart and revolutionary in its own way, it’s also quite stylised and “safe” in ways that Galactica dares to push beyond. Ultimately B5 has more consistency of ideas and rigor of plotting, but Galactica remains a very worthy show indeed.

    • Ian Cundell said, on 19 March, 2006 at 2:42 pm

      OK, hve seen the rest of season one now.

      And at the moment the Cyclons are worse than Implacable Unstoppable Foes. They are omnipotent.

      This troubles me. Quite a bit actually.


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