Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why Battlestar Galactica is shit Part 1

Turns out this topic will take a while to get through so I think I'll split it over two posts.

I don't watch many shows on television. When I do, I like to watch things from start to finish - like one complete story. And that's why it infuriates me when shows that were once great go complete shit. And the Battlestar Galactica remake is one of those shows.

Battlestar had a very simple premise - their planet destroyed by Cylons, a group of humans must fight or evade the enemy while they search for their new home: Earth.

It's a basic survival story. Like a zombie movie only with robots and, em, space. Okay so it's not all that much like a zombie movie but it does share certain qualities - it puts the characters in constant danger with an ever-present threat and basically the stories came from how they reacted and cracked under that pressure. It's a premise that holds unlimited potential.

And the show opened with the pressure turned up to 11. Remember one of the first episodes where the Cylons would find them every 10 minutes or what ever it was? I'd check for the exact time but, every time they update their site, they break it. That was, to quote the poster for Point Break, 100% pure adrenalin.

To make things even better for Battlestar, the show had some fantastic characters. Starbuck was a total hardass with a real attitude. Adama was totally military, took no shit and was saved by his total distrust for the Cylons and unwillingness to update his ship. His second in command, an angry drunk only there because he had history with Adama. We had a stranded crewman evading Cylons back on Caprica, unaware that he was falling for one of them. We had Boomer, kind of sexy, but a ticking timebomb waiting to be activated. Chief Tyrol, trying to clear up the mess of battle and get them ready for the next attack down in the hangar bay. And a schoolteacher forced into the position of President, something she wasn't equipped for and made even more difficult by her battle with cancer.

Oh, and we had Adama's son who we all hoped wouldn't turn out to be a complete pussy. And Baltar, the cowardly traitor who oozed charisma.

Great characters and each with a clear, defined role to play in any given story. Worked perfectly with the premise.

And the icing on this Battlestar cake was the Cylons themselves. As the opening told us, and we saw in the pilot movie, they were created by humans, went off and made themselves look human and then unleashed hell on Caprica, killing billions and then pursuing Galactica to make sure they finish the job. And one of them was on the ship. You'd have a hard time creating a threat better than that. Like a whole race of Darth Vaders.

They were interesting too. Remember that one where Starbuck was interrogating one of them? They managed to write the enemy interesting enough that just him and Starbuck in a room kept the whole episode gripping.

The show ticked all the boxes you'll find in basic screenwriting books - a visible, dangerous antagonist, characters we can invest in and the stakes as high as possible. Almost a perfect setup.

And they really managed to milk it. The end of Season 1/beginning of Season 2, for me, is just about some of the best television. Certainly the best sci-fi I've seen.

So, towards the end of Season 4 (or 5 depending on who you ask), what have we got now?

We have a show with no enemies. Most of the Cylons are their buddies now, the rest we have no idea what they are doing. Nothing they have ever done in the show has seemed to make a lick of sense, contrary to the "they have a plan" bullshit that they kept in the opening sequence until even a blind ferret could see they clearly don't.

So we also have no pressure. No stakes. No goal. The ship and its Admiral are just sort of wandering around space. Looking for a home? Well, kind of. They don't really seem to be doing anything. The show has no point. No reason to exist. It its most basic level, it is now a show without a premise.

That should be reason enough to explain why it is shit but there's more, too much for one post, and I'll go into detail next time.


Mr. Trombley said...

Dear Sir,

Doesn't this show have Edward James Olmos? He was my favorite actor from Blade Runner - maybe him and James Hong.

Incidentally, you know how James Hong started his career? He did Al Jolson-esque blackface routines! At the end of the show he'd wipe off the make-up and reveal that he's asian, which was supposedly a real showstopper back then.

Anyway that's good casting, Edward James Olmos as a military dictator. Too bad they couldn't keep up the momentum.

I guess no show should last too long. Twilight Zone made it five seasons, which is about how long Battlestar Galactica was able to keep it up you say. Twin Peaks made it one and a half seasons before the network started to try calling the shots. The original Star Trek was three seasons long, but the third was a stinker.

Hey, the original Star Trek was a show about wandering around in space with no clear purpose but to explore. And it was great!

Could Battlestar Galactica survive a shift to a more Star Trek premise? Having never seen it I can't say.

Red Pill Junkie said...

The original Battlestar Galactica was heavily inffluenced by Mormonism, you know.

I love BSG too. I hardly watch any television nowadays—my working schedule is... peculiar, and I don't TiVo—but I have managed to follow BSG by buying the DVD series on Amazon.

I'm finishing season 4.0 right now, realizing there should be a 4.2 somewhere that I wasn't aware of at the time of my purchase!

While I agree that the series has watered down a bit, I still enjoy it because it dares to combine Sci Fi with heavy philosophical questions, even spiritual ones, and that's more than OK with me.

I do believe that, 50 years from now, History students will be required to watch this series on Holovision or whatever they have by then, in order to understand the 'Bush era' of the early XXth century. BSG perfectly captured the atmosphere of paranoia and self-questioning that the War on Terror brought on American society.

PS: James Olmos is the man.

Bitter Animator said...

Edward James Olmos is indeed fantastic, generally, though they've made his character very hard to like, something I'll go into in the next post.

RPJ, you should avoid my next post as it will be about stuff a bit ahead of where you're at. Now I don't think there'll be any major spoilers but, still, probably best avoided. Or maybe I'll find a way of marking or hiding the spoilery bits. I'll see what I can do.

The Star Trek premise wouldn't work in the current form of BSG because, seemingly, there is nothing to explore. They haven't once encountered anything that didn't come from humans or Cylons. It's an empty ol' Universe out there. I kind of like that, actually.

Red Pill Junkie said...

Thanks for the heads-up re. the spoilers.

And yes, the fact that they haven't found any other sentient life forms—not even something more complex than trees and algae!—is rather odd, and maybe not so far away from the actual truth... that's probably the reason so many aliens come to visit our planet, because they are tied of staring at algae from their last holiday!

"Quazgaa, honey... this planet is Boooring; let's rather go and probe some humans" ;-)

Red Pill Junkie said...

Totally un-related to the current topic, but you guys might like to watch this TED conference with Elizabeth Gilbert.

Trust me: you really want to see it.

Bitter Animator said...

Thanks for the link, RPJ. A very interesting presentation. It is odd how we're so fragile when it comes to creativity. Even those who appear totally arrogant have so often built that as a defense mechanism because of just how sensitive they really are.

We put ourselves under a lot of pressure. I quite like the idea of believing that the creative process comes from elsewhere.

leolodreamland said...

I just finished watching series one and it seems to have opened more plot threads than it has closed, more and more as the series goes on, some of them great but mostly it is convoluted tripe. and if it gets worse as you say, i don't think i'll bother with any more...

Zaric Zhakaron said...

I rather enjoyed the old Battlestar Galagica and it's comicbook feeling.

The villain, Baltar, was an evil scientist who SAT ON A THRONE AND COMMANDED CYLONS TO DESTROY THE GALATICA!! Now he's a nerd, a little, sniveling nerd. It really angers me to see my favorite characters butchered...

Anyway, going back to the NEW Battlestar Galatica. There is no ryme or reason to the episodes. It's just a bunch of emo people brooding about this or that. The creator's intentions are to bathe us in HUMAN DRAMA, which quite frankly, can't be found doing that.

To quote Mr. Trombley, "Hey, the original Star Trek was a show about wandering around in space with no clear purpose but to explore. And it was great!"

The original Star Trek FOLLOWED A FORMULA. 1 hour show, first half we establish a problem, second half we deal with it. New author can write each episode.

Star Trek can NOT be compared with this with the exception that it takes place in space, and there is a lot of "unknown" out there.

The original Battlestar followed that concept pretty well. It's just instead of checking out a new planet, or fighting off enemy assaults PLANNED (Yes, they did have a plan) by the evil doctor Baltar... they instead focus on politics and character relationships.

Scifi Action becomes an emo, brooding excuse for human drama.

Unknown said...

i didnt like it either, shows need good writers, this one was lame and adolescent like it was written by a yteenager