A Galactic Revival
I was a sucker, as it turns out. Because upon revisiting several old (please, let’s not call them “classic”) Galactica re-runs, it was clear to me what was clear to able-minded adults back in 1979: namely that Galactica was a cheesy “Star Wars” knock-off, as my esteemed colleague Chris Rywalt put it. And in an age where we’ve attempted to exhume, Quincy-like, the bodies of Bewitched (too-hip meta feature) Gilligan’s Island (pained reality show), Mister Ed (failed pilot with Sherman Hemsley as the voice of the horse), and numerous other old TV shows, do we really need to unearth the body of Lorne Greene and bring back Galactica?
(Actually, they already did — PAX aired Bonanza: The Next Generation briefly. Let’s consider ourselves lucky that only smart-ass web sites have suggested bringing back ol’ Quince himself.)
When the original Galactica miniseries aired, I watched it reluctantly. (This is a concept that’s really grown since I got TiVo… these days I record a lot of stuff, but sometimes I just never watch it. Galactica, I started to watch… and watched the whole damned thing.) Turns out that this new Galactica was in no way related to the original. Not only did new series developer Ron Moore re-boot the show, he hollowed out all the cheesy parts and replaced them with something new: a dark, adult story about terror, war, and death.
Although the miniseries was better than I expected, it didn’t blow me away, either. But I decided to give the new series (airing Friday nights on Sci Fi) a try, just to see whether it would improve or fall apart. I would’ve laid serious odds on “fall apart.” And I would’ve lost my shirt.
That’s because, as unlikely as it seems, the new Battlestar Galactica series is a remarkable success. Led by the serious weight of Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, and even weightier storylines, it’s a sci-fi series for adults that doesn’t shy away from dealing with big issues: God, sex, death, betrayal, obsession, self-denial… it’s all in there.
I honestly didn’t know Moore had it in him. Yes, Moore was the writer and producer who helped revitalize the latter years of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but who would have expected that the guy who finally made the Klingons interesting would have it in him to take a piece of junk like the original Galactica and rebuild it into such an excellent piece of modern television?
This Galactica doesn’t flinch at the original series’ concept, namely that the bulk of humanity has been wiped out by a vicious attack from a mechanized enemy, the Cylons. It’s not afraid of the dark places that a desperate, tired group of people on the run might go — including turning on one another even as their enemy bears down upon them, ready to strike.
This is not to say that the new Galactica isn’t without its flaws. It’s got great big ones, and they’re in plain sight. Proud to have cast a smokin’ hottie, Tricia Helfer, as a human-form Cylon agent-slash-sex kitten, Moore and company have shamelessly overused her. Speaking as a red-blooded heterosexual male, even I am tired of seeing Helfer dressed in lingerie and cooing sexily about Cylon religion. Toss in the subplot about Boomer, another female character who’s really a Cylon, and you get the distinct impression that the entire Cylon plot against humanity involves creating hot chicks and having them use their sexuality to bend human men to their will. I’m not saying that it’s a bad plan, but it reeks of sexism.
Similarly, every episode of Galactica is burdened with an interminable secondary story involving two characters stranded on the decimated world of Caprica. I’m sure the show’s producers are building up to a suitably exciting resolution to the plot, but there’s really no hint about why we’re seeing this poor bastard aimlessly wander the surface of a radioactive planet. However, these cutaway scenes do allow the producers to show lots of cool shots of Cylon robots blowing stuff up. As a red-blooded heterosexual male, even I am tired of seeing cool shots of Cylons blowing stuff up. Get on with it.
It says a lot about the sad state of Star Trek that just as one of its former (and deposed) producers has transformed a completely discredited franchise into a serious piece of television, Enterprise has gotten its pink slip? This year’s Enterprise, while much improved over its previous seasons, still can’t hold a candle to the energy and dark themes of Galactica. And the viewers know it: even though Galactica airs on basic cable and Enterprise on network TV (okay, UPN), Galactica regularly bests it in the ratings. Toss in the two Stargate series and Enterprise can’t even claim to be the fourth-best outer space show on television.
Does “Star Trek” need a rest? (Hey, my answer was “yes” six years ago.) But if Enterprise didn’t convince you that “Trek” needs some hibernation time (and a new creative team), five minutes with Battlestar Galactica will.
Battlestar Galactica, better than Star Trek (and if you want to toss in the prequels, “Star Wars,” too)? Ten years ago people would have laughed in your face. But in the cold light of 2005, it’s the truth. How times change.
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