Elster's World

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Why The New Battlestar Galactica Kicks The Old Galactica's Butt

Couple of notes before I begin:

It seems pretty clear to me that no one who actually reads me has even seen the new series of Battlestar Galactica (as it airs on Friday nights) and not too many of them would even be old enough to remember the classic original series which first aired in 1978. So, I suspect that this one’s for Elster and Elster alone.

More important – I have only watched the first season of the new show this far. If anyone stumbles across this and wants to leave a comment about anything that happens after Season I, please DO NOT DO SO.

Finally – This review will of course be spoiler heavy. If you are thinking about watching the first season and want to be surprised, DO NOT READ THIS. You have been warned. On with the article:

When I was a kid (back in the day), I was a huge sci-fi fan. I remember going to see Star Wars for the first time in 1977 (I was 4 years old) and being absolutely hooked from the first scene. I dreamed of being Han Solo, piloting the Millennium Falcon and destroying the Death Star. Yes, I know Luke Skywalker destroyed the death star. It’s called poetic license.

And back in those days, if you were a sci-fi nut, there were limited options. There was Star Wars and, well, a lot of crap. So when Battlestar Galactica burst on the scene, it was a pretty big deal. The premise was simple. In a faraway galaxy there was 12 colonies (or planets), which were involved in long war with the Cylons, robots with artificial intelligence, originally built by humans and who had since rebelled against their human leaders (like the Terminator story without the time travel element). After a long war, the Cylons wish to declare a truce. Under the guise of peace, they come to sign a treaty and instead annihilated the 12 colonies. Only the space ship Battlestar Galactica (thing navy battleship and aircraft carrier all in one) is ready for this attack. All survivors pile into whatever ships can fly, flock to the Galactica, and make a run for the mythical 13th colony, a place called Earth. All as being chased by the Cylons at every turn. Even the opening credits were awesome. “There are those who believe that life here began out there…”

Sure, it was pretty goofy, and the space fighter scenes were the same every week, but for sci-fi nerds everywhere it was pure China White. I was too young for the first run episodes, but when I was in elementary school, I caught the syndicated episodes at 5:00 every night when I got home from school.

Of course, the years passed and Galactica faded away to a somewhat pleasant memory. I still like the occasional sci-fi jaunt, but most of it is completely unwatchable – almost unbearable – so those jaunts are fewer and more far between.

So when the Sci-fi channel announced plans for a reworked Galactica, my interest was slightly piqued. They produced and aired a two-hour pilot, of which I watched only bits and pieces. When they announced that the show had been picked up but the episodes would be run Friday nights, it was dead in the water for me. Despite critical acclaim that was pretty much off the charts (Rolling Stone Magazine called Galactica the best show on TV and TV Guide’s Matt Roush and Michael Ausiello raved about it weekly in their columns), Galactica was off my radar.

But earlier this winter, I had the opportunity to watch the complete first season on DVD. Quite simply, I was blown away. This was not a sci-fi show. This was a great drama that happened to take place somewhere other than Earth. The characters were real, they were gritty - and most important- totally believable. In the wake of George Lucas’ dreadful Star Wars remakes, this show is the greatest sci-fi product to be produced since the original Star Wars trilogy. I was completely sucked in. Had it not been for my Miami Vacation, I probably would have taken off a day from work and watched all 12 episodes in a row. I can’t even think of a better winter’s day off.

Enough background. Now let’s explain why this show is so much better than its predecessor, the original Galactica. For the sake of shorthand (I already feel the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome setting in), the original series will be “BG1” and the new series will be “BG2”. First let’s break down the characters, as Bill Simmons would say, Dr. Jack style.

Commander Adama:

The BG1 Adama (played by the late, great Lorne Greene) was just about the wisest, most likable man in all the fleet. He was unflappable, made a nice worried face when necessary, but never made a wrong decision. He guided the fleet correctly at every turn, never phased by the fire crisis, the Cylon crisis, the Gun on Ice Station Zero crisis, the Commander Cain crisis and not enough food crisis, all while pushing his fleet toward Earth. Therefore, his character was about as unbelievable as can be. Add to that the fact that he played the same character when he was shucking dog food for Alpo it was a little irksome. Though I would have loved to have this guy as a grandfather, there is no way he’s leading the last vestiges of humanity safety from the Cylon Tyranny. He just didn’t have the grit in him to make the tough decisions.

Then there’s the BG2 Adama. He is hardened by life and his complete distrust of the Cylons. He has lost a son (Zak) to the enemy and he knows what they are capable off. He has a human side but can shut it off when necessary to make the bad decisions. For example in the first post-pilot episode (“33”) Adama orders an entire ship with over 1,300 people on board to be destroyed because there is a pretty good chance the ship has been compromised by the Cylons. Now THAT’s the guy you want running leading the last vestiges of humanity from the Cylon Tyranny. No way Lorne Greene makes that call. And that would have been the end of the fleet, right there in the very first episode. Luckily, the writers of BG1 never put Lorne Greene in that position.

Edge: BG2.

Captain Apollo/Capt Lee Adama

BG1: Son of Commander Adama, Richard Hatch plays Apollo straight and narrow. He is the perfect son of the perfect leader. He’s a great pilot, great guy and pretty good in a scrap. His honor and nobility are without question. Of course, he, too, is completely unbelievable as a character, but I always enjoyed the Apollo experience nonetheless.

BG2: Played by Jamie St. John Amber Griffith (the name alone is an article in itself), Lee Adama (Viper call sign Apollo) is just the opposite of his original counterpart. He hates his father, blaming him for the death of his younger brother. He, too, is noble, but follows his own heart, not blindly the wished of his father. While they reach a sort of truce, the tension is always there. In the first Season’s thrilling final episode, Kobol’s Last Gleaming, he pretty much commits treason by backing the president over his father. Powerful stuff. Yet for some reason, his character bugs me.

Edge: Even.

Lieutenant Starbuck/Lt. Kara Thrace

BG1’s Starbuck, played brilliantly by the A-team’s Dirk Benedict, lives off his good looks. Sure he’s the best pilot in the fleet, but this guy would much rather be playing Pyramids (some extremely cool version of poker), drinking Ambrosia or running around with his 2 girlfriends. He’s always getting himself mixed up in some zany trouble, but always ends up smelling like a rose and with some new chick to boot.

BG2’s Kara Thrace (Viper call name Starbuck) is female. Pretty butch, but female nonetheless. She is the fleet’s best pilot but she’s pretty screwed up. She was engaged to the now deceased Adama brother, Zak, but has some feelings for Lee Adama as well. She has a private war with Galactica’s second in command, Col. Tigh. She also has a major crisis of conscience at the end of the first season, eventually betraying father figure Adama for President Laura Roslin and returns to the destroyed planet Caprica instead of taking on a dangerous mission for the fleet.

Edge: BG1. It’s impossible to vote against the original Starbuck. Just impossible. He played Faceman for heaven’s sakes.

Lt. Sharon Valerii/Boomer

BG1 – Nothing to say here. Boomer was the classic Token Black Guy. He added virtually nothing to the show, except to further the stereotype that black actors had nothing worthwhile to contribute to television.

BG2 – Sharon Valerii (Raptor call sign Boomer) is one the new shows great characters. She’s a top pilot and she’s in love with flight deck crew chief Tyrol. Oh, and she also happens to be a Cylon who looks human. And she doesn’t even realize this at first, but comes to this self-discovery over the course of the first season (she blows up the ship’s water supply/almost refuses to report the water she discovers) culminating in her shooting Commander Adama in the chest in the last scene of the season finale as he congratulates her for completing a dangerous mission for the fleet – truly a shocking ending.

Huge Edge: BG2.

Baltar/Gaius Baltar

BG1: Baltar (played with maniacal efficiency by John Colicos) was responsible for allowing the Cylons to destroy the colonies. For his reward, the traitorous Baltar is given a Cylon Base Star and chases the Galactica all over the Galaxy. His second in command, Lucifer, was fantastic as well, adding actual sarcasm to a show in dire need of a realistic touch. This pair would surely get the edge but for…

BG’s Gaius (pronounced Guy-Us) Baltar, played with brilliance by James Callis, is one of televisions great characters. He was a scientist who is tricked into helping the Cylons when he is seduced by Number 6, a hot, human looking Cylon, who uses him to gain Cylon command of all networked computers in the fleet. Now Baltar is aboard the Galactica and Number 6 is in his head. And he’s playing for both teams. Brilliant.

Edge: BG2.

Col. Tigh

The original Col Tigh, ships second in command, was actually a black character from the 70’s who succeeded in bringing something to the table. Played by Terry Carter, Tigh was a steadying influence in times of trouble and kept the bridge running smoothly.

His updated counterpart is a surely drunk. The new Tigh is another in a long line of BG2’s realistic character set. He is a good leader, though the drink causes him to misstep on occasion. His running feud with Lt. Starbuck adds a nice element of humor to the show.

Theme Song:

This was the toughest thing for me to decide. The opening to the original was fantastic. The “there are those who believe” followed by an orchestra doing a 70’s sci-fi thing which I find myself humming to this day. BG2 goes with grit (of course), the music underscored by the dire situation of the show’s protagonists. Unable to pick a winner, I’m going with a tie.

So on a character level, BG2 kicks. Of course, this is totally unfair. The original show was a camp-fest. However, it took itself seriously enough to lose some of its campy-ness. The new version is just a fantastic drama.

So there you have it. Just under2,000 words on an essay about a television show; an essay I seriously doubt anyone is actually going to read. And it’s not even finished. I plan on someday breaking down the first season’s episodes against each other. Of course, even as I wrote that I know I’m never going to do it. But still, it’d the thought that counts.

4 Comments:

  • Okay, I'm convinced.

    I'll go watch it.

    Miss Nibbles

    By Blogger Miss Nibbles, at 6:28 PM  

  • WOOHOO - A convert!!!

    By Blogger Elster, at 10:42 AM  

  • Agree with you on every count, except the Old Starbuck/New Starbuck debate. But then again when in doubt always go with The A-Team.

    By Blogger Scuttlecliff, at 5:50 PM  

  • I disagree about Lorne Greene's Adama. Far from not being believable, Greene's Adama is a leader who doesn't bog himself down in self-doubt. This isn't not believable in the least. The same is true of Apollo. As for Herb Jefferson's Boomer, he was no token. Certainly he should have been used more in the show but he did well with what he had.

    The new version of Galactica has the advantages of hindsight and so forth, something the original series didn't have.

    By Blogger Monkeesfan, at 4:52 PM  

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