2003, TV

Battlestar Galactica (2003)

Battlestar Galactica, the reboot, is probably the greatest science fiction TV show of all time. (That obviously depends on what we mean by “science fiction”, as if I included the original Prisoner in that genre, maybe I would be forced to rethink my position. And no, no version of Star Trek has ever particularly impressed me to the extent this show does.)

It has the highest production values of any science fiction show to date, it has the most complex mythology outside of Star Trek, and its characters are not one-dimensional – in fact most of them are quite complex. At its very best, it was also one of the ballsiest shows on television – despite the restrictions placed on it by its network – and it tackled issues that no other fictional, dramatic television program would touch with a ten foot pole: who else took on 9/11 and the war in Iraq like Battlestar Galactica?

But that being said, there are a lot of things wrong with it:

  • Characters regularly perform tasks that they never would perform in reality which they couldn’t possibly be trained for – this is particularly true any time Kara or Lee go all James Bond on us, which happens multiple times in the series. I get that there only so many humans left, but surely there was the odd soldier among them? A better show would have had minor characters feature in these episodes instead.
  • The main story arc often gets confused with the plot of the week – I suspect this is a casualty of the 20+ episodes per season mandate of the show. The show would have been better off in a 13 episode format, where they didn’t have to make up plots for episodes, plots pretty much entirely incidental to the story arc.
  • Character motivation is too often at the service of the plot: Characters waiver back and forth with their attitudes towards the Cylons and each other. Bill and Lee in particular feel like they are acting out some kind of elaborate farce at times – how many times are they going to fight and make up? I’d believe it if their relationship was co-dependent or something; but both appear too competent to go through these motions over and over and over again. Why¬† does this happen? To generate conflict that otherwise shouldn’t be there. The most egregious example of character motivation at the service of the plot is in the characters’ behaviours towards Baltar, which change so much and so often it’s exasperating, all to advance the plot.
  • The score: The score is not very good and is often over-bearing – or at least the mix is. At its worst, it reminds me of bad Hollywood blockbuster scores.
  • At times, the female characters still sound like the voices of little boys: So much sci-fi suffers from “little boys imagining women” syndrome, and this show is no exception. The show has a number of strong female characters – Roslyn is the most obvious – and mostly it isn’t a problem, but particularly some of the Cylons can be heard occasionally spouting dialogue that was clearly written by a man who doesn’t speak to women very often; dialogue that reeks of fan-boy day-dreaming. (I am thinking of Xena, here.)

These are pretty huge flaws, and they keep the show from being one of the great TV shows ever made, or even among the greats of the Golden Age of Television, of which it was a part.

But I still think it’s a pretty good program, and it does deserve at least some recognition, especially for its gigantic balls in tackling US foreign policy – albeit by allegory – when nobody else dared.


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