Friday, August 27, 2010

Top 10 T.V. Shows: 6. Battlestar Galactica (Reimagining)

Ten years ago, Battlestar Galactica was a mark of the extremophiles of nerdom. To profess a fondness for the 1970's television series, even in passing, was to brand yourself. You were an outcast. You wore the scarlet BSG.

I was not aware of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica when it first came on the air. But I like to imagine, when the first episode of the miniseries was about to broadcast, that a small, quiet group of fans were gathered around the televisions in their parents' basements, hoping that finally, their sweet, sweet love for the original BSG would be vindicated. Their hopes, I can only assume, were wildly exceeded.

To call this a reimagining is to undersell what has been done. The source materials exist solely in the names and set designs. The characters, the stories, the tone... there is nothing here to relate it to the original program. The only reason to keep the name I can imagine is that it was guaranteed to bring the SyFy network- then still Sci-Fi- a certain amount of audience.

I will admit, unlike every other deceased program on this list, I have not finished BSG yet. I am halfway through the third of four seasons. Given that the writers were already focused on how it would conclude by that stage in production, I'm not concerned about the quality sliding. There's nowhere to go from here but up. In some ways, BSG is the show Lost wanted to be. It is cramped. It is paranoid. There is constant tension, without it ever becoming wearing. Things aren't left unexplained, but you are constantly asking questions. The best decision they made with this new version was to make some of the Cylons, the robot enemies responsible in this version for almost wiping out the human race, resemble humans. There are 12 models. You learn of them slowly, one model at a time, as events progress. It's all handled brilliantly, and I love the way the show doesn't shy away from exploring the tension between the humans and cylons on those occasions when they are forced to coexist.

The thrills are a big part of BSG, so it's important to make a distinction here; Lost is a thrill ride the first time through. So is Dexter. But neither of those shows are on this list. Lost stretched itself out for too long; had they stayed focused the whole time, things might be different. More importantly, neither Dexter nor Lost holds any great amount of entertainment value when you start to view it a second time. That's because both shows are predicated on the thrill of not knowing. The characters in those shows, particularly Dexter, are overshadowed by the stories. There's no reason to come back.

There are thrills, there are blistering action scenes, and the special effects look damn good. These things make the show easy to get into. But what keeps me coming back, of course, is that BSG has characters, and it develops them. I just finished watching the episode "Unfinished Business," an entirely character-driven piece centered around a boxing competition. The last two and a half seasons have been relatively relentless in their forward progress. It felt good to take an episode to let everything settle, for us to take stock of where we've been with these people, and to think about where we're going.

(ed.'s note: BSG is one of two shows on this list with the chance for forward mobility.)

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