Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Legacy of Battlestar Galactica, Ten Years On

It was in December 2003, that the new Battlestar Galactica miniseries first aired on Syfy--almost a decade ago, which makes this an obvious time to take stock.

The show's creators may indeed have been as ambitious as their fans in the press made them out to be, but to go by their actual work the ambition looks like pretension in a mediocre piece of writing that also happened to be a model of how to make a show seem better than it really is:
the cheap button-pushing that looks like intellectual, political or dramatic daring to superficial viewers; the obnoxiousness for obnoxiousness's sake on the part of the dramatis personae so often mistaken for a "courageous" willingness to present unlikable characters (while their verbal abuse of each other is praised as sharp and witty dialogue); the head games that can make a show's lapses in logic or coherence instead appear to trusting viewers like part of some intriguing mystery that will be satisfactorily solved later; the soap opera-like subplots which distract the audience from a story going nowhere by fixing their attention on such questions as who is sleeping with whom (or trying to); and the fan service that makes watchers more forgiving of the flaws that do come to their attention.
In this regard one might also note the nearly Medieval conservatism that got it branded "dark and gritty" (regarded as terms of praise, these days), and the high quality of the technical aspects of the show, from set design to visual effects to cinematography.

However, even before the story ran its course and exposed the show for the shallow thing that it was to even the most credulous viewer, there ultimately proved to be no great hunger for space opera of this sort. NBC's experiment with airing the show in network prime time was a signal failure, which foreshadowed the series' later failure to launch the long-running franchise for which Syfy obviously hoped. (Caprica barely completed two seasons, while Blood & Chrome ended up a web series instead of a TV show.)

And so far from marking some renaissance of the form on television, it not only arrived at the tail end of the TV space opera's most intense and productive period, but may have helped bring that period to an end.

The overselling of the show that led to the NBC airings likely made the networks leerier of hardcore science fiction like this (and indeed, they have tended to steer clear of it in the years since, even as their interest in genre material briefly boomed in the mid-2000s). The franchise's capture of so much of the Syfy channel's attention and resources--before its turning out to be a dead end--closed off opportunities that might have been filled by other concepts that could have gone on to greater success. And of course, the tendency to imitate it seems to have been at least a factor in the downfall of Syfy's other major science fiction franchise, Stargate (which came to an end with the BSG-inspired Stargate Universe, canceled after an anemic two season run, just as Caprica was).

This left the field to the lighter fare that, with few exceptions, has dominated the scene for the past several years, with not just the networks, but the Syfy Channel sticking with shows like Eureka and Warehouse 13 and Haven.

It would be going too far to say that this show killed off science fiction television of its type--but the show played its part in this nonetheless.

On Writing a Thriller: Investigations
Coming Next Month: Riddick
The Writing Life: An Economist's Perspective
In Defense of the Star Wars Prequels, Part II
And Now For Something Slightly Different (Maybe): The Summer Movies of 2014
The Late Summer Box Office (The Weekend of August 23-25, 2013)
My Posts on the Syfy Channel
My Posts on Battlestar Galactica

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