Must Be Watching a Different Battlestar Galactica

Not actually our TV

Sg, we don’t watch much television. We haven’t had cable or satellite for many years, and our pair of rabbit ears only picks up a few channels. When they switch to digital-only broadcast, we will have no direct access to television at all.

But we do watch television shows on DVD or by download, which is how I have something to contribute to the occasional conversation about what’s good on TV. A few current or recent shows crop up again and again in these conversations — the Wire, the Sopranos, Mad Men… and Battlestar Galactica. These are all shows that seem to inspire a lasting enthusiasm in their fans.

I’ve seen the first four seasons of the Wire and the first season of Mad Men, and I can understand why people get so excited. The Wire, in particular, is probably the very best television drama I have ever seen. Mad Men has its weak points, but it’s cream of the crop as well. Both of these shows focus viewers on issues and conflicts that we might not otherwise stop to consider, and they do it (mostly) without telling us who is good and who is bad, and without telling us how to feel about the things we’re seeing. This is, I think, what good drama should do for us — we should suffer with the characters and leave when the lights come up with a little better understanding of ourselves and the world we live in.

So like, more of that is good, right? That’s what I was thinking when I downloaded season one of Battlestar Galactica from iTunes. I’m halfway through the season, and I must say…

Seriously?

Evil Cylon Bad Guy

The show is fine, I guess; it’s maybe better than fine, if you stand it up next to most of what is on television. It’s in the class of shows like Lost or Six Feet Under or something, but elevate the art form it does not. To name a couple of problems, there doesn’t seem to be much thought given to maintaining the integrity of the characters’ respective personalities across (and sometimes within) episodes. And the viewer is browbeaten with every plot point to make sure that each is painfully obvious. If, for example, the viewer needs to understand that the captain is torn between his personal desire to rescue a stranded fighter pilot and the need to preserve resources and stay on the move, you will: (a) see five times the clock counting down the minutes until the pilot’s oxygen runs out; (b) hear three times from various cast members that the captain is torn between his personal desire to rescue a stranded fighter pilot and the need to preserve resources and stay on the move; and (c) see three times the captain making resource allocation decisions that shock — shock! — the people around him. There’s not much room for narrative amongst all the exposition.

(It reminds me of the National Treasure sequel, which I saw in the theater. Every single plot point was narrated repeatedly in short simple sentences. By the end of the movie I was cracking up because, as the water flooded into the hidden underground city, threatening to drown our protagonists, I knew before hearing it that the characters would say things like “the water is flooding the city!”, “if we don’t find a way out, we’ll drown!”, and “the water is getting higher!” It’s like the movie was made for the blind. Battlestar Galactica isn’t that bad, but coming off the Wire and Mad Men, the producers’ low opinion of the viewer’s intelligence is jarring.)

If I sound angry, it’s because I’m disappointed. Not only because all the recommendations got my hopes up for an awesome show that doesn’t seem to exist, but also because the premise of the show seems such a rich backdrop for character development that it seems will never occur.

I’ll probably finish watching the season. (I’ve paid for it, after all, and I would still love to find out I’m wrong about the show.) I’ve gone looking for evidence on fansites and in Amazon.com reviews that things pick up sometime after the middle of the first season, that the show didn’t hit its stride until _______ ___, 20___, and that if I make it ’till that point I’ll be rewarded with great television. But I’m not finding it.

I did add the complete Wire box set to my wishlist while I was at Amazon.com, though.

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