(Sorry. Picture cracked me up when I saw it. Had to use).
Caprica and Stargate Universe. Back in February, I wondered which of these two shows would become the new Battlestar Galactica.
And it turns out it’s neither.
Caprica: ah, what potential. What creative flair. And…what a meandering, oddly dispassionate mess. It started so well – and so profoundly lost its way. Even though some of the writing was strong, even though the design work was always stunning. Can’t fault the actors. And so on. The ingredients were terrific, but somehow it turned out inedible.
I’m still trying to work out why. Because the reason wasn’t that it just wasn’t very good. There’s so much they got right – yet they seemed to fumble the things that really make a series come alive in the minds of its audience. Maybe it’s the characters – a hollow, humourless bunch of folk. You feel sympathy, yet you don’t really care. Yes, Daniel Graystone is a Baltaresque genius stroke bastard you can’t help rooting for, but….actually, I can. Somehow, he’s still just a character. They’re all just characters. Fitted into uninspiring character types. (The reluctant mafioso – the religious fanatic – the aloof genius). And so they’re not terribly convincing people – the kind of people actors get mistaken for at fan conventions.
I worked hard to love this show, for obvious reasons. I forgave it a great deal. But now I’m done.
Oh, and while I’m sticking the knife in, the point where a prototype Cylon was sitting on the edge of someone’s bed discussing its problems was where I started to lose hope. Ditto the dancing Cylon bit. Yes, I know there’s context in each case but it’s still a Cylon, sitting on the edge of someone’s bed or gyrating with a teenage geek. It’s always going to be a struggle making those scenes not appear ludicrous. Why put them in? Best answer: you don’t.
And there’s a lot of moments like those. Some of the risks paid off, but…well. That’s why you don’t try making an entire TV series out of risks.
Given time, Caprica might have ironed out its narrative issues and given us something to love.
But it’s been cancelled. So it’s not the next Galactica. Alas for that.
And Stargate Universe?
Having seen all of season 1 and a little of the currently-airing season 2, I’m happy to sign up to buying it on iTunes every week, episode by episode.
Back in February, I said it was how Star Trek Voyager should have played out. So let’s just imagine it is Voyager for a second.
(Spoilers and stuff, whatevs).
In the latest episode, Captain Janeway has a drink problem and is riddled with self-doubt. There’s a lot on her mind, what with the Borg harrying them constantly and her post-traumatic stress over having to mercy-kill a valued member of the crew. The ship is also telepathically feeding her battle scenarios and messing with her sleep patterns. She knows she’s unfit to lead. And also, she has no control over the ship, because Voyager does its own thing, for mysterious reasons. Talk about feeling helpless.
Meanwhile First Officer Chakotay is increasing his control of Voyager‘s subsystems from within the secret ship’s bridge, working obsessively hard to decipher the real reason that Voyager is at the other side of the universe. He’s told nobody he’s controlling the ship.
Everyone else is gaunt, miserable, depressed and permanently on edge, and the lights don’t work properly.
Voyager comes across a derelict ship! As the resident alien technology expert Chakotay volunteers to go across in person to check it out, and Janeway accompanies him because she doesn’t trust him. While over there, they get stranded until Chakotay reveals his knowledge of Voyager‘s subsystems and of the secret bridge. Realising he’s been lying to her for months, Janeway loses her temper and kicks the shit out of him.
I hope this illustrates how different a take on things that Stargate Universe really is.
It’s not perfect. It fluffs some opportunities and entirely misses others. But generally speaking, this is a story with drive, a bunch of characters to care about and a visual style that not only looks incredible (read “expensive”) but also looks like nothing else on TV right now. Oh, and the acting is frequently amazing. And they can do funny. And it’s really good.
Stargate Universe isn’t the new Battlestar Galactica. That would be unfair, because it’s successfully managing to be itself. I’m finding it just as unmissable as BSG, but it’s a very different feel of scifi (sorry, “SyFy”) show, not the least because it’s a contemporary setting. And it has a lot of creative freedom. It can either grittily reinvent material from the last two decades of Stargate, or it can attempt things Stargate‘s never done before. So far, it’s handled both approaches remarkably well.
Season 1 is now on Amazon. It does good things. Go see.