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TV: The Battlestar Galactica Boxset Dilemma

Posted February 8, 2013 by Will O'Keeffe in Ramp Specials

When TV achieves something special, word naturally spreads. Thank you, internet. In the mid 2000′s, episodes of the year and TV must-watch lists were praising Battlestar Galactica as fitting with the trend of TV of substance. A cult favourite of ’70s TV was being overhauled for modern audiences: a story of humanity on the brink of destruction, retold with parallels to contemporary events, and with a serious arc constructed drawing in mysticism, religion, and questions of identity. Barriers and conventions were being unfurled, sci-fi TV was receiving Emmy consideration and appealing across audiences. A true space saga was being told on the small screen with the advances technology allowed.

For this writer, the nail in the coffin was a picture in Empire magazine, in which Dominic West and Jamie Bamber looked overly-satisfied, as if their lives were better than ours. Truth told, it was the photo’s caption, which intimated that each was placating the other by praising his TV show as the greatest of all time. West starred as Jimmy McNulty in The Wire, and no one who has seen that show would question the hyperbolic praise thrown at it. It was the greatest TV show I had seen to that point, and, to be frank, it still is. Imagine then, the flurry of intrigue at this parallel being drawn with another show. The show? Jamie Bamber, like West, is British, and had found himself putting on a convincing US accent and playing the role of Lee ‘Apollo’ Adama in Battlestar Galactica.

The Wire vs Battlestar Galactica: no contest

It took time to get around to watching it (there is probably a great article in mapping our lives and the box sets we watched at different junctures), but this Christmas past all five seasons of Battlestar Galactica sat under the tree with my name on. Seven weeks later, I am into Season 4, and moan about how I don’t have time to study. My issue though is not that I’m gripped; it’s that the whole box set is at my disposal and I find I want to get it over and done with so that it doesn’t go unused. I’m interested in the end result; the journey is proving a bit… blah. Pose a hypothetical question of whether I would still be watching if I needed to seek out each series, rather than having the entire thing at my disposal, and I’m not so certain you’d get a positive answer.

In Battlestar Galactica, relationships are predictable and stories are crowbarred in with an ‘episode of the week’ stiffness.

From the outset, it was clear that tried and tested formulas were at play. Ronald D. Moore, a name known to Trekkies, admitted that plots were reused from his time on Star Trek. In Battlestar Galactica, relationships are predictable; inattentive fathers, resentful sons, and unrequited love interests are set up from the off and stories crowbarred in with an ‘episode of the week’ stiffness about them. So often people are extricated and set up for a fall, only for events to see them redeemed by the end of the episode. So much, including a long-running plot of the illness of a major character, gets solved with one line, quick fixes that feel like a cheat. The body count is out of all control and there is a shameless pattern of new faces being introduced only to be killed, or found to be a villain, shortly after.

The villains, Cylons, develop from faceless, near-omnipotent threats to divided, uninteresting baddies weak in the same ways they criticise humans for. There is no consistency around their abilities; at one point they annihilate the bulk of humanity but two seasons later can’t keep order over a group of 40,000 people. The first three seasons open with a line of text ‘…and they have a plan’. Menacing, except it becomes pretty clear after a while that there is no plan.

This is not an all-out beat-down. There are interesting characters: the development of some of the pilots in particular are played out very well and there are some great, moral moments in the tension between military and civil forces left to protect survivors. Every so often brave and interesting choices are made, and apart from the reuse of the same hallway space and various sets ad nauseum, the show does look great.

Can anyone tell me there is a worthwhile pay-off? Can anyone tell me to have faith?

And so I find myself trapped by the box set. It will be interesting to see if I’m proven wrong, but this is not hope triumphing over experience, it’s a needs must exercise. Deleted scenes and bonus material are skipped and the laptop stays open to do other things. It’s been three mixed series. Can anyone tell me there is a worthwhile pay-off? Can anyone tell me to have faith? Can anyone sit and talk to me about how to analyse the mix of loathing and compulsion I feel towards the show, why I resist thinking about it and can’t stop and why I’ve only begun this to end it. Does it not seem like Galactica should be spelled Gallactica? Does this mean I will never have a healthy relationship? Battlestar Galatica is an entirely different animal to The Wire and it was unfair to begin by expecting it to be similar. But I did and now I’m fracking torn.

About the Author

Will O'Keeffe

Will is a mild-mannered civil servant by day, Superman (fan) by night.

  • Niall Gosker

    If you aren’t enjoying it thus far, I’d imagine you probably won’t be satisfied by the end. It has a very divisive finale and I found the final season to be notably weaker than what had come before.

    Whoever thinks it comparable to The Wire is likely clinically insane, it’s not even in the same ball park (then again, so few shows are). It’s unfortunate that expectation was set as you went in to watch it.

    I still think it’s one of the best dramas of the last decade (more on that soon in a Top Ten I’m working on) mainly because it’s a sci-fi show that takes itself seriously , doesn’t dwell on its conventions, (both quite rare) and executes the fundamentals of TV drama very well.

    • Will Fitzgerald

      Seconded. If you’ve already reached Season 4, you’re through the prime part of its run. Still some hella kick-ass moments to come but its past the point of winning you over.

  • justin

    it peaked over seasons 2 & 3. ‘The Resistance’ webisodes between those 2 seasons are worth a look

  • http://www.redlemonade.blogspot.com/ Kitty Catastrophe

    I loved BSG but was most unimpressed with the ending. If you’re not enjoying it at this stage then I don’t imagine there’s much hope of it redeeming itself for you.

  • http://twitter.com/notRuairi Rú Hickson

    The first season is remarkable and I’d consider it the best. Higher level of quality than the other series over fewer episodes. The third season, especially the second half, was quite weak because the network forced the writers into a format of one-episode story arcs. Ratings dropped markedly when this happened, so they gave full reigns back to the writers. I think the final three/four episodes of the third series are some of the finest television to have ever been broadcast.

    Season four felt a little unnecessary to me, and the ending was interesting but, as Niall pointed out, divisive. Ultimately, it won’t be up there with The Shield and Breaking Bad in terms of the best TV shows ever, but it’s not far off. For all its flaws, I can’t fault its ambition.

  • http://twitter.com/Nylers Niall

    I remember being disappointed with Season 4 and the last episode in particular. The last 60 seconds redeemed it for me though. So I’d say stick with it if only to see what happens.

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