Battlestar Galactica, Season 1 Observations

I just finished watching the first season of the new Sci-Fi Chanel version of Battlestar Gallactica. I wrote about it before, after having seen the opening movie, and while I wasn’t too impressed, I liked what I saw. (Luckily in sci-fi there are only two kinds of movies: good movies and funny movies. The first are usually intentional and very well planned out. The second usually aren’t.) I borrowed a copy of the DVDs from a friend (Thank you, Dora!) and decided to spend one night watching the whole season. Thankfully, while not a sci-fi nerd, The Wife likes sci-fi just enough to watch the series with me. What follows are a few observations I made regarding the show. This isn’t a review, so don’t expect one. Also, don’t expect it to be very serious: while the observations are real, remember than in sci-fi there are never any bad moments: only good ones and funny ones.

1) Until the sixth episode there are only, like, 4 black people on the show. The two that are male don’t show up until the third episode AND THEY’RE BOTH IN FRACK’N JAIL! Is there a message here? Do we have fans of The Bell Curve on the writing staff or something? (By the way, the other two are a religious leader — of course — and a delicate little thing up on the bridge, with a forehead so big it would require its own expeditionary team to map it.) Also, in the first season, what’s up with all the fat people? I mean, they’re all in jail, except for one guy, who turns out to be a total jackass, bullying people around. Seriously, I’m expecting they’ll have an episode shot entirely within the confines of the fleet’s Weight Watcher’s ship, where all the morbidly obese individuals are running arou… wait, morbidly obese people don’t run around. They probably have jump-capable mopeds, though. Anyway, so here’s my first complaint: lack of diversity.

2) About the floating jail: who the hell would endow a floating jail with light-speed capabilities!? Second, why did they keep that ship, or rather, their people? Dump them off into one of the non-jump ships, fill the boat with a bunch of kids from one of the non-jump capable ships, and let the criminals to their fate.

3) I hate the intro to the show. Haaaaaate it. It’s the most uncomfortable beginning in television, by far. Every episode starts with the words “Previously on Battlestar Galactica”, then the story of how the Cylons invaded and the humans were kicked out is shown. As text. Then, clips are shown of previous episodes relating to the upcoming episode. Next, the show starts, for about 5 minutes, Then, the opening credits are played, followed with a preview of the upcoming episode. Finally, 8 1/2 minutes later, the episode finally really begins.

Seriously, this is — BY FAR — the Most. Annoying. Intro. EVAR! I mean, obviously some evil genius (a Cylon?) sold them on taking an independently good concept of a preview of the last show or shows, tacking on to it another independently good concept by showing a bit of the show before the actual intro in order to aid success, then tacking on to that the incredibly stupid concept of showing an incoherent preview showing us what we’re about to watch, convincing them that this would somehow be a great idea (After all if one is good, three must be great!) Unfortunately, this turned out to be an incredibly stupid idea that could have only been made more worse by adding to the end of the episode both a recap of what we just watched and a preview of the next show.

Mind you, I’ve only seen the first season, so I pray to the Lords of Kobol (They pray to Y2K programmers?) that they patched up the intro in later seasons. Let’s see, how about this:

– Say “Previously on Battlestar Galactica”‘
– Show the clips of previous episodes which relate to the upcoming one;
– Start the theme song, displaying the show story (without text this time) and opening credits
– Nix the preview of the upcoming episode. That’s like showing me a recap of the show at the end of the episode.

Alternately, they could replace the whole “Previously” part by including that within the intro song, where the clips of the episode we’re about to watch currently reside, music and all. This opens up the space for the whole suspenseful introduction thing they’re so fond of.

Total start time, about 3 minutes. [Addendum: I just finished watching season 2 — not to be mistaken with season 2.5 (?!) — and they clean this up. Now the intro is much better, although they could still get rid of some elements, like the preview of the upcoming episode which is useless when you don’t understand it and frustrating when you do.]

4) Regarding the women: What the hell is up with the casting crew picking only women with mouths that would make Sailor Moon jealous?! Seriously, those mouths are HUUUUGE! And the lips, hell let’s not even talk about those.

Separated at birth, or did they just go to the same plastic surgeon?

A picture says all that needs to be said, anyway.

There are only two ladies on the show which don’t fall into this category (only “one” who would actually count as pretty), and both of them have the cute-without-trying thing going. I’m sure BSG fans can guess who I’m talking about.

5) Cravings: For some reason, every time I watch this show I want to smoke a cigar and drink. Can’t guess why…

6) Props and sets: My biggest complaint about this show — honest to the gods complaint here, not just rant — is the lack of imagination on the part of the staging crew: American mid-west style cities (at least the close ups), 17th century galleons, suits and ties… Considering human cultures on this planet, all at the same time, couldn’t come up with similar style architecture or clothing, the thought that some other culture, light years away and thousands of years separated from us, could possibly have identical clothing — even if they came from essentially the same heritage (sort of) is simply absurd. Yes, I know — suspension of disbelief for the sake of story/relateability. I understand that. However, this isn’t a complaint against just this sci-fi, this is a complaint against almost all sci-fi shows, which for some reason feature rather homogeneous human cultures, even across the vastness of time and space. The only show I saw with a bit of a difference here was Babylon 5. (Some Star Trek episodes also offer alternative cultures, but they’re always cultures which are somehow disconnected from the rest of the human species.)

7) Storyline complaint: While the overall story of the show is pretty good, I’m left wondering as to why just about every frack’n interpersonal conflict in the show is caused by an aparent epidemic of pathological dishonesty. Seriously, at least half of the show’s conflicts could be easily and non-violently resolved by the simple act of telling the truth. (I’m talking to you, Mr. Baltar!)

8) What’s up with all the papers, picture frames, cards, CD’s, etc. being made into octagons? It’s like these people have a love for corners, so they decide to stick eight of them on everything. I know they wanted things to be different, but seriously, there are other, more important things to worry about here, like, oh I don’t know, neckties? Like, why do they even exist? Or 3-piece suits, for that matter? In fact, it seems an awful lot of today’s Earth technology has made it into their hands.

9) The camera work, was it done by someone who just finished taking their Parkinson’s medication? I’m all for equal opportunity and all, but if I get motion sickness any time I’m watching the show then we have a problem.

10) Frack. Frack frack frack frack frack. That’s a replacement cuss-word the show uses in place of… well, I’m sure you can guess which word is replaces. Hint: it sounds like frack. At first it’s cute and funny in the “hee hee, I said a bad word” sort of way. Then they started using it everywhere, to describe everything. After that it got really annoying.

11) A lot of the story had me thinking “Is it just me, or did I see this in Star Wars?”

12) Editing mistakes: The first season is replete with major mistakes that made it on air. The biggest of these is on episode 2 of disc 3 (of the first season): at about the half-way point in the episode, the Boomer that’s on Caprica starts coughing for some reason. They show her for about a full second, just sort of looking at something behind the camera while the coughing is going on. Too bad she’s not coughing. After that, she starts saying something and suddenly you see this big dark spot form around her mouth, like she’s an old car leaking oil into the exhaust or something. If you look closely, you can see why they did this: her lips don’t match, at all, in any way, shape, or form, what she’s actually saying. When I first saw this I thought there was a problem with my television. Nope, it was the show alright, unless I was watching a reeeeeaaallly faulty DVD.

13) Story element complaint: At one point you can hear Major Adama tell one of the crew that unlike in previous cases, the “rumor mill’s right on this one.” Uhm… don’t know if you noticed, my dear Major, but the rumor mill’s got a fracking good record. In fact, the rumor mill seems to be just as good as prophesy in stories like this: all prophesies come true exactly as predicted, RIGHT NOW.

Ok, so enough of my complaints. Is there anything I did like? Actually, yes. A lot, which is why we kept watching.

1) I like the way they work on issues like torture (waterboarding, specifically) and, from what I hear, suicide bombers, taking one side of the issue at a time, instead of trying to teach something to viewers by taking both sides. Other topics of interest include the Atheism vs. Deism debate, and whether we allow ideas to harm us, much like today’s fear of terrorists-among-us.

2) I like some of their more innovative story aspects, like the use of real-but-imaginary enemies. These allow

3) The music: By far the best part of the show has been the phenomenal music. Frankly, this is some of the absolute best, most innovative music I’ve ever heard on a television show. Lots of minimalist aspects as well as properly placed dissonances in contexts you normally wouldn’t expect them in. [Addendum: The music gets even better in season 2.]

4) Cliffhangers: this show looooooooves cliffhangers. In fact, it was a great cliffhanger at the end of the first season that made me want to watch season 2. [Addendum:… and a cliffhanger at the end of 2 that has made The Wife and I almost desperate to watch 2.5.]

Finally, I think the overall story-line is great. Unfortunately, individual episodes in season 1 don’t actually have very distinctive elements. In other words, I wouldn’t go back and say “this was my favorite episode.” Yes, there was a beginning, followed by conflict, followed by resolution, but unless the show is watched in context it is really hard to spot that. The second season, however, corrects this, however, and makes the episodes much more interesting individually, as well as within the overall story arch.

Personally, I plan to buy the series, but it’s not a priority for me (so not any time soon), since it’s not something I can watch just one episode of and really be satisfied: I need a whole weekend to devote to just watching the series, or I would have to watch it sequentially over a period of time.) In this aspect, the show is a lot like Farscape and Babylon 5, both of which featured long-term stories and where the science fiction played secondary to the storyline, instead of being the main feature. Both of these shows were loved by fans (including myself), even if they weren’t as melodramatic as BSG.

My recommendation is that if you love sci-fi, buy yourself a copy of the show (BSG: Season One, BSG: Season 2.0 (Episodes 1-10), BSG: Season 2.5 (Episodes 10-20)) — you can even buy individual episodes — or borrow it from a friend, then dedicate a weekend to watching the thing. Repeat for seasons 2, 2.5, and whatever else. (I’m presuming here that you’re like me and either don’t have the Sci-Fi channel, or don’t have the time to watch television at a prescribed time and prefer instead to just buy your shows.) If not interesting in watching, then at the very least buy the soundtrack. (BSG mini-series, BSG: Season One soundtrack, BSG: Season 2 soundtrack; you can listen to clips via these links). You’ll thank me later.

For now, while I wait for 2.5, I’ll keep myself content by watching my latest acquisition.

3 thoughts on “Battlestar Galactica, Season 1 Observations

  1. @Alstan: You’re absolutely right. If I recall correctly, the music at the end of season 1, when Baltar’s in the concert hall, is by Phillip Glass himself. (Being a Phillip Glass fan I’m surprised I missed this. Good catch, and thanks for the info!)

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