Monday, August 16, 2010

30 Day TV Challenge - Day 10: "Bright, shiny futures are overrated anyway."

10. A show you thought you wouldn't like but ended up loving.
Battlestar Galactica
It sounds ridiculous in hindsight, of course. The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica is one of the bravest, most significant, and flat-out best examples of serial television ever made, to say nothing of science fiction television. Tossing aside the typical trappings of space opera, Galactica dives deep into a messy, heady world of flawed, complicated people at the very frayed edges of humanity. It's about what it actually means to be human, and explores the nature of life and civilization. It is uniformly brilliant in virtually every respect, and is one of my very favorite shows.

But I never gave it much of a shot when it first aired. Why? Because it was on the frakking Sci-Fi Channel.

I mean, come on: think of what Sci-Fi was broadcasting at the time.* Mansquito? Original films starring the guy who played Chakotay? The very worst kind of mediocre-at-best dross that Sci-Fi is (quite rightfully) known for? I remember distinctly when the channel first hit the air, and I remember how excited I felt at having -- finally! -- a channel devoted entirely to my interests! And then I saw it was nothing but crappy monster movies and reruns of Space: 1999, and I realized I'd been duped. The best things the channel ever did were the occasionally watchable Stargate: SG-1 and the last few seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000...and they managed to fuck that up.** So the news of a brand-new BSG from these people did not fill me with excitement, particularly when I didn't like the original BSG to begin with.

The problem, it turns out, was that I hadn't done my research. If I had, I would've seen the man overseeing the show was Ronald D. Moore, whose work I was very familiar with from his work on Star Trek. The man wrote handfuls of episodes of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, almost all of them excellent -- some of them all-time classics like "Yesterday's Enterprise," "Trials and Tribble-ations," "The First Duty" and even "All Good Things...," the Next Gen finale. "The First Duty," particularly, would be emblematic of his work on BSG: no goofy science stuff, just decent people making impossible decisions in bad situations. Not only that, but he was hired as a producer on Voyager -- which we hate, don't we? -- and then had the good sense to get the hell out of there once he saw the circus Brannon Braga was running. If anyone could take the cheesetastic Battlestar Galactica, put it on Sci-Fi, and still get something useful from it, it was Moore.

Which, it turns out, was the case. And I finally did catch up with the show at the behest of a friend after the conclusion of the second season. And felt so, so stupid. Moore did it, of course, by putting aside everything Star Trek had lived on for decades and wrote a real, gritty series -- it just happened to be about robots on a spaceship. Moore's bible for BSG -- which you should read -- shows he knew exactly what he wanted right from the start.

And of course, if I'd known that, I would've been on board from the beginning. Oh well -- better late than never, right?

*Or, hell, what the fuck are they airing now? Sharktopus? "All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again."
**Seriously, that's a great story. When they picked up MST3K following its cancellation at Comedy Central, Sci-Fi demanded the writers add a "story arc" to keep viewers coming back. "We don't need a story arc," Kevin Murphy told them. "We're a puppet show. We just need an excuse to tell jokes." But Sci-Fi insisted, and the Best Brains guys complied, providing the show with a (surprisingly well-constructed) story arc. So then, of course, Sci-Fi ran the episodes out of sequence. You see why I was reluctant to give BSG a chance?

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