Caprica: Season 1.5

When “Caprica” first premiered, I wondered (out loud) if anyone was really clamoring for a prequel to the “Battlestar Galactica” story and outlined the obstacles that the series faced at the time:

“Caprica” has the same challenge that the “Star Wars” prequels had: Everyone knows how it turns out. The question is whether or not the history is compelling enough to outweigh the certainty of the story’s outcome.

The two-hour premiere was solid, but the plodding start (lots of death and mourning) and uneven storyline made it something of a tough watch for many “Battlestar Galactica” fans. In fact, our own Ross Ruediger gave the Season 1.0 DVD set just two stars out of five:

With “Galactica,” we rooted for the characters because they were fighting for survival. With “Caprica,” there is nobody to root for, mostly because the characters are nearly impossible to care about and their struggles are negligible. It was probably too soon to mount another lengthy chapter in the “Galactica” concept. I don’t think creators Ronald D. Moore and David Eick had enough distance from the original series to be able to see this one clearly. It was also too soon for viewers, who weren’t clamoring for this new story, having been exhausted by the ride that was “Galactica.” The series feels as though it was put together solely to capitalize on a brand name, and not because there was actually a compelling story to tell.

I was willing to forgive the slow start in the hopes that Moore and Eick would be able to pull it together for the long haul. As it turns out, the series was canceled before the final five episodes even aired, so we now have the Season 1.5 DVD set to review. It contains the final nine episodes, along with a plethora of special features, including deleted scenes, cast and crew commentaries, podcast commentaries and more.

Having finally watched the entire run, I’d only recommend the series to “Battlestar Galactica” (and easily pleased) fans who are interested in finding out how and why the Cylons were created and how they became sentient. Most of those fans have probably already watched the series, so I’m not sure what subsection of sci-fi fans this review really speaks to. There’s no doubt that “Caprica” is a disappointment when compared to its predecessor, but those expectations were probably impossible to meet from the get-go.

For those fans that lost track of the show after the first nine (or thirteen) episodes, it’s worth finishing, because Moore wisely ramped up the action and intensity in the final hours and provided a five-minute “Shape of Things to Come” epilogue that quickly shows what happened to the main characters in the “Caprica” story, answering a few of the lingering questions along the way and providing some closure for those that need it.

Despite excellent acting from its ensemble cast (especially Polly Walker, who is positively loathsome as Clarice Willow) and the trademark Moore production values, “Caprica” was done in by largely unlikable characters and a meandering storyline that took way too long to get moving. The conflict between the humans and Cylons in “BG” was clearly drawn, but over the course of 18 episodes, I never really understood why the two religious factions in “Caprica” (monotheists and polytheists) hated each other so vehemently. Seeing as this was the crux of the plot, it’s understandable why “Caprica” failed to capture an audience as devoted as its predecessor’s.

  

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“Caprica” finally takes off

In my first impressions of the two-hour pilot for “Caprica,” I wrote the following:

While I’m certainly excited about Ronald D. Moore’s next project, I can’t help but be a little leery of a prequel. “Caprica” has the same challenge that the “Star Wars” prequels had: Everyone knows how it turns out. The question is whether or not the history is compelling enough to outweigh the certainty of the story’s outcome.

Were there any “Battlestar Galactica” fans clamoring for a prequel? I’m sure there were a few, but I hadn’t even considered the prospect until I heard that “Caprica” was already in development. How interested are we in seeing how Cylons were developed?

On the whole, I enjoyed the two-hour pilot, though I didn’t find it as compelling as “BG.” And the next two episodes consisted of a lot of mourning, religion and setup — in other words, it was a little slow. It wasn’t until the most recent episode — “There Is Another Sky” — that the series really took off.

And it would seem that most viewers out there agree. The series was getting consistent scores in the 8.2-8.8 range at TV.com, but the latest episode garnered a 9.2, the highest of the series. On the whole, “Caprica” is getting an 8.7 compared to a 9.2 for “Battlestar Galactica.” Some might argue that “BG” fans are being too hard on “Caprica,” but there is also probably some element of support for the show that wouldn’t otherwise be there. Those two factors may very well offset each other.

There are spoilers ahead, so if you recently gave up on “Caprica,” you might want to track down this episode and give it a go. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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A Chat with Adrian Hodges (“Survivors,” “Primeval”)

Adrian Hodges has been beloved by fans of BBC America’s ever-growing sci-fi lineup ever since presenting them with “Primeval,” which he created along with Tim Haines, but they’ll soon have a new reason to give him a hug when they seem him on the street. Americans may not be familiar with the 1970s British TV series known as “Survivors,” but, hey, that’s okay: it just means that they’ll be able to dig into Hodges’ new take on the series – which premieres this Saturday night on BBC America – without any preconceptions. Plus, as you’ll soon read in my chat with Mr. Hodges, which took place a few hours after the TCA panel for “Survivors,” he’s taken great pains to make sure even those who are familiar with the original series will, by the end of the first episode of this new version, realize that he’s got plenty of surprises in store for them, too. Oh, and listen up, “Primeval” fans: you’d well to read beyond the bits about “Survivors,” as we chatted about the status of the third series of “Primeval” as well as the oft-discussed feature film based on the show. There’s also some stuff about other items on Hodges’ C.V., and…well, you’d just better go ahead and read it for yourself, hadn’t you?

Adrian Hodges: Wow, look at your recorder. I used to do a bit of journalism when I first started out, but my tape recorder was… (Holds his hands several inches apart, then laughs) That’s technology for you!

Bullz-Eye: Hey, mine’s shrunk by two or three times in size just in the past few years! (Laughs) Well, first off, I just want to say that I’m a big “Primeval” fan.

AH: Thank you! Cool!

BE: I was not familiar with the original 1970s version of “Survivors,” but I take it that you were at least somewhat of a fan of it.

AH: Yeah, I was, in that kind of general way we are when we’re kids and we watch TV. I was maybe 15 or 16, something like that, and I remember very clearly the impact of the first episode. If I’m honest, I’m hazy about some of the other, later episodes, but I do remember the extraordinary shock of the imagery of a husband dying, of things that were stand-out images in my head, and you carry that through the years. It was something I remembered very well, so it was really kind of great to be asked to have another look at it, you know?

BE: So they pitched it to you, then?

AH: They did. What happened was that I’d done “Primeval,” as you know, and I was very actively looking for a genre show that I could do in a slightly…well, in Britain, it’s in a later timeslot. Something that was a bit more…I don’t want to say more adult, because I think that “Primeval” is adult, but not a family show in the same way. However you define “family.” (Laughs) So “Survivors” was perfect. BBC had had this great success with reviving “Doctor Who,” so they were looking at some of their old shows and saying, “Well, that one wouldn’t work, but maybe this one would.” And “Survivors” was one they thought might work again, so they basically came to me and said, “What do you think?” And I thought it was great, not so much because of the set-up, not just because of the post-apocalyptic thing, which is fascinating, but it’s kind of not the point. The point is what happens afterwards, and that’s the fun of it for me as a writer, ‘cause you don’t often get a chance to write about people in the most extreme situation. So that’s why I wanted to do it.

BE: What was the profile of the original show? Was it semi-high? I ask because I’m a kind of an Anglophile, so I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it.

AH: I don’t think it was, really. In terms of being a success at the time, it was, but it wasn’t, like, a thing like with “Doctor Who,” where you carry that memory with you, and so that when it was revived, there was this huge desire to like it. It was one of those shows where…people didn’t want to not like “Doctor Who.” They wanted to like it. It was a nice thing to happen, and it doesn’t often happen. There aren’t many shows that people are so fond of that they can go with that attitude to them. Usually, as you know, when you remake or re-imagine a show, you get the opposite reaction, which is that people don’t really want you to do it, because they liked it the first time. And, now, there’s been such an acceleration of remaking of formats. It’s a very dangerous area. I thought “Survivors” was a good one because it was a success at the time, which proved that it was a strong idea, but it wasn’t so well known that it would be something that everybody would be saying, “Oh, but you didn’t do that scene, you didn’t do it like this, you didn’t do that.” The truth is, it was the best part of 40 years ago, and it’s not a classic. It’s a very good show. The first episode of the original is a model of brilliant series set-up writing, and, indeed, much of the rest of it. But it is fundamentally a show which was well-liked but probably not as well-remembered as some. Not everything can be a classic, you know. That’s the way it is. I couldn’t believe that “Edge of Darkness” was being remade. It’s amazing, after all these years, to suddenly see it. So stuff comes around.

BE: So did you revisit that first episode of “Survivors” before you made this new version, or did you just kind of go from memory and dive into the new version?

AH: I watched the whole of the first series before I started writing, and I don’t usually do that with things where there’s existing material. I mean, in a completely different genre, I’ve just done a new version of a film called “The Go Between.” I’ve adapted the L.P. Hartley novel, and I didn’t look at the film of that, because I deliberately didn’t want to be influenced by it. I’ve only looked at it relatively recently, and it’s interesting to see what they did and what I did, and that’s fine. But with “Survivors,” I thought that it was…well, because I was basing some of my material on that original material, it seemed respectful and sensible to look at the way they’d done it, and also to remind myself what they’d done well and maybe what they hadn’t done quite so well, just to see how it would go. I always knew I was going to move away from that version quite quickly, but I wanted to make sure that whatever was good…I mean, I’m not crazy: if it’s good, I’m going to do it again. (Laughs)

BE: How did you go about selecting your cast? Was it a case of finding folks you’d worked with in the past, or was it more of a standard audition process?

AH: There’s a little bit of that. I mean, because of the way television works, as you know, there’s a certain pressure to use a certain profile of actor in certain roles. We knew we needed a leading lady that meant something to the British audience, and that’s, in truth, not that big a pool of people. It’s tough to find exactly the right person, particularly a woman who’s grown up, a woman with children who’s believable as an ordinary woman. So Julie (Graham) was actually pretty straightforward, because she was one of only one or two who really fit the bill…and, luckily, she wanted to do it! So at that point, we closed that. That was done. The other guys…it’s an interest process. Paterson (Joseph), funnily enough, was a very early choice, and then we went ‘round the houses looking at other people and then came all the way back to Paterson. And that sometimes happens, ‘cause it’s a bit like when you get something right first time, and you think, “Have I really got it right?” And you go and try prove it sixteen other different ways, but you still come back to the right answer, so that was Paterson. The others…it’s just a question of trying to find the right faces for the roles, the right talent and the right look, and that’s hopefully what we did.

(SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched the first episode of “Survivors” yet, then you’ll want to head off for a bit and pop back ‘round after you’ve had a chance to see it.)

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TCA Tour: Caprica

Although Syfy’s “Caprica” is a prequel to “Battlestar Galactica,” the fact that the series are separated by 58 years and an apocalypse (give or take) doesn’t mean that the two don’t share similar elements. Indeed, writer / executive producer Jane Espenson immediately offered up two words that link the shows: moral complexity.

“There’s no stark bad guys and good guys,” she explained. “This is a world that is perceived by some of its residents as sort of sliding over the edge, there’s a whole bunch of people who think they’ve got the answer, and it’s not at all clear that any of them have the answer. The guy who believes in technology thinks that’s the answer. The person who believes in religion thinks that’s the answer. And if everybody has moral shadings, we can tell very complex stories as a result.

Espenson’s fellow writer / executive producer, David Eick, clarified another similarity: the two shows take their genre very seriously. “We really do try to involve depth of character, realism, grounded-terrestrial naturalism to a science fiction world,” he said. “That sort of came from what we always admired about the greats and the classics, from Asimov to Heinlein to Philip K. Dick, this idea that science fiction was not just fun and games. We wanted to go sort of the opposite direction of George Lucas, if you will. We wanted to make it less about escapism and more about moral complexity, as Jane was saying, and great characters.”

For those who have seen the pilot to the series, which will air again tonight on SyFy, you may be wondering if its tone and content will remain consistent when the series officially kicks off next week. Apparently, so were stars Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales. According to Eick, both actors wanted some reassurance that the pilot was not going to be a one-off, with the series going in a different direction altogether.

“I think, if anything, we go towards that even more rather than shying away from it,” said Stoltz, “because that’s what interests all of us as actors: playing these ambiguous, conflicted people living not in a black-and-white world and trying to find their way in it. We wanted to be exactly like that, so we’re all striving to make it as good as possible.”

“Also,” added Morales, “the naturalism in what I see from my fellow actors and their acting, it’s very unlike anything I’ve seen on television. The atmosphere of the show as well. The planet feels like it has a presence, a consciousness, in a sense, that I think is taken from the pilot, and it moves. It’s rooted in the pilot, but I think the show will evolve from what you saw in the pilot.”

Rest assured, however, that you don’t have to have to know “Battlestar Galactica” to appreciate “Caprica.” In fact, as Eick is quick to point out, the network’s marketing strategy for the series involves a notable lack of the words “Battlestar” or “Galactica” in the title of the show. Still, it’s not as though there’s a single article that’s been written about the show that doesn’t mention the connection, so why should newbies join in the fun?

“The same reason they come to any well-marketed and, hopefully, well-executed television show,” replied Eick. “That it’s compelling in its own right, that it has ideas embedded in it and a visual style that looks inviting and exciting. On that front, I’m not terribly concerned. From the standpoint of the execution within the show once you’re in, new viewers will find that there’s virtually no tether to ‘Battlestar Galactica’ from a storytelling standpoint whatsoever. There are the occasional Easter eggs and nods and acknowledgments for the faithful to enjoy or maybe deepen some of their appreciation for it, but I think legitimately the show stands on its own. Other than the fact that, if you happen to know ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ you know that that show had its roots in some of the stories we’re telling now, there really is no relationship between the two shows whatsoever.”

“Imagine you were watching a show that you knew nothing about and they were developing sentient robots,” added Espenson. “You might very well get a glimmer that these sentient robots are going to be trouble down the road. You don’t need ‘Battlestar Galactica’ to tell you that. In a storytelling sense, (‘Caprica’) tells you that.”

“I have a lot of friends who have never seen “Battlestar Galactica,” don’t like sci-fi, and they watch it because of me,” admitted Magda Apanowicz. “But when they actually end up watching it, they love it. Like, they’re shocked, and they’re, like, ‘There’s so much that you can take away from it. There’s so many different storylines that you can relate to.'”

“We just have fun, guys,” said Morales. “We hope you do, too.”

  

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TV in the 2000s: The Shows that Defined the Decade

A recent issue of Time magazine has the phrase “The Decade from Hell” emblazoned across its front cover. It’s referring to everything America has gone through in the past ten years, and it’s difficult to argue such an assertion: it’s been a shitty decade on a national level. During such times of stress, people inevitably turn to entertainment as a form of release, and although the methods in which we’ve distracted ourselves over the last ten years have unquestionably diversified, television remains the most easily accessible outlet for most Americans.

Within the format itself, the whole concept of reality TV must surely have been the biggest revolution of the decade. It’s really easy to bag on reality TV – mostly because the bulk of it is so damned unreal – but anybody who spends any time in front of the tube has surely had at least a couple of reality series they consider appointment TV. The two concepts that paved the way for everything else are undoubtedly “Survivor” and “American Idol.” The former, of course, opened the floodgates for the genre, and while it’s seen a considerable dip in the ratings department over the years, 12 million viewers isn’t a viewing figure to sneeze at. The latter, despite all the bitching and moaning and cries of “it’s not as good as it used to be” that accompany each new season, remains one of the most watched shows on the tube, likely due to the fact that it’s strictly a talent competition.

On “American Idol,” the only backstabbers are the judges, and since they aren’t part of the competition, their amusing duplicity is championed. The contestants, on the other hand, are innocents, and once the competition is underway, we’re given no peek into any possible backstage drama, which is a good thing, because by the time the audition rounds are over, we’ve had enough drama to last the whole season. Everything that comes after is all about who can best transfix us for three minutes a week via one pop ditty. It actually says something positive about the U.S. that “American Idol” remains our #1 form of reality entertainment, even if the actual reality is that the vast majority of Americans couldn’t care less about buying the winner’s album six months after they’re crowned.

You might think reality TV is a bunch of crap, and in most cases you’d be right, but the whole idea of it, to my mind, led to an important revolution, and that is serialized nighttime television (the classic “soap” formula notwithstanding). Reality shows taught viewers how to become invested in characters, how to be concerned for their eventual fate, and, most importantly, how to pay attention to an ongoing storyline, and the need to tune in every week. It didn’t take long for the networks to figure out that there was an audience for shows that didn’t continually hit the reset button. “24” must have been the first successful show of the decade to embrace the serial formula, and it embraced it whole hog. It required you to tune in for every episode, because each installment was another hour of a single day in the life of Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. That “24” premiered less than two months after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was pure happenstance. That it became enormously popular with viewers? Probably not so much. America needed some fictitious reassurance that there were folks on the job who could get shit done, and “24” filled the prescription.

Strangely, “24” didn’t open the network floodgates for more such programming right away. It took a few years, and then “Lost” made its mark. The number of “Lost” episodes I’ve seen could be counted on two hands, but that’s not because I didn’t like it, but because real life got in the way of it being appointment TV. Yet I viewed the pilot for “Lost” several months before its 2004 premiere, and when it ended I was convinced that I’d seen the second best TV pilot ever made. (“Twin Peaks” stills sits at #1.) The fact that a show as intricate as “Lost” still has a hardcore, central audience is perhaps a testament to that pilot. “24” started a new story with each new season; “Lost” required that you tune in for every episode of every season.

Another sci-fi series that did just that was “Battlestar Galactica,” a show that, due it being on a niche network (Syfy), never amassed a huge audience yet snagged boatloads of publicity and awareness nonetheless. It was no small feat to take an utterly laughable short-lived series from the late ‘70s and re-envision it for modern audiences, but Ron Moore and company did just that…and they did it far more successfully that anyone ever guessed possible. Most amazingly, the show taught us a lot about ourselves, by thoroughly defining what it means to be human, and as the damaged ‘00s dragged on, there may not have been a more important lesson to be learned.

On the same day I saw the “Lost” pilot, I saw another pilot for a completely different kind of series. While I didn’t rank it as one of the greats, there was one thing I was sure of: it would be a massive hit…and it was. “Desperate Housewives” was precisely the sort of vapid, soapy fare that had been absent for far too long on American TV. It clued into the seemingly bland suburban construct which surrounds so many Americans, via the Lynchian notion that “all is not what it seems.” Most anyone who lives a suburban life can no doubt relate to that idea, because wherever there are groups of people, there are bound to be some of them that are fucked up. “Housewives” is littered with fucked up suburbanites of all shapes, sizes and types, but they’re kooky and funny and there’s always some twinkly music playing in the background that in the end makes everything OK. It is not great television, but over the years it has, for the most part, been immensely watchable in the most disposable sort of way.

Around the same time period as “Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” made some major waves. It’s a series I have never watched and never plan to, but I’d be foolish to omit it from discussion since it brought two annoyingly obnoxious terms to the TV table: McDreamy and McSteamy. I haven’t heard either in a few years, but there was a time when they seemed to define everything that was wrong with television. I assume “Grey’s” fans have grown out of it…or maybe the show killed one of those guys off? I’ve no idea and can’t be motivated to investigate. Presently, there’s a brand new version of it going around, through cinema, via Camp Edward and Camp Nimrod. People can be so easily distracted it makes you wonder why some shows actually try harder.

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