I’m about to take on an ambitious task.
I’m going to try and convince everyone who reads this article to start watching Battlestar Galactica, and to keep watching it until they’ve caught up to the last episode that aired mid fourth season. The show is starting up again on January 16, and you’re going to need the full Christmas break to prepare.
This being MONDO, bastion of pop culture nerdery (whatever, embrace it), many readers will not need convincing. However, I believe that a subtle approach is necessary to convert the skeptics, the people who respond to the argument “it’s the best show on television” with “yeah, but I’m not into spaceships and all that crap.” I want to be able to bring up the show at a bar and be met with a lively round of conversation, goddammit, instead of the usual chorus of “Shut up, geek!” followed by napkins and straws being thrown at me. So even if, especially if, you’re an ardent science fiction hater and the mere mention of the title makes you want to beat me up and steal my lunch money, hear me out.
I’m going to ease you into this. You may claim that all forms of science fiction give you seizures, but I bet you’ve enjoyed it in the past without even realizing it. OK, fine, you hate Star Trek. Acceptable. You may even hate Star Wars. A shame, but to each his own. But I bet you’ve watched Futurama through to a commercial break at least once while flipping channels. That show involves a spaceship, robots and the future: it counts. I bet you liked The Matrix and Independence Day. That counts too. I bet you’ve read Slaughterhouse Five, A Clockwork Orange, or 1984, and I bet you wrote a stellar book report on it. You’re busted.
Sneaky? Perhaps. Unfair? Maybe. But hey, I just proved that just because a book, movie or TV show has elements of science fiction in it doesn’t mean you won’t like it. A whole new world is now open to you. Thank me later. I’ll see you at the “Environmental Sustainability in Frank Herbert’s Dune Series” book club next Tuesday.
Now that your knee-jerk genre prejudice has been dealt with, let’s move on to Battlestar. I may be forced to give away some minor plot details in order to make the most convincing case possible, so if you’re already hooked but not completely caught up, proceed with caution.
The cast is hot and often half naked. OK, so this may be a cheap way to get people interested. But it’s true: BSG has a little something for everyone. Straight male? One of the main characters is a blonde model who often struts around in a very skimpy red dress. Straight female? Locker room scenes of buff, manly army guys wearing only towels abound. Gay male? Locker room scenes of buff, manly army guys wearing only towels abound, plus there’s Felix “Gaydar” Gaeta’s adorable man-crush on Dr. Gaius Baltar. Gay female? Katee Sackhoff plays short haired, cigar chomping, ass-kicking tomboy Lieutenant Kara Thrace, and... get ready for this... Lucy Lawless plays a bisexual robot (unfortunately minus the Xena breastplates). I challenge you to watch two episodes of this show and not incorporate at least one of the characters into your sexual fantasy roster.
The writing is riveting and the acting is fantastic. I don’t get hooked on long story arc type shows very often, because I find that most of the time they quickly disintegrate into the realm of the soap opera. But Battlestar sets itself up with a story line interesting enough to sustain an entire series without jumping the shark. I’m tempted to describe the premise, but every time I try I end up saying “I know that sounds really lame, but...” Just trust me that it’s not, and remember that this isn’t the first plot involving a futuristic robot war you’ve enjoyed (remember my point about The Matrix and Independence Day?). The creators of the show consciously try to make the daily lives of the characters believable, showing you where and how they live instead of having them just wander on and off the set like on Star Trek. This distracts you from the fact it’s set on a spaceship, I promise. Again, there’s something for everyone: intrigue, action, sex and drama. There’s just enough action to keep the romantic plot lines from getting sappy, and just enough romance and personal drama to keep viewers engaged who yawn watching fight and shoot-out scenes. The problem is that the very plot elements that make the show great are also what make it difficult and confusing to watch the episodes out of order. Why does the same actor seem to be three places at once? Why is Baltar the only one lucky enough to be able to see the model in the red dress? All will be revealed, my friend. Take the time and watch from the beginning. It’s worth it.
The plot features intelligent, complex social and political commentary. I would go so far as to say it’s the best I’ve see on television, ever. The show makes parallels with terrorism and the Iraq war, with the humans and robots (called cylons) holding competing religious belief. In season three, the cylons occupy a human settlement, so the humans develop an underground insurgency using suicide bombing as a tactic. Sound familiar? The fictional premise allows the writers leeway to explore controversial topics that would probably get them pulled off the air if the setting were more realistic. It also means the themes can be incorporated seamlessly into the plot without appearing preachy or out of place. Other topics brought up include abortion, freedom of speech, class politics, torture, and labour rights.
Christmas break is the perfect time to rent a season, hole up in your basement wrapped up in a blanket, and not leave the house. It’s snowing; you don’t want to go outside anyway. You’ll have an excuse not to talk to your family. You’ll save money by not going out. And when the series comes back on in January, you’ll be babbling about it excitedly to anyone who will listen instead of telling geeks like me to shut up.
Just let it happen.