Saturday, August 20, 2005

Sci-fi Fridays

My wife and I cannot miss the Sci-Fi Channel's Friday night block. So, some brief capsule reviews of yesterday's (8/19/05) episodes.

Well, we actually have this entire series on DVD, and despite FOX's boneheaded cancellation of this brilliant series (from the mind of Joss Whedon), it is gearing up for release as a motion picture franchise under the name SERENITY. The main reason to watch it on Sci-Fi is the "behind the scenes" extras for the movie that are interspersed throughout the hour. However, they weren't anything special. The episode was funny, as usual, but I've seen it several times already.

7:00 Stargate SG-1
This season has "gone in a new direction" that I'm not sure I like. It's even more jokey than before, and the subtext the new villains add to the series (dealing with religious fundamentalism and terrorism) is as subtle as a slap upside the head with a spiked mace. The addition of Farscape regulars Ben Browder and Claudia Black seems to actor recycling, but is actually inspired. Ben Browder who takes over for Richard Dean Anderson's recently promoted character Jack O'Neil plays, in essence, the same character he played on Stargate. Cynthia Black comes across as a more versatile actress, playing a much different character than the one she portrayed on Farscape.

However, this episode, which was mildly suspenseful, gets rid of (at least for the next few episodes) Black's highly entertaining character - and at the same time Amanda Tapping's character returns. At the end of the episode, my wife turned to me and said "What? They can only have one female on the team at a time?"

8:00 Stargate: Atlantis Nothing to see here. Move along. We only watch this because it's in between Stargate SG-1 and Battlestar Galactica and it ties into the same mythology as Stargate SG-1. Last night's episode, wherein an arrogant scientist taps into knowledge beyond his ken and nearly destroys the universe, is too hackneyed and old to be truly entertaining, and I have yet to actually care for a single character in this ensemble cast.

This is the best SF show on TV period. Taut, gripping, well written, full of moral pratfalls and potholes, yet with a core of goodness. And I was one of the fans of the original series hoping this series would fail (since I wanted a continuation of the original series).

The mini-series that started it all off was okay - the actors were mostly stiff and looked unnatural - except for Edward James Olmos, who made it impossible to turn away from the screen (during the mini-series I kept yelling "Get back to Adama!")

But after the first season premiere "33" I was hooked. Unlike the half-jokey tone the original series took, this series feels like this IS what it would be like if humanity really was on the run and near extinction. Also, this series has focused more on the fleet of ships the Galactica is guarding, as well as human resistance movements back on the homeworlds. In nearly every way, it's deeper, richer and more satisfying than the original.

The one thing that bugs me is the religious angle. In essence what we have are the Cylons, who are monotheistic fundamentalists who feel that their God justifies genocide and inhumane scientific experiments (as last week's "The Farm" revealed). On the other hand, we have the pluralistic, polytheistic (and sometimes atheistic) humans. There is a holy book, but religious belief is considered private and not something you talk about. (For example, when the President asked Starbuck if she "believed", Starbuck said "yes - not that it's any of your business.") There also seems to be little in the way of personal morality required by the vague pluralistic religion followed by some humans, whereas the Cylons seem to have some very specific guidelines (some of which have yet to be revealed).

However, rather than a simplistic "strict monotheism bad/vague pluralism good" moral in the same vein as the movie The Chronicles of Riddick, both sides seem to have good and bad points. It's all very complex and nuanced, and there are hints that there's always a little more to be revealed about what's going on behind all the religious dogma.

Last night's episode advanced the mythology a little bit, but it felt more like a set-up for next week's episode, where it appears a lot of important "stuff" is going to happen. What I'm looking forward too is the revisiting of one of the best story arcs from the original series - The return of the Battlestar Pegasus, which will happen sometime in September.

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