Alibi V.14 No.3 • Jan 20-26, 2005 

Idiot Box

Space is the Place (Again)

“Battlestar Galactica” on Sci-Fi

Sometimes my inner nerd just shines through. I can't help it. I grew up on Star Wars and all the sci-fi action that proceeded it. Among my favorite childhood TV shows was “Battlestar Galactica.” I dug it not because of its execution (which was often cheapjack and repetitive), but because of its interesting setting and dramatic story line. Back in 1978, a lot of people dismissed the show as a rip off of Star Wars. Actually, it was a rip off of the old Western series “Wagon Train”--a fact that slipped under the radar of most viewers.

Hoping to capitalize on the nostalgia that has built up around the original show, Sci-Fi Channel has launched a hip new update. The new “Battlestar Galactica” follows up on the monumentally popular mini-series, which brought back most of the classic space-based characters and situations.

There are a great many changes from the '70s series, not the least of which is the fact that almost half the crew has undergone a sex change operation. This makes the show markedly less sexist (in the old version, the ladies operated the radios, while the boys flew the spaceships) and opens up all kinds of possibilities for naughty shenanigans (there's a lot more sex going on in this new series). Also updated are the Cylons, who have gone from menacing robots to sexy humanoid spies. Cynically speaking, its a lot cheaper to portray human enemies than robot enemies, but the change actually ramps up the paranoia level, making it hard to tell who's a Cylon and who's not.

As before, the show follows a rag-tag group of humans fleeing a genocidal attack by the evil Cylons. The last human survivors take to the stars in whatever spaceships they can find, including the soon-to-be-mothballed “last Battlestar” Galactica.

Edward James Olmos takes over for Lorne Greene as Commander Adama. Though he lacks Greene's commanding charisma, his grumpy, soft-spoken style is starting to grow on me. Even better is James Callis as Balther, the cocky scientist who (unbeknownst to anyone) sold out all of humanity to the Cylons. His role as “arch traitor” is much more integrated into this new series, and he's shaping up as one of the most interesting characters. Best of all is Mary McDonnell (the mom in Donnie Darko) as an overworked secretary of education who suddenly finds herself reluctant president of the last humans.

The show boasts some intelligent ensemble writing that more fully exploits the show's precarious and chaotic situation. The camera work is distinctive. There are times when the shaky handheld camera work gets old. Still, I've never seen “handheld” camera technique used during CGI sequences. It really helps sell the special effects and gives the show a much grittier feel.

I was as skeptical as anyone about this new version. Starbuck is a woman? The Cylons are no longer big, silver robots? But, having sat through the first couple shows, I'm forced to admit my inner nerd is hooked. This almost makes up for “Galactica 1980.” ... Well, not really.

“Battlestar Galactica” airs every Friday Night at 8 p.m. on Sci-Fi Channel.