Binge Guide

Weekly Binge: Battlestar Galactica

by | December 3, 2014 | Comments

Remakes can be a tricky business. Often times, the original material casts a long shadow, and a lot of remakes never get a chance to establish their own identity. But every once in a while, you get that rarest of gems: a remake that almost completely eclipses its original inspiration. The “re-imagined” Battlestar Galactica was one of those rare gems.

Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica

What’s the premise? In a distant star system, the whole of humanity now numbers less than 50,000 after a genocidal attack by the robotic Cylons. The survivors have banded together, fleeing their home worlds in a mismatched collection of passenger liners, cargo ships, and an old, obsolete warship with a second-rate crew, named Galactica. These refugees need a new home, and they pin all their hopes on the finding a legendary lost world called Earth. But the Cylons are still out there, on the hunt. And some of them look just like humans.

What’s it like? Battlestar Galactica tells a long-ranging story full of twists and turns, similar to Lost or Game of Thrones. The original series was meant to capitalize on the hunger for anything that looked like Star Wars (at least from a network standpoint) and so that meant it was relatively kid-friendly. The updated show isn’t; there are a lot of adult themes here and we never see the kid and the robot-dog who were central to the old show. Instead we get the sexiest androids this side of Blade Runner. And, although this is a sci-fi show about spaceships and robots, it’s also deeply philosophical. At its best, sci-fi raises questions about society, religion, or what it means to be human, and the writers of Battlestar Galactica embraced those opportunities. The show isn’t afraid to tackle a lot of the complicated issues that came up in the US in the wake of the 9/11 attacks — most notably, the balance of security versus democracy.

Where can I see it? There are some pretty comprehensive DVD and Blu-ray box sets available, or you can purchase episodes on Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu.

How long will it take? If you go all-in with the original mini-series and TV movies, you’re looking at almost 80 hours of viewing. So if you were to do nothing but watch TV all day, you could finish this in a week. To be clear, we don’t recommend this. Like most of us, you’ll have to balance annoyances like a job and a social life, so watching all of Battlestar Galactica will likely take a least a couple of months.

What do the critics think? The critics were very impressed with the introductory mini-series and the first two seasons of the show. In her review for the Los Angeles Times, Mary McNamara called it “not just a cult hit but a significant piece of television.” Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune praised the series for being “full of political allegories and fascinating, multifaceted characters.” But for some critics, the love didn’t last. Some said that the show started to lose its way in the third season. Charlie Jane Anders of wrote, “By the time the show ended, its mystique was somewhat tarnished, and its ending remains controversial to this day.”

Why should I watch this? Battlestar Galactica did something very unusual; Ronald D. Moore and his creative team took a cult favorite and made it better. The basic mythology from the original show is here, but it’s only a jumping-off point. If you know the old show, you’ll recognize some of the character names but the writers have their own spin. Sure, Apollo’s still the straight-arrow son of the Commander, and Starbuck is still the rowdy gambler, but recasting Starbuck as a female drastically changes the dynamic of their friendship. Adama, Tigh, Baltar, and Boomer all get updates, and frankly it makes the show a lot richer than the source material. The cast is anchored by veteran actors Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, with the rest of the cast rounded out mostly by relative newcomers. We’ve continued to see Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Tricia Helfer, and Grace Park in movies or TV shows, and BSG is what put them on the map. Battlestar Galactica was telling smarter stories and featured better developed characters than almost anything on TV at the time, and it was one of the few shows to take a frank (and almost real-time) look at how the War on Terror was playing out after 9/11. And though the later seasons of the show were disappointing, emotional investment in the characters kept many fans coming back to the very end.

What’s my next step? There’s a fair amount of material set in the BSG universe. After Battlestar Galactica wrapped, Moore created a prequel series called Caprica, set almost 60 years before the events of Galactica. In spite of critical acclaim, the show didn’t find enough of an audience to get a second season. But if you want some more back story in that universe, Caprica fits the bill. There is also a prequel movie called Blood & Chrome, which covers an early mission for a young William Adama. And of course there’s the original 1979 series (which holds up okay) and Galactica 1980 (which doesn’t hold up well at all). On the other hand, if you find you like Ron Moore’s writing, he’s currently involved with Helix on SyFy and Outlander on Starz. And you might consider giving his Star Trek work a try. As a writer, Moore cut his teeth on Star Trek: The Next Generation and had an increasing level of supervision over Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, starting in that show’s third season.

Are you ready to catch up on Battlestar Galactica? Tell us why!

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