Battlestar Galactica #22: Galactica Discovers Earth Part 1

"Boxey, the cold, hard truth is that there is no central government on Earth. There's no single leader with whom we can make contact or negotiate." "Well, that's impossible. Then how do they get together for their common good?" "They don't, as far as we can tell."
SO SAY WE ALL: Years after the previous episode, the Galactica arrives at Earth in the year 1980.

REVIEW: Galactica 1980? I'm committed, but I know I'm in for a rough 10 weeks. After all, not even the show's producers thought this was a good idea. Set at least 15 years since the last episode of BSG, the fleet finally arrives at Earth, and despite the incongruity it causes with The Hand of God, it's only 1980 (or, the present day). Sell it as the "final season" or "proper continuation" of Battlestar Galactica if you will, but they've thrown too many things away with their new premise. In a way, I appreciate the audacity - let's get Galactica to Earth and deal with that "first contact", let's even make it years later so we can change things around - but it takes us away from space opera and into the here and now, which takes us out of the fantasy we liked, never mind that half the characters we loved are gone without much explanation to be replaced by frankly wooden copies. The show's new focus is a derivative blend of buddy cop drama and fish-out-of-water comedy, constantly on the cusp of sermonizing at us poor primitives. We lost a lot of the actors because BSG WAS cancelled, and this is a new production. Lorne Green is just about the only regular to stay a regular, though Herb Jefferson Jr. (Boomer) appears in half the episodes (not this one though). That's a lot of investment out the window. A new, earlier time slot meant the show had to have a more kid-friendly approach and an educational mandate (whether you think lessons like "a dollar is a unit of currency" are worth it is up to you), but to my eyes also made the show sillier. And hey, if the script editors, according to interviews, were rooting for the show to fail so they could get out of doing the job, you know the writing's not gonna generally be very strong.

So what's new? A bearded Adama tells us it's been years, and that disappointingly, most of the people we love (Apollo, Starbuck, Sheba, Cassie, Athena, Tigh) have been lost. Oh and 30 seconds in, the fleet's found Earth. No ramp-up. No waiting. Get adjusted. Fine. Ballsy even. Our new action stars are Troy (Boxey was just a nickname, but I'm glad Adama at least still uses it) and Starbuck wannabe Dillan. Not to say they have a whole lot of personality yet - Troy is serious and Dillan is more of a joker - but I don't believe for a minute that Boxey would have grown up to become an Apollo with the numbers filed off. Boxey was such a space cadet, hiding his grief in a sort of obliviousness to danger that he really should have been more like Starbuck, throwing caution to the winds and taking nothing seriously enough. Of course, they might have done better by not inviting straight comparisons to the original cast, but I get the impression there's at least one draft of this script that actually has Apollo and Starbuck in the roles, and were locked into this type of duo. One odd new character is Dr. Zee, a genius boy who basically makes all the decisions for the fleet and reduces the Quorum of Twelve into rubber stampers. He's also a kind of Q figure, doling out gadgets in addition to advice. It's just such a weird notion. Among the gear supplied, we have turbocycles for the guys to fly around on, invisibility powers for Vipers, bikes and personal use, zonking devices to incapacitate the locals, and bracelets that translate Earth terms into dictionary entries. What I'm missing from the cast is much of a female presence. The three female stars of BSG are dead and gone, and no one replaces them aboard ship. Instead, an Earth reporter called Jamie Hamilton will play the part of their only friend on Earth. We're in cliché town there.

The new mission will be to quietly get Earth science to speed so they can defend the last of humanity against the Cylons who are said to still be on the fleet's trail. That's interesting, but only if it doesn't lead to a bunch of episodes about meeting apparently famous scientists (as happens in this episode), and really only if the show allows "our" 1980 to deviate from known reality. The show just doesn't last long enough for that to happen, so it's an open question. What happens to Earth once we meet our space cousins? Where do they actually settle? How do we evolve technologically AND socially? We know what failure looks like thanks to a simulation where the Cylons attack (I thought they'd spent some money to destroy Los Angeles, but it's all stock footage from some earthquake movie), but what would have been the actual result?

Whether we think the new premise is viable or not, its first episode is badly thought through. For example, just now Zee warns Adama that the fleet has accidentally led the Cylons to Earth. No one thought of that before? Zee's been watching TV a lot, but can't get the cosmetics of turbocycles right, so a lot of energy has to be expended on hokey invisibility fields. In fact, for fear that bikers will take too good a look at the vehicles, the guys decided to fly off on a packed highway. Like that's any better? An equation for nuclear power just sitting on a computer screen that can be "ruined" if someone overwrites it? And the heroes making all sorts of UNFUNNY mistakes (supported by terrible farty comedy music), which could have been avoided if they'd just watched a couple of hours of bad TV. And hey, let's be anti-activism while we're at it, but then, BSG has always painted the Left as misguided.

Seeing all the kids aboard the poorer transports, and their having robot daggets, gave me some hope about the continuing story of what's left of the Colonies, but once we got to Earth, I lost most of that hope. The scouting mission of the week format just isn't as engaging.

1980: Doctor Zee watches bad TV, looks like mostly reruns of things like Starsky and Hutch and Woody Woodpecker, all scored by his sinister theme. Is it commentary? Billy Joel's "My Life" plays on Jamie's car radio. There are students picketing nuclear power. Brion James plays one of the bikers, he's two years away from starring in Blade Runner as one of the replicants, Leon.

ALL THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE AND IT WILL HAPPEN AGAIN: The reimagined Galactica will also arrive at Earth at a time before it can be of any help against the Cylons.

HUMAN DEATH TOLL: It's impossible to know how many people died on the journey to Earth. Adama mentions "too many of our sons and daughters", and presumably Apollo, Athena, Cassiopeia, Tigh and Sheba number among the dead. A number of children have been born since the end of the first series; is it enough to make up the number? We're probably still around the 2000 survivors mark.

VERSIONS: There are some differences between the original script and the finished episode. The Vipers escape the Air Force jets by using their invisibility fields, but also fight actual Cylon Raiders, showing the enemy is already scouting Earth. Jamie gets herself invited to the group at gunpoint. Zee is explicitly said to be 14 years old.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Of interest as an epilogue to the original series, but we're off to a rocky start as space opera gives way to a poorly-devised Earthbound story.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I saw this when it first aired. Deep thots:

- The bit with the scientist was lifted from "The Day the Earth Stood Still". So credit to them for stealing from a good movie.

- One of the new leads went on to be the dad in "Farscape". He'd also been in "Adam-12".

- Doctor Zee precedes Wesley Crusher by only seven years. Seems there used to be a feeling that our salvation would come from children who were raised untainted by the vices of their elders. I'm pretty sure that idea was on the way out by TNG, but then imploded altogether by "SeaQuest DSV".

Brendon Wright said...

1980 would make me 10.
"conquest of the Earth." -This was the first bitter disappointment I remember.
"What? TV people can get it wrong?? But it's TV!"
And after those years of hoping, hoping, hoping the folks of BSG would find us and be safe.

Just imagine what life might have been without that scar to start it all!

But wait... thinking... thinking... there may have been an early onset of cognitive dissonance at a few superhero toons which didn't resemble the comics.
I don't remember how I felt about the scooby-doo-like approach of Super Friends, but I do recall feeling Benjy Grimm in "the THING" seemed to "not follow the book" even remotely.

arw1985 said...

My reaction:

"Oh #$*%! What am I looking at?"

Good luck, man.

 

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