Friday, March 3
Tonight, I do something I haven’t done in awhile, if ever: I get my geek on by attending a panel I’m not a part of, as an audience member.
At this point in my life, there’s only one show in the world that’d make me leave the Elysium comforts of my bedroom and venture out into the world.
That show is the ever-genius new version of “Battlestar Galactica”.
The Museum of Television and Radio holds the William S. Palley TV Festival every year, in which well-regarded shows have screenings of unaired episodes, then assemble the cast and crew for moderated chats before opening up the floor to questions. Since the MTR is in Beverly Hills, Jen and I head over earlier than the scheduled start of the panel so we can kill two birds with one stone and pop into Tiffany to grab some gifts for Gail and a few other folks while we’re in the neighborhood. With time to spare, we shoot over to the MTR only to discover that this year, the Palley fest is being held at the cushy DGA Theater, in their building on Sunset (next door to the Griddle), very close to our home.
We race back to Hollywood and get into the theater with two minutes to spare. The crowd in attendance looks like the same folks who show up for my Q&A’s at colleges and ComiCons, which results in much “Hey, Kevin Smith” and “Can’t wait for ‘Clerks II’”-type shout-outs. My cell phone vibrates and I see Dave Mandel’s name show up. I answer it, looking around the room, immediately asking “Don’t tell me you’re here too.” Dave tells me to look to my left, and I spot him across the theater, smiling and waving. I tell him we have no life, then settle in for the start of the program.
This v.2 of “Battlestar Galactica” is so insanely amazing, I’m sometimes flummoxed watching it. When I started seeing billboards around town advertising the show when it debuted, I remember thinking “Wow. Why?” The OG “B-Star-G” (as we’ve taken to calling it around the house) was a fun piece of disposable youth cheese that, even as a ‘70’s pre-teen, was easy to recognize for what it was: a “Star Wars” rip-off. Granted, I had a Colonial Viper and a Cylon Raider as a kid; but my Mother bought them for me from the sale rack at the now-defunct Two Guys store, where each set her back less than a buck. Compared to the hundreds (maybe thousands) she and my Father spent on Kenner’s “Star Wars” line of action figures and accessories for me over the years, the two bits she dropped on “Galactica” crap probably made her wish I was a bigger fan of Starbuck than Han Solo.
The notion of an updated “Galactica” was about as far off my radar as an Amanda Bynes picture (which, in name-checking, I realize reveals an actual near-proximity of said flick to my radar; damn you, Harley). And the fact that none of the advertising I’d seen depicted any Cylons (always the most interesting part of the show, if for no other reasons than their pong-like red “eyes” and their “Funky Town” voice patterns) didn’t help matters much.
It wasn’t until we were in pre-production on “Clerks II”, and Tony, our A.D., started waxing rhapsodically about the show during a location scout that I even remembered it existed. Based on his fervent recommendation, I picked up the Season One box set when it came out, during a later visit to Laser Blazer. But even when Season Two made its DVD appearance, neither box set had emerged from their wrappers until two days after Christmas, when the cold-turkeying Schwalbach, detoxing from a suddenly abandoned three-pack-a-day cigarette habit, was sacked-out in bed, barely able to move, asking what we were gonna watch next.
We’d gone through all our Academy screeners, and – surrounded by a banquet of nicotine-replacing junk food – my miserable-from-missing-smokes wife was looking for something to take her mind off lighting up.
“I just read in Time magazine’s year-end issue that the new ‘Battlestar Galactica’ was their favorite show.” I offered.
Weakly, she countered “There was an old ‘Battle-thing Whatever?”
After a brief explanation of “Battlestar” Classic, Jen’s already withering glares – those glares that come from someone who’s forsaking the only true indulgence they feel makes them whole – morphed into that old favorite blank expression of mine; the one that I’ve been at the receiving end of many times throughout our marriage, when my wife, with a look, communicates utter disbelief and near disgust as I reveal a familiarity with something far more geeky than I should know/enjoy. I call it the “I Can’t Believe I Let Someone Like You Stick His Cock In Me” look.
Still, in her weakened, non-nicotine fueled state, she was in no condition to offer alternative suggestions on what to view. She moaned “Let’s try it.”
The V.2 “Battlestar Galactica” kicks off with a killer mini-series event that sees the civilizations of the Colonies all-but completely annihilated by a new breed of Cylons – Cylons that, instead of clunky, faux-metal fourth-rate Stormtrooper proxies, are now human in appearance (and some even super-human, if you count Six – the Cylon babe who wouldn’t look out of place at the Playboy Grotto).
Adama, keeper of the about-to-be-mothballed Galactica looks less like the dude from “Bonanza” and more like the dude from “American Me”. Starbuck has joined the distaff and is now a chick (depicted as a dickless dude). Boomer went from being a black dude to an Asian woman. The evil Balthar is now a somewhat hapless agent in the humanity’s destruction who carries on a constant conversation with the Cylon babe in his head. And the leader of the 50,000 remaining humans in the not-so-free world is the only surviving member of the Presidential cabinet – the Secretary of Education who was something like 20th in the line of succession.
Without changing much of the original “Galactica” premise, the creators and folks involved with the show have done the equivalent of taking a covered wagon and creating a BMW from the design: it still takes you from place to place, but now it does so while keeping you safe from the elements, getting you there quicker, warming your ass with heated, leather seats, and bathing your ears in audio delights from an iPod-friendly sound-system. With the mini-series alone, these people managed to not simply just teach an old dog new tricks; they taught that bitch to speak, travel to alternate dimensions, fold space, and cure cancer.
How was this accomplished? How did the new “B-Star G” peeps spin straw into gold? How did they make the human beings as interesting (if not more so) than the fucking Cylons? Like all great art, they simply held a mirror up to our culture. “Galactica” V.2 is an allegory for 9/11 and the War on Terror viewed from both sides. It offers a far more complex view of two opposite ideologies in juxtaposition to one another, presenting neither side as particularly evil – just terrifying. Extremely well done Science Fiction has always been most powerfully effective when it lays out humanity naked and shows us ourselves, warts and all. Whether it’s “Planet of the Apes”, “Star Trek”, or almost anything by Phillip K. Dick, the best sci-fi isn’t simply laser-beam driven shoot-‘em-ups between good guys and bad guys; it’s the abyss we look into and see someone awfully, sometimes painfully familiar looking back from. There will always be a place in Science Fiction for the Joseph Campbell-described archetypical hero’s journey of the “Star Wars” saga, but what Sci-Fi does best is allow the author to comment on what it’s like to be a human being – the shame, the miracle, the sacrifice, the desire, the grand heights, and the abject lows. And if an author can accomplish this in stealth mode – be entertaining while not calling attention to his or her loftier goals – so much the better.
And fuck, does “B-Star G” entertain. Jen and I were so gripped, we went through two box sets in two days. Would-be Sci-Fi (or just excellent television) creators take note: if you want to seduce a female audience (so that Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Cons aren’t just massive sausage parties), include strong, interesting, and indispensable female characters. I can’t say “B-Star G” made my wife kick the habit, but nestled in the bosom of this wonderful show, my wife forgot about her self-imposed smoking moratorium for a long enough period of time that the initial detoxing transition wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been (i.e., she stopped yelling at and cursing me for introducing her to smoking). While the wife may be a massive Starbuck fan, I dare say that President Laura Roslin is the most interesting character in a show that has no weak links. Neither a figure of Clinton-ian valor or GDub-ian misguidance, Laura Roslin is a President we’d all be lucky to elect, and a sad reminder that the best-and-yet-heretofore-dismissed candidate to lead this nation would probably be a person born with the biology to create, carry and nurture life.
If you haven’t seen this show yet, throw together a few sheckles, set aside a few hours, and get your hands on the dvd box sets. A better use of your time-wasting I can’t imagine. I mean, my affection for this program actually inspired me to go to a fucking panel and sit in the audience like every other fanboy and fangirl, gawking dopily at the cast and crew behind its creation.
The highlight of said panel was a screening of the episode that was running that night – the penultimate chapter in the second part of Season Two. This was an unexpected delight, as I’d never watched the show with anyone but Jen. Sitting amidst three hundred or so other “B-Star G” enthusiasts and hearing what they responded to was pretty cool.
After the screening, the cast and crew were brought up and interviewed, and I was reminded why I don’t go to panels in the first place: there are no gods behind the stuff (movies, tv, comics) you’re drawn to or love; there are actual people. Some folks came off as arrogant; some folks came off as boring; thankfully, a few realized that, if you’re gonna stand up in front of a crowd, you should try to be funny, or at least entertaining (the Brit contingency especially – the guy who plays Apollo and the guy who plays Balthar – made the sit much easier). When all was said and done, I’m glad I attended, but in the future, I will limit my enthusiasm for a show to the show itself (and to hours of web-investigation on the subject).
Following the audience-driven portion of the Q&A, Jen and I head for home, pop on our jammies and woobs, and curl up in bed. We briefly contemplate re-watching the TiVo’ed episode of the “B-Star G” we just watched in the theater, but then decide we’ve been geeky enough for one day, and instead fall asleep to a TiVo’ed “Law & Order” episode.