A valiant effort

October 31, 2010

So I discovered recently that Syfy has now decided to cancel Caprica. Far from wanting the show to die, I wanted it to improve. There should be room in modern television to have sober, thoughtful science fiction in the line ofGattica.

In its place will be another prequel series taking place in the First Cylon War. It will no doubt be full of military space action. If the show is well done, that's a boon to science fiction and television, but I hope that Syfy Channel doesn't learn the wrong lesson; that science fiction can only be about killer robot, laser guns, and explosions.

On unrelated news, I'm going to participate inNaNoWriMo, so I'll already be abandoning this website (at least for a month). Wish me luck!

The birth of the toaster

October 24, 2010

The following stuff might contain SPOILERS about Caprica.

Check out Jammer's Reviewsbecause he provides some very interesting, well-thought-out, and insightful summaries and analyses of the different Star Trek shows, BattleStar Galactica, and Andromeda. There is a lot of material, so be prepared to use up a least a day reading through this blog, but it's worth it. He's a smart guy.

He also provides some interesting reviews of Battlestar's successor,Caprica. He has given Caprica a wary thumbs-up, meaning the show hasn't caught his enthusiasm as Battlestar Galactica, and the show both promises an compelling character drama while threatens to become mired in their convoluted plotting.

I myself dislike the show despite wanting it to succeed. I turned away science-fiction when I was younger (ie. for the past decade) because I'd felt that the genre favored glitz and special effects over character and thematic overtones, leaving a sci-fi movie or book to be empty and a little heartless. Caprica promises that heartfelt humanity, but might have gone too far and forgotten the heart.

1) The principal characters are really unlikeable. They are selfish, petty creatures. One of the themes of Caprica is that humanity is made up of selfish, petty creatures, and that selfishness dooms them to the apocalypses of Battlestar Galactica. That's great fodder for a tragedy, but a traditional (Greek or Shakespearean) tragedy begins with the characters on top, both in status and in personality, and everyone starts of the show being a selfish, petulant jerk.

2) This unlike-ability could be forgivable if there was something else to watch. Battlestar's Baltar was a slimy, manipulative snake, but it was a lot of fun watching him squirm when under pressure. None of the characters show any particularly engaging charisma. They don't even have goals that you can root for. (One's a terrorist, another is a corrupt lawyer, one's a depressive, another is a corporate jerk who keeps losing his company, etc.)

The unlike-ability is more telling because some of the secondary characters, particularly Vergis and Sam, feel consistent and compelling because, despite their flaws, they have some strengths we can relate to.

3) The goals of the characters are vague. The religious fanatics of the STO are specifically hard to understand. The show portrays quite a bit political maneuvering for Lacy Rand and Clarice Willow, but it's hard to understand their impact when the STO's primary goal seems to be "blow stuff up". Although the STO does suffer from individual prejudice, they don't seem to suffer from any particular religious or political oppression. They even have a nice, well-maintained temple on Geminon. So it makes me wonder why they are so extremist in the first place.

Daniel Graystone has perhaps the most straightforward goal (ie. save my company). But his company gets threatened nearly every episode and he never gets to use his primary skill, which is supposed to be his brilliant mind, to solve his problems. He always ends up doing PR, emotional manipulation, or mob ties to get what he wants. I guess this should make him a complicated character, but in the end, Daniel ends up being too a chameleon. I never get a sense that there is a character behind the character, and merely a facade, which makes it hard to enjoy his character.

4) And what might be influencing me is that I didn't buy the ending of Battlestar Galactica. I am a fan of religion and the divine as a character-driven element in a story or as a thematic overtone, but not as a plotting element. That deserves its own bloggy entry later. Simply put, I had felt that the writers had gotten themselves stuck in the corner, and turned Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica into a long exposition of various mysteries from the show but without really explaining anything profound.

So the writers of this show are saddled with welding their plots and themes to an already convoluted mythology, which means their successes and failures are too closely tied with Battlestar's successes and failures.

I often wonder what the show would have been like if it had been allowed to be a stand-alone (a whole new original show) instead of a prequel.

My Hero

October 6, 2010

The following stuff contains SPOILERS about the television showHeroes.

I recently fired through Heroes via Netflix's instant play feature (which completely outclasses Hulu's streaming video in terms of raw content). From what I understand, fans really took to the concept of everyday-people-with-superpowers, but quickly became disappointed by season two onward until it's cancellation after season four.

I personally found season one to be very compelling. The show begins smartly with the characters already aware of their superpowers, and jumps right into their motivations to use those superpowers for good, evil, or selfish ends.

However, even in season one, the series shows the burden of too much plotting. You can feel the hand of the writers obsessively pushing the characters around their increasingly complicated and convoluted backstories and conspiracies, up to the point where the characters either repeat the exact same decisions or act in completely inconsistent ways. How many times do we have to listen to Claire wishing for a normal life when she spends all her time wanting and going after an abnormal life, for example?

Another great example of bad plotting is in the character of Mohinder Suresh. In season one, he has dedicated his life to finding people with superpowers. He has evidence left over from his father about these people. But the moment he meets one, he immediately doesn't believe him. Not only does he not believe him, but he completely gives up his search in order to return to India, only to change his mind a few episodes later and come back to New York. And from season two onward, he becomes so wishy-washy, I really wanted them to write the character out of the series.

There are other clues that the writers were unable (or unwilling) to integrate their plotting with consistent characters and consistent themes. Hiro Nakamura, the geeky, Japanese, time-traveling character, wants to be a good guy, and goes on a random quest to hone his powers. So Hiro's journey literally becomes Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, except without the hallmarks of a heroic endeavor. Hiro gets sidetracked and fails so often, he almost seems pathetic.

In short, the motivations of the characters really only serve to advance the plot to the next cliffhanger. There are several instances where the characters strive to save a loved one or innocent, but then conveniently forget they ever existed.

After way too many retcons, setting resets, and character resets, I suppose that it is sad that Heroes was simply being true to the convoluted superhero comic medium that birthed it.