Two new shows reflect the influence of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica in different ways. One is great, the other merely good, but both are surprisingly watchable. Let's start with the great: Caprica airs on SyFy and is expressly intended as a prequel to Battlestar Galactica. The action takes place 58 years before the 12 Colonies are nuked. We see the Cylons' creation and rise through the eyes of two families, the Graystones and the Adamas (yes, those Adamas) who meet under tragic circumstances.
A terrorist bombing claims the daughter of Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz) and the wife and daughter of Joseph Adama (Esai Morales). The two men bond through their grief initially, then over love for the game Pyramid, which is the international pastime of Caprica. But this budding friendship gets nipped when Graystone, the inventor of the Cylons, finds a way to recreate their daughters using the downloading technology the Cylons will eventually use to resurrect themselves.
At first, Adama is tempted by Graystone's plan and allows a virtual avatar of his daughter to be created. But he turns against the project upon meeting her in a disturbing scene that's strong sauce thanks to Morales's acting. His daughter is somehow incomplete -- far less fully realized than Zoe Graystone's avatar (Alessandra Torresani) who was designed by the teen Graystone herself before dying. It turns out she was an even better programmer than her father, unbeknownst to her folks.
The Graystone's are also shocked to discover that Zoe had ties to the Soldiers of the One, the monotheistic religious cult that mounted the terrorist attack. I had mixed feelings about the scenes of religious fanaticism by Zoe and her friends. They struck me as a little over the top, but I suppose that was the point -- teens have a tendency to take things to the extreme. The revelation of their apparent cell leader was a nice twist, one I saw coming but enjoyed nevertheless.
The sectarian tension between the monotheistic cultists and the polytheistic Colonials serves as a backdrop for two of creator Ronald D. Moore's favorite things: social commentary and messianic intrigue. The technologically enhanced decadence of Caprica presents a much wider lens through which to examine our own moral and political conflicts than Battlestar Galactica did. And I'm fascinated by hints that the monotheists have a plan for Zoe's avatar, who I suspect will emerge as a messiah figure like in Carnivale, another Moore series about avatars.
But Caprica is at its best when confronting the ethical dilemmas raised by Daniel's experiments in resurrection and artificial intelligence. Questions of mortality have consumed me since I was a child, and the possibility of extending life by downloading one's consciousness preoccupies me as an adult. I'm also intrigued that Caprica seems to have taken a page from Robert Sawyer (author of Mindscan, which touches upon similar themes) and linked the development of "strong" artificial intelligence to the copying of human consciousness into electronic form.
All of this adds up to a much different and deeper show than I'd expected. The previews made Caprica look like a prime time soap opera about warring family dynasties. (It's the Graystones versus the Adamas, two households both alike in dignity!) I'm sure the conflict between Daniel and Joseph will undoubtedly be central -- all the moreso when Adama discovers Zoe's terrorist ties. But at least its source isn't some romantic cliche about star-crossed lovers, like I'd feared. Let's just hope subsequent episodes live up to the undeniable promise of the Pilot.
Another show that exceeded my expectations, albeit by far less, is Human Target on FOX. Here again we see the fingerprints of Battestar Galactica, though in the casting rather than the plot. In the first two episodes, the guest stars have included Tricia Helfer and Alessandro Juliani, both of whom were regulars on Battlestar Galactica. But that's really where the comparison between the two series end. Human Target has no philosophical ambitions or pretenses -- it's cartoon action from start to finish.
The protagonist is Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) who offers protection for those whose lives have been threatened. He invents personae that keep him close to his clients, becoming their human shield until he can neutralize the threat. In the original DC comic (and short-lived '90s adaptation starring Rick Springfield) Chance actually used makeup to impersonate his clients, raising questions about existence and identity. The 2010 version understandably dispenses with this cumbersome plot device, but sacrifices intellectual depth in the bargain.
The strength of this Human Target is clearly Chance's "Scooby gang," which includes Winston (Chi McBride) and Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley). I've been a fan of McBride since Boston Public. He has one note -- exasperated -- but it's a good one. Haley's range as an actor is the real surprise. He plays a far more nebbishy (but no less dangerous) character than he did as Rorschach in Watchmen. Both men have nice chemistry with each other and with Valley, who himself exudes a calm, assertive charisma in the role of Chance.
The action sequences are a little over the top, though no moreso than a Bond film. But they do underscore one potential source of concern: the formulaic character of the show. The first two episodes featured action sequences on a train and plane, respectively. If a third climaxes in some showdown aboard an automobile -- e.g., a speeding bus -- we'll know we're in trouble. Until then, however, I'll be watching. Sometimes, even bigmouths need a little mindless fun.
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