The first episode of the new Galactica promises a show that will utterly eclipse the original. It’s dramatically gripping and well-produced– but will it last?

Galactica

“33”

Cast and Crew:

Edward James Olmos as Commander Adama
Mary McDonnell as President Laura Roslin
Katee Sackhoff as Kara “Starbuck” Thrace
Jamie Bamber as Lee “Apollo” Adama
James Callis as Dr. Gaius Baltar
Tricia Helfer as Number 6
Grace Park as Sharon “Boomer” Valerii
Michael Hogan as Col. Tigh

Writer: Ronald D. Moore

Director: Michael Rymer

Plot:

The crew of the Galactica become dangerously exhausted as the Cylons attack every 33 minutes, and they suspect a traitor may be giving away their position. Meanwhile, a soldier left behind struggles to survive on Caprica.

High Points:

1. The conflict over the Olympia is about something, and its outcome remains genuinely in doubt. The protagonists don’t know if they are making the correct decision. They know they may be sacrificing innocent people. And we know that Gaius Baltar’s motives in this matter are not pure.

2. Gaius Baltar’s crossed dialogue, when he talks to the President and Number Six simultaneously.

3. Overall, the show creates a sense that we’re actually watching a society in crisis. The characters behave in a plausible manner. Compare this with the relative comfort of Deep Space 9’s Dominion War, or this week’s episode of Enterprise, wherein an engineer simply gets handed the flagship: no one apparently studied his plans in advance, he receives minimal monitoring, and his support staff consists of one other engineer. I can’t imagine that happening in real life, and I can’t see it occuring on Galactica.

Low Point:

I saw few things I would identify as serious weaknesses. I do see some potential problems:

1. Gaius Baltar would indeed be a man under stress. He handed his people over to the Cylons. He has a Cylon presence in his brain. Like everyone else, he suffers from sleep-deprivation. All of this is good–- but I found his histrionic performance started to grate after awhile, and I’m not certain I would want to see too much of it every week. At the same time, his personal story is interesting, so it needs to be developed.

2. An individual story can focus on any sort of people it wants, if it can get our interest, and Galactica certainly had mine. A long-running series, however, needs people we genuinely like, relate to, can be charmed by. I suspect Lee and Kara will get that role, and we need to see more of them. They have a fundamentally interesting relationship. In this episode, I found nobody too personally engaging– but it’s only the first episode.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6. Galactica revises an already derivative series from the 1970s, though it takes the concept in a fresh direction. Space wars are also old news– though I’ve never seen one handled this well on television before.

Effects: 6/6 The space-battles look impressive, and the space-jump resembles written SF more than anything I’ve seen in the visual media.

Story: 6/6 The ep makes use of its speculative technology– in this case, the space-jumps– as a key plot element, and the writer didn’t shy away from giving the characters difficult decisions.

Acting: 5/6.

Emotional Response: 5/6 Few shows can maintain the level of intensity I felt in “33.” At present, I don’t care enough about the characters, but that may come with time.

Production: 6/6 The show is well-produced. I personally like the use of shoulder-mounted cameras, though I know that (a) using shaky cameras to convey a sense of realism has become a cliché and (b)some people find the effect nauseating.

Overall: 6/6

In total, “33” receives 37/42

Additional Comments:

1. I find the look of the series fascinating. The original Battlestar Galactica channelled Chariots of the Gods through Glen A. Larson’s Mormon beliefs and added a twist of ‘70s glitz. The look, appropriately, was equal parts George Lucas space opera and Cecil B. DeMille Bible epic, with characters sporting pseudo-Egyptian duds, futuristic weapons, and Studio 54 hair. It has campy appeal, but it’s hard to take seriously. The new Galactica went, thankfully, in another direction entirely. Rather than resembling the mythic founders of ancient civilizations, these people and their world look a lot like us, as if they inhabit the twenty-first century of postwar predictions, the previous century with the addition of deep-space flight, lasers, and cybernetics.

2. As a premise for a season, Galactica is great. It’s a little more difficult to know at this point if it can last at this intensity for multiple seasons, particularly given the potential for a war/pursuit series to become repetitive. I hope Galactica receives the seasons to prove that it can work.

Also, can we get this show its own Category Icon?