TV Review: “Caprica” Season 1.0

Caprica Promo Poster Battlestar Galactica caught my attention from the get-go.  Instead of being a nerdy, technology-centric space opera, the series was based on human interaction and relationships.  The setting just happened to be outer space and the bad guys just happened to be sentient robots.  It was a relatively unique take on science fiction.

After four seasons, when BSG came to an end, I was incredibly sad.  There was not a single SF show on TV that could take its place in my heart because its unique take on the genre would be impossible to mimic or replicate.

Enter Caprica, a 50-years-in-the-past prequel to Battlestar Galactica that focuses on political/familial/corporate drama against a SF backdrop from the same creative team.

Gold, right?  Not initially.

The pilot for Caprica was put out a year in advance of the series as a direct-to-DVD release.

It was good.

Just good.  Not great.

There was nothing really special about it. And it was certainly no BSG.  Upon watching, I was sure I would catch Caprica for a few weeks and give it a shot.  But I was far from sold on the series’ place on my DVR.

Even with the same creative team (Jane Espenson and Ron Moore), Caprica just didn’t have that “bazinga!” that made BSG tick.

But since I was so heavily invested in the world, I kept with it week after week.  By the time the mid-season finale (which is still a terribly stupid idea, by the way) aired, I was hooked.  Don’t get me wrong, there were still a few quibbles I have with the series, but for the most part, I can’t wait for the rest of the season to start back.

The Good

It’s got heart.  A lot of it.  While it may be hard to find initially, most of the characters are well-rounded and deep.  I am especially fond of Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz) and how he interacts with pretty much everyone.  When the mid-season finale came up with some action, it honestly felt out of place to me because the rest of the series had been so entirely character driven.

Caprica Trio The way the Adamas and the Graystones interact with each other and the world around them just works.  There seems to be some real meat in how the main characters are written; their dialogue doesn’t seem forced to me, nor do they interact just for interaction’s sake.  All of the characters are pushed along by both internal and external forces and conflicts.  Never does it seem that the characters just glide into and past troubled situations.

I like seeing Bill Adama as a kid.  And I’m glad that he’s not a major character.  He’s there as window-dressing and a nod to fans of Battlestar Galactica.  Yes, we get to see the events that make the Old Man so awesome 50 years later.  But as for now, I’m content with him being a slightly whiny little brat.

I like how everything is a process, how even from the very beginning of the series, viewers can see decisions that tie directly in with the Cylon apocalypse in BSG.  What I find most interesting about this particular element, though, is that it never seems trite.  It would be all too easy for the writers to be too heavy-handed in how they move toward the established canon; instead, they weave a nice little web where events tie together delicately and deliberately, but never hamfistedly.

I like how even though the world looks and feels futuristic that it’s actually in the past of the established world of BSG.  George Lucas tried for this effect in the Star Wars prequels and failed.  He made a world that was too starkly contrasted with the grime and grit of the original trilogy.  I never bought that Episodes I-III were supposed to be in the past.  However with Caprica, there is enough seedy-underbelly to everything that it’s pretty easy to see how BSG’s industrial theme could come from Caprica.

In BSG, the Galactica was impervious to Cylons because they attacked via wireless interference and the ship was a hard-wired frigate.  It’s nice to see this theme touched on in Caprica, too.  The entire world is wireless.  They have cell phones, holobands, projection TVs in the windows, pieces of crumpled paper that act like iPhones, and any other wireless wonder one can think of.  I like that it’s so integrated into the world already because of how important that single aspect turned out to be down the road.  That’s good worldbuilding and even better writing.  Kudos on that attention to detail.

The Bad

V-world. Really.  I thought to myself when I was watching the original pilot on DVD, “I really hope this virtual reality is only a small part of the show; it’s kind of lame.”  Unfortunately, my wish did not come true.  Instead of being a small part of the show, it’s central to the plot.  Also unfortunately, it’s still lame.  V-world is a heavy-handed metaphor for the dangers that face adolescents and teenagers on the internet and social networking sites.  Yes, people can lose themselves in online gaming.  Yes, people get too caught up in Facebook and MySpace sometimes. No, I don’t want to see your obvious parallel in Caprica. I see how it ties to the Cylon’s virtual net of sensory perception in BSG; I just don’t care.

Caprica Zoe Graystone and Lacey Zoe and Lacey.  I’d kill myself if I acted like these two when I was a teenager.  I may have not been the world’s most stable teen, but I was certainly not as emotionally screwed as these two.  And not just that, they’re so disconnected from what I consider sympathetic that I can barely stand to watch them on screen.

Zoe’s childish stubbornness and daddy issues are frustrating.  Alessandra Torresani has a pretty wide range as an actress, but it’s all bottled up into one really obnoxious teenage stereotyoe.  And Lacey’s indecision (am I STO? Am I not STO? Am I a good person or bad? Does anyone love me? *face palm*) is infuriating.  I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to feel about her.

As much as I love Jane Espenson and her work with Buffy, I feel as though she somehow lost her touch for writing the younger generation.  I felt detached from Claudia in Warehouse 13 last year, too, and I had hoped it was a fluke.  After watching Zoe and Lacey in Caprica, I just do not think it is.

STO, or Soldiers of the One.  Monotheists in a society of pantheists. The base of the BSG cylon religion/spirituality.  They’re also terrorists.  They blow things up.  In case you weren’t aware, the cylons blew up the 12 colonies in the BSG pilot miniseries.  This heavy-handed metaphor is spoonfeeds viewers a very simple idea: “OMG! Cylons are the bad guys.”

Dr. Amanda Graystone.  Long story, short: Yes, I realize you’re crazy.  Yes, I see that it causes wacky and/or dramatic shenanigans.  No, I still don’t care about you.

Conclusion

It’s no Battlestar Galactica.  But then, what is?  The season had a really slow start and used quite a few devices and plotlines I just couldn’t care about.  But despite those misgivings, when the Caprica Cylon and Daniel Graystonemid-season finale came around, I was yearning for more.  When all SyFy gave for a return date was “Coming Soon,” I shot some choice words at the screen.

It turns out that I was hooked and I needed more.  I was invested in the characters and their drama.  I cared about the interpersonal relationships (most of them, at least) and how they all play into the narrative I’m already familiar with.    Caprica has indeed earned its rightful place on my DVR.

What about you folks?  What did you think about the first half-season of Caprica?

Comments

    • So far, Gordon, it does not have the action of BSG. It does, however, have plenty of the drama. It just took me a little while to really care about that drama because it’s a lot more interpersonal this time around than “OMG humanity is ending.” In contrast, it’s kind of low key. 😉

  1. Longasc

    “political/familial/corporate drama” -> I actually would rather want to watch a nerdy, technology-centric space opera. BSG was more than that, and that made it great.

    But I don’t enjoy three things in a TV series. 1. Politics … I don’t think I have to mention 2 and 3… 😉

    I will be watching Stargate: Universe tonight and hope it comes back to something more enjoyable for me than “pubescent teens growing up in outer space and having a lot of love and sex troubles while on an uncontrolled speed cruise through the universe”.

    Caprica has a major problem: It will have a hard time to appeal to the traditional geek, and it will have an even harder time to get accepted by the audience that is interested in such things – but does not really bear any interest for or even has an animosity against Science Fiction.

    I did not see the show, I have no idea what enticed you. It sounds rather horrible to me. Like a “bring SciFi to the masses” move that abandons nearly all SciFi elements. It is true that almost exclusively the “nerdy” space battles and other clichés have been stripped. Good SciFi literature does not need them either.

    But political/familial/corporate drama? Guess I will have to experience the mix myself, I am rather sceptical that I could swallow that! 🙂

    • To me, what made BSG great was that while it had the nerdy, tech-centric space opera, the people were the focus. Sure, there were robots killing humanity off systematically, but I cared about Dee’s love life more than Six’s plans.

      I really like SGU. There is a bit of the “sex in space,” but at least the second-half of what’s aired so far has focused more on their situation after it slowly set up the characters. I anticipate this coming week’s premiere to be chock full of awesomeness.

      I realize that Caprica does sound kind of awful. And I thought it really would be after the first few episodes. But something made it click with me that made me realize that it was good SF literature after all, despite not really having space battles and other tropes. They’re there, and they’re even more subdued than they are in BSG (which is saying a lot sometimes), but they’re still integral to the series’ overall functionality.

  2. OmnipotentSeal

    I can see where one would believe that V-World is “a heavy-handed metaphor” for the dangers of the web (porn, social networking, online gaming addiction), but I think it is tied to the Cylon mythology of Resurrection and Projection. Caprica-Six mentions to Baltar on the Basestar that Cylon life is about projection. Their ships are blank slates, which each Cylon than writes upon with their psychological presence. V-World is the beginning of that concept, which is epitomized by Tamara Adama (a raging New Cap City badass/goddess).

    Her death and resurrection in V-World is as integral to Cylon development as Zoe’s death and resurrection in the proto-Centurion. Zoe’s death provides the Cylon species with the body, but it is Tamara who provides them with the actual soul. The ability to digitally connect to each other telepathically, broadcasting their dreams, aspirations, and lives in a completely psychoactive environment.

    New Cap City (in V-World) is an extension of Colonial collective consciousness, which Tamara not only can tap into, but has become a demigod in. She “kills” her father to protect him from the “being” she has become there. In the noir-world of NCC, she understands the seedy, underbelly of the “real world.” A mentality which the Cylons fine wanting, so much so that they’re willing to exterminate nearly an entire species in order to demonstrate their cultural/spiritual purity.

    • Oh, I see it being tied directly to the Cylon projection mythology, but even on its own, the metaphor could have been handled better. As it stands, I can intellectually understand why that part of the series has to exist, but entertainment-wise, I much prefer watching the other sections. I tend to roll my eyes when V-world comes around.

      I do wonder, though, about Tamara Adama being part of the initial hybrid that Bill found and that we saw in the flashbacks (was it on Razor that it showed those?). I think it would add a neat bit of irony (and tie BSG even more so to Caprica) to have the initial series be family vs. family.

      • OmnipotentSeal

        Yeah, really though, Tamara Adama is the only reason I like the V-World stuff. Zoe’s plot-line doesn’t have as much mystery and suspense to it. I know she’s going to escape from David’s lab! Sure I don’t know how, but I know she is going to do it. Tamara’s storyline could really go anywhere, especially now she’s the goddess of New Cap City.