Thursday, November 30, 2006

Battlestar Galactica: A House Divided

We're halfway through the third season of Battlestar Galactica. My friends love it, my wife loves it, and the critics love it, too. But I'm afraid I've signed off, thanks to three words that appeared at the end of Season 2:

"One Year Later..."

Well, here's three more words for you: Jump The Fucking Shark. Geez, did that move ever piss me off! And since you asked, I'll tell you why: because there's no end in sight.

First of all, I'll acknowledge the obvious: 100% of the TV writers out there are looking for the goose that lays the golden eggs, and when they finally find it, 99.9% of them want that goose to live into a ripe old age. These people live from project to project, pouring their creative energies into one dead-end concept after another, and when one finally grows a shaky pair of legs the writers find themselves creatively sprinting from one episode to the next, hoping against hope to sustain interest, to increase the flow of advertising bucks, to generate ever larger audiences. They will work a concept to the point of exhaustion, then work it a little further, then take an absurd risk to keep it going because once the money starts coming in they know it's too good to be true. It will dry up someday. It could be they'll pay off the mortgage with this project; more likely, the gig will close by the end of the season, and they'll be knocking on producers' doors with their briefcase full of untried concepts.

I've got a lot of compassion for these people, but when my interest in their personal story eclipses my interest in the story they're selling, we have a problem. Enter: Galactica writer and executive producer Ronald D. Moore -- an interesting guy. He has a restless but surprisingly direct intelligence. He was responsible for some of the better episodes in the Star Trek franchise, and I'm curious to see what his next project will look like. I'm just not interested in Galactica anymore, because it has taken on a drearily familiar shape. As with its contemporary 24 and The X-Files before them, Galactica has hooked the viewer, and is gearing up to play it past exhaustion. Viewers of Galactica are going to have to brace themselves for one grim revelation after the next, each one suggesting the potential for coherence and resolution, in a creative environment where, in fact, neither is a possibility.

If the viewer has the stamina of, say, a Northern Pike, this is a game that could stretch for seasons on end. I'm too old to play the Pike ("Jackfish" is what we call 'em on the Prairies). I've got the fight of a Bass: I'll sure let you know when you've hooked me, but if you don't reel me in nice and quick, I'll be off before you know it.

The Post-Mortem: (for those one or two readers who might not have seen the conclusion to Season 2, Spoiler Alert) "One Year Later..." was a distasteful, downright campy act of disrespect to the viewer's intelligence. First of all, it transformed the preceeding two episodes into a trivial, 90-minute red herring. Laura Roslin's dark night of the soul, in which she struggles with whether or not to rig her re-election, has no real point to it. The writers could have let Baltar win the thing without her hand-wringing, because her moral qualms and near moral failure add absolutely no narrative currency to the story's "conclusion".

Secondly, "One Year Later..." is a high-school English Class exercise. We all did it with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. We even subjected the classics to a Monty Python "one year later" treatment. Similarly, Galactica. Poofy hair and floppy guts (I shudder to think what a naturally athletic guy like Jamie Bamber had to eat to resemble the Pillsbury Doughboy), and feisty, once-single women who have become married, embittered shrews ... "Will this be on the test, sir?" Gimme a break.

End Spoiler

Seems to me this was roughly the same stunt that lost me as a viewer of The X-Files. Chris Carter cooked up a season-closing cliff-hanger in which Fox apparently committed suicide, because he was now convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that all his sleuthing for extraterrestrials was based on a fraud. The problem for me was a) I didn't for a minute buy that Fox might possibly be dead because b) the viewers had seen countless little flashes that indicated he was pretty much on the right track.

The whole stunt screamed of desperation, and only gave credence to Stephen King's ascerbic dismissal of the show as "a five-year cock-tease" (some three flaccid years before Carter was finally forced to put the series to bed). I'd have thought Moore was above such pedestrian carny stunts, but I'm clearly wrong. Not that Moore will lose any sleep over my disaffection. My wife still watches the show, thanks in large part to this "cognitive dissonance" that Adam Rogers is so fond of.

To my mind, the real television triumph is Deadwood. Three seasons -- or three-and-a-half, if you include the two forthcoming feature-length TV movies -- and that's all she wrote. It was gritty, had no shortage of gravitas or humour (an ingredient the Galactica stable seems oblvious to) -- in other words, plenty of that thar "cognitive dissonance" we seem to enjoy. And it quit before Al Swearingen morphed into Dr. Claw.

However, do keep me posted -- I always appreciate attempts to woo me back into the fold. But, most importantly, be sure to wake me up when it's over.


Trent Reimer said...

The worst of the recent offenders for me was "Lost". It began with some level of gripping plausibility but has gracefully evolved into something rather more ridiculous. Was that the meddling of a struggling network? Or is it become a higher form of art I haven't the acuity to appreciate?

Odd you mention BG - I'm off to read up on malicious robots this afternoon.

Rob said...

Except Deadwood didn't go out on its own terms, as far as I know - it was killed. The movies were a concession to wrap up its loose ends, but who knows how far it would have gone otherwise... Likely into the abyss in which The Sopranos has resided for the last three seasons.

Whisky Prajer said...

rob - hard to say what, exactly, killed Deadwood (I'm guessing David Milch was losing interest) but killed it was. Hey, so was Star Trek, and they've yet to improve on that! When it comes to the really good TV shows, I say "Kill 'em young!"

(Sports Night, anyone?)

DarkoV said...

I'm not a watcher of anything post original Star Wars-tv series version, so this discussion sounds, to these untrained ears, similar to old Catholic argument of the determination of the quantity of angels dancing on a pin (I think this puzzle was answered with the arrival of the Cray supercomputers).
But, WP, your last comment, "I say, "Kill 'em young!"" was quite a surprise. I'd always thought you to be Athenian, not Spartan in your philosophy, especially as you're growing longer in the tooth.

No wonder your daughters are eyeing you as the dottering ruler who soon needs to be overthrown.

Whisky Prajer said...

Athenian in temperament ... except when it comes to television (see above posting).