Monday, August 20, 2012

Battlestar Galactica Eats Itself With Galactica 1980

The Good: Decent characters, Interesting concept, Acting is fine.
The Bad: Predictable, Adds far too many science fiction concepts to a previously grounded universe, No DVD bonus features
The Basics: Galactica 1980 reinvents Battlestar Galactica . . . poorly.

Despite what all the Family Guy fans might have you believe, Family Guy is not the first network television series to be cancelled and then brought back after a hiatus of a few years. For sure, Family Guy had one of the most significant breaks between its third season (reviewed here!) and its fourth (reviewed here!). Now, I – who was once a champion of the show – wish they would just put it down. Lacking its edgy quality, Family Guy has fallen into a formulaic series of conceits that make it less than enjoyable to watch any longer. That is pretty much how Galactica 1980 feels.

Not long ago, I had not seen a single episode of Battlestar Galactica, though I had reviewed the Cylon ornament from Hallmark (that’s here!). But, as part of my summer on my own, I thought I might get around to watching the entire franchise of Battlestar Galactica. And when I watched and reviewed the original Battlestar Galactica (here!), I actually found I enjoyed it quite a bit more than I thought I might. So, I was pretty eager when I sat down to watch Galactica 1980.

Unfortunately, the ten-episode, two-disc Galactica 1980 is a real letdown in almost every imaginable way. Fans of Battlestar Galactica are unlikely to consider Galactica 1980 canon because it so radically diverts from the realism and principles of the original show. Fans of DVDs who enjoyed how packed with bonus features Battlestar Galactica was are likely to be disappointed by the “no frills” DVD presentation of Galactica 1980

Galactica 1980 follows the exploits of the Battlestar Galactica about twenty years after the events of Battlestar Galactica. Boxey, the child rescued by Apollo, is all grown up and is now a Viper pilot himself. Going by his proper name, Captain Troy is paired with the fairly dim Lieutenant Dillon and the fleet is led by Commander Adama. Adama is now dependent upon a child prodigy, Dr. Zee, who guides the fleet as a civilian/scientific leader. Colonel Boomer is still around and he assists Adama from time to time in the role Tigh used to occupy.

The basic premise of Galactica 1980 puts Earth into play. The Galactica and the human survivors who wandered the stars for so long have finally reached Earth. Unfortunately, they arrive in 1980 and discover that the planet is in no shape to save, or even help, the colonists. Reluctantly, Adama and Zee task the convoy to distracting the Cylons from Earth while Troy and Dillon go down to Earth and work to prepare it for a cultural integration. This puts them into frequent contact with Jamie Hamilton, an aspiring news reporter who gets enough evidence to believe Troy and Dillon while realizing the importance of not exposing them.

Galactica 1980 essentially follows three arcs with two additional episodes that loosely follow the events of the prior three groups of episodes.

The first arc has the Galactica reaching Earth. As the scouts for the Galactica discover Earth through its transmissions, Adama is crushed. So many lives have been lost trying to find Earth and the lost colony is essentially primitive. While Dr. Zee advises Adama to take the colony ships away from Earth to protect the helpless humans there, one of Adama’s other advisors, Xaviar, insists they broach the topic of time travel with Dr. Zee. Xaviar wants to progress Earth to a technological level that will allow them to be useful to the human colonists in resisting the Cylons. When Adama and Dr. Zee refuse to go along with Xaviar’s idea, Xaviar goes to Earth and takes a Viper to the past, to Nazi Germany. Captain Troy and Lieutenant Dillon, with reporter Jamie Hamilton, make the perilous trip back as well, in the attempt to thwart Xaviar and prevent the Nazis from winning World War II.

Following the escape of Xaviar, Dr. Zee becomes deeply concerned about the children aboard the Galactica. He decides to send them down to Earth, where through an inadvertent bank robbery, Lt. Dillon and Captain Troy disguise them as Boy Scouts (despite them seeming more like Cub Scout age and one of them being a girl!). When three of the super strong children fall ill, Troy, Dillon, and Hamilton quickly find themselves embroiled in a medical nightmare, hunted by the Air Force and the owner of a chemical company near where the children are camping. When the medical emergency passes, Jamie takes the children to a baseball camp where they have to try not to use their extraordinary abilities. Unfortunately, Xavier, disguised as a friendly officer, arrives to try to take the children to use as leverage to be left alone by Adama and his forces.

On Halloween, the Cylons actually make it to Earth! Fortunately, only one ship crashes on Earth and there are only two survivors. While one is Centurion, the other is a new model of Cylon that looks exactly like a human and wants to find a radio tower through which he may send a homing beacon to the rest of the Cylon fleet. With humanity’s fate hanging in the balance, Dillon and Troy track the two Cylons down to try to save Earth.

“Space Croppers,” the penultimate episode, explores racism in a small farming community. When the colonists’ food supplies are destroyed, Dillon and Troy try to become farm hands and help out a Latino farmer who is the butt of a great deal of racism from the locals. The Colonists bring the children back into play to seed the fields.

Dr. Zee’s origin story is revealed in “The Return Of Starbuck,” which explores how Starbuck was marooned on a distant planet and befriended a Cylon Centurion.

Far and away, the biggest problem with Galactica 1980 is that it takes a show that was remarkably grounded and turns it into a science fiction farce. Almost immediately, the conceit of Dr. Zee is annoying and guts the character of Adama. The only thing less sensible than Dr. Zee is how he is almost immediately, and without explanation, recast! Then there is the time travel element. It’s virtually impossible not to watch Galactica 1980 and ask, “if they have time travel, why didn’t they go back in time over Caprica to save the people and ships they lost there?!” Given a legitimate choice between wandering the stars for decades and losing countless people or activating the remarkably simple time travel device and getting out of the way of the Cylons, why would the humans choose defeat?! Better yet, the Cylons were created by a lizard race that they eventually overthrew. Why not send someone back to the distant past to say to their cyberneticists, “Look, you’re going to have to stop that!”

It’s enough to make one absolutely baffled that Glen A. Larson wrote this entire series after Battlestar Galactica!

Outside the science fiction conceits, the idea of Galactica 1980 is not a bad one. Adama and Dr. Zee do the responsible thing by avoiding letting Earth become another casualty of the Cylons. Moreover, the culture shock between Troy and Dillon and Jamie is often handled with appropriate humor. But even there the show relies upon new “invisibility” technology and wrist-mounted computers that give Troy and Dillon all the information they need.

The show is pretty light on character development, with Jamie being given the most to do in that regard as she grows from being completely ignorant to a steadfast ally of the Galactica and the colonists in pretty short order.

The acting from Kent McCord (Troy) is homogenously good. Lorne Greene is hardly given enough to do in the series, but react to Dr. Zee’s expository monologues, and Herb Jefferson Jr. is similarly underused. Barry Van Dyke and Robyn Douglass (Jamie) are fine, but are often not given much range to play.

In the end, I think I’d have to advise viewers to leap from Battlestar Galactica to one of the newer incarnations as opposed to wasting the time and emotional energy on Galactica 1980.

For other classic science fiction shows, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Star Trek
V: The Television Series
The X-Files


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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