Battlestar Galactica at 40


Most of the science fiction shows I look at today are serialized, and often pretty dark.  Gritty is the trend, but gritty has no hope, no wonder.

The original Battlestar Galactica celebrates it’s 40th anniversary this week.  I watched it in its original run and really enjoyed the show.  It was controversial at the time because it was right on the heels of Star Wars.  I believe there was a lawsuit.  But if you look at the past history of TV shows, any time there was a popular movie that came out, some element showed up in a TV series:

  • Airport – Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, and Airwolf
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey – The Bionic Woman
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century – Star Wars (and then the network ruined it by trying to make it Star Trek)

BG wasn’t perfect, but no show is.  It launched without a lot of time to prepare so they pantsed the heck out of the world building.

King Tut’s treasures had recently made the rounds in the U.S. (I got to see them as part of a school trip), so it was likely an influence for the Egyptian aspect of the show.   That was something I didn’t think of until I was writing this, but it’s amazing to look back and see what influences landed in the story.  Egypt was mystical and mysterious–and BG wouldn’t be the only one to have an alien influence on Egypt (Stargate, Stargate SG1).

But it also had the classic good guy/bad guy, right out of the Westerns.  The bad guys were the Cylons, and the good guys always destroyed the current threat.  There was an overall threat, but it was a time where we trusted that the good guys would always win.   It also kept the entertainment part in full view and never lost sight it.

My favorite episode was the gunslinger one, The Lost Warrior.  Apollo crashes on a planet where a town is being terrorized by a damaged Cylon and a mob boss-type bad guy.  Apollo doesn’t want to fight, but ends up having to confront the Cylon in an old-style gunfight in the street…with lasers.

A picture of the actor who played Apollo, Richard Hatch.  I took this at DragonCon in 1997.

Actor seated in chair, a stuffed bear in one arm and a stuffed koala in the other

 

 

Why The Orville is my SF Fix


When I was growing up, I hit the TV Guide every week to find out what science fiction shows were airing this week.  Then, it was digest-sized and had very short summaries of the shows.  I had to look up one word “ensues” because the description for the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode “Nightmare” used it.  I still don’t have a clue why that particular word was used for that particular episode.

And when the big season premiere issue came up, it was a big event, because I was checking out what new SF shows were premiering.  Most of them didn’t last long.  But there were shows like:

  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.  Gil Gerard was in that one as title character
  • Battlestar Galactica.  The original with Lorne Green.
  • The  Bionic Woman.  Spy/tennis star Jamie Sommers becomes essentially a superhero through technology.

There’s been other SF shows throughout the years, like Star Trek The Next Generation and Xena, Warrior Princess, but it’s been a while that I’ve found one I wanted to stick with. Most of them have been getting darker and darker.  Especially since I was able to shake lose some of that dark I got from Desert Storm, I can’t even watch Xena any more.  It’s too dark for me now.

Then The Orville with Seth McFarlane showed up last year.  I saw the commercials and was cautious, because the humor was kind of, well, dumb.  But from all my time enjoying Hollywood TV shows, I know one thing is always true:

Pilots tend to be horrible.

The writers haven’t settled into the show yet or figured out what they want to do.  They’ve written this single episode for the purpose of selling a series to the men with the money.

The actors also haven’t really gotten into the characters yet.  If you’ve ever attended a theater performance, it’s best to see it near the end.  The actors will have refined their roles.

And then I tuned in.  Humor was still awkward.  But the show had something I hadn’t seen for a while.

It was bright.

It was hopeful.

Whoa.

I didn’t realize I’d been missing something hopeful until I had it. We’ve had way too much dark, way too many anti-hero characters, and way too many unhappy endings.

The show has its critics.  A lot of people seem to want it to be a comedy or a drama, so when it blends the two, they don’t know what it is.

But, even with only 13 episodes, it had some very thought provoking episodes, especially towards the end of the season.  Yet, they also stayed on lighter end with the humor, so thoughtful didn’t become dark.

And they treated the women characters as characters, not eye candy.  The women are dressed in the same uniforms as the men, fitted both both genders.  The women also have had some important roles, and even some story lines.  I particularly like the doctor, and at least she had normal kids–not the super-intelligent ones SF shows tend to have (Star Trek The Next Generation, SeaQuest DSV).

But I’m in withdrawal!  The show is not going to premiere until 2019.  It’s for a good reason–more time for the scripts, and also because of the special effects requirements.  Robert Picardo is coming back again (yay!), and they will be adding two new cast members.  Check out the news about the show over on TV Guide.

If you saw The Orville, what did you think of it?

No more reboots of TV shows — please!


I just heard in passing that the studios are thinking of rebooting both The X Files and Twin Peaks.  My first reaction was, “Please don’t.”

Yes, I watched both shows in their original run.  I enjoyed most of The X Files because it really did have some awesome episodes.  It played in the perception of the time that the government was keeping secrets, and aliens exiting was a great secret to play with.  Twin Peaks was strange, and that was the draw.  I rewatched it on DVD, and honestly, it wasn’t that great after all.  It was very experimental at the time, but now looks a little on the tired side for the same reason.

My problem is that it’s a continuing trend of the networks and studios not wanting to take the risk of having something that might fail, and in doing that, they tend to fail anyway.  Worse, they keep repeating the trend, expecting it to have a hit, and not getting much out of it.

Take Fantasy Island.  This was a long-running show in the 1970s that starred Ricardo Montalban where you could pay a large sum of money and be a king for a day or meet the man of your dreams.  My favorite actor starred on this show at least once a season.  The studio decided to reboot it, and some of the news traffic on it seemed to be on “improving” it by making it darker.  It was pretty clear that the executives of today didn’t really understand why it had been popular then.

It didn’t last the season.

Then were was Knight Rider, also a 70s staple.  It was fun show when I saw it — honestly, having a car talk back to you would be cool.  William Daniels, who did the voice, was perfect for giving KITT a bit of snootiness that brought a lot of personality to a computer.  Then there were the cool stunts.  On rewatching reruns, the stunts are good, but the lead actor was a pretty bad actor (for which I am shocked to say; I’m not that fussy).

The studio decided to reboot it.  I watched one episode and it was so awful that it was no surprise that it was cancelled within weeks.

The Bionic Woman also was another reboot.  Again, I kept hearing people talk about the original show as if it was a joke and they’d been surprised it hadn’t been cancelled right away.  I doubt it they actually watched it.  Much of the characterization of the title character was due to Lindsey Wagner’s influence.  It changed the nature of the show to be very different from the one it spun off of, The Six Million Dollar Man.  Again, they veered darker on the reboot, left some big plot holes with how the character got bionic.  It didn’t last the season either.

All of these shows have several things in common:

  • They occurred at specific times where it was just what the audience wanted to see.  We were starting to see the glimmer of what technology could be in the 70s — the personal computer had yet to exist — so shows like Knight Rider and The Bionic Woman showed us what the future could hold.  Shows like Fantasy Island and The Love Boat (also rebooted) gave us the happily ever after.
  • They had great stories that ended happily.  I know the trend now is dark and gritty, and it can work like in the case of Battlestar Galactica (and I still like the original), but I think a lot of audiences still want things to resolved in a satisfactory way.
  • They had great characters.  Honestly, if you return to a show again and again, characters are a major part of that.   Most of the reboots haven’t had great characters.

My biggest gripe is that we’re losing the creativity.  It feels like Hollywood has run out of ideas, and its only choice is to pluck things from the past.  Instead of a reboot of The X Files, how about something new?  How about taking a chance, Hollywood?

Sometimes a Girl Needs an Action Heroine


When I was growing up, I was reading mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy novels because I liked action scenes.  Maybe it was because I was so non-athletic!  Yet, there wasn’t anything that represented me.  Most of the stories didn’t have any girls in them at all, and those that did either felt like it was a token nod or the girl was a victim.  Was that all the world thought of us?  I felt like I didn’t matter because I was a girl.

Then three TV shows came along: The Secrets of Isis, The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, and The Bionic Woman.  All these women had some form of super powers.  The Bionic Woman was different from the other two, in that the actress, Lindsay Wagner, had a say in how the character was portrayed.  She didn’t believe in guns, and the character never uses one on the show.  It made for a creative use of  action scenes, because Jamie Summers is a school teacher and former tennis player, not a highly trained spy.  Creative meant the action scenes often brought Jamie’s characterization in as well, as in the scene from the “The Return of Bigfoot” episode below.

But the show did something else, which I realized while I was revisiting it recently.  Most shows that have women in them tend to have a lot of guys, and only one woman, who often feels like the network shoehorned her in to get women viewers. The Bionic Woman always had a lot of women on the show, and it naturally fit into the stories.  Jamie had a friend, Callahan, who worked for Oscar Goldman, was a semi-regular character.  The Bigfoot episode had Sandy Duncan and Stephanie Powers, both with important and distinctive roles in the story.  That’s a credit to the writers and directors, who could have gone with tradition and didn’t.

Right now we’re seeing a lot of discussion about women in action films because of The Hunger Games.  Everyone is surprised, because unfortunately, it’s still an unusual thing.  If a movie or a show is a big success, the media thinks it’s an isolated thing.  If another one comes out and then fails, then the assumption is that the first one was purely luck and people must not want to see action-adventure heroines — not the problem might have been a bad story.  The Bionic Woman premiered in 1976 — 36 years ago, and now we have the U.S. Marine Corps looking for women volunteers for infantry school, and yet it’s still hard to find stories for us.

What do think the impact Hunger Games will have?  Do you think we’re going to see more films with characters like Katniss in them?  Is it going to influence the book industry?  I want to hear what you think!