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

 

 

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?