Sunday, January 07, 2007

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Sunday is notionally meant to be the “day of rest” in Christian countries of the Northern Hemisphere and other parts of the anglophone world (and it seems in South Korea too, from my all to brief experience of the country, although with more than 33% of the population claiming membership of one or other Christian church, maybe that is not so surprising as it initially seems). But for our family at the moment it means once again a day of sorting out things for the incoming baby – such as cots (reassembling thereof) travel systems (laundering the covers thereof after a long sojourn in the garage since our son was outgrew the travel system a couple of years ago). Now I have twenty minutes before another series of "Waking the Dead" starts (I hope it is a better season than the last dismal outing of what used to be a very enjoyable, if occasionally daft crime series).

However, it is not the return of Trevor Eve and Co. that has got me excited, for on Tuesday we see the return of Battlestar Galactica. Now, at this point the nerd in me easily takes over, but let's pause a moment before dismissing this "re-imagining" of a classic (if distinctly kitsch, nay even naff) seventies space opera. Let us put this in to a bit of a context first.

A lot of genre TV (crime and science fiction in particular) suffers from being formulaic, repetitive and derivative. When a show breaks free of those constraints, it is pure joy. Recently the US has output some of the best genre and non-genre TV drams in decades - all of which have bee mould breakers of one kind or another. The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, CSI, Murder One, 24, etc, etc. On the science fiction side we are now in the tenth and terminal series of Stargate, about to see the return in the spring of the new (improved) Dr Who for a third series (well done Russell), the recent end of Torchwood (jury's still out on that, but maybe not all Russell touches turns to gold after all), the wrapping up of Farscape and finally, the return of Battlestar Galactica. Recent years have also seen such truly inventive gems as Frefly come (and mysteriously go) to reinvigorate TV sceince fiction, which has always been the poor relation to the wirtten end of the gnere.

BSG followed hard on the heels of Firefly, but set a new tone - it has all a good sci-fi show should have to satisfy the inner-thirteen year old of most science fiction fans - good special effects,, dramatic storylines, strong characterisations, good writing. There are also the obligatory sexy women (and men) to appeal to their respective demographics. No surprises there.

What sets it above the average though is that along with all of this there is an air of stark realism. This show's main storyline is about survival - characters die, the human race is clinging by a thread to existence, and asking itself the question " do we deserve to survive in the first place". The "baddies" have just the same questions and existential doubts (further complicated by the religious differences between the notionally polytheistic (by practically secular) humans and the apparently monotheistic Cylons).

The "Good Guys" are always teetering on (and not infrequently falling over) the edge into immoral actions, while the "Bad Guys" are capable of making moral choices for the good, are able to recognise the moral consequences of their actions and are capable of feeling remorse.

All this is dressed without acres of technobabble, aliens who are just actors in rubber suits (or with Cornish pasties on their heads) and spouting silly invented languages. If anything there are times when it resembles an episode of The West Wing or 24 more than a traditional science fiction series.

Above all though, it is a powerful echo of the angst in American culture over the War Against Terrorism. As such, it not only resonates with British culture (which is equally immersed in this latest ideological war), but it also gives me hope that there are real moral questions being grappled with in America and (I hope) in the UK.

In that sense it may be not just one of the best TV dramas (genre and non-genre) around at the moment, but in terms of history, one of the defining TV series of this decade.

Meanwhile, I shall rot my brain with Waking the Dead, which has little to say, but is a pleasant enough way of passing a Sunday evening (if watching autopsies on bodies in various states of decay can be described as "fun" that is!).

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