National Review has a quick backgrounder on Battlestar Galactica — which is deservedly called the best show on television.
Galactica is one of those shows that redefines a genre. Granted, it borrows heavily from other science fiction shows — not only it’s schlocky 70’s namesake, but also has the gritty realism of the brilliant but little-known Space: Above and Beyond, the sweeping mythology of The X-Files and the best-acted captain since Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
What makes Galactica so intriguing is that it does what good sci-fi should do: provide a new lens in which we can view our world:
Because the Cylon are so complex, as opposed to your tentacle-waving aliens of yesteryear, BSG is able to explore the dilemma of a free society at war. How far can the humans go in fighting the Cylon before losing their souls? When Cylon such as Sharon are captured, humans must find the line between decency in treating prisoners and the need to extract information from enemy assets. When a Cylon-killing virus is discovered, the humans must decide whether to unleash this biological weapon. The resistance under Cylon occupation must decide whether suicide bombings and attacks on non-combatants are moral. Others under the occupation must figure out how much they can cooperate before they become collaborators. After the humans are freed from the occupied planet, some are hungry for vengeance against perceived collaborators. Onboard Galactica, Adama and Roslin struggle to balance protecting the people and guarding liberty. The peoples’ right to information collides with the need to protect secrets. Tension rises between civil government and military leadership. All the while, an overworked and undersupplied military fights to maintain morale in an impossible situation.
Galactica isn’t about bumpy-headed aliens whose improbable situation is resolved through some complex piece of technology. It’s a human story about 41,000 people fighting for survival. The characters are complex and realistic. They fight. They fall in love. They break up. They live. They die. The fact that they’re being chased by genocidal androids only motivates their human impulses. This is what science fiction should be — not about the trappings, but about the human condition.
Edward James Olmos’ Admiral William Adama is a complex, nuanced, and powerfully acted character. In a just world, the excellent Michael Hogan would get an Emmy for his powerful portrayal of Colonel Saul Tigh. Hogan’s character goes through hell and back, and Hogan’s brilliant acting makes it all absolutely real. The cast has no weak links — there isn’t a character that rings false, which is a common pitfall in television these days.
Science fiction is treated like the red-headed stepchild of television — and while most sci-fi shows tend to be cookie-cutter space opera, Galactica is something else. It is powerfully written, provocative, well-produced, and intelligent. It is the best show on television — every bit the equal of shows like 24 or Rome. The fact that it is science fiction makes it less reputable in the eyes of many critics, but compared to most of the schlock on television, it’s still the best show on television today.