I can blame the fact that I've gotten virtually ZERO writing done this summer on these two discoveries. Battlestar Gallactica and Firefly. They have been a HUGE shot in the arm to the Sci-Fi genre, adding a grit and human side to the sparking clean Star Trek and Star Wars imagery we've seen. And better than all that, they've got REAL WRITERS!!!!
1. Battlestar Galactica - Quick Summary: A whole new team with a whole new approach to this campy show's concept has created what is probably one of my favorite shows on television... ever. What it's about: They've pretty much just retained the "rag tag" fleet of human surivors concept, a few names, and the made-up cuss word "Frack!"Other than that, there's a whole new slew of gripping fiction here as the Cylons who (in this version) were artificial intelligence created by humans have long surrendered a society shaping struggle with the human race on the 12 colonies. (named for the zodiac symbols) We start with a shot of a man sleepily manning a spacepost in the middle of no where and title screens tell us that at the cease fire some 40 years before the cylons and humans agreed to meet at this outpost annually to renew their peace accord. As the human ambassador pulls out a book to read, the titles tell us that the humans have sent someone every year, and that the cylons have never shown up. No one has seen or heard from them for four decades. Then, a door opens at the far side of the room. And in enter two VERY updated and impressive looking cylon soldier/machines (who we later learn are called Centurions) and immediately following them is a gorgeous blonde in a slinky red dress. She struts toward the ambassador on high heels and straddles his lap. She touches his face and asks "Are you alive?" To which he answers "yes." She says "Prove it" and begins to passionately kiss him. As she does the camera takes us outside the space outpost to show us a vast Cylon base ship that dwarves the small chamber holding the abassador and the cylons. Two missles launch from the ship. Back on the outpost the ambassador hears a distant explosion. And the Cylon woman whispers, "It has begun." What makes it great: Character conflict, deep back stories, suspense, high action, political intrigue and even metaphysical questions about the nature of God are all signature pieces of this diverse little show. This series nicely plays these several melodies at once allowing certain lines to fade to the back for a time until their tune seems to be missing missing and then bringing them back again. A fantastic cast, especially Edward James Almos and MaryMcDonnell, give a depth to moments that might come off as campy or silly in the hands of lesser actors. (Netflix carries season 1 and half of season 2. Season three starts up again this fall on the Sci-Fi Channel. All episodes can be downloaded on ITunes for a $1.99 a piece.)
2. Firefly - Quick Summary: A series that was cancelled after one season has gained a sort of "too late" cult following. Joss Whedon director of the Buffy series and the film based on this show Serenity. What it's about: A bit lighter than BG, Firefly is a "Space Western" that follows a small smuggler ship lurking in the shadows of a controlling "Alliance" to make its living. The crew is a rough group of veterans who have lost their war but not their values. They reluctantly take on a brother and sister duo who are being chased down by the entire Alliance. What makes it great: Characters, characters, characters. Sure there's a story arc here, but it's the faces on that arc that make it worth watching. At least two laugh out loud moments per episode. It's nice to see levity amidst action and drama. Point of clarity: There is a movie that treads the same ground here. It is called Serenity and it's very good. The film, however, is neither a prequel nor a sequel of the series. It is in fact a two-hour retelling of the whole story. (I guess it's a re-quel) It's like the writers just had to tell the "big picture" story and when they got cancelled they just condensed it into two hours. I recommend watching the series first, because the dynamic between the characters isn't given as much time (rightfully so) in the film. So fall in love with the people first, then see it. Drawbacks: If you're into closure, you won't get it here. The series is over, cancelled, dead beyond repair. The director is becoming a serious Hollywood player. The only chance we'll see more of this crew is if the director gets so powerful he gets to call his own shots and makes a sequel to the film as a labor of love.