Frakkin’ Stupid

There must be something good about “Battlestar Galactica,” because in spite of how basically crap I find it, I tune in faithfully every week (though sometimes, like this evening, I do so belatedly thanks to the convenience of my DVR). Usually, I spend the hour sneering or rolling my eyes as the episode unfolds; the show is fascinating to me as an intersection between an old guard of cheap and not particularly good television making, and a new frontier of narratively — though not intellectually — complex and ambitious television writing.

Actually I think that I want to like it. But week in and week out, the show fails so spectacularly in its chintzy sets, its hyperbolic scripts, its crushingly serious sense of its own importance (has anybody ever cracked a joke on this show? If so, has anybody ever laughed?), that I can’t turn away. It’s too easy to compare it to a car crash that you can’t turn away from. It’s perhaps more accurate to compare it to watching a car that you know is going to crash.

Imagine some futuristic, fantastical auto dreamed up by some crazy genius. Except this mad inventor forgot to attach one of its front wheels, or just couldn’t afford to pay for the tire. Undeterred, the car careens down the street anyway, a kind of souped up, time-traveling Delorean with its wheel-less front bumper violently dragging along the ground, scraping a frightening wave of sparks off the ground as the metal chassis screams in agony. Sooner or later this thing is going to collide with a telephone pole. That’s what “Battlestar Galactica” is to me. How can I not watch?

  1. So basically, you just spent 279 words saying the following:

    I do not like Battlestar Galactica. I expect it to be camp, but it does not conform to those expectations. I have therefore concluded that it is objectively bad, citing as specific examples its badness and also the set design. Of course, I watch it every week just to make sure episode 65 is as bad as 64 was, or worse.

  2. Perhaps this show was intended to be crappy and predictable.

    I’ve been reading this great book, ‘Made to Stick’ by the Heath brothers and it touches on George Loewenstein’s ‘Gap Theory’ which says: ‘Curiosity happens when we feel a gap in our knowledge.’

    Applying the Gap Theory to Battlestar~

    When you’re watching the show and you know for sure that it will ‘crash’, you want to stick around to fulfill that knowledge gap or you’ll be left with some mental pain due to the gap. I guess this explains you watching the show every week?

    It’s comparable to watching a blowout between two baseball teams and staying till the ninth inning to fulfill that ‘gap’ (unless you’re rushing out before the roads get congested).

  3. There might be a few straightforward jokes in BSG, but there’s a lot of very funny scenes, basically almost everything involving Baltar.

  4. I felt the same way years ago about the original knightrider. The show was written so poorly but i couldn’t stop watching it.

  5. How does it fail so spectacularly? What would you have it do differently?

    On an aside, I’ve maintained for some time that the writers are writing themselves into a corner, but I am adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach to see whether they actually do.

    Meanwhile, it’s a fun romp for the last season.

    BSG’s composer, Bear McCreary, blogs on what goes into writing the music for show here. Well worth a read and it might change your mind about about the failure of BSG, at least in terms of its music.

  6. I’ll admit, the 4th season has been a little underwhelming. But there are moments of brilliance. And the show has been so stellar in the past seasons — especially season 2 — that I find it difficult to believe that the writers have lost all of their mojo in their last season.

  7. I’ve never watched it, and was never really interested, but all my friends kept telling me I should. This post made me feel pretty confident in my disinterest. Thanks!

  8. Yea, I miss progress in BSG’s story. And although a lot is going on, I feel nothing is actually happening.

    (eagerly anticipating the return of Dexter)

  9. Well, as far as jokes – some 99 % of humanity got wiped out, so hey – not a lot of the funnies. We do see humor and jokes and such, but only at oblique angles, in the background and by inference. It’s actually nice to watch something where there’s not a wisecrack every other line(Firefly is excused, but even there it’s borderline)

    I’m more pissy at the addition of sound in space than anything else, it has shifted from a truer feel to a more unfocused attempt and mass marketization.

  10. 35,000 humans left, yet there’s still at least 30 hack journalists. Oh and a proper council/government with pristine suits.

    I’m still damn watching it though!

  11. I was lucky to escape during their first season, when they were still circling the gravity sink. Normally, one might expect a star to come out of the sink, but in the case of BSG, I’m doubtful.

  12. I’ve felt this same way before, but I figured out why I continue to watch: There are great *scenes*. The overal show story and mythology has been falling apart since the first season (The show has basically been pushed from character-driven to plot-driven, and that plot is laden with Trek-ish tropes), but within each episode there are a few scenes that trancend all of that and that are as intense and cinematic as the ones that hooked us in the beginning.

  13. I laugh a lot when watching BSG — more than I laugh at any other sci-fi show, that’s for sure. Every single thing Baltar says or does is intended to be funny — not necessarily to the other characters (you are correct that nobody jokes on the show), but certainly to us.

    The show is, in many ways, very much an exercise in camp. The use of the old theme music in the Xena-as-journalist episode? The moment when Dean Stockwell stopped denying he was a cylon? Hell, it took an admirable sense of humor to even choose to cast Lucy Lawless and Dean Stockwell in the first place.

    I agree, though, that however the grand finale turns out it will be a disaster on many levels. I can only hope to view that disaster with the same humor I have enjoyed the rest of the series.

  14. Chintzy sets? Where have you seen better? The interior of the cylon base ships, I’ll give you. Also, I wouldn’t say it’s completely lacking on an intellectual level, but then, my IQ is merely in the high 100s. I personally laugh during almost every episode; however, I can see where this might require some working knowledge of other SCI-FI shows and related pop culture.

    However – this season is getting boring. Where’s the big revelation like they used to have in every show? Who’s the last Cylon – dude, I’m getting so sick of waiting to find out that I almost don’t give a shit anymore.

    I am still watching, though, because of episodes like the ones right after they got back from New Caprica. The boxing fight between the chief and Adama, the courtroom drama with Baltar – incredible acting & character development, brilliant commentaries about war, our own putrid legal system, and the human desire to believe the best of each other despite hard, clear evidence to the contrary.

  15. I accept that some people laugh heartily while watching this show, and that they find it entertainingly campy. I just don’t believe for a second that that was the original attraction at all — to say that the virtue of ‘Battlestar Galactica’ is its camp quality is just revisionist, in my opinion. Its early, promising episodes were examples of good drama, as imperfect as they were. As the show continues to plod along — sloppily, bombastically — lauding its camp value is making excuses. In my opinion.

  16. Camp’ to me is more like a John Waters film. It’s more like, references to Trek, popular music, etc., and I do believe the writing is better than just about anything else in series t.v. At times I have thought, this is definitely better than Star Trek… but I think that to be fair, that speaks more of how bad Trek really was. Compared to most other sci-fi, [most] episodes are Shakespeare. Ever seen Stargate Atlantis? Yech.

    I completely agree with you that the first season was much more promising. I think the writers got too distracted with other projects. I also get the feeling I’m watching a train wreck in progress – it’s like I feel committed to see it run its’ course. I hope it gets better, because I want to see the Caprica series get off the ground. I think. 🙂

  17. I’m a LOST fanatic and recently made a deal that if my coworker would start watching LOST (my favorite show), I would indulge him and start watching BSG (his favorite show). After reading this post I’m starting to regret this pact.

  18. Your level of enjoyment is relative to your level of expectation. I actually rented Gigli, watched the whole thing and enjoyed it. Only because my wife and I were watching it MST3k style.

  19. Khoi, I’m so surprised by you panning BSG. It’s by far the best show on television! You should take it all back. Did you start watching it from the beginning?

    Josh, although I love Lost too, it’s a sprawling mess of a show. You’re by far getting the better end of the deal.

  20. Awww man! Best show on TV! How can you be so right so often… and so very, very wrong about this? My theory: You secretly LOVE the show, but can’t bring yourself to admit your affinity with something so beloved by so many nerds everywhere.

    Well, I say just let it happen, Khoi. Embrace your inner nerd, and just admit that at season’s end you (like me) will miss those Friday nights at 10 pm (9 central) like a beloved old sweater or perfectly worn in pair of shoes.

  21. Lots of words just to say you don’t like something. It’s my favorite show on television– though I usually prefer not to watch television. Yawn. Someone always likes/hates every show on television. When the wife and kids all huddle up together to watch American Idol I can’t ever find the exit fast enough.

  22. BSG used to be the Best Show on Television. Well-crafted. Suspenseful. Socially and politically relevant. With spaceships and robots.

    That’s until about halfway through last season, when everyone involved with the show went completely insane and started making crap up as they went along. Now every episode is just a half-assed answer to ‘oooh! oooh! oooh! What if…’ With spaceships and robots.

    I no longer feel like there is a grand design. And that makes me very sad indeed.

  23. I loved BSG from the beginning. Season 2 was the best – didn’t want it to end. The move to Sunday killed season 3 for me. I’m watching Season 4 thanks to torrents and find it well – lacking. This one ‘god’ stuff and relating it to finding earth is a bit much… BUT I am still watching it expecting something I guess?? I understand why this is the last season – they have ran out of story.

  24. Be it far from me to actually know why, but bumped (literally into el presidenti under one of those flirtatious, full bossommed flower baskets. Galactica at Butchart gardens in Victoris! Thing about that cast you HAVE to know is this. Thing of it is this… thay are really like that ALL of the time. Okay? Good luck breaking your addictrion. Your mind now belongs to alien visitors.

  25. The flaming wreck everyone is waiting for is how the creators will resolve finding Earth. Personally, I’m wincing in anticipation of the cylons following them there and taking down the Capitol Records building as in the first BSG.

    BSG and Lost are the shows I find most compelling in part because they are messy, sprawling, meandering shows. For those complaining, please point to the better shows on free tv.

  26. I appreciate the comments very much, but more than just negative subjective ranting, I’d really like to hear a comparative analysis of another show(s) that the author thinks typifies everything BG is not and why. I haven’t seen ANYTHING in the TV SF genre that can even ATTEMPT try to pull off what BG attempts, of course they can’t be an example of visual entertainment perfection every time, but as far as overall entertainment goes, they get FAR more right than they get wrong…I suspect it is true that when you really love something you do actually want it to delivery more than it already does (or can)…thus the tendency to be hyper critical.

  27. I like BSG. It’s good clean fun. Doesn’t have to be much more complicated than that.

    If somehow the final Cylon turned out to be Top Chef’s Padma Lakshmi (who knew she was on board?) that would be TV mash-up bliss…

  28. 1st and 2nd seasons were great. 3rd was pretty meandering and boring. 4th started good, but I don’t think it’ll get any better.

    Looking back, the shark jump will have been the revelation of the 4. I was SO disappointed by that. Tigh? COME ON! The writers erased what little goodwill I had left with that stroke.

    The LOST 4th, however, is back on track after a dismal 3rd, so it *can* be done.

  29. I guess I could accept some of your criticism as valid (although only by believing that you’re intelligent but delusional). However, your one remark, ‘(has anybody ever cracked a joke on this show? If so, has anybody ever laughed?)’ is particularly odd if only because those are precisely the best moments of the show!

    When put under excruciating pressure against insurmountable odds (humans) will always find reasons to laugh or smile. Of course, the show is grim, but it wouldn’t even have to BE a science fiction show (chintzy sets and all) because the primary source of drama arrives from that undeniable tension between everything totally sucking and the necessity to soldier on. That why I watch it anyway–I could care less about robots or spaceships or plots. To boot, when the emotions are running that high, you need great actors and the show has those in abundance.

  30. I think you’re confused Khoi. See, when one doesn’t like something, they tend not to let it take up their time. When one enjoys something, they, like I, will let it invade their life.

    I think you do like it. You’re just confused about sorting out all your feelings on the matter. We have no control over these things; it’s best just to sit back and let it ride. And enjoy.

    Plus: Robots? Epic space battles? Cloning? Reincarnation? Edward James Olmos? I’m pretty sure these are recurring themes we can get behind.

  31. Also: Other shows are far guiltier of the things you outline in your article: LOST? Heroes? That crap on FOX? All were stringing their audiences down the car-crash course since halfway throught their first seasons.

    I guess it’s a pretty well proven method. People just can’t look away.

  32. In the beginning, this show was a fantastic drama that happened to be in space. The mini-series and the first 2 seasons were amazing like that. Then, it turned into a lame sci-fi show.

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