Thursday, June 30, 2011

2011 Not-a-Hugo Nominee: Dram. Pres., Short Form CAPRICA

Caprica was a fascinating show. Its ideas and themes were fascinating, how it presented them was fascinating, and its utter failure was perhaps most fascinating of all.

Let me start out by saying: I like Caprica. I wasn’t always sure that I did, but, in the final analysis, I liked it a great deal. Here’s the shocker: I liked it better than Battlestar Gallactica, and I’m more likely to revisit it in the future.

Caprica takes place some seventy years before the Battlestar reboot, and it tracks the creation of the robotic cylons. The series follows three families connected by terrorism. Daniel Greystone (Eric Stoltz) runs the massive corporation that makes highly popular virtual reality goggles. His daughter Zoe (Alessandra Torressni) is a genius who designs an artificial copy of herself. His wife, Amanda (Paula Macolmson), gets into some zany hijinks over the course of the series. The Adama family are immigrants to Caprica from Tauron. Joseph (Esai Morales) tries to assimilate while his brother Sam remains involves in Tauron crime family activities. Joseph has a son named William, a name that should be familiar to BSG fans. Zoe, and Joseph’s wife and daughter Tamara, are killed in a terrorist attack on a shuttle orchestrated by monotheists. Clarice Willow (Polly Walker) is the local monotheistic mastermind; she’s part of a large polygamous family. Zoe was a devotee of Clarice, and her surviving friend, Lacy (Magda Aponowicz), ends up getting drawn into Clarice’s plans as well.

That was probably hard to follow if you haven't seen the show - basically, it's an exploration of robotics and VR in a society riven with decadence and religious conflict. It’s also sprawling family drama with a meandering plot. It doesn’t have the clear-cut character and plot hooks of BSG, where humankind is running for its life and most of the characters are obsessed, crazy, and/or take-no-prisoners badasses. Caprica is more complex, which is why I liked it better, and probably why it failed. On top of that, you have BSG fatigue (that last half season was weird), and the overall change from an action show to a highly speculative family drama. Prequelitis shouldn’t really be a factor – we know so little about the start of the cylon war that there’s plenty of surprises possible, and the character you’re least likely to think can die actually does. Still, the show has so many strikes against it, it’s failure seems like a foregone conclusion in hindsight.

Not to mention the fact that the show is far from perfect. The first half can move extremely slowly, while the second half (with cancellation looming) zooms at an insane pace. The plots, as I mentioned, seem to wander around randomly. Amanda’s story is especially indicative of this – she’s with Daniel, then she’s not, then she is again. She hates Zoe, she loves Zoe, she has to expose Zoe, she has to save Zoe. She’s suicidal. She’s dead? She’s an undercover agent? Paula Macolmson is a trooper through it all, but the character really is a trainwreck. There’s a similar stop and start/back and forth with Joseph Adama and the avatar of his dead daughter Tamara. And, they can’t seem to decide if Daniel is pure evil or misguided and overconfident.

So, it does go off the rails on occasion, but the show has a lot to offer. The VR culture is interesting and compelling, and this may be the finest realization of cyberpunk themes on television ever. The show also does much more to establish the twelve colonies setting in one season than BSG did in four. One of my biggest complaints about BSG is that it never felt like a coherent universe. The twelve colonies on Caprica are still a bit too similar to our own Earth, but at least we get some more details about the different ethnicities and their traditions. The look of the show is fantastic as well.

Recommended episodes:

“Pilot” – The show is heavily serialized, so you have to start at the beginning. I also think that this is where the show went wrong with the audience, who were expecting something different. If you go in with an open mind, I think the show’s potential is clearer. Grade: A-

“There is Another Sky” – My favorite episode of the series explores the virtual version of Caprica City for some cyberpunk action. Grade: A

“Dirtearters” – An exploration of Tauron history through Sam and Joseph’s childhoods. This episode really offers that grounded exploration of ethnicity that I found lacking in BSG, which was more likely to bring up characters ethnicities out of the blue to serve melodramatic one-off plots late in later seasons. Grade: B+

“Here There Be Dragons”/“Apotheosis” – The premature conclusion of the series does its best to tie up loose ends and bridge the gap with BSG. It works surprisingly well, and the ending montage is especially effective. Grade: B+

Overall series grade: B

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