Battlestar Virgins – The Best Show You’ve Never Watched

We’re always looking for new and inventive ways to pass on “The Sickness” here at RedEye Rogue. Being media insiders we are often asked what we are currently watching or following. The usual snickers and eye rolling ensues to which we usually buy another round of drinks and let it go.

Well no more.

Amber Greenawalt – an admitted sufferer of “The Sickness”, has written an absolutely wonderful piece on “The Best Television Show You’ve Never Watched.” It’s a bit longer than the usual RedEye Rogue post, (mainly because we don’t have the brain capacity to write a post with more than 150 characters) but we think it’s entertaining and informative and makes a great gift!

Read on fellow Virgins.  The following is reposted from Life, Love & Laundry.


The Best Television show You’ve Never Watched




What seems like ages ago now Brian and I signed up for Netflix. Our “Instant Que” has amassed quite a backlog over the years with all kinds of shows and movies in every sort of genre that we plan to eventually watch. Invariably we’ll get sucked into one great series and be consumed by it until the end. Suffice it to say it’s changed the way we do TV.
One show we just kept passing over was Battlestar Galactica.




The show, which debuted in 2004 after a 2003 mini-series that sets it up, got rave reviews (Time listed it as one of the best 100 television shows ever, the Daily News rated it the second best sci-fi show ever, behind only The Twilight Zone). It won a Peabody and a few Emmys. Even the United Nations got in on the Battlestar phenomenon, holding a retrospective symposium on the show.




Was2228670Seriously, the U.N.

{Whoopie Goldberg was the moderator of the U.N. event. Turns out Guinan is a huge Battlestar Galactica fan}

And yet it sat in our Netflix Instant Que for YEARS unwatched. I just assumed it was some cheesy Star Trek rip off. Or at the very least an unremarkable remake of the Glen Larson space-western with the same silly name.

Oh how wrong I was. 

The new version of the show shares basically two things with its 1970s predecessor: the premise (the last vestiges of the human race on the run after almost being entirely annihilated by Cylons) and some of the character names. Besides that, it is a completely different show; dark, brooding, gritty, intense and just plain awesome.

Battlestar Galactica turned out to be the most surprisingly riveting, and all-consuming 57 hours I’ve ever spent watching a television show. EVER. I decided I needed to write a blog post just in case it saves even one person from making the same mistake we did.
Don’t do shows with space ships???
WAIT…hear me out.
Truth is, you probably already watch plenty of shows that, if someone had explained the plot to you years ago, you would have rolled your eyes and said, “not in a million years.” So the question is, if you were willing to give Tony Soprano and his therapist a chance, or the Lostaways, or even or a lottery winner named Earl, a chance, why wouldn’t you take a chance on Battlestar Galactica?
It’s as passionate and intelligent as The West Wing when debating war and terrorism. It’s as emotionally articulate as Downton Abbey. As trippy, and deliciously baffling as Breaking Bad. Solid and enigmatic as The Wire. It’s not afraid to take you on an epic, existential journey during which you’ll grow to love characters who are wrangling with deep metaphysical issues all while never losing sight of the idea that television should be entertaining.
Actually, I’d argue that it’s not only the best show you’ve never watched—it’s one of the top ten most sophisticated, compelling and original shows that’s ever been made. I’ll give you ten reason’s (with pictures) why you should fire it up in your que right now….
1. Humanity

{Everything on Battlestar Galactica is some kind of layered allegory. Like this Last Supper homage}

First and foremost what makes Battlestar Galactica stand out is its uncompromising look at humanity at its most flawed and desperate. It is bleak, it is harrowing and it is relentless. It’s what makes it so much more than a robot chase across space.
As you know by now I am a self-admitted trekkie. One of the things I sardonically muttered to myself the night that Brian first fired Battlestar Galactica up in our cue is, “It’s not Star Trek.” And the thing is…It’s not. Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica have wildly different aesthetics and ideologies, and both aspire to very different goals. Fundamentally, it boils down to this: Star Trek is about who we want to be, and Battlestar Galactica is about who we are.
In the world of Battlestar Galactica people still drink too much, and beat their spouses, and work too hard, and hate their bosses, and distrust the government, and fear death. The crew of the Galactica is not boldly exploring the universe for exploring’s sake, learning about fascinating new cultures and inviting alien species to join the benevolent Federation of Planets. It’s running away from a race of genocidal robots bent on their complete annihilation, while trying to maintain some shred of humanity and civilization.
Paradoxically, a show about robots that are conveniently lifelike enough to cast real actors and ships that can jump through space all day long without tearing a hole in the universe is also one of the most realistic when it writes a character. The characters in Galactica are not “good” or “bad” they are real, frail, weak human beings / awesomely hot robots trying to cope with unthinkable horrors and very hard choices, and trying to do their best when dealing with them. Even if you don’t agree with a character’s actions (and the show’s not so glib that you’re supposed to), you understand how they’ve come to them, and that’s the key to Battlestar’s genius. It doesn’t ever talk down to its audience, or pander to gung-ho-American-war-on-terror rhetoric. Instead, it plays out issues in an adult fashion, allowing characters to debate what they’re doing, to remember what they’ve done, to question why they’re doing it – and crucially, to be called to account for their actions later. It’s this sense of time passing and actions being remembered that gives the show a real depth. Characters grow, change their minds, fall in and out of love, quit jobs and get arrested, lose themselves in drinking binges and then pull themselves together.


2. Faith, God and Spirituality


Battlestar has more religious references than a Dan Brown novel, but the angels, prophecies and holy books are as gripping as any of the space dogfights in the series. I’ve never seen a show take on religion and spirituality the way that Battlestar Galactica does and manage not for a moment to come across as condescending in the discourse. It embraces it to enhance the mythical aspects of the show to add another layer. The religious conflict between humans who hold polytheistic beliefs, and cylons who believe in monotheism, is the engine that drives much of the main plot, which is very rare in any show, sci-fi or otherwise. Each side has someone who experienced spiritual awakening, visions or intuition and believe it is a guide from above and they must act upon it to make it happen. And strangely, all the different beliefs and paths intertwined with each other’s destinies, and make the story whole not unlike two sides of the same coin.

3. The Politics

{I solemnly swear to deal with politics in a realistic and entertaining way….So say we all!}
Another aspect that truly sets this show apart are its politics. With an opening that starts with an apocalypse – the near wiping out of the human race by the cylons – and ratchets the action up from there, it’s hard not to read the series as being anything other than an allegory for the Iraq War and the politics of Bush-era America. The idea to revive the 1970’s original show came shortly after 9/11, and its influence permeates the story. But where Galatica’s contemporaries, shows such as 24, chose to deal with the war on terror by setting up a string of impossibly last-minute disaster scenarios that can only be foiled if Jack Bauer flicks through his on-the-hoof torture manual, Battlestar has taken a much more elegant and complicated tack.
At first, we sympathize with the humans (read: America), under attack from a horde of impossible-to-detect alien invaders within (read: al-Qaida). Then you realize that it’s the cylons, the baddies, who believe in a more Christian-sounding “one true God” – and the humans who worship a bunch of different gods. And that even though they’ve perpetrated mass genocide, it’s nonetheless the cylons – created and then turned upon by humans – who believe themselves to hold the moral high ground.

In its third season Battlestar manages to pull off one of the most extraordinary leaps in American TV when the surviving group of humans find themselves living under cylon occupation on a new planet and our human heroes decide to use suicide bombing against the cylons. It’s the sort of move you can only pull once you’ve taken viewers with you on a properly engaging journey. Suddenly you’re looking at a collection of people that you’ve come to know and respect – rather than a string of dramatic archetypes – and being asked to watch them, even identify with them, as they debate the merits of terrorism. So it’s Colonel Tigh, the brilliant, bitter, drunken military man, who decides to sacrifice innocent human bystanders for the sake of taking down a few “toasters” (as they call cylons).

The show raises all kinds of tough questions from forced labor issues, to abortion…and just as in real life the answers are never black or white.

4. Gender Parity.
Battlestar Galactica has some of the meatiest roles ever written for women on television. Gender politics are euphorically advanced, with every female pilot, mechanic, Cylon, civilian and even President, so fundamentally equal to the men around them that gender parity isn’t something they even have to talk about. Period. It’s utterly refreshing! Might I add that I would totally vote for president Laura Roslin in a human heartbeat.
6. Space Accuracy, Realistic Depiction of the Future
{Phasers? We don’t need no frakin phasers!”}
So you’re not into spaceships I know. But I have to point out that Battlestar Galactica is how you “ground” a show in space and still make it exciting. With Science. Star Trek has phasers and transporters and replicator technology. Star Wars has lightsabers and turbolaser cannons. The Stargate series has interstellar gates. But none of these technologies are all that realistic when you look at today’s technology level and its likely rate of evolution even 300 years into the future. In contrast, all the ships in Battlestar Galactica use kinetic weapons (weapons that don’t contain an explosive or electric charge). These range from a sort of machine gun in the nose of the human’s Viper starfighters to the nuclear-tipped missiles hurled by the Cylon basestars. Even the depictions of the Vipers’ maneuverability were more accurate than you’d expect.  The little fighter ships can spin, juke and change directions on a dime by the use of thrusters and zero gravity or atmospheric resistance, big ships suffer structural damage because of one too many faster than light jumps, and sound is limited because, well, space is a vacuum and there is no sound. The subtle design of making sound limited was enough to feel realistic. It made the space battles increasingly tense and dramatic, as it pulled all the focus on the gorgeous visuals, unhindered by distracting booms or pew-pew-lasers everywhere. Galactica used an internal phone and intercom system, and lacked the comm badges, comlinks, viewscreens, transporters and replicators of Star Wars and Star Trek. Galactica’s computer systems, even when networked, required several minutes to run complex calculations, and the comm systems in BSG all seemed to feature the type of distorted transmissions I would expect to hear over such long ranges. Basically, I think the technology in Battlestar Galactica is closer to the technological reality we’ll have in the next couple hundred years.
7. Engaging Special Effects, Cinematography and Music
The special effects and cinematography of Battlestar Galactica are top-notch. The show was nominated for and won multiple Emmys for the superb visual effects work throughout its five year run. The effects in each episode look more polished than many of the 100 million dollar movies I’ve seen. It’s obvious that the effects team took great care in making everything look plausible.
Battlestar Galactica’s soundtrack is also phenomenal. Composer Bear McCreary built a body of music that utterly heightened the  intensity of the show at every turn and like the special effects gave this small screen product such a big screen, cinematic feel. McCreary mixes everything from Asian and Middle Eastern music and chants, to crazy tribal drums to the bombastic orchestral traditions of the Western canon. Trust me when I say that Bear McCreary is a genius when it comes to composing. Every music piece and “leitmotif,” which is a short, recurring music theme dedicated to a character or story element is perfectly placed and adds beautifully to the emotion of the characters and the situations they get into.
{Bear McCreary. You want his music on your ipod!}

9. Frak

The writers of the show made one bizarre, potentially polarizing decision right away in its production. They wanted to say the F word. REALLY BAD. But alas censorship rules made this a huge no-go. To get around this regulation, Battlestar Galactica’s writers came up with a substitute: Frak. The characters say it constantly and the beauty is that everybody watching knows what it means. It feels really silly at first, but then you get used to it and the next time you stub your toe, find yourself frackin‘ up a storm. Ultimately, the idea works because the Colonies are descendants of an Earth-born humanity. Familiarities in lexicon are plausible and would certainly be manipulated by time or accent, giving some words different spellings, pronunciations, etc. It’s frakin’ genius.

8. Eyeball Sugar

Let’s be honest. Not every reason to watch Battlestar Galactica is deeply intellectual.There’s plenty of man candy like this…


 And space babes like Victoria’s secret model Tricia Helfer (no really she is) as Six poured into this memorable red dress.
 photo 320px-Margaret_Edmondson.jpg

{Girl Pilots RULE!}

 photo Kat2.jpg

For a show as dark and gritty as Battlestar Galactica is, it is also incredibly sexy. This was televised science fiction made, for perhaps the first time in history, entirely for adults. Adults have sex and Battlestar Galactica was never afraid to jump in the rack or the boxing ring, or the …

9.The Love Story

{Eddie + Mary = Chemistry}

While all that eye candy is a definite plus what gets me every time is a great love story. I refer to this reason as “The” love story because to me there it’s the one that utterly stole my heart.

Television has plenty of couples and romantic moments. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve “shipped” a few. Be it the bickering of Booth and Brennan on Bones, or who is sleeping with McDreamy or McSteamy or McWhats-his-thing? on that Anatomy show, the push and pull invites conflict and tension, jealousies, vulnerabilities and passion. But nowhere in TV-land is it as certain and tender as the bond that grows over four seasons between Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) and President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) on Battlestar Galactica.

It’s a strange experience to be watching a show with sexy robots and young hotshot pilots, and realize that what you care about most are the old people. And you should, because if you missed the point of Adama and Roslin, then you’ve missed the point of the entire series. Their romance is exceptional, encompassing the major themes of life, death, fate, faith, loss, redemption, communion and home that weave through the whole Battlestar Galactica narrative.
Their story is so compelling, the performances so outstanding, the least remarkable aspect of the relationship is also the most obvious reflection of how this romance is different than almost any other show : Adama and Roslin are ‘middle-aged’–if people in the Colonial world live to be 120, that is.
Their entire relationship was truly about LOVE. No love triangle, or a maddening series of other suitors. They alone were each other’s “Sine Qua Non “Those things we deem essential, without which we cannot bear living, without which life in general loses its specific value…”
That’s not to say that the writers got them together right away. Their relationship grew over time and even out of their conflict in the first two seasons. It wasn’t all about lust or physicality. Sex only ever enters into the scene once that we as an audience saw. But it was done in an incredibly intimate way…I don’t think I’ve ever seen another bedroom scene where the heroine is exposed vulnerably not by her lack of clothes but her lack of hair which she had lost in treatment for her cancer. (Don’t even get me started on how much the cancer story-line ripped my heart to shreds!)
It’s so rare that we ever see a relationship like that, anywhere, let alone on any size screen. Now THAT was a LOVE story. That was epicness. That was how soul mates should be portrayed. It’s going to be tough to find another pairing that can match the heartbreaking depth that was achieved with these two.

10. You can’t stop watching it!


The four strong seasons are broken up with what, to my mind, amounts to the greatest stretch of cliffhanger finales and premieres ever assembled. It’s not possible however, to watch a stand-alone episode and understand (or truly appreciate) what’s happening. Plots carry on through many episodes. There are a whole bunch of episodes that end with “to be continued …” and you have to know what happens next, so you just hit play on the next episode so that you can get our fearless leaders out of whatever cylon-induced crisis is going on. I am so glad actually that we came to it after it had been on for awhile. It would be so frustrating to have to wait a week between episodes.

So there you have it. I hope I convinced you to give BSG (as the devout call it) a go. Believe me, I know a good show when I see it. I am one of the cool kids. And Galactica is up there with whatever high brow show of your choice in terms of sheer awesome.

It may have a super cheesy name –But it had the guts to take on torture and Iraq, religion, and apocalypse, the nature of the soul and the ramifications of technology, our love and our hate, the messiness of our interior lives and our relationships, our passion, our virtue, our petty strivings, venality and jealousies. – – – and did all of this so captivatingly that forsaking showers and sleep are well-documented side-effects of watching it.

Go on, press play already!
I leave you with a couple of videos. The first is from the hilarious show Portlandia that pretty much sums up the Battlestar Galactica experience:

The second is a review of the series that says pretty much everything I just did but in a funnier way…

If you’re still not convinced you should give it a go, maybe we should leave it to the succint words of Dwight Shrute from The Office….”Do you watch Battlestar Galactica? No. Then you are an idiot.”

By Your Command

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