Friday, April 4, 2008

Geek Holiday

I am a geek. I admit it. I was a nerdy kid in school, at least through middle school. I was the smart, chess-playing, take-my-lunch-money, dweeb. In high school I slipped out from under that label - I don't know what I was, but I wasn't a geek. Deep in my heart, though, I remain geeky. Because of this fact, today I am all a twitter. Today might as well be a National Geek Holiday. Geeks all over the country tonight will put away the WoW, stow the D&D, and will care not one whit whether they have a date. Tonight is the premier of the final season of Battlestar Galactica. As it happens, tonight I have a date... with Tivo.

I came to the show late - just this year - but it has hooked me. I had always been leery of it. After all, it was based on one of the biggest pieces of crap ever foisted on the masses in general, and geeks in particular. I avoided its new incarnation for the first three seasons - how good could it be? But Tivo, taking a break from its usual assumption that we are Cantonese speaking arms dealers (it likes to grab Chinese language programs and anything from the Military Channel), recorded a couple of episodes. I had nothing to do one day and gave it a shot. It didn't hook me immediately - the show was too hard to follow from the middle of its arc - but when I tried one more I got nailed. It was the darkest program I had ever seen on television, but the characters felt real, their world felt real, and their universe made sense; brutal, unforgiving sense.

I snagged the DVD's for the first two seasons and waded through them, one after the other. My wife thought I was nuts. Then she watched an episode... (first one's free, baby). Now she is more enthusiastic than I, though she doesn't enjoy watching them at night as its bleakness makes her anxious before bed. Nonetheless, she is geeky for the show. We are a family of geeks.

It isn't as if only geeks watch it. Time Magazine named it the best show on television its first and second seasons. So did the National Review. It has been awarded a Peabody. It ain't just lasers and robots, folks. It's fascinating human drama that just happens to take place in space. It ranks with some of the finest writing ever to show up on the small screen and the performances are wonderfully nuanced. It also has an attention to detail that so many other shows miss. The world looks lived in and dirty. There's no maid service in space and Star Trek always pissed me off because I never saw anyone keeping that place so damned clean. In one episode of BG a character uses a knife to scrape dried blood off a monitor. It has nothing to do with the scene except that when people die in wars things get dirty and you make do with what you have.

In screenwriting there is an adage, the gist of which goes back to Aristotle's Poetics, which advises the writer to place his protaganist in a tree in the first act, throw rocks at him for the second, and get him out in the third. BG does that in the extreme, to the point of being utterly bleak and dark. The bleakest rock thrown posits the end of the human race and so each episode begins with the number of humans still alive - a number that began with nearly 50,000 and has dropped over the course of three seasons to less than 40,000. It is so dark that at one point the network execs asked the producer if he could lighten things up just a little - maybe a birthday celebration or something. He responded by opening an episode with party on a hanger deck for a pilot's thousandth landing. The party ends abruptly when some ordinance comes loose and explodes, killing the celebrants. The execs got the message and left the producer alone.

Like all good science fiction, BG takes our problems and drops them into a different world. It's never preachy, however - there are no easy answers. No one's ethics go untested, including our own. At one point, in that first episode that hooked me, an abusive mother punishes her four year old daughter by slamming the girl's fingers in a door and breaking them, yet by the end of the episode the mother's actions are almost understandable. Even the best intentioned characters must do bad things - very bad things.

One of the more compelling aspects of BG is the constant questioning of God(s). The characters could come out of a Bergman film, though it's interesting that the humans are polytheistic; following a pantheon of Gods, while it is the synthetic Cylons who believe in one true God. That clash alone is worth your time and it doesn't make for light viewing.

BG doesn't suffer casual viewers. Its plots are too complex and, like life, context can be difficult to determine. I recommend a marathon and the DVDs are the only way. One episode after another will get you caught up. There are a few clinkers in the batch. Not every show is a winner and the later seasons have more duds than the first, but when BG is good it's better than anything you've ever seen on TV.

So geek yourself up. Join the rest of the nerds and fall in line. What else is on your schedule? Two and a Half Men?

For a much pithier look at BG see Scott Brown's Wired piece.


lendos_girl said...

Lex...I know you are fraking watching it!

Baywatch said...

oh geeez oh peet. tie me off and shoot me up. looks like i'm on board.

arlopop said...

Yeah Banksy,
always more room on board the geek train. Bring your own Jolt, though.

Hipster Pit said...

Battlestar Galactica is one of those things in life that makes me feel awe at the ability of people to make really good art. It's worth getting geeked about.

The current S.O. is still catching up so I haven't seen Friday's ep, yet. But, I said, "My darling, I have waited almost a year already. I suppose I can wait a little longer to watch it together."

Call it devotion.

Or suckerdom.

arlopop said...

i vote devotion