Sci-fi nerds rejoice. “Battlestar Galactica” has returned. It’s been nearly 10, tortuous, robot-free months since the re-imagined series finally reached its conclusion, and there has been painfully little to fill the void. “Heroes” has sucked, and nobody watches “Doctor Who,” so what is a geek to do? For almost a year, desperate, confused “BSG” fans have been roaming the streets in a daze, muttering “so say we all” to anyone who will listen, making spaceship engine sounds and accusing their loved ones of sympathizing with the Cylon menace.
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But what’s this? Is there reason for hope? “Caprica,” the new series from Syfy, is based in the same fictional universe as “BSG,” so the problem should be solved. Fans should feel the welcome embrace of the familiar — that special, tingly sensation that comes with hearing the name “Adama.” But something doesn’t seem right. Where are the spaceships? The space-insubordination? The space-intrigue? What in the frak is going on here?
Set 58 years before the events of “BSG,” “Caprica” takes place on a planet of the same name and is focused on the patriarchs of two families (the Graystones and the Adamas). Caprica is a meticulously kept metropolis where everything is beautiful in the way that only carefully crafted, computer-generated graphics can be. But trouble is brewing beneath the austere surface — a terrorist attack perpetrated by those pesky monotheists leaves the two central families mired in tragedy and sets off a spiral of events that may lead to Caprica’s ruin.
You’ll notice the absence of the words “spaceship” or “pan-galactic struggle” in the above synopsis. There’s good reason for that. “Caprica” seems to be attempting to take the “sci” out of “sci-fi,” or at least to turn the traditional science-fiction elements down to a dull roar. The first 15 minutes of “Caprica” are more like a coming-of-age drama than “Star Trek,” as teenagers argue with their parents and find futuristic ways to rebel. Thankfully, the angst gives way (mostly) to the more interesting tension between the majority polytheists and the new, cultish, “One True God” movement. But even here, there’s not a starfighter to be found. Perhaps the new focus in “Caprica” on the human drama behind the “BSG” world will attract more varied viewers than its predecessor. Whether this direction will alienate the faithful is yet to be seen.
What we’re left with, then, is a sci-fi show with little to no sci-fi, set in a far-off world amid cultural and religious conflict, and surrounded by a strange amount of wealth and beauty that seems to be on the verge of something. So how does it all stack up?
The answer is a firm “meh.” The acting alternates between over the top and stilted — with the exception of the nuanced performance by Esai Morales (“Fast Food Nation”), playing Joseph Adama — and the heavy focus on the teenagers in the pilot only accentuates the problem. While the big ideas behind the series are intriguing (artificial intelligence, humanity spread across multiple planets in a solar system, etc.), the writing is borderline atrocious. This has always been the case in the world of “BSG,” but we forgave it because the series is, after all, a space opera. These people are fighting robots in space, so why should they talk like actual human beings? But if Syfy wants us to buy “Caprica” as something approaching reality, or at least something that can see reality off in the distance, then the dialogue needs to sound like it wasn’t written by hack Cylons.
However, the seeds have been sown for some exciting prospects in “Caprica.” Despite the acting and ridiculous dialogue, the ideas are too big to dismiss completely. Time will tell if “Caprica” will gain the following that “BSG” enjoyed — that special kind of fandom that is reserved for science fiction and fantasy. Even if it doesn’t, it’s possible that “Caprica” might just be able to carve out a niche of its own with a new kind of genre that walks the line between science fiction and traditional drama, taking the best tricks from both. If it works, it works. It may not be “BSG,” but who gives a frak?