IFC’s Portlandia once ran a classic sketch called “One More Episode,” in which Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen play Battlestar Galactica fans who become so addicted that they recruit a local man (whom they wrongly believe to be BSG writer Ronald D. Moore) and several cast members to make another installment of the show. The result is a hilarious, loving tribute, an imagined BSG with dialogue like, “I need you here! Now get out of here!”
Today on YouTube, the Machinima channel, working in concert with original BSG home SyFy, premiered the first two installments of Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, a prequel that’s been a couple of years in the works. For BSG fans and completists, the new material is an entertaining enough reminder of the old days. (The remaining webisodes will complete the “pilot” of Blood and Chrome, which will come out next year on DVD; it’s still unclear whether the project has a future as a regular series.) As an actual piece of television: let’s say it’s somewhere between actual BSG and the Portlandia version.
The premise and narrative are simple and straightforward. In the early years of the Cylon War, a young William Adama (Luke Pasqualino) enlists in the war effort, eager to fly a Viper and “kill toasters.” Instead, he finds himself first assigned to “drive a bus”–flying a clunky Raptor on errand missions–in support of a war effort that is not going as well as advertised. As he reluctantly heads off on his less-than-glorious mission, we see the horrors of the war through his eyes.
In a voiceover at the outset, young Adama says of the Cylons: “There’s a lot of debate about why they hate us, but in the end, does it really matter?” That captures much of the spirit of Blood and Chrome so far; unlike in BSG, the Cylon perspective is absent, and the story is much more action-oriented. Of course, in BSG, “why they hate us” mattered indeed; it was one of the things that made BSG among the most thought-provoking, brilliant sci-fi series ever made.
Blood and Chrome doesn’t seem bad, exactly, and maybe it’s reflecting young Adama’s no-time-for-philosophy mindset accurately. But as a result, though it has striking visuals and a similar feel for the grit of war, the webisodes feel a bit off-brand, weighed down with perfunctory dialogue like, “You’re a cocky son of a bitch, aren’t you, ensign?”
I’m still watching, of course, as I expect will a lot of BSG lovers, because it is a small treat to get to re-immerse myself in this universe. But frankly, at this point I’d much rather see SyFy making some kind of attempt to create intelligent, ambitious sci-fi series that are not BSG spinoffs. (And I say this as a fan of the moody Caprica, even if its ratings were poor.)
It increasingly feels like BSG was a one-off for the network, which since then has retreated to its comfort zone of light entertainments like Eureka and monster movies. (Alphas is decent enough, but it doesn’t have nearly the high reach of BSG.) Which is too bad. “One more episode” is a natural impulse, and I’m not immune to it. But I wish SyFy—or any channel with an interest in science-fiction series—would instead want to create one more great franchise.