Columns

2006.10.18 Battlerats...er...star

on . Posted in Standard Deviant

By JEFF PICKELL

I’m kind of digging the new “Battlestar Galactica” craze.

That’s right—it’s a confirmed craze. Last night, I asked my friend Amanda what she thought of the series and she said she was officially tired of people talking about it. She’s a student worker in a Western Michigan University computer lab, one of the campus’ social hubs, so when she says she’s tired of people talking about something, that means it’s popular.

Because I don’t have cable or an antenna (and don’t want them), I usually have to rely on my brother Jamie for news on which TV series are good and which aren’t. Jamie is one of the few people I can trust to sniff out good cinema, or at least cinema that I think is good.

But, as of last weekend, Jamie had yet to watch an episode of the series, but acknowledged that his friends wouldn’t shut up about it. So, on Sunday afternoon, I accompanied him to a nearby Best Buy where he purchased the first season DVD.

For some background, the “Battlestar Galactica” I’m talking about isn’t the 1978 TV series starring Lorne Greene and Richard Hatch, which some readers may remember.

In 2003, the Sci-Fi Channel, in conjunction with a British station, provided backing funds for a project aimed at “re-imagining” the original series, which was cancelled after one season despite much protest from viewers and the suicide of a 15-year-old boy who had become obsessed with the show.

One would think a show cancelled after a single season was a stinker, but according to Wikipedia, the series was actually quite profitable, although ratings did decline as the show progressed. Some speculate that ABC bumped “Battlestar” to give “Mork and Mindy” a more popular time slot. If that’s the case, it was a bad move. “Mork and Mindy” ratings plummeted following the move.

Anyway, the re-imagined “Battlestar Galactica” began as a three-installment mini-series which, after much critical acclaim, was parlayed into a regular serial drama. The premier, titled “33,” has since been regarded as the show that broke commercial television.

How so? While “33” aired in the UK in October 2004, producers postponed the American debut until January because it’s a slow TV month. The delay backfired—sort of.

“Battlestar Galactica” is one of those shows that dorks obsess over. Another thing dorks obsess over is computers. If you take one part British dork, one part American dork, one part “Battlestar Galactica” and one part computer, throw them in a bowl and mix them all up, what do you get? Multimedia piracy on a huge scale.

Tens of thousands of Americans had seen the first three months of the series by the time “33” aired stateside, but contrary to what you’d think, it did nothing but good for the show’s ratings. As it turns out “33” and the ensuing episodes were so gnarly that the pirate dorks talked them up to everybody they knew, even those who aren’t techno-savvy enough to download the files on their own.

As a result, the American premier of “Battlestar Galactica” was the single highest rated show ever to air on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Which brings us back to the checkout counter at Best Buy, where Jamie had snagged the last copy of the first season DVD, and where the cashier tried to con us into a “free” eight-week subscription to Sports Illustrated or Entertainment Weekly. Jamie said he couldn’t read. I suggested Best Buy offer free subscriptions to—well, it’s better I don’t relay such a brazen proposal.

As for the series itself, I had only time enough to watch the first three episodes, but here’s a snippet of my notes on them:

“Planet. No wait, Universal logo. Edward James Olmos. Guy with a tie on. Some girl. Why do people wear pants in the future? I like the blonde in the red. She’s a bad guy. Death to her. That cocky English bloke is getting on my nerves. I want to punch him in the neck. Jamie says an English guy would beat me up. Edward James Olmos again. He hasn’t killed anyone yet, which is kind of irritating...oh wait, okay, he just killed some dude...”

Later  on, “My first child will be called Battlestar Galactica Pickell and he will be a giant spaceship and run on chocolate milk and I will drink the chocolate milk.”

 – Oct. 18, 2006

 

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