"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

V: not the new BSG

Time for something different, away from the three-ring circus that is the country right now. Haven't had too much free time lately, but hearing about the remake of V made me think it might be worthwhile to revisit broadcast television (something I rarely do, save for Lost and 24). V seemed intriguing; the original was from more or less the same time period as the first BSG, and the new BSG was good, so it stood to reason a new V could be good too, right?

Well, thus far, I'm less than impressed. Oh, I'm not complaining about seeing some of the old cast members from Firefly come back to play (especially Morena Baccarin; good to see Wash too, though it looks like he won't be the funny guy this time around), or the rearrangement of various characters and plot devices we've come to expect from any reimagined show. But the new edition feels, above everything else, rushed. In the first hour, the Visitors arrived, awed everyone, set up embassies and "universal health care"; and by the end of the hour, we knew they were up to no good, were reptiles in disguise, and a resistance had organized against them. I think it took the better part of six hours for the original miniseries to get to that point, at a pace that pulled you in and made you very interested in what the Visitors were up to. Instead, ABC evidently feels obliged to spill all their beans right away lest viewers yawn and change the channel. They should know better; Lost, after all, is now on season 5 (6?) and still has tons of questions to answer; and people watch, damn it! Now we're only two episodes in and I get the feeling that the new V is already running out of twists. Choppy special effects (and way-too-tight jeans on the male lead) aside, the original was a powerful tale on the allure of fascism and how ordinary people found the courage to challenge it. Apart from some mild references to the current political culture of hopeychanginess, the new V has plowed through the slow pervasiveness of soft totalitarianism straight to the battle scenes, as it were, leaving all the nuances of the old show in the dust. I'll give it a few more chances, but I'm already thinking about removing it from my DVR and replacing it with some DVDs of rubber lizards in orange jumpsuits. Perhaps the new Prisoner will fare better. Has anybody delved into that yet?

And while we're on the topic of sci-fi dramas, I hereby declare that I'm going to list my personal all-time favorites and challenge anyone to do better:
1) The X-Files - yes, Chris Carter broke his solemn vow that Mulder and Scully would never have a romantic relationship; the second he did, the show crumbled. But though I don't like to talk about the last two seasons with the T-1000 replacing Scully as the skeptic, Carter gave us many good years of the freaky, the funny, and things that go bump in the night. From angels to aliens and demons to deranged scientists, Sunday night regularly challenged our imaginations and occasionally made us want to sleep with the lights on. Much imitated (I'm talking about you, Fringe), never duplicated, the X-Files took the weird into the mainstream. Looking back on it, I'm still impressed by the strength of its story-telling and willingness to let Mulder and Scully engage in a deep and powerful friendship without sex (until the end, when Carter copped out). Its greatest flaw, as I look back, is merely that recent history has shown that Chris Carter vastly overestimated the government's ability to keep really big secrets. I'm fully confident that if aliens truly existed and were trying to take over the planet, some blogger would have spilled the goods by now.
2) Firefly - I bet some of you out there will argue that BSG was better. Well, BSG was lasted longer, but Firefly was its godfather, and proved that you could tell compelling stories in outer space without devolving into complete and utter geekdom. Firefly was a drama that happened to take place in space; it was intensely character-driven and featured some of the best writing I've seen on television. It had no aliens, no faster-than-light travel; just a group of misfits perpetually on the wrong side of authority who nevertheless tried to do the right thing (frequently to their detriment). It also featured fun little details that bigger shows rarely concerned themselves with, like a well-researched 'blended' future Sino-American culture, or acknowledging - as no other sci-fi show or movie has - that there's no sound in space. Cancelled after only one season, Firefly made for a great 'what if' debate about how bright its future would have been; but I'm still grateful for what little we had.
3) Battlestar Galactica - Firefly opened the door creatively precisely for something like BSG; and unlike Fox, SciFi actually let its show run its course. BSG adopted many of the elements of its predecessor, from the choppy, documentary-like camera angles to the character-driven storyline to the little details (like military folk actually saluting) that proved its creators cared about their creation through and through. Again, it was about people, not technobabble; and this time, it wasn't about people living on the fringes of civilization, but people striving to cobble together a future after their civilization was taken from them. And, where Firefly cracked the door of religion by having a preacher on board, BSG kicked the door wide open by featuring not one but two competing belief systems between the protagonists, openly discussing theology in a way never before attempted by big-name series like Star Trek. BSG gave us four seasons that alternated between current political issues, powerful personal relationships, and massive nuke-slinging space battles. As with many shows, its longer run gave it more chances to stumble, and much of the third and fourth season had a weakness and sense of 'mission creep' that Firefly never did. But then, the former may well have gone that way had it lasted; no way to know now. That said, much like the X-Files, even at its weakest BSG could still give us some great television, and it is to my everlasting regret that I waited so long to get into it. For years, I devoted my attention to Star Trek and its various offspring, not knowing that space-faring sci-fi was capable of things other than shiny clean spaceships and vacuous moralizing. I would trade those years and years of Trekking for another good hour of BSG in a heartbeat.

I'd go on, but it's late and I'm old and ready for bed. Let me know if this list needs additions or if you think I'm full of crap (which I'm not and you're already wrong and you just don't know it, but I enjoy comments just the same :) ).


Bree said...

i have a mental image of you writing this blog, and knew that, regardless of the topic, i would be unable to take this post seriously. i still hold to that, but i know that you are NOT full of crap.

The Accidental Blogger said...

I'm sure there's a reason for this, but no Star Trek?

Cincinnatus said...

Frankly, a big reason the list isn't longer is because I'm an old man and went to bed :P.

But even if it were, I'm not sure I'd throw Star Trek on there. And I'm truly torn about it, because I spent many a happy hour in my youth watching ST:TNG, playing with the toys, wearing the costumes for Halloween, making my own control panels out of cardboard and construction paper [here is the point where I stop talking lest my manhood is called completely into question]. As a cultural phenomenon, there's no doubt Star Trek has had a huge impact. The original series was groundbreaking in many ways and gave birth to many children who've traveled the airwaves for decades. I suppose if any Trek series deserves to be on the list, it'd be the first (though it's the one I'm least familiar with, having jumped firmly on the TNG band wagon as a kid and not looking back).

But I feel no guilt about leaving off TNG or its various successors. If the original was groundbreaking, its followers were generally attempts to cash in on a brand name, with varying degrees of success. I remember being highly entertained by TNG, and then slowly losing interest as spin-off after spin-off took us farther away from the Enterprise.

And then, years later, as I revisited TNG on cable or during boring nights on deployment, I found that it was not the quality product I remembered, especially when compared with more recent offerings like Firefly and BSG. I'm not knocking its technobabble or creative interpretations of physics - indeed, the episodes that played with the laws of science were among the most entertaining, particularly when it came to time travel - but as I've mentioned in previous posts, I found its vision of future society to be mushy and childish. As a kid I only cared about what phaser calibration would finally take out a Borg; I missed the bigger message, and that was that TNG's creators saw the ideal future as a vast United Nations in space, devoid of troublesome things like religion and money, with a more evolved humanity tooting around the galaxy lecturing primitive races while using the Prime Directive to abdicate any real responsibility when it came to tough choices. Sure, they didn't beat you over the head with their utopia in every episode, but it pervades the storyline enough that eventually I could only watch a few trusty episodes without gagging at Riker and Picard's petulant moralizing. After watching great shows with wonderful writing and story-telling like Firefly and BSG, and having read really good sci-fi by Card, Herbert, Clarke, Heinlein and Asimov in the intervening years, I simply couldn't go back to a series whose outlook was, I felt, fundamentally immature. I still enjoy individual episodes and movies, but it was not the series I thought it was. This revelation greatly disappointed me; fortunately, there's enough good stuff out there to fill the void.

Incidentally, since I'm up, I'll add the original "V" to my list. It wasn't seminal or groundbreaking, but it's not every day that aliens drop out of the sky planning to not merely enslave us, but eat us.

I put some good hours into the modern remake of "The Outer Limits" too. Sometimes, when they knew they had a weak story to tell, the writers would just flash some boobs on the screen to distract you; but they could put some good drama too. "Quality of Mercy/The Light Brigade", with Robert Patrick, still throws me as you discover that Patrick's character dooms humanity not once, but twice.

Meghan said...

um.... you haven't watched the original Star Trek? THE BEST SHOW EVER? (okay, the best sci-fi show ever!)


The Accidental Blogger said...

Also, for the record, I think I have pretty reasonable sci-fi geek credentials, but I swear to god I only know half the shows you're discussing here. The original "V", 'The Prisoner','The Outer Limits' and I have never seen an episode of 'Firefly'. I bow before your nerd supremacy.

Cincinnatus said...

There can be only one ...

Dude, all the older shows I'd highly recommend, but if you could only watch one, do yourself a favor and rent/buy the Firefly series. It's Joss Whedon at his finest, and if you like the new BSG I guarantee you will love Firefly.