Friday, January 22, 2010

A long time ago, in a galaxy or empire far, far away...

I had planned to have a column for today reviewing one or both of "Caprica" (9 p.m., Syfy) and "Spartacus" (10 p.m., Starz) but a higher level of press tour exhaustion than anticipated, coupled with NBC dragging out the Conan O'Brien negotiations until yesterday, meant I never got the chance to do it. So I'll have a few thoughts on each after the jump...

UPDATE: Bumping this up so you can talk about one or both if you watched tonight.

I did review the "Caprica" pilot when it was released on DVD back in April, so you can go read that if you want. (The changes for airing are mostly cosmetic, with some of the nudity at the virtual reality rave unsurprisingly deleted.) I've since seen two more episodes, which in some ways intrigued me even more than the pilot. It's not "Battlestar Galactica"(*), in that it swaps out the military components of that show for a bit of teen angst and soap opera intrigue, but I really like the lead performances by Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales (two actors who in previous roles often made me feel like there was something missing), and the social commentary is just as sharp here as it was on "BSG." If next week works out better, I'll likely do some kind of column timed to the second episode, and on some level this is going to be added to the blog rotation. (The problem, as with all Friday shows, is that it may take me a few days to get around to writing about it once my advance screeners run out.)

(*) I recognize that for the people who are still bitter about the finale of "BSG" - to the point where they've renounced their affection for the entire series, and not just the ending - saying "It's not 'Battlestar Galactica'" might be a compliment. Then again, most of the same people - including Ron Moore, David Eick and Jane Espenson - are involved, so we'll see. To answer two questions I've received often: 1)No, "Caprica" won't spoil anything about the later seasons of "BSG" if you started but haven't finished the original series, and 2)Yes, you can watch "Caprica" without having watched "BSG" at all. It takes place almost 60 years earlier, is planet-bound and has many different concerns (and only one shared character) from the original show.

As for "Spartacus: Blood & Sand" (insert mocking fake name here), I struggled to get through two of the four episodes Starz provided for review. If you're a teenage boy who loved "300" - or any other demographic who loved "300" - you may well dig all the digitized, slow-motion blood splurts, the abundant nudity (albeit with some of the full frontal coming from male characters as well as female) and the stylized, computer-generated backgrounds. But stay far away if none of those things make you say "Hells yeah!" Not even my affection for honorary TCA member Lucy Lawless is going to keep me around.

Feel free to talk about one or both tonight. And if you've seen the "Caprica" pilot on DVD or online already, please refrain from any plot spoilers until tonight at 11 Eastern, okay?

23 comments:

shar said...

So I'm guessing tonight's episode is the same as the DVD?

Oaktown Girl said...

Shar - I had the same question. On the Comcast TV guide, it lists the year for this episode as 2010, not 2009, so I thought maybe this was the first one after the 2 hour pilot from last year.But maybe "2010" is the date that it's set for TV debut, not the year it was made?

Alan Sepinwall said...

They're airing the pilot that was on the DVD tonight, in edited-for-TV form, as I alluded to in the post. Next week is the first regular episode.

Matt said...

Is the shared character you are referring to William Adama?

Saw the pilot on DVD and while it's fuzzy I'm having trouble rememberingany other possible answers.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Yup. Willie Adama.

7s said...

Does Lawless play her Battlestar character on Sparticus? Cause that would really tie this blog post together.

Jennifer said...

Am I the only one who doesn't like Caprica? I think so. I like the lead actors, but while the First Cylon is cute as a button, her character is pouty, whiny, and pontificates a lot to the point where I'd be happy if she died, except..yeah. And while I'm a liberal girl and god knows I've heard toe-curling stories of what people get up to, the sex club so explicit that people are doing human sacrifice for fun? And teenagers are there? Squick. I dragged myself through the pilot, but I don't think I'll be back unless I hear that future episodes are a lot different from this one.

Diana F. said...

I saw the pilot on hulu and it was nothing to write home about. It was watchable but not great like BG, so I probably will be watching the series anyways.

Mark S. said...

As a viewer that never watched BSG (bad memories of the original series stopped me), I was impressed by the pilot. It was a solid effort that did enough to make me come back next week. And as I mentioned in my review, it did a good job introducing newbies (like me) to the BSG universe without making it too confusing.

I would comment on Spartacus, but I haven't watched it yet. I'm not expecting much, but you never know.

Oaktown Girl said...

To clarify my previous comment, I meant that earlier this week I had that same question as shar. Yes, your post did answer that question and make it clear this was a re-airing of the pilot that I saw via On Demand last month.

Anonymous said...

Do you think someone who never watched BSG will understand the final scene? To me, all the Cylon stuff seemed like it required some understanding of where things were headed, which someone unfamiliar with BSG wouldn't have. But of course I can't watch it without knowing what I know, so I'm wonder what others think.

Anonymous said...

Didn't they say on BSG that the Cylons were used by the humans for decades before the First Cylon War? With Caprica taking place just 58 years before the Cylon Holocaust, that means the Cylons revolted after just about five or six years of becoming operational.

dez said...

Disclosure: I never got into BSG, but decided to give "Caprica" a chance. Sadly, I found it kind of meh. I don't know that I'll come back next week for another installment.

"Spartacus" had everything from "300" that I absolutely hated. I'm surprised at how bad it was, especially coming from Tapert & Raimi, whose prior work I've very much enjoyed (not to mention that I love Lucy Lawless). Just utter dreck. The pernicious influence of Zack Snyder's directorial style continues to ruin yet another franchise. Bah, humbug.

Craig Ranapia said...

And while I'm a liberal girl and god knows I've heard toe-curling stories of what people get up to, the sex club so explicit that people are doing human sacrifice for fun? And teenagers are there? Squick.

Jennifer: I think they'd be pretty worried if you weren't squicked out. While I understand the show goes to some lengths not to paint all it's monotheists (who are an illegal, persecuted minority in the Twelve Colonies) as deranged fundamentalist terrorists -- just as not all RW Christians or Muslims are.

They might just have a point or two in their view that Caprica is a decadent society, and you can argue that extremes feed off each other.

belinda said...

I wasn't particularly excited when Caprica was first announced to be the next RDM post BSG venture (especially after seeing Virtuality, which I would have loved to see more of), but checked it out anyway, and surprisingly quite liked it - there were parts I didn't like, but on the whole it's a promising pilot, and I look forward to seeing more. (Though I'm not as enamored by the performances of the actors to their characters... at least, not yet. Stolz still bugs me.)

I can see how they could incorporate some of the ideas/themes that went behind Virtuality into Caprica as well, which is something I can look forward to (hopefully!)

Mostly though the pilot looked quite good - a lot of the scenes and shots looked really beautiful, especially the end closeups on the cylon - which enhanced just how eerie it was to see the first cylon (which also worked well with how eerie seeing Zoe, a genius as well as just a 16 year old girl now basically trapped inside this pure metal machine). I love that image.

james said...

I'm confused a bit...

Basically, all Cylons are individual human consciousness but lacking actual memory transfer? It's just a collection of data that's transferred off your digital imprint which may or may not include very memory specific moments - especially if you can upload your memories.

It's essentially proposing the question - if you can live forever would you take this opportunity?

They're not actual robots then are they?

Drifter said...

I'm one of the BSG diehards who had his heart broken by the final eps of the series, but I thought Caprica was decent (maybe because it feels very different). I think it's bold and fresh to try a planetary sci fi series set on another world. I always wanted to see a sci fi series like Star Trek or Babylon 5 delve into planetary life of these space faring civilizations, and Caprica is finally doing just that with lots of non-obnoxious CG. I'm still not sure how you can make a series out of this concept, but I'll give it a try for a few eps.

One thing I am worried about is the portrayal of religion in Caprica. If this is set in BSG's universe, plus Zoe appears to be a far thinking visionary, it seems this could steer into another didactic monotheistic lecture. I appreciate religion in stories but BSG's problem wit its finale was it felt very alienating to all those not of an Abrahamic monotheistic tradition (like all of Asia).

Spartacus Blood & Sand was awful. When I saw Sam Raimi's name and "New Zealand" in the credits it all made sense as they have a very limited pool of talent to draw upon all the way out there in NZ and have to rely on actors with only Xena/Hercules caliber productions on their resumes. This was neither HBO's Rome nor 300 yet copied both. HBO's Rome was a deep and realistic look at Rome without any 21st century moralizing over it. 300 was almost a motivational video for any high school football team named Spartans (or Michigan State) to watch before a game. Gerard Butler's ferocious performance carried the movie past its ridiculous creepy eroticism. Spartacus attempts to emulate Rome by simply giving us gratuitous nudity and 300 by giving us gratuitous violence, ignoring the real strengths of both of those 'sword & sandals' epics.

The worst part, Spartacus makes the #1 mistake of subpar historical pieces like Alexander or Troy by attempting to be Shakespeare and having everyone in bronze age Greece/Italy have British accents and speak in POETRY. From the Roman senator to the barbarian slave, everyone waxes poetic and speaks in a roundabout verbose way, except barbarians use tons of profanity to let you know they're rough and tumble. Word is Starz already ordered a 2nd season of this? Ugh.

BTW what was with that gladiator arena battle at the end? There was so much random nudity in the crowd it reminded me of that extra at the end of Teen Wolf in the stands of the basketball game with his you-know-what hanging out.

Number Five said...

Good to know the aired version didn't significantly differ from the DVD...I didn't watch on Friday and was worried I had missed something. Won't the DVD's availability kind of kill the ratings for the pilot though? Or maybe it spread word of mouth.

I really enjoyed the pilot. Excellent writing, interesting ideas and the cast seems good too. My only concern is, in the need to establish the premise, they played pretty fast and loose with the technology and what the various factions on the show can already accomplish...it's important they're careful about that going forward.

Anonymous - I don't believe there's a specific timeline cited on BSG, but they do suggest humans had come to depend on them, using them for everything from servants to soldiers. So they would have to integrate into society widely and quickly, but it is possible. And the existing servant robot suggests humans (at least wealthy ones) were already used to that.

belinda - I am with you on Virtuality...a shame that didn't work out. But Caprica also has a lot of promise.

james - it's kind of hard to tell because BSG gave us almost zero insight on the original/metal/"toaster" Cylons, because they focused entirely on the humanoid Cylons. But that is good, since it keeps the need to have seen BSG low. I think that's a central question the series will explore.

Karen said...

While it was interesting to see how the Cylons became monotheistic, for the most part the pilot left me pretty cold. It felt way too long and drawn out, and it just never really grabbed me.

The best part was seeing the Cigarette Smoking Man again. I've missed him. I was sorry they killed him off so soon.

Craig Ranapia said...

Spartacus Blood & Sand was awful. When I saw Sam Raimi's name and "New Zealand" in the credits it all made sense as they have a very limited pool of talent to draw upon all the way out there in NZ

Drifter: This Kiwi's feeling would actually be hurt, if it wasn't coming from a nation where someone thought putting Jay Leno in prime-time five nights a week was a good idea, as opposed to a fine argument for random workplace drug testing.

Anonymous said...

Craig==Touche', touche'.

Drifter said...

Craig-

My apologies. My wording was careless and inconsiderate. I'll give you that Leno remark too. Touche'.

Bee said...

I will say that Spartacus has John Hannah going for it, as well as Lucy Lawless. Those were the only two characters I found remotely interesting. Other than that it was almost painful to watch. I thought it might be one of those guilty pleasure shows, now I'm not so sure. Mostly, it just made me really, really miss Rome and the exploits of Lucias Vorenus and Titus Pullo.