Requiem for a Heavyweight


Tonight we mourn the passing of what has become one of the greatest television shows in history. After a two hour finale (and barring an extra prequel movie due later this year), the book closes on Battlestar Galactica, the re-imagined series that outshone the original it was based upon.

I’ve had a couple of people ask me about the whereabouts of my reviews for the latest Battlestar Galactica episodes after they returned this past January. There were a number of reasons for this: I was busy with other things, there were other things I wanted to write about, but the truth was, my reviews of Battlestar Galactica ran the risk of getting repetitive. The series was a perfect storm of a strong cast, excellent writers and a good stable of directors and a good special effects budget. Any criticism of the series basically amounted to nitpicking.

But Battlestar Galactica’s structure made it harder to review than Doctor Who. It’s strange to compare these two shows because, although they are my two personal favourites (and the favourites among science fiction fans at the moment, to the point where Doctor Who has made a few nods of respect towards Battlestar; witness the cloth-draped viper in Army of Ghosts), they really could not be more different.

Doctor Who has the most flexible format in fiction. It is a story about a wizard with a magical cabinet that can take him anywhere he wants in the Universe (and not even just our Universe). The Doctor is a portable hero that can be dropped into any fictional situation, and the series not only switches settings week to week, it switches genres.

By comparison, Battlestar Galactica has been a study in how a series with a single basic plotline can nurture itself over the course of its program. Most of the developments of the series had to do either with the humans’ journey to their new home, or their reaction to the trauma of the Cylon attack. And while that provides good fodder for speculation about what happens next, it’s still limited fodder. I made my predictions, but in the end I could only sit and wait (most of them would appear to have turned out wrong, it seems, anyway).

The single storyline series is not easily done. Networks do not like to plan five years or even one year in advance; in their minds, series can last forever or be cancelled next week. This makes planning a story-arc series difficult, if not impossible.

Consider the other series that tried to tell one main story throughout their entire run. The X-Files? Not only did it cheat by salting various monsters-of-the-week episodes into each season, the conspiracy story got so overextended and convoluted that fans started to look forward to the monsters-of-the-week stories more. Babylon 5? It was lauded for its ambition and completed its five year run, but problems securing its scheduling with WB network created pacing problems, making certain elements fall flat. Star Trek? It didn’t really try to compose a single, overarching narrative. Deep Space Nine sort of fell into one, much to the chagrin of Paramount that wanted episodes that could be shown in random order through syndication. Lost? I don’t know about Lost, but I’ve heard friends tell me that it’s gotten too convoluted for its own good either.

To my mind, only The Prisoner has managed to achieve a compact storyline, and it was limited to just 17 episodes and still had to include some throwaways. That’s elite company.

The writers of Battlestar Galactica had to deal with scheduling shenanigans from their parent network, Sci-Fi Channel, as well, but Ron Moore and company just seemed to cope. When they lost their fifth season, they didn’t lose focus; instead, they just compressed their tale so effectively, I have to wonder if the cut-off at the end of four seasons wasn’t a bad thing.

So now the ride has come to an end, and while it is sad that we won’t have a show of this calibre to watch in the coming weeks and months, the bitterness of passing is tempered with the realization that this is the way it has to be. You can’t drag on a tale like this as The X-Files tried to do. Sometimes the greatest talent a show’s writers can display is knowing how to craft an end. And now it’s at an end, it’s time to thank the writers, the directors, the production crew and the actors (from Edward James Almos all the way down to the guy playing Hot Dog) for their great service. Thanks for the memories. And thanks for the DVDs.

My apologies for the delays in posting. I’m writing this in Chicago, where we’ve been since this past Wednesday. This is the only time I’ve managed to get a decent enough connection to post, and it’s not on the hotel’s wireless. Grant Park Best Western’s complementary wireless Internet service sucks. Be aware of that.

Anyway, I’ll have pictures and a full trip report tomorrow.

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