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Caprica: Season 1.5 (DVD Review)

10 Dec, 2010 By: John Latchem

Street 12/21/10
$49.98 three-DVD set
Not rated.
Stars Eric Stoltz, Esai Morales, Paula Malcomson, Alessandra Toressani, Magda Apanowicz, Sasha Roiz, Brian Markinson, Polly Walker.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. When “Battlestar Galactica” was canceled in 1979, the network wasn’t upset with the ratings. It was more a question of cost, and so a cheaper sequel show, called “Galactica 1980,” debuted the next year. This second show was denounced by the fans, and quickly canceled.

Cut to 30 years later. The reimagined version of “Battlestar Galactica,” which debuted on Sci Fi Channel (now Syfy) in 2003, had completed a four-year run with huge critical and fan acclaim, but modest ratings. Producers developed a prequel show, the pilot of which earned such praise from the network that a full season was ordered before it ever aired.

“Caprica” is the saga of an alien world, one of 12 colonies of mankind in deep space. As we know from the backstory of “Battlestar Galactica,” the colonies created a servant race of robots called Cylons, revolted against their masters, unleashing such a holocaust that only a handful of human survivors take to the stars to find a new home.

In “Caprica,” we see how the Cylons were created 58 years prior to the holocaust, by an egotistical scientist named Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz). Graystone’s daughter, Zoe, falls in with a religious sect and martyrs herself to be reborn as a digital avatar in virtual reality. Her terrorist act also kills the daughter of Joseph Adama, a mob lawyer and father of Commander Adama from “Battlestar Galactica.” This brings the fates of the two families together in a sort of Godfather meets The Matrix milieu.

The show’s drama is rooted in a religious struggle between mainstream polytheism and rebellious monotheists, whose terrorist tendencies make them obvious analogies to Al Qaeda. Much like “Battlestar Galactica,” the show’s driving motif is a metaphysical exploration of what it means to be human.

And, much like “Galactica 1980” 30 years earlier, low ratings and tepid fan response doomed the series (cue the geek chant of "All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again").

The shame of it all is that “Caprica,” unlike “Galactica 1980,” is not unwatchable. Far from it. Its primary problem was that it was relentlessly dark and didn’t offer enough for uninitiated viewers to grab on to (a subplot involving two teenage girls trying to take over a video game reality didn’t do much to garner interest either).

Established fans might appreciate the connections to the first show, but “Caprica” still felt like it was meandering around a group of core characters whose moral ambiguity made them difficult to like. The most interesting storyline involves an investigator into the terrorist activities trying to maneuver around his boss’ connection to the terror cell — not exactly the kind of plot that screams for a sci-fi setting.

Shows such as “Caprica” and “Battlestar Galactica” really shouldn’t be seen as ongoing series, but long miniseries aimed at telling a specific story. “Caprica” took its time to develop its storylines, which worked against it on a week-to-week basis (a six-month mid-season break and time-slot change didn’t help). But this is precisely what makes the show ideal for the DVD format, where several episodes can be absorbed in one sitting.

Caprica: Season 1.5 includes the final nine episodes, including the five that didn’t air in the United States before the show was canceled (Syfy has them slated for early 2011). This final batch starts to pick up momentum as the various plot threads come together, layering in details that attentive viewers can extrapolate to well-established lore from “Battlestar Galactica.”

A coda meant to set up a second season serves so effectively as an epilogue that one wonders if it were created specifically to connect these storylines to “Battlstar Galactica.” Alas, there are still enough unanswered questions to make room for future stories, and executive producer Kevin Murphy’s commentary for the finale, obviously recorded before the show was canceled, promises more revelations planned for season two. Many frustrated fans will probably wish they covered these threads earlier.

Here’s hoping the third “Galactica” show, a Cylon war drama dubbed “Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome” and slated to debut next year, fares better.

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