TELEVISION: Caprica – Scattered Pilot; Seeds of Potential!

Poster

Tonight marks the premiere of the long-awaited Battlestar Galactica prequel series, Caprica [Syfy, 9/8]. The pilot has been released on DVD – with sexier bits that couldn’t air on Syfy – and online with the nudity somewhat blunted and with a few new scenes, and now it airs on Syfy with an added scene that wasn’t edited into the ep prior to screeners being sent. While the multi-format release strategy has been intriguing – and imaginative – tonight’s premiere, even with that mysterious added scene [which involves deepening the culture and civilization of The Twelve Colonies by showing their love of sports – yes, folks, it’s a Pyramids sequence!], is a bit on the scattered and unfocused side and possessed of few, if any, likable characters.

Here’s the way to get a series off to a good start: have a wealthy family [mother, father, daughter] with an angry dynamic; have the mother and daughter fight – and the mother slap the daughter; have the daughter run away with two friends, one of whom turns out to be suicide bomber; have the daughter e-mail her mother, forgiving her; have the bomber kid and the daughter board a train, while the other dithers; have the bomber kid blow up the train; don’t let the mother find out about the e-mail until her daughter is being investigated as a possible terrorist. Fun!

Sure the drama of the first act of Caprica is propulsive, but it seems awfully arbitrary – even when the pieces begin to fit together. While we’re watching things sort of fall into place [by the end of the third ep, things are finally beginning to make sense], we’re getting to know the characters: Daniel Greystone [Eric Stoltz], the Bill Gates of Caprica; Amanda Greystone [Paula Malcomson], a doctor who has recently gone back into practice; Zoe Greystone [Allesandra Toreson], Daniel and Amanda’s late daughter who has created a cyber-twin of herself that is actually self-aware [i.e.: alive] – yes, she’s even more of a computer genius than her father[!]; Joseph Adama [Esai Morales], a lawyer with shady connections who lost his wife and daughter in the bombing; Sam Adama [Sasha Roiz], Joseph’s brother and enforcer for the Tauron mob; William Adama, [Sina Najfi], Joseph’s son, whom Sam takes under his wing; Lucy Rand [Magda Apanowicz], Zoe’s best friend – and the ditherer who remains alive when her friends die; Sister Clarice Willow [Polly Walker], headmistress of Zoe and Lucy’s school – and believer in an unorthodox theology – and several more recurring characters.

Daniel is so focused on work, he treats Zoe like she’s six – or ignores her; Amanda seems the least maternal mother I’ve ever seen on television [shy of that Bundy woman – but that was a sitcom]; Zoe is petulant and overly full of herself [in both incarnations]; Joseph clearly wants to cut ties to the mob, but they keep pulling him back in; Sam is almost serene about his place in the mob – and willing to teach Will their ways; Will is understandably in shock, but he’s old enough to know better than to do the things Sam encourages to do; Lucy is bland [which is a shame, Apanowicz was marvelous as the cancer-stricken Andi on Kyle XY], and Sister Clarice is so obviously manipulative and mercenary that it make the man who investigates the bombing seem truly dim in her presence.

The premiere concerns itself with Daniel discovering his daughter’s cyber-twin and trying to find a way to bring her into the real world – and to do the same for Joseph’s wife and daughter [the way the two meet is the sci-fi version of meeting cute; if you haven’t seen it already, I’ll leave you to discover that little pleasure to discover for yourself]. Meanwhile, when Amanda learns that Zoe might have been the bomber, she has a meltdown – at the absolutely worst possible time.

How this ties in with a political assassination; plural marriage [in a truly unique marriage]; a rocky marriage; a military contract involving what will become Cylons [i.e. artificial intelligence]; and Zoe’s reappearance in the real world is hard to explain – and I’ve seen two versions of the story.

There are seeds of potential scattered throughout the premiere, but it’s really hard to get involved with the characters. The script, by Remi Aubuchon and Ronald D. Moore, is dark and ominous even when it’s bright and sunny [approaching doom doesn’t give a damn about the weather…] – and doesn’t give us as much comic relief as any ep of BSG. Jeffrey Reiner’s direction ranges from plodding to sullen, with occasional outbursts of violence. For the most part, the effects are seamless, but the Cylon prototype is almost [but doesn’t quite achieve the] comical.

If I hadn’t seen the next two episodes, I’d say the Caprica pilot isn’t worth watching – but those seeds of potential do start paying off in relatively short order – even if the characters don’t become much more likable.

Compared to the BSG mini-series, Caprica’s pilot is a disaster [a four-hour mini-series may have been a better way to go but… too late!], but far worse pilots have evolved into gripping series and, fortunately, the overall quality does progress over succeeding eps. If you’re the patient sort, it’s worth your time. Otherwise, give it a pass.

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