Thursday, April 3, 2008

Choosy viewers choose skiffy

Americans don’t do smart. Or rather, we venerate the lowest common denominator, as Paris Hilton, Real World vs. Road Rules Challenge, and the 2000 election can all attest. I used to think that this anti-intellectualist streak was a relatively new development—after all, was not our nation once a shining beacon to the rest of the world, producing such august worthies as Benjamin Franklin? Henry Adams? L. Ron Hubbard?

But lo! How quickly one forgets the pet rock, to say nothing of William Jennings Bryan and the other mountebanks in our rogues gallery. Perhaps HL Mencken—America’s sternest biographer, as well as its keenest observer of the human condition—said it best: “The great masses of men, even in this inspired republic, are precisely where the mob was at the dawn of history. They are ignorant, they are dishonest, they are cowardly, they are ignoble. They know little if anything that is worth knowing, and there is not the slightest sign of a natural desire among them to increase their knowledge.” Remember that the next time you see another Jason Friedberg movie shoot to the top of the box office, folks.

That’s probably why science fiction is so loathed here. It’s the dominion of the pocket-protected twerp with his head in the clouds, when it’s not affixed to the monitor’s eerie glow. So whenever I tell my friends that Battlestar Galactica is the best thing on television (a role it assumes by default with The Wire’s passing), I’m met with blank stares, if not outright scorn.

But screw them. There’s never been a bolder, more ambitious show. Battlestar Galactica, at its essence, is about the destruction of humanity, and how its few survivors struggle to maintain their civilization as they stagger towards a fabled lost planet called Earth. It is ferociously learned, projecting western cultural icons onto a pastiche of Greek/Mormon/Jewish/Hindu mythology, lending a disconcerting familiarity to the proceedings. Even if those proceedings entail epic space battles with a monolithic race of humanoid robots hell-bent on humanity’s extinction, which is as cool as it sounds.

Like all superlative works of fiction, Battlestar Galactica tackles tough issues without ever sounding preachy. It’s the only thing I’ve ever seen that can attempt to humanize suicide bombers—and succeed in doing so. Its universe reflects our own, in that it abandons the common tropes of television to show a world where there are no moustache-twirling villains, no white shielded paladins. Just a group of humans trying to make do.

Battlestar Galactica’s fourth and final season premieres this Friday at 10 on the SciFi channel. I’ll be recapping each episode here at NH, though I imagine many of you will be totally lost. So to help you catch up on what is a heavily serialized show, the SciFi channel has created a primer of sorts, recapitulating the meat and bones of the show’s previous 3 seasons, which you can find below. See you Friday(ish).


Steven Simunic said...

Hulu: great invention, or greatest invention?

Brendan K. said...

I submit that "superlative" is NH's "apotheosis" for 2008.

Darryl said...

I am excited about this most superlative development.