Tag Archives: Ronald D. Moore

Premiere: Virtuality – “Pilot”

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“Pilot”

June 26th, 2009

After watching the two-hour event that is the Virtuality pilot, I think I can understand why FOX was resistent to picking the show up to series.

It isn’t that FOX is allergic to science fiction: it goes into next season with the genre’s two biggest television properties, Fringe and Dollhouse, in its lineup. Rather, there’s a particular way that it likes its science fiction, a preference that both Dollhouse and Fringe fit into comfortable. Both shows, although expanding heavily on their serialized elements and genre transmorgifications later in their freshman seasons, started out as genrified takes on the procedural mystery model, combining a high concept with what is arguably a more accesible and thus lower form of weekly episodic television. For FOX executives worried about selling the show to advertisers and viewers alike, it was the ace up their sleeve, the caveat that allowed them to both give the appearance of openness to genre programming and satisfy their desire to eat away at CBS’ dominance in the field.

The reason Virtuality wasn’t ordered to series is because it is one giant, enormous middle finger to such ludicrous practices of watering down science fiction upon its arrival so as to pretend as if the people who don’t like science fiction are going to stick around once things get weird. What makes good science fiction is the balls out willingness to question reality, and to break away from any and all conventions, all qualities that both Fringe and Dollhouse are capable of and yet never got to reach until FOX was satisfied that the show was really just CSI with insane science or The Unit with personality implants. Virtuality, however, wastes no time in crafting a world where nothing where we question everything, and is thus a world that any science fiction fan in their right mind wants to explore further.

All but dead in the water despite the strange lead-up to this airing, Virtuality is a fascinating pilot, a god awful standalone television movie considering how it ends, and, should it truly find itself on the wrong end of FOX’s idiocy, another sign that high science fiction may be a thing of the past on network television.

But, for now, excuse me if I spend a bit of time talking about how awesome it was.

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Cultural Alert: Ronald D. Moore’s Virtuality airs tonight at 8/7c on FOX

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“It is not a f***ing movie.” – Michael Taylor, co-creator of Virtuality

This quote, coming from an interview with former Battlestar Galactica writer Michael Taylor by Dan Fienberg over at HitFix, is probably confusing considering that FOX is promoting Virtuality, from the mind of Ronald D. Moore and with a pilot directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights), as a one-time event. Or, at least they’re scheduling it as one. Or, at least they were scheduling it as one.

Now, I legitimately don’t know what to think. Conceived as a pilot for this past development season, the project fell on deaf ears with FOX executives who asked for extensive editing and didn’t order the show to series. However, as an expensive sci-fi pilot, the network wants to recoup its money, so a two-hour television event was scheduled…for Saturday, July 4th. Even we Canadians know that people don’t watch television on a national holiday in the middle of summer, so it seemed like the project was being tossed onto the pile.

And then, something strange happened: FOX moved the airdate to tonight, June 26th. And then they scheduled numerous conference calls so that press could talk to the show’s producers. And they even organized a premiere for the project, going against nearly every logical process one would expect from a summer burn-off.

There are two basic possibilities here. The first is that FOX knows the cultural cache of Ronald D. Moore in the world of science fiction, and figured that it could better recoup sales through potential advertising and DVD revenue if it worked the hype machine ahead of time, knowing that fans of Battlestar and science fiction in general would do much of the work for them. This seems the more likely option, considering that FOX already has a low-rated prestige science fiction show on its 2009-2010 lineup (Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse).

However, the way they’re promoting the broadcast theoretically leaves the door open for them to take the show to series down the road, a possibility that FOX has left open for reasons that I can’t quite understand. Perhaps it is just so that people will tune in even though it may seem like a dead end, or a waste of their time, buoyed by the faint hope FOX is providing. Or, perhaps FOX is actually willing to give the show a shot if the ratings surprise them.

Regardless, I have unfortunately not been able to screen Virtuality ahead of time, and have been trying to stay spoiler free in order to approach it with a fresh perspective. However, here’s the “official” synopsis so you have some sense of what the show’s about:

As the crew of the Phaeton approaches the go/no-go point of their epic 10-year journey through outer space, the fate of Earth rests in their hands. The pressure is intense, and the best bet for helping the crew members maintain their sanity is the cutting-edge virtual reality technology installed on the ship. It’s the perfect stress-reliever until a glitch in the system unleashes a virus onto the ship. Tensions mount as the crew decides how to contain the virus and complete their mission. Meanwhile, every step of the journey and every minute of the crew members’ lives are being taped for a reality show back on Earth.

I’ll be back either late tonight or tomorrow afternoon with my own thoughts, but in the meantime you can check out Alan Sepinwall, Dan Fienberg and Maureen Ryan’s thoughts on the film…I mean, pilot. Or whatever it bloody well is.

Virtuality, as mentioned, airs at 8/7c on FOX.

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“Caprica” DVD Review

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“Pilot”

A Special DVD “Review

There is no hiding the fact that the end of Battlestar Galactica was, for me, a cathartic experience, a chance to say goodbye to something that has been a fairly large part of both my critical and academic investigations into the world of television. However, there was always that lingering sense that the journey wasn’t really over: TV Movie “The Plan” is airing this fall, and on April 20th “Caprica,” the backdoor pilot for the upcoming series of the same name, released online and on DVD.

The former project is designed to give more time to characters shafted by the main narrative, and to answer/address some questions that have been lingering but may have proved too tangential for the show’s fourth and final season. In that sense, we know what to anticipate: we know that it will address the Cylon plan to attack Caprica, and that’s pretty well enough to create expectation.

But Caprica is an entirely different monster, primarily because it sits in that odd position somewhere between prequel and spinoff, the communication between it and its predecessor minor in most ways. The decision to release the pilot, always planned as a stand-alone project which could be turned into a series should executives be pleased with the final product, eight months before we have any chance of seeing the series is a calculated risk, and one that feels like a concerted effort to link Galactica and this new series more than may actually be logical, or beneficial.

When you first start watching Battlestar Galactica, one of the things that strikes you is that which wasn’t explained, or wasn’t exposited in some sort of speech. The polytheism of humanity was less a topic of discussion and more a stated fact, and it was less a selling point of the series than it was a sign that this show was going to go beyond the boundaries of traditional science fiction to offer something more nuanced.

In Caprica, however, this is front and center; in many ways, it feels like some of the themes that Galactica took for granted or didn’t often highlight put on display in an effort to provoke the viewer more than actually engaging with the show’s characters…at least on a conceptual level. As executed, I think there’s a lot to like about this project, and in particular there are some really intriguing ideas surrounding the main pairing of Joseph Adama and Daniel Greystone which elevate the show above its lack of subtlety and into a place where I am, more than before, looking forward to seeing what happens when this goes to series.

As for what that series will look like, however, is a question that I don’t know if we can really answer – in the meantime, let’s delve into the series in what I really can’t call a review, since it isn’t particularly objective in its tone, but more of an analysis of sorts. A long one (big surprise, eh?).

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BSG: The Long Goodbye – Battlestar Galactica and the Trouble with Twenty

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Battlestar Galactica and the Trouble with Twenty

March 25th, 2009

[After reading Media Studies scholar Jason Mittell's thoughts on the finale over at Just TV, I got thinking about the narrative structure of the finale, and how different it was from the season that came beforehand. As a result, we have our third part of The Long Goodbye: the most formalized attempt I've made at describing Season Four's struggles.]

It is impossible, and probably not even desireable, to go into a series finale without some sense of the agency of the show’s writers, creators and producers who are behind the strings pulling things together. By the very nature of the media hype surrounding the event, especially for shows which have garnered critical or commercial success, there is going to be a focus on the person “responsible” for what people are about to see. In many ways, it’s about blame: if things go awry, if decisions are made which anger long-time viewers, there will be someone who can be held up to the clambering crowd of naysayers as the individual who sent their beloved series down such a dangerous path.

Battlestar Galactica is no exception to this rule, and its finale had numerous moments wherein you could feel Ronald D. Moore exhibiting creative license, making decisions to leap forward in time, to explain away potential plot holes, to prescribe meaning to things in a way which didn’t feel as organic as we may have liked. But that’s his prerogative, this show having been his “creation,” and it’s also not a fundamentally bad thing: while it may end up being divisive, as a show that was designed to get people talking many of his decisions in the finale were well-crafted and connected with the series’ existing identity.

And yet I do have a problem with this idea, just not in the context of the finale itself. My problem is with the fact that the same type of sense of the producers controlling the flow of traffic, withholding information or making deliberate decisions, has been present from the very beginning of the season in a way that wasn’t as productive. There was very little organic about the way the season was organized, as if proximity to the series’ final destination sent them careening around in circles for eighteen episodes before deciding in the finale to get on with it already. The result was, in a bit of a fascinating twist, the realization that for the most part this Finale could be viewed directly after Season Three and still be an effective emotional climax to the series.

With that realization, the omniscient writers and producers who were in charge of this journey are suddenly held accountable not just for the end, but for everything that came before it – considering this question closer makes the ultimate case for the value of shortened cable seasons as opposed to the lengthened order the series was provided.

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BSG: The Long Goodbye – Introduction

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Introduction

March 23rd, 2009

I have written a lot about Battlestar Galactica over the past two years of this blog. One of my very first posts, in fact, was about how Battlestar Galactica was more or less taking over my life, leading me to see parallels in literature, in every day life, and expecting in some way that it would slowly meld with my own life. And, on Friday night, it pretty well did: after watching the finale, I shut myself into my room and turned out an epic, sprawling and rather indulgent review that was part catharsis and part exorcism. It was not, however, a goodbye.

I don’t think I’ll ever say “goodbye” to the show, what with the DVDs I could watch, or the academic papers I might eventually write, but at the same time I felt after writing that review that I need some more time, and some more posts, to really come to terms with this ending. And so, throughout the week I’ll be posting a myriad of thoughts on the show, whether it’s some links to the views of other critics, or an extended analysis of Season Four’s narrative structure, or potentially even something I’ve been resisting for a while but may have found its ideal time frame in the wake of the finale. I’m also considering the rather insane task of confronting the issue of the finale’s religious elements, but perhaps I’ll come to my senses before wading into that particular conflict.

Regardless, it’s one last chance to get some of this off my chest before I know I’ll have to put it on the backburner in favour of academic pursuits.

Monday:

The Critical Response to “Daybreak” – A collection of various critical analyses of the finale, with some of my own insight sprinkled in for good measure.

Tuesday:

Finale Discussion - A two-hour discussion of the series finale done with Devindra Hardawar and Meredith Woerner, recorded as a special edition of the /Filmcast, is now available for download at the above link.

Wednesday:

The Trouble with Twenty – As ironic as it sounds, an analysis of how the problems of feeling like the season needed more time could have been solved by shortening its season to tighten the show’s narrative.

Thursday:

The Real Higher Power – With all this talk of God and religion, let’s realize who really holds the most control in the BSG universe: Bear McCreary, composer of the Gods, controls our emotions and reactions more than any writer, producer, or higher power ever could.

Friday:

Romancing the Cylon, Revisited – My obsession with BSG is perhaps best represented by my undergraduate thesis about the series’ connection with Medieval Romance, so what better way to finish this cathartic week than spreading it to the world?

[Come back daily for another dose of The Long Goodbye.]

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Series Finale: Battlestar Galactica – “Daybreak Part Two”

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“Daybreak Part Two”

Series Finale – March 20th, 2009

“Ever since we found out who…what we are…”

When the Battlestar Galactica Miniseries first began, there were two main questions: who are these people who are leading humanity forward after this devastating tragedy, and what is the nature of the Cylons who caused that devastation? It was part of that central binary the show put forward, humans vs. Cylons, but from the very beginning these are not two separate questions. In the character of Boomer, this balance between who/what was inherently questioned, as those who straddled the line between human and Cylon were forced to confront these types of questions. When the Final Four Cylons were revealed, they all fell on different sides: Tyrol accepted “what” begrudgingly in the quotation above, Tory downright embraced it, while Tigh refused to abandon “who” and continued to emphasize his personal identity.

At this point, we as viewers are all people straddling this line between “who” and “what” in the shadow of “Daybreak,” a series finale which struggles less from pressure within the show itself and more from the external pressure of fan expectation. The problem is that we, as fans, grapple with similar problems: are we concerned, moving into the finale, about who these characters are and what journey they have taken, or are we too caught up in the “plot holes” or the questions to which we demand answers? It’s not a new binary amongst viewers: for ages people have been complaining about episodes for having too few explosions, or for being too slow, or for not doing enough to advance the show’s complicated plot structure. Whereas for most of those episodes, I’ve noticed strong character development, effective mood building, and an almost cathartic sense of pacing that is part of what makes the series more than just science fiction.

“Daybreak” is an episode that, more than answering which side of this binary people should fall on, should destroy it altogether. This isn’t about plot, or character, but the intersection of these ideas. In the show’s fourth season, amidst some admittedly complicated and on occasion bungled storylines, one thing that has remained consistent is the idea that the definitions of human and Cylon are melding together. Much as Edward James Olmos argued against race being used as a cultural determinant during the United Nations panel earlier in the week, we should be beyond the point of considering these people purely along the lines of human vs. Cylon, just as we should be beyond the point of considering the show in terms of plot vs. character.

So, let there be no red line drawn down the deck: with this epic, sprawling, action-filled and philosophically-driven finale, Ronald D. Moore has accomplished what he set out to do. He manages to meld together the cheeky with the solemn, the profound with the surreal, the whimsical with the emotional, in a way that gives you that sense that destiny is not a four-letter word, that plot and character are neither slave to the other, and that whatever this show accomplished it will go down in a fashion befitting of one of television’s most effective pieces of programming, period, independent of its science fiction heritage.

So say, if not us all, then at least this particular believer.

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Battlestar Galactica – “Daybreak Part One”

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“Daybreak Part One”

March 13th, 2009

Methinks that Ronald D. Moore has placed a red line right down the ranks of the Galactica faithful, which is something that he seems to revel in – it is not that the beginning of “Daybreak” is inherently a bad episode, but rather that it represents a very cautious approach that is treating this three-hour finale as an episode in and of itself as opposed to an extension of the episodes that came before it. The result is another in a long line of setup episodes, weaving in and out from his main character’s past lives in Caprica City in a way that makes thematic sense to the show as a whole, but doesn’t actually feel like it connects with the mutiny, or the rest of the fourth season thus far.

There’s something to be said for this kind of approach: with a cast this large and with a timeline this varied in terms of both action and reaction, it’s easy to see why returning to who these people were before “the Fall” would be of some value. And yet, at the same time, I left the episode not pondering how much these characters have changed but rather how much they’ve remained the same. Something about the way the episode was structured made it a bit too easy, the parallels between their former lives and their current predicament too simply stated, for us to forget some of what has happened to them, to remove the context of forward momentum and replace it with a potent nostalgia.

The result is something different, not something wrong: when Adama has his heroic speech, we are properly on the edge of our seat, properly considering the gravity of this situation, and properly realizing just how epic this is going to eventually be. But we’ve been waiting for something epic for a long time now, and by layering that suspense with the catharsis of the flashbacks we’re taken out of the season and placed into a series perspective perhaps too disconnected from the season thus far.

I’m left wondering not whether Moore is steering this ship in the right direction for the finale, which has the right kind of epic qualities as we need it to have coupled with a strong connection to these characters and their past lives, but rather whether this finale remains unchanged from the plan originally designed for when the second season was to be only 13 episodes – I have a feeling that it wouldn’t have been any different. As a result, while it feels like we’re heading in the right direction for a series finale, I don’t quite know if it feels like an ideal capoff to the season in and of itself.

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Battlestar Galactica – “Someone to Watch Over Me”

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“Someone to Watch Over Me”

February 27th, 2009

For an episode driven by the power of melody to transcend minds and to bring people together, there was a return to a familiar rhythm to “Someone to Watch Over Me,” a return to form for Battlestar Galactica as it heads into its final three episodes. What’s been missing in the last few episodes is the sense that this is all coming together to add up to something, that what we’ve been seeing and the answers we’ve been searching for have been worth our time. While, perhaps, the content of “No Exit” or “Deadlock” will make a difference in the end, neither episode in and of itself added up to something profound, something progressive, or something that gives us some peace of mind that the show knows where its most powerful material lies as it heads towards its finale.

But this week this all changed under the guidance of Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, delivering their last episode with a deft sense of pacing and momentum. It is an episode that leans heavily on the past to demonstrate the power that it has over us, and then allows that to play out in the present in a way that is simultaneously revelatory and, more importantly, diversionary from the laidback, almost nonchalant path the show has been on since the end of the mutiny. The result is a clear path to the future, centering its storyline on the two major unanswered questions and using both of them to drive us into something approximating a climax. More importantly, though, the actions in the episode are ones which actually have broad implications for almost everyone: while the most recent drama has remained far too isolated to one side of humans and Cylons, here we finally have something that everyone can get really frakking pissed about.

And, well – finally.

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Left on the Cutting Room Floor: “Deadlock,” Editing and Soap Operatic Indulgence

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Left on the Cutting Room Floor:

“Deadlock,” Editing and Soap Operatic Indulgence

Last weekend, still stewing in frustration over “Deadlock,” [my review] the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica, I tweeted the following to my twitter followers:

Pretty sure I could write five blog posts this week delving into points of contention on last night’s BSG. I must resist this.

As you can see, I lasted until this morning, as I have in weeks past, before needing to delve back into episodes that frustrated me, trends which concerned me, and that voice in my head that for all of my enjoyment of BSG’s four seasons is extremely cynical about the show’s direction when the show ends in three weeks. The last three episodes of the show have all felt “off” for me, and I’m at a point where I need to see something in tonight’s episode, “Someone to Watch Over Me,” that convinces me less of Katee Sackhoff’s talent or Bear McCreary’s musical genius and more of Ronald D. Moore and David Eick’s vision for completing this thing in only 4 more hours of television.

I am aware, of course, that these hours are really only 43 minutes, and that in that amount of time the show only has time to do so much. In fact, on numerous occasions this year, there have been moments where I’ve wondered what was left off the cutting room floor, and how some content seemed ill-fitting for particular scenarios. And after reconsidering “Deadlock,” and reading some of the interviews with the show’s writers regarding episodes like aforementioned Deadlock and No Exit, I’ve come to a conclusion that somewhere, in those minutes of uncut footage and those ideas not followed through on, there might have been a way to quell my cynicism.

But we got a love triangle instead.

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Cold Water Commentaries: Ronald D. Moore and the End of Speculation

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Cold Water Commentaries:

Ronald D. Moore and the End of Speculation

If you remember last week’s episode of Battlestar Galactica, with the exposition-packed “No Exit” providing an enormous amount of detail about the Cylon origins, you likely also remember asking yourself a very important question: who, or what, is Daniel, the 7th Cylon model? We learned some of the details of his existence, however brief, during the episode itself, but there were a lot of outstanding questions about how it could relate to Starbuck, or how it could relate to any of the other Cylons, and how it fit into these questions of identity that have long driven the series forward. It is impossible that any fan left that episode without a fundamental question about this Cylon’s whereabouts.

And then Ronald D. Moore’s Podcast Commentary was released, and he shrugged it off: oh, sorry everyone, Daniel’s gone, it’s not a big deal, just go about your business.

Effectively, Moore has thrown cold water on the theorists, the prognosticators, the obsessed Battlestar fans who spend more time trying to figure out where the show is going than they do considering where the show has been. And while I wouldn’t put myself within the group who is solely concerned about the series’ forward momentum, I am someone who likes to have a complex framework for heading into upcoming episodes, and to be honest I feel as if Moore has somewhat betrayed that principle.

While it is well within Moore’s right to decide what speculation he will quash and those elements of an episode that he will leave open for interpretation, there is also a point where fans of a complex science fiction series could probably handle the open thread of a corrupted Cylon while still being focused on the drama at hand. Part of me understands Moore’s decision, as it is in line with some of the other choices that he has made going into the latter half of the season, but I feel as if one of my few caveats for enjoying “No Exit,” its myriad of unanswered questions that promise a highly complex future, has been eliminated.

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