Battlestar Galactica Seasons 1 & 2 on DVD. Review by Roger Redmond

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To begin with the obvious, this is not your parents' Battlestar Galactica. Some names remain the same, as do some of the most basic plot elements, but beyond that, this incarnation borrows from other science fiction and develops its own story and structure. This Battlestar is one of the best, and potentially the best, science fiction series that has come down the pike. There are many reasons I say this, among which are above average writing, an urgent and attention grabbing pacing, and a skilled-well-beyond-expectation cast that may be one of the best ensembles on TV, period. And I'm not prone to gushing.

The basic plot is pretty simple and is set up promptly in the opening miniseries. The humans of the Twelve Colonies created robotic servants named Cylons, which became self-aware and rebelled. After years of truce, the Cylons returned in a surprise attack that nearly exterminated the human race. The Battlestar Galactica (a sort of aircraft carrier in space) is one of the only warships to survive the initial attack and takes the lead of a ragtag fleet of ships and survivors fleeing the Cylons' continued pursuit as the humans seek a new homeworld. Much of the first season is basically one extended chase in this regard, but there are naturally several other elements. The head of the Education Department has become the civilian President and attempts to return some sense of normalcy to a people on the run; there are Cylons who appear perfectly human and some have infiltrated the fleet; there are long tangents of a religious bent which cast the President as a sort of Moses figure; and of course there is interpersonal conflict, political tensions and conflict, and the requisite degree of "soapiness," but thankfully not enough to be too intrusive. To get into any detail on these would give away too many plot points in a series where the writers are particularly adept at surprises. Suffice it to say that the series never turns truly one dimensional and there is just enough complexity to maintain an intelligent interest without engendering annoyance (as, for example, the show Lost does at times).

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So the writing is definitely above the average quality, especially for a sci-fi series. The visuals, to my eye, are pretty standard for the industry, although they do play with lighting and such in different settings in interesting ways. There are also some nice uses of an almost documentary camera style and a general feeling of claustrophobia at times that are effective at conveying the oft-times chaotic and desperate situations the characters are in.

The real surprise of the series to me, and what really ultimately sells it is the cast. There is barely a misstep in terms of casting primary or secondary roles. I would like to dwell a bit on some of the leads though. I'm not sure how they got Hollywood veteran Edward James Olmos to sign on as William Adama, commander of the Galactica, but it was definitely a coup. I am a long time sci-fi fan, but Olmos far surpasses the bar for any prior leads. As the commander stuck between the ultimate rock and hard place (survival of the species and all), Olmos is masterful. There's no histrionics, and no overacting, he just oozes gravitas. He's grizzled, sombre, and always in control, and it never seems artificial or forced. As President Laura Roslin, Mary McDonnell, another Hollywood vet, slides right into the role of a woefully under-prepared leader who is forced to project and live with an authority she's not ready for. Also, she's dying and has only a short time to complete what she starts to view as her holy mission.

The younger actors all hold their own as well. Katee Sackhoff assumes the role of Kara "Starbuck" Thrace, the fleet's best and most independent fighter pilot. She portrays the cocky and willful Starbuck as well as any who played such a role and, as the series gets on, does a good job of managing a somewhat less confident or sure side as well. Jamie Bamber effortlessly masks his thick British accent as Capt. Lee Adama, the Commander's son and senior pilot of the fleet. His role isn't the most flexible, but what's most impressive is how he doesn't fall into any of the over acting traps associated with his "standing in the shadow" role. He comes off as confident, independent, and decisive. A major standout, especially in season two, is Grace Park as Sharon Valerii aka Boomer, another of Galactica's pilots. It's a bit luck of the draw as she gets to play what is probably one of the more difficult roles and it allows for a lot of flexing of thespianic chops.

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On the civilian side are two more strong performers. James Callis plays Dr. Gaius Baltar, one of the "greatest minds" in the Colonies. As the fleet's resident scientific genius, he plays a pivotal role, but where exactly his loyalties lie is constantly up in the air. One wonders if even he knows. He also has the distinction of providing much of the sorely needed comic relief in the often gloomy series. As with many of the others though, season two gives him a chance to show a greater range and more depth. Nonetheless, he's a funny guy and Callis' comic timing is excellent. Closely associated with his role (for reasons too long to get into) is the human-looking Cylon called Number Six, played by Tricia Helfer. She spends most of the first season as an alternately purring and demanding seductress and seems to be having fun doing it. She also effectively portrays what may be a hint of madness. It is worth noting here that one of the ongoing suggested plot points is just how "human" the Cylons may have become. Not to sound like a broken record, but Helfer also gets to expand her role and persona as time goes on and keeps up the good impression. Again, these are the main characters and the supporting cast is usually equally up to the task.

So what do you get when you combine a top notch cast with solid writing and directing? A pretty impressive show and definitely one worth checking out. I was really prepared to be unimpressed...I mean it was Battlestar Galactica after all. Now I'm hooked and anxious to get up to speed with Season 2.5 (like many cable series, the timing of seasons seems a bit flexible) and the forthcoming Season 3 on DVD. Things are still pretty bleak and gloomy for humanity's little band of survivors, but I'll definitely be keeping up with them to see how they get out of this ongoing mess. If it's not all old news to you, rent the opening miniseries at least and give it a shot.

Roger Redmond is a recent law school graduate and long-time SFF fan who lives in Pittsburgh. His reviews have also been published on