When I mentioned to a friend that Id be reviewing Caprica, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was the wrong person to be assessing its merits, or lack thereof, as Ive had no contact with its parent series Battlestar Galactica. On the contrary, since I dont share the almost religious devotion of that shows fanbase, I can approach a new addition to the franchise with the same whats all the fuss about attitude that one might use when eating a bacon and Marmite sandwich for the first time (trust me, its much, much nicer than it sounds).
For those of you like me, who watched Battlestar fly so far over their heads that its engines got clogged with volcanic ash, the original show is set in a grim future, where the last vestige of humanity is on the run from barking mad killer robots of their own design, the Cylons. In this prequel series we jump back in time, 50 years before mankind spectacularly shot itself in the foot, to discover how the Cylons came to be. And it seems the end came, as it was always going to, from hedonistic online teenage socialising.
Young computer genius Zoe (Alessandra Torresani), the disaffected daughter of robotics tycoon Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz), invents a way to transplant human memories, personality and intuition into a virtual avatar. When tragedy strikes the family, her father attempts to use her methods, in combination with his not quite perfect robotic soldier prototype, to resurrect the dead.
The best advice I can offer those unfamiliar with the Battlestar franchise is Stick with it, because the first 15 minutes of Caprica are bloody awful. An awkward mix of teenage slang and sci-fi speak, all set to the pumping bass of a clichéd nightclub setting, it closely resembles a poor attempt at a future-based Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Once the show finds its feet however, around the explosive 20 minute mark, it shows its true quality and offers much in the way of intelligent entertainment.
Thanks to its solid grounding in an established franchise, the show has some freedom to explore a few bold ideas and doesnt suffer the usual setbacks of plot and setting introduction normally suffered by pilot episodes. The idea that the genesis of the murderous Cylons is catalysed by one mans desperation to see his loved ones after a tragedy is an intriguing one, as is the notion that only through the advancement of technology was humankind able to make the concept of the soul a reality. However, there is a little too much lip service being paid to some sci-fi clichés, the shadowy mega-corporation for example, and the sorely over-done religious elements sour things a tad.
Because the emphasis is so heavily on Zoe and her father, the supporting cast seem a little undeveloped, especially Esai Morales Joseph, an attorney who becomes embroiled in Graystones plans. He serves a purpose as a plot device but then just seems to hang around for the rest of the piece with a conflicted look on his face. Compensating is an extremely competent performance from Magda Apanowicz as Zoes best friend Lacy. Her meek girly-girl outer shell is so well pulled off that she goes almost unnoticed at the beginning of the story but taking an increasingly more prominent role by the conclusion.
Whilst Sci-Fi thrives on the fantastical and the strange, it almost always fails unless the world in which it is set has some grounding in the reality of a believable universe. Its what Joss Whedons Firefly did so well before its premature demise and what has seen the Star Trek franchise through so many decades of life. Caprica successfully expands on the already rich universe of Battlestar Galatica with intelligent concepts wrapped up in good story telling. Sure, you already know how it ends, but youll be gagging to see why.
Overall Verdict: A very promising debut for this new branch of the Battlestar universe. A stodgy beginning is more than made up for as the story develops, and by the end, youll be impatient to see episodes of the full series.
Commentary with Director Jeffrey Reiner, Executive Producer/Writer Ronald D. Moore and Executive Producer David Eick,
Reviewer: Alex Hall