Closing Thoughts

February 21, 2011

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As previously alluded to, I will not be individually reviewing the final nine episodes of Caprica as I did the first eight plus the pilot, but I figured I would at least offer up some belated closing thoughts of the defunct Battlestar Galactica prequel, whose final episodes showed that this indeed could've been a compelling series. Based on how the first and only season wrapped up, I'd have been back to see more, had it been renewed.

The single-season, 17-episode run of Caprica (not counting the pilot movie, which would make for a total of 19 hourlong episodes), to me plays like a compelling argument for the 12- or 13-episode run typical of many cable dramas. In this day and age, with so many choices out there, with so many mediums of content consumption available to audiences and with their attention divided and their attention spans shortened, does it really make sense to do a TV series — and even more so, a TV serial — that spans 20 or 22 episodes?

Granted, you could make the argument that season one of Caprica could really be called two seasons with two arcs, but that's not what Syfy or its creators called it — and more to the point, the stories being told here just didn't warrant as many hours as were devoted to them.

Caprica was an ambitious, intriguing, multi-pronged, handsomely produced series with good actors and production values, but its season was one that suffered from excessive runtime bloat and sometimes muddled characters. Trim the 19 hours down to about 12 or 13 (assuming you rid the show of the elements that didn't work in favor of those that did), and you might have yourself a terrific show here.

As it stands, the show dragged in places and strained some its audience's patience, myself included. Now, I tend to be an advocate for patience and long-form serial television (see The Wire, or even Lost for a sci-fi genre example, though the latter show had the ability to often play more as an anthology), but Caprica's problem seemed to be that it took too many episodes to come to conclusions and/or revelations that seemed to be fairly obvious from the outset (I'm thinking, for example, of Daniel taking so long to catch on to the fact that Zoe's program had made her way into the U-87, or pretty much all things having to do with Clarice or Amanda — clearly characters that suffered from flawed writing — and their various relationships through the season).

Caprica as a show often had me torn. I really liked the themes the show explored. The issues surrounding the use of VR and AI — and humanity's responsibilities in their creation and use — was intriguing and thoughtful stuff, and far more truthfully emerging from the concepts of hard sci-fi than a lot of purported popular "sci-fi" tends to be. And the myriad of different angles the show's universe was seen from (the mob, the VR world, the corporations, the terrorists groups, the law enforcement, etc.) made for a scope that was particularly suited to serial TV.

On the other hand, this scope and ambition sometimes felt wasted. There were too many haphazard strands (Clarice was a particularly troublesome character in this regard; the writers took a very long time to get a handle on her), and the show's characters often fell victim to what might be called a Sophoclean Slog — in which characters seemed so tied to a preordained outcome (the BSGverse's downfall of humanity at the hands of the Cylons they created) that they were written too much like the walking dead for us as audience members to feel involved in their fates. The show often had a deliberate pace, and took itself so deadly seriously that it walked the line of pretension. And all due respect to the talented Bear McCreary, but the music was relentless and too often took me out of the moment and reminded me that this was all a big melodrama.

The sense of detachment seemed to improve in the show's final episodes, which built to a pretty exciting conclusion and featured characters taking more action worthy of a prequel to the more visceral BSG. And I was surprised at just how much the final episode wrapped up the season (and the series), as opposed to being a clichéd cliffhanger. The final sequence of the show (an extended epilogue) featured a lot of resolution and enough of a bridge to the inevitable rise-of-the-Cylons in BSG to feel satisfying, especially knowing the show was canceled. (I understand that this epilogue sequence was planned and shot before Caprica's cancellation was certain, so a second season of the show would have likely gone in completely new directions).

It's also possible that my perception that the show's pace picked up at the end is partially affected by how I viewed the episodes themselves. Because of its cancellation, Syfy aired the final five episodes on one day, which I DVR'd and watched in the course of two sittings. It's interesting to note that a TV serial's storytelling rhythm may no longer benefit from airing as an actual TV series; Caprica as a whole probably works better viewed on DVD than watched as a weekly show that feels too sluggishly paced.

As for the show's bizarre air schedule and cancellation, I'm not sure what Syfy's thinking was exactly. On the one hand, it seems they were clearly impressed by the quality of the show based on their press statements. On the other hand, they sort of shot themselves in the foot with the weird launch/air schedule (it premiered on DVD, then didn't air as a series for eight months, and then had an eight-month hiatus splitting the season up).

And I'm not sure what the advantage would be of pulling the series off the schedule with five episodes remaining and then burning them off in one day in the deadness of January. Why not just air them? Yes, the ratings of the show were clearly not good (something like 800,000 viewers for season 1.5 when the show returned), but I don't know that a rerun of Star Trek: TNG does that much better. Then again, maybe it does.

I suppose it's something the show was greenlit at all. Clearly Syfy wanted it to follow the BSG model where it had enough viewers (even if it wasn't a huge hit) to sustain itself while bringing in the critical acclaim that BSG garnered and the network wanted to retain. But then the critical acclaim wasn't on the level of BSG, and the ratings weren't good either. So I can't say Syfy's decision to cancel the show wasn't justified. If anything, I'd just say that their scheduling methods suck and they don't know how to launch a show, with their long hiatuses and bizarre premieres.

One thing is certain: Caprica did not cater to Syfy's current demographic goals at all, which is essentially to be SpikeTV 2. It was too ambitious, too slow-moving, and too cerebral for that. But Syfy must've known that when they bought it. So it was an odd match, and I don't quite get it.

I am not sorry I saw it, and I would've kept watching it had it come back. It was not perfect, or even great, but it worked as a prequel series, which are never easy to pull off. And it was smarter than the average sci-fi show.

Jammer's Caprica season one rating: 3 stars.

Previous episode: End of Line

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27 comments on this post

    Spoiler alerts from here on out!

    I know I didn't get much into specifics of the final episodes, whether it was characters or plot. So please consider this an invitation to discuss details that took you by surprise (the death of Willie Adama, perhaps), stories that played out in grand, bloody fashion (the Tauron mob and Joseph and Sam's messy involvement with it) or unresolved questions (just what happened to Tamara in V-World?). Plenty to chew on here, if it's not already too late to care.

    Thanks for your thoughts Jammer! I always love reading your thoughts on pretty much anything.

    I mostly agree with you jammer. And i'm afraid that now with bllood and chrome they will make the opposite mistakes: a series with much action battles, explosions etc, This way perhaps they will take back part of the BSG audience but then they will loose those who want a more cerebral story. Not to mention the possibility of making the same mistakes in scheduling.
    Sometimes i think that perhaps the networks could turn to the miniseries format. They cost less so the risk of loosing their money becouse of bad ratings is not big and if it is a succes they can easily make another miniseries even the same year.

    good lord, it took them FOREVER to get Lacy Rand to Gemenon.
    mid-season "finale" was heavy-handed in the emotion, which was NOT supported by much in the first half. Really? an opera aria?

    Wish there was a way to see other colonies' cultures and people. If Caprica is this amazing center of learning and the arts, the seat of politics and all that...there is very little of that on display.

    I personally thought Bear's work was one of the best parts of the show. The score for End of Line was epic and beautiful. Sure, maybe moreso than events on screen would suggest but I thought that it really elevated the material rather than feeling overblown.

    Caprica was like a long experiment, they changed gears and reset plots so many times, all the while not really advancing anything to a satisfying conclusion. Until towards the end. I thought it finished great, with the exception of the V-world stuff, that went into the toilet the moment they turned New Cap city into a mountain retreat and hung out doing apparently nothing for 3 episodes. And the big final confrontation with Zoe and Clarice was stupid.

    But then it made up for it with that coda, which had me cheering at the screen. I thought for sure this was a contingency plan if they were cancelled, but no, it was really a sign they were making one more giant plot reset and reformatting the series into what could have been something great by the looks of it.

    The show deserved to be cancelled based on the material. But SyFy also gave it every handicap possible, for some reason. They are truly incompetant when it comes to scheduling.

    P.S. What are your feelings on Blood and Chrome, Jammer? (just the concept and such) Will you consider reviewing it if it goes to series?

    I'll certainly watch "Blood and Chrome," just because I'm curious to revisit the BSG universe again. A "first Cylon war" series could be entertaining. But I can't form an opinion of something that does not yet exist; I don't even know who the creative forces are.

    As for reviews, who knows. Way too early to say.

    I was not expecting to be fulfilled by the last five episodes of Caprica, but I am. The writers did a fantastic job bringing closure to the season/series.

    I will watch "Blood and Chrome" with fingers crossed. Maybe the writers will suprise me again. I just do not see how this show will have any substance to it what-so-ever. We all got a chance to see the first cylon war in the flashbacks of BSG's Razor. These sequences had action-o-plenty but were not compelling at all.

    Here's hoping I'm wrong.

    "So say we all" (Sorry, that just fit)

    @Brendan....I agree that the music was great...there's not much Bear does in the BSGverse that I don't like. But I felt it simply too much given what had gone on before. It wasn't like the feeling in episode 10 of season 4 in BSG where they finally find "Earth" and it's a cheery moment full of big music.

    I just didn't get the operatic nature of the mid-season of Caprica. but that's just me...the music was outstanding, but yeah, heavy-handed to =me.

    @jammer -- the creative forces behind Blood and Chrome are basically David Eick, Jonas Pate, and any other big names behind BSG. I think Ron Moore is there in spirit since he's tied to a Sony(?) contract or something.

    at this time I haven't read anywhere online whether Jane Espenson is involved....let us hope that is a good thing. :-)

    I agree with the point that the show may work better as a DVD. The reason being I stopped watching after five episodes. With the show's pacing I came to the conclusion I didn't have the time to bother watching it. Considering I watched all of BSG, I was rather surprised by this. Someday if I have the opportunity to marathon the episodes I may finish the series.

    " I just do not see how this show will have any substance to it what-so-ever. We all got a chance to see the first cylon war in the flashbacks of BSG’s Razor. These sequences had action-o-plenty but were not compelling at all. "

    I agree. I also can't see what else can blood and chrome be besides battles, battle missions or perhaps an exploration of characters in time of war. There is simply nothing important and uknown in the first cylon war, something that we don't allready know. I hope that the writers will surprise us but i can;t see it happen without adding something that will violate more or less the BSG cannon. But i hope i will be proven wrong.
    And i believe that a miniseries (like outcasts or the new season of torchwood) would be better and more interesting rather than trying to drag it into a sreries for which there is,perhaps, no material.

    So what are you watchinSo what are you watching next? Anything to review on the site?g next? Anything to review on the site?

    Sorry, the feedback box is all white to me, including font when I type :|

    I think Blood and Chrome has every bit of potential to be in the same realm as BSG-- just because it takes place during a war doesn't mean it won't know how to be a smart show. BSG itself took that war time setting and turned it into something more and something great. DS9 (and I'm sure many others) did it too. I agree, however, that it's not likely to realize that potential. Syfy is coming off Caprica, which received complaints for its lack of action and slow pace (which I'm sure they'll see as the reason it had low ratings), and given that Syfy is, well, Syfy I think they're likely to over compensate with Blood and Chrome and make it only the action. It also doesn't sound like Blood and Chrome will have Ron Moore much involved.... but I'm not going to get sour on the show until I actually see the pilot.

    If Blood and Chrome tries to go for a big, epic storyline, it runs the risk of falling doom to prequelitis: there's only so much you can reveal about the world and the characters if the final destination is BSG as we know it. Anakin Skywalker has to become Darth Vader, so to speak.

    If they want to make this work, I think they should forgo the grand plot and make the small, intimate stories of life during wartime the show's focus. There can still be smaller story arcs and mysteries, but they cannot be the show's main hook. In fact, having something like a sci-fi Band of Brothers might work and be glorious, if done well.

    Band of brothers was a miniseries and i think that would be better for blood and chrome also. Exactly how many episodes can anyone make with war stories without a more substantive ark or theme? one season perhaps? after that the series run the danger to boring.

    I just read that bllod and chrome will air next year:

    And i wonder how many people will remember that this project exists 1 and a half year after its original announcement and wothout sny promotion ( a webside, a trailer anything!) from syfy.

    As i'm sure you allredy know Blood and chrome was cancelled at least as a tv series. Sometimes i really can't understand how the ececutives of sysfy are thinking.

    I was schocked that Willie Adama died, but given that this is set 58 years before the BSG Miniseries, it would have made no sense that Willie would become Bill. That would make Bill Adama 69 during the miniseries, while EJO was only 56.

    I think the one thing that can be learned by Caprica and this is a lesson that should be noted by writers and fans alike, is that it is a completely different matter to take an existing property, recognize the unexplored possibilities within it, or paths not taken, and creating a completely original, (or near original story) from the scratch.

    In the case of Caprica, and possibly Blood and Chrome, should it ever see the light of day, I believe the main problem is that the "make it up as you go" approach to screenwriting utilized on the rebooted BSG makes it very difficult to create cohesive prequels, since many of the things we saw on that series were so incongruous. The second problem is what I term the Lucas syndrome. It is easy to hint at a remarkable backstory and leave it up to the audience's imagination to fill in the blank spots, but the more intriguing your undisclosed history is, the harder it will be to live up to expectation.

    I solidly enjoyed BSG for two seasons, and became a bit disheartened after that, but never to the point that it became a deal breaker, but I'd rather see the writers go on to a new project than to dilute a very good show with a host of not fully thought out, or badly executed, spin offs.

    Jammer, I'm interested to know what you think of Blood and Chrome now that it's started to air a bit on youtube.

    As for Caprica, I loved it. It was very engaging, cerebral, and interesting. The characters were well fleshed out and interesting. The one thing I didn't like about the finale was the death of Willie. It's like they're saying "Hey, you know all that character development we did for BSG Adama? Well frak you, that never happened." All that character development with him going with his uncle to places and beating up the kids. Granted he didn't get a whole lot, but still, it was annoying.

    I'll probably have something to say about "Blood and Chrome" at some point. Not sure how much or exactly when, but likely not until after I've seen all of it.

    Good thing nobody ever tries to shut down the holoband game servers.

    Caprica was a disappointment, plain and simple. It's a perfect example of the disease of more when it comes to television. They had 19 episodes to tell a story, and instead of telling that story they created a show that needed to run another couple of seasons to make any sense.

    19 hour long episodes of a tv show is enough to show how the Cylons were created, how they gained consciousness, and how the war with the humans started. Then if the show is a success, you can move into an open ended series that deals with the first Cylon War. If not, you can end the series at that point in a natural way having told the story you wanted to tell.

    I enjoyed Blood & Chrome quite a bit. It just felt fun to be back in space and on a mission against the toasters. I feel like it held true to the idea of a war series in space and reminded me of the grim but mostly hopeful Space: Above and Beyond mixed with the original BSG. It was very weird seeing so many actors from previous BSG stories but I really liked the two leads in Luke Pasqualino and especially Ben Cotton. And probably most of all, even though it was only a few moments, it was really cool to hear the Colonial Anthem/Original BSG theme playing and see Galactica in her prime.

    Having just watched both BSG and Caprica for the first time, it strikes me that Caprica is better science fiction. It's not necessarily the better show - the characters aren't as well drawn, the situations less compelling. But the social and technological issues are extremely relevant for our time and there are some meaty topics here that are more than just the backdrop for an action show - which I always felt BSG was at heart. It also benefits from better camerawork (I'm not a big fan of shaky-cam) and less "drama" being forced on us non-stop, which BSG was inclined to do far more than necessary. It's disappointing it was cancelled after 1 season as I feel it could have become something great.

    The series as a whole was good, but not great. The character of Clarice was very grating and I found Daniel to be particular reprehensible. In fact, I don’t think there was a single character I liked besides maybe Sam. But the story was interesting outside of the STO plot. But honestly, everything in V-World I think was done first and better by The Matrix. They just played a little too fast and loose with the timetable, where BSG felt a little more grounded in reality in that regard. I think you summed it up nicely when you said it wasn’t great but you weren’t sorry you watched it. Now I’m interested in what this new era of BSG will look like. I hope it’s better than the current era of Trek.

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