Sci-Fi TV Gets Frisky
Battlestar Galactica prequel, hopes to reach beyond the sci-fi audience with teen characters and “robot-fondling.” The Daily Beast talks to its producers.
In the past year, Syfy wrapped the four-season run of the network-defining Battlestar Galactica, but while the show’s fans mourned the loss of the intelligent and provocative series, its executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, and co-executive producer Jane Espenson, haven’t closed the doors on the franchise.
Battlestar told the story of the human race’s annihilation; now its prequel, Caprica, which launches on Syfy on Friday, will dramatize what caused that obliteration. Set roughly 60 years before the events of Battlestar, Caprica revolves around two families—the Adamas and the Greystones—ripped apart by a terrorist act that unites them in their grief as they attempt to bring their loved ones back to life. A father’s love for his dead daughter, along with his insatiable scientific curiosity, leads to the creation of the robotic Cylon race, an action which, decades later, causes the destruction of human civilization.
Click Below to Watch a Scene from Episode 2 of Caprica
Offering a metaphor for 9/11, Battlestar explored the plight of individuals under siege from a faceless enemy, tackling the larger issue of what it means—both for the survivors of an unexpected attack and their aggressors—to hold onto their inner selves. It’s a provocative theme that is further dissected in Caprica.
“[ Caprica] continues on the thematic aspects of Battlestar in terms of what it means to be human, how our personal, familiar, emotional decisions can have sociological or political impact, and that… the greatest wrinkles in our culture and our history can be boiled down to an emotional response to something,” said Eick. “It’s an ironic sort of commentary that small, personal motivations are what contribute to the biggest changes in society.”
With Battlestar wrapped, the focus is on Caprica, which stars Eric Stoltz, Paula Malcomson, Esai Morales, Polly Walker, Sasha Roiz, and newcomers Alessandra Torresani and Magda Apanowicz. Unlike the wartime drama of Battlestar, Caprica is more akin to what Eick calls an “old-fashioned soap.” It’s not set in space and revolves around a thriving society much like ours, rather than a wayward fleet of survivors fleeing an unstoppable threat.
“It’s got a very different flavor,” said Moore of Caprica. “It’s setting out to tell a very different story… It’s planet-based, instead of space-based, it’s not action-adventure, it’s much more centered on two families than a military environment. We wanted it to be much more about contemporary society and problems that are coming up on a social front as well as a technological front.”
(Finding Caprica’s tone hasn’t necessarily been easy; after roughly 10 episodes, co-executive producer Kevin Murphy took over as showrunner for the second half of the season. Espenson, who remains an executive producer, will concentrate more on writing rather than overseeing the writers' room.)
Caprica isn’t a political piece in the same way that Battlestar was, as the latter held up a mirror to Bush-era America, offering analogies to the war in Iraq, fundamentalist violence, and issues of insurgency and occupation.
“One of the frustrations we found on Battlestar was just getting people to sample it,” said executive producer Ronald D. Moore. “There was a barrier to particularly female viewers, who just wouldn’t tune in to a show that was about people on spaceships.”
The main distinction between the two shows, said Eick, is that Battlestar was a war story while Caprica is set during times of peace. “It’s more personal,” he said. “It’s how those very universal feelings that we all have, feeling ostracized from our families, feeling misunderstood by our loved ones, not feeling like our potential is being realized or appreciated, lead to these enormous sort of technological avalanches of discovery… and huge cultural shifts.”
Espenson agrees. “The conflicts come more from the clashing of people from different cultures and representing different life-philosophies—capitalists, technocrats, mobsters, polytheists, monotheists, terrorists, federal agents,” she said. “It’s a portrait of a culture in transition, trying to find its moral footing. It feels contemporary without being in any way a literal reflection of today’s headlines.”
Just don’t look for Caprica to necessarily reflect the realities of the Obama presidency.
“It doesn’t really have the sense of a new dawn, which is the guiding idea of the Obama administration,” said Moore. “[That’s] about new beginnings, hope, and change. These are people who think that they are making things better, who think that they have a handle on what their society wants, but they are watching it fly apart at the seams without even realizing it.”
Eick said: “We never sat down on Battlestar and still don’t… with The New York Times and say, what episode should we write this week? To whatever extent there is an infusion of suggestive, allegorical current events in the show, it’s very slight and oftentimes subconscious… and rarely if ever do we go to any great lengths to remark or wink or comment on some current event.”
However, Caprica dives headfirst into an exploration of religious-based conflict, here represented by a monotheistic terrorist organization known as the Soldiers of the One, who operate at cross-purposes to the polytheistic majority. Still, the executive producers weren’t wary of stepping on any toes with this red-button issue, one that was dealt with thoroughly on Battlestar.
“If there’s a fine line… we’re trampling all over it,” wrote Espenson in an email. “This is the glory of doing a sci-fi show. You can say what you want to about extreme polytheists and (pre- or non-Christian) monotheists and really say some stuff about religion without saying anything about any particular living religion. It’s amazingly freeing.”
Additionally, the difference in perspectives between generations is an important distinction between Caprica and its forebear, stressed Moore. Battlestar’s characters were all adults; Caprica purposefully has strong teen characters. “Where’s the youth culture leading this society, because ultimately that is where societies go,” Moore said. “And there was this idea at the heart of the show that we were very intrigued with, which was that this apocalypse is born from an angry, 16-year-old girl.”
The emotions of that girl, the dead Zoe Greystone (Torresani), loom over Caprica and, in a twist worthy of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, Zoe—thanks to some advanced technology—cheats death and finds herself embedded in a Cylon prototype. The move places a lot of Caprica’s focus on its female characters, both teen and adult, and points to Syfy’s efforts to broaden the franchise’s audience beyond Battlestar’s core 2 million viewers.
“One of the frustrations we found on Battlestar was just getting people to sample it,” said Moore. “There was a barrier to particularly female viewers, who just wouldn’t tune in to a show that was about people on spaceships.... I always felt that that was a really artificial barrier to entry. We wanted to create a piece that was definitely a science-fiction piece but make entry easier: Make a society that looks like our society, let people talk more like us, make it much more contemporary-feeling.”
Those who can put aside preconceived notions will find Caprica to be a complex family-driven drama as well as an exploration of many contemporary themes.
Or as Espenson tartly sums up the show’s first season focus: “Robots, religion, sex, torture, late-night talk shows, murder, robot-abuse, virtual crime lords, virtual drugs, and robot-fondling.”
Jace Lacob is the writer/editor of Televisionary, a Web site devoted to television news, criticism, and interviews. Jace resides in Los Angeles. He is a contributor to several entertainment Web sites and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.