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Wednesday, 3 October 2012


The art of the successful spin-off is a very tough nut to crack; for every Xena: Warrior Princess or Angel, there's a Lone Gunmen or Crusade. So it's a brave writer/producer who takes on the task; and a brave viewer who gets their hopes up.

 The risk; or the biggest among many; is that in attempting to create a success, the writer will steer a little too close to the original show; which, if it's getting a spin-off is presumably popular; on the basis that that's what the audience wants, so why not give them more of it? All you get when you do that though, is a watered down copy, giving the law of diminishing returns a head start.

Compare, for example, Star Trek: Voyager to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The latter took risks, daring to deviate from the formula devised in the original Star Trek, and honed by The Next Generation. As a result the writers managed to craft a compelling epic that is fondly remembered to this day by not just Trek fans, but most fans of good sci-fi. Voyager, on the other hand, was as close to a carbon copy of The Next Generation as the writers could get away with, and told warmed up stories, using warmed characters, to a barely lukewarm audience. To most of those that remember it today, it's a joke; a bland mess.

Stargate: Atlantis is another example. Successful enough in it's way; 5 seasons is a respectable run for any show not being compared to a parent show that ran for 10; it nevertheless failed to ever truly capture it's audiences hearts and minds the way Stargate:SG1 did. And the writers knew it, which was why they scrambled around for the whole five years, changing this and tweaking that and changing the cast every season, in a desperate attempt to find a dynamic that sparked even half as well, or had a fraction of the seemingly effortless chemistry, of the SG1 cast. They never did manage it.

Which is why they took a leaf out of Deep Space Nine's playbook, and threw out the rules with their next spin-off, Stargate: Universe. A move, ironically enough, that saw them ending up with a show very similar in premise to Voyager.

Sadly, although most would tell you that Universe was by far the better show, the damage was apparently done. Maybe audiences were put off by Atlantis, maybe they were turned off by the darker premise, or  perhaps they were just worn out on the Stargate concept and the franchise needed a rest; but whatever the reason, Universe didn't come close to the longevity of even the lesser of it's predecessors, quality be damned.

So if neither method is a guarantee of success, even when done well, what's a writer to do? There's no answer, except to say that they do what they think is best at the time. And in the case of the Battlestar Galactica writers, what they thought was best was to make a show so far removed from the aesthetic of Battlestar as to be almost unrecognisable. What they came up with, was Caprica.

Whilst Battlestar was the quintessential space opera with the bulk of it's action taking place aboard various ships, Caprica could, in a great many ways, pass as being set in a world that was a contemporary of our own. While budgetary constraints were obviously a factor in making the decision to go that route the justification; that even in futuristic scenarios not everyone would have access to all the latest mod cons; is a sound one. I know I'm still waiting for my first go on an ipad.

For the 2 of you who don't know, Caprica was a prequel to Galactica; in itself a further justification for the lower tech levels on show. I've gone on record in the past as having a deep dislike of prequels in general; and I stand by that assertion; but I've also gone on record as not liking remakes and these writers proved with Galactica that they can do those pretty bloody well, so I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But do they pull it off?

Yes and no. The show isn't a classic. Let's get that out of the way first. But it so easily could have been and, given the talent involved, probably should have been. It's problems are not due to it being a prequel, nor are they due to it failing to compare favourably with it's progenitor. In truth, the problems facing Caprica are almost entirely down to the writing staff taking far too long to get anywhere.

There isn't a duff scene in this show, but there are too many, and the plot takes forever to develop. It's bizarre that the writers; some of the absolute best in the business; didn't realise that they were strangling the show at birth with their increeeeeeeedibly slow pacing. As I say, take any scene in isolation, and you'll get goosebumps; take 7 scenes in succession, you'll get bored. And it's a crying shame.

The biggest problem, I think, is that there is simply no threat. The danger in Battlestar was all pervasive and ever present, whereas here you'd be pushed to say exactly who the villains even are. They do exist, they just aren't particularly scary, and it's not until very near the half way mark of the show's run that any kind of cohesive narrative starts to take shape, and the protagonist/antagonist dynamic is properly established.

Stoltz and Morales. Pure class.
But let us put aside our disappointment at yet another hotly anticipated show failing to set the world alight, and discuss the cast. Lead roles Daniel Graystone and Joseph Adams/Adama are played by Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales respectively, so I don't think I really need to say much on that score; those two are gold. The real stars here were among the young characters. (Note: I said young characters, not young cast members)

The emotional core of the show is of course Zoe Graystone, as played by Alessandra Torresani, but her best friend Lacy (Magda Apanowicz) will herself become just as pivotal a player once the storyline actually starts moving. Although both characters are played as teenagers, they are played by women in their mid 20's, which allows me to say phwoaaaarrr, with impunity.

*insert sexist comment about them being pretty*
Attractiveness aside though (and they are both very attractive), these two absolutely nail their parts. Without the ability of Torresani to scare the bejesus out of you one minute and break your heart the next the central conceit of the show would be dead in the water and Apanowicz, who has the lion's share of the derring do and dangerous activities plays a scared young girl getting in way over her head better than anyone you'll see. These two are keepers, for sure.

Sina Najafi. Future mega star

And then there's young Willie Adama. Just to show that I can appreciate a good performance beyond the ability of the actor to make me fancy them, Sina Najafi was a revelation. I don't know how old he is, but I can't imagine he's done much before this, yet he just owns the screen when he's on it, and his chemistry with the guy playing his uncle is spot on.

He's playing a young boy who finds himself all but abandoned when his father sinks into a depression following a family tragedy and is gradually drawn into the comforting embrace of the surrogate family provided by the local organised crime syndicate. It's astonishing to me that he can seem so equally at ease being the wide eyed kid in the candy store when doing kid stuff, yet effortlessly cynical and wiseguy-esque in the comfort of his gangland friends. This kid is going places, on that I would bet much in the way of money.

All in all, I honestly don't know whether I'd recommend Caprica or not. It has so much going for it, but those pacing issues just make it so difficult to fall in love with. I shall let you know when I've watched the 2nd half of the season. You never know, it could blow me away. Until next time, you lovely little oiks you.

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