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September 4, 2015

'Caprica' Season 1.5 Review: Is This 'Battlestar' Prequel Lost in Space?

by Maureen Ryan, posted Oct 4th 2010 4:15PM
Most ambitious cable dramas attempt to craft season-long narrative arcs in addition to telling more contained weekly stories. The unfortunate thing about 'Caprica' (10PM ET Tuesday, Syfy) is that the 'Battlestar Galactica' prequel still isn't demonstrating consistent focus on either of those fronts.

'Caprica's' first two fall episodes are frustrating, despite the obvious attempts to revive the sporadic momentum that the show's spring run had. The thing is, for the dramatic stakes to matter, the audience has to care about the characters, but it's often difficult to invest in their journeys for any number of reasons.

For one thing, they are a gabby bunch: They talk a lot about what they will do, what they have done and what they might do. There's an understandable need to unleash some exposition so that the audience isn't lost at this stage, but there are too many unmemorable characters and too many muddy motivations swirling around in this slightly futuristic world. The attempt to tell an epic story about humanity's downfall is laudable, but 'Caprica' frequently undercuts its own momentum with a diffident pace and the way it tries to tell that grand story through a dozen or more characters who are given equal importance.

And anyway, who should we care about? The grieving business titan, Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz), whose own wife thought he was a creep? The terrorists battling each other for supremacy? The teen would-be terrorist? Of course, there is no need to like these people or believe in their causes in order to enjoy the show, but self-contained, episodic stories that concretely demonstrate what matters to them and why would be most welcome at this stage. Ideas about man-made versions of heaven are bandied around in the show's returning episodes, but they're too vague to carry any thematic or dramatic weight.

Clarity is not 'Caprica's' strong suit; the various threads draw somewhat closer in these episodes, but they still aren't woven together tightly enough. And the show's overall conflict basically boils down to a clash between monotheists and polytheists, but there's been little or no explanation of why there is so much animosity between the two factions.

Sure, 'Battlestar' examined the idea of the threatening Other in any number of ways, some of which invoked religion and faith, but at its best, that show told stories about people who were interesting even when they weren't talking about their beliefs. 'Caprica's' people tend to remain broadly drawn types, and even a subtler character like the lawyer Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) appears to have changed significantly since we last saw him, adding to the sense of general disarray.

There are a few intriguing characters on 'Caprica,' but the gangster Sam Adama (Sasha Roiz), Zoe Graystone (who has several lively incarnations courtesy of Alessandra Torresani) and Tamara Adama (Genevieve Buechner), the avatar of a dead girl, all get precious little to do in the first two episodes of the fall season. The most interesting place 'Caprica' visited last spring is a game within the show's virtual universe called New Cap City, and there is reason to hope that we will return there soon.

Let's hope so, because there's an unfortunate contrast to New Cap City's effective noir tone in Tuesday's episode, when religious zealot Clarice Willow (Polly Walker) heads to a colony called Gemenon. That planet, it emerges, is home of some of the most unfortunate, ersatz 'Lord of the Rings' costumes of all time. The last thing this show needed were more new characters, especially ones wearing sparkly robes.

'Caprica' has always had some thoughtful ideas about identity and memory, and its cast is generally quite strong, all of which make the show's shortcomings more frustrating. 'Caprica' needs to consistently assemble its building blocks into a coherent and compelling narrative if it is to retain the attention of discerning TV fans, the kind were devoted to 'Battlestar' and devour smart fare on networks like AMC, FX, HBO and Showtime.

Perhaps 'Caprica' should scale back the ambition, prune the character roster and focus on something that a century of speculative fiction has taught us: Robots fighting are always cool.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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"Perhaps 'Caprica' should scale back the ambition, prune the character roster and focus on something that a century of speculative fiction has taught us: Robots fighting are always cool."

Are you a child or something? You're brain is just too tiny to grasp a griping and compelling story line. Go watch a terminator movie if that's the way you feel...

November 27 2010 at 1:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

i will not go into praising this show, although i believe it deserves every bit it can get. i just want to point out and explain it's fundamental flaw:

what i feel happened here is that the producers of caprica made a huge mistake in labeling caprica as a "prequel" to BSG. in an attempt to ride the tide of glory that BSG managed to leave behind and establish an early and broad fan base, they just sealed the fate of the show before it ever got to the second season.

why? because the core attraction of BSG was action packed cylon ass kicking, easily relatable heroes and generally nothing too deep or dark to scare off your average entertainment addict. i don't mean it in a bad way though, because BSG used this simple formula to perfection it seems.
Though i was never a fan of this particullar show for exactly those reasons.

What they should have done with caprica was to name it something else and base it in a totally new universe. because as they tried to create the culture that eventually spawned the cylon wars, their creativity and attention to detail overshadowed and surpassed the vague guidelines that BSG had established of it's past.

Caprica ended up to be designed as a stand alone show (and a damn good one). The general tendency of viewers is to compare it to BSG because of the hasty mistake of the producers. this is why it does not stand a chance in the eyes of the target audience it wasn't really made for.

This built in design flaw, coupled with their badly scheduled air dates became a fixed noose the show couldn't help but grow into.

Time will prove that this is one of the best shows tv had to offer this decade.

November 02 2010 at 10:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The story that may be interesting to me, and that has anything to do with BSG, is why and how the Cylons become sentient (Zoetar, Tamara), why and how the Humans exploited them (Graystone, Tauron Mobfather, Clarice), and then how the Cylons came to Rebel leading to the first war. Stick to that and there's a story I want to see - including how Zoetar, Graystone, Tamara, Joe Adama and Clarice have roles in that story unfolding.

But get rid of the Pyramid Club Team, the Power Struggle for Graystone's Company, Terrorist Infighting with the Church, Tauran Mob initiation and tests, the Wife of Graystone at all, the "One True G*d" or "be a true Tauran" or "prove you're a loyal STO" speeches, and the Driving or Standing around Smoking filler.

The New Cap City fights can stay as filler, because at least they look cool. :D

October 07 2010 at 10:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I defended the show's slower, talkier episodes throughout last season, but the 1.5 premiere felt smugly self-indulgent and managed to kill all the momentum built up in the two previous hours. It's hard to say whether this or the SGU premiere was more annoying.

New Cap City is a necessity, since there's no other opportunity to insert any real action, especially SFX-based, into this drama. Otherwise, the most you can hope for is Father Burt Reynolds getting Ides of March-ed by the entire Senate or a virtual terrorist bombing.

Rather than LotR, the Gemenon robes reminded me immediately of the three wise men in my family's Nativity creche from my childhood. I assumed that was the vibe they were going for. Though I had to laugh at the armed guard wearing the black BMX mask.

October 07 2010 at 8:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Ryan's comment

"Father Burt Reynolds getting Ides-of-Marched" is a wonderful turn of phrase! Thanks.

October 07 2010 at 10:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I just finished watching the first episode and actually I really liked it. I went into it expecting it to be terrible and was actually surprised how much I liked it.

I thought the intro to the episode was pretty shocking. Clarice's "great vision" for the "true believers" is frightening, especially considering our current political climate and the parallels to religious extremists in the real world. Also, she planted the seed of a concept so important in BSG---eternal life for believers in the one true god.

They managed to address my concern about Joseph Adama's character. Before I felt like he was very whiny, particularly in his search for Tamara. Now that he has a chance to move up in rank within this mafia-like organization we get to see a darker side of his character, which is much more interesting.

I also thought saving Zoe until the end up the episode worked nicely. She was badass before, but seeing how she is able to manipulate players within the V world is very cool. I am looking forward to her meeting up with Tamara.

The only parts I felt were off were the scenes with Daniel. We were led to believe he was a mess because he was mourning the loss of Amanda, only to find that she is very much alive. Why is she in hiding? Why is Daniel pretending she is dead?

I also thought the scene with Lacy was unnecessary considering how brief it was. I am still very interested in her story, particularly how it plays out when Clarice returns with the news that she now has control over all the STO cells.

As for the scenes on Gemenon, yeah, the robes were a little hokey. Hopefully not everyone on Gemenon dresses that way, maybe just the religious people? Because it doesn't make sense that Capricans dress like you and me, but the Gemenons dress like sci fi convention goers. No offense.

Overall, I was happy with this episode and really hope Syfy renews the series.

October 06 2010 at 9:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Craig Ranapia

OK, Mo, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the things that bug me about 'Caprica' so far (and they're there) are a damn sight less annoying that a lot about the first season of BSG: Neither of the Sharon-centric plots were that engaging, ditto for Lee's Daddy issues and it wasn't until very late in the season they got Baltar tonally right.

October 06 2010 at 12:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Caprica may have its flaws, but it's still a billion lightyears better than SG:Universe. I'm glad they managed to pull forward the second half of the season and I'm looking forward to watching it. After the first episode I knew who the characters were and wanted to know more about them. Unlike SG:U, where I had no clue who anyone was and, frankly, didn't give a rats about them.

I want to know what happens to Amanda and Cylon:Zoe. I wish Destiny had been fried by the pulsar.

October 05 2010 at 3:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"New Cap City" is when the show started to lose me. I didn't sign up to watch a video game. I want to see the real people in their real lives. It seems to me like they went to all the trouble of creating Caprica, then decided it was too boring, so they built a video game world to play in, instead.

October 04 2010 at 9:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Doing a prequel to one of the best-written shows on television is always going to be a tricky idea. My problem with Caprica is that none of the characters are interesting or charismatic enough. Maybe it's because I'm always comparing this show to BSG... even though I'm not trying to.

This show, IMHO, is unlikable. Sure, it's dark... but BSG was also. The difference here, is that the writers had a vision of what they wanted the plot(s) and characters to be like... and it doesn't seem appealing to me. At all.

You would have to write an unbelievably interesting lead-up to the eventual destruction of the colonies, and the writers aren't doing that. We know that the iceberg is coming, so what happens on the Titanic before then?

In order to pull this off, they would have to have written a BETTER story than BSG ever was, but I think the show is basically riding on BSG's coattails and is about to be shown the door.

Having said all this, I think that Edward James Olmo's additional plans for more BSG-era material is also a bad idea.

October 04 2010 at 7:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks, Mo. This is the first article I've seen from someone who's viewed the new material. Despite your reservations, I'm still hoping for an interesting continuation. I'm fascinated by the "no heroes" concept in Caprica. I don't need to like the characters, only for the story to be good. So far, I've enjoyed it; I knew from the start it would be nothing like BSG, but then it couldn't be: this is how it all started, so the robots have to be conceptualized and built built before they can start fighting! When I first saw the LOTR-type Gemenon set, I, too, was a little worried. I'd like to explore the other worlds before I judge them, though.

October 04 2010 at 6:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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