DVD Review: Caprica Pilot Episode

Caprica PictureBattlestar Galactica is done, but Caprica is just beginning. Sci-Fi Channel hopes fans acknowledge that transition and stick around because one is just like the other, right? Oh, and for the fact that the channel doesn’t have much else to offer.

Caprica is set 50 years before BSG on Caprica, which in only a few decades will be obliterated by Cylon nuclear weapons. The show, apparently, will focus on political, religious and moral issues through the eyes of two families – led by Daniel Graystone, a super-rich genius who is on the verge of recreating life (read: Cylons) and an outsider with a powerful past, Joseph Adama. Similar to today’s issues, the seemingly bright and shiny civilization of Caprica is cracked with questionable ethics, corporate greed and personal ambition that, as we all know, will eventually lead to their downfall.

Whether BSG fans – myself included – stick around rests entirely on the quality of this new show, which doesn’t officially debut until 2010. However, Sci-Fi smartly – both to whet appetites and make a few million in the process – will release the pilot episode of Caprica on Tuesday, April 21, 2009.

The pilot episode both complements BSG and differs from it, and does just enough to keep me wanting more. The way the story flows, the way the show looks and the underlying moral issues that accompany the plot ring similar to BSG, and it is these qualities that should keep fans engaged, at least in the beginning.

And yet, Caprica is strange – strange enough that not all fans are going to stick around. BSG was popular not only because of its overall quality but because it succeeded in being a science fiction show without relying heavily on science fiction. People who wanted good drama and action – but not all the geeky stuff that usually accompanies sci-fi shows – were able to watch BSG, and not as a guilty pleasure. Furthermore, the show was filled with space battles and other violence.

Caprica, on the other hand, feels more futuristic and sci-fi-y, despite being a prequel. While many things don’t look that much different from today, the characters carry around computers on “pieces of paper” and are able to log into holodeck-esque worlds with little headsets. While BSG explained away the lack of technology with Adama’s reluctance to be networked to the grid, Caprica does feel a bit like the Star Wars prequels – things were much more advanced in the past.

But it’s not the gizmos that may turn some fans off. Much of the pilot episode revolves around a virtual world where Graystone discovers that his daughter – a computer genius who was murdered in a terrorist explosion by a group that accepts only one true God – has installed a “copy” of herself. In this world, his daughter exists with all her memories, characteristics and flaws – just without a body. But Graystone, who has been working on creating cyborgs, realizes that his daughter may have figured out the missing link – and that he can bring her back. However, the bigger question remains: can he bring back her soul, and even if he can, should he?

Caprica raises some very interesting questions, and it’s these questions that will drive the show going forward. And yet, dabbling with the reincarnation of one’s daughter is quite a bit different than BSG, which despite all the strange things that happened always tended to be grounded in reality (except for the fate of Starbuck, which I’m still scratching my head over). Will the average BSG fan accept this very different environment that is Caprica? I’m not sure.

As for me, I liked the pilot episode, but didn’t love it. The acting is strong, and I liked the characters. The show looks great, though the producers are going to struggle with the visual effects as it’s going to be much harder to gloss over a TV budget in daylight, versus the perpetual darkness that BSG benefited from. The train explosion could have been done better. Overall, though, the producers have done a good job of creating a show that is similar in appearance and delivery to its predecessor and yet vastly different in its core focus.

Unfortunately, the pilot episode didn’t blow me away. It sets the stage, but it’s unclear how things are going to unfold, how suspenseful things are going to be and what other characters are going to be introduced. The number of likable supporting characters is next to zero, and even the leads are hardly protagonists; Graystone is a bit crazy, and Adama works for mobsters. Whereas BSG worked in the grays as the show went along, Caprica starts out with no redeeming characters. If Caprica is just going to be a talky drama with political maneuverings and religious questions, it could get old quickly; if it ends up being a little more exciting than that – perhaps like Damages – then it has potential. The pilot episode just doesn’t answer these questions.

The Caprica pilot is worth seeing, but it is going to have to show the audience what we should expect early on to keep people around. It looks to be an interesting show, but without a genocidal war raging on in every episode, it has the potential to lose audiences quickly, especially given that it is on the Sci-Fi Channel, a place even I dared to tread only on Friday nights at 10pm.

In other words: time will tell. The pilot episode is enough to lure me along, and yet not enough to hook me.

By Erik Samdahl
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