'BSG': The most political show on television

In the “Battlestar Galactica” pilot, the show shifts from a discussion regarding the line of presidential succession to tensions between military and civilian leadership. Soon, characters are grappling with questions about the chain of command, sleeper cells and the limits of military power in the midst of a security crisis.

 

That’s just the pilot.

 

By most measures, “Battlestar Galactica” is the most overtly political program since “The West Wing.”

 

For those who haven’t seen “BSG,” this might sound implausible. It’s an adventure in which humans are being hunted by cyborgs. There are explosions, sex scenes and space battles. The basis for a poli-sci lecture it isn’t.

 

And yet, no program in recent memory has covered such explicitly political ground. It features a detailed political environment — we see a president memorizing talking points and hosting press conferences — with realistic institutions and competing branches. It has explored, in depth, issues such as torture, civil liberties, separation of powers and even the line between church and state.

 

While some fictional shows will feature elections, in the second season, “BSG” offered a surprisingly detailed look at a presidential campaign with the kind of electoral strategizing few would expect from the genre. Indeed, students of politics no doubt found a lot that seemed familiar, including attempted fraud and the obligatory “There he goes again” during a debate.

 

In “BSG,” lines are often blurred. It’s a show in which morally flexible politicians deal with a never-ending stream of crises while trying to maintain security, satisfy voters, mollify the press, and hold onto power.

 

In this sense, “Battlestar Galactica” has held a mirror to our political reality. The image isn’t always appealing, but it’s often more entertaining than the real thing.

 

Steve Benen writes the Political Animal blog for the Washington Monthly. He covers politics and science fiction in his weekly podcast, “Poli-Sci-Fi Radio.”

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