With science fiction eradicated from network TV with almost Cylon-like efficiency, this dark re-imagining of a 1970s also-ran should be a major boon to the Sci Fi Channel. Niftily picking up where the 2003 miniseries left off, the new franchise provides solid storytelling, and Universal gave it a smart push-start by repeating the mini on flagship net NBC to help launch the series. All told, franchise looks poised to beam up enough viewers to stay in orbit so long as provisions (that is, budgetary pressures) hold out.
Those who don’t frequent Internet chat rooms have missed much of the off-screen drama surrounding “Galactica’s” voyage, with plenty of overheated bleating from fans of the original that has gone a long way toward giving sci-fi nerds a bad name. Fortunately, producers of the new show have mostly tuned out the static and stuck to their guns, crafting a very adult series whose principle shortcoming is being almost unrelentingly grim — though not inappropriately so, given the subject matter.
In essence the Cylons, a robot race created by man, destroyed the world and much of humanity, leaving a ragtag fleet of survivors to drift through space in pursuit of a mythical planet called Earth. Keeping them alive falls under the stewardship of Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) and the reluctant, cancer-ridden president (Mary McDonnell), appointed after the Cylons retired the rest of the cabinet with extreme prejudice.
Of four episodes previewed, the crackerjack first hour is easily the strongest. In a tense game of cat and mouse, the fleet must go days without sleep as the Cylons chase them across the galaxy, forcing Adama’s crew to engineer a hyperjump to a new location every 33 minutes.
Granted, with its dour tone, the new “Galactica” at times feels inspired more by an Ibsen play than Glen A. Larson’s “Star Wars” knockoff of the late ’70s. The current incarnation also features a paranoid twist culled from Cold War science fiction, as Cylons can adopt human form (one happens to look like Tricia Helfer, a former Victoria’s Secret model) and thus infiltrate their ranks.
The producers have thrown a bone to die-hard fans by casting Richard Hatch — Apollo in the earlier version, who has spent years lobbying to revive the franchise — in the third episode. Hatch plays a political prisoner who leads a rebellion against the fleet, which is doubtless a small inside joke.
The stunt should provide online agitators plenty more about which to babble, but in terms of top-notch sci-fi fare on a budget, this impressive new vessel flies well beyond its predecessor. As for whether the creative liberties taken will alienate that vital core audience, honestly, when push comes to shove, what else is a “Galactica” geek going to do on a Friday night?