This Friday brings the first episode of Battlestar Galactica spinoff Caprica, a noir-scifi drama set on the planet Caprica 58 years before the cylons nuke it into oblivion. Based on the pilot, we think this series could become a classic.
Of course there are many reasons Caprica might fail, not the least of which would be poor audience ratings. Many fans of BSG are still smarting from that series' disappointing conclusion, and are predicting that Caprica might take an abrupt nosedive into lameness. But the current facts are these: Caprica is a completely different series, and based on what we've seen so far, it is the coolest new SF show on the air. Here are five reasons why.
1. Intriguing, thoughtful worldbuilding
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the worldbuilding that went into creating Caprica City and the culture of Caprica is simply superb. We're introduced to a culture where paganism is mainstream and sexual mores are extremely liberal, but immigrants still suffer discrimination and monotheists are outcasts. Unlike most SF shows, where worldbuilding is often something like "everything is the same except the technology is better," Caprica challenges us to imagine a society radically different from our own. Also, the concept design of the city - which was shown off to great effect in the broadcast version of the pilot - is breathtaking. The futuristic technology isn't bad either.
2. A "birth of AI" story that feels original
A lot of contemporary science fiction, from the Terminator franchise to Star Trek: The Next Generation, deals with what happens when we finally create AI. Will it rise up and destroy us ala Skynet or will it nerdily attempt to fit into human society ala Data? We've seen dozens of vengeful bots and dorky AIs, but a virtual religious zealot computer genius teen trapped inside the body of a killing machine made by her manipulative zillionaire father? Not only is the premise fresh, but so are a lot of the emotional and ethical issues it stirs up.
3. The Adama family
Rarely has a family unit in science fiction been as interesting as the Adamas seem to be in Caprica. Trapped between two cultures, straddling the line between criminality and respectability, Joseph Adama is a character who has problems I want to know more about. Plus his brother Sam, a smalltime gangster with a heart of gold, is another guy I want to know better. I'm sold on the idea of gangsters on another planet.
4. Excellent acting
With Essai Morales and Eric Stolz as our leads Joseph Adama and Daniel Graystone, it goes without saying that the acting in this show is going to rock. (There was also a lot of terrific acting in BSG, so Caprica maintains the quality of this aspect of the franchise.) Sasha Roiz as Sam Adama is already terrific, as is Magda Apanowicz as Zoe Graystone's friend Lacy. Alessandra Torresani is probably the weakest link as Zoe - she's a little one-note - but she could improve over time. Given that this show hinges on personal drama as well as epic SF storytelling, it's crucial that the leads be able to show us subtle emotion and conflict - and damn, they are delivering. In the pilot, Stolz does a perfect job embodying a guy who is incredibly manipulative while also being sincere.
5. Drama that depends on science fictional plot points, but isn't completely focused on them
I already suggested that drama is one of this show's strong points. One of the ways Caprica has already become a standout this season is that it manages to give us human drama of the sort we might expect on The Wire, while also never losing sight of the fact that its plot arc is centered on something basically science fictional. This is a series about how two new technologies - the holoband and the cylon - come together to create artificial life. And much of the human drama hinges on these technologies as well. In other words, this is fiction fueled by drama and science, which is a rare and awesome thing.
Who knows where the show will wind up, but for these reasons alone I think it's worth tuning in Friday for the first episode.