Lauren and I watched Battlestar Galactica end-to-end over the course of the last couple of months. I thought the form was more interesting than the content.
The Form · It seems like a new thing in the world to me. That is to say a serialized drama, planned out (to some degree at least) in advance, with a central story arc which has a beginning, middle, and end, and an aggregate length measured in the dozens of hours (BSG has 75 episodes).
There are obvious precursors, on both sides of this mixed marriage, from Dickens’ serialized bestsellers to All in the Family. Of course, it’s all about storytelling — no human communication is ever not about storytelling.
But length matters a lot; and the single greatest failing of the cinematic arts has been that movies are too short. You can take a fine short story and capture its essence in a fine movie, for example James Joyce’s The Dead. But big books? More hits than misses, and the hits leave too much on the table.
Now they’re not too short any more. I look at BSG and Lost and The Wire and their ilk and they’re a good thing. But there are a lot of great books out there that resist cinematization largely for reasons of scale. Or used to. Like how about, just from the Twentieth Century, Seth’s A Suitable Boy, or the Gibson “Sprawl” series, or Updike’s “Rabbit” books?
Directors have always struggled against the shackles of time. One of the nice things about BSG was that they could take scenes that needed to be played slow, and play them slow, whether or not they were critical to the story’s progress. I look forward to those particular frontiers getting pushed way back.
The Critical Apparatus · People have always loved not just stories, but meta-stories; writing about writing. And here I am, writing about writing about writing: for example, Lostpedia and Battlestar Wiki and so on. What a concept: living lit crit.
They could have tried way harder on consistency and continuity.
The female actors were so much stronger than the males.
The finale totally should have stopped with Adama on the hillside.
Now I want better music in all my TV shows.
Those of us in Vancouver enjoyed it more than the rest of you, because all those planets are just places round town here.
I already said this, but I admired that they had the courage to go slow, now and again.
Also admirable; some of the leads weren’t pretty people.
How-To · We got sucked into Lost, and detoured through BSG while waiting for the Season Five DVDs. Which reinforces the lesson that there’s really no good reason to watch TV on TV. Wait for the damn series to be over already and then consume it at your pace. Just like you would a big book.