Caprica – season one, part one

The first thing I have to say about Caprica is that is that it isn’t Battlestar Galactica. A spin-off, it may wish to call itself, or a prequel, and neither of those descriptions are wrong exactly, but they really do give the wrong impression about Ronald D. Moore’s newest sci-fi venture. It takes us back to the eponymous planet of Caprica, some half a century before it got all nuked up (at the start of Battlestar Galactica). There, it purports to show how the Cylons came into being, as well as taking us a step back along the Adama family line.

After a terrorist bomb kills his daughter, computer and robotics genius – and the Caprican version of Steve Jobs – Daniel Greystone (Eric Stoltz), and his wife Amanda (Paula Malcolmson) try to deal with the grief and move on with their lives. This is hampered by a digital ‘avatar’ left behind, near identical to the dead Zoe (Alessandra Torresani), and which represents both the first successful AI, and the missing link to Daniel’s project to build robotic soldiers.

Meanwhile, Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) tries to deal with his own grief after his own daughter and wife were killed in the same bombing. He navigates the quagmire of single-parenthood, whilst dealing with his own roots in the essentially Tauron mob. It sounds complicated, but actually I found it worked really well. The two parallel stories of the Greystones and Adamas mix well, without devolving into simply one’s a multi-millionaire and the other’s a salt-of-the-earth lawyer. And, following in BSG’s footsteps, the supporting characters have their moments just as much as the leads.

Unlike BSG this isn’t a military sci-fi, or a sociological study of humanity as a whole. It retains the slightly confusing religious and mythological aspects, but it feels more like an emotional examination of a few people in the wake of a tragedy. But one of the biggest weaknesses, I felt, was in the catalytic event itself. No concrete reason is ever provided for the bombing, and we’re left pretty much to assume that it’s because they’re religious. Which is blunt, lazy, and ultimately unsatisfying as a motivation for a whole TV series – especially as it then devotes a fair amount of airtime to convincing us that the monotheists aren’t actually evil. I really expect more from Moore, after seeing what he can achieve.

Another problem is that it’s a prequel. It’s no mystery how it’s going to end, it’s no mystery what becomes of Daniel’s Cylon project – at least, it isn’t if you either a) watched BSG, or b) have any idea what its premise is. So I’m left wondering if I should see this as only an interesting look at how we got to BSG – something I suspect won’t be of much interest to non-fans. Except that underplays it. It’s a solid drama even if you haven’t seen/ didn’t like its parent programme, and for those who did it fleshes out the world a lot more. It turns the oft-reference old colonies into real places. And most of the time Caprica City seems like New York as designed by Apple.

As the beginning of a new heavyweight sci-fi series its first steps are a bit lurching and teetering, but it uses what it was provided with well. The religious aspect that was so often the central (and some would say overused) point of BSG manages to take a more interesting slant here (incongruous terrorism not withstanding), and it seems confident in itself to introduce some fairly cool ideas. Most notably, the Matrix-style crime-noir virtual reality world left me with a boyish smile on my face.

Since the announcement has already been made that the series has been cancelled after the next half of the season, it seems a bit pointless to be saying this but I do think there’s a lot of potential here. Much of it remains unfulfilled and untapped, but there is every possibility here of something as groundbreaking as (love it or hate it) BSG was. My hope is that the next half of the series will precede and conclude in the same vein as the end of this half.