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BATTLESTAR GALACTICA & 24: A COMPARISON

I’ve just started reading Cylons In America: Critical Studies In Battlestar Galactica. The
book promises to explore how BSG comments on terrorism, torture, religious fanaticism, politics, the post 9/11 zeitgeist, nuclear detonations, and other tasty treats.

Sound like another TV show we all love?



Like cybertoothtiger, I am a BSG fan, even though I am not suffiently obsessed to start producing BSG fan fiction. I have cynically recommended BSG to my 24-deprived friends, as a sort of 24 in Space minus the real-time format. To be fair, BSG is strong enough to be appreciated on it’s own merits.

Of the two shows, BSG is arguably the more realistic, and that’s with the robots and spaceships. Still, 24 has received far more attention and critisism due to the fact that it airs on a major network and parallels our own world too closely for comfort. 24 also provide us with a central protagonist and an array of supporting characters whereas BSG is more strictly an ensemble show. This gives the fans and critics of 24 an easy target to both love and vilify.

The baddies of 24 are easily recognizable: terrorist from unnamed Middle Eastern nations and a certain corrupt Republican president. The terrorist of BSG are robots built by humans. We are not given a clear date for BSG, although we know now that it must have been after Jemi Hendrix penned “All Along The Watchtower.” 24 happens is some sort of vaguely defined near future or parallel universe.

The 24 PTB have insisted that their creation didn’t start out as a response to 9/11 but became that after the First Season. The producers of BSG retrofitted the 1970’s original to reflect the current political climate.

Both shows enjoy high production values with an impressive standard of writing, acting, direction, photography, sound editing, special effects and music. (Yes, I’m one of those geeks who notices things like sound editing and lighting.) They have both been described as ‘cinematic’ in their quality, and with good reason.

Both shows strive to provide us with complex, believable characters and usually do an excellent job with casting. Certain archetypes exist in both shows:

The Benevolent Military or Quasi-Military Leader: Commander William Adama and Bill Buchanan. Both are fundamentally decent people who are often compelled to do morally questionable things. Adama orders the assassination of another Battlestar commander, Bill delivers Jack to a known terrorist.

The Charismatic President: Laura Roslin and David Palmer. Like the military leader but from a civilian perspective. Both must weigh the ideals of their Constitution against current reality: David detains a journalist and sanctions the torture of a staff member, Laura outlaws abortion. Both are not long for their worlds, David is dead and Laura soon will be. (She has an aggressive form of cancer)

The Weak President; Giaus Balter and Charles Logan. Wishy-washy and driven by the instinct for self-preservation. The sort of villain we all love to hate. Baltar and Logan are both disgraced former leaders. Having been removed from office due to their crimes, they now use religion as a tool to re-invent themselves.

The Geeky Tech: Felix Geata and Chloe O’Brian. Physically unimposing and socially a bit isolated, the techs stays at the controls. The understand machines more than people, and have far more power than they are letting on. Of the two, poor Felix has the disadvantage: Galactica’s computers are delibretly undeveloped because Cylons can hack into networks. He’s also now missing a leg.

The Rouge Agent: Kara “Starbuck” Thrace and Jack Bauer. I’m going to go on about these two for a bit, so bear with me.

Jack and Starbuck are soul mates and share many admirable qualities. Both are capable of doing aspects of the other’s job: Starbuck has tortured a Cylon terrorist, Jack has never met an aircraft he couldn’t pilot. Both are physically very attractive (albeit in unconventional ways), charismatic, strong, tough, courageous, resourceful, sensitive, intelligent, and exceedingly competent at a dizzying variety of tasks. They are willing to sacrifice anything, including their own lives, for the greater good. They have both re-appeared after being declared dead.

Jack and Starbuck are also both horribly frakked up. They are both driven to substance abuse: Starbuck smokes and drinks excessively, Jack has developed a herion addiction. They have both more-than-occasionally ignored the rules of their respective superiors. They both come from stunningly dysfunctional families and cannot maintain a healthy relationship with any of their various lovers. They are both essentially tragic figures as their self-destructive tendencies are a huge part of who they are.

Both BSG and 24 require this type of character to move their respective narratives forward. This suggest that one person working alone can be more effective than the collaborative efforts of a cumbersome military or civilian beauacracy. Jack and Starbuck show us that it is the ‘doers’ of any organization, the people who choose actions over words are often the ones who pay the highest personal cost. In war it is the foot solders who suffer the most.

BSG and 24 both have their flaws: 24 has suffered from some ridiculous plotlines and often ignores the limitation of human physiology. BSG can be a little obvious in its political commentary. It has even earned the nickname “Battlestar Iraqtica”. Following all the characters (especially the Cylon duplicates) can be befuddling. A few characters-such as Saul Tigh-are so flawed as to be almost unlikable. To quote Adama, the last thing we need is a one-eyed drunk.

My main criticism of BSGis that it’s a little too grim. We all know how BSG will end: They find Earth, but we have been told by TBTB that it’s all not going to be sunshine and puppies. It’s been hinted that the series will end in a cruel and ironic way. It is as if the writers are afraid that allowing their characters some happiness will compromise the show’s integrity. To be sad is to be serious. I need a bit of optimism to lighten the overall grimness, a few shafts of light to penetrate the darkness.

24, is, almost perversely, the more optimistic and fanciful show. The disasters are (usually) averted and life goes on for millions of innocent Americans, although Jack and many of his compatriots are left somewhat worse for wear. In an interview found on the Day 2 Bonus Features Disk, Kiefer points out that much of the show’s tension is derived from the threat of going to war rather than being at war. There are a few mini-apocalypses, (apocalypti?) but total Armageddon is narrowly averted. The denizens of BSG aren’t so lucky.

Of the two shows, 24 is the fantasy and BSG is the serious work of science fiction.

This leads us to the inevitable question: Which show is ‘better’? I suppose I could be all non-committal and say that “They’re both good in different ways!” They are both ethically and emotionally demanding shows that require the viewer’s full attention.

I know that you, dear friends, will not let me get away with such wishy-washyness. So here goes: By all objective standards, BSGis the superior show. Its’ narrative actually makes sense and it explores current issues in a sober, intelligent way. If ‘more realistic’ equals ‘better’ then BSG comes out ahead. It also wins points for actually airing new episodes this season.

Yet 24 owns a bigger piece of my heart and has fired more of my imagination. This in itself is odd as I am usually drawn to sci-fi rather then spy dramas. I find 24 the more absorbing and dramatic program. For me personally it has much more of an emotional impact. There’s also Kiefer, who makes everything better. Or else 24 is just more inherently addictive, the way heroin is more addictive than cocaine. Or so I’ve been told. 24 allows itself to be ridiculous, yet the ridiculousness is so excellently executed. And that somehow makes the show stronger.

So there you have it. I await any of your thoughts.

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Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
cybertoothtiger
May. 27th, 2008 10:26 pm (UTC)
*hums* Have I told you lately that I love you?

Starbuck = Jack. I have never made that connection, but of course! I've been so dissatisfied with Apollo, but that's because he's Tony! Of course. It all becomes clear now.

Gaeta's missing a leg? Oh, man. I'm only halfway through Season 3. For some inane reason they didn't release it until after Season 4 was already airing, so I didn't sign up for Space this year.

I think Laura's big morally-questionable moment was authorizing the genocide of the Cylon race, while Palmer's was the murder of Chappelle.

I was wondering about why I don't feel compelled to write fics about BSG, and I think it's that the format of the show allows canon to fill in some of the blanks more easily than 24: flashbacks, time-lags and jumps, dream sequences -- all useful devices to answer viewer's questions about the characters' backstories and motivations. With 24 only giving us one day-in-the-life every 18 months or so, there's a lot of ground to cover.

I think it's also that Jack gets to me in a way that Starbuck can't. And not just because she's a girl. I think it's that she's been frakked up from Day 1, whereas we've seen Jack struggling with trying to balance the nice normal Dad side of his personality with the sociopath torturer, and losing the normalacy because of how he's treated.

Starbuck is just a frak-up, who doesn't need to be as much as she is for most of the first two seasons. She has the support of Lee and Adama, and she keeps throwing it away. She's loyal, but not as loyal as Jack is. She likes to hurt the people she cares about as a sort of punishment for caring about her, but Jack will go to great lengths to try to avoid hurting the people he loves, even though he somehow always fails. (The curse of Heller!)

I love BSG, but I'm not as attached to the characters, although I do like Six. I think it's Six? Maybe it's Caprica? So confusing. It's more of an interesting narrative commentary on the current situation. I love that they brought back the old Apollo, cause I had a major crush on the original!
marinw
May. 27th, 2008 11:01 pm (UTC)
* Puts in Season 4 spoiler warning *

Luf you too. Sorry about the leg spoiler. I’ll just say that I would have given anything to hear Doctor Cottle say “I’m gonna need a hacksaw.” * ducks *

Tony as Apollo! Good One! Tony is so totally the final Cylon.

Good insight into the pivotal decisions Laura and David had to make.

Well, I like Jack because he’s a boy. And he’s hot. What can I say? Starbuck has tried to gain normalcy. She tries to settle down and be normal-first with Zak then with Anders, whereas Jack tries to hang on to normalcy by his bleeding figure tips. It goes back to what I said about the BSG characters being a little too dark. We like Jack because he’s just more likable and sympathtic.

Richard Hatch has held up rather well, even if his acting career hasn’t.

A friend whose a Sopranos fan says that the show never generated that much fic because the universe completed itself. But the Star Trek’s also completed their universes and they have a HUGE fandom.

It’s interesting that you like Six. I had a wee bit of a girl crush on Star Trek: Voyager’s Seven of Nine. She, too, was a hot blond cyborg. She had been partially de-Borged, which gave her all kinds of lovely angst.

Thank you for reading my little essay.
cybertoothtiger
May. 28th, 2008 02:21 am (UTC)
I like the one that lives in Gaius' mind. Whichever one that is. Six, I think. Because Caprica was the one who was tortured, wasn't she?

I also like Boomer and her variations.

The whole idea of are they human? are they not? do they even know if they are or not? is just juicy. It's biological determinism with a religious twist. They can't possibly be human if we created them...

Maybe some backstory on Zak would be good fodder for fan fic, but I'm not quite interested enough to write it.

Yeah, the hotness/boy factor definitely has something to do with why I prefer Jack!
cybertoothtiger
May. 28th, 2008 03:50 am (UTC)
Not to worry about the spoiler. I'm trying to stay unspoiled for 24 season 7, but in general I don't mind them, because I still love to see how it plays out, and I get so much more enjoyment out of watching for foreshadowing. The Crying Game was the only spoiler that really spoiled things for me.
marinw
May. 28th, 2008 10:30 am (UTC)
I'm so impatient for Day 7 I've stopped shieldung my eyes from spoilers. Although I honestly don't know what happens after the trailer.

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )