Caprica was canceled this week leaving some fans to scream ‘Why?!’, and some non-fans to chortle ‘it’s about time,’and probably quite a few casual TV watchers to ask ‘What the heck is Caprica?’considering the fact it’s bottom of the barrel ratings were the number one reason for it’s cancellation – or were they? The Battlestar Galactica spin-off succumbed ultimately to indifference, posting some of the lowest ratings ever in the history of Syfy (and even SciFi) Channel’s original programming efforts. It’s last airing didn’t even break three-quarter of a million viewers. How in the world could Caprica have failed in the wake of the Peabody Award winning Battlestar Galactica? Join our TwoGuys team, Jon Lachonis and Mark O. Estes, as we suss out where Caprica went wrong.
Full Disclosure Time
Jon: Okay, first up how about some full disclosure of our individual levels of BSG fandom: I loved the original, really liked the remake – but found it flawed at times – and really wasn’t in love with Caprica from the beginning, but I watch anything that Eric Stoltz is involved in.
Mark: I came into BSG when the remake first premiered, but fell off during the show’s second season. I jumped in and out until the finale season where I made it must see TV and was blown away by the finale, but left with a great big ‘huh?’as I tried to piece together the pieces and the epilogue. You know? Like Lost fans are still doing with ‘The End.’
Jon: Honestly, I think what hurt Caprica the most was that initially it seemed very far removed from Battlestar. Sure you had the Cylons, but it seemed so far away from the Cylon revolution. The idea of the virtual world was kind of boring to me, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Ron Moore was stuck on his failed Virtuality concept at the time. As someone who really loved Battlestar Galactica, it just didn’t seem familiar. And Caprica was way too much like Earth. Stock exchanges, cell phones, websites (even called websites) – it wasn’t the alien-yet-human culture experience I was hoping for.
Mark: I think that was the point of Caprica, though, Jon. By giving us a glimpse of the life the survivors of the Thirteen Colonies lost, Caprica had to be different from BSG, and by being different, it had to be sort of ‘alien’to the status quo. BSG was all about doom and gloom with a glimmer of hope, while Caprica had more hope laid into it than doom and gloom. I would say that while I loved Caprica as a show, the BSG prequel moniker could have probably been the problem for the show from the beginning. There were too many answers not given in the BSG finale and I guess some fans felt that Caprica would be the source for some clarity in the meaning behind it all.
Story, Style, or Both?
Jon: I hate to sound like a broken record but Caprica did very little heavy lifting when it came to world building. There was definitely an effort to create a social climate, but it was sort of tossed together with stereotypes and concepts of our own history so it never felt new: corporate marauders, mobsters, caste systems, religious nuts. It was a pretty mundane group of characters considering they were supposed to have evolved thousands of years before us in another solar system.
In terms of story, I was as disenchanted by Ron Moore and company’s assertions on spirit and identity as I was by their work in this area on Battlestar Galactica. BSG was at its best when it was leaving the subtext of those issues to the imagination, I think it’s a big risk when the writer(s) of a television show try to explain things like the substance of identity, or spirit. This kind of pulpit work in fiction tends to offend people with a doctrine. I found it ridiculous, for instance, that you could create a model of my personality by combining my Linkedin, Myspace, and Facebook profiles. I give them high marks for having the guts to venture into this sort of territory, but they wound up exposing why it’s so hard to do to begin with.
Mark: I, too, could have done without the mob, the caste system, and the whole racial element in the show. I think the concept of religion dictated the overall story, something that I have heard fans of both shows gripe about ad nauseum, because there were times where you didn’t know who to root for. Also, by the popular belief in our culture of only one true God, it might be hard for some people to grasp the concept of siding with a polytheist protagonist, but viewers might’ve been equally horrified to side with terrorists who attack under the name of God. Religion became a forerunner on the show, if not a character in itself, which in other sci-fi shows and novels it has been an underlying theme, never coming to the forefront.
As far as story, the writers wobbled back and forth in the first half of the season with trying to build this world and make it relatable to viewers, but the story didn’t get coherent until the latter half of the season, which was a tad bit too late it seems.
A Cast To Die For? (Literally!)
Jon: In my mind Caprica‘s strongest point was the cast. The dialogue for this show looks ridiculous on paper, but these actors managed to make it sound good. I’ve already disqualified my impartiality here, but I can’t imagine anyone who would have done a better job as Daniel Graystone than Eric Stoltz. Keeping in mind any scifi is usual absurdest fantasy, I thought the cast did a great job of making the drama believable.
Mark: I agree, Jon. Eric Stoltz owned that role by easily switching from cocky businessman to tortured soul to mad scientist without breaking a sweat. Paula Malcomson did the best she could do with Amanda Graystone, the woman on the verge at any given second. It has been said that the women of Caprica carried the dramatic aspect of the show, and I tend to agree with that sentiment, but Eric Stoltz dominated his role, making him the J.R. Ewing and Blake Carrington of science fiction space operas, IMHO.
The recent episode that aired this week, ‘False Labor’, also showed us just how great Sasha Roiz was as Sam Adama, the mob muscle brother of Joseph Adama. We finally saw some depth in him other than the one who would lead little Willie Adama down a bad path. He actually had some layers, that we won’t get a chance to get in depth with due to the cancellation. Dare I say that the show found it’s mark tad bit too late? Maybe.
Baby, Give Me One More Chance?
Jon: I really believe Syfy made a serious mistake by cancelling Caprica, and I think the show deserves at least a mini-series to wrap it all up. What Syfy wound up doing is leaving a significant chunk of mythology in an uber popular franchise incomplete. If there was ever a case for granting a controlled crash to a series, it’s Caprica. I foresee some animosity towards the new spinoff, Blood and Chrome, by burnt Caprica fans.
Mark: Cosigning, because if there is one thing I hate is when a show within a franchise is cancelled without a proper sendoff. While the remaining five episodes will air next year sometime, I doubt they will give a satisfying end to the story of Caprica and it’s denizens. As for Blood and Chrome, I am eager to see what is done with it, but wonder if it is what SyFy wants and if fans of the previous shows will embrace it without Ronald D. Moore behind the scenes. This might make a lot of fans fear that B&C is a cash-in project and not something of value or substance. Then again, most prequels are.
Bottom Line: Why Did It Fail?
Jon: Sometimes babies really are ugly. Caprica was just a bad show. I used to stress ‘in my opinion’when I said that, but when something flops this bad I think you’ve earned the right to claim it’s true. I don’t begrudge anybody who loved it – those ugly babies have every right to be loved as much as the pretty ones – but it was just the wrong approach to the material. Had they stuck to the spacefaring themes and remained true to the known canon – that Cylons were once the equivalent of smart toasters that ‘evolved’- then it would have gone much better than this lukewarm bowl of pathos soup.
Frankly I found the Cylon spiritual message to be more interesting when it was spontaneous – remember when monotheism was a concept only a machine could love? How come no one seems to remember that monotheism was the doctrine of a terrorist religious movement by the time we get to the ragtag fleet? You’d think when Baltar started preaching monotheism someone would have associated his teachings with the STO. These sorts of inconsistencies reminded me too much of the God’s Will mumbo jumbo from the BSG finale – which in my opinion was nothing but a cop-out in place of good storytelling. I was really looking for the ancient Cylons from Earth that really did invent ‘downloading,’but alas this was not meant to be so we had to settle for a cut up of the mythology that didn’t mate with future events. Of course, for all we know Ron Moore and Company had a brilliant means of tying it up in the future.
Mark: HA! Your babies analogy is funny and I feel slightly bad for laughing. I stress ‘slightly’. But you bring up a good point, Jon, that I am guilty of forgetting. Adama should’ve raised cain once Baltar started preaching monotheistic teachings since his mother and sister were killed by people who believed in one God. Then again, maybe the theory floating around the web of the Willie Adama we saw in Caprica was not the William Adama we see later in Battlestar Galactica could factor into why BSG Adama wouldn’t have blinked an eye about Baltar’s sermons.
As for the failure of the show, I blame three factors: 1) it’s new time slot; 2) SyFy’s previous plans to air the show next year, then unexpectedly throwing it on the fall 2010 schedule at the last minute; and 3) the religious aspect becoming the dominating feature on the show. These three factors turned viewers off, plus the disenchantment of the BSG finale probably turned people off way before ratings and story became of a factor in Caprica‘s downfall. Who knows? Maybe Blood and Chrome will satisfy everyone this time around?