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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

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Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

Caprica Caprica (***) by Remi Aubuchon and Ronald D. Moore
Caprica, a prequel to Battlestar Galactica set more than fifty years before the age of the Battlestars, is an odd mix of serious drama and special effects. Like many television sf series (remember the Doctor on Star Trek Voyager?) it asks the question, can virtual reality creations come alive? I think this is about as likely as the scarecrow and tin woodman coming alive, but it is fair game for sf -- if only it hadn't been done so often.

The biggest problem I had with Caprica is that, like Battlestar, it is filmed on Earth in the present day. We see Black guys hanging out in front of barbershops and streets with parking meters. But the Earth we live on has advanced in the years since the Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica first aired. This means that Caprica, fifty years in the past, looks more modern than Battlestar. To give just one example, telephones in Battlestar have spiral cords; in Caprica they have cell phones.

Since Caprica is for all practical purposes set on Earth, the rare Battlestar jargon: fracking, Pyramid, and so on, is jarring. The advanced technology (paper computers, cute little bowling-pin shaped robots that scoot around on their bottoms) sit uneasily beside automobiles and suits with ties. It is hard to imagine a level of technology that would make robots like the bowling-pin guys and also make big metal robots with servo-motors like the Cylons.

Nothing is gained by calling religious terrorists and the Mafia by alien names, they are just like present day religious terrorists and Mafia. There is no serious science fiction thought here. We have the sf element of virtual reality and robots, and the mundane story of terrorists and Mafia, and there is no attempt to reconcile the two.

As with Battlestar Galactica, the character drama is interesting. And toward the end, there are a few nice moments that connect up to later events. But this doesn't really work as science fiction, and I wonder why Ron Moore isn't writing straight drama.

Caprica is currently only out on DVD. It will come to television in 2010, as the pilot of a new series.

Dollhouse Dollhouse (****) by Joss Whedon
The DVD of Dollhouse contains two episodes that were never shown on television, both on disk three, "Echo" and "Epitaph One." Both include a few scenes that were aired in other episodes.

In contrast with Caprica and almost all other sf on tv, Dollhouse contains what I think is an original sf idea -- what if the technology existed to write your entire persona onto another person, in effect creating many copies of yourself and allowing you to survive your own death?

"Echo" is the series pilot. It explains what is going on in the Dollhouse. Test audiences found it confusing, so more conventional stories aired first -- stories in which Echo is essentially a secret agent with imprintable skills. The unaired pilot is one of the best episodes. The fact that the suits killed it points up a problem that people intelligent enough to read science fiction (maybe I should just say people intelligent enough to read) have with the mass media -- the idiot factor. To be really popular, a television show has got to appeal to idiots. That doesn't mean it can't appeal to intelligent people as well -- it just can't be too intelligent, and must have enough sex and violence to keep the couch potatoes from reaching for the remote.

"Epitaph One" is even more challenging than "Echo." Set years in the future, when the Dollhouse technology has gotten out of the box, it shows an Earth upon which society has fallen apart. It is nice to see real science fiction thinking -- the kind you expect in written sf -- exploring the impact of new technology on society.

Because Joss Whedon is the creator of Buffy, which started slow and became a big hit, Dollhouse has been given the OK for 13 more episodes, beginning September 25. "Epitaph One" is going to make Season Two very hard to write, but I think the stable of first rate writers, including, in addition to Whedon himself, Jane Espenson (who wrote for Deep Space Nine, Buffy, Firefly, and Battlestar), and Tim Minear (who wrote for The X-Files, Angel, and Firefly), is up to the task.

FlashForward, a new series, sf set on earth in the present day, starts September 24, the day before Dollhouse. Everyone on Earth has a glimpse of their lives six months in the future, and it doesn't look good. The ads for this series did not grab my interest. First, I think most people, knowing what their lives will be like six months from now, wouldn't change a thing, except for not buying a ticket on the Titanic or touring the World Trade Center on 9/11. There will be a tiny number of people looking at the stock market report during their brief glimpse of the future, and even more people who claim to have done so, but aside from that, not much change. Obviously, all gambling casinos will close down that day, and no sports events will be held.

Then, I got an e-mail from Robert J. Sawyer, who wrote the 2000 book on which FlashForward is based. He'll be writing one of the first season episodes. I enjoyed his novel Hominids, so I'll at least watch the series premiere, and let you know what I think in my October column.

Copyright © 2009 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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