So Say We All: 2.0

I know it's only been a week since I talked about "Battlestar Galactica," but in that time I watched Season 2.0, the DVD set of the first half of the show's second season (the rest of it won't be out on DVD until the fall, which is an unholy and criminal thing for Universal to do, but whatever). And I'm stunned at how good it is.Some genre background: I admit to liking "Star Trek: The Next Generation" when I was a boy, and looking back, it makes perfect sense. That show was made for boys: Effects-driven, flat characters, and a stunning lack of arc, drama, tension, direction, themes, and pretty much everything good you can ask from a TV show. It was like an interstellar version of a police procedural in its relentless sameness: Watching the pilot episode and watching one from four years later is almost the same experience. It's a shame that the show is one of the first things that springs to mind when people think of sci-fi, because in a way, it's one of the poorest examples of the genre. It's like a war film that focuses on explosions and bad characters instead of the nuanced lives of the troops. But I loved that stuff as a kid: The whiz-bang action, the fact that none of the main characters was ever for one moment in any kind of real peril, the fact that it was not only unnecessary but impossible to imagine the life experiences or emotions of the characters to have any impact on their present actions. The show was undone by its timidity in approaching its premise: It meekly went where no one really cared to go. But when I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man (or at least a much older male), I put childish ways behind me. "Battlestar Galactica" (again, any and all references are to the new version unless otherwise noted; as far as I'm concerned, the original show never happened) is a gut-wrenching, adult drama with a political, spiritual, and emotional resonance too rarely seen on TV. The show packed more drama, tension, and heartbreak into the first 10 episodes of its second season than a lot of other shows do all year, or ever. A plot line that sends the fleet spiraling into possible civil war could have rightly taken up an entire season, but this show moves faster than that, and by the season's midpoint, the ragtag fleet of humans who survived the massive alien attack that began the series has been restored, only to face greater challenges. The second season of "Battlestar Galatica" was, impossibly, even better than the first. There's a track record of truly great second seasons, and this one's up there. It heightens the drama, pushes the characters to new heights and depths, and amps up the pain big time. I'll admit, I even got a little choked up a few times. It's one of the best shows on TV right now, hands down. More than once, I thought, "Now this is what 'Lost' should be like." After all, "Lost" is a genre show, too, just heavier on mystery and woefully lighter on character. But whereas the entire point of "Lost" is to watch more "Lost" (the show is like "Twin Peaks" in that way), "Battlestar Galactica" is rewarding for its growth, change, and progress. Granted, the show's dialogue is nothing stellar. It lacks the punch or inherent wit that are hallmarks of other great modern showrunners. But neither is the dialogue useless exposition focused on worthless technical jargon that sacrifices character for the sake of gee-whiz technology. It always serves to enhance and grow the characters. In one of the best signs of a good TV drama, the characters show marked change over time. People aren't the same as the were in the pilot episode, and that's a good thing. For a futuristic show, it's also amazingly grounded in reality. The phones on the ship are wall-mounted and rely and cords; high-tech radar exists, but none of the impossible "on-screen" tech on "Next Generation"; the ships have a gritty, lived-in feel, pioneered by Ridley Scott almost 30 years ago and beautifully continued to this day; but best of all, nothing comes too easy. That's the thing that bugs me most about "Next Generation." Shot? Sick? Hungry? No need to worry, the ridiculously outfitted Enterprise, complete with sets borrowed from a mid-'90s Chevy Suburban, is here to help. Food appeared out of nowhere, diseases and wounds were healed almost instantly by the bored doctor, and those freaks has so much free time that they used a phenomenal amount of computing power to play Robin Hood with holograms. That show presented a utopian, bizarrely idealized version of the future, during which mankind has apparently decided to get together and end all war and economic dispute in the interest of exploring space in matching jumpsuits. But in the much more engaging world of "Battlestar Galactica," guns still use bullets, and people still die. The second season begins with a major character suffering a gunshot at close range, and it's a life-threatening wound. The stakes are legimate here. The series runs deep with questions of justice, law, ethics, morality, and what it means to be human. There are fewer than 50,000 people left in the universe, and the show depicts the small society struggling to hold firm to the laws that have guided them for years, laws that have even greater meaning now that there are so few left to uphold them. After all, who's to say what's a crime? What does it mean to live in a just society? The characters in "Battlestar Galactica" are never more than a few steps from slipping over the edge. At one point, military officers rape and torture an enemy agent, citing its inhumanity as grounds for the treatment. The Cylon is an enemy, true, and is one of the refined models of robots originally created by humans before the Cylons rebelled and ignited the war. (In another brilliant update from the first show, having the Cylons be man's creation tightens the dramatic structure immensely, moving the antagonists from merely just another group of aliens to physical representations of our own sins visited upon us.) But their behavior is shocking, not in spite of the nature of the enemy, but because of it: Presented with an opportunity to display their humanity, the humans reverted to animals. One of the sharpest bits of dialogue comes in a throwaway exchange between two Galactica officers who intervened and stopped what was about to be the rape of another prisoner. One of the men says, "I thought the Cylons were the enemy." His friend replies, "Yeah, well, now it's us." The show is uncompromising in its intent to mine the painful truths of life, and that places it far beyond most other shows on TV.