Remember back during our complete coverage of the Battlestar Galactica panel at the Paley Television Festival when I said that event would probably be the last significant gathering of on and off-screen talent from the show? Well, I may have been lyingpremature in my declaration. Its no secret that in the annals of television history, Battlestar Galactica will rightfully take its place as one of the most sophisticated, abstruse, demanding, and thoughtful shows to ever grace the silver screen. No issue or hot-button topic was off-limits to the writers: war crimes, torture, genocide, abortion, religious conflict, human rights, the rule of law, anarchy, the very essence of humanness. Though an action-adventure space opera to its core, BSG integrated storylines eerily germane to the times we live in, and transcended its medium in the process.
In recognition of these tremendous achievements, and in a television first, the United Nations hosted an invitation-only panel back on March 17th in the hallowed Economic and Social Council Chamber composed of UN representatives and officers, cast members Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos, and executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick. As a pilot project for its Department of Public Informations Creative Community Outreach Initiative, the UN hopes to partner more often with the international film and television industries to raise awareness and foster discussion of prevalent global issues. Unfortunately the first United Nations event took place at their headquarters in New York and we had to miss it (sadly, the ScriptPhD is not yet bicoastal). But luckily for us, the United Nations partnered with the Sci-Fi Channel to host a West Coast rebroadcast from Hollywood Thursday night. As a part of the Los Angeles Timess annual pre-Emmy Envelope Screening Series, LA Times writer Geoff Boucher moderated a panel that once again welcomed McDonnell, Olmos, Moore and Eick, and UN representatives Steven Siguero and Craig Mokhiber.
Amid a chorus of enthusiastic fans and So say
we all!s, a lively and vibrant discussion ensued about torture, enemy combatants, race, and the upcoming Battlestar Galactica: The Plan TV movie event. ScriptPhD.com is proud to bring you complete coverage.
I must preface this next post with a little truth in advertising. I’m a chemist. True blue, to my very core. College degree in physical chemistry, PhD in chemistry. So when I heard about a cable show on AMC whose whole premise rested on a chemistry teacher manufacturing meth, I must say, I was slightly skeptical. The propensity for letdown was huge, both in plot and in science. Well, let me assure you that Breaking Bad broke good. A “Break”out hit in its second season, the show has managed to layer complex serialized storytelling with compelling characters and stories, and even better science. In fact, chemistry itself can very well be considered a recurring character on this show and we’ll highlight some of the best moments in a bit.
ScriptPhD Grade: A+
If the pilot episode doesn’t get your attention in the first five minutes, then I don’t know what will. A man wearing nothing but his skivvies and a gas mask careens a Winnebago in the New Mexico desert, a passed out body beside him, two more dead in the back, and a toxic sludge of chemicals seeping on the floor. With impending sirens approaching, he videotapes a final goodbye and apology to his family. Through flashbacks, we come to find out that the man is Walter White, an unassuming chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, NM. While on his humiliating moonlighting shift as a car wash attendant, because we pay our public school teachers so well, Walt collapses. The culprit? Lung cancer. Terminal. Inoperable. He decides to infuse some excitement into his life on a bust ride with his brother-in-law, a DEA agent. Only instead of discouraging Walt, the bust shows him how much money can be made. While pondering the possibility of leaving his family financially secure after his passing, he spots an old flunky student, Jesse Pinkman, fleeing the scene. “You know the business, I know the chemistry,” he proposes to Jesse. An idea is born, and the metamorphosis of Walter White begins. Back to the original scene, the sirens turn out to be fire trucks, one of the many hair-raising escapes to come, and Walt and Jesse live to sell meth another day.
In addition to Walt (played by the talented Bryan Cranston), and Jesse (dazzling newcomer Aaron Paul), we meet Skyler (Anna Gunn), Walt’s supportive but perplexed wife, who grows to be very suspicious of him as he has a harder time curtailing his clandestine activities, and Walt, Jr., a teenager with Cerebral Palsy, sensitively portrayed by RJ Mitte. The relationships serve as a centerpiece of the show are unraveled like the plot, in layers and tantalizingly. As Walt’s own family unit faces turmoil, Jesse, too, is disowned by his for his drug use. What started out as a business transaction between a teacher and former student blossoms into a tender father-son relationship. Meanwhile, while Walt’s well-meaning DEA brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) closes in on the hottest new meth dealer in town, Walt and Jesse face a series of personal and professional setbacks. For every two steps forward, for every dollar made, there is a new foe, a new nemesis, or new unintended collateral. All of the action culminates in an electrifying Season 2 finale sure to generate buzz and anticipation for Season 3.
Science on Breaking Bad is given the red carpet treatment: it’s sleek, sexy, geek-chic, tongue-in-cheek and everywhere. The show revels in delightful touches such as the title credits interspersing elements from the periodic table. Walt’s classes brim with interesting blink-or-you-miss-it factoids, such as H. Tracy Hall inventing the first reproducible process for making diamonds. To a stupefied, gun-happy Jesse, he makes the suggestion of killing a drug lord with castor beans, the source of the protein toxin ricin. And let’s not mention the two separate synthetic methods he comes up with to cook and crystallize the best meth the New Mexico DEA has ever seen. The darkly comedic highlights of the show are Walt and Jesse’s interactions in their “laboratory”, a beaten-down Winnebago camper. Shocked by Jesse’s sloppy street cooking, Walt pilfers glassware and equipment from his classroom—gas masks, round bottom flasks, reflux condensers, crystallization dishes—to build a setup worthy of Pfizer. Along the way, Jesse gets some remedial chemistry that he failed back in high school. I mean, sure, they’re making a devastating and highly illegal narcotic, but at least it’s via a proper Grignard reagent amination of a Schiff base!
On a more serious note, Breaking Bad also strives for a VERY candid and unrelenting portrayal of both cancer and the ramifications of the modern-day drug trade. Often whitewashed in entertainment, Walt’s cancer, and the side effects are shown in a brutal way, but the stark realism also underscores his desperation as the illness unfolds. Easily on par with David Simon’s brilliant The Wire on HBO, in the world of Breaking Bad no one is absolved from the intertwining effects of drugs—the rising body count, both from use and dealing, the strain on law enforcement, and families torn apart. In an astute opening TRULY ripped from the headlines, a Season 2 Breaking Bad episode starts with an original narcocorrido, a Mexican drug ballad evolved from its folk music tradition that is often used to chronicle the drug trade and escalating violence over the last two decades. Take a look:
Bottom line: the science is white-hot, the writing is red-hot, the meth is blue and the humor is black, so why aren’t you watching?
Breaking Bad has been the recipient of a number of recent awards and critical acclaim. They won a 2009 Peabody Award for excellence in television achievement. Bryan Cranston won the 2008 Emmy for Outstanding Leading Actor in a Dramatic Series. Series creator and executive producer Vince Gilligan won a Writers Guild of America award for the Pilot episode. Many more achievements are sure to come for their outstanding sophomore effort!
Airs on SciFi Channel starting early 2010. DVD including an extended version of the pilot, bonus scenes, interviews, and video blogs was released April 21, 2009.
Set fifty-eight years before the Cylon genocide attacks and the subsequent events of Battlestar Galactica, Caprica details the genesis of the first Cylons amidst the backdrop of two rival families—the Adamas and the Graystones.
For those bereft fans tuning into Caprica as a means to replicate the magic of Battlestar Galactica, you will be sorely disappointed. Oh, sure, there’s Cylons, and Adamas, and pyramid ball and plenty of ‘frak’s flying left and right. But as the pilot streamed with a bang onto the enormous screen of Hollywood’s ArcLight Cinema Dome, I was reminded in a not unpleasant way that this was not going to be the same show. And oh what a bang it was!
The action breaks in a club of sorts. Although patronized by teenagers, we meander through various provocative “rooms”—Fight Club-style combat, erotic dancing, sex shows—as three friends congregate. Suddenly, one of them spots their exact twin and we cut to the same friends, Zoe Graystone, Ben Stark and Lacey Rand, at a futuristic high school conspiring to escape their Caprica colony for the greener pastures of Geminon. On the train out of the city, however, Ben reveals himself as a suicide bomber acting in the name of the ‘Soldiers of the One’ monotheistic religious movement and commits an astounding act of terrorism that kills Zoe, among others. What had seemed like ephemeral teenage fancy is revealed to have much darker roots with wide-ranging
ramifications. Because as it turns out, Zoe is the daughter of surgeon Amanda Graystone and brilliant scientist Daniel Graystone, who has been consulting for a company entrusted with building the perfect government war machine. We recognize the faulty prototype as an early-model Centurion Cylon.
Bereft with grief over the loss of his daughter, Daniel forms an unlikely bond with earnest, honorable young lawyer Joe Adams, who also lost his wife and child in the explosion. In the search for answers, Daniel discovers Zoe was a chip off the old block. Using a hollaband, a computerized headband, that teleports him to the virtual nightclub where Zoe’s twin resides, he reunites with his dead daughter. The virtual twin from the virtual nightclub was not a twin at all, but an engineered digital life copy into whom Zoe downloaded her DNA and personality, the Zoe-A.
Preying on Joe’s grief and guilt over losing his family, Daniel poses the tantalizing possibility of being with them again through artificial computerized human replication. In setting up the major moral and philosophical conflict of the show, Daniel cajoles Joe into stealing the missing component for the war machine robot—a ‘metacognitive processor’, an artificial brain—from the rival Virgis Corporation from his own native Tauron. Adams’s reunion, however, is not nearly as heartfelt as his daughter’s replicon, trapped in a soulless black nothingness, is frightened by her very being. Buoyed by this realization, Adams reclaims his responsibility to embracing the living, namely his young son William, in a deliciously cheeky early peek at the eventual Galactica Admiral. He recounts for his son their family’s cultural and ethnic lineage from Tauron, where vicious civil wars left them orphaned strangers in a strange land. “Our name is not Adams,” he tells his son. “It’s Adama.” Nevertheless, it is too late to stop Graystone. As the Centurions flashing LED eyes change from orange to red, a Cylon—a cybernetic life node—is born, but at what cost, and at what consequence?
Caprica’s departure from the BSG shadow is immortalized in more than plot and core conflict (to build or not to build artificial intelligence), but in a cinematic majesty and geek-chick technological marvels that make for some visually appealing television. The gadgets of Caprica are bright, sleek, modern, oozing with cool, in direct contrast to the simple, practical, dilapidated equipment of the aging Galactica ship. Hollabands, paper-thin computing sheets with lit-up displays, cyber-chamberlains reminiscent of Rosie the Maid from the Jetsons, virtual mental computing, streamlined transportation hubs that we can only dream about. The cinematography of the show is split between rich, vibrant oranges and yellows for outdoor scenes and fresh blue-green hues for indoor scenes. Caprica also take advantage of Vancouver’s glorious outdoor settings in a way Battlestar could not within the location limitations of … er … space.
Another critical divergence for Caprica will be its serialized storytelling and focus on the linear dramatic development of Cylon creation and the ethical and moral quandaries posed therein. “It’s more about their personal lives,” series producer/writer Jane Espenson remarks. “They don’t have the threat of death breaking down their neck every moment so that you can feel more lived in, you can explore this culture more.” Adds Ronald D. Moore, “It’s a different show. I mean, losing the action-adventure is a risk…. [But] since there’s no Cylons coming in to sort of destroy the Galactica every once in a while, fate and humanity doesn’t hang in the balance yet.” Instead of the salvation of humanity, Caprica will probe on the very essence of what it is. “Find those things that make you cry, that make you feel,” Joseph Adama pleads of Daniel Graystone. “That’s what makes you human.” The Adama/Graystone schism certainly forms the show’s psychological nucleus, but other important questions are also raised: the roots of the monotheistic vs. polytheistic religious conflict, the greediness of the very corporate vultures that ordered the beta Centurion war models, racial and ethnic strife between the Twelve Colonies unified under one government, and the very limits of artificial intelligence and the human essence. “[These complex and difficult themes] are to Caprica what the space battles were to Battlestar,” remarks producer David Eick.
Ultimately, it is difficult for any show to escape the looming shadow of such an accomplished and critically acclaimed predecessor, especially when their plots are indelibly linked. Thankfully, Caprica has decided to step out of that inimitable shadow, contextually and stylistically, to create its own identity, and some pretty good frakkin’ television along the way. There’s enough sentimental peeks into a familiar world that we already know—so that’s how Bill Adama gained that sense of honor!—but enough new compelling characters to keep us coming back for more than just nostalgia. I, for one, plan to tune in to see what happens.
On a recent sweltering evening in late April, the ScriptPhD ventured out to Los Angeles’s majestic ArcLight Cinema Dome, which was playing host to the tenth night of the 26th Annual William S. Paley Television Festival, a preservation and celebration of the very best the small screen has to offer. Each year, a handful of select shows are selected by the Paley Center for Media to screen an episode and engage in a question and answer session with onscreen and production talent. This year, writers, producers and actors from the recently completed epic space opera Battlestar Galactica, and its forthcoming prequel Caprica, delighted a small audience with a sneak peek at the Caprica pilot and a candid behind-the-scenes look at the creative process behind both shows.
Fans at the beginning of the line had queued up as early as 11 AM to witness what may be the last gathering of BSG cast and crew for quite a while, while others paid thousands of dollars for VIP after-party access to the cast and crew. Echoing the diverse fanbase that Battlestar Galactica was able to reach and appeal to, the crowd around me was composed of all ages, races, and genders, of the geeky, the giddy and the gaudy.
And speaking of geeky and gaudy, the evening’s festivities were moderated by actor Seth Green, sporting a rockin’ blue Mohawk and more than a tad bit of fanboy revelry. At times starstruck, at times nonsensical and at times spot-on hilarious, but always a bit too verbose, Green came across as a genuine, appreciative fan. Like yours truly, Green came onboard after two obsessivethrilling catch-up seasons on DVD, provided a two minute monologue about all the reasons to love BSG and why it rocked his world, and then, the evening really began. (I kid Seth Green, with love and affection. But seriously, for comparison’s sake, Kevin Smith, who moderated last summer’s Comic*Con BSG panel, infused the perfect mix of humor, awe and order into the Q&A while still allowing the panel to be front and center for the fans.)
As a preamble to the screenings and panel discussion covered below, the heart and soul of Battlestar Galactica, producers David Eick and Ronald D. Moore (I’ll let you decide who’s who), thanked the two people responsible for the success of bringing Caprica to the attention of Sci-Fi network, writer Remi Aubuchon and director Jeffrey Reiner. They then brought an always-refreshing bit of mayhem to an otherwise dignified event by kicking off Caprica’s first major screening with a few good-luck tequila shots from a flask (ohhhh these are MY kind of people!).
When the event planners said “A Look Back and a Look Ahead”, they weren’t kidding folks! Perhaps for the sake of nostalgia, or for the sake of making us appreciate just how far science fiction has really come, Caprica was pre-empted by a clip of the 1963 sci-fi series Outer Limits. The series, with a rotating cast each week, tackled everything from hard science, space travel, time travel, and human evolution as it tried to answer the question, “What is the nature of man?” Remind you of something? Thankfully this trip to Cheesy Bad Production Land was followed by a savory preview of Battlestar Galactica: The Plan, the Edward James Olmos-directed 2-hour movie event set to air in November of 2009. If you missed it during the series finale (like some of us who don’t subscribe to cable!) here’s a link to the YouTube version:
Finally, we were treated to a pre-DVD release screening of the Caprica pilot in its entirety. My pilot review may be found in a separate post. Caprica will start airing on the Sci-Fi channel in 2010. The pilot is available on DVD.
Click “continue reading” to find the only full, unedited, word-for-word transcript of the BSG/Caprica panel to be found on the internet. Until the Paley Center releases the DVDs of the event next year, the only place to truly find out what happened without missing a beat? ScriptPhD.com!