Despite whatever arguments the SyFy network cares to put forward about their being a legitimate story to tell, greenlighting a prequel to Battlestar Galactica, the most successful franchise they've ever had does smack a little of cynically milking the cash cow. Particularly when you consider their botched re-branding to the wearily hip, yet decidedly meaningless "SyFy" label, effectively telling their core audience of science-fiction fans that they still want their patronage and their consumer spending power, but that they're absolutely ashamed to death of being even vaguely associated with them and their implied nerdiness.
Good news then that Caprica, named for one of the planet worlds that make up the thirteen colonies of the Galacitca universe, demonstrates early signs of being every bit as rich and layered as BSG's bullet-ridden theology debate amongst the stars. Set some fifty years before the Cylon invasion, Caprica charts the genesis of the Cylon race that would eventually lead to the rebellion and the great war, while at the same time exploring the seeds of religious dissonance that would be the fault line of the breakaway.
At the center of the story are two families, one of which we already know, The Adama's, featuring a ten-year-old Bill Adama caught between the secular world of Caprica and the more devout and conservative Tauron, his ancestral home. Alongside then we have Daniel Greystone (Eric Stoltz, beautifully understated), head of a global tech conglomerate and the inventor of the Cylons. United by a tragedy that sees Daniel lose his daughter and the fabled Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) lose both his daughter and his wife, the two men come to believe that it may be possible to engineer those they have lost back to life.
While it rewards the casual viewer even less than it's predecessor (and that's saying something) it is far from inaccessible. Like Galactica, the premise might be set in a distant galaxy, but its themes are right here right now, albeit through a glass darkly. Once again Ronald D. Moore and his team look at the use of terrorism as a tactic, with the fringe radicals (dubbed Soldiers of The One), of which Greystone's daughter Zoe (Alessandra Torresani) was a member, painted as eerily familiar to western audiences in that they preach devotion to a single, all powerful god.
The show also looks at youth and the way in which the family model has been impacted by technology, addressing the notion that, in the digital age, parents are no longer the dominate influence on their children. Zoe and her friends are secretive, fiercely independent and hide their plots and secrets in a virtual cyberspace that their parents don't even know exists, let alone comprehend. Another core element, as was the case with Galactica, is the sad truth that grief can compel us to act in ways that our rational minds would otherwise reject out of hand, with both Greystone and Adama perusing risky, potentially catastrophic courses of action blinded to the danger by their inconsolable remorse.
It might all be the most gloopy kind of metaphysical soup if it wasn't grounded in instantly recognizable, tried and tested science fiction archetype and convention. Present and correct are such genre standards as robots and their creators, the role of the military in technological r&d, and the mad scientist perusing a noble goal at a tragic cost as yet unknown to him. Finally, we simply must mention the masterful production design, with Moore and his team once again concocting a strange new world, the intricate detail of which doesn't feel much like anything seen before giving the strange allure of being both familiar and alien at the same time.
Starring: Eric Stolltz, Esai Morales, Paula Malcolmson, Polly Walker, Alessandra Torresani, Magda Apanowicz, Sasha Roiz
Created By: David Eick, Ronald D. Moore, Remi Aubuchon
Airtime: Fridays, 9pm EST