EW has an interesting essay called ‘Battlestar Galactica’: A close look at the near-perfect pilot episode, 10 years later. It is an interesting read. I know I enjoyed the rebooted Battlestar Galactica and enjoyed it all the way through, although it got a little wobbly in the middle. My friends and I still play the BSG Boardgame and which holds up well after well over 100 games.
10 years ago today, the pilot episode of Battlestar Galactica aired on the Sci-Fi channel—back before the Sci-Fi channel forgot how to spell its own name. The episode was called “33.” It wouldn’t be quite fair to call it the best pilot episode in the history of dramatic television; the show technically started 13 months earlier, with a two-part miniseries that introduced the universe of Battlestar Galactica, then basically destroyed that entire universe.
So you could argue that all the hard work was done before the writers started season one. They already had a dynamite cast; the characters had already been introduced; the show’s basic Haskell-Wexler-meets-Star-Trek aesthetic was defined. Then again, you could also argue that “33” had a higher degree of difficulty than most pilots. In one hour of television, the show had to move onwards from the miniseries—but it also had to functionally reintroduce the show’s sprawling cast and elaborate mythology to viewers who might have missed that miniseries, in the long-ago days before streaming video.
Also worth pointing out: Most TV pilots aren’t called Battlestar Galactica, a High Nerd title that felt designed to chase away unadventurous audiences. The show had to figure out a way to please the knives-out fanbase of the original late-’70s Battlestar Galactica—a fascinating and unusual and endearingly flawed one-season cheesebomb that left a bigger cultural footprint than shows that lasted 10 times as long. The new Battlestar Galactica was airing on a cable network that got no respect. The genre of space TV shows was trending downwards; the last and worst Star Trek series was just finishing up an undistinguished run on UPN, a network that was also about to finish up its undistinguished run.
And all of this is ignoring the significant ambitions of the new Battlestar Galactica—ambitions that the miniseries had hinted at, but which would only become clear as the show progressed. Showrunner Ronald D. Moore wanted to make a show that honored its source material—he would always say that the original Battlestar started out as a much darker space fantasy, before network meddling converted it into a goofier Trek Wars mishmash. He also wanted to make a new kind of space show. Moore had worked on three Star Trek series, and you can almost read Battlestar Galactica as a compilation of Things You Can’t Do On Star Trek. (Sex? Booze? Ships that don’t self-repair between episodes? Check, check, check.)
Battlestar Galactica would be a political show and a military show, a philosophical treatise on the question of God and a pulpy genre show with spacefights and skimpily-dressed blondes. It would be a show that brought a sense of realism to an unreal genre: Characters wearing mid-2000s clothes, using recognizably non-future-y technology. But you hesitate to overstate a word like “realism.” This was also a show with dream sequences and a key character who was either an angel, a hallucination, or a villainous holographic projection embedded in another character’s frontal lobe. It would be a show that was recognizably about America…yet it was shot in Canada, with a polyglot cast playing pantheistic characters. (The first season originally aired in Britain, months ahead of the American debut.)
Somehow this is all there in “33.” The episode starts with a series of shots that aren’t immediately linked together: A man, sleeping; a clock, ticking; the same man, somewhere else, somewhen else; ships fired out into the dead of space; a man in one of those ships; more clocks, ticking; another man, looking very grim indeed.