In a tribute to The Nostalgia Critic, I am going to compare an old work of fiction (TV in this case) with a new(er) one. Unlike the NC, I won’t be comparing two iterations in the same franchise. Instead, I will review two similar items in a genre and then foam at the mouth like a madman for ~2,000 words.
Can the old material hold together? Does the new material just have too much going for it? Can the classic defeat the nouveau?
All these questions, and more, shall be answered! Without further ado, here’s the first installment of “old vs new!”
Further ado: I will evaluate Battlestar first, then Buck Rogers… that way, you cannot guess at my secret, genius-level formula employed to determine the winner! Bwahahhaah!
Both shows boast fantastic premises.
Battlestar Galactica (BSG) begins with the Cylons overthrowing their human masters. Though not original in the slightest, BSG carves a new spin on the premise and the first few episodes are in my “hall of fame.” Overall, the episodes were usually gritty and dark and the show took itself quite seriously. Current events / social concerns were even woven into the drama, making the entire affair relevant and fresh, if a tad tiring for those of us who enjoy more of a Firefly fare.
The struggle in BSG revolves around the last survivors of humanity searching for a new home – Earth. As an overall premise, this is pretty awesome shit. Treachery and a bag full of other ugly human emotions play out on the screen for us to digest. Though I haven’t watched the whole series (that’s quite a bit of TV to stomach), I got the impression that the show focused upon human frailty and weakness, with a few moments here and there of human triumph. In the end (for me), the show wore me down. I’m a huge fan of tragedy in fiction, but not at such a large, unrelenting volume.
Unlike BSG, Buck Rogers can claim originality for their premise. The stories were first published in 1928. However, I’m not going to go that far back. Like my previous post, I will focus on the 1979 movie and season 1 of the TV series. Buck was frozen in space when his shuttle veered off course. Then, 500 years later, he is dethawed and ready for action. Premise aside, the story is quite engaging. In addition to acclimatizing to his new environment, Buck assists Earth against her many enemies as a fighter pilot and spy. You get a little James Bond mixed with space battles. Nice!
TV shows from 30 years ago typically didn’t have an overarching story. I actually prefer that approach in my shows, as I tire of one main plotline stretched out for months. Get to the end already! The story in the first Buck Rogers is quite solid, and it stands tall to the test of time. Popsicle Buck is discovered by the evil Draconians who are on a diplomatic mission to Earth (whom the Draconians plan to betray). Both sides think Buck is a spy as he tries to make sense of everything. In the end, he proves to be a hero and saves Earth.
Point: Tie! Both present their stories in memorable and effective ways. I like the serialized adventures of Buck Rogers and the epic drama of BSG. I think it’s more a matter of your personal taste than anything else.
Hero / Main Character
BSG really doesn’t have a “hero.” Instead, you have a buffet of characters in the ensemble cast. Sigh, I actually loathe the whole “ensemble cast of characters” mechanic used by many modern TV shows. Not only do you get less time with each character, but oftentimes the action will shift from place to place at dramatic intervals. By the time the director gets me back to Character A, I’ve forgotten what they were doing and why I cared (maybe I just haven’t masters that “TV trick” yet).
If I was forced to pick out my “heroes” from BSG, I’d want them to be Starbuck and Apollo. After all, they were the focus of the earlier TV show and the camaraderie between fighter pilots is actually something I enjoy to read/watch. Are the leaders of the humans a better choice? Damn, see? Ensemble casts are truly like a buffet, as I mentioned. You get to see a little bit of everybody, and you maybe settle on a few favorites. While some may argue that’s a good thing, I disagree. I prefer to sink my teeth into characters I care about, so why make me watch 15 minutes of some crap character I loathe? Boo to ensemble casts…
Here’s where Buck Rogers is entirely different from BSG. Three characters/actors are named in the opening credits – THREE! Of course, Buck is our main character here and he is from “our time.” Sigh. Yeah, I think the whole “I’m a 20th century man/woman in the future/past and most of my jokes stem from the fact that these other characters aren’t familiar with my popular culture” thing gets a tad lame. This mechanic is used in reverse quite often in cartoons & kids films. I think, when overused, this type of humor is groan-inducing at best.
These premise problems aside, I really thought I’d hate Buck during my recent rewatch. I assumed he’d be a clichéd mess with awful 70s hair. Well, I was pleasantly surprised at how likeable his character is! Yeah, he’s a badass in the cockpit as well as on the ground (he loves to kick shit with his boot), but he’s just so damn charming – and not in an annoying suave 60’s “Bond” way. I felt like he was just a dude, frustrated at all the stupidity in the world around him. At times, Buck reveals his sadness over losing everything in his world. As a kid, I never noticed it. As an adult, I appreciate the time they took to show the audience this side of Buck. He’s a more complete character than I thought he’d be.
Point: Buck Rogers. Yeah, some parts of you may be a cliché, but you defined that cliché. So, you go with your bad self!
I’m not a fan of the whole “evil aliens looking just like humans” trick, and a good deal of BSG’s drama revolved around that. However, I can forgive something that I know only irks me if everything else is in order. Luckily for BSG, most everything else was in order.
I do get hung up on the Cylons motivations. It was clear that the Cylons wanted to destroy humanity, otherwise why bother to nuke them? However, as the series went on, I got the feeling like the Cylons were more interested in watching the humans and executing some grand plan (“God’s Plan”).
Um… okay… then, why did you nuke them? Why did you bring them to the brink of destruction? Were you is such a degree of control that you could have predicted a few would survive and search for Earth? Wow, that’s quite a plan! Borders on the unbelievable. Sorry, but I’m just not swallowing it.
The BSG villains stretched across Cylons and Humans, which provided for some great showdowns and complications. You were given almost equal access to both “sides” and the audience really got to know their villains. Like many excellent works of fiction, we are invested in the villains as much (or more) as our heroes. Major marks all around for fleshing out your villains, BSG!
Though the Draconians were presented as the villains in the beginning of Buck Rogers, each episode usually presented a new villain for Buck to defeat. Again, Buck was more serialized, and this was a common approach. Though we were given some time with our villains, we never really got into their back story and reasons behind their evilness. Well, aside from the Draconian princess that is (“Beede, Beede – what a bod!”).
While BSG’s ensemble cast hurts it on the “hero” side, I think it helps it present well-rounded and sometimes sympathetic villains.
Point to BSG for truly awesome villains.
Can BSG’s ensemble cast provide enough oomph to score another win? Let’s take a look.
The ensemble cast for BSG is quite mammoth. You have bridge crew, pilots, spouses, mechanics, press, government officials, criminals and a host of other characters to support each other, rather than a hero or villain. And we sometimes get to spend a whole bunch of time with these orbital personalities. Some of the characters are quite excellent and some are merely okay (and some suck). Do any of them stand out? Well, I suppose those guys/gals (who stuck out) would be my “favs” and I’d classify them differently (as my personal “main character”). To be honest, I think the cast as a whole supports the story of humanity struggling for survival, but I rarely cared if they lived or died. It became apparent early into the series that they were all lambs for the slaughter, so I tried not to get attached.
The supporting cast for Buck Rogers acts in a more traditional role – supporting the main character.
I’ve already covered Wilma Deering earlier, so no need to rehash her (as much as I’d love to). As a supporting character, I was always interested in watching her exploits.
As my #1.5 said, Dr. Theopolis is the brains of the operation and Twikie is the playa. With his soothing voice and calm demeanor, the talking lightbox provides wisdom and insight into every situation. I like this juxtaposition of technology and man (with the technology providing the guidance to us monkeys). Dr. Theopolis even grows through his adventures with Buck.
Then there’s Twikie. I was dreading watching Buck Rogers again mainly because of Twikie. However, I found he made me chuckle more than he made me groan. He’s actually more stomachable than C-3PO, Jar Jar, or that talking dolphin from Seaquest. I’d even go as far as saying he’s good comic relief. Plus, he’s voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc… so, show some respect.
Another thing Buck Rogers did that I appreciate is the use of episode characters. Though these people came and went, they always seemed so “real” to me. I was watching the 2nd episode and a random pilot laments the loss of his ship: “She was a good ship.” I just appreciate when a TV show takes the time to give that to us. It’s the little things, people…
Point: Buck Rogers, for memorable supporting characters.
Winner: Buck Rogers
I’ve often compared new and old movies/TV shows with each other and wondered if my nostalgic haze propped the older media up too high. In this case, after watching a few episodes of each very recently, I can honestly say I’d rather watch Buck Rogers than BSG.
Of course, I’d rather be watching Firefly over anything else, but I take care to only sip from that perfect glass of wine every few years lest it get too familiar.
No, I’m really not bullshitting you. While BSG is excellent, there’s an investment. You cannot pick that show up in season 3 and expect to enjoy yourself. It takes time to build that ensemble cast to a point where you are caring for them (well, some of them). And though I love epics, I just can’t put my finger on exactly why I stopped watching/caring. Maybe it was as simple as getting worn down.
But, Matt, come-on! Buck Rogers sucked…
Well, I won’t argue with you that season 2 of the 1979/80 series blew moose balls. However, there was a brief “golden era” where Buck Rogers continued the Space Opera popularization push of Star Trek / Star Wars, all with a unique flair and memorable characters. And though I can respect a work for its influence on a genre I love, I’ll not go back and watch/read it unless it stands the test of time. Buck Rodgers certainly surprised me here.