This week I’m going to talk about two successful television shows- both remakes- and what their success means for the state of television as well as our culture in general. Now, I’m catching up on these shows via the magic of DVD, so I’m only on the second season of each. This greatly decreases my ability to deliver spoilers, and I’m going to do my best to avoid specifics when I can, so even if you’re only considering watching these programs, you should be safe.
To bring everyone up to speed, ‘Battlestar Galactica’ is the sci-fi channel remake of the old Glen A. Larson (in the words of Stephen King) ‘space turkey’ made brutally adult. ‘The Office’ is a remake of a British sitcom set in a small office where an (seemingly) endless documentary is being shot. So on ‘The Office’ the characters relate to a handheld camera, and all the scenes are presented as if captured by a documentary crew.
Not so the current Galactica. Each episode opens with a survivor count- a fluxtuating number that represents the total number of humans left alive. There’s no forgetting it- the cylons are dedicated to the extinction of the human race to the last child.
The writers of the new series pump up the content by incorporating elements of our current political and social circumstances into the storylines. The cylons want to wipe humans out because they consider human society decedent. There are also serious religious differences. And since the cylons can now experience emotion, every death and atrocity on either side only reinforces the idea that The Universe Isn’t Big Enough For The Two Of Us.
However, the characters The Office aren’t in a war. They aren’t being pursued through space by murderous toasters. They are living our very lives. Unlike Galactica, there is no mention of any larger world—there is no Iraq War, in the Office. There is only work, and occasionally some small measure of personal life, but only where it touches upon work. Romances are all office romances. If a character experiences a real-life tragedy, it is measured in how it affects their working relationships.
Both of these shows are exceptionally well made, well written, and well acted. Neither has an exit. The characters from Lost will be at home drinking tea and reminiscing about their strange adventures around the hatch long before anyone in Galactica lives a of cylon-free life or anyone in The Office experiences a lasting joy.
The terrible thing, the truly ominous message of these shows, is that they are rooted deeply on our own world, our own lives. They aren’t an escape, like most television is. They are a portrayal of our worst fears made worse still, and worse still, they are closed loops – their formulas preclude a happy ending, or any ending at all. They are perfect pills of misery, and they are our entertainment.