Running for the border, in reverse

It’s the height of foolishness to get excited about a new Fox series, but can you really blame me this time?  Christopher McQuarrie — best known for writing The usual suspects — has co-created Persons unknown, and is currently executive producing a 13-episode run, which I expect to begin airing this fall. Truth be told, McQuarrie’s involvement alone would have been enough to get me to watch: if he can manage to give Ryan Philippe a certain dirty, macho appeal, I’m willing to give any McQuarrie project a fair shot, even if it’s going to be relegated to the network with the worst track history in TubaTV’s collective memory.

Sweetening the deal, though, is the curious fact that Persons unknown has been filming less than an hour away from TubaTV’s Latin American office, in the Ajusco Mountain region south of Mexico City.  I’m not thrilled that the show is being co-produced with Televisa — the Mexican analog of Fox, only ickier, if you can imagine — but in all honesty the partnership can only help the otherwise desolate Mexican airwaves.  [I recently spoke with the main stylist on Mexico’s other notable (read:failed) attempt at moving beyond the telenovela format, and she confirmed my suspicions: the second season of Capadocia is going to be much, much shoddier than the first.  Apparently — and understandably — the series’s budget has been slashed, and to make matters worse, its writers have abandoned the entire groundwork they laid in the first season, offering us instead a weak, watery prequel: the life and times of Bambi, prior to her incarceration.  Do they not realize that by the end of the first season, the show’s appeal was resting entirely on Dolores Paradis’s impressive underage décolletage?]

So, viva NAFTA?

In related news, burnout Fox alum Paul Sheuring might be competing with McQuarrie on the big screen, as both appear to be working on remakes of the German film Das experiment.  Personally, I’d favor a McQuarrie effort by a mile, since Sheuring spent a good two and a half seasons beating his own Prison break horse after it had expired.

— J.C. Freñán

Redemption revisited: In space!

Broadening TubaTV’s recent focus on themes of redemption, I’ll go ahead and muse publicly that Caprica may indeed offer Ronald D. Moore the opportunity to live up to the hype that surrounded his version of Battlestar Galactica.  My expectations are actually higher than one might think, given my unfavorable review of the BSG finale.  I have the sense that Moore didn’t really have a clear idea of what he was doing when he went about dragging BSG through four muddy seasons, but I’d hope he’s learned a thing or two from the experience.  Either that, or we’ll have Remi Aubuchon to thank for upping the Sci-Fi channel’s game.

The straight-to-DVD pilot shows some marked improvements in production value.  I watched it on my laptop, but (what looked to me like) the blue-heavy color palette suited the somberness of the story well enough.  The acting, too, struck me as much subtler than its predecessor’s.  (I’ve never been terribly convinced by Olmos the elder, chicano politics aside.  Olmos the younger was wise to have focused on improving his physical appeal for the final season of BSG, because nepotism can only get you so far.)  Eric Stoltz puts in a solid performance as a far more palatable preincarnation of Gaius Baltar, and this despite a truly unfortunate ginger-flavored soul patch.  Polly Walker may have ripened a bit since her stint as the ur-MILF Atia of the Julii on Rome, but her character seems infinitely more promising than Laura Roslin’s facile, conflicted-woman-in-power schtick, or Starbuck’s drunken tomboy antics.  And Deadwood‘s least attractive lady of the night, Trixie, finds a much more subdued character here.  (An improvement over her brief run on Lost, I might also add.)  Even the teens weren’t entirely unwatchable.  That Zöe’s gonna be a firecracker.

Polly Walker, through the ages.
Polly Walker, through the ages.

BSG‘s familiar themes find themselves more grounded this time around, since we’re no longer floating aimlessly through space.  The abstract poly- v. monotheism conflict has been planted firmly in a universe populated by distinct planetary cultures (ie, the body art and subtitled language of the ethnicized Taurons) and fundamentalist terrorism.  Most satisfying, however, is the show’s introduction of “holoband” technology (ie, the Internet) as the metaphorical terrain on which to explore the human/non-human conflict that made Boomer’s character so obliquely interesting for the first couple of seasons of BSG.

For my money, the sci-fi of BSG was too heavily reliant on bland, overcooked fantasies about technological progress: its allegorical conflicts only have traction in an imaginary future when artificial intelligence frighteningly palpates the limits of human subjectivity.  Caprica (so far) seems invested in relatively more mundane questions about the radical distinction between physis and techne, for instance, or about what constitutes human subjectivity, or the limits of the corporeal, perception, presence.  It also offers some fresh, accessible reflection on the re/production and fragmentation of identity in the age of digital reproduction.  Its fantasy of digitization carried to its limit — ie, the perfect reproducibility of bio-electric processes — poses some provocative questions about the structures of human subjectivity and affect.  (I’m thinking of the scenes between Stoltz and Zöe in the second half of the pilot.  The scene when Stoltz is testing the downloaded MCP doesn’t make much sense in this regard, though: digital transfer as we know it is never strictly transfer, but a process of copying.  If bro had been using a Mac, he wouldn’t have had any problems.)

So far my complaints are relatively few.  The refrain that “there is truth in the world, there is a right and there is a wrong” will get tiresome very quickly, and the Adama reveal didn’t feel especially necessary.  Otherwise, though, I think the Caprica pilot is very, very successful: the stale imagination that animated the human-robot conflict in BSG has been recontextualized and made much more relevant.  It strikes me that the pseudo-etymological link between Caprica and Capricorn offers us an organizing metaphor for the show: in its half-goat, half-fish version, Capricorn posits a fantastical hybrid in the evolutionary transition from water to land.  (Mythologically, I gather, it went the other way around.  Whatever.)  I hope the series doesn’t get lost in its more operatic elements, but continues developing the bridge between the technological movement of late capitalism and its potential for apocalypse.

– J.C. Freñán