A man goes into a new restaurant, run by a chef he”s liked elsewhere, and orders the place”s signature dish. The entree”s a bit undercooked and the side dishes distracting, so he sends it back to the kitchen. After a very, very long wait, the waiter brings it back, and many of the things the man complained about have been improved, but in the interim the man realized that maybe he”s not in the mood to eat here.
That”s how it”s been with me and “Caprica,” the “Battlestar Galactica” prequel that returns to Syfy tomorrow at 10 p.m. I came to the series with affection for the “BSG” creative team (unlike some, I didn”t have major objections to that show”s finale) and curiosity about how they would view the “BSG” universe through a planet-bound soap opera-style prism. But the first half of season one never really clicked for me, and I can”t say I exactly missed the show in the six months it was off the air. Nor was I sucked back in by the first two new episodes, even though the producers have worked to fix a number of areas I had real problems with in the spring.
When we left Caprica City back in March, Amanda Graystone (Paula Malcomson) was about to jump off a bridge out of grief over daughter Zoe”s death in a terrorist bombing and anguish over the criminal doings of corporate CEO husband Daniel (Eric Stoltz). Sister Clarice Willow (Polly Walker), a monotheist terrorist in a universe where worshipping multiple gods is the norm, had just avoided being blown up by a rival cell. Grieving widower and father Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) had just come back from a long period looking for a version of his dead daughter inside a virtual world. And Zoe (Alessandra Torresani), whose consciousness had been recreated inside a giant killer robot, escaped her father”s lab, stole a van and then made what looked like a suicide run at a military roadblock.
(Reading that paragraph back, I”m not sure whether all this would sound sillier to soap fans or sci-fi fans – two groups whose taste doesn”t usually overlap, which no doubt has played a part in this show”s ratings struggles.)
I won”t tell you what happened to Amanda or Zoe, but (some mild spoilers follow) we return with Daniel forging an uneasy new alliance with Joseph Adama to fend off a threat to his company, while Sister Clarice attempts to build a new power base with the help of the heads of her religion.
These are both promising developments. The show was often at its best in the first half of season one when Stoltz and Morales were working together, as these two very different men – one a privileged technocrat, the other a lowly immigrant with ties to organized crime – kept crossing paths. Once Adama wandered off into the virtual world, he became vastly less interesting, and Graystone didn”t have a foil as good.
And Sister Clarice was a complete drag on the first season – too ineffectual and aimless to be the charismatic villain the writers might have wanted her to be. (The writers also, at one point, thought she was going to be funny, ala narcissistic genius Gaius Baltar on “BSG,” and had to scramble to reconceive her scenes when it became clear in editing that she wasn”t.) She”s more proactive, and more powerful, as the show returns; while her scenes in the mid-season premiere dwell a bit too much on the politics of her cult, her scenes in next week”s episode were the strongest part of that hour.
Overall, though, I”m just not sure I care. Something is still lacking. I”m not opposed to the sci-fi/soap mix, as I watch plenty of shows that could be described as “(Genre X) meets Soap Opera” (“Friday Night Lights,” for instance). I like many of the actors, and some (notably Stoltz) are giving the most interesting performances I”ve seen from them. The look of the show, which transforms Vancouver into a mix of vintage designs and 20-minutes-from-now tech, is great. But like the two “BSG” movies (“Razor” and “The Plan”), “Caprica” never feels essential. It”s a history lesson that only occasionally comes to life on its own. And those moments aren”t frequent or compelling enough to make me want to sit through the rest.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org