Every generation gets the Battlestar Galactica it deserves. When the series appeared in the late 1970s, Americans were worn out from war, Watergate and recession, ready to have a good time. So when the Cylons committed planetary genocide in the very first episode, Battlestar's human survivors took their feathered hair and fled ... straight to a casino planet.
Thus were the 1980s born.
The 21st-century version of Battlestar has been produced entirely in the aftermath of 9/11, and might be the smartest pop cultural take on what the terror attacks did to America's collective soul. Really. But the ghost of Dirk Benedict haunts most people's memories of Battlestar, which is one reason why the newer and much-darker version never found the audience it deserves.
Both Battlestars start from the same premise: After the Cylon attack a "ragtag fleet" of human survivors in search of a possibly mythical Planet Earth. The similarities end there. There are no adorable children in the new Battlestar, nor are there mechanical dogs. The old show's villains were lumbering robots. Now the robots look and feel human; they even have emotions and religious beliefs. Some are even sympathetic.
The humans aren't easy to root for. Some are religious nuts, others narcissistic, others drunks; all of them, at some point, are jerks. And when their backs are against the wall, they resort to torture, suicide bombing and the subversion of democracy to survive. Remind you of anybody?
Battlestar's willingness to toy with the sympathies of its viewers means that both conservative and liberal commentators have found themselves praising the show at times, only to condemn it a few weeks or months later. It's the rare series--like Deadwood or The Wire--that manages to be difficult and entertaining at the same time.
Plus, it doesn't have feathered hair or Dirk Benedict.
In Memoriam: David Brenner