As previously alluded to, I will not be individually reviewing the final nine episodes of Caprica as I did the first eight plus the pilot, but I figured I would at least offer up some belated closing thoughts of the defunct Battlestar Galactica prequel, whose final episodes showed that this indeed could’ve been a compelling series. Based on how the first and only season wrapped up, I’d have been back to see more, had it been renewed.
The single-season, 17-episode run of Caprica (not counting the pilot movie, which would make for a total of 19 hourlong episodes), to me plays like a compelling argument for the 12- or 13-episode run typical of many cable dramas. In this day and age, with so many choices out there, with so many mediums of content consumption available to audiences and with their attention divided and their attention spans shortened, does it really make sense to do a TV series — and even more so, a TV serial — that spans 20 or 22 episodes?
Granted, you could make the argument that season one of Caprica could really be called two seasons with two arcs, but that’s not what Syfy or its creators called it — and more to the point, the stories being told here just didn’t warrant as many hours as were devoted to them.
Caprica was an ambitious, intriguing, multi-pronged, handsomely produced series with good actors and production values, but its season was one that suffered from excessive runtime bloat and sometimes muddled characters. Trim the 19 hours down to about 12 or 13 (assuming you rid the show of the elements that didn’t work in favor of those that did), and you might have yourself a terrific show here.
As it stands, the show dragged in places and strained some its audience’s patience, myself included. Now, I tend to be an advocate for patience and long-form serial television (see The Wire, or even Lost for a sci-fi genre example, though the latter show had the ability to often play more as an anthology), but Caprica‘s problem seemed to be that it took too many episodes to come to conclusions and/or revelations that seemed to be fairly obvious from the outset (I’m thinking, for example, of Daniel taking so long to catch on to the fact that Zoe’s program had made her way into the U-87, or pretty much all things having to do with Clarice or Amanda — clearly characters that suffered from flawed writing — and their various relationships through the season).
Caprica as a show often had me torn. I really liked the themes the show explored. The issues surrounding the use of VR and AI — and humanity’s responsibilities in their creation and use — was intriguing and thoughtful stuff, and far more truthfully emerging from the concepts of hard sci-fi than a lot of purported popular “sci-fi” tends to be. And the myriad of different angles the show’s universe was seen from (the mob, the VR world, the corporations, the terrorists groups, the law enforcement, etc.) made for a scope that was particularly suited to serial TV.
On the other hand, this scope and ambition sometimes felt wasted. There were too many haphazard strands (Clarice was a particularly troublesome character in this regard; the writers took a very long time to get a handle on her), and the show’s characters often fell victim to what might be called a Sophoclean Slog — in which characters seemed so tied to a preordained outcome (the BSGverse’s downfall of humanity at the hands of the Cylons they created) that they were written too much like the walking dead for us as audience members to feel involved in their fates. The show often had a deliberate pace, and took itself so deadly seriously that it walked the line of pretension. And all due respect to the talented Bear McCreary, but the music was relentless and too often took me out of the moment and reminded me that this was all a big melodrama.
The sense of detachment seemed to improve in the show’s final episodes, which built to a pretty exciting conclusion and featured characters taking more action worthy of a prequel to the more visceral BSG. And I was surprised at just how much the final episode wrapped up the season (and the series), as opposed to being a cliched cliffhanger. The final sequence of the show (an extended epilogue) featured a lot of resolution and enough of a bridge to the inevitable rise-of-the-Cylons in BSG to feel satisfying, especially knowing the show was canceled. (I understand that this epilogue sequence was planned and shot before Caprica‘s cancellation was certain, so a second season of the show would have likely gone in completely new directions).
It’s also possible that my perception that the show’s pace picked up at the end is partially affected by how I viewed the episodes themselves. Because of its cancellation, Syfy aired the final five episodes on one day, which I DVR’d and watched in the course of two sittings. It’s interesting to note that a TV serial’s storytelling rhythm may no longer benefit from airing as an actual TV series; Caprica as a whole probably works better viewed on DVD than watched as a weekly show that feels too sluggishly paced.
As for the show’s bizarre air schedule and cancellation, I’m not sure what Syfy’s thinking was exactly. On the one hand, it seems they were clearly impressed by the quality of the show based on their press statements. On the other hand, they sort of shot themselves in the foot with the weird launch/air schedule (it premiered on DVD, then didn’t air as a series for eight months, and then had an eight-month hiatus splitting the season up).
And I’m not sure what the advantage would be of pulling the series off the schedule with five episodes remaining and then burning them off in one day in the deadness of January. Why not just air them? Yes, the ratings of the show were clearly not good (something like 800,000 viewers for season 1.5 when the show returned), but I don’t know that a rerun of Star Trek: TNG does that much better. Then again, maybe it does.
I suppose it’s something the show was greenlit at all. Clearly Syfy wanted it to follow the BSG model where it had enough viewers (even if it wasn’t a huge hit) to sustain itself while bringing in the critical acclaim that BSG garnered and the network wanted to retain. But then the critical acclaim wasn’t on the level of BSG, and the ratings weren’t good either. So I can’t say Syfy’s decision to cancel the show wasn’t justified. If anything, I’d just say that their scheduling methods suck and they don’t know how to launch a show, with their long hiatuses and bizarre premieres.
One thing is certain: Caprica did not cater to Syfy’s current demographic goals at all, which is essentially to be SpikeTV 2. It was too ambitious, too slow-moving, and too cerebral for that. But Syfy must’ve known that when they bought it. So it was an odd match, and I don’t quite get it.
I am not sorry I saw it, and I would’ve kept watching it had it come back. It was not perfect, or even great, but it worked as a prequel series, which are never easy to pull off. And it was smarter than the average sci-fi show.
Jammer’s Caprica season one rating: