Archive for February 3, 2011

Getting hyper

On the way back from grocery shopping today, I saw a car in front of me whose rear window bore a decal saying “HYPERLITE” in a hard-to-read font, so that I initially thought it said “HYPOCRITE.”  I went through an intermediate moment when I thought it said “HYPERCRITE,” and that got me wondering: what would a hypercrite be?

Hypo- and hyper- are opposites despite their very similar sounds, because the Ancient Greeks evidently thought it would be funny to play a prank on inattentive people down through the ages.  Hypo- means below, hyper- means above.  For instance, hypotension is low blood pressure and hypertension is high blood pressure.   So if a hypocrite is someone who acts falsely or insincerely, what would the opposite extreme from that be?  What would a hypocrite be below?  What is -crite?  Hypocritical, hypocrisy… it sounds like the same root as in “crisis” or “critical,” which suggests decision, judgment.  Is a hypocrite literally someone with diminished judgment?  Let’s find out.  To the dictionary!

[C13: from Old French ipocrite, via Late Latin, from Greek hupokritēs one who plays a part, from hupokrinein to feign, from krinein to judge]

early 13c., from O.Fr. ypocrite (Mod.Fr. hypocrite ), from Church L. hypocrita , from Gk. hypokrites “stage actor, pretender, dissembler,” from hypokrinesthai (see hypocrisy).

Okay… so I guess the idea is that krinein is to judge or distinguish, so someone playing the part of someone else is “below” being distinguishable, i.e. diminishing the distinction between oneself and the person one is pretending to be.  Their true self is below the threshold of discernment from the role they’re putting on.

So a “hypercrite” would thus have to be someone who’s more than usually distinct from other people, if taken literally.  In the modern sense, though, if a hypocrite is someone whose true beliefs and values are suppressed or hidden, then a hypercrite would have to be someone who is completely, even excessively open about one’s true thoughts and feelings — someone who can’t hide one’s opinion even if there’s good reason to.  Sort of like Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar, though there’s got to be a less annoying example.

That was fun, let’s try another one!  What about hypochondria?  What would a hyperchondriac be?  Chondr-, chondr-… that root sounds familiar, but I can’t think what it means.  So again, to the dictionary!

1839, “illness without a specific cause,” earlier (1668) “depression or melancholy without real cause,” earlier still (1373) ypocandria “upper abdomen,” from L.L. hypochondria “the abdomen,” from Gk. hypochondria (neut. pl.), from hypo- “under” (see sub-) + chondros “cartilage” (of the breastbone). Reflecting ancient belief that the viscera of the hypochondria were the seat of melancholy. Hypochondriac (n.) in modern sense first recorded 1888.

Oh, that’s no fun.  It’s just the name of a part of the body that was traditionally associated with melancholy.  So “hyperchondria” wouldn’t have any real meaning except maybe for another part of the body.  You can’t really postulate it as an antonym of the tendency to imagine being ill.

Oh, well, they can’t all be winners.

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GALACTICA 1980 thoughts — Ep. 10 and overview

February 3, 2011 14 comments

“The Return of Starbuck” is considered by fans to be the only good episode of Galactica 1980, largely because it has little to do with G80.  Glen Larson was fed up with writing this show he’d never wanted to do in the first place and decided to go back to writing about a more popular character, Starbuck.  It was considered a last-ditch attempt to revitalize a dying series, but it didn’t work.  However, it gave the show, and the original franchise, a better sendoff than it otherwise would have.

We open with Dr. Zee in Adama’s quarters, for once asking questions rather than answering them.  It’s the first time he’s ever come off as a child rather than a smug god-king.  He’s had a dream that he seeks to understand, a dream told… in flashback!

The dream begins with stock footage, mostly stuff from the opening of “The Young Lords” where Starbuck’s fighter was hit and had to crashland, interspersed with new dialogue footage of Starbuck and Boomer; you can tell the old from the new since the new stuff is shot in the revamped 2-seater cockpits.  Boomer tearfully leaves Starbuck, and there’s a tense scene on the Galactica (the tiny, pared-down G80 bridge set, which is the proportional equivalent of doing a flashback to Star Trek: TOS and setting all the bridge scenes in the turbolift) as Adama angrily, reluctantly convinces Boomer that they can’t risk going back for him.  Something of a retcon here, as Adama treats Starbuck like a beloved son, something never really in evidence in the original show (and unlikely given how Starbuck two-timed Adama’s daughter with, and eventually dumped her for, a hooker-turned-nurse).  But it’s a nice bit of drama and the first time Adama’s shown any trace of a backbone in this entire series.  He must’ve traded his spine in for that beard.

Starbuck crashes on a desert planet, and we discover that Viper cockpits are escape pods.  But he’s alone, and for the next act or so, Starbuck’s voiceover narrates the tale of his solitary exile, though to whom is unknown.  (Did Dr. Zee actually hear this narration in his dream?)  Eventually he finds the remains of the Cylon ship that crashed along with him, and there’s a nice scene of the bored Starbuck treating the inert robots as his troops and giving them orders for the day, including dinner in dress silvers.  Finally he gets tired of talking to himself and rebuilds one of the Cylons as a companion.  The Cylon, whom Starbuck calls “Cy,” is hostile at first, but Starbuck has neutralized his weapon and can switch him on and off, so they strike an uneasy truce.

Perhaps it’s supposed to be because Starbuck didn’t put him together right, but Cy has a unique voice treatment.  The Vocoder monotone is still there, but it’s supplementing rather than replacing the natural voice of the actor delivering the lines (an uncredited Gary Owens, best known as the announcer on Laugh-In and the voice of Space Ghost), so he has a more expressive voice than other Cylons.  And it soon becomes clear why, since Cy is quite a character.  Never before have we seen a Cylon given this degree of personality development or learned so much about their culture; even the humanoid Andromus in “The Night the Cylons Landed” was stiff compared to Cy.  Cy is opinionated, sarcastic, a critic of human nature, but also a bit prickly with easily wounded pride.  He’s the funniest character in the episode, and intentionally, not in a “so bad it’s good” way.

Starbuck teaches Cy to play cards, and when he inevitably cheats, Cy is “disappointed.”  Upon realizing that Starbuck is on edge due to a lack of female companionship, Cy storms off to find him a “woo-man.”  To Starbuck’s surprise, he actually finds one, a silent, mysterious, and moreover highly pregnant woman.  Starbuck cares for her for a week while blabbing his life story to this mute enigma, and when she speaks, her first question is, “Starbuck, would you die for me?”  Sheesh, talk about needy.  Anyway, her name is Angela (accented on the middle syllable), and she says she’s from “a dimension beyond.”  (The Twilight Zone?)  She also says the baby is his — spiritually, at least, though with Starbuck you never know — and that he’ll have to build a ship to protect the child from the Cylons’ inevitable arrival.  He convinces Cy to help build an escape ship out of parts of both their ships, reminding him that they share everything, but Cy is feeling left out as the only Cylon among an ever-growing population of humans, and insists that a Cylon and human can never be friends.  Still, he helps build the ship.

After the baby is born, “judgment day” soon comes as the Cylons land.  Cy goes off, and Starbuck is unable to bring himself to shoot him and prevent him from giving their presence away.  He gets Angela and Kal-El the baby to the ship and says he’s coming with them, but she’s awfully eager to push him into staying behind and sacrificing himself so their fuel will last longer, claiming it’s actually what he intended all along (maybe, but she could’ve at least pretended to object).  So he sends them on their way and stays  to fight the Cylons, even though he’s outnumbered, three against one.

“Three against two,” the returning Cy corrects, and goes out to meet his Cylon brethren.  He orders them to lower their weapons and then blasts them — but the last one shoots him before Starbuck downs it.  Cy’s dying words are, “Not Cylon.  Not human.  Friends.”  Awwwwwwwwwww.  It’s actually kind of a touching moment.

So Angela shows up on the cliff and intones that she’s judged Starbuck good, then fades into the ether.  Apparently she was a superbeing of some kind, probably one of the Beings of Light from the original series.  And it’s no great surprise that her baby was eventually retrieved by the fleet and became Dr. Zee.  (Although Zee is for once handed the Idiot Ball and is unable to deduce that until Adama tells him, even though he’s usually able to deduce things no one could possibly know without having read the script.)  The ship kept him in cryogenic stasis for an unknown amount of time before catching up with the fleet, thus reconciling the fact that Zee is only 10 despite the flashbacks having to be at least 20-25 years earlier.

So Zee is not actually human at all, but is a juvenile Being of Light.  That would explain his superintelligence.  Maybe the Beings sent him to guide the fleet?  If so, maybe the usual hands-off policy of super-advanced sci-fi beings is a good idea.  Better to leave mere mortals to develop self-sufficiency than allow them to become so passively dependent on this one supergenius boy to make all their decisions for them.

Although “The Return of Starbuck” is not perfect (and suffers particularly from Judith Chapman’s awkward acting as Angela), it’s certainly the best G80 episode, and in many ways one of the best episodes of Larson’s Galactica overall.  It’s a nice character-driven piece and adds new depth to Starbuck and the Cylons alike.  It just goes to show, often the best stories come from sticking two very different characters alone together in an empty room (or a deserted planet).

I think this episode answers a question I raised in my overview discussion for the original BSG.  I was wondering who it was that did the Cylons’ voices.  Vocoder aside, there was a particular, distinctive cadence to the way most Cylons spoke, a measured but somewhat syncopated delivery with a tendency to draw out the last syllables of sentences or long words.  So I figured there had to be a specific person speaking the Cylons’ lines into the Vocoder in most cases, but I couldn’t find out who it was.  But when listening to Gary Owens as Cy here, I listened past his own audible voice, listened to the cadence of the underlying monotone.  Now, I’ve always had a particularly good memory for rhythmic patterns such as music and speech cadence, which is how I noticed that distinctive Cylon speech rhythm in the first place.  And while it’s possible I might’ve been projecting my expectations onto it, I’m fairly certain I heard the same cadence in Owens’s delivery as Cy.  It fits the way he speaks as an announcer; he draws out the ends of sentences the same way, has the same kind of syncopated delivery.  I didn’t recognize it with just the rhythm and not the pitch, but Cy’s voice allows a direct, real-time comparison, and it fits pretty well.   So I think it’s likely that Gary Owens did all (or most) of the Cylon Centurion voices in the original two Galactica series.  It’s quite possible, since Owens was an active announcer and voice artist at the time (and for quite some time thereafter).

So what to make of Galactica 1980 overall?  Not much.  It was an afterthought, a bad idea, and mercifully short-lived.  It worked poorly as a continuation of the original.  Continuity was altered or ignored, whether in terms of the implied time frame of the original, the use of “alien” measurements and terminology, or whatever.  It was a very different show in format and approach as well.  The original was an epic space opera in concept (if rarely in execution), but this was a fairly run-of-the-mill entry in the “stranger in a strange land” genre of alien characters struggling to figure out Earth culture and idioms and using their strange alien powers and knowledge to solve the crisis of the week.  As a result, the Galactican characters were somewhat altered, presented as stiffer, more formal in their speech, and greater in intellect and physical abilities than they were in the original show.  In BSG, they were the humans, but here, they became the aliens, and were thus adjusted to fit the stock tropes of TV aliens.

Points of commonality with the original show are minimal.  Very little of the show is set on the Galactica or in the fleet, and we rarely see anyone aboard the Galactica besides Adama, Dr. Zee, and occasionally the Tigh-lite Col. Boomer.  And Adama is hardly the same character, reduced to a mere underling of Dr. Zee.

Ahh, yes, Dr. Zee.  I remembered the character from my childhood and the occasional times I’ve seen reruns of these episodes since then, but I’d never quite realized just what a disturbing character he was.  Most every SF show has its all-around genius character, the universal expert that the rest of the characters turn to for guidance on any and all scientific matters: Spock, Data, the Professor (yes, Gilligan’s Island was often essentially a sci-fi show), Kryten from Red Dwarf, Henry from Eureka, etc.  We even have Doctor Who, a series where that character is the star of the show.  But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show that took the universal-genius character to this extreme, making him effectively all-powerful, the ultimate and only decision-maker in the entire organization, to the extent that he’s essentially a de facto monarch.  One could make a case that such a character realistically could and would rise to such heights.  The Professor effectively was the leader of the castaways’ community despite the Skipper’s nominal authority.  Data could’ve easily commanded the entire Enterprise, or maybe even accomplished more without all those imperfect humanoids slowing things down.  Henry actually is the mayor of Eureka these days.  But usually these characters don’t seek any real authority or accept it grudgingly, content to serve or to focus on their studies, or else have weaknesses that limit their understanding of social or emotional matters and keep them from being effective leaders.  This is done as a way of balancing the cast, making sure the genius character doesn’t overshadow all the others or render them superfluous.  But G80 had no such care or thought put into it, and thus Zee is a striking exception, so completely dominant that he is, in effect, the humans’ Imperious Leader, reducing the rest of the Galactican cast to mere drones following his orders.  As I suggested before, the example I’m most reminded of is Anthony in the short story and Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” a young boy with unlimited power and no restraint, who rules as an absolute dictator over his community.  G80 presents Zee as a benevolent monarch, at least, but the unexamined implications of his power are rather alarming.  What would happen if Adama ever found his misplaced backbone and said no to Zee?  What would Zee do if he threw a tantrum?  This is what happens when you slap together a TV show without putting any real thought into it.  The most interesting stories may be the ones you don’t tell.

So where Battlestar Galactica was an epic premise executed by mediocre talents, generally banal in execution but sometimes inspiring its creators to raise their game and do something reasonably worthwhile, Galactica 1980 was a mediocre premise executed by equally mediocre talents, against their will and with no passion for, or even interest in, the work.  As such, it’s tedious, shallow, and directionless, only achieving banality on its best days, with no moments of inspiration except in the final episode.

The series’ highest points? Well, better to say that the series’ single high point is “The Return of Starbuck.”  Of the 9 episodes featuring Troy and Dillon, “The Night the Cylons Landed” is perhaps the most entertaining, though still quite silly and slow-paced.

Best cast members? Again, make that singular: Robyn Douglass.  The show didn’t really have much of a cast, and most of its recurring players were a bunch of interchangeable kids.  Douglass wasn’t a compellingly great actress, or at least didn’t have much to work with, but she brought a livelier presence than the rest and was pretty nice to look at.  The other adult actors weren’t bad per se, but had virtually nothing to work with.

Best production value?  Stu Phillips’s music.  There was a lot more original scoring here than I expected.  The best individual score was “The Return of Starbuck,” with some nice dramatic cues unlike anything else in the series.

I won’t bother to list the series’ low points, because we’d be here all night, and I’ve already covered most of them anyway.  The fact that it existed at all is a low point.  Galactica 1980 is a textbook case of the perils of network meddling overriding creative judgment.  Not that Glen Larson was ever that good a creator, but this is a show that literally only existed because of a network’s will overriding a creator’s will, a show that had no vision or purpose behind it beyond the network’s desire to  sell a few more nights’ worth of ad time and try to recoup some money on an investment they’d come to regret.  In a way, I feel that ABC has made the same mistake more recently with the remake of V.  That’s a show that had no creative vision or purpose behind it, that existed only because ABC wanted a new genre show to replace Lost and tried to find some pre-existing property they could get the rights to.  It exists because of concerns external to the story, and the actual story content was an afterthought.  So it really doesn’t have any story to tell, any creative purpose or voice, and is a directionless mess.  But the V remake inexplicably got a second season while G80 was mercifully short-lived.

Anyway, that’s enough of that.  Hopefully the next thing I review here will be much better.  There can be a certain Schaddenfreude in making fun of bad TV and movies, and it’s easier to be funny when talking about them, but it’s not something I’d want to make a regular habit of.

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