When the sharks started flying last night all your usual entertainment sources were live tweeting in full force, as was NASA and NASCAR although we’d later learn that they were in on the joke too. But they weren’t the only brands to get in on the Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! action.
Through the last two months I’ve been working on checking items off my TV New Year’s Resolution list. In addition to watching a variety of Olympic events, I also just finished the reboot of Battlestar Galactica!
Mostly I just can’t believe it took me this long to watch the series, and if you are reading this thinking about doing the same, then I certainly encourage you to check it out. Especially if you’re a Firefly fan, there are a lot of similarities between the two series like a dystopian future, engaging underdog characters, and of course spaceships.
Here’s a few more practical reasons why you might enjoy marathoning Battlestar Galactica:
One more thing before you press play – with so many episodes and offshoots like the mini-series, made-for-tv movie, and webisodes you may want to consult this handy Battlestar Galactica viewing order guide to maximize the storytelling experience.
[Spoilers Below: You’ve Been Warned.]
Despite all of the time I spend watching TV and reading about various television shows, somehow I knew very little about this series before starting it, which I think was refreshing to be able to watch something with rather vague expectations. Unlike my Breaking Bad marathon, I was able to just kind of let events unfold and enjoy or gasp or shake my head in bewilderment as they came.
I thought the series got off to an especially strong start when the then newly sworn-in President Roslin made the tough call for the fleet to jump away from the oncoming Cylon attack, leaving the FTL-less civilian ships behind and defenseless in Part II of the initial Mini-Series. That one moment set the tone for the rest of the series – that this wasn’t going to be a show about ‘big damn heroes’, but about survivors.
Sure they’d occasionally get some small victories and I suppose the last one, but for the most part everything was about minimizing loss and reacting to the circumstances around them. The theme of survival didn’t just apply to the crew of Galactica and its fleet either, the Cylons were fighting for the same thing, the survival of their race, hence all the big hullabaloo about about resurrection ships, reproduction rights, and Hera Agathon. Hell, even the opening title sequence displayed the number of ‘survivors’ left from the initial attacks on the twelve colonies.
And as much as Joss Whedon and George R.R. Martin have the reputation for killing off characters, I’m surprised that Ronald D. Moore’s name is mentioned more often. After the initial attacks, Roslin’s whiteboard estimated 50,298 survivors, by the end of the series that number dwindled to 39,406 according to the title card of the final opening sequence. You better believe that some of those people were characters we came to know and care about.
Obviously there are many more themes present in Battlestar Galactica, but for me the act of survival was always the most consistent and most interesting one. Maybe its the most basic, but I really enjoyed the episodes that didn’t get too bogged down in religious mythology or Cylon politics. What made the series so engaging was the characters, many of which were normal people trying to keep on keeping on under extraordinary circumstances. And as long as I’m invested in the characters I’m willing to go on whatever ride the showrunners want to take us, even if that ride ends with the Galactica flying into the sun while the rest of mankind turns it back on technology.
Out of all of the genres that routinely cross between television and film, horror seems like one of the most under-served on the small screen, which is one of the reasons I’ve so quickly grown fond of SyFy’s new original series Helix.
Obviously there are other shows on TV that tap into the horror genre, like Hannibal and American Horror Story, but their visual stylization almost puts a shiny sheen on what was once terrifying. And that isn’t meant to be a criticism; both are quite effective at storytelling and for Hannibal it’s probably the only way they can get away with showing what they do on NBC.
That’s also not to say that Helix doesn’t look visually interesting, because it certainly makes good use of its secluded stark medical / research lab setting. However, the primary difference between Helix and its counterparts is that it utilizes a blend of science fiction and classic horror tropes to build suspense and provide some scares.
[The following contains mild spoilers for the first three episode.]
As I mentioned before, one of Helix’s strongest horror elements is its isolated arctic locale. Research medical labs aren’t typically known for their warm and fuzzy vibes, so when you pair that with a remote location, the stakes just get higher. They are literally alone once the helicopter flies away in the pilot.
Of course this isn’t the only form of isolation utilized in the series. Characters become further isolated, on purpose, as a way of trying to contain the virus. And let’s be honest, in a crowded room full of panicky and possibly infected people, you are the only one looking out for yourself.
But even beyond that, the CDC team is so small that they often have to split up to accomplish the various tasks at hand – whether it be working in the lab (lookout for those infected monkeys), looking for evidence in the mostly locked-down facility (lookout for infected people), or crawling through the air duct system (lookout for your infected brother).
And all of that alone time only feeds into the paranoia and unsettling fear that something is out there, which isn’t farfetched given that someone infected with the virus is almost always on the loose. Plus Dr. Hatake and his team have been less than forthcoming with what’s really going on further lending itself to the distrust and unease that’s only grown as the unknown virus continues to spread.
But these feelings aren’t just evoked via the plot, Helix incorporates camera angles that we all know so well from horror movies. You know the ones, the shot that trails behind a character as if they are being followed and the one that positions the character just a bit more towards the edge of the frame than normal, which only means one thing – look out behind you!
The sound editing has also been quite effective. If you’re anything like me, silence can be eerie in its own right and from what I can recall most of the audio is diegetic, or at least pretty subtle, with the exception of the title card sequence that is. So the hum and beeping of machines and the hissing from the air vents is all that exists when things are going well. And none of those noises are all that calming or reassuring. This of course makes the sound of someone crawling through the air vents or banging on a door all that more jarring.
Whether the series can sustain this form of suspense is something we’ll just have to wait and see. I’ve long figured that horror doesn’t mix well with television because of its long form storytelling format. And while these horror elements initially grabbed my attention, I’d still like to see some more character development. Hopefully Helix will find a nice balance between the two in the coming weeks.
Helix airs on the SyFy channel Fridays at 10pm.