Battlestar galactica, based on the short-lived 70s Star Wars clone of the same name, is the most socially relevant and politically engaged drama on TV.
A lot of shows claim their stories are ripped from the headlines, but this series about spaceships and killer robots that look like soft-core porn stars actually has something to say about the world in which those headlines are written.
What began as a tired morality tale about the consequences of playing God - when will we learn that robots are bad news? - has been rewired as a pointed examination of how a society functions, or doesn't function, in times of crises.
And lest it seem too much like a social studies lesson, there are enough shootouts, space battles and, yes, even sex scenes to satisfy all of geekdom.
Clearly shaded by post-9/11 paranoia (at one point a civilian spaceship on a collision course with the Galactica is ordered destroyed), BSG is also calculatingly subversive.
While most sci-fi treats religion as something to be explained away, BSG engages the issues of faith and fanaticism head-on: the humans are polytheistic, while the Cylon robots they created worship one god and believe their genocidal actions are god's will. It's the humans who resort to terrorist tactics like suicide bombing.
Admittedly, science fiction is an easy target for mockery. The hyper-earnestness, the hardware-obsessed techno-babble, the idiotic attention to wormholes and warp drives - no wonder William Shatner famously chided Trekkies to get a life on Saturday Night Live.
While BSG does possess a certain fromage factor (they say "frak" instead of "fuck," for fuck's sake), the show isn't ridiculous.
It isn't about exploring strange new worlds or boldly bedding every green-skinned hottie that spreads its tentacles. It's about survival plain and simple. Space isn't the final frontier, it's an escape route.
In stark contrast to the crisp white cleanliness of Star Trek, BSG has a dark, gritty texture and a documentary rawness. Life aboard ship is as claustrophobic as any submarine.
Food, water and personnel aren't automatically replenished in time for the next episode, problems aren't solved merely by futzing with the dilithium crystals, and shields against attack from without and within simply don't exist.
One of the keys to Galactica's success is that the characters' conflicts are as explosive as the CGI dogfights.
Not that BSG jettisoned everything from the original series. A ragtag fleet still holds the remaining humans (36,592 of them, at last count) fleeing across the galaxy with the Cylons in pursuit.
The pragmatic Admiral Adama is still in charge of what's left of the military, although he's played with understated authority by Edward James Olmos. Lorne Greene, the original Adama, seemed to think he was still wrangling cattle on the Ponderosa most of the time.
Adama's second-in-command, Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan), brilliantly re-envisioned as a Rumsfeldian alcoholic hardcase with one eye as result of Abu Ghraib-style torture, is gung-ho to violate people's civil liberties if it means killing one more Cylon.
Hotshot fighter pilots Apollo, Starbuck and Boomer are here, too, although none uses as much mousse as the feathered-hair originals.
Apollo (Jamie Bamber) no longer follows his father, Adama's, orders so unquestioningly; Starbuck (Katie Sackhoff) is still a swaggering, cigar-chomping smart-mouth of the Han Solo variety, only now he's a she and tougher than ever; and Boomer (Grace Park) is not only now a woman, but also a Cylon sleeper agent.
The realization that some Cylons look human has ignited rampant xenophobia - the enemy could be anybody - and an ongoing debate among the characters about what it means to be human.
Adama's intervention in civilian matters has led to clashes with a reluctant President Roslin (Mary McDonnell), resulting in the continual redefining of democracy to suit the circumstances.
While her gender isn't an issue, Roslin's epiphany that she's destined to lead the survivors to the promised land raises questions about secularism versus religion and the influence of faith on government leaders.
Enter the traitorous Baltar (played with Shakespearean flourishes by James Callis). Baltar is a sackless yet psychotic scientist who unwittingly helped his über-blond Cylon girlfriend (über-blond ex-supermodel Tricia Helfer) blow up the human home world. A Cylon puppet, Baltar is that not-so-rare politician who acts not from a sense of duty but out of cowardice.
Recent episodes have taken the war on terror allegory even further, setting the action on an Iraq-like desert planet where the humans have formed an insurgent force to fight the Cylon occupiers intent on bringing a peaceful resolution to hostilities.
Cylon-led human police forces, civilian kidnappings, roadside ambushes, executions: BSG is as real as science fiction gets. And it's got killer robots that look like porn stars.
How frakkin' cool is that?
Battlestar Galactica airs on Space Saturdays at 9 pm and Sundays at 6 pm.
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