BATTLESTAR GALACTICA at the Paley Festival: Infecting with Accountability

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While the Paley event concerning the Battlestar Galactica/Caprica universe was probably meant as a roll-out for Caprica, most of the panel discussion concerned BSG (and really, how could superfan Seth Green not ask the creators what the heck was up with Daniel when he had them captive?). Ron Moore, David Eick, Jane Espenson, and the Caprica actors were joined by Battlestar actors Tricia Helfer and Grace Park (much, it should be noted, to Green’s obvious delight). Largely due to Green’s adorable and much-appreciated geekdom (he argued that Battlestar Galactica was the best television take on societal issues since Norman Lear produced All in Family), the panel gave a lot of insight into the questions we had about the creative procesess behind BSG. It’s jazz and mosaics, folks.

We’ve reported on the Caprica-related details of the panel elsewhere,  so we’ll concentrate on the BSG love here:

  • The Paley Festival shows clips from their archives before each panel–for example, they showed a clip of the Bryan Fuller-created, Lee Pace-starring Wonderfalls before the Pushing Daisies panel–and they picked a doozy for this crew: the ending of the 1963 Outer Limits classic “Demon with a Glass Hand”. A man discovers he’s not a man at all–he’s a robot programmed to digitally preserve the remnants of his human creators. He even has a human companion who backs away from him in horror upon realizing he’s a robot! Ah, the Cylons meet their real ancestors.
  • We thought Seth Green had forgotten to turn off his phone and that it was, er, flashing through his pants, but someone on the front row was taking a lot of pictures and the flash warning reflected off the crotches of everyone who stood at the on-stage microphone. Set Condition Crotch throughout the ship!
  • Before forgetting to introduce Paula Malcomson, Green introduced Jane Espenson as his friend “Jane EsPENson”. He is likely teasing her, but now I’m worried we’ve all been mispronouncing her name for years.
  • A few people showed up in costume, but perhaps the most alarming clothing we saw was a t-shirt that read “I :heart: Fat Apollo“. It was strangely hypnotic.
  • While the writers never let go of the idea that Laura Roslin was the dying leader mentioned in the Pythian prophecies (and, yes, Green did refer specifically to the Pythian prophecies, which was about the point I started planning to bake things for him), they did eventually toss around all of the other possibilities (Starbuck, Bill Adama, the Galactica herself, etc.) before letting each of those go and returning to Laura.
  • Given that, Moore and Eick had promised Mary McDonnell she would be Moses–leading her people to the Promised Land but never being able to enter herself. In early drafts of the series finale, she dropped dead sometime before the Raptors reached New!Earth’s surface. Eick described reading a later “elegant” Moore draft that let her see her people into their new home before flying off with Bill to die, noting that “clearly the audience wanted that.” While the resulting applause could fairly be described as a smattering, this was a respectful crowd that didn’t interrupt with applause much if at all otherwise, so he may well be right. (Or maybe I just agree with him because I wanted that).
  • Speaking of sayng goodbyes on New!Earth, they felt that Bill simply couldn’t say goodbye to Lee (perhaps reflecting his own childhood goodbyes on Caprica?). Eick noted the long tradition of television dads building bridges to the future for their sons, making sacrifices for their sons, coming to emotional reconciliations with their sons…and that they didn’t want any part of that nonsense.
  • In bringing up what may have been the most debated point of the series finale, Green actually asked whether Starbuck’s final exit was just her hiding in the grass. Espenson confirmed that the grass was indeed high.
  • The writers refused, however, to be drawn into giving any more answers about what Kara was in the end, claiming that the more they answered those questions the less interesting she became. Later, in related refusals to pin down what Kara’s Head!Father was (does an angel require an angel?), it became very apparent that Moore genuinely doesn’t think it’s important to nail down some of those kinds of answers as long as the end they get to is worth more than the means they take to get there. Espenson flat out confirmed that when she noted that one of the things she likes about science fiction is that the answers aren’t nailed down and are open to interpretation.
  • For example: “Daniel: Was that just a mathematical error that got resolved?” Yes. Yes, it was. (Friend o’ Bacon D and I wondered later whether the presumed lack of connection between Lost Number Seven Daniel and Caprica‘s Daniel Graystone is an homage to Aaron Sorkin’s insistence on using that name over and over. We then decided we had perhaps had too much Diet Pepsi. The writers did note, however, that John–Cavil, One, whatever else you want to call him–is the only Cylon whose nomenclatural origin has been revealed. So maybe it really is all about Sorkin.)
  • They were not messing around having the Hybrid call Kara the harbinger of death, a label they felt they paid off with her leading them to Scorched!Earth. They didn’t elaborate enough on that for us to really make sense of it–since they’d pinned their hopes on Earth, was finding it dead the end of humanity? Was the inability to settle there and the need for a new home what cemented the alliance that eventually made us all a little bit Agathon, thus ending the Colonial version of humanity Kara knew? I…don’t know. But this wasn’t a detail that fell through the cracks–they definitely felt that the finding Earth-as-a-cinder was the payoff to that.
  • Green pointed out that since the Leoben models have spent the entire show obsessed with Kara Thrace, he wondered if the wig-out upon finding Kara’s body on Scorched!Earth was a complete breakdown or whether there was method to the madness. The writers argued that the 12 Cylon models represent the 12 basic kinds of humans, and that the Leobens represent people who love the big puzzles and the eternal questions. When Leoben’s big puzzle exploded, he just plain checked out.
  • Helfer claimed not to have understood what Head!Six was until she watched the finale. We suspect she was exaggerating slightly for effect (there was giggling involved), but that the character’s true nature was something that both evolved and was kept pretty close to the vest. Asked about playing multiple versions of the same Cylon model, both angelic and corporeal, Helfer described approaching them as twins raised separately. One of the things that made each version different was the amount of contact with humans, which is pretty interesting given the show’s overall message that Cylons and humans had to come together to find salvation. Helfer described finding that process when noting that Shelley Godfrey was written differently from Caprica Six and asking Moore if she could play them differently.
  • Helfer and Park both talked about playing mulitple versions of their models in the same scene, noting that their stand-ins knew the physicality of the characters better than day players and were really helpful in the “doubling” process. Park mentioned working against Jen Halley (who played Seelix) to film her double a few times, while James Callis liked to have one camera rolling and move back and forth between the characters (with a stand-in available for blocking). The fact that that seems Gollumesque feels right, somehow.
  • Green was jokingly, mildly, and affectionately–but noticeably–skeevy with Helfer and Park on occasion, with hugs and eyebrow-waggling announcements that he could be reached at the end of the row of chairs if they needed him. He may have answered the eternal question of whether plots or hot women are the driving force behind fanboys, however. While setting up Park to discuss making out and general hotness, Green asked whether she found it “difficult to cavort with so many leading men…Chief, Helo…” Park helpfully added, “Gaeta…”, at which point Green lost the thread of his skeeve entirely and exclaimed, “Oh! I know he’s not here tonight, but I want to talk about Alessandro Juliani.” It was…an unexpected turn of events given the previous tenor of the question. There are multiple theories on why said turn occurred, each of which could illuminate the plot vs. hotness question. The first of which, I suppose, is that Green did not in fact lose the skeeve thread at all and is in reality an equal opportunity Battlestar cast skeever.
  • The second possibility is that fanboys are actually driven by plot and Green and I share, er, strong feelings about how gorgeously the mutiny arc played out. After letting Green rhapsodize about the complexity of Gaeta’s character and ethical quandaries, Moore noted that the writers tended to give Gaeta little tidbits in scripts even when he hadn’t shown up in the story outline. Eick liked the idea of the most unexpected character being the one who turned (asking us to imagine a North Korean attack on the US led by Gary Burghoff and…no, thank you) and noted that actors really have a lot to do with characters growing like that, as creators see what actors can do for their stuff. In this case, the writers were inspired by realizing how versatile and multidimensional the actor who started out doing mostly technobabble actually was. The last little thing bothering me about that whole storyline was wondering what the producers wanted us to take from it–would they be thrilled if half the audience sympathized with Gaeta and half wanted to kill him, or did they expect everyone to fall unquestioningly in line with Bill Adama? Given Moore’s description of Gaeta as someone “who really sacrificed, really put himself out there for his beliefs,” I think we can finally put that one to bed and just acknowledge that the mutiny arc rocked. Green seemed to agree wholeheartedly with this, so score one for the Plots possibility.
  • A third theory grows from Espenson’s discussion of how much she enjoys taking secondary and tertiary characters and putting them in the center of the story, in part because no one’s a secondary character from their own perspective–they’re always the hero of their own story. Green, nodding emphatically: “Being a character actor, I agree.” So maybe what caught his eye was a secondary character swirling into the center of a huge story…where he got to make out with Grace Park, a situation in which Seth Green would not mind finding himself. I’m not sure into which category this theory falls. 
  • Moore and Eick acknowledge that the title of the upcoming prequel film The Plan is intentionally ironic, since Moore’s response to Eick’s “and they have a plan” tagline suggestion was “there is no f*#@! plan.” Given some of the accusations from disgruntled fans after the finale (we did not fall into that category, but we heard the…disgruntling) about whether too much was done on the fly, it was interesting to hear Moore and Eick talk about how the sausage is made. They were very conscious of the balancing act between doing so much planning that nothing creative can happen and being so loose that no structure is imposed. Eick praised Moore for being able to walk the line between “jazz is not allowed here” and “hey, man, let’s make it up as we go” well, noting that Moore was always able to go to a place of “this is what we were saying before, but this is what we’re saying now” that gave them both structure and freedom. Eick argues that this kind of creative back and forth took the power away from a small core of producers and spread it throughout the production, which he referred to as “infecting the staff with accountability”. He sees this as the direction television in general is going, and given the way all of the Battlestar departments raised their games so high, the fulfillment of that prophecy would be very lucky for all of us.
  • Similarly, Moore acknowledged that the identities of the Final Five were chosen late in the game, and it took a long time to decide that the CIC was the opera house, likening the process to piecing together a mosaic: “I threw this one over here and I didn’t know what it meant, but how can I make it part of the mosaic and make the picture part of the whole?” While they admitted that this approach can be risky, it also frees them from “being Dick Wolf” and being tied to real-world situations instead of the deeper meanings those situations can represent symbolically. And they clearly believe that “all that matters is what you come to in the end.” Talking about how Caprica differs from BSG, they seemed pretty committed to the idea that all you can do is try to make good work that pleases you instead of trying to please someone else, so I suspect people for whom that mosaic approach doesn’t work will never be entirely satisfied with what they produce. Those who like that jazz has an underlying structure will find their worlds exciting. 
  • However, when Green asked about all of this happening before and all of this happening again and how that mapped onto the origins of the first humans and Cylons, Moore intoned, “There once was a paradise called Kobol, and then came gay marriage.” So, you know–ripped from the headlines.
  • While Moore originally intended Tyrol’s lonely exile to be Vancouver Island, we now have confirmation that Aaron Douglas‘ reading of it as Scotland led to the unspoken joke that the still expert was off to invent Scotch. (Someone then popped off that James Callis invented the Manson Family.)
  • Speaking of good old Gaius, Green noted an intriguing connection: “Gaius Baltar looks a little bit like Ron Moore. And both look a little like Jesus. What are you trying to say here?” Moore: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Christ or me?” Apparently the camera crew was pretty convinced Baltar was actually going to turn out to be Jesus, though. The possibilities are mind-boggling.
  • Finally, Green wondered if the Centurions who left in the finale are the UFOs people report (the panel wondered if they got bored and came back to see what the crazy humanoids were up to now) and closed the evening by asking whether we didn’t wish the Cylons would come destroy this world so we could all travel through space together. While I’m generally against a robotcalypse, the Paley panel does make traveling in a tin can listening to Seth Green quiz Ron Moore, David Eick, and Jane Espenson seem like a ton o’ big fun. (Toss the mild skeeze out the airlock, though, okay?)
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Emmys with a Side of Bacon

Susannah and I have been kicking back at the Emmys for a good long time now. We’ve wept. We’ve wailed. We’ve gnashed our teeth. Personally, I’ve worn sackcloth and ashes, but that’s just my general fashion aesthetic.

Part of the issue is that we can’t put our finger on what the problem is–something’s wrong (really, Academy–Entourage? Really?), but what is it? We’re inclined to blame the Emmy categories–is Pushing Daisies really the same kind of beast as Two and a Half Men? Should Dirty Sexy Money–or Boston Legal, for that matter–really be considered a drama? We’re embarrassed to admit, however, that every new categorization scheme we tried went exactly nowhere.

We considered doing away with “Drama” and “Comedy” and going instead with “Half-hour”/”Hour” or “Single-camera”/”Multi-camera”, both of which are already used in the technical and animated categories. In today’s television landscape, however, that left us with a couple of strong contenders and a couple we could argue about in the half-hour or mutli-camera categories while overloading the hour/single-camera even more than the current drama category already is. We toyed with the idea of honoring more actors by creating lead, supporting, and ensemble categories. These might allow for, say, Hugh Laurie (lead), Robert Sean Leonard (supporting), and Omar Epps (ensemble) or Steve Carell (lead), Rainn Wilson (supporting), and Ed Helms (ensemble) to be nominated for the same show, or for the large ensemble casts of, say, Lost or Friday Night Lights to be considered separately from shows that focus on true leads, like House or Life. The details necessary to make that work, however (“if the character appears on-screen for less than 30% of the broadcast…”), both felt arbitrary and were, frankly, nearly impossible to hammer out. We played with the possibility that there just aren’t enough slots available to honor all of the great performances out there, so we tried adding and dividing up categories differently–“Classic Sitcom”! “Workplace Drama”! “Speculative Fiction”! “Human Interest (read: Soap Opera”)! Each of those seemed just as arbitrary as “Comedy” and “Drama,” though–is Grey’s Anatomy a workplace drama or a human interest show? You could argue either category for Mad Men. We were stumped.

And then it occurred to us: maybe the categories are the problem–and maybe that means there shouldn’t be any categories at all. This was a strangely liberating idea. We kept the sex split, both because it seems less arbitrary than the above and because we feared our lists would be swamped with male roles otherwise (try filling out the female comedy roles under the traditional categories–brutal). We limited ourselves to people on the official Emmy ballot, which meant excluding favorites because of production-based eligibility problems (goodbye, British-based Doctor Who crew), because of genre (sorry, Venture Brothers–we’ll catch you next time), and because they simply didn’t appear on the ballot for reasons beyond our understanding (who dropped the ball on submitting Dan Byrd from Aliens in America?). We began with a list of 40 actors of each sex, then narrowed the list to 30 and ranked them. By assigning points to those rankings, we were able to compare and combine our lists to create a category-less Bacon Emmys. After complaining that there just weren’t enough spots to honor all of the excellent performances out there, we were pretty surprised to find that in the end we shared 21 ranked male actors and 21 ranked female actors–with one tie in the Lead Actor in a Drama category leading to 21 official male Emmy nominees in the “major” acting categories this year, that means our numbers are pretty much right on the real numbers. Some other patterns surprised us, too:

Male actors (in alphabetical order):

  • Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
  • Steve Carell, The Office
  • Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights
  • Gaius Charles, Friday Night Lights
  • Henry Ian Cusick, Lost
  • Glenn Fitzgerald, Dirty Sexy Money
  • Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
  • Ed Helms, The Office
  • Michael Hogan, Battlestar Galactica
  • Hugh Laurie, House
  • Robert Sean Leonard, House
  • Zachary Levi, Chuck
  • Damian Lewis, Life
  • Zeljko Ivanek, Damages
  • Jack McBrayer, 30 Rock
  • Chi McBride, Pushing Daisies
  • Lee Pace, Pushing Daisies
  • Wendell Pierce, The Wire
  • Andre Royo, The Wire
  • Michael K. Williams, The Wire
  • Ray Wise, Reaper

Female actors (in alphabetical order):

  • Julie Benz, Dexter
  • Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights
  • Rose Byrne, Damages
  • Kristin Chenoweth, Pushing Daisies
  • Glenn Close, Damages
  • Tina Fey, 30 Rock
  • Anna Friel, Pushing Daisies
  • Ellen Greene, Pushing Daisies
  • Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
  • Holly Hunter, Saving Grace
  • January Jones, Mad Men
  • Angela Kinsey, The Office
  • Swoosie Kurtz, Pushing Daisies
  • Mary McDonnell, Battlestar Galactica
  • Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost
  • Adrianne Palicki, Friday Night Lights
  • Amy Pietz, Aliens in America
  • Jamie Pressley, My Name Is Earl
  • Sarah Shahi, Life
  • Sonja Sohn, The Wire
  • Natalie Zea, Dirty Sexy Money

For the record, Susannah’s top two ranked actors I didn’t list were Lost‘s Michael Emerson and FNL‘s Jesse Plemmons, while my top ranked she didn’t list were Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Charlie Day. For the women, her top two ranked picks I didn’t list were The Riches‘ Minnie Driver and Lost‘s Evangeline Lily, while my top picks she didn’t list were Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica and Sunny‘s Kaitlin Olson.

These 42 actors represent 17 shows, which isn’t as many as the real nominees (24 shows). So maybe the Emmys do a better job of spreading the wealth than we would. On the other hand, they spread that wealth by nominating Charlie Sheen and Mariska Hargitay, and…yeah, we’re not going to apologize for not spreading the wealth quite that far. In fact, TV Bacon and the Academy agree on slightly fewer than 25% of the nominees (ten out of 41/42). It’s a supporting-heavy list, although that’s slightly skewed by self-submissions we’d place elsewhere (in what universe is Connie Britton supporting?)–that may reflect the current popularity of the ensemble shows we had such a hard time categorizing. It’s a very, very white list, especially for the women. Thank goodness for The Wire–if we remove their four candidates, 35 out of 38 of the remaining nominees are white. We’re still doing a little better than the real Emmys, who, including The Wire (from which they chose zero nominees), had four minority nominees out of 41 total. While we’ve both had America Ferrera and Edward James Olmos on our lists in the past, even including them wouldn’t hide the whitewash that is American television in 2008.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is that after all our complaining about the traditional categories–and we’re still plenty irked about several exclusions among the real nominees–it wouldn’t take us long to declare winners in each of those. Adding together our rankings to create a “winner,” we’d have to go exactly four names down our list of female actors to fill the four traditional categories, as our top four were Connie Britton (supporting actress in a drama), Glenn Close (lead actress in a drama), Kristin Chenoweth (supporting actress in a comedy), and Anna Friel (lead actress in a comedy). The pattern for the men isn’t nearly so clear, since we’d have to go five whole places down our list to declare winners in the four traditional categories: Andre Royo (supporting actor in a drama), Lee Pace (lead actor in a comedy), Alec Baldwin (lead actor in a comedy), Kyle Chandler (lead actor in a drama), and Jack McBrayer (supporting actor in a comedy). If we’d hewn even more strictly to the Emmy rules and judged a single episode the actors submitted, Baldwin’s tour de force journey through 70s sitcoms might well have pushed him over the top. So after all our complaining and rearranging–are the categories really the problem after all?

What do you think? How would you have rearranged the Emmy categories? Who do you think was robbed? Are you coming after me with pitchforks because it was my list that kept John Krasinski out? Will the Emmys ever get it right?

Who Gets Burned on This Season of BURN NOTICE?

People likely have different reasons for watching USA’s Burn Notice. They might appreciate Jeffrey Donovan’s witty mix of MacGyver and Jason Bourne (and the fact that he occasionally takes off his shirt). They might be fond of Gabrielle Anwar’s hot/cool combo of a woman too impatient to spy but willing to wait for her spy (and the fact that she wears bikini tops a lot). They might be amused by Sharon Gless’ cranky take on a woman who wasn’t a very good mother but who continues to worry about her son (and the fact that she wears…very large hoop earrings). If they’re smart, they might just love watching Bruce Campbell–yes, the Bruce Campbell–be snarky and deadly (and the fact that he wears wild Hawaiian shirts. I’ll start the call to, er, arms–more shirtless Campbell!).

Or maybe they just like to settle in for some summer fun with a clever, quick spy thriller that manages to maintain interest by weaving a crime of the week with the overall question of who is out to get Michael Westen. The end of last season found Michael driving into the back of an 18-wheeler where a seductive voice promised some answers. Maybe you’ll tune in for those answers, or maybe because that voice belongs to Battlestar Galactica‘s Tricia Helfer. And it’s Miami in the summer, so her showing up in some halter tops isn’t out of the question. Hey, it’s summer, it’s Burn Notice–it’s all about the sweaty fun. New episodes start tonight, 10pm Eastern.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA Crew Counts Off Twelve…Er, Ten for Letterman Tonight

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With the fourth and final (wah!) season of Battlestar Galactica kicking off soon (April 4! April 4!), promos have promised we’ll soon find out who the 12th Cylon model is. I gues we’ll have to be content until then with a different kind of countdown, as humans and Cylons alike show up on The Late Show with David Letterman tonight for the Top 10 Countdown. Sci Fi Wire confirms that Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, Michael Hogan, Aaron Douglas and Lucy Lawless will be along. You get a chance to see Michael Hogan with two eyes again! Maybe Mary McDonnell will have Paul Schaffer thrown out of an airlock! A girl can dream…