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Scott D. Pierce: 'Caprica' is not 'Battlestar Galactica'

Published: Friday, Jan. 22 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Eric Stoltz, left, and Esai Morales in the Eric Stoltz, left, and Esai Morales in the "Battlestar Galactica" prequel, "Caprica." (Joe Pugliese, Syfy)

PASADENA, Calif. — You don't need to be a "Battlestar Galactica" fan to enjoy its prequel, "Caprica."

As a matter of fact, you don't need to have seen a single episode of "Galactica" to be up to speed on the new show. It's a prequel, after all.

Hey, I'm a huge "Galactica" fan, and I sort of envy anyone who can watch "Caprica" first and then watch "Galactica" on DVD.

"Certainly, new viewers who never watched 'Battlestar' will find that there's virtually no tether to 'Battlestar Galactica' from a storytelling standpoint whatsoever," said executive producer David Eick. "There are the occasional Easter eggs and nods and acknowledgments for the 'Battlestar' faithful to enjoy or maybe deepen some of their appreciation for it, but I think legitimately the show stands on its own."

He's right in both cases.

Those little nods to the other show are great fun for "Galactica" fans, but if you miss them it doesn't hurt your viewing experience one iota.

The most obvious tie to "Galactica" is the presence of young Willie Adama (Sina Najafi), who will one day grow up to be the battlestar commander who saves what's left of humanity. But, again, if you don't know that it doesn't matter.

The "Caprica" pilot, which airs Friday at 7 and 9 p.m. on Syfy, is the same "Caprica" that was released on DVD last year. With a bit of editing, mostly to get the nudity out.

Just as "Galactica" was never an outer-space show despite the fact that it was set mostly in outer space, neither is "Caprica" a strictly sci-fi series despite the fact that it's set on another planet where space travel is a fact of life and robots are in every home.

" 'Caprica,' like 'Battlestar,' doesn't treat the genre as the toy department," said Eick. "We really do take it seriously, and we really do try to involve depth of character, realism, grounded-terrestrial naturalism to a science fiction world."

Their premise is that "science fiction was not just fun and games. We wanted to go sort of the opposite direction of George Lucas, if you will. We wanted to make it less about escapism and more about moral complexity ... and great characters."

Mission accomplished.

"Galactica" was about the end of the human civilization on the Twelve Colonies; "Caprica" is about that civilization at its height. And at the beginning of its end.

Set about half a century before "Galactica," the new series is very much a complex family drama. As it opens, two seemingly good men lose family members in a terrorist bombing in Caprica City.

Prominent attorney Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) loses both his wife and teenage daughter; wealthy businessman/scientist Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz) loses his teenage daughter. The two bond over their shared loss, quickly becoming close friends.

But Graystone thinks he's found a way to get his daughter back. Maybe he can upload the avatar she created of herself for an underground cyber-world into a little invention his company is working on — cybernetic life-form node, or Cylon.

Cue the ominous music.

"Imagine you were watching a show that you knew nothing about and they were developing sentient robots," said executive producer Jane Espenson. "You might very well get a glimmer that these sentient robots are going to be trouble down the road. You don't need 'Battlestar Galactica' to tell you that."

Which is not to say that "Caprica" doesn't retain what was at the heart of "Galactica." The prequel is also a complex drama that's full of what Espenson proudly calls "moral ambiguity."

"There's no stark bad guys and good guys. … This is a world that is perceived by some of its residents as sort of sliding over the edge, and there's a whole bunch of people who think they've got the answer," she said. "And it's not at all clear that any of them have the answer.

"And if everybody has moral shadings, and we can tell very complex stories as a result."

She wasn't exaggerating. If you think you've figured out who the good guys and bad guys are after the first couple of episodes, Episode 3 will prove you wrong.

If you were a "Galactica" fan, there's a bit of an adjustment to "Caprica." The two-hour premiere is great; the first hourlong episode slows the pace down a bit. But the next episode reaches out and grabs you.

And if you never watched "Galactica," give "Caprica" a chance. Don't be scared off by the science fiction label attached to the show.

Great drama is great drama.And "Caprica" shows all the signs of turning into another great drama.

MY NAME IS "SPARTACUS": The new series "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" (11 p.m., Starz) is epic in scale, gorgeous to look at and filled with action, adventure and drama.

It's also incredibly violent and sexual. It absolutely gushes blood and oozes sex.

It is, after all, a representation of decadent Rome. And it's on a pay-cable network.

So it's not really a surprise that it's as graphic as it is.

And it is very graphic, both in terms of the violence and the sex.

The word debauchery comes to mind. Repeatedly.

If you go into it "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" expecting a remake of the 1960 film "Spartacus," you're going to be shocked.

Really shocked.

e-mail: pierce@desnews.com

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