Monday, 25 July 2011

Embracing Sci-Fi

I’m someone who makes a conscious effort not to be too greatly influenced by public opinion when it comes to the various forms of media, especially film, TV and music. I say it’s a conscious effort because I am aware that I, like most people, do on some level want other people to like the same things I do, it’s a kind of affirmation of your taste. Sure some people take pleasure in liking things precisely because everyone else dislikes them, but that’s always seemed a little pointless to me, so desperate to avoid conformity that they become incredibly predictable. I try and find the happy middle ground between those who like things only if they are popular and those who instantly dislike things for the same reason.

One area where I find the perceptions of what is popular and what is not to be particularly damaging is with TV shows that are labelled as Sci-fi or Supernatural shows. Of course every so often a show from one of those genres manages to make the jump into popularity, ‘Lost’ springs to mind, but as a general rule those genre labels and mass popular appeal/acceptance don’t tend to go hand in hand.

Two shows I feel have particularly suffered from this are ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ and the modern reimagining of ‘Battlestar Galactica’. Both shows have a cult following and have attracted a decent amount of critical acclaim, but they’re rarely given the credit I believe they deserve. They’re dismissed as geeky, immature or trivial, but they actually have the freedom to take on some of the big topics in life while providing entertainment at the same time. I would list both of them amongst any list of the top 10 greatest TV shows, yet I know I’m unlikely to be in the majority with that assessment.

‘Buffy’ has always been one of my favourite shows, I remember watching them when they were shown on the BBC several years ago now and my family own all the DVDs. I say that fully aware that I won’t be garnering any of those fabled ‘cool points’ everyone’s after with that admission, but it’s true. I whole heartedly believe that the Joss Whedon created show is one of the best examples of TV out there; tightly scripted, well rounded characters, sometimes very dark, often incredibly funny and always entertaining, ‘Buffy’ has pretty much everything I look for in a TV show.

For those who think the show lacks the depth, subtlety or range of some of the more widely acknowledged great shows, like ‘The Wire’, ‘The Sopranos’, ‘E.R’ or even ‘Friends’, I advise that they watch ‘The Body’, an episode from season 5 (obviously I’d advise you to watch the whole show from start to finish, but if you wanted a one episode justification for my love of the show go for this one). It is one of the most powerful episodes of any show, subtle yet powerful and heart-wrenchingly honest and human take on the grief of losing a loved one.

I don’t rate ‘Battlestar Galactica’ quite as highly as I do ‘Buffy’ but I maintain that it is a great show dismissed by many due to it being a sci-fi show with a now very dodgy looking 80’s predecessor that takes place in space. You think space based battles and exploration and you can’t help but think of ‘Star Trek’ but ‘Galactica’ is an entirely different animal to the frequently corny and much more light hearted tale of the Starships Enterprise etc.

‘Galactica’ is the story of the last remnants of humanity fleeing across space after the robots we created rose up against us; so far so ‘Terminator’. It’s a pretty classic set up, the idea of the dangers of sentient machines, but it’s one that not only looks at how humanity behaves when it’s very survival is in question, but also how sentience leads to emotions and lots of very human weaknesses. The robots, ‘Cylons’, are given depth and development that raises the show above others from its sub-genre. It asks the question of whether sentient thought can exist without also having to deal with faith, love and prejudice.

It’s a fascinating TV show throughout all 4 seasons and the feature length episodes they released between seasons. It’s got exciting space battles and soldiers v robot killing machine firefights as you’d hope from a show about a species fighting for it’s very survival. What makes the show special though is that the action is set against a plot which takes in a wide range of the big questions that define humanity even at the best of times; the role of religion, political violence, racism, class structures and the psychological impact of constantly fighting for your life.

‘Galactica’ perfectly highlights just what the sci-fi genre is capable of, why it is so unfair that it is dismissed as somehow less worthwhile than other genres. It gives directors and script writers the opportunity to tell stories about very real and contemporary issues against a fantastical and epic backdrop.

Watch them both, it may turn out that you don’t rate them as highly as me, perhaps you’ll hate them, but just don’t dismiss them because of the genre they fall within.

Today's song is a Youtube upload by a guy I went to school with, a friend who I saw play a lot of gigs while in a band with some other guys from my school. He's now more focussed on solo acoustic stuff and he's come a long way, with both his singing and guitar playing reaching an impressive level these days. Give this, and the other covers he has uploaded a listen.

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