Making a Case for Caprica

First things first: Though the freshman Syfy series Caprica is obviously inspired by Battlestar Galactica (it's a prequel, of sorts, about early models of cylons), it ain't the second coming of BSG. But dismissing Caprica for unfavorable comparisons to one of the best shows in recent history is doing the promising young upstart a disservice. It may not have gigantic ratings, but after five episodes of increasing quality and suspense, Caprica's assets are becoming hard to ignore. Ahem:

The storyline draws the show's characters closer and closer together.

The show's pilot kick-started the drama in a major way: A secret cult, believing in one true God instead of the polytheism of the 12 colonies, recruits students to carry out an act of terrorism. One of them, Zoe Graystone, is the daughter of tech superstar Daniel Graystone, and during the attack she kills the wife and daughter of Joseph Adama (yes, dad of the future Admiral Adama). Suddenly, the salt-of-the-"Earth" Adama family is hobnobbing with Caprican elite as the two families grieve together. Meanwhile, Graystone has created avatars of his and Adama's daughters in the virtual world—a Matrix-like existence popular with the young people those days—and the two plot a way out of this mess. Meanwhile, Zoe's cult friends continue to unravel the mystery surrounding her death. It's becoming increasingly fun to explore how these worlds collide and influence one another.

The acting is dark, brooding, and compelling.

Both Eric Stoltz (who plays Daniel Graystone, and was seen in the superb film Kicking & Screaming—not the Will Ferrell one) and his onscreen wife Paula Malcomson find fascinating ways to cope with the loss of their daughter: Daniel throws himself maniacally into his work, and Amanda removes herself from the world, only surfacing to deliver rambling, regrettable accusations to the press about the cult. Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) brims with barely controlled rage over his own loss and the fact that, little by little, his son is slipping away into the arms of his shady brother Sam (Sasha Roiz). Friends and enemies are made out of obligation to the deceased, and the superb actors hold their emotions inside until they're about to burst, making for nuanced, melodrama-free delivery. This is to say nothing of Patton Oswalt as the host of a Daily Show-esque program, who couldn't have been cast more perfectly.

The virtual world rocks.

Last week, the Adama daughter Tamara, who's nothing more than an avatar at this point, found herself in the virtual New Cap City, playing a Grand Theft Auto-like game involving gangsters and rich 1920's scenery. The rules of the game dictate that when you're killed, you can never play again—and once Tamara realized that she's immortal (with no real life to go back to), she took advantage by running a bank heist against the game's most notorious mobster, infiltrating his organization, and killing everyone in sight. While Caprica's reality is very similar to our modern-day existence and merely peppered with technology, the show's virtual world is a hell of a lot of fun. Prepare to nerdgasm.

Like BSGCaprica's not really "about" sci-fi.

Larger questions are raised almost immediately: If the virtual world, created by Graystone, is plaguing the youth, how can Graystone solve the problem by using more technology? How will Joseph Adama balance his Tauran roots and traditions with the pressure to "fit in" to Caprican society? At what point is a cult not a cult, but rather a viable alternative to the major religious undertones? In a short amount of time, Caprica has already explored racism, family, and living with fear; imagine the drama woven out of an entire season.

Everyone says "frak."

Nostalgia's a powerful persuader.

What do you think of Caprica so far?

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