REVIEW: GALACTICA 1980

Starring

Lorne Greene (Bananza)
Herbert Jefferson Jr. (The Bastard)
Kent McCord (Predator 2)
Barry Van Dyke (Diagnosis Murder)
Robyn Douglass (Freeze Frame)
Jeremy Brett (Moll FLanders)
Allan Miller (Star Trek III)
Robbie Rist (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
James Patrick Stuart (General Hospital)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Richard Lynch (Puppet Master 3)
Robert Reed (The Brady Bunch)
Pamela Susan Shoop (Halloween II)
Sharon Acker (Lucky Jim)
Richard Eastham (Wonder Woman)
Brion James (Blade Runner)
Mickey Jones (Total Recall)
Paul Koslo (The Omega Man)
William Daniels (The Blue Lagoon)
Lara Parker (Dark Shadows)
Peter Mark Richman (Friday The 13th – Part 8)
Wolfman Jack (Motel Hell)
Dennis Haysbert (24)
Ana Alicia (Halloween II)
Dirk Benedict (The A-Team)
Judith Chapman (Days of Our Lives)

ABC’s decision to cancel Battlestar Galactica after one season didn’t sit well with viewers, and the show’s strong ratings (it out-rated almost every ABC series renewed for 1979-80) easily justified continuation. But with costs rising faster than expected ABC and Universal Studios wanted the show for substantially less than the per-episode costs of the original show, and at a time when SFX technology was not as advanced as today, there was no practical argument against the economics angle that hurt the show. Nonetheless, ABC tried to continue the Galactica mythos on a budget, and regardless of whether series creator Glen Larson was involved. Larson signed on to try and make it work, but the result, Galactica 1980, was a bitter disappointment to all.
The show’s weaknesses were extensive, but by far the greatest weakness lay in the deception used in promotion before the first episode aired. Promotions used the footage of Cylon raiders blasting Los Angeles extensively and gave the impression that the Cylon empire had found Earth and was in process of slaughtering the last planet of humanity, a premise that would have given the show a much stronger punch. But this footage was merely part of a “what if?” computer simulation to illustrate why the survivors of the Twelve Colonies cannot colonize Earth – “If we land, we will bring destruction upon Earth as surely as if we’d inflicted it ourselves,” as Commander Adama succinctly puts it in one of the show’s best lines.

With this premise of real life Cylon predation against Earth thus vetoed, the show begins to suffer, hurt even more by the excessive juvenile angle in the platoon of children rescued from the freighter Delphi after it is ambushed by Cylon raiders and forced to land on Earth, and also in the use of the mysterious Seraph youth Doctor Zee – had Doctor Zee been a Cylon creation (like the humanoid Cylon featured in “The Night The Cylons Landed” or better yet the Cylon IL Lucifer from the original series) that had turned against its masters, this angle would have made more sense – as it was, Zee’s genesis did make for the show’s best episode and surprisingly one of the best sci-fi episodes of any series, “The Return Of Starbuck.”

The show also suffered from several embarrassing incidents, notably the Halloween angle of “The Night The Cylons Landed” and the general incompatibility of the Kobollian survivors with the culture of Earth, leading to numerous bits of forced comedy that really aren’t funny.

But despite these weaknesses, the show did have some superb moments – the Cylon attack on Los Angeles, deception or not, is compelling footage, lasting roughly ninty seconds on-screen and superbly mixing stock matte-FX footage of Cylon raiders over outtake footage from Universal’s 1974 disaster film “Earthquake.” The sequence thus becomes one the best SFX sequences ever done for television – I especially liked the shots of Cylon raiders blasting the Capitol Records building, Cylon raiders diving into strafing runs then cutting to the Cylon POV shot of a street being attacked, the street being strafed as seen from above then from low angle as a raider flies toward and then past the screen, and the triumphant flyover of Cylon raiders over the now-ravaged city.
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The introduction of new Cylons in the human-form combat ILs in “The Night The Cylons Landed” as well as the new command-class AB raider (first seen mixed with the stock FX shot of Cylons strafing the Delphi in “The Super Scouts” but not fully explored until “Night”) is also an intriguing look into the evolution of the Cylon empire; not surprisingly this idea was developed to great fruition by Ronald Moore for the 2003 version of Battlestar Galactica.
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The arguments between Commander Adama and Commander Xavier (Richard Lynch) in the three-part pilot episode are well done – Lynch’s Xavier gives the show as compelling a villain in his own way as John Colicos’ Baltar, whose non-presence is particularly missed here. Also well done is the interaction between Troy (Kent McCord) and Dillon (Barry Van Dyke), especially early in the opening episode when we learn something of Troy’s background. The presence of Boomer (Herbert Jefferson Jr.) is welcome with no other original cast members available except for Dirk Benedict’s appearance in “Return Of Starbuck,” and the series does tackle some moral dilemmas (notably the Nazi-Jewish angle in the three-part opening episode) generally avoided in the original series.
Related imageBy no means is Galactica 1980 great television, but it does have some excellent moments, and the cast deserves credit for trying to make it work.