The Netflix Files: March 16, 2011

“What used to be called ‘reruns’ on television is now called Netflix,” observed Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts in a recent interview. Especially in the case of serial dramas, where enjoyment relies on following multi-episode storylines religiously, Netflix has emerged as an infinitely valuable resource. All episodes of LOST, for instance, were made available on Watch Instantly before the premiere of the final season — and with no limitation on viewing hours, subscribers could binge-watch the entire series in preparation. Because as any LOST fan will tell you, a single missed episode can completely compromise one’s understanding of the series (except for the Nikki & Paolo episode, which you can totally skip). Even cancelled serial actioners with unresolved narratives, such as FlashForward, Heroes and Kidnapped, have been made increasingly available — the notion of engrossing oneself in a continually unfolding drama is an appealing one.

This week, we profile what may very well be the best serial action drama to ever grace television screens.

There are lot of pre-conceived notions about Battlestar Galactica, especially among those who are wary of science fiction elements in their entertainment. Yes, it aired on The Sci-Fi Channel. Yes, it’s Dwight Schrute’s favorite show. However, it’s way more accessible than Star Trek. There are no aliens, holograms or lightsabers. Just cyborgs. And if you can buy into that (it’s easier than LOST, we promise), Battlestar Galactica transcends its sci-fi genre, proving to be one of the best post-apocalyptic, politically-charged thrillers in recent history.  

The Galactica is a warship rendered obsolete by forty years of peace and its failure to keep up with recent technological advancements. On the day it is set to be decommissioned, the ship embarks on a final commemorative journey. During this journey, the rest of human civilization is utterly wiped out in a nuclear holocaust.

This renders the passengers on the Galactica, and its satellite ships, the last remaining humans in the galaxy. They face constant extinction by way of the Cylons, the unfathomably powerful robots they originally created (oh, and they can also pose as humans). Possibly an even greater threat exists internally: the humans themselves are constantly locked in intense power struggles regarding the best means of survival. There is a dwindling survivor count at the start of each episode. Time is running out. The only option they have? Find a new homeland — Earth, which may or may not just be a myth.

The show, which is a re-imagining of a 1970s program of the same name, boasts television’s best-ever ensemble of characters (sorry, LOST). Hard-boiled, militaristic ship commander William Adama; Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace, the ace fighter pilot who could kick the crap out of any guy on the show; Laura Roslin, reluctant president (formerly secretary of education) of the new government; Gaius Baltar, noted intellectual and media celebrity — who secretly enabled the holocaust in the first place. A massive cast of supporting humans and Cylons that are each just as multifaceted. Who can be trusted? Who cannot? Without fail, the results will surprise you.

The last humans gradually toss their moral compasses, as well as standard law and order, out the airlock in the interest of pure survival. Any minor slip in judgment could mean the end of the human race. The stakes could not be higher with every passing episode. And it never once gets old.

Rigged elections. Firing squads. Mutinies. Paranoia and racial discrimination and revolution. This isn’t another nonsensical space adventure — it is, quite simply, a history of us. The show’s plot can be viewed as an elaborate allegory of our own society, and a critique of its inherent flaws.

Battlestar Galactica aired for four seasons and, unlike so many other series of its kind, had the opportunity to provide a satisfying conclusion to its storyline. It’s all up on Watch Instantly. Start with the miniseries. If you were a LOST fan and have been searching for your next fix, you won’t be disappointed.

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