REVIEW: ‘Caprica’ has marvelous acting amid a creaky slowness

Jan. 22, 2010 | 7:21 p.m.
Mary McNamara, the television critic for the Los Angeles Times, was one of the strongest voices among the chorus of critics who hailed “Battlestar Galactica” and now she has high hopes for the spinoff series, “Caprica,” which begins tonight. But, she writes, the series is off to a bit of a slow start.



 In the midst of all its programming woes, NBC has managed to achieve something close to the impossible — a prequel series that should not only please all comers but may expand the demographic of science fiction fans everywhere. Debuting on SyFy (though it could just as easily be moved to that barren 10 p.m. slot on NBC), “ Caprica” is set 58 years before the Cylon wars that propel “ Battlestar Galactica” and tells how the Cylons came to be.

The shows may share the same DNA — that of creator Ronald D. Moore — but they are different in tone and intent, offering solace to those jonesing for “Galactic” and a whole new world to contemplate for those who aren’t.

Using a mythology that both mirrors and mocks American culture, Moore gives us a planet too drunk on technology to notice that the digital revolution has done nothing to solve the cultural divides that can lead to actual revolution. At the center of the storm is Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz), inventor of the holo-band, a system that takes virtual technology to a whole new empty level — and Graystone has the sprawling lakeside compound to prove it. So it seems only right that his teenage daughter Zoe (Alessandra Torresani) would be a member of the resistance, longing to flee the spiritually dead world of Caprica for another one that believes in the one true God.

Caprica trio

The citizens of Caprica are, as they were in “Battlestar,” polytheists, worshiping the Greek gods — to them, monotheists are dangerous extremists who believe in a world of absolutes. Matters are not helped when, in a mind-widening if not mind-blowing moment, a follower of the One God turns suicide bomber, killing Zoe and more than a few others.

Among them is the wife and daughter of Joseph Adams (Esai Morales), leaving him and his young son, William, bereft. That the name Adams is an assimilated version of Adama and William the boy who will become Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) is no spoiler — it is one of the bones Moore throws “Battlestar” fans throughout.

Graystone and Adams bond, and when Graystone discovers that Zoe, a computer genius, has created a digital avatar of herself that may be able to exist in the real world, it is Adama he tells, thereby setting up the meta-tension that underlies the series: How much science is too much science?

It is the conflict on which most science fiction is based and no less interesting because we know the answer — the Cylons may eventually help save the world but not before they destroy most of it.

Despite its central tragedy, “Caprica” is far less grim than “Battlestar,” with an emphasis on user-friendly relationships — between parents and children, husbands and wives, school-age friends — designed to cast a wider net than the typical science fiction fan base. Beautifully shot and marvelously acted, “Caprica” is infused with all manner of intriguing bits of business, including a terrifically complicated teacher (Sister Clarice, played by the wonderful Polly Walker) and Joseph’s brother Sam (Sasha Roiz), a happily married gay gangster with excellent tattoos. It’s details like this, as much as the rantings against monotheism and the idea of interplanetary travel, that form yet another fascinating vision of the future. Here nostalgia — many men wear fedoras and retro overcoats — blends easily with an oddly modern pantheon of gods and endless robotic possibility.

Unfortunately, it’s a vision Moore and his writers seem a bit too taken with. After the two-hour pilot, available on DVD last year, early episodes move with an often creaky slowness that seems at odds with its spry and comely cast. One can only hope that as the Cylons get up and running, so will the show, because it would be a shame if “Caprica” fell victim to its own rich imaginings.

— Mary McNamara


Caprica virtual


Watch the trailer for “Caprica”

Lucy Rand, at the virtual heart of “Caprica”

David Eick says “Caprica” is no “BSG”: “We’re not doing a war show”

Paula Malcomson treks from “Deadwood” to “Caprica”

Bear McCreary and the sound of “Caprica”

PHOTOS: Top, “Caprica” stars Esai Morales and Eric Stolz (Carol Segal/Syfy). Center, a poster for “Caprica” shows Paula Malcomson with Morales and Stolz. Bottom, Magda Apanowicz as Lucy Rand on “Caprica” (Syfy)


14 Responses to REVIEW: ‘Caprica’ has marvelous acting amid a creaky slowness

  1. Mike G says:

    So, just an accident that the phrase "killing Zoe" appears in a piece about a new Eric Stoltz film, or a deft little in-joke?

  2. Richard says:

    This show is AWESOME. Battlestar was a good show, but it needed to end. They rushed the Cylons which were the meat of the story and basically ran out of a story. Caprica isn't slow, but very interesting and keeps you hooked. I guess everyone has their opinion, but in my opinion the person who wrote this article shouldn't be biased. This isn't a show revolving around Cylons like BSG, but intead gives you a totally different perspective on how the cylon technology was created. I hope they keep up the good work!

  3. Greg says:

    I like the series, but it calls to question the plot.
    In Caprica it is 'The One True God' that gives Zoe the spark of life to create an avatar that is alive.
    That means 'The One True God' also purposely created the Zylons, that destroyed Caprica, and caused "What has happened before will happen again' in the first place, but blamed it all on the humans and well the Zylons also. (See Battle Star Galactica)
    What sense does that make? I mean it does sound like most religions in where God creates sabotage and blames the human race and then damns them to hell.
    At least it is consistent.

  4. tony says:

    no generally a sci fi fan, but this series is awesomw. i am glued to the set! it is a vision not too far into the future to be silly and has lots of today in it. great work!

  5. weber T says:

    Excellent show! Yes, a bit of a slow start, but it's so beautiful to witness. The action is picking up and the plotline is thickening nicely now.

  6. Felipe says:

    This newest episode was great. They actually used a shot of Caprica from the 2nd to last episode of BSG. Speaking of which, anyone who hasn't seen Battlestar, it's the best show ever made – not just sci-fi, but period.

  7. KG1 says:

    Good series but after several weeks it is still painfully slow. One suspects that there isn't much of a total story here so they have to drag it out to get a whole season or two. If there are huge breaks between seasons like Galactica they will lose me altogether.

  8. Joao says:

    The premise is very good (the pilot episode was excellent) but the argument in the episodes is not well written. There is a lot of tension, but the main storyline is almost nonexistent, so it becomes tiresome to watch so much tension and no climax in sight. The audience needs an expectation that it is going to see compelling stuff, needs a build-up of tension and action that eventually lead to the high moments of the show. All of this requires a well established main storyline that marks the tempo of the action (slow versus quick) and tension (relaxed versus tense). Instead, what we are seeing is a number of loosely connected side-stories, while the main storyline has all but vanished from sight. When seeing this, audiences will feel that the action is "creaky slow", and all the loose tension added to the show makes watching it a tiresome experience.
    So, I hope the writers start getting it right soon.

  9. Steven says:

    I just watched the final episode which was excellent and it's really a shame that it's been axed. At least unlike other series that have been axed, they tied up the story line, so you at least know how the Cylons came about and why they waged war against humanity. Season 2 could of been great, but now we will never know. Damn shame! Another good sci-fi series bites the dust.

  10. Will says:

    All i no about Caprica is thats its to damn complicated to follow evey single thing that happens, i like Capric alot & im upto s01e15 & its realy getting good now but like i said, to much happens & its hard to remember everything & its becomes boring fast, maybe if they had more Cylons (Cylons not fecking Zylons) it might not have been canceled.

  11. averagetvviewerguy says:

    best show ive ever seen hands down

  12. greg says:

    In my humble opinion, Caprica is another semi enthralling SciFy foray that bites the dust as a result of the general lameness of consumers. What are the producers supposed to do, make it lame on purpose so the audience can relate? I guess so. But thank goodness for guys like Moore, and Cooper and Wright who keep plugging away. SGU. BG and Caprica (only one season?) kept me sane when I was laid our for months with a smashed leg. That's the way to watch them, streaming, back to back, as many hours a day as you can manage, dream about the thing half the night, wake, prop yourself up, and continue on. Bloody wonderful. Under those conditions, it's the limited attention span action junk that gets real boring, and the afore-mentioned fare, hugely entertaining, thought provoking, and so on and so forth. And when finally you get to the end, and you've finished, in addition, Eureka and some of the other good things in the same manner, you can start all over again. And if I had one wish, out of all the stuff I didn't get to see due to the cancellations, it would most definitely be a final season of SGU. Just thought I'd throw that in there, for the next to nothing it's worth.

  13. pacchi says:

    I am sorry, the potential was there, why did they have to ruin everything with slowliness and bad CGI…..

  14. Orin says:

    July, 2013 … I didn't have time to watch this prequel series when aired, but I am glad that I missed it back then, and still took a "flyer" at it this week end. This show deserves all the plaudits it receives. Mesmerizing Suspense steams from this rich stew pot of a plot. @Mary M, each of these "Bones" is full of marrow, and well-worth sucking on. It pains me that most of the Zips will likely pass on this show as they reach college age. Even many Baby Boomers have apparently not given it the time it deserved. Thank the One for DVDs. I have enjoyed reading the comments by viewers. As Ever, OrinK3

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