What I Watched On My Summer Vacation

For TV fans, summer is typically a dead zone of reruns. Most people might take the opportunity for some fresh air or sun tannage, but I intended it to be a time for catching up on the movies that I missed while my eyes were glued to the latest episode of Lost or Desperate Housewives. However, I found myself discovering a series or two that I’d heard great reviews for but decided to skip when they were first broadcast

Battlestar Galactica
At the top of the list is this re-imagining of the sci-fi series from the 80s. I wasn’t a fan of the original, so this new version had little appeal—my loss. Now having watched the pilot mini-series and the entire first season, I think this is one of the best shows on TV, and definitely one of the best sci-fi shows ever. It combines the heightened realism of a show like 24, all intensity and plot twists, with the gritty battle-field drama of a series like HBO’s Band of Brothers, played against a well-conceived, science-fiction backdrop. The characters are all multi-layered and interesting, taking the expected stereotypes and remaking them relatable and real. The context of an alternate history where humans created and subjugated a race of robots (called Cylons) who turned the tables on their creators is given a huge dramatic boost by the additional conceit that Cylons can now look, feel, and act like humans. (See my other article for more details on what makes this show so great.) Season 2 comes to Space channel here in Canada in the fall, along with the first season DVDs (the mini-series is already out on DVD). This is a must-watch series.

Veronica Mars
I’ve only watched 6 episodes so far of this UPN series that has been touted as the new “Buffy”. Without vampires for slaying or any kind of spooky, supernatural stuff, it’s still about a spunky, clever blonde with a penchant for good dialogue. This time she’s the daughter of the local sheriff-turned-PI, who does a lot of investigating of her own. At first I skoffed at the series because it seemed hokey that she was investigating cases at her high school as if it were the real world. However, giving the series another chance, it really doesn’t seem too odd and she always finds sneakily fun ways of catching the bad guys. The episodic cases are all placed up against the first season’s connecting backstory: Veronica’s best friend was murdered and her father accused the local billionaire of killing his own daughter. He was fired as sheriff and her mother walked out on them, but with each episode a clue or two crops up about what really happened. It’s a compelling mystery that adds to the overall intrigue of the show.

Stargate SG-1 & Stargate Atlantis
While SG-1 is definitely not a new show, Atlantis has only one season under its belt. SG-1 had never caught my eye over its long run (SG-1 just started season nine in the US, which makes it longer than any Star Trek series). The costumes seemed a bit campy, and I dismissed it with other Canadian-produced series such as Earth: Final Conflict, Mutant X, or Highlander. When Atlantis debuted on the Movie Network last year I gave it a chance and was hooked. While it follows a conventional sci-fi style of shows like Trek, the writers come up with fresh ways for characters to get out of situations, or new complications for the characters that make the episodes fun. When SG-1 began showing daily on Space, I decided to try it again and was pleasantly surprised. After the initial learning curve of understanding how all the characters and technology work, I’ve found it has many of the same thrills as Atlantis.

Empire
This is actually a first-run mini-series that was on ABC in early summer, but not many people noticed. (They were all busy watching D-list celebs learn to tango.) It’s the story of Octavius, nephew of Julius Caesar, who became emperor after Julius Caesar was murdered. The visuals of the show were quite attractive: from the pretty cast (led by Santiago Cabrera, a look-alike for Tom Welling of Smallville) to the beautiful staging of Rome’s buildings and garments. The language was equally ornate, with grandiose lines like “Come for me when you’re Caesar!” What kept it from being too cheesy is that the actors make it sound like their normal way of speaking (similar to successful Shakespeare or Lord of the Rings). If they don’t make it obvious by acting bombastic or overly dramatic, it actually makes sense for these epic characters to be speaking like that. At the end of August, the Movie Network will be showing HBO’s new series Rome, which will tread similar ground but (knowing HBO) will probably be a lot grittier—I can’t wait.

Though it is the perfect time, it’s difficult to catch up on TV shows in the summer. Reruns are hard to find and not always in the right order, but take heart: Battlestar Galactica and Veronica Mars will be releasing season one DVD sets in the fall. Stargate SG-1 is already out on DVD and, as I mentioned, is showing every day on Space. Atlantis will also release season one in the late fall. Finally, Empire will probably make its way to disc in the fall as well. I don’t know about Rome, but given the high price tag on previous HBO DVD sets, it’s a good idea to catch it in its first run on TV. Don’t let the summer pass by without some tube time. No SPF required!

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