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TV Review: Caprica Pilot

April 27th, 2009 (10:24 pm)

The bad news is I completely forgot that the Heroes finale was on tonight. I'll have to find it when it shows online.

The good news is that I forgot because I was so engrossed in the pilot episode of Caprica. This show is totally cool. If you were a fan of Battlestar Galactica (the recent one, not the schlocky 70s show) you'll get more out of this one because of your knowledge of the worlds, but it does stand alone just fine. It's set 58 years before the start of BG. Humans on Caprica and some of the other colonies have robots, but they're rudimentary. For instance, rich people might have little electronic butlers to answer the door for them. Overall, Caprican technology in this time period is not exactly like ours but is on a similar level.

The plot centers around two families, the Graystones and the Adams. Esai Morales plays Joseph Adams, and Eric Stoltz is particularly good as Daniel Graystone; they are the best-known actors in the cast. But the actor who captured my attention the most was young Alessandra Torresani as smart, rebellious, tough, and vulnerable Zoe Graystone. When she's onscreen, it's hard to look anywhere else.

Like Battlestar Galactica, the writing and production values in Caprica are on a level above almost everything else on television. The characters and moral issues are complex. The tone and overall look are quite different from BG, which aimed for an in-your-face, documentary-style, you-are-there kind of feeling. The pacing of Caprica is more leisurely, the camera work smoother, and the colors brighter, all decisions that are appropriate for the setting and storyline of Caprica. And this is not space opera; it's a family drama that happens to be set on another planet. There's not a spaceship in sight.

What follows is only for those who don't mind a spoiler or two. I'm not going to reveal much more than what's in the commercials, but if you're someone who doesn't like to know anything of the plot ahead of time, it still might be more than you want to know if you haven't seen it yet.


Zoe Graystone is a teenage girl whose dad is a wealthy Bill Gates-type computer genius and high-profile corporate leader. His company is working on cybernetic soldiers in order to win a huge contract from the Colonial military, but can't get the technology right. Zoe is a bright kid -- far brighter, it turns out, than even her parents realize. But she's also a rebel and keeps getting into trouble. She and her friend Lacy take part in a sophisticated Virtual Night Club, or V-Club, program that lets teenagers, via their electronic avatars, dance, drink, and listen to music -- and also engage in wide-ranging acts of sex and violence, including some that are extremely disturbing. Zoe has created an avatar that looks like herself, but she used her genius computer skills to make it into much, much more. In almost every way, Avatar Zoe IS Zoe. She has Zoe's memories, Zoe's personality, and even Zoe's emotions. Avatar Zoe is a major technological breakthrough like nobody has ever seen, but only Zoe and Lacy realize it.

Joseph Adama is an attorney who's originally from Tauron. He's a smart guy and tries to do the right thing, but those Taurons are a shady lot, and it's hard for him to stay out of the mafia-like crime organization that his brother does some work for. In fact, the mob boss paid Joseph's way through law school so that he'd have an attorney in his pocket, but Joseph doesn't want to play ball; he is trying to stay out. He's happily married with a wife, a teenage daughter, Tamara, and an 11-year-old son, William.

Zoe and her friends at the fancy prep school have gotten involved in this weird religious group that has traditionalists worried. How weird is it? It's monotheistic! Sacrilege. (The dominant religion of the colonies worships a pantheon of gods -- including Athena, for whom Zoe's prep school is named.) Since Zoe's conversion, she has lost interest in the more debauched parts of the V-Club and has been using it mostly as a meeting place for her group to work on a plan to restore morality by introducing the worlds to The One True God. Her next step is to leave Caprica (and school, and her parents) and move to Geminon, where people are more receptive to her beliefs.

These two teenage girls, Zoe Graystone and Tamara Adama, have never met when they both board the same train one afternoon in Caprica City. Tamara, with her mom, is heading home. Zoe is on her way to catch a transport to Geminon; her friends Lacy and Ben are supposed to accompany her, but Lacy chickens out at the last minute and remains on the platform. What Zoe doesn't know is that Ben has a plan of his own. He's not just a believer; he's a martyr for the faith. As the train speeds along through the center of the city, he opens his coat to reveal a bomb, and sets off a devastating explosion.

The two fathers, Graystone and Adama, meet outside a service for the bereaved families. Graystone is coping with the loss of his daughter, and Adama with the loss of his wife and daughter. Lacy is guilt-stricken because she was supposed to have been on the train too. She's desperate to see Avatar Zoe, if she even exists anymore in the V-Club program. So she goes to Zoe's house and asks Zoe's mom if she can sit in Zoe's room for a while to grieve. There she turns on the V-Club program and finds the avatar, who knows that Zoe has died a violent death and is bloody and terrified. Zoe's dad finds Lacy in his dead daughter's room and throws her out. But he did see what she was doing, and he wants to know more. He takes the interface device to his office, where he uses his high-tech computers to bridge the encryption behind which Zoe has hidden the V-Club from parental access. He sees Avatar Zoe, but she runs from him. So he confronts Lacy and convinces her to bring him to the V-Club and get Avatar Zoe to talk to him. At first he's skeptical, but when he sees how Zoe-like this electronic version is, he begins to hatch an idea for marrying Zoe's breakthrough methods with his company's cybernetics technology in order to bring his daughter back.

There's just one problem: his company's cybernetics technology doesn't work. A rival company supposedly has a prototype that outperforms his. Luckily, he happens to know a mob-connected Tauron-born lawyer who might be convinced to intimidate them into giving it up. And surely, the chance to see his own daughter Tamara again should be enough of an inducement to get him to play along. If someone has to die in order to make it happen, well, it's worth any price to get his daughter back, isn't it? Especially when the same technology that might do it could also be used to perfect his cybernetic soldiers and win that lucrative military contract.

I can't believe we have to wait a year and a half for the rest of this series!