Just be aware, it’s going to take me a long time to get to the point.
When I was a kid we had two main types of play: games which involved pretending some lump of plastic was real (Star Wars figures, Lego, Action Man – although Action Man always had to fight invisible enemies because no one I knew had more than one figure and he was too big to fight anything else); and ‘games when we’re the people’.
‘Games when we’re the people’ would involve me, my brother and our friends pretending to be people from whatever was the favourite movie or TV show of the week. Obviously, favour would always go to a show or movie which had more than one main character – there’s no point playing Indiana Jones or James Bond because once you get past casting someone as the titular character … there’s not a whole lot left.
Unless Indy and Bond team up. Which they probably did in our world.
The best TV shows, the ones we used to play at most, were the ones with a few good characters so everyone got to be someone they liked.
Doctor Who was great because everyone could pretend to be the Doctor at the same time. Better than that, you could pretend to be your own Doctor since we were only on number four at the time. I think I was always the 11th so I might get a bit upset next year when the new guy utterly fails to be me.
For the other shows there was usually a hierarchy, an order of preference for who we wanted to be. No one always agreed, but for me they went something like this:
Blake’s Seven: Blake, Avon, Villa. No one ever wanted to be Tarrant .
The A-Team: Face, Murdoch, Hannibal, BA – all of them were good though, so it didn’t really matter; but Face was by far the coolest one of the bunch. Feel free to disagree – you’re wrong, but feel free to be wrong.
Star Wars: Han, Lando … maybe Chewie at a push. There were no girls in our group so no one wanted to be Luke.
Star Trek: Kirk (who wouldn’t want to be Captain Kirk?), Spock, Bones, Scotty. Chekov and Sulu … if we really had to, but personally I’d rather be an anonymous red shirt.
This isn’t to say other characters in these shows weren’t interesting, dramatic, well written or good actors – it’s just they weren’t … cool. They didn’t have any attributes I aspired to, I didn’t want to be them or be like them in some small way.
And that to me is really important in a TV show (or movie) even now I still want to see characters I want to be like. That’s were things like Life on Mars went right for me: I would like to be Gene Hunt. Just for a day. I’d like to be that sure of myself, that masculine, to drive fast, shoot first, punch people for being annoying and still be an all round nice bloke. Sam Tyler … well he whinges a bit. Nah, not really interested.
But that’s fine. One character I’d like to be per show keeps me interested. More than one is just a massive bonus.
And this is where Star Trek went wrong for me:
Star Trek: Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty – they all have elements of their personality I admire.
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Picard, I’d love to have that much natural authority. Who else though? Riker?No, his attributes seem to include growing a beard and walking sideways. Data, he wants to be more like me – I don’t respect that. Geordi … did he have a personality? Worf is always wrong and very angry about it:
Picard: “We must do something before that alien eats our faces. Suggestions?”
Worf: “Captain, may I suggest–”
Picard: “No. Shut the fuck up, anyone else?”
I suppose O’Brien was quite cool. In a bluff, say what you mean kind of way. Two people, okay – not bad.
Deep Space Nine: Hmm … O’Brien again. Sisko … maybe?
Voyager: If I woke up and found I shared any personality traits at all withany of the characters … I’d shoot myself. And Alice too in case she’d inherited them. I can’t imagine sitting around with a bunch of five year olds going:
“Let’s play Star Trek Voyager – you can be Ensign Kim.”
“Which one’s he?”
“The real dull one who has nothing interesting to say.”
“Can you be more specific?”
Which brings me onto Battlestar Galactica. Until recently I’d never seen any of the new series. Not because I didn’t want to, but because by the time I found out it was on I’d missed a year and a half and wanted to watch it from the beginning.
Luckily, I got the first three seasons on DVD for Christmas.
Now, I loved the original series because it was just so damned cool – Starbuck, Boomer, their costumes, the Vipers, the Cylons, those big fucking guns … all so cool. Yes the stories weren’t always up to scratch but as far as I can remember from watching it when I was (however old I was – eight? Six? Don’t know.) it was one of those shows like Blake’s Seven or Buck Rogers which starts off witha fantastic premise, four or five amazing episodes and then runs out of steam. They literally had no idea what they wanted to do with it.
Buck Rogers was so poorly thought out the second season had absolutely no relation to the first apart from three of the characters.
So a re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica should be so fucking amazing it’s untrue. And that’s exactly what everyone else keeps telling me.
Well, I’ve watched the first season now and the stories are great, the characters are interesting and it’s well made but … there’s no one I want to be.
Starbuck (the coolest character around – Faceman, in space! With a cool uniform and a big fucking hand cannon in a low slung holster!) is now a girl. Interesting choice, interesting character … but I have never, ever wanted to be a girl. Well, maybe for half an hour or so; but not as an aspirational choice.
Which is not an insult to women by the way. I’m sure most women don’t want to be men – at least not in a watching TV kind of way. Even though being a guy is a fuck load easier – the shoes fit, we have pockets and we can go to the toilet anywhere we like.
So Starbuck is a girl now. Fine. That means any girl who wants to play ‘games when we’re the people: BSG’ can be Starbuck. Who’s left?
Boomer was always a super cool character. A smaller role but … man he was cool.
Oh wait, he’s a girl now too. And a Cylon. Nope, don’t want to be him. Her.
Apollo is pretty much the same as he was back then: wet and conflicted. Don’t want to be him.
Adama? Too old, too grumpy. Tigh? A grumpy, alcoholic, cuckold? Nope, don’t want to be him either.
The deck chief? Can’t even remember his name. Does he have a name? He’s alright in a solid dependable way. Not exactly the stuff of fantasies is it?
So none of the characters are cool. I don’t want to be any of them.
The Vipers are still super cool though – I could be a previously unseen Viper pilot. Yeah!
They no longer dress like heroes – they now wear Lurex uniforms with their muscle vests on backwards – and their awesome sidearms have become crappy little popguns. When they’re not being pilots they seem to dress up as the guys from Babylon 5.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not disparaging the writing, the acting, the direction … I’m just struggling to care about any of the characters because I don’t want to be them. This makes me an outsider watching stuff happen to other people instead of imagining it happening to me.
Incidentally, I think this may be why I’m not that fond of soaps – they have no aspirational (to me) characters. Instead they’re populated with people I fear I’m already like and wish I wasn’t.
Okay, so BSG obviously isn’t for kids. It’s got a lot of sex in it and adult themes and complex plots … although, is it me or did a lot of plot points in the first series just get ignored? Gaius invents a Cylondetector – he has 60 years worth work ahead of him. Next episode, apparently he’s given up on that and is now vice-president. No one’s interested in Cylons any more, they’re so last week.
He finds out Boomer is a Cylon … then doesn’t tell anyone. Why? Where’s his self-preservation?
Is Adama a Cylon? Test him, don’t test him, test him, don’t … is he or isn’t he? By the end of the episode it seems like the Pres don’t care no more. And never mentions it again.
Did I enjoy this first series? Yeah, sort of. I watched it all and only complained to the TV occasionally (“Oh now the Cylons attack? How convenient. What were they doing? Waiting until the episode was nearly over so they could be more dramatic?” … “Why the hell does this Cylonraider have handy control wires built into it? I’m fairly certain if someone scooped out my brain and sat in my skull they wouldn’t be able to control my legs by pulling nerve endings.” … “Can you really plug a hole in a spaceship with your jacket and then fly it into space?”).
Did I love it?
No, not really. It’s okay. It certainly passes the time.
Do I want to be anyone in the show?
And that’s really important for me. It’s something I’m going to make damn sure I include in every script from now on … at least one character the five year old me would want to be.
Although, since my next project’s a porn film … hmm.