TV

'Caprica': a soapy sci-fi adventure

Chuck Barney
CAPRICA - 9 p.m. Friday - SyFy
Contra Costa Times (MCT)

Debuting Friday night, "Caprica" is the much-anticipated prequel to "Battlestar Galactica," but it might share more in common with "Frankenstein" ... and "Gossip Girl."

OK, that's a highly unusual comparison, but "Caprica" is a highly unusual show, much different from its predecessor. And die-hard "Battlestar" devotees need to know that going in.

Set 58 years before the "Battlestar" saga, "Caprica" follows the fates of two men brought together by a terrorist attack on a commuter train. Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz) and Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) both lose family members and are initially united in grief.

But when Graystone, an absurdly wealthy inventor, becomes obsessed with bringing his teen daughter, Zoe (Alessandra Torresani), back from the dead via burgeoning virtual-reality technology, Adama, father of future Battlestar commander William Adama, retreats in horror. The scheme is an "abomination," he snarls.

As Graystone morphs into mad-scientist mode, he is unwittingly messing with the wizardry that will lead to the creation of the Cylons, those frakkin' cybernetic life-forms that will wreak so much havoc on humanity in "Battlestar Galactica." Thus, the "Frankenstein" analogy.

As for the "Gossip Girl" vibes, much of "Caprica" is pegged to the teen characters who populate an ultra-prestigious high school run by strong-willed headmistress Sister Clarice Willow (Polly Walker of "Rome"). With so much time on their hands, some of these kids imbibe in the hedonistic pleasures offered in a virtual night club.

Lacking the fantastical spaceships and thrilling outer-space battles of the series that spawned it, "Caprica" instead aims to be more of a relationship-based soap opera, complete with domestic tension and backbiting. As such, its producers hope the show reaches beyond typical sci-fi geeks to appeal to more general audiences, including women.

Whether it can pull that off — while also dabbling in heavy, thought-provoking themes tied to science and religion — remains to be seen. Friday's moody pilot unfolds at a listless pace and, occasionally, gets bogged down in its own density. But in its favor, there are enough compelling characters and tantalizing questions to keep us engaged for the time being.

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Blood, guts and togas: Let's be blunt. Some viewers will be riveted to the sex, violence, beautiful nude bods and sensory gluttony of "Spartacus: Blood and Sand." Others will be turned off almost instantly.

Owing more to the recent big-screen hit "300" and HBO's "Rome" than the Kirk Douglas classic, "Spartacus" stars hunky Australian actor Andy Whitfield as the famed rebel slave who led a revolt against the Roman Empire. Blessed with movie-star looks and the physique of a WWE wrestler, he heads up the show's wide assortment of eye candy.

"Spartacus" relies on a graphic-novel style presentation a la "300," meaning we get lots of painterly images of gladiator battles in ultra slow motion, during which throats are slashed, limbs are severed and heads are sent rolling as excessive amounts of blood splatter across your screen. Yes, this is the X Games for gore hounds.

But is it art? Not if you deduct points for the show's wooden acting and starchy dialogue. And not when you realize that, ultimately, all the slo-mo special effects do is suck the life out of many a scene.

We should point out to "Xena" fans that Lucy Lawless re-emerges here as a scheming Lady Macbeth-like character. Oh, and she has several scenes in which she appears topless, if you're into that sort of thing.

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CAPRICA

9 p.m. Friday

SyFy

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SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND

10 p.m. Friday

Starz

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