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'Battlestar Galactica' is a Sci Fi supernova

Chuck Barney [Contra Costa Times]

So you haven't bothered to check out the Sci Fi Channel's version of "Battlestar Galactica" because you think it's just another great big nerd-fest? It's time to shatter that faulty assumption once and for all.

Rolling Stone has called "Battlestar Galactica" the "smartest and toughest show" on television. Time magazine hailed it as it the No. 1 show of 2005 and TV Guide rates it among the best dramas in prime time. The series has captured a prestigious Peabody award and has been honored by the American Film Institute.

Nerd-fest, indeed.

Despite all the critical raves, "Battlestar Galactica" remains prime time's quietest sensation. During it's sophomore season, it attracted just over 2 million viewers a week - lofty numbers for the Sci Fi Channel, but meager by broadcast standards.

On Friday, the show launches its third season with producers and supporters hoping it will finally break out into the mainstream. With that in mind, we offer five great reasons to get down from the fence and start watching:

1. It's not your old-school "Galactica" - Don't assume that a remake of a cruddy show has to be equally cruddy. Aside from its title, the new "BG" has very little in common with 1978's cheesy one-year wonder on ABC.

While the basic plot remains - a last vestige of humanity fights to fend off the Cylons, a race of zealot androids - our heroes no longer wear capes and fire laser guns. And all the goofy alien creatures (ripped off from "Star Wars") have been mercifully ditched.

In their place are flawed and complex characters (clad in contemporary duds), and a much more realistic, gritty and genre-defying aesthetic.

2. It feels relevant to our time - Echoes of 9/11 reverberate throughout "BG" as the show delves into terrorism (the Cylons have been compared to al-Qaida), politics, religious fundamentalism and culture clashes.

As Season 3 opens, a small human settlement on a planet called New Caprica has been occupied by the Cylons, who are grappling with ways to put down a violent and growing insurgency that isn't afraid to resort to grotesquely unconventional tactics such as suicide bombers. Sound familiar?

3. The women of "BG" shine - Yes, the Battlestar Galactica is commanded by a dude - Admiral William Adama (Edward James Olmos). But there's also plenty of girl power in this interstellar adventure.

Steely Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) served as president of the human colonies before being replaced by the traitorous Gaius Baltar (James Callis). One of the best (and toughest) fighter pilots around is Kara Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), also known as Starbuck.

Then there's the very hot and sexy Cylon known as Number Six (Tricia Helfer), one of television's great femme fatales. And did we mention that she's hot and sexy?

4. The battle scenes are way cool - While "BG" can be dark, methodical and somber at times, it also knows how to rock.

This is best exemplified in the chaotic dogfight-in-space scenes in which the sleek colonial Viper craft go head-to-head with the dreaded Cylons. Dazzlingly rendered by the show's special-effects team, they have a sense of death-defying speed and urgency that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

5. They delete the expletives, sort of - In space, it is said, no one can hear you scream. But apparently they can hear you curse if done in a clever way.

So give "BG" points for creativity for coining the term "frak," which is oh so similar to a certain other word. "Frak off," a character will mutter. Or, "That's just fraked-up."

And somewhere in Washington a thwarted FCC commissioner fumes.

___

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA

9 p.m. EDT

Sci Fi Channel

___

© 2006, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.). Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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