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Caprica 

No, Caprica is not Battlestar Galactica

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It may be set in the same galaxy, it may have Cylons, a dude named Adama, and people who unironically use the word “frak,” but Caprica is not Battlestar Galactica.

It’s a prequel, yes, set 58 years before the Battlestar, but it seems more spinoff: The Frasier to Battlestar’s Cheers.

Battlestar had three moods: Bleak, bleaker, and bleak with a vengeance. Caprica, however, starts out positively sunny (the occasional teenage suicide bombing aside) and then slides toward darkness.

Where Battlestar’s characters were drunk on despair, Caprica’s are drunk on optimism. It’s the future, after all, where space travel is commonplace, where living out any fantasy is a “holoband” away.

Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz), genius creator of the holoband technology, also dabbles a bit in robotics. He’s even developed a big gun-shootin’ model he calls a “Cylon.”

After Graystone’s daughter dies in a terrorist attack, he finds she’s made a perfect virtual copy of her own personality. Hey, Graystone figures, what if he uploaded his dead daughter’s personality into the killer robot body? Wouldn’t that be a fascinating experiment with very little chance for galaxy-wide repercussions?

What follows is less Battlestar Galactica — where humanity weathers its near-extinction — as the second season of Dollhouse. We know the apocalypse is inevitable. We can only watch as the doomed obliviously march toward it.

Good sci-fi — like Caprica, like Dollhouse — takes its interesting characters and uses them to explore the ol’ metaphysical classics: What does it mean to be “alive”? Do clones/droids/sentient galaxies have souls? Should the virtual world carry the same moral standards? If you rewrite or Xerox a personality, do you still have the same person?

Fortunately, Caprica coats the philosophical in the dramatic. Politics, betrayal, religion, revenge and dumb teenage love all play a bigger part than robots and cyberspace. While producer Ron Moore sometimes overdoes his hyperactive cinematography, Caprica is never lifeless. The slow scenes are never slow.

Caprica’s more grounded — literally and metaphorically — than its space-faring predecessor. That makes it less ambitious. But for all that, it has a more clear direction. This time, we can tell, they actually do have a plan.

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Follow Daniel Walters’ TV commentary on Twitter at @danieltwalters.

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