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1. It's got the same themes as Battlestar Galactica
There haven't been many great TV shows about politics (besides The West Wing and the occasional episode of Spin City), and there's never been a great show about religion (sorry, Touched by an Angel, but no). Part of the fun of BSG was how it used the window-dressing of science fiction (starship battles, robot clones, funny space talk) to create a thinly veiled exploration of contemporary political and religious life. On Caprica, set 58 years before the events of BSG, the veil is even thinner. Although nominally about the invention of a race of robots called Cylons, Caprica is really a closely observed drama about a booming civilization on the brink of crisis.
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2. It explores new territory, too!
If BSG was the perfect show for the post-9/11 era, Caprica feels like just the right glittery-yet-paranoid fantasy landscape for the new Obama decade. The show's series premiere takes a close look at the immigrant-heavy, multicultural society of the planet Caprica: Esai Morales' Joseph and Sasha Roiz's Sam are immigrants from the bleak planet Tauron. The Taurons we see on Caprica work blue-collar jobs, gravitate toward crime syndicates, and are looked down upon by the Caprican elite, who refer to them as ''Dirt-Eaters.'' The show also explores contemporary fears about immersive technology: Caprica's teens spend their evenings socializing in a virtual reality playpen where sex, violence, murder, and all forms of Roman Empire-style degradation are the norm (think The Sims Online, rated XXX).
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3. They've got such wonderful toys
Caprica generally avoids over-the-top futuristic technology, partially because the show is opting for realism, and partially because that kind of thing is expensive. (One second of Avatar probably cost more than this whole show.) But the machines they do have are freaking awesome, like the e-paper computer sheet, a charming robot butler named Serge, and a holo-band that goes over your eyes and allows you to experience a virtual world from the inside.
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4. Is this the coolest metaphor ever?
Caprica begins with a fascinating invention: Zoe Graystone (Alessandra Torresani) figures out how to make a virtual clone of herself by drawing upon every piece of information available in Caprica's information-gorged age: ''Medical scans, DNA profiles, psych evaluations, school records, e-mails, CAT scans, test results, shopping records, ball games, phone records.'' Using this information, she creates a self-aware avatar that ''lives'' separately from her in a virtual reality world. The question of just how ''real'' Avatar-Zoe actually is seems likely to become a show-encompassing brain pretzel. Avatar-Zoe has been the centerpiece of Caprica's curious marketing campaign, featuring a nude Torresani holding a freshly-bitten apple, perhaps indicating her role as the mother of the Cylon race.
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5. The cast is fantastic
The talent runs deep on the Caprica bench. Eric Stoltz (as billionaire scientist Daniel Graystone) is the most recognizable name, but there's also Paula Malcolmson (Trixie from Deadwood) as Graystone's surgeon wife, Polly Walker (Atia from Rome) as the mysterious headmistress of a private school, and Esai Morales, who has a lot to live up to in the role of Joseph Adama, the father of BSG's gravelly voiced Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos). But the real find might be Torresani. She plays a double role — Zoe Graystone, a brilliant, angry heiress, and Zoe's holographic avatar. She's equal parts innocent naiveté and malevolence. She's also a walking existential conundrum: She thinks, therefore she is?
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6. There's talent behind the scenes, too
Besides BSG executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, there's Jane Espenson, a sci-fi expert (and Friend Of Joss Whedon — she wrote the classic Buffy episode ''Conversations with Dead People,'' among others). Two writers, Patrick Massett and John Zinman, come from Friday Night Lights. So does director Jeffrey Reiner, who gives the Caprica pilot a distinctive visual grandiosity.
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7. Syfy is going all CW
Much of the action in the series premiere centers around various happenings at Athena Academy, a prestigious private school attended by Zoe, her best friend Lacy (Magda Apanowicz), and her boyfriend Ben (Avan Jogia). Like all teenagers, they hate their parents; unlike all TV teenagers, they've become involved in a fringe religious cult. Although this is just one of Caprica's many plot strands, the Athena Academy stuff places the show right in the proud tradition of sci-fi/fantasy shows that use genre tropes to supersize typical TV teen angst.
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8. The show will take you on a tour around the worlds
The human civilization of Caprica is split across the Twelve Colonies, each named after a different Zodiac sign (Caprica, Gemenon, etc.). The society of the Twelve Colonies looks a lot like real-life Earth: There are coffee shops, popular sports franchises, a voracious media, a corrupt military-industrial complex. BSG began with the destruction of the Twelve Colonies, but the series featured the occasional hint about what Colonial societies looked like. (Check out this clip, where Gaius Baltar talks about growing up on the farms of Aerilon.) Caprica promises to show us even more. We know that the different colonies currently function independently, like squabbling neighbor countries. Personally, I'm looking forward to a Spring Break trip to the beaches of Canceron.
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9. Dig that groovy style!
Caprica's '50s-inflected costume design makes this one of the most stylish shows on TV not about advertising or Heidi Klum. (Check out that hat!) And the mash-up of futuristic technology and a retro aesthetic make Caprica feel unlike anything else on TV right now.
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10. Pyramid is the triangular sporting event our society desperately needs
Take your Quidditch quaffle and shove it. In the Capricaverse, Pyramid is the game of choice. An awesome mash-up of basketball, football, and maybe tetherball (but on a triangular court), Pyramid is the Twelve Colonies' galactic pastime. Daniel Graystone owns the popular Caprica Buccaneers, who hopefully have a better record than their real-world siblings from Tampa Bay.
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11. It's the frakkin' economy, stupid
Much of the drama of the series premiere comes from the pairing of Stolz's Daniel and Morales' Joseph, two patriarchs from very different sides of the social spectrum: Stolz's character is a celebrity scientist along the lines of Bill Gates, while Morales' working-class character is an immigrant orphan who works as a shady mob lawyer. There's an anxious socioeconomic quality to their interaction that's rarely seen in American TV drama, a genre which usually favors middle or upper-class characters.
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12. This could be the prequel that actually works
In the first few episodes, at least, the creators of Caprica have managed to honor the original series while forging a completely new feel for the show. We may as well admit it: Prequels have never, ever been good. And we're not just talking Star Wars either. From X-Men Origins: Wolverine to Star Trek: Enterprise, from C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew to J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, the whole notion of telling the story before the story has led to, at best, something that feels like the background notes to an actual narrative; at worst, you get Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (or — gag! — Young Hannibal). Heck, even BSG has had problems with prequels: Razor was a nifty (if irrelevant) sidestory, but The Plan was a lumpy mess. Still, about seven years ago, we would've said that a remake of Battlestar Galactica was a bad idea — and look how that turned out!