The Necessity of Humor: Battlestar Galactica


Battlestar Galactica
As insanely observant readers of this blog may have noticed, I’ve recently started watching “Battlestar Galactica.” (I haven’t seen any of this season yet — I’m midway through Season 2 on the DVDs, for once I’m going to watch a TV series in order — so please don’t give anything away.) I like the show a lot so far. It’s everything the critics and fans say it is: it’s smart, imaginative, well-written, richly detailed, emotionally and morally complex.

But as much as I’m enjoying it, I can already tell that it’s never going to be one of my all-time favorite TV shows. It’s never going to be, say, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” or “The Simpsons,” or “The Office.” I’m not going to watch it again and again; I’m not going to read books on its philosophical/ sociological/ political perspective; I’m not going to watch every director’s commentary, or indeed any of them. I’m not even 100% sure that I’m going to watch the rest of the series. I like it, I respect it… but it’s lacking something that I find essential in a long- running narrative.

It’s lacking humor.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The problem isn’t that it’s dark. Some of my favorite TV shows have been very dark indeed. “Buffy” is dark. “Six Feet Under” is dark. And while it’s technically a comedy (and is in fact very funny), I think “The Office” is one of the darkest things that’s ever been put on television. But all of these shows brought the funny as well: sometimes in the form of comic relief, sometimes woven into the darkness so closely the two were indistinguishable, but passionately, and skillfully, and in generous doses.

And to me, that’s essential.

It’s not just that humor makes a dark story bearable, offering relief and making it easier to watch. That’s true; but other things offer this as well. (Sex, for instance… which “Battlestar Galactica” has in trumps.)

It’s that humor is a central part of life.

Democrituslaughing
Humor is one of the main pillars that supports us; one of the main nutrients that sustains us; one of the main threads running through our lives. Even in dark times. Heck, especially in dark times. The ability to laugh and make jokes in a sad, frightening, terrible time is crucial. It gives us strength. It gives us perspective. It reminds us of why the bad times are worth getting through. There are times in my life that I can’t even begin to imagine having weathered without my sick, morbid, fucked-up sense of humor.

To spend literally years telling a sprawling, wide-ranging, ensemble-cast story without exploring humor is overlooking a fundamental reality of what makes us human. It’s like overlooking love, or conflict, or fear, or friendship. It’s not just a disservice to the audience. It’s a disservice to the characters. Humor doesn’t just make a dark story easier to watch. It makes a dark story ring more true.

I’m not saying that every narrative — every novel, every film, every ballad, every graphic novel — has to have humor. They don’t. I’ve read/ seen/ heard some wonderful, completely satisfying ones that haven’t. But a long-running television show is different. If your show is an hour-long drama, you have about twenty hours a year, and you have it over the course of (hopefully) several years. It’s a unique art form, with a uniquely large scope. To spend that much time telling a story and still leave out the humor is like, I don’t know, spending all day cooking Thanksgiving dinner and leaving out dessert. It can be a delicious dinner, but it still leaves you feeling like you aren’t quite full… even if you ate for hours.

Comments

  1. says

    The one bit of humor in the series often comes with Baltar and the virtual Number Six.
    In the producer – director commentary for one of early BSG episodes, they comment on how funny James Callis was as Baltar.
    They didn’t intentionally intend for his role to be humorous but they started writing it with a more humorous slant as the series evolved.

  2. says

    It does get funnier as it goes along, I think, too. Just takes a while for the characters to get comfortable with that aspect.

  3. says

    I agree… humor is essential.
    Have you seen any of Dexter? It is dark and funny and creepy and funny… and well, your entry made me think of it.
    Love the blog! Thanks!

  4. says

    I actually noticed this too, but coming from a different angle. I was reading up on some of the producers’ commentary, and one of the things they mentioned was about the 12 humanoid Cylon models. They were supposed to represent the 12 archetypes of humanity, as if the Cylons looked at humans and said, “You know what? There’s only 12 of you.”
    So I started looking at all the different Cylons, including the ones that are revealed after where you are in watching it, and I noticed that the archetype of the the comedian was completely absent (and I trust it won’t show up in future revealed models, as it just isn’t dramatic at this point). So either the Cylons screwed up and missed out a big part of humanity… or the writers did.

  5. says

    “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down” was sort of a comic relief episode. Actually, it had me howling. Then again, maybe that made you notice just how rare laughs are on BSG.

  6. Kagehi says

    There are bits of humor in part of the later parts of the series. I don’t think its giving much away to say that a) we still don’t know who *all* of the 12 are, and b) some of them are less serious than others. But, is any one the “comedian”? Probably not. We don’t exactly see comedy clubs on the fleet either, even if we do sometimes see hints of humor here an there. You may be right that its “overlooked”, but at the same time, its a grim existence, and what humor is likely to show up *will* be very dark, on those occasions it happens.

  7. says

    I think you nailed the reason I haven’t been able to get into it. It’s just too intense all the time. There are a lot of things I like about the show, but overall it’s jsut too grim.

  8. Rebecca says

    Just wondering what you are thinking about BSG’s take on religion and mythology. It’s a major part of the series and one that frequently irritates me.

  9. says

    Call me crazy, by maybe civilization being nearly obliterated and having to constantly be on the run from a race of nasty androids who want to kill of the remains of humanity just isn’t very funny?
    James Callis can be hysterical – indeed, his character is often the counter to very grim proceedings, to the point of being comical. But you’re halfway through season 2, surely you’ve noticed Baltar’s flailings by now.

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