What could have been a simple sci-fi reboot turned out to be some of the most compelling and powerful art to explore the implications of 9/11 on our society

Imagine a deeply human TV show that portrays a world at war. That war isn’t a plot device used to set up epic battle scenes, but instead used to capture the emotional devastation of losses felt on both sides: the shock citizens feel as they learn their entire world, families, and communities have been destroyed; the paranoia of having an unknown enemy and what that means for entitled freedoms.

Also, imagine a show with that description that is so entertaining, it’s addictive. Plus it’s science fiction. But fear not—Battlestar Galactica is science fiction even non-sci-fi geeks can love.

It’s as if someone rebooted the Care Bears franchise and came out with Grizzly Man

You may have heard of Battlestar Galactica if you lived through the ’70s. For years it seemed its longest-lasting legacy was a pit stop on the tram ride at the amusement park at Universal Studios. That was until Ronald D. Moore arrived and began writing and producing a miniseries that aired in 2003, followed by a five-season run from 2004-2009. This was something new—a show created in the shadow of 9/11 that took some real cues from that overwhelming feeling of dread and fear that had swept the country. This was a gloriously complex, fiercely dark and fascinating exploration of how the rules change when society is simply trying to survive. It was as if someone rebooted the Care Bears franchise and came out with Grizzly Man.

Not so much a remake, this new Battlestar Galactica was a re-imagining of that world with the same outline of the original plot intact, but with much higher stakes. The basic elements are that most of mankind has been annihilated by a robotic race, the Cylons, who were created by humans. This largely decimated race is looking for a new place to call home, and hopefully it’s the (possibly mythical) planet Earth. In effect, it’s a space opera not incredibly different in backstory from Star Trek or even Planet of the Apes. But in execution, it’s something unparalleled.

Matters become even more confusing once you learn that the Cylons can take human form, many of them live secretly among the new society, and there can be endless copies made. This idea of assimilation turns an Us vs. Them mentality into a much broader, “Who are we?” and gradually (and not in any subtle way) turns the question into one of theology. Creation vs. Evolution. Does God exist? The hard questions. And the show isn’t afraid to offer up answers. This show tackles terrorism, genocide, abortion, religion and you won’t like all the answers. Things get ugly and some of the best characters have the worst things happen to them.

This show tackles terrorism, genocide, abortion, religion and you won’t like all the answers

If Battlestar Galactica is guilty of engaging in any of the serial science-fiction clichés, it’s that of the cliffhanger (and let’s be thankful it’s this in lieu of the robot sidekick). Extended two-part episodes and season finales are utilized for maximum “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?” effect. It makes it hard to space out the viewings. There’s a great Portlandia skit in which Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein sit down to watch one episode of the show. Days later, they are still there, devouring the show as they lose their jobs, lose their interest in personal hygiene and basically become Galactica junkies. While we don’t encourage you to risk life and sanity for the sake of the show, the enthusiasm they feel is not far from the truth. And to those still on the fence, let us assure you: Yes, it’s that good.