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Jane Espenson - "Battlestar Galactica" Tv Series - Nytimes.com Review

lundi 29 décembre 2008, par Webmaster

NBC Bridges Series Gaps With Online Minidramas

As NBC has cast about for ways to restore its fortunes in the new century, its most prominent ideas have involved making more out of less : “supersizing” episodes of its few popular shows, like “The Office” ; scattering “Deal or No Deal” across the week ; giving five hours of prime time to Jay Leno.

But not everything the network does is reductive. One area in which NBC, and its sister cable channels in the NBC Universal family, have consistently provided more than the other big networks is online : they’re the only reliable purveyors of true Webisodes, if we define the genre narrowly as minidramas produced in conjunction with an existing television series.

(To be fair, you can go to cbs.com and watch many episodes of “Big Brother House Calls.” You could also poke yourself in the eye with a stick.)

At the moment, with network television having gone into a profound holiday slumber of repeats and musical specials, practically the only original fiction the networks are offering consists of a pair of online dramas on NBC Universal Web sites, each of which will post a new episode on Monday.

Both of these Web series are bridging gaps in their companion television series’s schedules. “The Recruit” (nbc.com/Heroes/video/categories/the-recruit/873822/) falls between “volumes” of NBC’s “Heroes,” which returns to the air on Feb. 2. “The Face of the Enemy” (scifi.com/battlestar) leads up to the final episodes of the Sci Fi Channel’s “Battlestar Galactica,” which begin on Jan. 16.

The two serial dramas (“The Recruit” will be posting the third of five weekly episodes ; “The Face of the Enemy” the sixth of 10 biweekly episodes) join a library of Webisodes available on the NBC Universal sites, and it’s not just science-fiction or fantasy shows that have had these extra resources devoted to them. At usanetwork.com lie six fairly funny Webisodes for “Psych,” which are notable because they feature the series’s stars, James Roday and Dulé Hill. They’re bare-bones, one-joke videos, however ; two of the six involve the characters sitting at their desks making prank phone calls.

More elaborate are the recent “Chuck” Webisodes at nbc.com, which take the form of mock instructional videos for Buy More, the big-box store where the show’s hero, Chuck Bartowski, works. A number of the show’s supporting players — the “nerd herd” of Buy More workers — appear in the Webisodes, but Chuck himself (Zachary Levi) doesn’t, an absence that seems more pronounced given that the show is named after him.

Even more ambitious is “The Outburst,” a four-episode Web extension of “The Office” posted this month on nbc.com. It’s a self-contained narrative about the Dunder-Mifflin workers’ raging curiosity when Oscar (Oscar Martinez) has a loud argument on the telephone with an unknown interlocutor.

Clocking in at about 11 minutes total, it’s half the length of an “Office” episode and about half as funny, which isn’t bad for free desktop entertainment. Much of the regular cast appears in the Webisodes, but not the biggest stars : no Steve Carell, John Krasinski or Jenna Fischer.

All of these comedy Webisodes (or dramedy, in the case of “Chuck”) are diverting, but none are more than diversions. The “Heroes” and “Battlestar Galactica” Web serials are, for better or worse, tied into the story arcs of the television shows, and if they don’t advance the plots in essential ways, they still contain information that the obsessive viewers those series attract will want to process and file away.

“The Recruit” spins off the Dec. 15 half-season finale of “Heroes,” in which the Pinehearst laboratory where Mohinder Suresh was working to perfect the superpower formula was torched. The Webisodes follow a particularly inconsequential strand from the show’s current tangle of story lines : they fill in the back story of one of the otherwise faceless group of Marines who served as guinea pigs for tests of the formula. As in the two previous batches of “Heroes” Webisodes, the only series regular who appears is Cristine Rose as the dour Angela Petrelli.

The whole effort feels halfhearted ; while Jesse Alexander, a “Heroes” executive producer, gets a story credit, the writers and director of the Webisodes are not among the show’s A-team. And like the earlier “Heroes” Webisodes, “The Recruit” amplifies the show’s biggest problem, which is superhero inflation. The last thing we need is more characters, with increasingly redundant powers, to keep track of.

“The Face of the Enemy,” on the other hand, could serve as a model of the Webisode genre. It’s not something you need to watch if you’re not already a “Battlestar Galactica” fan, but those who are will appreciate the serious treatment this minidrama has received, the same kind of care taken with the cult-favorite series itself. The lead writer of “Enemy” was Jane Espenson, a “Galactica” co-executive producer and television veteran with “Gilmore Girls” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on her résumé, and its performers include series regulars like Grace Park, Alessandro Juliani and Michael Hogan.

The Webisodes, which will conclude on Jan. 12, just before the television series returns, are a self-contained murder mystery set aboard a small spacecraft that has been separated from the fleet. But they also expand on the “Galactica” mythology, through flashbacks, and flesh out major characters. Fans who had wondered whether Lieutenant Gaeta (Mr. Juliani) was gay found out in Episode 1 of “Enemy.” Or they thought they did, until his close encounter with a Cylon 8 (Ms. Park) a few episodes later clouded matters.

Along with the regular Webisodes the Sci Fi Channel is providing “enhanced” versions featuring commentary by Ms. Espenson. They’re a revelation in their own right. While commentary tracks on movies or even television episodes tend to get boring or crazy-making long before the show is over, commentary tracks on four- or five-minute Webisodes can actually be entertaining.

Ms. Espenson describes the chaotic, and poignant, circumstances in which the Web serial was filmed : with the television series’s final season already completed, the “Enemy” scenes were often the last things filmed on the “Galactica” sets. After a scene was completed, its set would be torn down for good.

Other tidbits — Ms. Park plays two parts in “Enemy” because the “Galactica” star Tricia Helfer turned out not to be available after the story had already been developed — might seem like too much information to have while the serial is still unfolding. But it’s really just a sign that NBC Universal is getting at least one thing right. In a world where the possibilities for elaborating your shows online are endless, the true fan wants to see and hear everything.

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