I think Battlestar Galactica succeeds in no small part because it’s got that almost Blade-Runneresque dystopian vibe that fits the zeitgeist. It does what sci-fi usually does most effectively, which is take a contemporary issue, defang it somewhat by changing the context, and then immersing us in it again and making us squirm without causing mortal offense. I think, for the time being, camp and White Hatted Heroes are out. Our cop dramas are The Shield. Our family dramas are Six Feet Under and The Sopranos. Our protagonists are deeply flawed, the world they live in is harsh and unpredictable, moral relativism and rationalisation are practically required for survival, and the line between “good guy” and “bad guy” is so blurred as to make even diametrically opposed points of view both seem alternately sympathetic and antithetic to an audience.
We like our fantasy with a heaping dose of real life, these days, and we don’t want to be spoken down to. We want to be challenged, we want to have to think, we want puzzles to solve, conflicts to ponder, and we don’t always need a happy ending. The future of sci-fi is to embrace the dark side and even revel in it so as to make the light seem like less of a tired cliché, i.e. something to be valued rather than sneered at. I’m tired of shows like Treck where redshirts always get whacked, protagonists always save the day, the good guys are virtually unimpeachable, the bad guys are cardboard caricatures with funny noses, the moral of the story is so blatantly spelled out you feel pummeled by it, and Good always triumphs over Evil. That’s absurd. It’s a joke, and we know it. Spare us the futuristic Leave-It-to-Beaver platitudes and excessive latex and make us feel something. Future tech and spaceships exploding are cool as all get-out, and there’s nothing wrong with any of that, but it’s the stories and the issues that really grab the wider audience. Where do they go from here? Anything’s possible with good concepts and good writers who are willing to treat sci-fi, and the sci-fi audience, with respect. The creators all pay lip-service to the above, but rarely to they consistently honor it.