Rocket Man

7.5.2006

By Matthew Breen

Tight yellow tunic, broad chest, and a slightly manic, hungry look in his eye: There's little argument that Star Trek's Captain Kirk cut a dashing figure, at least by the TV standards of 1966. Yet despite Kirk's legendary status as the most capable ladies' man in space, adept at wooing and bedding both human and alien females, Battlestar Galactica's resident sexpot, Jamie Bamber (Lee 'Apollo' Adama), has already seen more bedspring action than Kirk got in the full run of his show.

The new, sexier incarnation of Battlestar began in 2003 when the Sci Fi Channel produced a miniseries 'reimagining' the 1978-1980 series. The new show retains many of the same basic elements, most notably the plotline: After the 12 planets of a distant colony of humans are decimated by a race of cybernetic beings called Cylons, the few surviving humans set off into space searching for a lost mythic planet called Earth.

The show has been widely acclaimed as superior to the very popular original series, due in large part to its creators' rejecting many of the well-worn sci-fi TV tropes made into virtual guiding principles of the genre by Star Trek. In addition to Battlestar's other revolutionary elements'including handheld camera, bullets instead of energy beam weapons, and a primitive-sounding drum score rather than the more familiar orchestral bombast'the show also features some of the most appealing forms in outer space, including burgeoning lesbian icon Katee Sackhoff ('Starbuck'), hunky Tahmoh Penikett ('Helo'), and, of course, Bamber.

The Sci Fi Channel's runaway hit is emblematic of a new trend in science fiction television toward more fully realized, complex characters, many of whom even have sex lives. And if the sexing of sci-fi TV is a trend, then gay fans are thanking their lucky stars for sexy Bamber, whose body-conscious tank tops and revealing sex scenes turn the more common objectification of sci-fi women (think Princess Leia in the golden bikini) on its ear. Bamber's season 2 scene in a unisex locker room in which he wears only a towel (and not for long) was no less than a queer blogosphere sensation.

As hunky as Bamber is, he's the show's accidental heartthrob. During casting, the 5-foot-9 Bamber says, he was dwarfed by the competition: 'There were several other hunks in the room that were a lot hunkier than me. They were huge! The overall average physical body type in Los Angeles is completely different [than] in the U.K. So I'm not used to being in a room with a bunch of guys that look like they play college football'and yet they were obviously good actors as well. They didn't want the archetypal sort of jock hero. They wanted someone a bit more, I guess, cerebral.'

Battlestar executive producer and writer David Eick says he and director Michael Rymer decided against casting the beefcake actors vying for the role: 'I just thought it was a mistake to go in that direction because it felt more traditional, more the archetype of the genre.' Eick initially thought of Bamber as 'sort of a small, retreating, very nice English guy' That was before I saw how he looked on film. The camera really likes Jamie. He cuts the light, as they say, in a very arresting way, and I can certainly see why gay men and straight women find him attractive.'

Despite the fact that sci-fi TV has been an almost categorically hetero medium, depictions of worlds in which homophobia, racism, and sexism were artifacts of a less sophisticated era (ours) are appealing to anyone regularly on the wrong end of an epithet. Nevertheless, the genre has been tediously ham-fisted when it comes to depictions of romance. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's edict for all the spin-off shows was that in the future, human society would be more enlightened. While the concept was rosily utopian, it presented a dilemma for writers. 'There was little opportunity for conflict between characters because it was written in stone that they all get along and are highly professional and much more evolved than we are,' notes Bryan Fuller, a gay former writer on the Star Trek series Deep Space Nine and Voyager. 'With that came a sort of sexual sterility.'

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