SERIES "Caprica"

WHEN | WHERE Tomorrow, 9-11 p.m., thereafter Fridays at 9 p.m., on Syfy

REASON TO WATCH Provocative social themes, gut-wrenching performance by Eric Stoltz in what could be the next great adult drama.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT A decadent urban society obsessed with high-tech amusement runs headlong into an underground of religious fanatics who'll blow up commuter trains to get their one-true-god point across. Turns out the fanatics within include the teen daughter of a Gates/Jobs-like technology kingpin (Stoltz). She's killed in the bombing, alongside the daughter and wife of a mob lawyer (Esai Morales) from a despised minority group. The fathers bond, sharing hope after learning Stoltz's hacker-daughter left behind a lifelike computer avatar - embodying her emotions and "synaptic records" - with whom they can interact in a tactile virtual world.

Morales wants his daughter back, too, bad enough to engineer the theft of an instrument that, melded with Stoltz's robot electronics, might bring those virtual girls to physical life. But the scheme also might profitably create robot soldiers - the Cylons of "Battlestar Galactica," for which this drama is a prequel.

MY SAY Even if "Galactica" never existed, "Caprica" would be profoundly exciting. The pilot starts confusingly, then builds to a masterwork web of ideas and emotions, presented in a palpable society of city streets, mass transit, courtrooms, prep schools, even sports teams.

There's poignant generational drama between corporate Stoltz and underworld Morales and their intelligent teens (plus mothers and siblings). And that pulls us into a panorama of ambitious themes - consumerism, racism, organized crime, official corruption, commercial intrigue, technology pitfalls, spiritual beliefs, societal pride before the fall.

Unfortunately, the pilot's pacing is erratic, and the next episode (Jan. 29) is a muddled mess of bizarre subplots and logic-free characterizations. The fourth hour (Feb. 6) rights the ship somewhat, while tackling TV news and PR campaigns. Talk about topical: Stoltz's beleaguered exec is urged to curry public favor on a late-night show taking monologue potshots at him.

BOTTOM LINE "Caprica" feels torn between soulfully mature ruminations and adolescent "accessibility" for gamers wondering where the space action went. Let's hope the pilot's spellbinding second hour points the way toward greatness.



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