I admit it. I’m not a Stargate fan girl. I don’t get squealy when I see there’s a Stargate marathon on SyFy and I don’t feel the need to download wallpapers, sounds and graphics or anything of that nature. I hadn’t even seen beyond Seasons 9, 10 and Ark of Truth until about 2 months ago. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with being a Stargate fan girl/boy. We each have our fandoms. I’m just saying that I’m not intimate with the Stargate Franchise on the level that a lot of fans are.
I’m also not as intimately familiar with the Stargate Franchise as my fellow reporters. Is it a good franchise? Yes, I believe so. Were SG-1 and SGA good shows? Yes, I think they were. Do I know everything there is to know about either of those shows? No, not by a long shot. I’m sure PlayItGrand is tired of me asking what episode something is from or calling it a “zap zap gun” instead of a Zat. (She gets so annoyed. It’s funny.) I respect Stargate for what it is, good quality TV and I respect the fans for being fiercely loyal and dedicated throughout the years. Stargate has some high quality fans in my opinion!
I’m going to admit that I had some doubts when it came to watching SGU for this review. While I understand the hype behind the show I can’t really say that it was on my “I have to see it” list. Why? I’ve seen the trailers just like everyone else and while it looked interesting, I thought it would be a little too Battlestar Galactica (BSG) for me.
What do I mean when I say something is “BSG?” BSG is a show that I never got into, much to my husband’s dismay. While it was an absolutely beautiful production overall, plot-wise it wasn’t my cup of tea. You see, I prefer a little comedy in my drama brew (a la Farscape or SG-1/SGA). So when I say something is “BSG” I mean that it’s very dramatic…all the time. Everything is a life or death situation…EVERYTHING. Making lunch is a matter of life or death. Going to the bathroom is a matter of life or death. Changing the channel is a matter of life or death. Everything is life or death! It’s a show that leaves not only the viewer but the actor needing a prozac. Like I said, not my cup of tea.
In seeing the trailers I thought to myself, “oh no, it’s BSG Stargate style.” I was fearful that we would have lost any hint of comedy and general levity when they upped the production value. And while I tried to keep an open mind, part of me was dreading the emotional rollar coaster this pilot was going to put me on. I couldn’t help but wonder if SyFy was using the Stargate Franchise to replace their newly ended hit series. If Stargate is known for anything its hope. No matter what, there was always hope and I couldn’t wrap my head around a Stargate series that, from the trailers, seemed to lack that fundamental.
Thankfully, the creators have kept true to the Franchise and have retained the element of hope in SGU. Yes, the show is rife with drama and their situation is dire, but there’s always that element of hope to pull you through. I won’t go into details because I don’t want to let any spoilers slip. What I can say is that unlike BSG and their form of sci-fi realism, SGU maintains that fundamental element of hope fans are so used to.
I’m going to try and do my best to be objective in this review. Please remember that this is my opinion and not even the best news agencies out there are ever truly 100% objective. This is just my attempt at it. I’m going to try and look at SGU from the perspective of a newbie Stargate fan and from a more critical “literary” standpoint.
First of all, I can understand what all the hype is about. The quality of this show is so beautiful it’s almost breathtaking. The CGI graphics are outstanding and it seems that no expense was spared on the sets, costumes, make-up and other visual effects. The cinematography is unique even going so far as to break the fourth wall at points. It’s an interesting technique. By viewing the scene through the eyes of one of the characters, say, if they’re holding a camcorder, gives the viewer a perception that varies greatly from the standard third-party perspective. Not only are you watching what’s going on but the cinematography makes you feel as though you are right there with them at points.
I won’t spend the next four pages going into how beautiful this show is. I think I already covered that it’s very well made. No expense was spared. But a good question has been asked right here on this blog. “Can they keep it up?” It’s a valid question. With a production value that’s obviously very high will SyFy remain committed to it in today’s economy or will we start to see a slow decline as costs are cut to remain on budget? Other shows have traveled this path before and have gotten stuck in the “too much money” vacuum that ultimately leads to cancellation. Will it be the same for SGU? Only time will tell.
I can see where Stargate fans would be concerned. It’s a new series being added to their franchise. Will it work? Will it tank? If it tanks does the entire franchise go with it? It’s an outcome that really can only be decided by the fans. So how do you give the fans what they want, more Stargate, without reviving or remaking one of the two original series? The answer was to create a completely new set of characters, throw them into a new circumstance but still give them ties to home so that fans can see the familiar faces they’ve come to adore.
However, in doing so I’ve come across a problem. At least, it’s a problem in my opinion. In the first “3” episodes we get to see our old friends General O’Neill, Colonel Carter, Dr. Jackson and Master Sergeant Harriman. This was obviously done to give the fans a reason to give the show a chance. Let’s face it, most fans are going to watch anything that their favorite actors are in. I know I do it. If it weren’t for the addition of Ben Browder and Claudia Black I would never have watched SG-1 (until I met PlayItGrand at least). So this is an easy way to get some SG-1 fans to automatically watch the show.
What I find strange about this method is that I didn’t sit there watching the SG-1 cast as filler like I was supposed to. I kept thinking about what those characters are doing now. Of course we aren’t told what Carter is up to, other than commanding the George Hammond, or what Daniel is working on. We don’t even find out if Walter’s still flexing his gate dialing muscles, though his camouflage did make him blend into the filing cabinets nicely. They are filler, plain and simple, used to draw in SG-1 fans. Except, in doing so it just left me thinking more about what SG-1 was up to now instead of paying attention to what was going on in SGU.
The overall plot of SGU is very good. It leaves a lot of openings for it to go in numerous directions and doesn’t stick the characters into a limited situation. I’m not naming any names, but I’ve seen it happen before with other series and a limited environment only leads to more ridiculous stories.
I will say this about the plot, however, there is an element to the overall “basis” of the show, a limit if you will, that’s going to get very old very fast if it’s not resolved.
Here’s my problem. The Destiny, the beautiful Ancient ship the characters are trapped on, spends all of its time going from Stargate to Stargate. It’s apparently been doing this for millennia. From time to time the ship makes stops along its path. At least this is good news for our heroes in terms of supplies. The bad news is that they only have a limited time on the planet before Destiny high tails it out of there. The other bad news is that the ship goes to planets that it knows has a Stargate and where it thinks might have what the crew needs. Then again, the database is thousands of years old and I’m guessing it hasn’t been updated in a while. I don’t think the Ancients released Service Pack 2. But the notion is that this timer will start every time Destiny reaches a Stargate. Great.
I feel like this one concept is going to get old quickly. Wasn’t it enough that they’re stuck in space with no form of society, on a ship that’s barely functional, with no supplies and only moderate medical care? Nope, they had to put a time limit on “away missions” as well.
At the same time, from a writer’s standpoint, I can see why they have the ship set an egg timer. Look at the structure of most of SG-1’s episodes (having not seen a lot of Atlantis I’m not comfortable commenting on it). Each episode, essentially, was one off-world mission, a short story that ties into the overall story arches of the season and the show. This, by the way, seems to be the standard structure for a lot of series. So as a writer how do you write a single definitive episode when there’s no mission-like structure and your characters are stuck on a ship? You have the ship travel to planets with Stargates. Then, to give you that story in a nice neat package, and provide extra angst to your already dramatic cast, you put a time limit on how long the ship will stay at that particular planet. It’s really genius in its simplicity.
While we’re on the subject of plot, SGU isn’t so much like Battlestar Galactica as it is Lord of the Flies in space. These people are suddenly thrust into a situation where literally, no one has any control. Some of the characters have known each other and have established relationships while others have just been introduced into the mix. It’s social chaos.
Like Lord of the Flies, SGU pits two fundamentals of humanity against each other: civilization vs. savagery (or order vs. anarchy). We see examples of the instinct to live by the rules, act peacefully and value the good of the group (civilization) and the instinct to react on impulse to satisfy personal desires, obtain supremacy over others and enforce one’s will. It’s a complete toss up as to which instinct will ultimately prevail for each character.
To create an effective society, someone will need to be the leader, someone the medic, someone the teacher, the explorer, the philosopher, the law and order, etc. Social order of some sort must be established in order for them to survive. SGU’s characters were created and established to eventually fulfill the societal order. It’s just going to be a matter of figuring out where everyone goes and who will choose civilization over savagery.
Again with my trepidation in watching SGU I was concerned that I wouldn’t like the characters. From what I had read and seen they all appeared to be stereotypes thrown together to fuel the drama. To an extent this is true. However, the more I thought about it the more it made sense.
Take SG-1 for instance. Our beloved Samantha Carter and Daniel Jackson were complete stereotypes for nearly the entire first season. In my opinion they were so stereotyped it was almost painful to watch the actors settle into their roles. Farscape was the same way. John Crichton was the overly naive astronaut, always hopeful and optimistic, thrown into a situation with an emotionally blocked soldier, an honor driven warrior, a pacifist priest and a greedy slug. No stereotypes there, right? (Note the sarcasm). Just like with Sam and Daniel we saw the characters in Farscape progress and break out of their stereotypical molds to turn into truly unique individuals.
So while SGU is filled with stereotypes: the megalomaniacal doctor, the “everyman” comic relief, the modest medic, the honorable and loyal colonel, the tough on the outside/gooey on the inside soldier and the “Mary Sue” senator’s daughter, just to name a few; as the series progresses we’re sure to see some development to these characters as the actors and writers settle into the characters.
The writers have given hints, sparks to every character that lets the viewer know there is more to them than meets the eye. This suggests that the characters really aren’t as stereotyped as they seem to be and if we’re patient we’ll find out who they really are. It’s been done before and it works quite well. If you think about it, and this is the deep philosophical moment for my day, we’re all stereotypes to some degree. Otherwise where would stereotypes come from? The juicy stuff lies in how we break out of those molds.
Yes, the show is rife with forced drama. The first few episodes of any show need forced drama to survive. Dramatic moments need to be created when a show first airs because the characters are still establishing themselves. This also goes hand in hand with the fact that there are no “baddies” on SGU. There are no G’ould or Wraith or Replicators. It’s just them, on an Ancient ship in space. If there was no forced drama there wouldn’t be a show. Something had to replace the bad guys, at least for now.
Don’t think that just because there aren’t any “baddies” per say that the forced drama is going to go along the same lines as it does on reality TV. There are no cheating boyfriends or promiscuous sex with multiple partners or any other drama that is normally associated with reality TV. No one gets voted off the island but it’s clear that alliances will be made.
SGU is realistic in that the circumstances the characters are forced into and their reactions are very realistic. Granted it’s doubtful that any of us will ever find ourselves lost in space on board a decaying ship, but the individual situations the characters must deal with are things that everyone will experience at one time or another. The cinematography allows you to put yourself in their shoes and at times you certainly do find yourself sympathizing with them. That’s what SGU defines as realistic.
Speaking of the characters, I have to say what I liked best about SGU was Eli Wallace played by David Blue. Blue’s comedic timing is absolutely perfect and he portrays Eli with such realistic simplicity that you wonder just how much of Blue is in Eli. Eli is the character that grounds the rest of the cast. His character is the “everyman” the one that’s just like us. He doesn’t fit the mold of a military social structure. He doesn’t care about ranks and regulations. Eli reacts to his situation the only way he knows how, with humor. Within the course of a day his entire life is turned upside down, changed forever and yet Eli, the man not trained for survival situations, is the first character to accept his situation and make the best out of it. Everyone knows an Eli and that makes him very easy to identify with.
The much needed comic relief provided by Eli is what saves the show for me. I didn’t find myself connecting with any of the other characters. I liked Eli. I liked that he is a geek but a geek like most geeks out there who are smart, lovable and not socially inept. I enjoy his outlook of “well I’m here so I might as well do something cool.” He has tremendous compassion for the other characters and it’s his reaction to the situation that grounds the otherwise overly dramatic characters on the show. Just when things seem to be crossing the fine line into the melodrama zone, Eli brings it back.
Not only is SGU blazing new trails for the Stargate Franchise in terms of a change in cinematography, aspect, and production quality, it also changed the gate!
Now I can’t help but scratch my head when I look at the new gate symbols. The old symbols were constellations. I get that. The new “symbols” are dots. My first thought was, “is that some form of Ancient Braille?” Seriously, that’s what it looks like. But what do the dots represent? Are they new constellations or some secret Ancient code? If the gates were labeled like this obviously before the gates in our galaxy were created does that mean the Ancients dumbed it down for us? Were the Ancients sitting around a table going, “those humans aren’t too bright. Let’s make it easier and use constellations so they don’t muck this up. Otherwise they’ll never figure it out?” It seems so.
PlayItGrand tells me that the Ancients have a bad habit of being inconsistent with things. Maybe the gate is just one of them. Though I’m opting for the “humans aren’t smart enough to figure it out so tone it down a bit” theory.
I will say that the new gate is very pretty and aesthetically pleasing. The new way it dials is pretty neat too.
What do I say to people who have watched the trailers and are planning on avoiding SGU like the bubonic plague? Give it a chance. The trailers for SGU don’t do the show justice. In fact, I think that the trailers gave the wrong impression of SGU.
The premiere and technically third episode are three hours out of your life. If you want do something else while you’re watching it, but at least give it a chance. I found myself itching to get to my lunch break so I could finish watching the pilot, even more so for the third episode. SGU deserves a chance. Like me, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.
We look forward to you visiting our dedicated review and analysis web site here in the future! Or as many of our readers and visitors often do, visit WHR on Twitter, or visit me on Twitter by clicking the text links or images avatars in this news story. I and TeamWHR look forward to Seeing You on The Other Side!“