I wanted to take a break from the humdrum of my grad school life to share my thoughts on the newest iteration of the Stargate anthology…
If you haven’t heard about it by now, Stargate: Universe (SGU) is a show that takes place in the world of Stargate, but adds in the Voyager-esque element of being “lost in space.” It’s understandable if this show slipped under your radar. With the return of the big fall shows on the major networks, and the noticeable increase in shows that target the geek demographic, SGU has a lot more competition for interested viewers. Even long-time Stargate fans probably thought “Oh, just another Stargate, will this even be worth my time?” After viewing the pilot, I can tell you that this is not so.
The third version of something is often the LAST version of it. While I LOVED The Matrix Trilogy, I will admit that the second and third movies were less and less popular as they got away from the central theme of The Matrix. Stargate: Atlantis was arguably worse than the original series, not because it was so particularly bad, but because it brought nothing new to the table. The writers and directors essentially made carbon copies of each Stargate: SG1 character and stuck them in a slightly different universe. This third try at the Stargate franchise seems to be not a rerun, but a re-imagining of what Stargate can be.
Remember, Stargate is a very old show by scifi standards, so some of the original styling has become a bit dated. Atlantis tried to address this by making everything all wacky and “Atlantisy,” but that just made it say “sequel” even more. SGU takes steps to make the plot of the pilot fall in line with what Stargate viewers expect, but still offer something new. That newness comes in the form of character depth and a coherent framing of the story.
First, when it comes to character development, SGU is clearly trying to speed up the pace. The original Stargate didn’t really get into serious characters until after the first several seasons. In contrast, this pilot is chock FULL of backstory, emotional tension, and foreshadowing. This is clearly a reaction to the new wave of scifi shows (Battlestar, Heroes, Lost) that focus much more on WHO is playing out the story, not just WHAT they’re doing. In fact, SGU still has the option to make the show more like a serial than Stargate’s “single episode story” model (though I don’t expect they will).
The other value-add for me was the architecture of SGU. While the first two series focused on the “we know nothing, not even sure where we are” aspect of exploration, this show dispenses with a lot of that.
[Spoiler Alert] In the pilot alone, the new “crew” has been given a map with their precise location, efficient communication with Earth, and a fairly strong knowledge of Ancient tech. Also, the ship is “aware” of their needs and every episode (presumably) takes them to a new planet with a convenient Stargate already installed. There’s even a handy clock informing them of how long they have for each away mission! [/Spoiler Alert]
I like this new setup, not because it adds a formulaic aspect to the show (which it definitely does), but because it allows the show to get off to a strong start without messing about in the procedures of figuring out how to drive the ship, make food, etc.
My fears for this show were that it would either be lame and out of place like Voyager largely was or overly dark and gritty like Battlestar was/is. I was pleasantly surprised by how strong this pilot came across. It is a smart balance of familiar mythology, complex character design, and endless possibilities. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I!
The Stargate: Universe pilot is available on Hulu now! For extra SGU goodness, here’s a great photo gallery that give you some ideas about the look and feel of the new show.
[“SGU Poster” via GeekTyrant]