SGU: The Next Generation of Stargate

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]

14 thoughts on “SGU: The Next Generation of Stargate

  1. Great review! I totally agree with you.

    There have been a few people on the net complaining about SGU, but i think it’s off to a fantastic start. The perfect blend of original Stargate style mixed with the gritty-ness of Battlestar (another show that i loved and will miss now that its ended), without being too dark.

    They needed to try something new, a new style (the original SG1 is around 15 years old – from when it started), and i think the new style works well.

    I’m now looking forward to the next episode!

  2. I agree, damn fine start. I look forward to seeing how some of the questions raised are answered, and that in itself is enough reason for me to keep watching. Like T.J. what was the real reason she was leaving the service and heading to Seattle?
    Many of the comments complaining about the show (in particular about the Rush character being a cookie-cutter selfish bastard with a sad past) must not have paid enough attention to the scene when they are escaping through the gate. Rush stated he dialed the 9th chevron at least in part because it was too chancy to dial Earth with the planet
    about to explode, not only because he just wanted to try it out.
    OF COURSE he wanted to try it out, but there may have been a solid reason for dialing the unknown instead of endangering Earth. He could have been deciding based on that belief.
    Maybe he is a selfish bastard, maybe he was protecting Earth, maybe both. The point is, we don’t know, and that makes for a complex character.
    There were a lot of subtleties that may have been missed by the complainers. I advise them to watch again, with more attention paid.
    But if they don’t; no big loss to the franchise.

  3. I liked the premiere, but I’m hoping they hold to the really cool twist of Stargate: these people are *not* “the best of the best”, they’re not trained to be there, they didn’t sign up for this, and most importantly, they’re not in control.

    Stargate followed SG-1, the flagship team. Atlantis, while they were cut off for the first season, was filled with brilliant people who volunteered.

    The easiest way to get favorable comparisons to Voyager is to avoid the temptation for everyone to suddenly become experts and best buddy teammates. They’re off to a good start:
    * the “genius” has ulterior motives, and it’s already suggested that he might not know as much as he lets on.
    * the “boy genius” is completely out of his depth (which will probably be played as the “wide-eyed wonder”, but the cliche works)
    * the “bad ass soldier” is on his first mission, and making it up as he goes
    * the “politician/diplomat” is the assistant, and just lost her mentor/father to boot
    * the seasoned commander is out of commission and unable to effectively lead (this is the one I worry about – I suspect he’ll be the Hammond of this series).
    * the ship is majorly SNAFUed, and they don’t have the means/resources/ability to control it, much less repair it.

    That sets up a very effective character drama – you’re screwed and you know it: how do you survive?

  4. Thanks for the review. Without it… well, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed that the pilot was out.

    Instead, I watched it on Hulu with the same people with whom I watched all 214 SG-1 episodes, both movies, and the first 2 (so far) seasons of Atlantis. Our conclusions pretty much coincide with your comments.

  5. Hey everybody, thanks for all the comments!

    I think that for at least the first arc they will keep up some of the elements that Dana and Gould pointed out. Test will come, as always, with time!

    Glad it was a help Peter. I barely heard about it myself. Glad you have such a loyal SG-crew!

  6. I watched the pilot and finally got to see the entire boring two hours after being put to sleep twice on Friday night. I have watched every episode of SG1 and Atlantis plus all the movies going back to the days when I would be sure to be home on Fridays to see SG1 on Showtime. Maybe I am getting too old and this new version is not my Stargate. Instead of a bright fun and uplifting show this new version is dark, hateful slow in pace and just plain boring. I read when some of you simply say to the core viewers of the franchise if we do not like this new boring departure from our Stargate then a good riddance! I suspect when the numbers come in next week if all of us that enjoyed the bright, often funny and always fun to watch Stargate SG1 and Atlantis chose to avoid this dark, hateful, slow paced and boring ripoffs of Defying Gravity, BSG and ST Voyager the show will probably be the last of the franchise. Time will tell but the show does need the core viewer that has cared enough to know it is even on to be successful because the new audience just did not show up Friday night. Dollhouse a dying show nearly get as many viewers as the premier so it is not building many new viewers above the faithful core that has followed the show for nearly 15 years.

    I had decided to see the final part of “Air” before removing the season pass in my DVR but after reading the review written by the lady at the Chicago Tribune who has seen the next five episodes and advises the show does not get any better, I have decided to not bother viewing an more episodes and just write it off as a waste of time.

    I know “GOOD RIDDENCE”

  7. I am in the middle of the previous reviews. As a long-time stargate fan I have to admit to a fondness for the lightness and just plain fun of SG-1. I still miss Richard Dean Anderson (please give him some more to do on SGU). I do agree though that the new show had to change styles and add depth. I just hope that as the characters develop, someone stands out and becomes interesting enough to want to come back. So far, I’m not sure, but will keep watching for a while to find out.

  8. It feels like BSG with a stargate on board. Even the soundrack (que the Celtic music) is copied off BSD.

    I’ve felt for a couple years that the SG writers/producers ran out of fresh ideas long ago.. Atlantis just rehashed the same story ideas from SG1 and even the SG1 DVD movies were rehashed story lines with bigger budgets. Despite that.. I still enjoyed them.

    SGU just proves to me they don’t have any more original ideas.. they watched BSD and stole the tone,music, visual style, camera work, well basically everything. At least BSD had the Cylons.

    I am a huge SG fan and I REALLY hope things get better but despite my best effort.. the show just bores me.

    Too slow, too dark, and too self conscious.

  9. Well after watching the latest episode, I must say I have mixed feelings. First of all, the “darkness” is really getting to be oppressive and they always seem to begin and end with it. I really wish they would lighten things up a tad while maintaining the more serious mood.

    I will say I enjoy the times when they go back to their old “SG” glory and fight the “monster of the week.” Still, maybe that’s just me and how I like my scifi! :P

  10. This show is realy boring. I have watched all SG1 and Atlantis and I don’t like this Stargate release. I wish to watch SG:Atlantis (Stargate: Extinction) movie instead. They should cancel Universe series and continue Atlantis or do some more actionfull series in Stargate world.
    They should show us ratings after those five episodes. I will probably stop watching it. I wish space show to be actionfull, for character driven show I have House m.d.

  11. SGU is way too dark. Why do writers always want to write about death, dying and conflict? I have enough of that stuff in my life. Lighten up! Earlier versions were humorous and fun to watch. That’s what made them so good. SGU is just another dark science fiction program that happens to be branded with the Stargate name.

    I’m providing this feedback online before removing SGU from my DVR’s list of scheduled programs. I’m hoping that the writers will eventually catch-on and change. If they do, I’ll be happy to reprogram SGU back into my DVR.

  12. I enjoy watching heroes, it came from boring into a fine tv series now. After watching first few eps, I was like, its another xmen . Now its really thrilling, hope the new season will be released soon.

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