As a longtime fan of the Stargate franchise, I was looking forward to the new entry in to the Stargate television family, Stargate Universe. Although I have to admit I was a bit cautious in my expectations. The Stargate shows, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, have been in my opinion damn near perfect science fiction TV. The premise, that aliens thousands of years ago had kidnapped humans from Earth and settled them all over the galaxy as slaves via a Stargate, a massive ring that allows instantaneous travel between solar systems, allows just about any type of potential science fiction plot device. In one episode the heroes could be halfway across the galaxy liberating humans from an evil alien overlord; in the next they could be downtown in Colorado Springs, getting a pizza. Or sometimes in the same episode. Humor and current pop culture references kept the show anchored in the here and now, while at the same time allowing the traditional action adventure in the stars. Earth and the US Air Force manage to beat technologically superior aliens time and again. Go us!
But when I first heard the premise of the show; humans trapped on an Ancient spaceship halfway across the universe, my first instinct was, “Uh oh, this is going to be Stargate’s Voyager. Voyager was the second to last in the Star Trek shows, which has a starship from the Star Trek Federation… halfway across the galaxy. The purpose was to take advantage of the Star Trek franchise but at the same time pull away from the usual cast of situations and aliens, which had started to grow stale. It was a concept that had only meager success, and showed the franchise was on life support, finally flat lining during Star Trek Enterprise.
But the producers had promised an “edgier” Stargate than the previous incarnations. Edgier? Full frontual, or a FX-like use of profanity? But setting down to watch the premiere episode I was afraid edgier would merely mean the same thing as it meant to the makers of Heroes; cut the lights off and film in the dark. Note to TV producers: noir doesn’t mean filming without klieg lights. At this point, the brightness level on my TV is all the way up and I still can’t see what’s going on in Heroes. If I decide to finish the season for that show, I may just finish it as podcasts and listen to them since I can’t see what’s happening on the screen anyway.
And in the premiere episode Air, that started to look like what they meant. The quick premise of the show, is that a planet that has unique properties and Stargate, has a secret military base. The Earth base personnel, who were on the planet to discover the mysteries of the “Ninth Chevron” figure out how to use the unique gate just as the planet comes under the attack of perfectly timed aliens. Beating a hasty retreat through the Stargate, the base survivors discover themselves on board an Ancient (a humanlike highly technological race that disappeared tens of thousands of years ago in the Stargate mythology) starship, with no means to power the ship’s stargate to get back to Earth.
Naturally the ship is in total darkness when they board. Edgy.
The first couple of episodes of the show revolve around the crew trying to wrap themselves around solving the most basic survival needs, as the episode names indicate, Air, Light, Water… Episodes filled with the grimness and stress of their situation, but little humor or action to break the ice. Frankly, not bad episodes, but not great either. However I’m embarrassed to say it took me until the most recent episode, Justice, to figure out what “edgy” was supposed to mean.
The producers were not doing the Stargate version of Voyager; they were doing the Stargate version of Battlestar Galactica.
Galactica (the updated version, not the 1970’s feathered hair version) was almost revolutionary in it’s approach. It stripped out the aliens, weird spatial phenomena, time travel, technobabble, and other props of the SF genre and just left the people; highly imperfect people. Heroes were not always heroic, or truthful, villains were not always villainous, or lying. Galactica raised the bar on TV science fiction, making it an adult drama, and the Emmy’s that Galactica won during its 5 season run bear that out.
So I consider myself fully on board with Stargate Universe now, and feel free to recommend the show, although with caveats. While Galactica had me hooked with the first miniseries that launched the show, I’ve been mulling over Stargate Universe. I was not hooked until recently. It may be that just my expectations of what a Stargate show should be made me blind to what the producers were trying to do with this version of Stargate. This isn’t your geeky father’s Stargate. It definitely has a different feel to the show, dare I say edgier?
Why bring this up now? The show has been on for months.
True, but the show is on a brief hiatus until the spring and tomorrow the Syfy channel is running all nine of the previously aired episodes back to back all day. So if you are out of work, nerdy, and somehow missed the previous showings, now is a good opportunity to catch up.
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