I don't think there's been a franchise I've seen fall so far from grace as the Stargate one. In the late nineties, Stargate SG-1 was quite simply some of the best television around. It was exciting, action-packed and it didn't take itself too seriously. To put it bluntly: the show wasn't afraid to have fun. Stargate Atlantis was, for the most part, a pretty fun show as well, though towards the end it got a bit tedious. So it was with a bit of anticipation I tuned into the very first episode of Stargate Universe, a series that promised to take the Stargate franchise into new and exciting areas. At first, I was worried the show was just going to be a Stargate version of Star Trek: Voyager, but after watching the entire show, I think it's clear that Universe was "influenced" by a number of shows:
Yes, I'm afraid rather than being a bold show that treaded new ground for the franchise, Universe simply felt like a re-hash of other popular (and better) shows. I've mentioned Star Trek: Voyager (a show with a ship stranded millions of light years from home), but the show also stole the grim and gritty atmosphere of Battlestar Galactica, the idea of strangers having to put aside their differences and work together from Lost and lesbians from The L Word.
Alright, they didn't steal the idea of lesbians in a show, but as awesome as it is seeing two hot girls go at each-other, it gets pretty damn tiring seeing it every week. Seriously, at every possible opportunity we saw Camile Wray (the Asian chick) and her partner having sex, kissing, having sex, hugging, having sex, talking about having sex, having sex or discussing what they were going to do when Camile got home (have hot lesbian sex). I'd expect this kind of writing from a fourteen year old, not a team of writers with over a decade of experience. I am so damn sick of writers thinking that by having your characters have sex, you've created a "mature" piece of work, when in reality the opposite is true. Universe was the first Stargate show to feature sex scenes, and they felt awkward, out of place, and purely there to keep the nerds happy.
Another problem I have is the characters. As I mentioned in my review of Underbelly: The Golden Mile, characters are the most important part of any work of fiction. But are the characters in Universe likable? Relatable, at least? No, they're a bunch of idiots and jerks. They spend almost all their time arguing or bitching about their predicament, or they act like idiots and make dumb tactical decisions. Of particular note is Robert Carlyle's character, Nicholas Rush, who is clearly supposed to be a jerk with a heart of gold, but is in reality nothing but a jerkass. He's rude, arrogant and makes just as many mistakes as the other characters, but he gets away with it because... actually, I'm not sure, he's not even that smart, Eli's usually the one to get them out of jams.
And speaking of Eli, boy was he a dumb character. For the uninitiated: he was an overweight nerd who was hand-picked for the Stargate program because he solved a puzzle in a video game (seriously). He might as well have just worn a shirt saying, "I'm a fan surrogate!" Still, even if we ignore this, his character felt like nothing more than a combination of Daniel Jackson from SG-1, Wesley Crusher from Star Trek and Hurley from Lost.
Still, there was one guy I liked, the black guy:
He was the one character with a brain, the only one who suggested the most logical course of action ("Why don't we just shoot the enemy?" "Why are we letting civilians call the shots?" "Why are you all such UTTER MORONS?"). And that is not a good thing.
Moving on, I found it quite offensive that the key premise of the show - isolation - was abandoned as early as episode two. Those damn Ancient communication stones, in my opinion, practically ruined whatever chance the show had. The show was supposed to bring new fans into the franchise, and what better way to do that than not bogging it down with all the boring politics that plagued SG-1 towards the end of its life? Not to mention, the show is all about the crew being billions of light years from home, so you'd expect it to feature, I don't know, NOTHING on Earth? Having a magic device that transports you back to Earth pretty much destroys any feelings of isolation the show might have. To use a good example, Star Trek: Voyager waited until its fourth season before they made contact with Earth, and even then it was brief. It wasn't until season seven that the ship was in regular contact with Earth.
I think, ultimately, the biggest problem with the show is it can't seem to settle on a tone. At times it goes for the grim and gritty Battlestar Galactica feel, at other times it goes for the light-hearted and fun tone of of SG-1 and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The episode "Light" was one of the show's few highlights, a truly excellent episode where the characters all faced their own deaths. On the other hand, "Time" was a seriously cool episode dealing with time travel, but both episodes felt like they belonged in different shows - one was grim 'n' gritty, the other was cool 'n' techy.
There were other little things that bothered me (like no opening theme), but I think the problems with this show are quite simple: there was no new creative team. The show, for better or worse, just felt like season 16 of the ongoing (and tired) Stargate franchise, rather than season 1 of a new and fresh show. If you have the same creative team for over a decade, ideas are going to get stale. Characters are going to fail at being real people. You'll grasp at straws to keep your show alive - maybe you'll steal ideas from other shows, maybe you'll throw in some sex to appear more "mature", but it won't work.
Despite its huge cast, Stargate Universe felt like an empty show. The fun, the excitement and the wonder of the Stargate franchise seems to have completely left the show, which is a damn shame. Perhaps one day the show can come back, but if it does, I sure hope they bring some new, fresh talent on board.
© 2011 by The Free Man