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Why Stargate Universe Failed

A few years ago, I wrote an article entitled ‘Why Stargate Universe Is Destined To Flop‘.  I was right, it did.  But not for the reasons I predicted.

Stargate Universe was actually a pretty decent show.  I’d go so far to say a very good show.  I didn’t think it would be.  I predicted it being a slightly darker Atlantis, when it actual fact, it was much, much darker.

Therein lay part of the problem.

Stargate Universe was simply too dark for the Stargate franchise.  SG-1 and Atlantis were quirky shows, full of humour and heroic characters who saved the day.  Universe told the story of humans; flawed, emotional humans put in a situation where they were, genuinely, stranded on the other side of the universe.  In some ways, it had a lot of what Star Trek: Voyager should have had.  Harry Kim would have been an infinitely better character had he been more like Eli Wallace.  But that just didn’t fit in the Stargate realm.  Stargate was never so much an exploration of humanity as a good old, exciting adventure.  Three years ago, I predicted Universe was destined to fail for similar reasons as Atlantis: inevitable cross-overs, miraculous escapes and dull characters.

Yes, Universe had cross-overs (handled much more sensitively and intelligently, I felt) and the odd miraculous escape, and some people did indeed find the characters dull (but more because they were too realistic and emotional than their compatriots on previous shows).  Instead of being formulaic and predictable for the franchise, Universe simply went too far in the opposite direction.

One of the criticisms levelled at SGU was that not enough happened.  ”The pacing was tedious and the plot-lines too uneventful.”  Similar criticisms were levelled at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and both shows share a certain propensity for thoughtful plot arcs that span many episodes, along with character development that is multi-faceted and can carry developments for several characters each week rather than “This is a Teyla episode” or “This is a Carter episode.”  The truth is that, again, this was not the type of story-telling Stargate had ever promoted in the past.  Deep Space Nine is surely the least well-known Star Trek today.  Upon further inspection, it’s probably the best in many ways.  Yet it took four years to really flourish.  Universe never had that chance, in an evermore ruthless television world.  Nor did it have the same core audience blessed upon Star Trek to keep the endeavour sustainable, even if it was less popular.

The show was said to be too depressing, and again, in comparison to its predecessors, it was!  Could one pick a more opposed character to O’Neill and Sheppard than Colonel Young?  Young was far more Kurt Russell’s Jack O’Neil than Richard Dean Anderson’s Jack O’Neill, and even then Young’s weaknesses were more explicitly exposed than Kurt Russell’s in the film.  Young was a great character, as was Jack O’Neill.  The problem was that within the same franchise, the two were so diametrically opposed that it was difficult to reconcile that difference for an established audience demographic.  Fans of the first two shows enjoyed the humour and the pacing and the brilliant silliness that comes with SG-1 and Atlantis, whereas new viewers were put off by the Stargate which suggested silly sci-fi.  The viewers that did enjoy the show were either those who happened to come across it, or those few SG-1 and Atlantis fans who held an appreciation for both types of show – such as myself.

Criticisms were inevitably drawn for the show being too akin to nu-Battlestar Galactica, but aside from the darker ambience of the show, political in-fighting and the ‘one ship against many’ factor, it doesn’t seem to hold much weight as a comparison.  Universe was completely devoid of the religious undertones, the mythological sub-plots and the Perhaps it was simply too soon after Battlestar for a show that was, I suppose, a bit similar, to air.

I became a fan of Stargate Universe.  I recently re-watched the finale, and smiled along with Eli as he stared into the racing cosmos.  It had been fun, it had been worth the adventure, even if this was the end.  Stargate Universe, had it launched outside the Stargate universe as it were, may have done better.  It would have needed better advertising, and probably to be carried on a channel like Showtime, but it could have succeeded.  Yet, without Stargate preceding it, it would probably never have been made in any form.  The name ‘Stargate‘ ultimately proved to be both its inception and its demise, and while there was a certain inevitability that the show would not enjoy the sustained longevity of SG-1, I’m glad to came to be, albeit briefly.

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  • http://twitter.com/CrewOfOne Alexander Fox

    I agree, Chris. Although “Atlantis” is my favorite SG series (and I’ve watched every episode of every series at least once), I thoroughly enjoyed “Universe.” I think the pacing was more of an issue than the dark tone, although having a character battle a terrible, real disease (ALS) may have been a step too far towards realism.

    For me, the episode revealing the civilization founded by SGU crew (with the brilliant and hilarious birth-scene montage) is right up there with the most inspirational and enjoyable sci-fi episodes of any series, ever.

    • http://www.scifiheaven.net/ Chris McQuillan

      Hi Alexander,

      I found the pacing a refreshing change from the episodic nature of previous Stargates and other shows, if I’m honest. But I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

      I’ll definitely miss the show, because it did have moments of brilliance, like you say.

      Chris

    • http://twitter.com/CrewOfOne Alexander Fox

      I think the key to keeping a season-long story arc interesting is keeping the goal firmly in mind. On SGU, there were aliens to avoid, there was a conspiracy on Earth to expose, there were sick and depressed crew members to deal with, there were very soap-opera-ish relationship dynamics (that dragged on endlessly), there was a search for God, there was a constant struggle for survival … All interesting elements, but all explored at such a meandering pace that, ultimately, most viewers concluded that the writers of SGU – like the crew of Destiny itself – didn’t know where they were going, and were making it up as they went along.

    • http://www.scifiheaven.net/ Chris McQuillan

      Very good point.

      There was a certain discontinuity attached to the show’s direction, which was a shame, because they were very close to a winning formula but sadly just fell a little short.

    • GP

      Recently my partner and I re-watched the entire Stargate series (SG1, SGA and SGU). We absolutely loved watching SG1 and SGA again but were utterly appalled with SGU. I really hoped (after so long) I could finish watching this series but it was even worse than what I remembered.
      I really wanted to like SGU. It had unlimited potential, with an eager sci-fi audience demanding more. I am a massive Stargate fan but after watching season 1 again the level of disappointment was just overwhelming, absolutely nothing happened! It’s so far from SG1 and SGA that it was unrecognisable and all the characters were just awful. I don’t think there was a single character in SGU that anyone
      can relate too. I ended up thinking after season 1: “Who seriously cares about
      these characters?” Some called SGU “dark” and “depressing” at the time but I
      think it all came back to bad writing. The space-ship Destiny was boring, the plot was dull and unimaginative, the level of alien technology was nil and I absolutely hated those Ancient communication stones! I found communicating with Earth completely ridicules because it defeated the whole purpose of “being out there alone.” The concept was lost.

      I remember when this show was first released, I so desperately wanted SGU to be a success; and I’d wager it was the same for so many Stargate fans. I watched SGU week after week hoping it would improve but it never did. I don’t know how Syfy were seriously expecting to attract more fans to SGU when they were alienating their more devout Stargate followers. The series had no protagonist, no enemies, no direction, and the characters were unlikable. I was like watching a random episode of Lost in Space. Like Chris McQuillan said, Stargate Universe was simply too dark for the Stargate franchise. SG1 and SGA were quirky shows, full of humour and heroic characters who saved the day. Stargate fans loved the humour and brilliant silliness that came with them, whereas SGU was much too depressing.

      Characters: Mathew Scott, who was the equivalent of Jack O’Neill and John Sheppard, was a man whor*. In the first episode his having se* with Vanessa James and in the next his sleeping with Chloe Armstrong; and when we look into his past we find he fathered a child through wedlock. For a character raised by a Catholic priest, there was something immoral to be said here?

      Everett Young, who was the equivalent of George Hammond and Elizabeth Weir, was a terrible character when measured against his predecessors; and there was even something to be said about his mental installability as well. Everett Young had an affair with Tamara Johansen prior to episode 1, resulting in her pregnancy, and he barely shows her any respect or affection during the series (she serviced as nothing more than a reminder of his betrayal). His only focus in the show was getting his wife back, which while honourable, who really cares? Furthermore, when his child dies on Destiny he shows little to no emotion… I mean seriously, how could anyone like a character like this? There was even one scene in season 1, when Everett Young was making love with his wife (using the Ancient communication stones) in David Telford’s body and signal was cutting in and out. What are viewers (possibly, young-teens) suppose to do with a scene like this? We would like to watch a show with family and friends without feeling creeped out… and the fun didn’t stop there: Ronald Greer has rage and anger issues, Eli Wallace’s mother was infected with HIV and his father abounded him as a child, Camile Wray was fighting against all odds to maintain her romantic relationship with her girlfriend Sharon Walker, other Stargate personal were on drugs, another commits suicide and there was constant political in-fighting on the ship. Are we watching a sci-fi series here or a soup opera? We learnt more about the characters in SGU in one season than we did about SG1 in ten! The writers were trying so hard to make us like these characters and al we did was hate them!

      Plot: I found the writers focused too much on character drama, and didn’t move the plot forward fast enough. Furthermore, I thought the series was too simular to BSG, and not in a positive way. They spent 10 episodes gathering supplies like air and water, which got tiresome very quickly. I don’t remember SGA facing these same issues. SGA worked everything out in the first 2 episodes and were out exploring the Pegasus Galaxy the next.

      The thing that bugs me the most is SGU had unlimited potential. They could have made the ship absolutely amazing, a much darker (or cooler) version of SGA, filling with amazing alien technology. Instead all we found was empty rooms; bedrooms, bathrooms and 2 shuttles, and even they were dull and boring. Why didn’t we encounter any human civilizations in universe? These planets could have just as easily been seeded with life by the Ancient space-ships traveling ahead of Destiny. Instead, all we visited were barren wastelands. Moreover, the show didn’t have any direction or a real villain.

      The first real plot element that was introduced was the Blueberry aliens; and even they didn’t make much scene. Both the Goa’uld and the Wraith were straight forward villains. The Blueberries however: “We think they might be after Destiny, maybe… probably…We don’t know why they want it, they just do,” and let’s not forget that SGU didn’t even name these aliens. They look like the Protoss from Starcraft if you ask me. Now fast-forward 20 episodes to season 2, SGU encountered another group of strange (non-English speaking) aliens who are just as equally vague. “We are at war with drone-fighters that are controlled by a mother-ship (or something), can you please help us destroy it?” Perhaps the
      writer could have provided with a little more information here?

      I also thought the writers sabotaged to many of there own ideas. For example, I
      thought the episode 13 “Faith” was an amazing episode. SGU discovers an uncharted alien planet capable of supporting human life. Nicholas Rush
      however was hard-pressed to explain how it could be there. The Ancient ships
      traveling ahead of Destiny found no star or no planet in this region of space before. Yet here it is. Nicholas Rush believes an advanced alien civilization created the star and the planet after the Ancients space-ships passed through, possibly for the purpose of helping them. In time a few members of the SGU decide to stay on the planet before Destiny moves on. Throughout the series the these members occasionally visit Destiny’s crew in dreams providing them with hope and comfort in hard times. There was even a hint that Tamara’s and Everett’s child was sent there after
      his death; that he is now in the care of these God-like aliens. I was very disappointed to see this story was cut short in season 2. These aliens could have even tied into Destiny’s purpose; to chase a strange pattern in the cosmic background radiation, “the meaning of life stuff” as Daniel Jackson puts it.
      Furthermore, at one time, the only thing that keep me interested in the show was Eli’s relationship with Ginn, and when they killed her off in the next episode I lost all interest in the show. It was like the writers were doing everything in their power to sabotage the series or completely crush souls of their characters; forgetting there needs to be some fun and excitement in there too :( it sucks this series was such a disappointment! I would have loved to see more Stargate.

  • Mimi

    Stargate universe was a complete departure from the other Stargate franchise. It was just wrong and I couldn’t sit down to watch it.

  • bratsos

    reason of fail, is more simple :
    others better series with common problems.
    No problems, from guys of nowhere.
    Like stargate.

  • Lightningbarer

    I’m not going to argue about this in detail, but there was a constant “Christians are great” feel from the moment go in SG:U. They even had an episode that said “yknow that theme we’ve had, the one where we’ve said that the universe is pretty much a sciency place and evil aliens manipulated our poor reasoning to control us? Good, well we want you to forget all that, there is a god, he saved a group of us who were freezing and, the best part-there’s proof there’s a god because this ancien-Ancient ship has evidence of a design to the universe”
    Now I’m not saying its proof, but this stuff came out after the big todo with the Ori and the message the show had then.
    Oh the creators blaiming the fans-kinda like what you’re doing here-didnt make them endeared to the story either.

  • Logan

    I like what you had to say. The truth is however that i loved the show. I loved Atlantis and SG-1 too. They are all awesome. I watched Universe for the second time and just finished the finale as well. I cant tell you the deep feeling of depression that i have now that the show is done. I hate the fact that shows are based off of ratings. If you have something good you should stick with it. I would sell my soul to have them do like another 3 seasons.

  • Russell Sell

    I thought it failed because there was no discernable bad guy. No main boss like the gou’ld or wraith it was more infighting. We saw glimpses of bad guys but they weren’t on the same scale as previous.

  • ghmessenger

    I agree with your assessment. I never really got into the Stargate universe, but I really liked Stargate Universe! :P
    It had none of the stuff that didnt appeal to me in the other Stargate shows, and as I was watching it I feared it might suffer for it. Fans of the previous Stargates wouldnt necessarily care for it, and people who werent fans of the previous shows might not even give it a chance!
    And it appears thats what happened. Really a shame. As I said, the only Stargate show that I actually really liked (not that the others are bad! They just arent my jam)

    (Forgive my lack of apostrophes, my keyboard is acting up atm -__-)

    • http://www.scifiheaven.net/ Chris McQuillan

      Atlantis ages terribly. SG-1 holds up better, but I think Universe will be the most watchable in ten years time.