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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.

Sandoval

7 Great Morally Dubious Characters of Sci-Fi TV

Topless Robot have uploaded their 7 Great Morally Dubious Characters of Sci-Fi TV.

Quite how they can put Nerus from SG-1, and Todd from Atlantis in ahead of Robert Carlyle’s Nicholas Rush from Stargate: Universe is beyond me.  And where is Earth: Final Conflict‘s Ronald Sandoval of Season One?  The Machiavellian agent driven purely to serve the Taelons, but whose love for his wife is never truly eradicated.  Or is it?

It’s not a bad list, and characters such as Q, Baltar and Garak certainly deserve their place.

Who would you put in there?

Universe to get ‘darker’; SGA actors to guest

young

Stargate: Universe show-runner Brad Wright has revealed that the dark atmosphere of the show’s first season was only the beginning: the show is set to get darker next year.

"When you try to adopt a more realistic tone, where frankly we don’t win every time, then there have to be real-world repercussions like death and injury and loss," Wright said. "You can dig deeper into characters and the deeper you dig the repercussions can get bigger. We are going to some places with these characters, and already have really, that we would never go with the heroes of our other series.”

And things don’t bode will for Everett Young, played by Louis Ferreira. 

According to Robert C. Cooper, "After everything he’s been through – and it gets worse for him initially at the beginning of Season 2 – it’s impossible to imagine that a person wouldn’t go to a very dark place at least for a short period of time.

In other news, according to GateWorld, we’re set to see some Stargate Atlantis actors guesting on Universe next year.  No word on who, or to what extent yet, however.

Atlantis Finale Far From ‘Well Crafted’

SGA501_0520_333x500Stargate actor Robert Picardo recently announced that the Stargate Atlantis finale – ‘Enemy at the Gate ‘ was a “well crafted” piece of television.

It’s not.

“Enemy at the Gate” is by no means Atlantis’ worst hour – not even close.  In fact, by the second half of Season Four’s mediocre standards, its outstanding.

However, that’s scarcely enough to merit calling it “well crafted”. 

The pacing is fast – too fast.  What the viewed sees resembles a two-hour story chopped down and squeezed tightly into forty-two minutes of television.  The plot devices used are typical of an increasingly unimaginative Writers’ Room, and the absence of any extended resolution which would surely have propelled this episode into a higher stratum of quality is strongly felt.

The plot had potential, don’t get me wrong, and it does indeed tie up some ends (unlike SG-1′s ‘Unending’), but it is not a great finale.  It’s barely a good one.  It’s a decent episode, and that’s all.

One must hope that the laissez-faire habits of the Atlantis creative teams are not carried on to Stargate Universe, or else the once vibrant franchise may dim to a faint ember.  Perhaps that metaphor is a cliché, yet it seems strangely apt for a show that revels in repeating its own weaknesses week in, week out.

Robert Picardo, you’ve done some fine television.  How did you conceive this to be ‘well crafted’?

Captain Vela was Stargate’s First Gay Character. Woo.

Stargate Atlantis produce Joe Mallozzi has stated that Captain Vela, a character introduced in the show’s fifth season, was intended to be the show’s first gay character – a revelation that was to end up on the cutting room floor.

What exactly does this mean? Sod all.

The character was never defined as gay on screen, therefore, to 90% of Stargate viewers, she remains entirely straight. Yet, the producers seem to expect a pat on the back for thinking about making a character gay?

The very fact that this development – something most shows would treat as a milestone; something to be proud of – ended up on the cutting room floor is indicative of the lack of risk-taking in the Stargate writers’ room. Leaving aside the fact that such a revelation may have made a few episodes somewhat more compelling, we get the impression that the writers knew a gay character could heighten the drama and make characters more interesting, yet couldn’t bring themselves to take the final push.

To then actually announce that the aforementioned plot development was cut seems, well, a little useless. You didn’t actually achieve anything.

-sarcasm-
So way to go, Stargate writing team. Have yourselves a pat on the back for doing nothing of use, in this case. You deserve it.
-/sarcasm-

Stargate Atlantis Ratings Spike Upwards

Stargate-Atlantis-tv-30The second part of Stargate Atlantis’s mid-season cliffhanger, "The Lost Tribe" has scored an impressive 1.5 rating (a massive increase on the 1.1 scored by the first part, "First Contact").

The episode represented Atlantis’s first episode in a new 9pm time slot.

Prominent Atlantis staffer Joe Mallozzi said "I think [the rating] says a lot about the quality of the show as well as its legion of loyal fans."

"I mean, if you think about it, it’s a pretty incredible achievement. A series typically sheds viewers the longer it stays on the air but here we are, completing work on our fifth (and final) season, and we’re pulling in better numbers than ever. So a big thanks and congratulations to everyone who worked so hard to make this season the most successful season of Stargate Atlantis in years."

It is somewhat tragic that these ratings will have little impact on the long-term future of the show, however, as they say: better to burn out than fade away.

Stargate Atlantis: Season Five: The Shrine

the-tao-of-rodney-20070507042452663 In brief:

Absolutely, utterly fantastic.

In detail:

This is, quite probably, my favourite episode Atlantis to date.  It is, for me, Enterprise’s ‘Cogenitor’, or SG-1′s ‘Abyss’: the episode that rises above the average or mediocre content surrounding it, and elevates itself into not only a good episode, but simply one of the strongest.

It contains two of my favourite scenes in all of Stargate.  The first, and I am stunned to say this, is from Richard Woolsey.  His recollection of his father’s Alzheimer’s is poignant, moving, and magnificently delivered by Picardo.  The storyline around it and the circumstances the Atlantis team find themselves in, make it a perfect and believable analogy, and one that is eerily haunting in his delivery also.  Fantastic.  vlcsnap-00001

The second, which is my overall favourite, comes in a flashback as Sheppard is flying the team to the Shrine of Talus.  We see McKay running, terrified to Sheppard’s quarters, terrified.  McKay has woken up alone, forgetting who he was supposed to be with and wondering if he’s gone crazy.  David Hewlett is an excellent actor at the best of times, but this is magnificent.  His fear is so real and believable that we get drawn right into the scene.  But what makes this scene work so perfectly is a fantastic piece of acting from Joe Flanigan, who finally delivers some of that subtle, poignant acting that one of our readers, freidag, spoke of in the comments to my Daedalus Variations review.  “Personally I find Flanigan’s acting subtle and quite good. Sometimes an expression says more than words can.”  How right you were.

vlcsnap-00003The scene is perfected as Rodney and Sheppard sit along the edge of one of Atlantis’s pier, sipping beers, with the amazing backdrop of a night-time city skyline behind them.  Rodney wants to say goodbye, before he forgets everything.  Sheppard won’t accept it, refusing to give up hope.  What makes this episode to excellent is that it can affect anyone watching it.  The feelings of both McKay and Sheppard are core, human feelings that any one of us can relate to.  We often don’t know how we would feel or react to a horde of mutant aliens coming towards us in Shining-esque fashion; but we do know how much it can hurt to say goodbye.  Full marks to writer, Brad Wright, who fully capitalises on this.

Coincidentally, looking at Brad Wright’s credits, it’s easy to see this guy gets it.  He is packed full of talent for writing moving stories.  Hell, he wrote Abyss.  Can this man do no wrong? 

Other strong performances come from Jewel Staite and Jason Momoa who, as Dr Keller and Ronon Dex, put in a great shift portraying the emotions of friends struggling to come to terms with McKay’s predicament.  The underlying love theme between Keller and McKay could easily have been overdone or made clichéd and nauseating.  Not so.  Once more, Staite and Hewlett prove their acting mettle by firing off a generally unspoken, yet nonetheless touching bond of both professional admiration and complete affection for one another. 

vlcsnap-00004 Another great moment comes as the team arrive at the Shrine of Talus, where McKay’s affliction is successfully reversed.  Upon regaining his memories, McKay is furious, believing 24 hours as himself knowing he is going to die as torture.  We’ve been rooting for the team the whole time, and then suddenly, as a result, we viewers feel guilty that we too have wanted McKay to return to normal, even if it is unspeakably unpleasant for his character.  It’s a complete dramatic U-turn, and it is a trademark of quality writing that it succeeds.  

The video-diary that Dr Keller has Rodney make, and we see glimpses of throughout the episode in different orders, is excellent.  Again, it could easily have been clichéd, but Hewlett’s performances make it genuinely moving, and it adds to the emotion of the episode.  The growing frustration as Rodney forgets that which he holds dearest, his knowledge, is tragic, and we empathise easily with his pain.  McKay’s declaration of love at the end of the episode, performed against some excellent music, is one of the most moving moments of the episode.

Man, is this episode full of moving moments, or what?

Jeanie’s inclusion in the episode is a nice touch.  Being real-life siblings, the Hewletts always work nicely off one another.  It’s a little unnecessary, she doesn’t really have a major impact on the storyline, but I think it was a good decision to have her there for two reasons.  It’s adds a sense of depth and poignancy to the atmosphere of the episode, and also adds another dynamic and opinion to the moral dilemma of whether curing McKay for 24 hours is the right thing to do, if it means he will die afterwards.  Is it selfish?  Is it what McKay would want?  These are great moral questions that Stargate rarely asks; yet, when placed in the hands of a writer like Wright, they are asked, and asked brilliantly.

The jumpy-flashback nature of the episode, something which oft goes awry, actually works very nicely here.  The juxtaposition of scenes with lucid Rodney and afflicted Rodney is excellent, and really helps contrast the two.

vlcsnap-00002Also, special kudos to the effects team who continue to impress with the night-time city, and also the glacial, submerged Stargate.  

However, is there a single flaw in this episode?  Absolutely, yes.

I couldn’t help but feel that the resolution was a little rushed – the surgery a little too quick and easy.  The creature jumps out, Ronan shoots it, and all is well again.  It’s not actually a bad ending, relatively speaking, but it just didn’t quite live up to the brilliance of the rest of the episode.

It doesn’t detract too much, however, from what is a magnificent hour of television.

Grade: 96% (A+)

Revised 8th September 2008

Stargate Atlantis: Season Five: Ghost in the Machine

normal_505_ghostinthemachine_05In brief:

Decent, yet confusing.

In detail:

The absence of Tori Higginson (Elizabeth Weir) certainly screwed over the Replicator story line they had set up for her.  “Ghost in the Machine” is a valiant attempt to continue that story without her.  And, for the most part, it does a good job.

Michelle Morgan, who plays the consciousness of Weir in Fran’s body, does a reasonably good job of imitating the mannerisms and vocal expressions that Higginson brought to Weir’s character.  Her performance is strong, and in the quieter scenes with Teyla/Sheppard/Fran I found myself truly believing this was still Weir.  That’s an achievement of performance on Morgan’s part.

Robert Picardo’s performances continue to better themselves.  Wooley’s developing into a strong leader, and it’s all helped by strong acting from Picardo.

Two stand-out scenes are definitely Weir’s first communication with Atlantis via the computer system.  The gibberish developing into more advanced English is a tantalising reveal, and it works well. 

The other is the final scene, with Weir/Fran and the Replicators drifting into deep space.  It’s a suckerpunch; I definitely didn’t see it coming.  Yet, it adds new perspective on the scenes preceding it, and its an excellent ending.

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The episode was hurt, however, from over-complication.  Atlantis juggles a lot of storylines, what with the Wraith, Michael, Teyla, Carson, and the Replicators all providing a long-running arc.  The main problem with these is that they can jump back into focus after months if not longer in the background.  As a casual viewer, I find it difficult to follow events that happened sometimes   more than a season ago. 

This problem is compounded when suddenly they switch actors due to behind the scenes disputes.  The episode had to be made to finish the storyline, I’ll admit that.  And they did do it sooner rather than later.  But it was a constant challenge trying to remember what happened in previous shows without re-watching the episodes.  This is all very well for hardcore fans, but for the more casual viewer, it’s pretty hard to follow. 

Grade: 62% (C+)

Changes afoot in the Stargate Universe…

johnjacketIt has emerged that the fifth season of Stargate Atlantis will be the last one, and will be replaced by a new, third show: Stargate Universe.

The Stargate spin-off will end its regular run this season, instead focusing on movie production (much in the same way SG-1 continued through Ark of Truth and Continuum).

I’m reluctant to use the word “cancelled”.  A show is cancelled when it ceases to be useful, affordable and the network no longer want it, usually due to dismal ratings. 

While Atlantis’s ratings haven’t been great, but they’re good for SCI-FI and have been steady.  Additionally, the continuation of the the franchise through the Atlantis movies, Universe show and potential further SG-1 movies shows that there is still a good deal of faith in the Stargate brand.

Many journalists will lock onto the word cancelled and portray this announcement in a negative light.  I view it more as an evolution of Stargate; perhaps renovation needed to keep it fresh and profitable into the future.  It’s risky, yes, but it’s probably necessary.

Stargate Universe, in the mean time, will launch in 2009; a new TV series set aboard an Ancient ship called the Destiny.  Full coverage. can be found here.  SCI-FI describes the show thus:

After unlocking the mystery of the Stargate’s ninth chevron, a team of explorers travels to an unmanned starship called the Destiny, launched by The Ancients at the height of their civilization as a grand experiment set in motion, but never completed.

What starts as a simple reconnaissance turns into a never ending mission, as the Stargate Universe crew discovers the ship is unable to return to Earth, and they must now fend for themselves aboard the Destiny.

The crew will travel to the far reaches of the universe, connecting with each of the previously launched Stargates, thus fulfilling the Destiny’s original mission. Challenges will arise though as the ship comes into range of Stargates placed centuries ahead of the Destiny and the crew is unable to control the ship’s navigational schedule. If someone is left behind, there is no way to go back for them, adding to the drama of encountering new races, enemies and adventures.

It’s an excellent concept.  Then again, so was Atlantis.