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.