Sifting Through the Vanity Projects in the Festival's Fourth Year
As Steve points out in his nuanced, insightful interview with a Stargate nerd, Stargate Universe premieres tonight.
Despite my better judgment, I'll readily admit that, for whatever reason, I've seen all 10 seasons of Stargate SG-1 (most of them, um, twice) and all five seasons of Stargate Atlantis*. These facts are probably pretty strong indicators that I enjoy this franchise a great deal, despite the tag this post is labeled under. The best I can explain it is like this: So far, Stargate has been kinda terrible, true, but no more so than True Blood or something—it's bad, yes, but enjoyably and addictively so.**
Stargate's showrunners seem intent on ditching the camp with Universe, though, which, they keep telling everyone, is DARK and SERIOUS and WILL NOT HAVE MACGYVER MAKING JOKES EVERY FIVE MINUTES. Stargate Universe appears to be what happens when the dudes responsible for this guy decide to put their grown-up pants on, and tonight we'll see how well that goes.
From the limited info we have so far—the Mercury wasn't sent a review copy of the pilot, possibly because we think the above tag is funny—Universe sounds... well, less like Stargate and more like a certain other science-fiction show. From the Times' so-so review:
If the setup sounds familiar—a small group of humans stranded in space finding their way home—it’s because it’s similar to that of Battlestar Galactica, Syfy’s other popular interstellar franchise (which has its own new series, Caprica, coming in January). The premise was the best thing about Galactica, so give [Universe creators] Mr. Cooper and Mr. Wright credit for choosing their models well.
Syfy has promoted Universe as an “edgier” show than the earlier, jokier Stargate entries, which in space opera terms were Puccini to the Wagner of Galactica. And there’s plenty of tension in the premiere. The refugees’ troubles are only beginning when they escape to the alien ship, which is starting to break down after eons of travel. Already fault lines are developing between the soldiers and the civilians, just as in Galactica.
Far more promising than all of the sketchy Galactica
ripoffs parallels is the fact that noted science-fiction author John Scalzi is Universe's creative consultant, a title that he explains on his blog.
I’ll get early versions of the scripts, and I’ll go through them and give notes, pointing out where I think the science could be tightened up, or where I think a character is doing something inconsistent, or where I think there might be a real world repercussion for something that’s been put into the script. While I’m doing that I’m also looking at where the script and the events fit into the larger picture, and calling attention to things I think are significant, which the producers and writers will have to deal with later. This latter bit is particularly important in the case of SG:U because the nature of the series—a bunch of people thrown to the ass-end of space with very limited resources—means that they have to pay attention to things other series can take for granted.
To give you a very small example: bullets. The characters come into the ship with a certain number of bullets. It is very difficult for them to get any more of them. So I count the scenes where bullets are used and I send notes that say “now, you know you have that many fewer bullets now, right?” The point is not just to be OCD anal (although there is value in that in this case), but to remind everyone that realism is something we’re looking for, and the choices we make now will have an influence later.
So that sounds kinda promising, right? But still, I gotta say that I'm already missing goofy, old-school, I-kinda-feel-like-I've-had-too-much-NyQuil-when-I-watch-this Stargate, in which shit like this happened ALL THE TIME.
Stargate Universe airs tonight at 9 pm on Syfy.
*Actually, months ago, I meant to do a review on Blogtown of the fifth season of Atlantis, which I never got around to, so here's the short version: It's pretty good, mostly because in one episode, Bill Nye the Science Guy has a cameo!
**There's also a weird thing that happens when you watch both SG-1 and Atlantis where you realize that absolutely no one in the cast or crew is taking anything about the show seriously at all. This, combined with the franchise's tendency to cast pretty likeable actors, goes a long way towards giving the show a generally pleasant air of lighthearted affability; one ends up kind of liking the show, even though as they're watching it, they're probably thinking that their time could be better spent doing just about anything else.