Home > Geek, TV > In defence of Stargate: Universe

In defence of Stargate: Universe

Stargate:SG1 is, in many ways, the closest America has come to producing a show with the depth and joy of Doctor Who. Though very different, both shows enjoyed a flexible format that required the lead characters to investigate and explore new things. In keeping with an established formula for TV shows, SG1 was responsible for two spin-offs Stargate:Atlantis and Stargate:Universe.

Atlantis stuck to a formula established by the original show; an over-arching race of baddies, a reason to go to a different planet every week and political shenanigans threatening to destroy all the good work of the heroes. The main deviation from the original show seemingly happened by mistake. You see, the stars of the show where meant to be the ruggedly handsome Colonel, the Whiny Nerd and two interchangeable Combat-Wombats1.

The actual stars turned out to by the Whiny Nerd and his sarcastic chum.2. So when it came to Stargate:Universe, they’d learned the lesson that square-jawed action heroes don’t always equal interesting. Universe is filled with flawed characters, so much so that the entire premise of the show was based around the consequences of having the wrong people in the right place at the right time.

I also loved the design classic sci-fi feel to the set design.

Unlike the previous two shows, Universe exiled its cast from the any sort of support, and distanced itself from decade’s worth of mythology.

And you know what? It really worked. Every show was filled with internal conflict. It didn’t really matter what monster of the week threatened the heroes in any give episode, because we tuned in to find out what was happening to the characters. Would the young, naive genius with a low self-image finally find his self-esteem and maybe love? Would everyone realise that the go-get-‘em jock type was actually a bit of jerk? Would I ever stop thinking that Robert Carlysle’s character was nothing more than Trainspotting’s Begbie in a tweed jacket?

A lot of the fans hated it, and I can see why. The first two Stargate shows are all about luck and optimism. One can take on city hall and win (and by city hall I mean a vast army of intergalactic warlords). Science and romance tends to win out, though a little brute force tends to help out. Universe had utterly different themes; cynicism and struggle where the order of the day, problems would not go away once someone had shouted “SCIENCE!” at it and the conflict was almost always internal, rather than some horrid threat from beyond the stars. Which made for great television, but after 10+ years of seeing Stargate Command take on gods and win, I can see why fans were disappointed. They wanted bright heroic romance, not dark struggle.

Which is a pity, because the show was all about triumphing over the impossible. Universe also suffered from being compared to the new Battlestar Galactica, which, despite stylistic similarities, it really was nothing like. It had arch-plots, an established setting, and was clearly designed to run for a long time, whereas Battlestar Galactica suffered from being a mini-series that went on too long.

Sad to say, Stargate:Universe got cancelled before we really gave it a chance to get going, and joins the long line of sci-fi TV shows that could have been a contender, if it had only been given a chance.

1: Sadly, not actual wombats. Actual wombats would be more interesting. Especially if they had guns.
2: Rodney and Zelenka; the great unfinished bro-mance story. If they had their own show I’d watch the shit out of it. Seriously, natural chemistry, comic-timing and sarcastic science speak? Awesome.

Categories: Geek, TV
  1. Treq
    February 11, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    Although I liked it, I totally disagree with your take on SGU. Sci-fi is a metaphor for real life. The original Star Trek was about the cold war and 1960’s social issues. STTNG and later was about 1980’s-90’s political/social issues. Stargate SG1 was a metaphor for religious zealotry vs science and reason as well as many other political and social issues from the late 90’s and early 00’s. These metaphors need simple clear characters and stories that don’t get in the way of the message. When you try to introduce real life problems/drama to these stories, you distract your audience from the central message. That’s not to say you can’t give your characters a little depth and your stories a little drama, just not so much that the character and the drama are the story. This is what ruined BSG and SGU and why they are compared. They both focused on the internal struggles of the characters, and less on the external. In general, sic-fi fans don’t want to see someone struggle with alcoholism or a failing relationship, or any of that. If they did, they would be watching One Tree Hill. Anyway, I liked the show, just not as much as I could have… I kept waiting for them to evolve past the silly drama crap and move on to some good sci-fi, but they never did. And thats why it was doomed to fail.

    • February 12, 2012 at 3:16 pm

      Sci-Fi does not have to use metaphor to address issues, it can do so directly instead.

      I don’t think the themes of the ‘grittier’ show distracted from the plot at all, they instead pitched the stories at an audience that wasn’t watching.

  2. Treq
    February 14, 2012 at 6:38 am

    Exactly. The audience wasn’t watching because they didn’t want drama. And the people who wanted drama never tuned in, because it was sci-fi. It reminds me of Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night. It was a brilliant show, but no one tuned in because, when they saw the title, they thought it was a sports show. If they’re we’re the audience that would like Sports Night, they wouldn’t tune in. If they wanted a sports show, they would change the channel within 5 min, and not turn back. This is what almost always happens with these cross genre shows. Especially if the genre are so far apart. I can’t wait for that ultimate fighting/interior design epic…

    • February 14, 2012 at 6:43 am

      I don’t think that was the reason it failed, however. Show’s like this, that pitch at new audiences, tend to gain what the press calls a cult-following, though what they actually mean is “People come to it slowly”.

      Sci-Fi is not a niche genre, and stories do not have to be told a certain way to be succesful. SG:U was intelligent sci-fi and I think it got a lot of flak from hardcore fans who where unwilling to expand their horizons.

      • Treq
        February 14, 2012 at 6:54 am

        Well I watched every single episode. I did my best to expand my horizons, but when it came right down to it, I didn’t like it as much a sg1. I’m reminded of yet another show… Alias. I loved the intrigue, fight scenes, the stealthy covert missions, but when she started whining about her boyfriend or how her daddy doesn’t love her… I just wanted her to take bullet and spare us all.

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