When I was approached to review the Stargate: Universe Season One DVD set it with the knowledge that I was a complete newbie to all of the Stargate series. (I’ve been told innumerable times that seeing the movie with Kurt Russell and James Spader didn’t count.)
So, this review is going to be from the perspective of someone who has no knowledge of the series’ universe. Someone who has no expectations other than thinking that as a whole Stargate had to be pretty damn good for it to last 15 years.
That said, you can’t live a nerdy life without some cursory knowledge of the universe and its characters. I’d been curious about this new series the moment I’d heard that Robert Carlyle was cast; he’s been a long-time favorite of mine and he hasn’t done series television in a couple of decades.
The rest of the regular cast were unknown to me but that can sometimes be a good thing because there are no pre-conceptions of characters based on roles for which the actor might have been previously cast.
Glancing at the set, I was surprised to find that the pilot was in fact three episodes long. I feared that did not bode well. Either it was going to be so convoluted and full of nonsensical techo-babble that would end up being a boring mess or they were going to attempt to introduce all of the new characters and it would be a confusing and uninteresting mess. Somehow, unfortunately for them (and me) it ended up being both.
It quickly became apparent to me that not only was I going to be unable to keep the characters straight in my head but that I didn’t even care to. There are a lot of characters for sure, but I couldn’t tell you many of their names – they’re either non-descript or annoying or both, if you can believe it.
In order to keep them straight in my head I referred to them as the characters from other shows that they most reminded me of – whether just from how they looked or by how the character came across to me. (And at that I had to peek at the IMDB to get the actual character names.) Lt. Scott looks like and reminds me of George from Being Human, Chloe looks like River from Firefly, and Brody looks like and reminds me of Ted from Queer as Folk.
And then there’s Eli. I know he’s supposed to be the character that we, the viewer, can relate to. He’s an unemployed Average Joe caught up in extraordinary circumstances. However, he just annoys the crap out of me. His pop culture references are uninspired. He quotes Planet of the Apes more than once and his impression of Charlton Heston makes me doubt that he’s ever actually seen the movie in the first place. That’s pretty damn annoying, just gotta say. He gets pulled out of his home to work on the Stargate project because he manages to break some code embedded in an online video game but we don’t see where he’s that much of an asset to the project in the first place. Just an ass. His inventions seem improbable for an unemployed MIT drop-out who spends most of his time goofing around with his Kino’s, these little video cameras that can fly around remotely, rather than actually doing something constructive to either help with the groups survival or get them back to Earth. Oh, and another thing – he’s got that dreaded “Mary Sue” vibe about him; he’s the guy that the writers all want to be and write him accordingly. Better watch out writers, you remember what happened with Wesley Crusher don’t ya? Blah. Moving on… and how I wish the writers would.
And just why are the writers obsessed with the three youngest members of the cast? Why didn’t they just call it Stargate: 90210 and have it done with? Do they think that we only care about characters who are young and supposedly attractive? (Well, two out of three when you’ve got Eli in the mix but you know what I mean.)
The stories themselves not only feel formulaic, but they’re also blatantly ripped off from other sources. The fourth episode, “Light,” for example, has massive shadings of the 1951 movie When Worlds Collide. but instead of the earth crashing into a star here we have the ship heading straight in to a star; in both the movie and the episode we’ve got a lottery of people chosen to survive with a select few being chosen by the commander, and the beginnings of a rebellion because the people not chosen believe that more people can fit on the ship. Come to think of it, I didn’t like When Worlds Collide all that much.
The best episode of the season, “Human”, focuses on Dr. Rush’s life before he was involved with the Stargate project, how he got involved and the consequences of that decision. It’s told through a series of dreams where Daniel Jackson keeps popping up and asking him questions, forcing Rush to think about things he’d long since buried. It didn’t give us much of an insight into how Rush became the man we see in the series, but it gave us glimpses and it was a nicely plotted character piece. It’s not surprising, I suppose, that I came away from this episode with a love for Daniel Jackson. Even though I know next to nothing about him, he came across as someone who you’d want to know. He was funny, smart, curious and complete – he was a person rather than a character, which is how I feel about the regular cast. I don’t believe in them as people; they feel like what they are – clichéd, overly angsty science fiction characters.
I loved the idea of being able to still go back to earth, even if it’s just your consciousness in another person’s body, but there are so many moral pitfalls that I was amazed none of them were addressed. Maybe it’s something that was brought up in one of the two other series, but when the Col. Young makes love to his wife while in the body of Col. Telford (and the swap is temporarily interrupted) it didn’t seem to be quite cricket. I was waiting for a big showdown between the two just regarding that issue but no. We got a sort of a showdown but, as with everything else in this series, it was a watered down disappointment of what could have been. The swap between a paralyzed scientist and one of the crew, however, was deftly handled and it was interesting to see them walking in the other’s shoes. If I cared about any of the shoes on screen, it would have been even more potent; an episode that focuses on a character study should for all intents and purposes focus on a character that has some substance – you know, beyond Camille being the token gay character on the show.
It’s also fairly obvious that Stargate: Universe doesn’t really know exactly what it wants to be. It’s as if it wants to be Battlestar Galactica inside the Stargate universe. The main problem for SG:U is that where it tells us how wonderful their characters are, Galactica showed us their characters character in their words and their actions. Oh, and major nerdy pet peeve here – my adoration for Robert Carlyle knows no bounds but the idea that he’s playing the dodgy lead scientist on SG: U with that particular haircut when another Brit (James Callis) played the dodgy lead scientist on Galactica with the same awful hair style? Argh!
So, there you go. For my money, Stargate: Universe is a pretty darn uninteresting place to hang out. It did, however, urge me towards discovering more about the universe itself so it can’t be all bad. Just dull – and that’s bad enough for a show that’s supposed to be an action/adventure series. I guess the announcement that the show is being canceled after a truncated second season airs in 2011 comes as no surprise to anyone then. I do feel sorry for the fans of the show who won’t have the answers to the st
ory arcs they’ve invested themselves in but I wouldn’t count this as the end of the Stargate franchise; merely a pause as they attempt to sort out where it all went wrong. As we all know, where there’s money to be made and a brand already in place, Hollywood finds a way to make it so. Oops, wrong franchise.