Stargate Universe review (Part 1); "We're here. That happened."

by Paul William Tenny

Stargate Universe; Destiny observation deck.Stargate Universe brings a fresh look to a relatively young television genre: dark sci-fi. Battlestar Galactica went there but overreached, being a little too dark for a lot of people -- this writer included to a degree -- but SGU seems to have found the sweet spot somewhere in the middle.

Pain borne of great loss and sacrifice, confusion, fear, questioning who the people around you really are when it matters most, and finally achieving that moment we can all identify with just after the storm, when you're supremely grateful that everything is finally going to be okay, if only for a little while.

That is Stargate Universe in a nutshell, and this is my review. As I understood it, Ron Moore once said that Star Trek: Voyager never really took itself seriously. The characters weren't true to their situation and the situation wasn't honest to the viewers. I think he was right, but he went a little bit too far in the other direction when re-imagining BSG, placing too much emphasis on the gritty reality while seeming to forget the amazing capacity of people not to be overcome and then consumed by it.

In that respect, SGU gets something right that's difficult to do well. Real people, even people we like, eventually do things or say things we disagree with. Happens all the time. On television it can make some characters hard to identify with, especially on a series where there are no hero archetypes. And with SGU, there really aren't any. There aren't characters that automatically try to do the "right thing" because in their world, not so unlike our own, it's not that obvious what the "right thing" is.

In previous franchise series, there were always points of disagreement on what to do in any given situation, but they were usually resolved with a short and convincing speech. If the decision turned out to be a bad one, there were rarely any lasting repercussions for that person (just as rare were decisions that turned out badly to begin with.) Part of that was due to those shows being episodic+ (meaning each episode was self contained, but did contribute to a large ongoing story without relying on it entirely). Part of it was just having somewhat cliched characters that hardly ever screwed up.

Remember when McKay destroyed an entire solar system after Sheppard staked his credibility on that not happening? Did anyone stop trusting him after that? Did he lose any responsibilities, were there any real repercussions beyond those we saw at the end of the episode in exposition?

Not really.

If characters don't screw up, you're cheating yourself of the opportunity to document their redemption. In his book The Complete Book of Scriptwriting, J. Michael Straczynski discussed how important redemption is to good drama. If you can do redemption well, he wrote, you'll work forever.

And Stargate fans ought to keenly aware of how important that concept is. Teal'c in SG-1, and G'Kar in Babylon 5, are two characters that are much loved by fans precisely because of who they were, and who they would eventually become.

But you can't experience that journey if your characters don't make mistakes and have flaws to begin with. With respect to people who seem to shy away from this kind of storytelling, you're missing out. Universe is a hugely fertile ground overflowing with people in desperate need of redemption. Some may find it, others probably wont.

Not every story has a happy ending and that's not always a bad thing, either.

Stargate Universe: "That was extremely unsatisfying.""That was extremely unsatisfying."
Before I begin trying to explain what you're going to see, without ruining it for you, I want to address a couple of issues that cropped up from my "first impression" post. Some people have decided that my first impression was a literal interpretation that supported and vindicated their worst fears, and they will not watch SGU because of it. I'd like to think that anyone who would make up their mind about a TV show - or a book, movie, game, or fantastic new salad recipe - before having seen it, is not going to be open to having their mind changed by me or anyone else.

So no harm, no foul, right?

But it doesn't feel that way, so please allow me to clarify two things.

First impressions are important but hardly ever give you the full picture. The things that resonate with you the most are what you tend to remember the strongest. I'm a drama wonk, and there's a lot in this show that resonates with me on that wavelength, so that's what I remembered the strongest, and so that's what made it into my first post. But contrary to what I said earlier this week, there actually are some funny moments in the SGU pilot. Not as many as you might like, and maybe not as many as you might see later on, but that actually tracks because of the rather serious events happening in this pilot.

As one master of drama wrote a few years ago, there's not a lot of comedy to be found in drug addiction or drunk driving. I'm sure you understand what he meant and how it applies to this pilot.

That said, I laughed far more on my second viewing than I did the first time.. I figured something like that would happen, which is why I wanted to watch "Air" again before writing this review. You always miss stuff no matter how closely you pay attention. In fact, sometimes you what you miss is a direct result of that. If you look at a painting closely enough, you can see actually see the texture of the canvas beneath the paint, which is informative and perhaps interesting to some, but you can't see the beauty and the meaning until you stand back and look at the whole thing from a distance.

The funny comes when you're just along for the ride, and in defense of myself, I wasn't juts along for the ride. I'm in this game to review TV shows like this so I can't just sit back and enjoy it the first time.

David Blue has several funny moments throughout most of the pilot and I suspect that this will continue into the regular season. He's a wonderfully talented actor with a very keen understanding of how mannerisms can take acting to a whole new level. While it's true that SGU is darker than previous series, it's not accurate to say - as I did based on my first impression - that the humor is simply gone.

It's not.

It's just that going on a first impression, you may very well overlook it the way that I did. Maybe not, since everybody is different. I'm not walking back my original statement and no, I haven't been influenced by SyFy, MGM, or anyone else. They did bring the funny, I promise.

Anyone "fearing the worst" should be pleasantly surprised. Although they aren't quite up to his level - that's not an insult, hardly anyone is, truthfully -- Joss Whedon is one of the masters of mixing drama, humor, and in recent times, science fiction. Firefly is the best example of hitting the right balance between all three with a running start to boot. SGU is a little less funny and a lot darker than Firefly, but no where near what BSG did. I'd call it closer to Firefly than BSG when it comes to content, and that's a huge compliment.

It plays well for what it is, it really does.

And for the second issue, yes, there is a sex scene in Air. It takes place in a storage closet and lasts approximately 22 seconds. You can't see anything and it's not all that big of a deal. It's the only scene like it in the entire hour-and-a-half pilot, and in context, it makes far more sense to acknowledge reality than it does to hide it. In my mind, not showing young adults doing their thing is like refusing to show a toilet or bathroom in a sci-fi show.

Everybody does it, it's time to grow up a little bit here.

You can read part 2 of this special feature here.

Update - Supposedly Apple is going to make parts 1 & 2 of "Air" available for free on iTunes at this link, but the link won't work until sometime on the morning of October 3rd. Info from this tweet, that's all I know.
in Feature, Television


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cool man ive been waiting for this.
Wonderful review. As I continue to read the reviews, I am counting the days down to the premiere.
Which episode are these screencaps from?

Looks like the Voyager crew found a Stargate that has taken them to a Battlestar Galactica Universe? And so the beginning of the end begins? Stargate is doomed, when’s LOST out?
I absolutely hated the charachters, they were a completely two-dimensional bunch. The show reminded me more of a touchy-feely soap opera than hardcore sci-fi with all the whining going on.

And the Dr. Rush charachter seems to be a alternate universe version of Galactica's Dr. Baltar. Unfortunately there are no strong, honorable charachters to balance him and so the show just has a creepy feel to it.

I'll be really surprised if there is a second season
Agree with most of what swjslj said.

It's clear they moved Battlestar Galactica writers and directing crew to help with the new Stargate. I can't say I liked any of the characters from this new show so far. The communication between the characters/scientist is weak, no team work attitude because nobody trust the other guy (reminds me of Battlestar Galactica). The new commander comes off as a prick and not too smart with his quick decision-making.
I stand corrected on my assumption. I did not research to validate it. I should have said it appears that BSG writers and directors are involved and of course that would have been incorrect too. Nevertheless, it has the feel of BSG, which was more of an overly dramatic SCI FI soap opera with 2 dimensional characters.
I Know its just a show but...HOW are the OXYGEN Scrubbers DIRTY if NO ONE has ever been on the ship?
I'd just like to note that just because a show is "grown up" hardly means it needs a sex scene man. Many shows have done extremely well without them for a very long time.

And hard as it may be to believe there in fact people out there who don't want to be exposed to that kind of "entertainment."

"In my mind, not showing young adults doing their thing is like refusing to show a toilet or bathroom in a sci-fi show."

Showing 22 seconds of a sex scene isn't the equivalent of showing a toilet. To equal that you would need to show a person *using* a toilet. No one gets uncomfortable looking at a bed or a closet for 22 seconds. Just incredibly bored. Which, strangely, is how I feel after watching 22 seconds of stupid sex in a closet when there are far more interesting things to be looking at. And after watching the first episode I'm convinced we'll be seeing much more of 22 seconds of stupidity than 40 minutes of interesting.
Personally I'm completely disappointed in this series. They took a show with several very likable funny characters who are strong and focus on how to solve problems and work together, and turned it into a show about a bunch of bossy, childish, angry characters who are all out for themselves and spend every minute of their spare time crying over things that happened 10 yrs ago. There's so much more to life than being depressed, hooking up, cheating, and fighting. After working all week with a lot of miserable people that's just not something I want to watch. I would choose SG-1 or Atlantis reruns over this show anyday.
Another wining, feminized-Hollywood set in outer-space
Let me weigh in here: After four hours (three weeks), I'm still waiting for SG-U to do **something**. With the exception of the Geek Kid (who is likable and obviously growing into the 'McKay' role) and the Crazy Scot, the characters for the most part are as paper-thin as the storyline and the supporting scripts.

In fact, considering that most of the production team has been carried over from SG-1 & SG-A, it is really surprising as to how bad this show is.

And, yes it is really, really bad.

Maybe it’s the show's 'left-turn' approach to the SG franchise, which has been characterized by a sense of drama amidst light-hearted adventure. Big moments were B-I-G when they showed up in the previous series, but in SG-U, they barely register.

Two examples, beginning with the Senator's death scene in the pilot. A moment that should have been filled with impact and emotion, yet went by with barely a twitch on the 'Big-meter'. Why? Because the writers (for whatever reason) failed to make us care about the character, his daughter or their situation. The story gave us no reason to relate.

Secondly, "finding an alien life form' on the sand planet. The writers focused us on the risk of the soldier's survival (who was he again?), and when the alien dust bunny saves the day, the Big-meter - which the writers want to have focused on the life saving qualities of the sand, barely moves.. and the 'unique' alien is cast aside with nothing but a small mention.

Poor writing is the bane of a great story. So is Direction without a purpose.

The comparisons to Battllestar Galactica are inevitable, but they flatter to deceive: SG-U is no match for Battlestar Galactica, which stands as one of the very best-written and -directed drama series, ever. If you don't believe me, do your own research on the show's qualities and the wide net that it cast.

Without great writing (character and plot development) and visionary production, SG-U can be nothing more than a half-baked success. BG's 'stark reality' had purpose and **gave** purpose. We immediately bonded with the characters and the plot.

No such empathy exists with SG-U, or within it, for that matter. I get no sense that these characters care for each other in any meaningful way, and this, combined with a lackluster and unfocused storyline, leaves us wondering "why should we care?"

Compare that to 'Flash Forward', '24' or 'Sleeper Cell". Love 'em or not, they grab you and make you invest.

If SG-U doesn’t want to be the lighthearted space romp that its predecessors were, fine. But if it wants to be a serious drama, it needs to really, really ramp up quickly.

There are too many fine dramas which compel us to watch, and no new series can afford to spend 8-10 weeks trying to make us care.

Right now, it’s not happening.

B-I-G time.
SU is rubbish, drama drama drama. Characted Issues and more tears and drama. Totally Dissapointing. I would not call this Sci-fi, it's 98% drama with a 2% sci-fi undertone. I miss Stargate Atlantis. FAIL
Hello! First excuse my rusty English! Secondly, could you tell me, how does an alien ship, never before inhabited, may contain ladders made for humans by humans, and the commands with all those flashing lights and beeps emitting with the design for humans ? Perhaps it was some miracle of God!I think a boing 747 is more advanced in technology! And how does a ship with the technology to charge batteries in stars, can not automatically create an alternate route around the planet to return to the ship, as in the last episode! It would be more common census put technologies such films as the surrogates, matrix, and Aliens in this show? And where is the surprise factors such terror? Thank you!
What a waste of 6 hours of my life so far. It has been like having teeth pulled with a lot of anaesthetic, unpleasant and numbing.

First off 3 episodes to kick it off Air 1,2&3 (more like hot air) followed by another 2 parter Darkness and Light (Dull and Duller)which has really helped to drag things out. They should have stuck to the 2 part pilot mid-season 2 parter and maybe a end of season 2 parter or cliff-hanger.

Also there are too many charters to kick off with 4,5 max 6 would do, with a little bit of input here and there from other charters and develop them a bit i.e. Walter in SG1 who dials up the Stargate. Too much going on too soon.
The charters also come with too much baggage broken marriage, dead parents, just dead farther, poor working class brining up, sick Mum and I am not supposed to be here, again they could have covered later in one episode later on.
All the charters lack any backbone are weak even the commander (cannot be bothered to remember any of the charters names unlike SG1 SGA)and they are I dislike them all.
There is a weak leader called Young (bad name choice) with weaker right hand man and a evil doctor from lost in space. Need I go on.

The show really needs to take off and the crew need to win and not live on a knife edge all the time leaving me hoping they run out of air, water or burn up in a star to get it over with. In really hope it will get better but I think the damage is done for season hopefully there will be a second season and they get it right.
SGU really is a disapointment for me. Every scene has sex just about or some sexual idea attached to it. They brought back Oneal, but seriously is that really him ? it doesnt look like him and where is his dry humor and quick come backs ? The beginning felt like I was watching "The Last Starfighter" and now it feels like Battlestar Galactica with a nice dose of soap opera.
My comments aren't too intelligent nor is it a long diatribe, as I am not really convinced that SGU is worth a long rant. My dissapointment at this show is unbeleivable.

I wasn't expecting much. I was expecting a bit of drama, but way more action than this. The teenagers whining and crying in space thing is absolutely absurd. The video-ball diary thing is an absolutely silly knock-off of some other junk that's already on TV. Of course, video ball scenes are CHEAP to make, so hey, there's the justification.

Why did those untrained children wind up with TOP Secret clearance to even gaze at a stargate??? Frustrating.

I was actually hoping for mature stargate, as in "Trained Personel" and SG Teams.

My wife and I tuned out after watching 4 episodes.

With the terrible acting, childish drama and negative portrayal of women (as loose) I can't beleive this show got the green light.
It insults my values .. and the values of MANY families in Canada.
Why did they need to call it stargate??? Couldn't they just as easily called it something else instead of ruining the franchiese??? It's not as if they'll revisit the gould or replicators or antything.

Grrrrrr. Thanks Mallozzi.
Damn...I would love to express my complete and utter disappointment with this show, but I hate to be You guys pretty much said EVERYTHING that's crossed my mind since I started watching this show. Thanks.

It's sad to see this franchise stoop to this level. They've decided to go with cheesy drama and sex scenes. Not having that crap is one of the things fans liked about SG1 and SGA. It appears that the writers have decided to pursue a new fan base and have to respect for the loyal fans that brought them this far.
Stargate Universe or any other series, can't measure not even in dreams with BSG. BSG experience is unique, deep and long lasting. But this is not the story about one of the best series (remake) ever made (the top in SF).

We are talking here about Stargate. I am one of the fans of movie and I find it perfect only in original shape. Maybe that is wrong but it's my taste and my opinion. CGI looks fine, but a story is boring for my taste and the characters doesn't give any special impression.

One of the things that is more irritating is that fat boy Elly that "should be interesting for mases and cool". What is the point of those type of people in serious shows? Looking forward to next episodes of Flash Forward, V remake and start of Caprica.
I had a bunch of these shows on my DVR and finally sat down and started watching them. Thank God for fast forward! At this point I'm not sure if I should keep panning them for nuggets or just delete everything and stop the DVR from recording anymore.

I jumped onto the review sites to see if I'm missing something. Nope, most people are saying exactly how I feel about the show. Teenage soap opera, bad writing and virtually no sci-fi content.

I don't mind them sliding the scale towards character development and a little away from the hard core sci-fi, if it was good quality. But I don't have time to waste on a poor quality show. It's basically just a poor quality sit com that'll be off the air and forgotten.

I'm not sure I'll bother fast forwarding through the episodes I haven't seen or just delete them all. I've wasted enough time today on the serious, best to cut my losses.
I LOVED Stargate...I enjoyed the campy humor, the bigger than life heroes, it was fun and kinda just made you feel good. WHAT HAPPENED!!
I'm staggered at watching all these comments bashing on SGU. I'm glad that the franchise went in another direction. Don't get me wrong, I sort of liked SG-1 and LOVED SGA, but this brings a whole new dimension to the series, far grittier, far more focused on the characters and what they go through. Granted, it might not be the kind of thing you will want to watch after a shit day at work, but it's a great show!
Time (the episode) has been the only episode I've really enjoyed so far. It was dark and scary, and actually made me care about the characters. It was what the show should be. The previous episodes were basically all about characters backstabbing each other, sleeping around, or whining. About the only character I consistently have cared about has been the nerd, but only because he's usually nice enough to like. The scientist guy is fun, and I think he is probably the biggest mover and shaker in the show. I just wish that the other characters actually mattered instead of being whiny baggage.

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