October 5, 2009

TV Review | Stargate Universe 1.1, 1.2 – “Air” Parts I and II

Stargate Universe (SPACE: two-hour premiere October 2, 9:00 PM ET; in regular timeslot starting October 9, 10:00 PM ET) surely needs no explanation.  Stargate is the pre-eminent science fiction franchise of the 2000s.  Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis have ensured that the franchise will be a syndication staple for at least a decade, so why not add another chapter to its history?  It’s the thinking that has birthed Stargate Universe, as profitable franchises can be flogged for as many spinoffs as they can bear.

I am not impressed with the first part of “Air.”  It starts off well, with people being launched out of a Stargate and onto an abandoned Ancient spaceship.  That remains the strongest visual for me after watching the show’s first two hours, which means “Air” has blown its load in its first five minutes.  The first hour, despite a well-made battle sequence, is boring overall.

Eli Wallace (David Blue) is a nerd stereotype – lives with his mother, obsessive gamer, dumpy-looking.  Eli solves a riddle encoded into the Prometheus video game.  After Eli disbelieves that the Stargate Program wants anything to do with him, he is sent to the George Hammond battlecruiser and coerced into helping it.  Eli’s an ascended fanboy played straight.

Sure, Eli went to MIT, but I can’t believe Stargate Universe actually goes this route with a character.  Blue does what he can with the material he’s given, but his character is not overly convincing.  There is no reason to get behind Eli Wallace until the second hour, when he’s shown as overeager and naïve as regards military protocol.  Eli’s not as annoying on second viewing, but he’s in danger of becoming Wesley Crusher.

Dr. Nicholas Rush (Robert Carlyle) is either a Dr. Gregory House-type genius or the downfall of The Icarus Project, the Stargate Program being fond of ominous names.  Carlyle anchors the show, and is its obvious star.

Rush does have his tender moments, yet he’s usually detached from all but his work.  If someone accidentally dies on his watch, so be it.  Rush has the potential to be an interesting character, more due to Carlyle’s acting than anything else.  In lesser hands, Rush would be the stock misanthropic genius, although he does seem cribbed from House M.D.

Stargate Universe feels like a gestalt of borrowed plots and characters from Popular Shows, even when it’s not trying to be.  The first part of Stargate Universe is Sliders all over again.  Instead of Quinn Mallory and company making a second jump before completing the first, the Stargate fucks up before it can dial the ninth chevron to Earth.

Parallel dimensions are replaced by Red Dwarf, I mean a decaying Ancient spaceship.  SGU takes the Lost tack of telling its story in both flashbacks and real time.  Eli Wallace is a variant of The Last Starfighter.  References to prior Stargate shows are a given.

Somehow, Stargate Universe is meant to be edgy as Stargate military personnel shag in the first hour.  Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper spend so much time proving how unlike the previous Stargate series SGU is – hey kids! fucking! – that original storytelling is placed on the back burner.  I almost expect a statue of Seshat to figure in the show’s mythology.

The second part of “Air” is better, as less time is spent focusing on Wesley – er, ah, Eli – and more of the main characters get airtime.  Louis Ferreira is a standout as Colonel Everett Young, who is situated as Rush’s dramatic opposite.  He isn’t in “Air” for a long time due to his being badly wounded, but I can at least emotionally invest in his character.

Senator Alan Armstrong (Christopher McDonald) and his daughter Chloe (Elyse Levesque) are given meaty roles, although Alan’s role is limited to sacrificing his life as he prolongs Destiny’s life support systems.  The Senator is not evil, though he does resort to pulling out a gun in the second hour of “Air.”  His character, in the end, is there for sacrifice and to define Chloe’s backstory.

Stargate Universe takes from more successful shows and wads everything it can into the Stargate mold.  I can understand the move to “edgier” storylines – a franchise can’t cater to the same fans forever, lest the show find its inner Rick Berman and go shit.

At the same time, Stargate Universe is a reboot of a reboot.  In addition, Wright and Cooper were responsible for Stargate‘s initial reboot.  While I’ll give SGU time to find itself, Wright and Cooper should have handed the reins to someone else.

Maybe a Robert Smigel-helmed Stargate series?  Think about it: wormholes, the X-Presidents, Doug Dale in a major role.  Damn it, this has to happen.  For the good of television, this needs to happen.  Until then, I’ll put Stargate Universe on the back burner.

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