So each week, an earnest team of explorers steps through the Stargate and finds adventure, or, more often, trouble. But it’s not as formulaiac as it sounds. In later seasons the show became consistently better as it broke away, more and more, from the planet-of-the-week (which all looked like Vancouver) formula that plagued SG1’s early years, and engaged in large, sweeping story arcs. But without fail, in the two previous incarnations, the heroes were writ large and were easily identifiable. The villains were writ even larger and prone to funky costumes, speechifying and melodrama. And at the end of the day the world tended to get saved more often than not.
A (Somewhat) New Direction
Having seen the first three hours of SGU, this series is plainly something different. The question is, is it good different or bad different?
If one word had to sum up the Stargate franchise up till now, it would have to be “earnest”. Even when laughing at themselves, SG1 and Atlantis never offered any ambiguity as to the qualitative nature of their characters or their goals. Stargate has always been about us vs. them, and we are right.
It is darker, edgier and bloodier than any Stargate incarnation to date — and two characters are introduced while going at it in a storage locker. This is most definitely a more growed-up show.
There’s one word that sums up SGU too, and that’s Battlestar.
For those of you not familiar with the 2004 remake of the uber-camp 1978 NBC series that shared so much of the pseudo-Egyptian imagery and mythology with Stargate the movie, and the early years of SG1 (circular, I know, much like a Stargate), the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica has to be the most praised and beloved effort in the genre, ever. But Battlestar is dark, and ambiguous, and full of conflict, external and internal both. So in many ways it was the opposite of the Stargate we have known until now.
But here comes SGU. Unlike Atlantis, which was originally intended as a replacement for SG1, and which ended up being a closely intertwined parallel series due to their (partially) concurrent runs, SGU is being billed as a standalone effort. It lives in the same universe, but supposedly doesn’t require a grounding in Stargate‘s previous incarnations to get it.
A grounding in Battlestar might help, though. I’m not going to get into spoiler territory here; you can find all you want to know about the course the series will take without much kung fu to your Googling. But SyFy is clearly applying the lessons of Battlestar to the Stargate formula. Gone are the favorable lighting and camera angles, the clearly defined foes (in the first three episodes, at least, the biggest villains are CO2 and panic), and the situations with clear moral paths to resolution. Ambiguity in characterization, presentation, and outcome is the name of the game these days, and in SGU, SyFy seems to have taken the game changer that was Battlestar and run with it.
With the brightness on my TV turned all the way up and the lights down low, the new series is washed out blacks and grays, creating feelings of unease, chaos and urgency. It is dark, (yes, figuratively too), except for the blood, which is bloodier and more immediate than in any Stargate incarnation to date. And with two characters introduced while going at it in a storage locker, a clear signal is being sent that this is most definitely a more growed-up show. With SGU, SyFy is bringing the sex and violence, the naturalistic camera work, and the shineless worn-out sense of age that were all a large part of what gave Battlestar its realistic feel, making the viewer forget how remote the setting was in favor of caring about the characters.
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