But SGU’s creators have also bitten off a major chunk of that setting, stranding their characters in a giant ancient starship that is not in their control. A limited ability to communicate with Earth means that cameos from and tie-ins with the existing bulk of the Stargate world are to be expected (Richard Dean Anderson, Michael Shanks and Amanda Tapping, three of the original members of SG1, all make appearances in the pilot), but a definite effort has been made to separate this new cast of characters and set them adrift.
A Question of Character
The question, then, becomes can the characters carry it. So far, the jury’s still out. Robert Carlysle (Trainspotting, The Full Monty), is intentionally unlikable as Dr. Nicholas Rush, the series’ lead and obligatory science genius (somebody’s got to make the ancient alien technology work.) Ming Na (ER, The Joy Luck Club), whose role really isn’t all that clear yet, might as well not be in the first three hours of the series for the two or three lines she speaks, and Lou Diamond Philips’ (La Bamba, Young Guns) gruff, military, still-on-Earth character is just plain shoehorned in. He’s not even in the title sequence, folks. He gonna die.
That’s clear from the start: people are gonna screw up, people are gonna die. SGU is a clear effort on the part of the Stargate franchise to go mainstream; Stargate is trying to grow up.
But what does that mean for the fun factor? The best part of Stargate has always been the fact that, since the series takes place now (the government goes to great lengths to shield us from the terrifying truth of the universe at large), it can be self-consciously aware of the sci fi tropes it employs, and that has allowed it to laugh at itself as it does. The characters know that if you are using a transporter, you are supposed to say “beam me up.” That’s what makes a premise work even when it border on silly: the characters are laughing at it too. SGU’s more serious stance threatens to forget that.
But the unknowns may carry the day. Enter the everyman. There are some other folks to get to know, but David Blue, playing an awkward gamer who earns a spot in the expedition by solving an online mystery (The Last Starfighter, anyone?) is both the best part of the series so far, and an obvious nod (some would say grovel) to the fanbase. He’s you and me (or at least those of us who have already seen one or two Stargate episodes), and that just may be what makes the series work. If SGU can manage its growing pains without losing the core of pure fun that was always Stargate’s saving grace, then Battlestargate might just be a go.
Stargate Universe has its two-hour premiere tonight on SyFy at 9/8 centeral.
Ash Kalb is the general counsel of a New York-based telecommunications and technology company and an instrument-rated pilot. He writes about geeky things for Mediaite.
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