Stargate: Universe. It’s an unusually usual title compared to SG-1 and Atlantis. And I fear the show itself may end up being similarly usual.
The Stargate franchise today is a far cry from the creative strength SG-1 displayed some six or so years ago. Why? Simple. The writer’s room has suffered from the same affliction that suffers all long-running sci-fi shows. It happened to Star Trek, The X-Files; some would argue that Lost is suffering from it already.
The problem lies in the fact that no show is infinitely sustainable. Individual concepts will last longer than another ““ SG-1 for instance lent itself well to an episode-of-the-week format that was likely to be able to survive quite a long time. And it did ““ ten whole seasons. Atlantis had a similar concept ““ episodic adventures of the week ““ but this time there were half a dozen years of material already written by essentially the same writers team. Could originality really by expected for another ten years? The show lasted exactly half that, and was arguably weaker than its predecessor. What fate Universe, therefore?
There are several things going for the new sequel. Namely, it has the potential ““ note: potential ““ to shake up the format a little. Robert Carlyle’s character ““ the lead of the show ““ could well be the first lead character of a Stargate show to be devious and manipulative rather than the clichÃ©d and stoic American hero the writers have known to embrace. Coupled with the supposedly darker nature of the show, Universe has the potential to rely further upon character conflict than previous Gate incarnations. Certainly the acting talent is there. Ming-Na and Carlyle for instance are tried and tested actors with a great array of talent. Then again, David Hewlett was a fantastic talent for Atlantis, and there’s only so much individual talent can do to shore up collaborative failings above.
Additionally, the setting is slightly different. Set on a starship rather than fixed planet (yes, I know Atlantis was a city ship, but it didn’t go places often), the series should be able to tap into a wider array of story possibilities than the planet-of-the-week concept that has driven the franchise for over a decade. However even then, the show has strong Battlestar Galactica vibes – which it clearly shouldn’t have if its aiming to be something original: something Stargate clearly needs. Whether the writing department realise that potential is, however, another matter.
Star Trek: Voyager promised isolation from Earth, real danger and character conflict in the form of the Maquis/Starfleet divide. But the show was even lighter in tone than Deep Space Nine had been, and within a few years ways were found of limiting the extent of the isolation from which Voyager suffered.
Similarly, the Stargate writers have fallen into similar traps with Atlantis. Another tale of isolation, Earth was involved within a series, and crossovers became a bi-weekly occurrence. The tell-tale sign of a flagging concept: the child show falling back upon the success of its predecessor. That Universe should be immune from such failings is a pretty optimistic outlook ““ they’ve been made by the same writers before.
However, is it really their fault? If the network continues to order and accept the pitches for these shows, then the writers are just doing their job. It is surely the job of Sci-Fi (I’m denying the change to the SyFy brand) to rectify that ““ for instance to demand more challenging scripts. For the talent is surely there ““ see Atlantis’s The Shrine for further details. The problem is an absence of ideas symptomatic of a show or idea on the air for far too long.
Shows like 24 seem to get by creatively (for the most part) by drafting in new writers each season from other shows in order to inject fresh ideas. The Stargate team could perhaps do with a few outside views in order to ensure Universe doesn’t fall back into the same old tricks.
Of course, such creative rejuvenation doesn’t automatically mean success. Given the direction in which Sci-Fi/SyFy is heading, it wouldn’t be too surprising if the channel drafted in the writers of The O.C. or some other teenage hit in order to sex-up and rejuvenate the show. The whole younger/edgier nonsense works in some cases ““ even in some unexpected ones, when the talent is there (e.g. Battlestar Galactica). Does the current writing team have the talent to pull of a directionary overhaul? I fear not, given how Atlantis turned out. Could they surprise me and create a good show? Absolutely.
But for how long? How long will it be before they can gate back to Earth each week? How long will it be before Atlantis and SG-1 alumni turn up to save the day? I hope my cynicism is proven to be nothing more than bitter, nonsensical rambling, but deep down I know the show will turn out something like Atlantis or Voyager, or even Enterprise: squandered potential.
Here’s to being wrong.