Thursday, November 24, 2022

TV Show review: Stargate SGU

 If I could sum up this show in 2 words, I think it would be "wasted potential". There's a lot I really like about this show but the writers play it way too safe and it never really seems to come together into something truly interesting.

This was the third spin off in the Stargate Franchise, and if the original stargate TV show is Star Trek The Next Generation, and Atlantis is DS9, then this would be the franchise's Star Trek Voyager.

And it has a very similar set up to Star Trek Voyager: They get flung half way across the universe and cannot get back. They aren't really prepared for the mission. There are enemies who (eventually) get stranded with them who they don't trust but nonetheless integrate into the crew.

The other show that seems an obvious influence would be Battlestar Galactica (BSG). I'd even go as far to say that this show is essentially what would happen if Voyager and BSG had a baby that dressed up as Stargate for halloween. You can especially see the BSG influence in where the drama of the show is focused. Voyager was very much alien of the week. SGU focuses inwardly on its main cast and their struggles, in a more serialized fashion. The crew don't trust each other. There are cliques. They are stressed. They struggle with their emotions. The civilians and the military mistrust each other, just like in BSG. Additionally, BSG's Baltar was clearly an influence on how the lead scientist Dr Rush was depicted.

However, unlike BSG, this show doesn't really commit to being serialized, and as a result the characters never really grow. Any time something interesting happens to change the status quo, it gets reset in the next 2 or 3 episodes. For example, two of the character's dead girlfriend gets resurrected as a computer program in the ship - then 2 episodes later a contrived situation happens where they have to be "quarantined" in AI jail, never to be seen from or thought of again. Plots like this are common, where something happens that implies the characters will have to change and adapt, but just as you're excited to see how that plays out, the status quo ante is restored. Nothing ever seems permanent and you don't get the pay off for teased change. The worst example is probably Col. Telford, who switches from being obnoxious, to evil, to good, is marooned but comes back, is killed but then cloned in an alternate time line, etc. The character gets swapped around so much it is simply ridiculous.

In many ways, one of the best plot lines in the show, involves having an alternate timeline of the crew be sent back a thousand years, and the main timeline crew meeting their descendants and being shown archival footage of their alternate selves from a thousand years ago. This allowed the writers to show what might have been for these characters, and it was the most compelling character development in the show. I suppose the writers felt safer making bold choices with these alternate versions of the character, since the real characters didn't necessarily need to abide by them. However I can't help but think what a great show this would have been if this type of character development took place throughout.

Ultimately, this show felt like it didn't quite know what it wanted to be. It used patterns from both serialized and episodic TV shows, resulting in something that was a bit in-between which satisfied neither. It teased complex characters, but mostly failed to commit to actually developing them, instead playing things safe. Most frustrating of all, at times it did do interesting things, and you could see the potential. By the end, I really did like this characters, and wished I knew more about them. Thus why I think "wasted potential" is the best descriptor for this show.

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