Last weekend, we finally screened the first three episodes of Stargate Universe. The darkest installment of the franchise certainly had an impact on this Gater. Here's our completely spoiler-free pre-review.
Without ruining any of the twists and turns awaiting us all on October 2nd, I'd like to talk a little about my gut reaction after viewing the first three episodes of Stargate Universe. Granted, the first two episodes were combined into one two-hour pilot, but I'm exceedingly happy they included the third episode because while the pilot showed what had changed, the third episode showed where the series was going to go next. After watching it all I can say this, I still want to see more.
But I didn't know whether I wanted to see more, until I reached the end of the third episode and there was no more left. It was such a side-step from the series I have been watching for years that it took a long time to warm up towards anything else, Gate-wise, that wasn't using the character types I'd come to know and love. To put it in teen drama terms, sure I love Saved By The Bell and few other shows that spawned from them, but eventually I had to trade up to 90210 to Dawson's Creek, which leans on the same teen dilemmas, but in a slightly more realistic, and yet much more over-the-top, manner. This doesn't diminish my love of Saved By The Bell at all, it's just a different class of drama.
I purposely mention the 90210 reference as SGU has been plagued questions about their super young cast since the day Syfy released the first tiny character bios. Thankfully, while many of the members are young in years, this only adds to the SGU mantra that this new forcibly created crew is "not right for the job"
Even though that means this is probably the last time I can use this picture from Hedgeworth, thankfully it means we can abandon our issues with a teen drama cast.
So, is SGU the Stargate upgrade we've all been dreaming of? Well if you consider better costumes, effects, sets and the ability to use honest-to-goodness music all good things, then yes. This is a great attempt at creating a realistic Stargate, as realistic as Stargate can be. But finally I can stop getting frustrated when characters run in and out of "contaminated zones" then turn around and hug their buddy, infected hazmat suit intact. Alien technology is treated with caution, when someone gets a bump on the head it lasts longer than a few minutes — and oh yeah, they kill people.
Gone is the Stargate pattern of the crew getting themselves crew in danger with a freak-of-the-week problem, jokes, a sign of strength from the burly crew member, technical jargon, jokes, and then the leader saves the day with a wink and a smile. Not that I didn't love this attitude — both SGA and SG-1 were an easy way to spend each week in the company of characters who grew bit by tiny bit, while delivering the cleverly sharp Gate Banter. Even death on the old Stargate was rarely permanent, nor detrimental to any essential Stargate plot. Past Gates were as familiar as a warm blanket, and we loved them for that. SGU attempts to rip that old blanket off and light it it on fire right in front of your face. So Stargate purists beware: the new SGU may be a bitter pill for you to swallow.
The essential feel of Stargate is definitely not there yet, but it's getting uncovered with each silly joke from Eli (David Blue), and each bonding cast moment that comes along. It's the slowest burn I've yet to witness in this genre, but coming off the last series, SGA — which often tried to juggle too much at once — the new tempo is a welcomed one. It just makes the much-loved Stargate banter a little more, well, trite. But the situation that the crew members and citizens find themselves is anything but funny. So I'm sure with time the jokes will slowly creep back in. But it could be many episodes deep.
As for me, Stargate has always been more about the characters and less about learning the clues behind ascension and the Goa'uld. Thankfully, while this new series leans heavily on the past mythology of Stargate to create a hostile environment for the new crew of the Destiny, the ins and outs of the alien world is swept under the rug rather quickly to make way for drama and slow character development. Each mission, while seemingly technology based, is in reality a new way to get to know another crew member.
While I'm not particularly in love with any one character yet, I do want to see what they're doing next. Plus it's the pilot, and you can't expect to fall in love with a new band of Gaters, with an apparent lack of unruly floppy hair overnight. In fact if you're looking for the next Sheppard or McKay, you will leave empty. The characters that Robert Cooper and Brad Wright created may seem like your average day Gaters, but they've got a lot more on their plates than any of the aforementioned heroes. So it may be a while until there's a funny Eli and D. Rush episode, because well, people are dying.
All in all the pilot maybe tough for purists and cumbersome for newbie Gaters, but the dilemma we find the folks stuck aboard the Destiny in is full of the promise of good drama. This is a whole new look for the franchise, but that's an important part of good science fiction television — to be looking towards tomorrow. No longer can this series sit by, filming in brightly lit and obvious sets, ending on a laugh and a smile from the resident clown, as engaging as he may be. It's time to take it a step further, and SGU has decided to go a bit further than that. There is so much more I want to talk about in this new franchise, but we'll have plenty of more time for that later, until then know this...
SGU has a lot of bite — and even more potential — and that makes this Gater happy.