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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How Stargate Universe Fails

We tried, we really tried to like the latest installment of Stargate, but they just make it so darn hard.

And look, if you're going to respond to this post with "but its all about the characters" or "the show is people!" then - well, just don't bother. I get that. In fact - that's the problem with the show. SGU is more about people than it is about science fiction. Or, sadly, storytelling in general.

Problem number one - the people just aren't very interesting. There's a very slim line between two basic types - slightly angry military types who are deeply burdened with a sense of responsibility and slightly neurotic civilians deeply burdened with a sense that they are all going to die. Tack on singular traits (geeky, cute, nervous, gay) and you have a pretty smooth curve when it comes to making characters distinct.

Which might actually work, in a slasher film kind of way, if the show had any guts about putting characters at risk. As mentioned previously, for a show about the horrible risks of venturing off into deep space - the show has about the same body count as Voyager, and so for all of the handheld camera shots ... comes off as about as vanilla and safe.

I'm still an episode behind, but let's take 'Time' as a perfect example of how the show stumbles on itself.

Spoiler alert.

So, you have this really decent sci fi premise: a time loop allowing characters to see their possible future. OK, great. However, it takes way too long to set this up because the show can't resist melodrama when melodrama might be portrayed, so we watch Eli getting annoyed with people and people getting annoyed with Eli, and all sorts of moaning and groaning shot via handycam until we get to the good stuff. Then, armed with this knowledge - we .... watch a lot more moaning and groaning until we finally get to step B of this plan which, if you take the hypothesis that the show is unwilling to risk getting its hands dirty - ends with a very predictable conclusion.

Next week? More moaning and groaning. This isn't Stargate Universe so much as it is Stargate Bitching About Space. It's the The View with teleporters.

For the show to succeed, it needs a real sense of dread - something the show it really wants to be, Battlestar Galactica managed quite well (though arguably lost it off and on).

Fans will say it is a "more human" show, which it is and if you enjoy these particular humans than this is the show for you. We'll be waiting for a show with less cliche, more dimensional and less predictable humans though.

2010 - you can do better sci fi than this.


sterno said...

I'm still an episode behind

Go and watch the last episode, then post again. I was kind of "eh" on the show, but the last episode went a direction I did not expect and really sets up an interesting dynamic when the show comes back.

sterno said...

Oh and yes, "Time" annoyed me. The excessive use of that reality show floating camera dynamic drove me up a wall. It made sense why they did it that way but it was still very irritating.

Josh said...

I'll let it finish the second half and do a new check in - at this point even if the latest episode is holy mother of god, it's not digging itself out of the 90% of crap it took for me to get there.

I think Time annoyed me most because it was the most interesting premise to date, and a complete failure as an episode - which is a bad gauge of longevity for me.

sterno said...

Yeah I don't know that it qualifies as "holy mother of God" but it does make me want to keep watching. Granted, I don't think I've been as down on it as you've been to this point.

Having said that, if I like it, it'll be canceled, so I'm not sure it matters anyway :)

Winkyboy said...

As Sterno said, yes - the most recent episode does something unexpected, which is great.

That episode after "Time" was such a horrible waste that I felt bad about the entire series just for that ep.

I think overall it's doing a really good job, but they have no "war" yet - so many of the sci-fi series out there seem to require a "extinction campaign" in order to get that boost to awesomeness.

Josh said...

Yeah, I'll grant that it's quite nice that there isn't the usual "Mysterious Alien Force Which Are Incredibly Advanced/Time Travellers/Vampires/Advanced Vampiric Time Travellers" - I'm good with Man v Space as a premise. I'm just not sold on either side of that equation.

I'll add a comment here after getting to watch the last episode (possibly tonight).

Josh said...

Ok, saw "Justice":

(Spoilers abound)

So another character finally dies, and the "killer amongst us" angle possibly the best actual tension the show has managed so far. Also, Ming Na finally gets to be something more than a confessional video. Aside from Rush and Eli, she could become one of the more dimensional characters on the show.

Course, seeing how the show treats those characters - I'm not sure that's a great club to be in. What really annoys me about this episode is that it's the progression of one of my least favorite trends - making Rush obviously bad.

What was great about Rush was that he was clearly kind of a dick, but everything else about him was fairly subtle. And it would make sense that if he was going to be Machiaviallian (sp) in any way, it would probably be in a complex manner.

But no, not on SGU. On SGU - it's "he knew about the sun." And "I checked those logs, and he is totally lying about that planet." And, "he did such a craptacular job of framing the guy that nobody really thought did the crime."

I mean, this guy has a PhD in geniusastrosomething, but he's so dumb he can't get away with a trick for the length of a single episode.

And I'll grant that having Young punch him out and strand him is kicking things up a notch ... it kinda isn't. This show just can't help pulling punches.

Because of course he strands him.

On an alien planet.

With a spaceship.


So I'll be interested in Rush's return, because how they handle that will probably be the make or break point for me on the show.