Adventures into the Madness

Tepring’s Review of SG:U


I rather enjoyed myself at last night’s Stargate: Universe premiere party.  There were great snacks (a lovely zinfandel, courtesy my husband’s already open bottle) and three awesome die-hard SG fans.  Me, Laurie, and Erin snarfed up the goodies and settled in for a long winter’s nap – I mean two hours of new SG.  Erin had us all beat on the SGU trivia and clarified things along the way.  As a TIVO baby, I’m not used to watching “live” and found these things called “commercials” to be rather intrusive, but they did surprisingly offer opportunities to chat along the way.

So, here’s my review of the SGU premiere but first, where I’m coming from in offering it:

– I’m a longtime SG fan, starting with the movie.  I picked up SG-1 several years into the series, but happily caught up.
– Atlantis will always and forever be my favorite of the franchise.  As super-Daniel-thunkers and SG-1 preferrers, Laurie and Erin have been helping (laughing at?) me through the trauma of losing the favorite – they’ve done it already and just looked at me with snarky sympathy when I’d randomly blurt out “but where’s SHEPPARD????”
– I’m a critic.  Meaning, I have read a lot about screenwriting and TV production, even taken a writing class (woohoo, take them credentials!)  I spent years in college and graduate school learning to analyze art and do have an ability to separate “I like” from objective quality evaluations – they’re not necessarily the same.  I can like something that’s kitchy and poor quality.  I can be completely uninterested in something I recognize as high quality and well produced.  I usually try to make that opinion distinct.  Mostly.  At least a little.

So here goes:

The good

The people.  Are good.  It is hard to introduce a large cast and create moments that click, and SGU did that astonishingly well.  I really enjoyed the characters, even the ones we’re not supposed to like.  The acting was superb.  There were no weak links among the leads (with possible exception of the Senator – who dies off anyway) and several were simply outstanding.  David Blue as Eli Wallace delivered a perfect comedic relief without cheapening the drama of the setting.  Brian J. Smith as Lt. Matthew Scott is going to be a surewin hero heart-throb favorite.  Robert Carlyle delivered an interesting and “I don’t quite know what to think about” Dr. Rush.  Elyse Levesque as Chloe Armstrong pulled off a difficult emotional episode without overselling it or crossing into “and now I feel awkward”.  On the strength of these actors alone, I’ll stick it out for several more episodes.

The Bad

The pacing.  This production team of previously action packed and super-hero style showmaking haven’t quite got their rhythm down in the pilot.  There were many scenes that dragged and at the half-way mark, I was looking at the clock thinking “when is something going to happen????”  The script seemed to be struggling for what it considered the true tension in the episode – was it the physical tension, the problem they needed to solve?  Or was it the emotional tension, i.e. the interpersonal conflicts that were driving?  SG-1 and Atlantis excelled at the physical tension – solve the problem, fix the technobabble, shoot the bad guy – and left the interpersonal themes in the B story and the tag.

Universe seemed like it was trying to put the personal conflicts in the forefront and didn’t quite pull it off.  Quite.  At its worst (Everyone yelling at Rush because he was too calm about picking who needed to commit suicide to save the ship – I kept having Spock/McCoy Star Trek TOS flashbacks and almost giggled when yet another person said “don’t you care??”) the arguing just felt like people were standing around wasting their own time.  At several points, I wasn’t sure of the flow of time and some characters seemed to be in too many places at once.  When it worked was when the conflicts were subtle and understated.  At the same time, the main physical tension was so downplayed that it almost seemed trivialized.  (The door wouldn’t go down?  Really??? THAT’S your big “problem” is ONE stupid door?!)

I’ve seen enough pilots to recognize that the show will likely grow over time and figure out their franchise as they go.  This is not as strong a pilot as Atlantis (which, in my mind, still stands out as a particularly excellent stand-alone movie).  But, it is better than…say…Star Trek: TNG which I really didn’t like, but loved the series.  Universe has great potential, and the people behind it to bring that potential to fruition.

The Personal

Here’s where I say what I liked and didn’t, aside from objective factors.  I liked the look and the actors a lot.  I even like the scenario (although, kinda seemed a lot like Atlantis season one.  Just saying.)

I really hope they figure out the balance of tension because the single most “disappointing” moment for me was when I realized they weren’t going to fix their problem:  The aforementioned stupid door.  Each of us in our own way made at least one comment during the show about how “Sam would have had that fixed in 30 seconds.” or “McKay would have done it in his sleep.”  or my favorite:  “Everyone on SG-1 would have VOLUNTEERED to shut the door and sacrifice themselves by now!  sheesh!”  I kept thinking:  “this is a huge ship and their big problem is ONE door?”  I mean, Sheppard saved his people from an entire Hive ship of wraith in his pilot.  O’Neill saved SG-1 from an entire Goa’uld stronghold in his.  Rush couldn’t close a door? (Sheppard rescued his team and an entire electronically stored civilization from a “door” in The Ark 😉

What I realized in that “moment” was that Universe was going for “real”.  Their characters are not superheros or comic book heroes.  They were normal.  This may be too big a gap for me to leap.  Re-using the Stargate franchise may hurt the show, because I realized I had expectations about the types of characters Stargate has “traditionally” been populated with.  Laurie said “The guys on the Icarus base don’t seem as with it as usual, do they?”

Had I been watching an entirely new show with the exact same plot and scenario, I wonder if it would have bothered me.  I’m very curious if this will continue to be a personal issue for me, or if me and Universe will find a way to meet each other part way.  I really like my heroes super, and my problems solved.  The Stargate Universe Pilot didn’t give me any firm answers on how I’ll like the show, and I feel this will be disappointing to the producers.

I’ll give it a chance, but I worry there will be others who won’t without an “above expectation” launch.  For the sake of the cast and these new, interesting characters.  I hope they do!

posted under Frants

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