The One About Stargate

The consistently mediocre (hey, at least it’s consistent) Stargate Atlantis has been cancelled after five seasons, but will return as straight-to-DVD movies just as its predecessor Stargate SG-1 has done.

I find it somehow hard to care any more. Stargate has always been the McDonalds of SF television: that place you turn for a reliable, known quantity that never excels but rarely disappoints, unless you forget to remove the gherkin.

Right from the start it’s been content to place its own stamp on concepts that you’ve seen at least three times previously on one of the Star Trek spin-offs, but I do think there was a period in the early and middle years of SG-1 where it was turning out a good balance of rompy action material, comedy, drama, and some semblance of high-minded issue-led SF (whose last hurrah was probably the Hugo-nominated two parter ‘Heroes’). It made good use of retroactive continuity, generally managing to tie new stories into previously established events (or technobabble) in a way that felt internally consistent. Its military, modern-day setting lent a certain grounded quality to its outlandishness and unlike Trek it was capable of sustaining a sub-genre of X-Files-esque alien invasion tales set on contemporary Earth.

In SG-1‘s latter years, after being picked up by the Sci-Fi channel, the series took a decided turn towards lightweight action-led fare, with most of the drama leeched from the series in favour of laconic banter and last-minute escapes. The technology at the team’s disposal now extended to FTL spaceships, laser beams and transporters, with no attempt made to give these tropes an original spin. Hyperspace looks, feels and operates like hyperspace always does, teleporting is referred to as “beaming” etc. It was genial enough, but little more.

Atlantis, began as a blurry photocopy of the original show, and has since spent most of its time searching for an interesting direction (experimenting with “dark and gritty”), interesting adversaries, or an interesting cast. Rodney McKay is always worth a watch, and the series has slowly developed something of its own mythology, but frankly the franchise has reached the point where it’s produced so many episodes that there’s nothing left to do but to recycle past ideas in endless minor variations. (So much so that the characters are often found commenting that they’ve dealt with a similar situation before.)

And now Sci-Fi has announced yet another spin-off to replace Atlantis, Stargate Universe. This seems to mean that they’ve hired a bunch of younger (cheaper) actors and tried to create a lost-in-space show reminiscent of Star Trek: Voyager or Battlestar Galactica. It’s tough to see what’s going to set this new series apart from its predecessors. If anything, it seems to be jettisoning the last vestiges of the military, low-tech Earth-based setting that allowed Stargate to put even a slightly unique spin on its cliches. It’s the ultimate reduction of Stargate into a one-size-fits-all SF platform.

You just know I’m going to watch the damn thing, though.

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