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.

Sci-Fi, meet Drama

Sky Continuity Announcer after SG-1 this week: “Coming up next, sci-fi meets drama in Battlestar Galactica”. Because, as we know, sci-fi and drama are normally mutually exclusive. Last week the same announcer’s line was: “Forget Sci-Fi, this is real drama.” Bad enough he says these things over the end credits of Stargate SG-1, but what is this fascination with trying to promote Battlestar Galactica by simultaneously distancing it from and belittling other Sci-Fi shows?

Meanwhile this week’s episode of SG-1 included a not so subtle dig at the programme’s cancellation:

Not-really-spoilery cut for dialogue

Random television things

Just as a quick heads up for those that consider Stargate to be a worthwhile waste of 44 minutes, it looks like Sky One have the world premiere of Stargate SG-1 10×11 (“The Quest, Part 2”) on Tuesday, and the same for Stargate Atlantis 3×11 (“The Return, Part 2”) on Thursday Wednesday. Neither show returns from its mid-season break in the US for a couple of months.

Edit: I forgot to mention that the third season of Battlestar Galactica starts its UK airing right after SG-1 on Tuesday. I’d say it’s well worth a look for those who haven’t watched it yet. Not as strong as the beginning of Season 2, but an improvement on the thin and patchy material that characterised the end of the season.

Meanwhile Series 6 of Waking the Dead starts tonight on BBC1 (with part 2 tomorrow). I’m not sure how we got into this show as we never watch UK crime drama, unless you count Spooks, but it’s an enjoyable and surprisingly consistent series. Trevor Eve’s character is a complete curmudgeon in a way that, like Hugh Laurie in House, teeters on the brink of parody but never quite goes all the way there.

House itself returns in the US next Tuesday, weeks before most other US series, although HBO’s Rome is also back on Sunday 14th Jan. We enjoyed the beginning and end of Rome‘s first season, but the middle was entirely trashy.

Did that really just happen?

On this weekend’s episode of Stargate Atlantis, Doctor Elizabeth Weir manages to cunningly distract someone by feigning an interest in their World of Warcraft character.

I just needed to write that down to convince myself that it really happened.

On a related note, both Stargate shows have just left dangling mid-season cliff-hangers that won’t be resolved until next March. That’s six months. In the middle of a season. Fortunately in the long tradition of Stargate mid-season cliff-hangers neither of them was particularly exciting, although for a change Atlantis served up the better of the two.

Useful dates for the diary

US TV seasons are about to resume…

Battlestar Galactica (Season 2) – Fri 6th Jan
(Also S2 starts on Sky One on Tue 10th Jan at 9 p.m.)
Stargate: SG-1 (Season 9) – Fri 6th Jan
Stargate Atlantis (Season 2) – Fri 6th Jan
The West Wing (Season 7) – Sun 8th Jan
House, M.D. (Season 2) – Tue 10th Jan
Lost (Season 2) – Wed 11th Jan
Veronica Mars (Season 2) – Wed 18th Jan (Woo!)

We’re waiting for House to show up on UK telly, and we’ve given up on Lost. Who knows why we’re still watching Stargate Atlantis. Meanwhile on UK TV, Sky One are airing the new CSI-tinged show with David Boreanaz in it, Bones, on Thur 12th Jan at 10 p.m.

Televisual musings

Gather ye round, fans of Tim Minear. I’m intrigued to see on Ain’t It Cool News that Tim Minear’s new show “The Inside“, in which I previously had not the slightest interest, actually sounds quite interesting. More details here. What originally sounded like a dodgy cross between Alias and The OC now sounds like a far more interesting and far darker show. Okay, the premise of criminal profiling is hardly innovative, but gritty police procedurals with a bit of character resonance certainly push a few of my buttons. Promising….

This leads me on to thinking that I haven’t had a decent discussion about the Tee Vee in ages. At the moment I be mostly watching: Battlestar Galactica, The West Wing, Lost, Law & Order: Lift InspectorsCriminal Intent, Carnivale, Alias, Stargate (both the good flavour and the bland one), and Enterprise. Here follows my spoiler-free commentary on a few of them – should anyone, y’know, care. 🙂

Battlestar Galactica – 1×01 to 1×11