update 09/07: post updated with some better clips from the pilot episode
For my first full regular length rant i’ve picked Stargate: Universe, a show I’ve already had some success with in getting people to watch. It’s probably only fair to point out that thanks to the bean counters at Syfy the has been cancelled after 2 seasons, but that shouldn’t put you off as there are still 40 episodes of great scifi here, also the season 2 finale works well as a series finale (but that’s actually another rant).
A Stargate is a device which allows travel to other planets & galaxies via a stable wormhole. Prior to Stargate Universe the franchise had consisted of the original 90s movie, the Stargate SG-1 TV show which ran for 10 years and 2 TV movies, and then the Stargate Atlantis show which ran for 5. The cancellation of Atlantis and the pick up of Universe where announced at the same time, much to the anger of some fans who believed Atlantis was being cancelled to make way for Universe.
The early plot for Universe focuses on attempts to dial a gate further away than we’ve ever previously dialled and we will find on the other side.
Events then force a rather unprepared group of military, scientists and civilians through to this far flung gate. Finding themselves on an ancient ship millions of light years away from earth and millions of years old, early thoughts of returning home as soon as possible are soon replaced by more immediate concerns of surviving long enough to fix the ships life support failing.
Indeed, much of the drama is derived from the characters simple need to survive until the next day, and if they survive the day, it’s been a very good day.
Let me at this point reassure you, SGU isn’t just a BSG rip off, there are a checklist of comparisons (humans on ship looking for earth, can we trust the British doctor etc…) but the only comparison that matters is they are both chock full of characters you’ll end up caring about.
This is indeed at it’s core great drama, set aside the intergalactic travel and blueberry aliens aside for a moment and what you’re left with is an ensemble of intriguing and multi-layered characters thrown into believably life threatening situations and we see what they do, why they do it and if it works.
That intriguing cast of characters are all played by a universally talented ensemble cast, it’s almost impossible to pick a favourite, and if you do you’re likely to be reconsidering come the next scene.
You may likely settle on Eli as he’s written as the audiences way in, a likeable character who is thrown into this situation knowing as much as newcomers to Stargate do about it’s history and lore. The writers make full use of this to do a massive dump of background info so subtle you’ll likely not realise just want the writers are doing.
But even beyond Eli, the characters are engaging, you might not immediately like them all, you might actively distrust some of them, but you’ll want to know more about them
Take the example of Lt. Matthew Scott, in some scenes he is a typical military grunt, in others when their full circumstances are becoming clear you get hints at just how out of his depth Scott is. That isn’t meant to say he’s a bad solider, he’s very capable and professional, but any newly minted officer given temporary command of the military personnel on an ancient spaceship millions of later years from home would be out of their depth, it’s just that it’s rare to see a TV show deal with details which are on the surface rather trivial to the immediate plot.
As well as being a capable, professional but slightly inexperienced solider, Scott is also a former Altar boy raised by a priest who we also see in an early scene having a liaison with a female officer in a storage cupboard. Add that all up and you’re left with a character not at all what you probably imagined.
What a large group of three dimensional characters gives you is the possibility for a lot of different relationships between the characters and the show makes full use of this, in large part using it as a window to further explore the characters, during a heated exchange between two or more of the characters they start to peel back the layers of the characters priorities, who cares about getting home?, who cares about keeping the group unified? and who cares about pursuing the original mission of exploration and discovery?
Those priorities as seen the three part pilot, lay the foundations for friendships and rivalry’s which blossom and develop over the 37 episodes that follow.
If you love drama and interesting characters, watch the those first 3 (“Air” parts 1, 2 & 3) and i’m as sure as I can be, you’ll be hooked. If you aren’t, come back and tell me and i’ll rant at you some more, because I just can’t shut up about Stargate Universe.