Friday, May 28, 2010

Prejudice is bad, if quick

I've a colleague who watched all of The Wire, every season, every episode, because she hoped she'd get to like it. I'm a hard, hard man: I want everything to be fantastic but if episode 1 doesn't hold me in some way, in any way, I'm off. And I think I'm wrong: this is the prejudice of the title, the rather less socially significant but since we're writers who want our work to keep people's attention, still important prejudice.

Follow. Back in the mid-1990s I saw the movie Stargate and didn't happen to like it. Consequently I saw only the odd channel-hopping sliver of its TV follow-up, Stargate: SG-1. Didn't watch a single frame of that show's follow up, Stargate Atlantis. Until checking this out before talking to you, I had never even heard of Stargate Infinity.

But now I'd probably call myself a fan, certainly an addict, of the latest series, Stargate Universe. That's happy for me. Only, as well as just enjoying the drama, I am agog at the differences between this and previous series: differences that are led by how the new show is written. I'm so agog that I've gone nipping back into the other Stargates, sampling this, trying that, running away again from the film. Some of it can be exciting, some of it can be funny and I'm not knocking the shows at all, I'm just saying they're not my kind of drama.

All the previous Stargate shows were science fiction adventure tales about fairly square-jawed hero types who usually spoke in one-liners when they weren't reciting technobabble. They were fast-paced shows, high-stakes, high explosions, big, epic, aliens, wooo, all of that.

Stargate Universe, on the other hand, is serious, it's about very real people under pressure and their problems are not resolved by the end of the hour, they go on week to week, getting worse week to week. This is my cup of tea. I enjoy it so much, I look forward to it so much each week that I want to thank Daniel Hardy: he listens and has contributed to the UK DVD Review podcast I do and it was solely on his recommendation that I gave this new show a go.

It's entirely my own fault that I've gone poking about the other series.

What I've found is that these other Stargate series are made by the same company, they share broadly the same premise in that they have these Stargate things. They share storylines, they share some characters and actors. And they are written by much the same people.

So have a look and see if you're as startled by the differences as I am.

First up, Stargate SG-1. Nip along to 3'50 in this and watch a typical "Gentlemen, there is a crack in the world" type of sci-fi scene. It's also a key scene for the Hero, Richard Dean Anderson as Jack O'Neill and Amanda Tapping as Sam Carter. I watched through my hand.

Next, the opening to the pilot episode of Stargate Universe.

I'l bet money your first thought is the money. Stargate Universe looks much more expensive. I believe it is, too. I worry that your thought after that is how slow the beginning is. Watching it with you now on YouTube with the wee little screen, it doesn't have the strong, arresting, intriguing, feature-film-like feel at first but is that true or is it just that I've seen it before? Not knowing what's going on, I think you're curious and as the show zooms in on the ship and through its broken corridors, maybe it builds some nice tension. It did with me on my telly.

I admire the opening for how completely still it is and then how completely the quietness is punctured by the arrival of that first character, Lt. Scott. And then the mayhem. So quickly you go from this utter stillness to a very human fear and panic.

I'm also going to bet money that you are more tempted to carry on watching Stargate Universe than you are Stargate SG-1, just based on these excerpts. So why not? The show is on Sky1 on Tuesday nights in the UK, it's on Syfy in the US on Fridays - though in both cases it's about to reach the end of its first season. I'd recommend starting at the beginning which I'm sure will loop around again on Sky and Syfy but is out on DVD shortly and on iTunes now.

I recommend it so thoroughly that I'm surprised I've forgotten to mention Robert Carlyle stars in it. I recommend it so thoroughly despite having learnt that every single atom of the show that I enjoy this much is detested by fans of the old SG-1 series.

There are people who long for this series to be cancelled and their favourite SG-1 to be revived. Fortunately, as well as being a bit unlikely anyway, these vocal voices appear to belong to an intense but small group of fans who need to let go.

Or to go live in what I've been dying all day to call a stargated community.

William

6 comments:

hardy24 said...

William, never been so happy to be blamed for something.

I was pretty agog when I heard just how passionately some stargate fans disliked Universe. It was exactly the same amount of agog as when I found out some Star Trek fans didn't like Deep Space Nine.

William Gallagher said...

Yes, it's the passion: I don't like the early Stargates but I'm not going to call any of the characters whores because of that.

DS9 is an interesting comparison. Previous Treks and previous Stargates had heroes nipping off to new planets each week. Whereas our preferred shows had some failed characters stuck in one place.

I must rewatch DS9 some time.

Shuggie said...

It was a safe bet that you'd enjoy this given that it might as well be called "Stargate: Galactica" :) After watching the pilot I felt as though someone had sat down and deliberately designed a show to pick up the BSG audience.

And I didn't care.

A recent episode involved a character facing a dilemma which existed because the most natural course of action was impossible. I really enjoyed this episode but found when I read comments online that fans were upset because there are references earlier Stargate incarnations to technology that would make it not impossible at all.

I wonder if you think that there are signs that the show's producers want to appease such fans? The most recent episode I've seen revolves around something that's obviously a part of earlier Stargate. They do an ok job of introducing it but it worries me a little.

Phill Barron said...

I gave up on Stargate Universe after 8 episodes because I was waiting for something to happen.

I was bored by the film, which seemed fantastic until they actually went through the Stargate.

I loved the series, although my dislike of the film kept me away for quite a while. Stargate to me seemed like the perfect antidote to how staid Star Trek had become - politically correct people sitting still while they debated ethics and spouted technobabble before pushing a button which solved everything. I loved that Stargate SG1 tended to shh anyone who tried to talk for too long about invented physics.

Atlantis I couldn't get to grips with since it seemed (at a casual glance) like all they'd done was change the characters around a little.

And then there's Universe which (from the 8 episodes I saw) seemed very much soap opera in space. I didn't really care for any of the characters and since they hadn't actually done anything except bumble about being miserable for 8 episodes or so ... I gave up.

Was that a mistake? Am I missing something exciting since then? Or should I just accept it's not my sort of thing?

William Gallagher said...

Phill,

You disliked the film but really enjoyed the SG-1 lark? I found those so similar. Well, thinking about it now, there are more one-liners in the TV show and they are funny where the film just annoyed me.

Still, I am a strong believer in if you didn't like something, you aren't likely to ever change your mind and someone insisting you watch this episode or that is wasting their time. Possibly also asking for trouble, but.

I think where we're different on these shows is perhaps that I felt SG-1 had lots of things happening that I had no interest in, no investment. Let the baddies win, what do I care? Whereas with Universe, I feel quite the opposite to you: that it's all happening. There's a weight of problems on the characters' backs that keeps me interested.

There's one episode where it looks like a group of characters will not make it back to the ship. Now, you know they will. You know. Like every other show, you know. But I found myself actually concerned for them.

Part of me thought I was an eejit, but most of me thought of good it is that I could be so grabbed.

I've seen some Atlantis now, by the way, and it's pretty indistinguishable from SG-1. It has that special feel of having been cheaper to make than renegotiating contracts for an 11th series of SG-1 or whatever it was.

William

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