Why did Stargate Universe Fail?

As you may or may not have heard, in recent months the SyFy network has decided that they would like to cancel Stargate Universe, a variation of the popular Stargate franchise that would feature a crew trapped on a starship known as the Destiny. I’d like to discuss why in the world this series might have failed quite as miserably as it did.

The show itself

Before I even begin to jump on the issues that were to be had with modern television series, lets talk about the very premise of this show. Now, they initially spent the first 10 episodes of the season establishing that they could use the 9th chevron to go further than before. Ignoring the fact that Atlantis had pretty much made that all irrelevant with their Wormhole drive in the final episode, it was a new plot point to work off of. So what do we do for the first 10 episodes? Character drama.

Now, character drama can be fine, and in fact I encourage any writer to add it to what is going on. But if you are only focusing on character drama, and not moving the plot forward in any way than you are doing very little for the show. The issue that Stargate Universe has is one of trying to fuel the fanbase for their show entirely with characters. I mean lets face it, going to get supplies like water and air while interesting does not a plot make. If I wanted to watch a show about people surviving I’d point out just how poorly received episodes of Voyager focusing on the gathering of supplies went. There is not coffee in that nebula, and there most certainly is not ratings to be had.

So the show starts off with them all getting on board the ship, having a terrible time because they don’t have the supplies they need and the ship is falling apart… and…. oh that’s right that was all the first 10 episodes could even bring us. The first time a plot element was even introduced was the “Blueberries” and that made no sense either. At least the Goa’uld were straight forward with their message “We like human bodies as slaves, and we’re inherently evil”, the blueberries have “We think they want Destiny, maybe… probably. We don’t know why they want it, and they’ve never said a thing to us”. Let’s not forget the show hasn’t even given them a name, they are just generic alien race looking to get the ship we’re on.

Now fastforward 20 episodes to season 2, what do we have in terms of plot advancement? The Lucian Alliance came on board… and… oh wait that’s it. On the upside we finally figure out a reason to stay on board this damn ship, it only took 27 episodes but we finally got one. Destiny it would seem was designed to chase a strange pattern in the cosmic background radiation. Now don’t get me wrong, I usually don’t harp on shows for trying to provide a mildly scientific plot point that’s not generally well understood by people. But making an entire series justification on the idea of chasing a shape in the pattern of background radiation?  It’s a perfectly cool thing to scientist to image there is something out there, but it makes for a piss poor reason as a central plot point. I wouldn’t complain so much except this little plot point is supposedly what’s going to keep people on the Destiny for its next [now canceled] 5 seasons. If you’re going to do a show about Science and Exploration, please take a hint from every show that has gone before you: “People do not like Technobabble Plots, they like Technobabble Solutions”.

So here we are, waiting for the next 10 episodes to be released, Telford is back with his group of vague non-English speaking aliens who have an equally vague back story “Oh yeah, we’re at war with these drones which have a mothership, and such” . Which would make a fantastic plot point or description of that group of aliens, but we’re supposed to accept that this is a problem for their ENTIRE RACE? For shame SGU writers, in thousands of years a species that has FTL travel hasn’t made a few more ships, and I thought getting 5 Oddessy class vessels out was a slow going process.

Also, has anyone noticed a distinct lack of a villain? I mean sure we can point at the blueberry alien, but honestly that’s not a villain that’s a plot device. There is no enemy and the only real friction that has come up is between the crew wanting to murder each other. Until 3 episodes ago, I didn’t know this show had any plans on going anywhere, I figured they were just going to cry some more about being on Destiny.

Characters you just want to strangle.

I think we can all agree that if we are watching, it’s really just to see Eli and Rush. Eli because I like the actor, and Rush because the character is portrayed as a badass. And let’s face it, the only reason Eli is still around is because they needed a walking lampshade which the audience could relate to because god knows the audience can’t relate to anyone else in that god damn show. I was honestly 100% sure upon watching the pilot that they would kill Young and let the kid [I had to look up his name: Matthew Scott”] run the show, or at the very least make Young unto Hammond or Weir and Scott to actually lead the show. Much to my dismay, no such thing occurred and now this show doesn’t have a protagonist.

Quick Name the Protagonist for the following shows:

  • Babylon 5
  • Star Trek
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Stargate SG1

Easy wasn’t it?

  • Sheridan / Delenn
  • Kirk / Spock / McCoy
  • Adama / Roslin
  • SG1 [Carter, Jackson, Teal’c, etc]

Now… name this show’s protagonist…

Not as easy was it? That’s because the two people who could take the protagonist role didn’t stop fighting until last episode, and even then I’m not so sure I would call it a truce. There are just character who interact with each other, none of them really take a leadership role. Hell, the show even went so far as to do an episode about how the ship was trying to make Young a leader and HE FAILED. It’s just a group of people wondering in the depths of deep space with no idea where they are going to be next.

So here we are, with no Protagonist, No enemy and No real goal unless you count staying alive. Now don’t get me wrong, the character development is superb. I can tell you all about Eli, or Greer, or any of those characters with ease because they have a massive character background. Hell I probably know more about Eli and Rush then I do about McKay and he’s had 5 seasons to have his character flushed out.

Speaking of McKay, Did we forget what Universe we were in?

Now, the thing that got Atlantis by was that it was still Stargate, the entire story revolved around things that are clearly Stargate related. Universe has 3 things going for it the word “Ancient”, The Lucian Alliance, and the stones; I will count the Stargate when it actually becomes more a plot element and less of a prop. I mean think about it, if I had no idea about Stargate at all, I would think the shows that came before it were more about the use of those Stones than they were the Stargate.

In fact let’s do a count shall we?

  • Air – Use Stargate to get to ship, Use Stargate to get to planet to find Air Purifying substance (3 Episodes). Note Stargate not actually used in 2nd episode
  • Darknesss – Sans Stargate
  • Light – Shuttles do not count as a Stargate
  • Water – A Stargate ladies and gentlemen.
  • Earth – We talk about using a Stargate to get home, not actually used
  • Time – This is Houston, we have a Stargate, you are clear for landing
  • Life – We’re sorry, the stargate you were looking for could not be found
  • Justice – Good thing we beat the Crap out of Rush on a Planet with a Ship, that may help us never use a stargate again.
  • Space – Nadda
  • Divided – Bzzzt
  • Faith – Technically a new planet, but no Stargate was used
  • Human – Holy crap, did we actually use the Stargate to explore something? It’s a miracle
  • Lost – Technically a Stargate is mentioned, and eventually used
  • Sabatoge – We Had to use a Stargate to get them back, were it not for this I doubt very much the writers would have used one
  • Pain – Reference to a planet that must have required a Stargate to get to is made, but… guess what we never saw used?
  • Subversion – We aren’t even using Stargates to get off Earth anymore
  • Incursion Part 1 – The Lucian Alliance had to get on the ship somehow
  • Incursion Part 2 – I’m glad that invasion is over, we can shut that Prop down for another 3 months.
  • Intervention – You know what? Screw Stargates let’s just use magical powers to cross the interstellar void
  • Aftermath – The planet doesn’t actually have a working Stargate, so lets take the shuttle instead
  • Awakening – In a surprise twist, we see hundreds of Stargates… that will never be used.
  • Pathogen – Communications Stones:Universe will return shortly after this message
  • Cloverdale – Well that only took 6 episodes to use. Ladies and gentlemen this ship still has a stargate
  • Trial And Error – The only trial here was the Stargate software they installed, sadly like my Microsoft Office License it expired.
  • The Greater Good – Not to be confused with the Greater Communications Stone
  • Malice – Redeemed that software license I see.
  • Visitation – We got a shuttle back, we saw what happened when we used the Stargate, the plot got advanced, and we just can’t have that kind of thing happening.
  • Resurgence – Negative GhostRider

So if you’re counting along that’s 17 episodes in which a Stargate is not used… at all. For a show with the word Stargate in the title, they are actually only using it 44% the time. That would be a kin to doing 56% of Dr. Who Episodes without the Dr or likewise Star Trek in a cave. When the entire premise of your show revolves around the stupid metal ring that spins I can’t help but think you might want to use it.

Now add to this insanity, that [and I’m gonna let the inner nerd rage surface here] we are also talking about a show with Dr. Daniel Jackson, Samantha Carter, Rodney McKay AND communications stones. I guess that’s what irritated me most is that Stargate good about at least upping the ante in terms of what could and could not be done. Atlantis, we have Dr. Carter and Jackson… but it’s the most advanced piece of ancient technology yet, ante up. Dr. McKay we know you’ve been working on the Ancient’s home base for a while now, but lets see if you can tackle things they couldn’t solve. Universe: Rush we don’t know who in the world you are, but here’s an Ancient Starship that should have documentation on it pretty much everywhere in the Database if you looked, is less sophisticated than the Ancient Technology we’ve been dealing with… and you can barely even get past the door lock. Now obviously there is something to be said about ruining the drama if they had just brought the dream team over for 3 days to completely beat the stupid out of the ship, but it may have actually forced them to come up with a plot.

Been here done that

Perhaps the shows greatest weakness comes from what they were trying to accomplish. The most people it just comes off as the Stargate Version of Voyager or Battle Star Galactica, and as much as it makes me vomit in my mouth to say this… Voyager dealt with it with a bit more polish [excuse me I have to apologize to the Science Fiction Gods].

SGU just handled an idea that’s been done a few times, tried to add twist that just did not work, and ended up stumbling over itself.

Blow Me SyFy

Alright, that aside I would still watch the show, so let’s get on to mess ups that you can’t attribute to the show. SyFy, which recently discovered that the rednecks who watch people beat each over the heads with chairs still have TV’s and watch them. As such they abandoned their previous model of quality programming and went with the idea that it was time to satisfy the bottom line. They began to work their network around “Reality TV Ghost Bullshit and Wrestling” because they pull in high ratings with the couch vegetables that have Nielsen boxes.

In addition to this, SyFy, a cable network, tried to take on the big boys like ABC, NBC, and FOX in their various lineups. This plan worked about as well as anyone with half a brain might expect and failed miserably. Instead of doing the whole Summer / Winter thing where most networks have shut the hell up and gone back to swimming in their cash lakes, SyFy though that it’s measly budget was any kind of match for the likes of Dancing with the Stars and put poor SGU as the child to try to take that show down. In a surprise to no one but the meth addicted Sci Fi executives the show failed miserably.

Lets add to this that There is a 4 month break in the middle of a season with a show that isn’t episodic. Dr. Who can get away with this, Star Trek can get away with this, but Lost can’t. Guess which show SGU follows after more? That’s right, SGU takes massive breaks right in the middle of their season because I guess they just don’t like having viewers. Hell, the gap between the seasons is shorter [only 3 months].

NOW compound all of this with the fact that Television is being thrown off the proverbial Lion King Cliff by the Uncle Scar that is the internet and what you have is the perfect storm for the cancellation that was a mediocre branch of the Stargate Franchise.

No Plot, No Protagonist, No Enemy, Bad Network, Bad Median, Huge Breaks, these are the things that canceled shows are made of. I apologize to the color blind for the way I separated the Non Stargate Usage from the Stargate Usage networks, if you’re sad it’s because I hate you and It was festive [sadly for me that’s not how color blindness works, and red and green don’t suddenly become white]. This was not an attempt at a subjective rant, so don’t you even get started about how I am pro or anti Stargate Universe, if you can’t figure that out then boy do I have the network for you.


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9 Responses to Why did Stargate Universe Fail?

  1. Annelise says:

    I was 50/50 with Stargate Universe.
    The Captain wasn’t very competent, Rush and Camile were always in a power struggle with the military crew members.
    And then Eli, Chole, and Scott were the most annyoying characters on board, yet it seemed the whole show centered around them.

    It’s too bad the writers didn’t have a better outline of how the show should take off.

  2. Shaun says:

    I 100% agree with what you said…… I am a fan of SG-SG1 well Untill the last few seasons, and SG Atlantis was just ok for me. But universe was soooooo bad I could not bear to watch it. To be honest I I didn’t know anything about it until I read this……lol…… They should had stoped while they were ahead with SG1……… As far a I am conserned star trek was the best space,Alien, exploring, science fiction show ever made, or will ever be made…….

  3. Gina says:

    I loved Stargate Universe and was very very upset when they took it off another tv show that was taken off and I loved was the Gates.

  4. Ron says:

    One thing that really turned me and every Sci-Fy person I know off was using the show to push the gay agenda. It was really not cool to throw it in our faces like that. As soon as they moved off the plot and spent what was obviously too much time on the lesbian relationship it turned the show into an agenda piece and I stopped watching. I was there to see sci-fy not gay drama and undless character development. Sure we want to have characters we like but they have to be doing sometihng and something cool especially with sci-fy.

  5. Eli says:

    The ‘gay agenda’ was really one of several small cuts because it was really no accountablity of the show creators to anyone. Using the legacy of the two previous shows they were given carte blannnncheee. The guding light of presenting the military favorably instead of as squabbling, pill popping, women getting pregnant out of wedlock, Col. Young cheating, flagrant insubordination not for the good, etc. are all examples.

    No longer was their ‘the good’ guys. Yeah there are gray areas but like this post said, NO Protagonist. Plus for a sci fi nerd show how the hell are you making nerds feel good when handsome and ‘cheating’ Scott’ snatches up all the hot chicks and Chloe choose him NOT ELI who is basically their route home. Sweet, so the rumor of Lifetime having some rights to SyFfy seem true in that this is a woman’s FANTASY DRAMA show with the LESBIANISM, wife getting hot colonel, medic getting the high ranking col., Female SPECIAL FORCES chick that kicks ass, and Chloe getting the hot Lt. Scott but Eli has to masturabate to Kino footage of butch Spec ops chick….Yeah I REALLY WANT TO SEE THIS AFTER MALE TESTOSTERON WRESTLING FRIDAYS (which is probably why it was not scheduled after it.)

    Hey I love women, homosexuality is whatever, but come on, I want to watch a show I can watch WITH FAMILY and FRIENDS without felling….universally weird.

  6. Mazda101 says:

    SGU was quality tv. i give to you that the first season was quite slow and didnt have much of a plot going on but it in season 2 it was great. SGU had an interseting plot line drama action great actors and most of all, it was the closeset to life in scifi you can get.

  7. What puzzled me, and I could not get past was not just how boring the characters where, or that plots sucked to high heaven, nor was it even that drama that was clearly just a distraction to hide the fact the series had a low budget so new amazing technology was not going to be uncovered, or any special effects where going to wow the mind…. no it was the fact that discovered a 9th chevron leads to this ship…

    First, as already mentioned, that screws up the previous laws put in place by the other 2 shows. Secondly, this ship has been traveling for millions of years, it’s destiny is to find out how big the universe is…. however, it’s been flying around for millions of years, and is yet somehow still in galaxies with Stargate systems? Someone tried to defend it by saying they explained that no one knows where it’s point of origin came from…. yeah, so? It has a stargate on board… it came from some system that has stargates…. now think of it again… it’s been traveling space for millions of years… obviously not a vessel that plants Stargates on planets or anything like that, and it’s still traveling through systems with Stargates on them? The ships computer also knows what planet it ahead of them sometimes, even marks it as a red X not to go there, knows if a stargate is active or not…. the only half logical explanation to this would be the ship reached it’s destination and has turned back…. but why? Did it reach the end of universe? I don’t think so, so it’s a dumb idea that makes no sense. Someone else said maybe the ship turned around when they came on board to take them home…. nope, I find no logic in that it just happened to travel where it was currently millions of years away and is suddenly back in a gate occupied solar system.

    What’s the other excuse? Whomever launched the ship was a billion years behind the ones who put stargates all over the galaxy? I’m just not buying it, it makes no sense that you can travel space for a million years, but still be in the vicinity of a stargate system. But I guess they buggered that up on their own, as what would be the point of calling it Stargate if they couldn’t use one…. but the logic behind it makes no sense as to why there even is Stargates there.

  8. Michael says:

    I concur with the author. This series had several flaws and the first was there weren’t any real likable characters. There wasn’t a set mission or real commander/leader. Rush was a sociopath unlike Rodney he didn’t have any likable qualities. I was thrilled when he was thrown off the ship. Yeah add some lesbians that will boost ratings. NOT! I don’t have a problem with gay characters, actually being gay myself its refreshing if the story line supports it. However, in this instance it was done to boost ratings. Syfy. . . no comment but the network sucks.

  9. totalpeaks says:

    I’m impressed by your analysis, especially the breakdown of how little they used the actual gate in this series.

    The show doesn’t work primarily because the characters suck, and there are way too many of them. Not only are they “the wrong people for the mission,” they are also the wrong characters for the show itself. I don’t fault the actors, who are mostly very fine actors. I fault the writers.

    In SG-1 and Atlantis, the show was about well-trained space travel teams, the elite of the elite, capable of thinking and fighting their way out of the worst problems imaginable. But in Universe, despite having more Stargate personnel than before, from the very advanced ninth chevron project on Icarus Base, our central characters are a non-genius lead scientist, a genius college dropout, a clingy Senator’s daughter, a disappointing colonel, a so-so medical officer, a confused lieutenant, and a lame human resources manager. Etc. Lots of people, nothing really special. It’s as if the Stargate world of characters completely reset back to when they were all very ignorant and poorly trained. But even then they were the cream of the crop in their fields, and presented as such.

    The Universe characters came from the Icarus Base ninth chevron project. They should have been the best of the best. Solid stuff. Badass military officers. Badass scientists. Badass everything. And yet out of the dozens of people that evacuated to Destiny, not a single badass leader. Indeed they need to use the communication stones in order to acquire real badasses from Earth. But even these badasses don’t accomplish much, and most of the plot is driven by automated Destiny functions.

    Stargate is about the best and brightest exploring the galaxy. Universe, however, was about the not so bestest and not so brightest trying to survive on a ship. This radical switch in characterization and plot-theme killed the concept, and thus the show. And that’s truly a travesty, because it didn’t die because people grew tired of watching badasses have adventures. It died because the writers hijacked the franchise.

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