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.