STARGATE UNIVERSE is the third television series to spin off from the movie Stargate. It concerns a mismatched group of explorers, soldiers and civilians trapped aboard an Ancient vessel billions of light years away from Earth with no way of returning home. What sets this series apart is its darker tone, younger cast, and much more kinetic feel. The characters barely know each other let alone like each other, and spend a lot of time in the opening story hurling accusations and blame for their dire circumstances. The whole thing feels like a mash-up of STARGATE: ATLANTIS and LOST IN SPACE, with maybe a little STAR TREK: VOYAGER (but let’s hope not much).
Kicking off a new series with edgy characters who bicker endlessly is a risky gambit to attract viewers, but my hat is off to the-powers-that-be for not serving up a simple retread. Diehard STARGATE fans will need to get used to this status quo, but there’s a chance that newcomers to the franchise will be intrigued. The gloomy lighting and quick-cut editing make the series feel more action-packed than it actually is. The premiere opened with a mad scramble through a stargate as the characters fled an alien assault with no idea where they were landing. The group was not designated to venture off-world, and thus are ill-suited to be stranded aboard an alien starship. For instance, there is no doctor, only a flustered medic (Alaina Huffman, who played Black Canary on SMALLVILLE). The expedition’s top scientist and self-proclaimed leader, Dr. Nicholas Rush (Robert Carlyle), has absolutely no people skills whatsoever. (Picture Dr. McKay without the personal magnetism.) Despite his discomfort with others, Rush repeatedly stresses the need for him to be the leader, while seeming dumbfounded as to why his tremendous intellect has not cowed the Ancient starship into returning them home. The frosty Rush is counterbalanced by the appealing civilian consultant Eli Wallace. Normally, I despise the “boy genius” archetype, but David Blue works overtime to make sure his character doesn’t come across as an insufferable Wesley Crusher-type. The mostly-youthful cast feels like a transparent attempt to appeal to a younger demographic, but SG-1’s Richard Dean Anderson, Amanda Tapping and Michael Shanks hitch a ride to ease the transition for veteran viewers. Lieutenant Scott (Brian J. Smith) seems too baby-faced to lead the military contingent, so it’s a good thing that Colonel Young (Louis Ferreira) survived to take over as the no-nonsense father figure. It remains to be seen who will fill the matriarch role, although my money is on Ming Na‘s IOA rep, Camille Wray. Poor Ming had no real role in the premiere, but I’m sure this will be remedied when it makes more sense for her character to step forward. (BTW, want proof SGU is still courting its core audience of SF geeks? Here it is: Chloe (Elyse Levesque), the politician’s hot daughter, actually talks to husky “math boy” Eli!)
Despite being a roomy two hours long, the premiere suffered from the usual pilot-itis: It sketched in a multitude of characters but spent more time establishing their situation and piling up problems. The most immediate of those problems was finding enough breathable air to avoid dying before they can strangle each other. Do audiences want to watch 20 episodes of a bunch of strangers arguing with each other? Realistically, no, so I’m sure the survivors will jell eventually – and the huge crowd of people aboard promise lots of red shirts to make the stakes seem high each week. The Ancients’ ship is called Destiny; let’s hope SGU doesn’t sink under the burden of its own density.