Stargate: Universe

Tagged: TV

Canadian-American tv series (2009-2011). Created by Robert C Cooper and Brad Wright. Producers include Cooper, Wright, Carl Binder, John G Lenic, Joseph Mallozzi, and Paul Mullie. Directors include Andy Mikita, William Waring, Peter DeLuise, and Cooper. Writers include Cooper, Wright, Mallozzi, Mullie, Binder, and Martin Gero. Starring Robert Carlyle as Dr Nicholas Rush, Luis Ferreira as Colonel Everett Young, Brian J Smith as Lt Matthew Scott, Alaina Huffman as Lt Tamara Johansen, Jamil Walker Smith as Master Sgt Ronald Greer, Elyse Levesque as Chloe Armstrong, David Blue as Eli Wallace, and Ming Na as Camille Wray. 40 60-minute episodes.

The third and probably last of the Stargate television series is an attempt by the franchise's producers to reinvent Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007) as something darker, grittier, and cooler. Clearly influenced by Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009), and to a lesser extent by Lost (2004-2010), Universe strands a group of soldiers, Scientists, and administrators on an Alien Spaceship millions of light years from Earth. The premise is similar to that of the previous spin-off, Stargate: Atlantis (2004-2009), but unlike that series's carefully planned expedition and carefully selected personnel, Universe's characters are unprepared and unsuited to their mission, and have no organizing structure to guide them. Tensions quickly erupt between civilian and military personnel, and, goaded by the chief scientist Rush (the series's best-written, best-acted character), boil over into occasionally violent leadership disputes.

Though there is much potential in Universe's premise, the show's handling of it suffers from the problems typical to the Stargate franchise. Episode plots are predictable and indifferently written, and the weighty themes of morality vs. expediency and civilian vs. military authority in times of crisis are handled with little depth or understanding. With the exception of Rush, the characters are under-developed. This is a particular problem with the female cast members – Wray, though ostensibly the leader of the civilian faction, is given hardly any screen time in the show's first season, and the younger women in the cast (Levesque, Huffman, and Julia Benson as recurring character Lt. James) are defined mainly by their romantic entanglements. Universe jettisons the humorous tone and easy camaraderie that characterized previous Stargate series, but doesn't replace them with the strong writing that its more weighty subject matter demands.

Even before the show aired, Stargate's producers alienated a sizable portion of their fan base. It was widely understood that Universe had been greenlit by Syfy only on condition of the cancellation of the previous spin-off, Stargate: Atlantis, and when producers Wright and Cooper justified this by pointing to the undesirability of Atlantis's fan base – too old, too female – they created a great deal of antagonism towards Universe, an antagonism they fuelled during the build-up to the show's premiere and its run by repeatedly denigrating SG-1 and Atlantis and praising Universe as a more worthwhile, more sophisticated work ("when my wife watches the show with me, she sees it as a drama show, not a science fiction show" producer Wright said in an interview). The Stargate fandom, one of the largest and more active in the field, particularly in its online incarnation, split irrevocably between Universe's adopters and its haters; but the anticipated fans of quality drama, who would replace the lost viewers who simply wanted more of the same, did not materialize. Despite a strong debut, Universe quickly haemorrhaged ratings, and by the middle of its second season was attracting even less viewers than the meditative sf soap Caprica. Its cancellation was announced in late 2010, and probably signals the end of the Stargate franchise. [AN]

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