24 October 2009
The producers and writers seemed to have everything going for them. SG-1 long ago surpassed Star Trek as the top science fiction show in the world. The original concept from the film was what in lesser hands could easily have become just another adventure series but instead gripped the viewer with imaginative stories of the underdogs (us) managing to defeat seemingly invincible and egregiously bad-assed villains. Writing, casting, pacing, production, FX – all were second to none. The actors made the stories seem real. Endings were always in doubt. The first spin-off, Stargate: Atlantis, was a faded copy of the original although it, too, had imaginative concepts and story lines. If the writing wasn’t quite as sharp, it was still tolerable.
Now, however, we have the third incarnation: Stargate: Universe. In this show a motley collection of whiners, bullies, losers, and other misfits are thrown together in a survival situation. Through an unplanned event, they find themselves aboard a decrepit spaceship "Destiny" so far from Earth that the distance is described as “the other side of the universe.” The story line involves trying to keep their creaky ship running long enough for them to get home. It seems sure that the creators of “Universe” thought back to the popular lifeboat genre, in which the survival of each person, as well as the entire crew, is always in doubt. The tension builds, or so the writer hopes. It doesn’t work on Universe. It, instead, reminds one of the worst high school reunion they ever attended.
Instead, we get to spend an hour each week with characters who are so poorly incarnated and so disagreeable that we wouldn’t save them from crossing the street in front of a bus. The ship presents us with about 100 losers. The inscrutable colonel. The insufferable academic genius, about whom you spend all your time wishing you could just reach through the screen and bitch-slap. The 23-year-old, unemployed and misunderstood blob who is so smart he lives in his mom’s basement where he spends all his time playing video games. The senator’s daughter whose job it is to whine and feel bad for herself. The soldier/airman/Marine (we’re never sure) who was released from the brig just in time to find himself aboard the ship and who is clearly dangerous, insubordinate, perhaps even psychotic. The chiseled Lieutenant Dudley Dooright. And so it goes. Where SG-1 had a small band of selfless, admirable people who won each skirmish through bravery, smarts, and teamwork, Universe is just the opposite.
Perhaps, in a temporal way, this makes sense. When the theatrical movie “Stargate” was released in 1994, audiences were looking for adventure in which traditional Americans overcome the odds and win against a bad guy. Fast forward to 2008, the year President Obama was elected. The public has changed. Now it’s the loser who is heralded and catered to because he's a "victim." The 23-year-old Moorlocks living in dark basements are just "misunderstood." The kinder, gentler, liberal military has arrived, in which insubordination and incompetence are not only no longer punished, but are celebrated as bringing a richer, more open, multiculturalism to the military. A place where self-important, snot-nosed academics now run the show through intimidation and temper tantrums. A place where any sense of team work has evaporated. I love science fiction. I am dismayed at what it has become. The recent movie “reboot” of Star Trek was perhaps the leading wave of this new entertainment philosophy. James Kirk is recreated as a boorish, fool-hardy narcissist who is given command of Enterprise as an academy cadet because he “looks cool” during a fight sequence, talks fast, and takes nifty chances. Please. The new Kirk is the daydream of every slacker and coward – reward without meeting job requirements, glory through chances taken on the backs of others, and a mirror in every room in which to admire one’s image. All the very antithesis of the 1990s Jack O’Neill and his team, or James Kirk and his. In these cases, the new science fiction may be true to its target audience but fails as either entertainment or literature. A double loss.
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