Why Stargate Universe was under-rated

Air (Stargate Universe)
Air (Stargate Universe) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the years, I’ve grown all-too-used to my various Freeview boxes and PVRs choosing to fuck up scheduled recordings while I’m away in France, so I wasn’t surprised to discover on my return this time that a forced retune had buggered all my stuff from about Wednesday onwards, meaning that I missed the last few episodes of season 2 of Stargate Universe (SGU).

I also lost a Nashville and a Good Wife, but those are available online via catchup. I was gutted about SGU, because I’ve been gorging on it for several weeks as it enjoyed a re-run on Sky’s PickTV.

So I hadn’t seen it before. The original Stargate was all right, I suppose, but it suffered from the usual TV Sci Fi silliness, threats to earth and so on. It was occasionally watchable, but I wouldn’t have sought it out, and it and its spinoff shows were never really on my radar.

But I was intrigued enough to learn (via his promotion of Redshirts) that John Scalzi was a creative consultant on SGU to give it a go when I saw it appear on the free-to-air PickTV. If you like proper science fiction, you should watch out for another run of it (they just started showing Enterprise again, so it might well appear).

Like the superb Battlestar Galactica  of days gone by, SGU used edgy camera work, anti-hero character conflicts, and gigantic plot twists. There were also some very bold movies, doing things that the likes of Star Trek would never dare, like stranding main characters on planets, having everybody apparently die, and refusing to offer neat explanations.

We’re used to seeing excellent shows cancelled, and there’s no point dwelling too much on it, getting up a petition or blaming the suits. Often the fans of these shows are also their worst enemies, choosing to download instead of watching broadcasts, and then wondering why the network decides to cancel something that doesn’t have an audience and doesn’t attract advertising. If you love a show, then you need to see the big, commercial picture and understand that if you don’t pay for it by watching official broadcasts or paying for a download or boxed set, it’s going to die.

What I loved about SGU was its use of proper science fiction ideas and its setting in a universe with rules. So faster-than-light travel is possible, but the ship needs power, and chemicals for scrubbing carbon dioxide out of the air, and the people need to be fed, supplies need to be replenished. All of these ideas conveniently skated over in a show like Star Trek. Planets can be hostile environments, and remnants of long-ago civilisations refuse to give up their secrets easily, or offer “human” explanations for their motives.

The crew get to the ship entirely accidentally (they’re the “wrong crew” at the “wrong time”) and the show never loses sight of that, never forgets that these are people struggling and improvising a long way beyond their level of competency. Nobody trusts Rush (played by Robert Carlisle) and the ship’s commander-by-default is always fallible. And I don’t know who was really responsible for the storylines and scripts (or how much influence a creative consultant like Scalzi might have), but it was fairly obvious that the show was being run by people who knew science fiction and knew what was wrong with all the other Sci Fi shows.

It was cut short after just two seasons and didn’t have a proper ending, but maybe that’s better than going on for too long. Battlestar lasted a season too long, as did Lost, and having 40 episodes is better than the 13 or so that Firefly gave us. Give or take Battlestar or the early X Files, SGU may have been the best SF show that television has ever seen.

Blockade (Stargate Universe)
Blockade (Stargate Universe) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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