October 2005

SciFi Friday Summer Season Review:

      Stargate SG-1
      Stargate Atlantis
      Battlestar Galactica

Last year, the end of summer meant the end of good science fiction on television (Lost is fantasy, so I’m not including that . . . well, so far it has been fantasy, but you never know with that show). With every major network trying to capitalize on Lost’s success, it remains to be seen whether this year will be different from last. The series discussed in this article split their seasons in half so they air new episodes in the summer and winter when major networks are airing reruns. This bit of marketing genius has allowed the SciFi Channel to garner ratings higher than some may expect, and SciFi Fridays, based on my research, usually lands the network in the top ten of all cable networks for the demographics it seeks. So, let’s look back at the thirty hours of television that comprise the summer season of SciFi Channel’s SciFi Friday.


Stargate SG-1   TOP

Cast:
Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell . . . BEN BOWDER
Dr. Daniel Jackson . . . MICHAEL SHANKS
Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter . . . AMANDA TAPPING
Teal’c . . . CHRISTOPHER JUDGE
General Hank Landry . . . BEAU BRIDGES
Gerak . . . LOUIS GOSSETT, JR.

What happened before:

Stargate: The Illustrated Companion, Seasons 7-8. Click through here to visit Amazon and look up many other Stargate related books, DVDs, and more.For eight seasons, Stargate Command’s primary unit, SG-1, fought the Goa’uld and the Replicators (among other bad guys), unraveled the mysteries of the Ancients, explored the universe, and saved the planet many times over, all while giving us plenty of laughs. But with the Goa’uld and Replicators seemingly defeated, what is left for our team of heroes?

If you are reading this and you have never heard of Stargate SG-1, than it’s time to question how much of a SF fan you really are! Stargate SG-1 entered television’s pantheon of greatness this season by tying the X-Files for longest running SF series (nine seasons now). Given the fact that producers are planning a cliff hanger for their winter season finale, which caps off the complete season run, the people behind the show clearly expect to be renewed for season ten. If true, Stargate SG-1 would set a new standard of quality and longevity.

Despite the show’s long run, Season Nine is actually a wonderful place for newcomers to come aboard. Writers and producers, under the leadership of Robert C. Cooper, spent much of Seasons Seven and Eight concluding the show’s various plot lines. When they were somewhat unexpectedly renewed for a ninth season, Cooper and team found themselves in a unique position: they could recreate their show! Richard Dean Anderson departed, and several new actors joined the cast, including Ben Bowder of Farscape fame, Beau Bridges, and Louis Gossett Jr. A new villain entered our galaxy, the powerful Ori, and Season Nine started without missing a beat.

Well, there were a couple of stumbles in the first few episodes as the new actors explored their characters and felt their way into the show’s massive mythology, but I was quite impressed with the quality SG-1 maintained. This influx of new characters and new stories has rejuvenated a Stargate universe that was starting to feel a little worn down. Bowder is creating a strong, sassy, and very likeable leader in Lt. Colonel Mitchell, and Beau Bridges wisely makes his General Landry a tough-nosed, in-your-face figure to offset the sensitivity we came to appreciate from his predecessor, General Hammond (played by Don Davis).

In addition to these changes, the show seems to look different. The corridors in the Stargate facility are brighter and the characters look vibrant and youthful. I think they’ve employed a new lighting scheme, and the picture seems softer than past seasons. It’s as if the producers are visually showing Stargate’s rebirth. Then again, maybe I’m delusional.

The Ori are a pleasant upgrade in the villain department as the Goa’uld were becoming so cliché and predictable that they lost their menacing quality. The Ori are mysterious and powerful, deadly and relentless. SG-1 finally has a foe that seems truly unbeatable, and, if the writers play the cards right, some serious drama will result.

All in all, I’m thrilled with the new season of Stargate SG-1. I’m a huge Richard Dean Anderson fan, and his wit and style will be sorely missed no matter how he is replaced. Luckily, the producers don’t try to replace him. Bowder’s character of Colonel Mitchell, while being witty and irreverent, is nothing like Anderson’s O’Neill. Michael Shanks is stretching Daniel, showing that the character has learned some tough lessons and is willing to cross lines previously unimaginable. After an initial hiatus for childbearing, Amanda Tapping is back, but I am disappointed with how little she’s been used. She mostly exists in the background as if working her way into the new dynamic, and that’s probably true. Christopher Judge continues to make Teal’c one of the most likeable, and intimidating, characters on television. Season nine promises intense changes for Teal’c as he struggles to lead the free Jaffa (former warriors of the Goa’uld).

Instead of reinventing the wheel, SG-1 is heading into new territory.

One final note: the season starts with a five episode arc featuring Claudia Black. Not only is she a feast for the eyes, but she is hysterical, and her chemistry with series star Michael Shanks is priceless. These episodes should rerun on SciFi throughout the fall, so if you missed them before, now is the time to tune in and get ready for the winter’s season premiere. Oh, yeah, when the summer season came to an end, Earth was in peril. Maybe some things on Stargate never do change.   TOP


Stargate Atlantis   TOP

Cast:
Dr. Elizabeth Weir . . . TORRI HIGGINSON
Lt. Col. John Sheppard . . . JOE FLANIGAN
Dr. Rodney McKay . . . DAVID HEWLETT
Teyla Emmegan . . . RACHEL LUTTRELL
Ronon Dex . . . JASON MOMOA
Dr. Carson Beckett . . . PAUL McGILLION
Lt. Aiden Ford . . . RAINBOW SUN FRANCKS
Col. Steven Caldwell . . . MITCH PILEGGI

What happened before:

Stargate Atlantis: The Official Companion, Season 2. Click through here to visit Amazon and look up many other Stargate related books, DVDs, and more. Using the Zero Point Module found on the Ancients’ outpost in Antarctica to power the Stargate, Gen. Jack O’Neill approves a one-way mission to a distant galaxy with the hopes of finding the lost city of the Ancients. The expedition, led by Dr. Elizabeth Weir, arrives safely but must endure constant peril, including a war with a vicious enemy known as the Wraith, a species who actually defeated the Ancients 10,000 years prior! As Season One ends, Atlantis is under siege and John Sheppard prepares for a suicide mission.

The spin-off series to SG-1, Stargate Atlantis made some major changes of its own this season. They ended the first season with the promise of imminent destruction at the hands of the Wraith, a really nasty enemy that consumes humans by sucking the life force from them. Of course, help arrives in the form of an Earth spaceship, led by newcomer Mitch Pileggi, and the Atlantis team is finally able to defeat the Wraith . . . for now. But the victory comes at a great cost. In addition to casualties and damages, Aiden Ford, one of Atlantis’ lead team members, has a large dosage of Wraith enzyme injected into his body. He begins to mutate with Wraith characteristics and eventually flees the base.

Ford’s transformation adds an exciting element to Atlantis. I always felt that Ford was an unused character last season. He didn’t seem to fit in with the team. It was not the fault of actor Rainbow Sun Francks, who portrays Ford, as he’s shown competent acting chops this season. The character either needed a change, or he needed to be killed off. The writers wisely chose the former, and they turned Ford into a compelling person. The team encounters Ford several times throughout the first ten episodes of Atlantis, and the cliffhanger finale showcases Ford and his quest to destroy the Wraith his own way.

Actor Jason Momoa is introduced to play Ronon Dex, a man who has been on the run from the Wraith for years. Ronon is big, fearless, and a force unto himself. Sheppard eventually convinces Ronon to join the Atlantis team. Ronon isn’t the type who likes to take orders, and we have yet to see much of a soft side. But the man has been hunted by the Wraith, and this after seeing his people wiped out. The character certainly offers more dramatic potential than Ford did in Season One, but I’m still undecided as to whether or not I like Ronon. And it is hard to cheer for someone if you don’t like him.

Mitch Pileggi infuses conflict and tension into the show. You might think that reinforcements from Earth would be good, but it also brings with it Caldwell’s quest for power. He is constantly at odds with both Sheppard and Dr. Weir. While he has yet to do anything that directly endangers the team, it will be interesting to see how far he will go to obtain the power he feels he deserves.

The writers have expertly expanded the mythology of the Atlantis universe. The Wraith continue to develop beyond the stereotype life-suckers we saw in season one. They have more intelligence and more developed social structures than we imagined. We also learn more concerning the fate of the Ancients and their discovery of a Wraith weakness. They were unable to use the information, however, to save themselves. Now it falls on the Atlantis team to re-discover that weakness, and I’m sure much of the winter season will involve that quest.

Stargate Atlantis started with the benefit of a large mythology thanks to Stargate SG-1, but the writers and producers wisely set the two shows in different universes. Atlantis is distinguishing itself and its own sensibility. There are only the occasional crossovers to remind us that, yes; all these characters live in the same universe. But Atlantis has proven that it will take risks and is not afraid of change, which gives the winter season great promise.   TOP


Battlestar Galactica   TOP

Cast:

Commander William Adama . . . EDWARD JAMES OLMOS
President Laura Roslin . . . MARY McDONNELL
Lee “Apollo” Adama . . . JAMIE BAMBER
Kara “Starbuck” Thrace . . . KATEE SACKHOFF
Sharon “Boomer” Valerii . . . GRACE PARK
Gaius Baltar . . . JAMES CALLIS
Number Six . . . TRICIA HELFER
Saul Tigh . . . MICHAEL HOGAN

What happened before:

Battlestar Galactica: The Official Companion. Click through here to visit Amazon and look up many other Stargate/Battlestar Galactica related books, DVDs, and more. When the Cylons, a machine race created by man, destroyed the Twelve Colonies, only a handful of ships escaped. Under the leadership of Commander Adama and the Battlestar Galactica, the fleet struggled to evade the Cylons, to find the lost world of Earth, and to overcome their conflicts with each other. As Season One ended, Adama was bleeding to death from bullet wounds, the government was in shambles, and all hope was seemingly lost.

Battlestar Galactica garnered critical acclaim last year with its abbreviated twelve episode opening season. It returned in June with a full season of episodes in the works and high expectations. BG didn’t let us down!

If you haven’t watched BG, there is something you need to know before I continue. There is a line that most SF television won’t cross. You know something bad is about to happen, but then the words “to be continued” flash across the screen and three months later you watch the conclusion and the supposed horror that was about to occur is averted while maintaining the moral fabric of the heroes. Not with BG. This show has made its mark by crossing the line on a continuous basis, making it one of the gutsiest space operas ever made. Season One’s finale illustrates my point. Commander Adama was shot point blank in the chest with two rounds by a Cylon hidden within the ship’s ranks. But this only happens after the President is thrown in a jail cell by Adama and Starbuck flees on a hidden agenda against Adama’s direct orders. If you wanted to see a show with flawed heroes, this is it.

Season Two opens with a stretch of episodes in which Adama lies in a coma. President Roslin struggles against hallucinations caused by a powerful drug used to hide her cancer symptoms, and Starbuck struggles to survive on a Cylon controlled planet. Without Adama’s leadership, the government dissolves, chaos spreads, the crew begins to crumble, and, oh yeah, they are still fighting the Cylons!

Adama finally pulls through, and his experience gives him the wisdom needed to reconcile the differences among the crew, as well as between himself and the President. He finally joins Roslin’s religious quest to find the Tomb of Athena, which will supposedly lead them to the hidden planet of Earth, the home of their ancestors. But their victories may lead to nothing as civil war with another Battlestar threatens their tender civilization.

The summer season of BG was full of mythology and drama. The show avoided the “battle of the week” syndrome and focused on the characters and their world. Far too much occurred to detail in an article such as this, and the pleasure of watching BG is seeing the dynamics unfold in unexpected ways. The acting is absolutely first rate, the writing is tight and flowing with nuance, and the directing makes the audience feel drawn into this dark galaxy.

Season Two also brings some needed reconciliation. I was beginning to think that most of the people on Galactica weren’t worth cheering for considering they were always at each other’s throat. But the characters are really beginning to reveal their inner workings as the shock and pain of the Colonies’ massacre becomes more manageable. Battlestar Galactica is ushering a new array of possibilities for SF television. It should be noted that BG features content not appropriate for all ages, but the BG story could not be told if it was pulling punches.

This show is going twelve rounds, so jump aboard now and be prepared, as a viper pilot would say, for one fracking ride.   TOP