Stargate Universe Rates Pretty High, Actually

Enjoyed Friday’s episode of #SGU, not just because I’m a fangirl. Plenty of nuance, a lot of trudging across White Sands, but they’re in survival mode, people! And what about that shuttle?

Syfy continues ratings roll: Stargate Universe averages 2.35 million in premiere – TV Ratings, Nielsen Ratings, Television Show Ratings |

Edgier and younger in tone, SGU takes the franchise in a dynamic new direction, appealing to longtime Stargate fans and first-time viewers alike. The two-part premiere of Universe was directed by Andy Mikita (Stargate Atlantis, Stargate SG-1) and lensed by Rohn Schmidt (The Shield, The Mist). The series also stars Alaina Huffman, Louis Ferreira, Elyse Levesque, David Blue, Jamil Walker Smith and Brian J. Smith.

SGU follows a band of soldiers, scientists and civilians, who must fend for themselves as they are forced through a Stargate when their hidden base comes under attack. The desperate survivors emerge aboard an ancient ship, which is locked on an unknown course and unable to return to Earth. Faced with meeting the most basic needs of food, water and air, the group must unlock the secrets of the ship’s Stargate to survive. The danger, adventure and hope they find on board the Destiny will reveal the heroes and villains among them.

My husband David and I were, like a lot of Stargate: SG1 fans, kind of late to the party. The original TV series, itself a spinoff from a movie staring Kurt Russell, started out life on Showtime but we were not subscribers to that cable service. Fortunately, it started showing reruns after about the first season or two on the SciFi network, and then they started running several episodes at a time on “Stargate Mondays.” Eventually, the show moved to SciFi itself, and we were soon caught up on all the old seasons and waiting impatiently for new episodes to air.

When Stargate: Atlantis premiered, we liked it a lot, and thus when first SG1 and then Atlantis were eventually canceled, we were saddened and perplexed. Sure, we could see why after a lengthy and very successful run, it was time to wrap up SG1 so that the cast could move on to new projects. But we couldn’t see why Atlantis was being cancelled when it was only a few seasons into what could have been just as long a run, and felt kind of resentful that a whole new series, Stargate: Universe, was immediately announced. What? No more Dr. McCrankypants and his amusing fear of citrus products?

However, in spite of our reluctance to get sucked in to yet another SciFi/SyFy show that inevitably gets canceled by beancounters, we watched last week’s premiere of “Universe.” I’m glad to see that the ratings were good, because I think it has a lot of potential  – not just as “a sci-fi show” but as “a drama set in space with character-driven plots and lots of potential conflict/problem resolution stories.”

It was quite interesting to me to see how in the 3rd part of “Air,” (the first two parts were the 2-hour premiere last week) there was a lot of fragmentation, lack of group cohesion, and out-and-out dislike between characters. Not only that, but there’s likely to be a lot more shades of grey as far as individual versions of the truth and the current situation is at any one moment. As in, Rush orders Sgt. Greer to do something drastic, and immediately afterward, declares that Greer did this horrible thing (before it was clear that Greer would actually be around to explain his actions). When Greer showed up, that sets up a bit of an awkward moment later for Dr. Rush if questions are asked. It’ll be interesting to see if that bit of business shows up later as an example of the untrustworthiness of Dr. Rush, who continues to present an almost mystical, supremely confident public face, with a side of “how dare you!” when challenged. Yet when he’s alone, that’s when his defenses are down… and you wonder if he’s really a megalo-maniac, or just a garden-variety suicidal maniac.

It’s hard to write ambiguity, and shifting loyalties, and group dynamics that lack clear focus or strong leadership. That’s why it will be interesting to see how things develop in the weeks to come. Clearly, their first priority for survival was Air; next week seems to be about power reserves, light, and the lack of it.

Also, there is that matter of the shuttle that took off shortly after the ship went back into FTL (faster than light) drive; there were 2 people that went through the desert planet’s gate to some other planet that they thought offered a better chance of survival. Are they lost forever? Did someone (most likely Eli, who tried desperately to herd cats on the planet) go back to try to find the others?

Yes, it looks and feels a little like Battlestar Galactica (a show I never watched, although David hung in there with it). It doesn’t SOUND like BSG though, thank God; I couldn’t get past the whammity-bammity wardrumming on Galactica and the soundtrack for SGU sounds much more orchestral, yet without the synthesizers favored in the previous shows. To my ear, the music is more sonorous, melodic, and a little more melancholy than either Stargate series ever was, and the cinematography up to now has been either claustrophobia-inducing, or opened wide up, emphasising the hugeness of, yes, the universe compared to the puny humans now marooned on a derelict ship.  As in – the opening shot shows empty space, and the ship materializes (slows from faster-than-light speed) far, far away from the camera’s point of view. How lonely, and how beautiful, and how mysterious. We remarked at the time that we thought the ship was coming alive, attempting to prepare for its long-awaited guests, as the interior lights were coming on as the Icarus ring was connecting. Also, it was a little like “light the lights, show’s about to begin.”

It doesn’t look or feel like either of the previous Stargate series, which isn’t necessarily bad or wrong; just different. Maybe I should make a quick list of attributes for each series as I currently see them, to illustrate the differences…


Stargate: SG1

  • Utilitarian, military-industrial look, with cinematography to match
  • Military bases have lots of concrete and battleship grey paint/colored graphics
  • Alien planets have “trees, lots of trees” and otherwise look like Vancouver’s Sydney Park
  • Aliens are little nekkid grey men, or humanoid with glowing eyes and weird voices.
  • Stargates look “ancient” and have moving parts and a revolving inner ring to dial
  • Everything looks well-used, but is clean and in good repair
  • Blue and white accent lights generally, with lots of gold and flaming braziers on Goa’uld ships
  • Music by Joel Goldsmith was symphonic, synthesized, and capable of many moods
  • Personality of the show is more masculine than feminine (military, weapons, blowin’ stuff up)

Stargate: Atlantis

  • Graceful, curvilinear sets with Frank Lloyd Wright-like decor, brushed steel and teal blue
  • Military bases (on alien planets) more corroded, clearly damaged in incessant warfare
  • Alien planets still tend to be forested, but more remote in feel (farther from Vancouver?)
  • Aliens are either replicants, or badass insecto-humanoid Space Vampires! With weird voices! Flee!
  • Stargates don’t need no stinkin’ revolving inner wheel, just light up and go! Also: In space!
  • Everything looks brand new and works perfectly yet mysteriously
  • Lighting is bright and clean, again with lots of teal blue with neon-like accents
  • Music is similar to SG1’s but more delicate, ie., less heroic adventure and more lyrical aspiration
  • Personality of the show is more feminine than masculine (female leaders, design, Teyla’s pregnancy)

Stargate Universe

  • Darker, grungier, angular, with an early Art Deco look with a side of Steampunk (on the ship Destiny)
  • Military bases are either simpler (Icarus) or dark and cramped (Pentagon command center)
  • Alien planets? Thus far, stunning sand dunes location at White Sands, NM. Next week, trees?
  • Aliens: Unknown. Possible alien entity resembling a whirlwind on the gypsum planet.
  • Stargates we’ve seen either light up, or ring revolves on a base. Bonus: steaming exhaust vents!
  • Everything looks about to fall apart, is decayed, rusting, or barely working but capable of repair
  • Lighting: much darker, shaky handheld camera work, battery powered lights. Kino cams!
  • Music: Still Joel Goldsmith, sounds more like a chamber orchestra than synths, moody and dark.
  • Personality: Fragmented, chaotic, and fraught with interpersonal conflict and hidden agendas.
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3 thoughts on “Stargate Universe Rates Pretty High, Actually

  1. I stopped watching Universe half way through the beginning. Way to slow, dark, boring, nothing at all like SG1 or Atlantis. To much like BSG. I was so bored with it. Acting was not all the great either compared to SG1 and Atlantis.

  2. Universe is a sad disappointment. Ratings are only up because loyal fans from the past series are trying to like it. But they are slowly turning it off. It’s mid-season now. Most won’t go back, they’ve given it long enough!

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