Stargate Universe: What Worked, What Didn't

This weekend SGU had its dark, bleak, awesomely star-studded premiere. You sounded off your opinions about the brand new series — now hear ours.

From the start, this was a pretty compelling new series. Right away the SGU introduction music got me all worked up and excited. And no, I'm not going to point out the obvious sounding flute-esque choral mixed with low sitar Star Trek/BSG correlations because I am one of those people that likes this type of vast, awe-invoking space music. And frankly that's what space music should sound like, according to television. So I'm completely happy and content with SGU's space jams.

The series wastes no time, throwing us all into the action. Dusty coughing passengers are flung willy nilly through an open Stargate, looking bloody and scared. Ming-Na stands wide eyed, and the camera shakily moves about, trying to locate the mangled members of the crew. Meanwhile an ominous Robert Carlyle stands above the frightened crowd surveying, ominously.

Stargate Universe: What Worked, What Didn't

And right there, that first moment beautifully demonstrates my biggest problem with the series. SGU both succeeds and fails at trying to gritty up Stargate. Its team of producers, crew and writers are the best of the best today, when it comes to creating a light-hearted series that embraces the fun of space travel. Stargate shied away from the ugly and real, such as permanent death and complicated characters. Heck, these creators even excelled at making a Stargate CSI episode, one of my personal favs. But even though the people who make the Gate are exceedingly clever, taking on darkness seemed to fall a bit out of their reach from time to time with this new series. And since it's such a dirty new pill we have to swallow, the flaws stick out. Especially on the heels of one of the more successful dark space operas, BSG. There were a few "just doesn't fit right" moments, like that ominous Carlyle moment. And while they didn't make me dislike the series, his general crazy then quiet, crazy then crazier demeanor through out rubbed me the wrong way as a viewer.

Case in point: Robert Carlyle's "here's my misunderstood thinking face," throws off the calamity that is happening below. People just died on the other side of that Stargate, the crew almost died. I know that Carlyle's character, Dr. Nicholas Rush, might be some sort of science ninja, but putting him on top of the crowd by the light of the gate is too over-the-top and obvious. I don't need the zoomy Simba at the top of the mountain shot to know that this guy might be up to no good. Give me the benefit of the doubt, I'll figure it out. Then the crazy came and went with him and I never really got on board with his character and his obvious "I'm crazy but good, but wait bad" intentions.

But these moments are thankfully few and far between. The chaos, the camera work even the sound effects are all better. When the group first flops down on the ancient ship Destiny, take a good listen. You'll hear people moaning and crying in the background, scared of the unknown darkness. This is not something we're used to hearing on the Stargate set, and it's every bit as spooky as intended.

So even though there are a few out of kilter moments, like the strange almost "so obviously BSG it could have been a nod" storage-room sex scene, the majority of the darkness worked. I just hope they can smooth out the more obvious "doesn't work" moments.

Stargate Universe: What Worked, What Didn't

Each character still has a lot of work to do to win over the crowd, but it's a pilot, I'm patient. And from what I've seen, I've liked the exceedingly diverse array of soon to be Destiny crew members. What SGU is dealing with is a group of people who are all ill equipped to handle the tasks in front of them, professionally and mentally. Chloe, the young "looker" of the outfit is played by Elyse Levesque, is reliant on her father, spending her life at his side as his aid. Sadly Poppa, Christopher McDonald, is not long for this series and sacrifices his life to save the crew in a pretty emotionally stirring moment. Even I got a little choked up even though you knew Shooter was not long for this new ship the second he stepped into the frame. Now he leaves his daughter alone in pieces on a broken-down ship.

Stargate Universe: What Worked, What Didn't

Justin Louis' Colonel Everett Young is the quiet character I've long waited for on a Stargate series: someone who is strong and a bit reserved, but isn't a warrior with a violent streak. Don't worry Gaters, there's still one of those characters too, but I really want to see more from Young. He's got a lot going on and even his tiny flashback perked my interest. Eli, played by David Blue is slowly getting over his cowardice and stepping up as the comedic science guy. Some of his jokes are hits, others are misses — but the delivery is from the heart, and genuine which is an oh so important part of the Gate comedy franchise, RDA and McKay taught us that. I can't wait to watch the character shed his fear and fully embrace his role as the "voice of the audience," a part that Blue fits into perfectly.

The character's that will need more development include the medic Alaina Huffman, the all-but-silent lesbian bureaucrat Ming-Na, and Jamil Walker Smith who takes his place as the handsome young rogue amidst the crew of faceless boys in military uniforms. Dr. Rush is going to need a flashback episode very soon, or his over-the-top dramatics may continue to get in the way. But it's still Robert Carlyle delivering each insane eyebrow curl, so at least it's being executed beautifully.

As for fans, all the old Gate tech is still up and running. And they catch the new crew up with an especially hilarious "welcome to the Stargate" Daniel Jackson video. Some of the technology gets a bit in the way. Like the ancient communication stones that allow characters to swap bodies with folks back on Earth. It's a little too confusing for even the casual Stargate fan and really stretching the ability to take a bit of scifi tech with a smiley for newcomers — at the same time, I see how they can open the door to interesting future episodes, but right now they just seemed like a cheap ploy to get Lou Diamond Phillips more screen time. But we'll see what the stones may bring.

Stargate Universe: What Worked, What Didn't

The shaky cam did exactly what it was meant to do, bring a bit of reality to the series. Plus it was never too shaky that the viewer got lost in the twists and turns. You could see the crazy attention to detail was paid with each jerk and close up. It made you feel like you were truly in each character's business whether they wanted you there or not. Just not in that opening "Rush is bananas" moment. We'll have to wait and see if these newly introduced floating alien cameras, the Kinos, can do the same.

And before I forget, the outside of the Desitny cut away scenes are lovely, thank you for that.

All in all, it's a great step forward for Gaters everywhere. It was mostly captivating, interesting and well done. There are a few annoying wrinkles but what pilot doesn't have those? This was an important step that the Stargate franchise needed to take, and it seems like they are handling it with care without losing the clever parts from the original that we loved. Stargate always asked for a lot of give with the audience, by saying things like, "Hey it's a magical cave alright?" so things like the magic stones and the forcefields that leak in some areas but not others, come with the territory. We're ready for the darker SGU, and I'm more than happy to let this team guide us through it. Especially since they seem to be as much in the dark as we are. We'll get through it together.