Syfy has the latest incarnation of the “Stargate” series, Stargate Universe. This incoherent casserole of a show has a spaceship that looks like an Art Nouveau lapel pin, magic rocks and an incomprehensible plot. They showed a marathon earlier this week, leading up to the first episode of Season Two. I watched a few eps. It didn’t help.
The Stargate Project found an old spaceship with the keys in it, and decided to take it out for a spin. When I was growing up this was called joy-riding and you got in trouble for it, but I guess we’re more liberal in the future. Oh, sorry, no—Wikipedia says they got attacked by bad aliens on their secret other planetary base and had to escape in the old spaceship. Well, that’s very different.
There was a senator aboard and he died. Excuse me, don’t those people have staff? Who lets their senator wander unattended around the ancient artifact space ship? Anyway, the guys on the ship can’t drive it and can’t get back to earth because they have to do something difficult/impossible with the stargate that’s on the ship. They have to wait until the ship stops to refuel itself (it nibbles on stars, the second coolest thing about the show,) in order to do the magic mumbo-jumbo on the stargate and leap home. Maybe. I think.
So who’s on the ship? There are two teams; the Stern Military and the Spunky Civilians. Stern Military includes a leader, the Thoughtful Colonel Everett Young, a guy named Matthew who is very buff but seems like he might be mean, and a great-looking dark-skinned guy who is very buff but seems like he might be mean, too. There is a doctor named Tamara on the Stern Military team. Playing for the Spunky Civilians: designated Pretty Girl Chloe, the dead senator’s daughter; Irreverent Geek Eli; Grumpy (and kinda crazy) Genius Rush, and some other guy with big dark eyes and black hair who stands around next to Rush and looks worried. Then there’s a character named Camille, who started off Military—at least she was in desert camo—but now seems to be playing for Team Civilian.
This could be suspenseful. Where is the ship going? How will they survive? How will they get home? The folks back on earth are out of radio range, let alone cell phone range, but not to worry! They have magic rocks that allow crew from the ship to swap bodies with folks on earth, a clever, bewildering plot device that mitigates any sense of urgency. Somehow, when you can pop home any time—admittedly into another body—things just don’t seem so bad. The rock-trips do get awkward, though. Matthew, hiding out in the body of some other guy, nearly blew his cover when he found out that his high school girlfriend never did have that abortion, and he was the father of a nine-year-old boy. And Camille must be driving her loyal lover, Sharon, completely crazy showing up in a different body, including a quadriplegic spinal cord accident victim, each visit. There has to be some etiquette about the rock-trips. For example, on the other end of Camille’s swap with the paralyzed woman, is a character who wants to have sex with Rush (she had a major Rush-crush back in graduate school). This will be her one chance to have sex . . . but Camille, when she’s driving that body, prefers women. Is it rude to have sex with a man in Camille’s body, behind her back, so to speak? See, it’s an etiquette thing.
Adding complexity, which we really didn’t need, is the Tough Guy, played by Lou Diamond Phillips, who is/is not a traitor and at the end of Season One is/is not dead. Take your pick.
The ship stops at planets with stargates, I guess. Since they hadn’t really finished exploring the ship, you would think they would have plenty of potential storyline, but somehow we still get the hallucinating-your-deepest-desire-or-fear episode, the bad-aliens-attack-and-we-must-use-untried-ancient-technology episode, and the someone-has-to-go-outside-and-get-back-before-the-radiation-flare episode. Please note that I didn’t even watch all of those; I could tell by catching the first five minutes or the last five. Then some bad guys invade the ship, I guess through the ship’s own unguarded stargate. End Season One.
The real issue is that they have to match up nine chevrons on the stargate ring. I know, it does sound like a casino game. The way to do this is mathematical, but one hour a week of Eli hunched over his iPad, hollering, “More Red Bull! Okay, maybe it’s the square root of six over the sum of the square of—Gah! That just blows up the ship!” would get boring. And this show desperately does not want to be boring.
It wants to be “dark and gritty,” and is achieves darkness. Would it kill them to turn on some lights? If “gritty” means everyone except the Irreverent Geek and the Pretty Girl are cynical and venial without redeeming nobility, they’ve achieved that too. They have the prettiest starship I’ve seen in a while,and it refuels by sipping energy off stars like a galactic butterfly in a meadow of flowers, but the rest–I don’t think I can commit to this one.