Stargate SG-1 – Initial Impressions

I grew up in a very television-oriented household, but not one that thought it was my babysitter. We would watch TV and movies together as a family, and we would actually talk about the things going on. I learned from an early age the importance of narrative in a show, probably from watching the original Star Trek with my dad. I was mad when they started The Next Generation because (at age 5) I thought it would ruin something that my dad and I shared. We had a bond over television from a young age, obviously.

So now, I’m a grown man, and I still go visit my dad a night or two a week so that we can spend some quality time together like we used to. We generally watch some sort of TV show, whether it might be the initial broadcast for a new series or a DVD marathon. Sometimes my mom even joins in on some of them, but her viewing pleasures only periodically overlap with mine and my dad’s, so most of our viewing is just the two of us. She really enjoyed Battlestar Galactica, Dollhouse, Carnivale and The Dresden Files, though.

My dad and I have really made this our hobby together since the first season of Babylon 5 was released on DVD in 2002. We have since progressed through the following list:

  • Five seasons of Babylon 5, its movies, and the spinoff series Crusade
  • Seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager
  • Seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • One season of Jeremiah (I had to watch season 2 on Netflix Instant without my dad since it’s not available on DVD, and he doesn’t have high-speed internet)
  • Two seasons Carnivale
  • Four seasons of Battlestar Galactica and its spinoffs Razor and Caprica
  • Three seasons of Eureka
  • One season of Firefly
  • One season of The Dresden Files
  • One season of Dollhouse
  • Five seasons of LOST

My dad and I finally finished the most recent season of LOST this month, so it was time to choose a new series. We started Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but despite that we had both been told numerous times that the series became exceptional after a while, we could barely make ourselves sit down to watch more than a handful of episodes. So for Father’s Day, I bought him a copy of Stargate SG-1, and we began watching that this evening.

Now to preface this, we had watched bits and pieces of the series before this, and we even tried to watch Stargate Atlantis from the beginning before losing track of its schedule. We knew the show was quality, but with ten (I think) seasons, it’s a daunting undertaking because we generally work on one series at a time before we move to something new.

Well tonight, we found out just how high-quality the show was. We were hooked from the half an hour into the pilot, “Children of the Gods.” SG-1 is one of the few shows I don’t know a lot about regarding spoilers or production (that will change as we move through the seasons and I look up more information online), but it was quite refreshing to have the series tied directly to its film through the pilot. I was a fan of the original movie, so I went in having high hopes for the series. I had no idea how the gap was going to be bridged, but I found it incredible interesting that “Children of the Gods” came as a direct sequel to the film. I knew that some of the same characters persisted, but I was really curious as to how they would be utilized in a series due to how the film ended.

The pilot was standalone enough so that someone who had never seen the original Stargate could jump right in and see that the show is set in an extensive universe, but it also contained sufficient backstory subtly woven in so that viewers who were aware of the franchise would not either be left wanting or feel patronized. I really felt as though “Children of the Gods” was exceptionally well done for a pilot episode, and in the end, I thought the new cast was brighter and livelier than the film’s, making a friend of mine on Twitter note that’s why there are about a trillion fans and almost a dozen seasons of this and not the movie.

After the pilot (which was the length of two episodes), we sat through the following three. By the end of the evening, I was certain that we had found our next series.

I was particularly impressed by the episode “Emancipation” because of how it dealt with women’s rights. My girlfriend brought up while we were discussing it that so many shows tend to make it really cheesy and deliberate by basically having plots that scream “Hey! Look! We’re talking about important issues here, see? Girl power and all that, right?!” but “Emancipation” didn’t do this.

The pilot initially set up that Sam Carter was a strong female character in a male-dominated field, and this episode proved it (which is again fascinating because it is so early in the series). Describing herself as a “warrior and a scholar” could have been hokey, but it came across as confident (she is after all a Gulf War veteran and theoretical astrophysicist). Carter mentions to another captive female later in the episode that she “did men’s work,” not because she sees it as such, but because that is how she could relate to the other character and actually make a difference in her life. The writers took the opportunity to show actual character depth here because she adapts to the circumstances of the culture she was engrossed in instead of holding to a zealous ideology that would have gotten her nowhere. In the end, when she helps liberate the village’s women, there is a little cheese in how they tear down the curtain (both symbolically and literally) and applaud their liberation, but the way Carter looks sheepish and keeps going with the SG-1 team proves that this show has depth beyond a typical science-fiction show in that the issue was dealt with for being just that—an issue—rather than being tacked on.

The one thing I am going to be keeping my eye out for in the series, however, is how the show deals with alien cultures and their evolution. The basic premise of Stargate SG-1 is that an alien race called the Goa’uld once basically used Earth as a farm for host bodies in which they could parasitically reside. Over the centuries, the Goa’uld would transplant various peoples from Earth onto alien worlds, where they would live in isolation, being manipulated or harvested as the Goa’uld saw fit because the primitive Earthlings would see them as gods. (At least this is my current, basic understanding of how this works in the series; feel free to correct me).

My problem comes in that in the few episodes I’ve seen, there have been three distinct peoples who have been transplanted from Earth: Egyptians, Minoans, and Mongols. In each of these three cases, the cultures have been put at a standstill. While civilization and technology on Earth has advanced exponentially since these cultures were relocated, each of the new colonies is a perfect example of how life would have been the day they were replaced. While Daniel Jackson makes a comment about how important it would be to “see how they’ve evolved the Minoan culture,” it is quite obviously very little evolution ever took place. In 900 years or longer, these civilizations have stagnated on their new planets while on Earth, they continue to evolve (at least those who still exist do).

Is this just going to be one of those persistent sci-fi elements I just have to deal with, like all extraterrestrial species on Star Trek being predominantly humanoid with a crushed brow-ridge? Or will I ever find out why civilizations remain superstitious to the point of primitiveness when they’ve had even more time to evolve than most of the societies on the planet they originated from? And why do most of them speak English (in Star Trek there is an in-universe explanation for this because of the Universal Translator in the communications technology). I don’t know why, but there is something that makes me partially unable to suspend my disbelief about seeing a culture that should by all rights be more advanced than ours talk about curses and gods like it is 2,000 years ago. Maybe I’m looking too far into this, or maybe I’m missing something, but this is the only element of the show that I can see myself conceivably having a problem with.

Oh, and there were boobs. Unfortunately, the nudity did nothing to enhance the narrative, and since this show originally aired on a premium network, it felt as though they had to tack on female nudity just to warrant being on Showtime. I wish shows (Deadwood, I’m looking at you) would realize that the possibility of adult content does not necessitate its inclusion. I’m all for profanity and nudity being artfully utilized to augment a narrative or develop a show’s atmosphere, but nudity for the sake of nudity is juvenile. Not all viewers sit in the 14 to 22 demographic and get excited by the idea of random nudity on television. Poor use of nudity actually detracts from a quality work rather than enhancing it. In the words of XKCD, “can we please, as a culture, move on?”

I do like how the show takes typical mythologies (such as ancient Egyptian religion) and spins it in a way that makes it seem new again. As most people who know me know, this is one of the major things I look for in television and literature these days. While the idea that ancient gods were extraterrestrials is nowhere near a new idea (see the publication of Chariot of the Gods in the late ‘60s or the Church of Scientology’s baseline doctrine), SG-1 seems to make it interesting by putting the aliens in the forefront of the series and explaining specifically how they impacted early Earth societies rather than letting that information stew behind the scenes for seasons. So often, learning the mythology of a show is a long and drawn-out process, but here, there is ample explanation of how and why the universe works in the first four episodes. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m incredibly interested in Egyptian mythology and religion, as well as the incorporation of pretty much any religious mythology into popular culture; I love the Egyptian references in LOST, the Norse parallels in World of Warcraft, and I think The Prophecy (the first one, not the successive sequels) is a unique way of examining the hierarchy of Christian angels. Old stories told in new ways just make me happy, and SG-1 appears to be on the right track in doing so.

So far, my initial impressions of SG-1 are quite positive. I can see that Stargate SG-1 is well-deserving of the praise I’ve heard for so long. There is a sense of humor in the show I did not expect (Carter saying she had to MacGyver the Stargate into operation when talking to Richard Dean Anderson made me giggle), and the writing is (so far) heads and shoulders above what I expected it to be for late ‘90s sci-fi. After watching a little over the first disc’s worth of Stargate SG-1, ten seasons doesn’t seem like nearly the undertaking it did before. I’m actually excited there is that much of this show to partake in. If we truck through it as fast as we did LOST, then we’ll be finished with all eleven seasons before 2010.

It also makes me look really forward to the premier of Stargate Universe this fall.

Comments

  1. Tesh

    Interesting timing. I just posted a plug for SG-1 on my blog a couple of days ago. It's my favorite series, only rivaled by ST:TNG. You pegged the reasons I like it (and dislike some of it… notably, they are reediting the pilot, sans nudity) nicely.

    I will say that SG-1 peaked in seasons 3-6 for me. The first two seasons were a little rough, but still really good, and S7-8 started losing RDA's influence. (He was an exec. producer, and really did a lot to make the show.) S9-10 lost RDA entirely, and took a turn into territory that I felt didn't work well, either as Stargate or as the great sort of stories that really could have been told.

    Atlantis is merely OK (though still better than most sci-fi), and I'm really not all that interested in Universe. "Darker, edgier" doesn't do much for me, especially given the excellence of SG-1 S3-6.

    Still, here's hoping you and yours enjoy it. I definitely did, as my S1-8 DVD collections attest. 🙂

    Keep an eye out for Window of Opportunity in Season 4. That was my first exposure to SG-1, and is still widely considered the best episode in the franchise. RDA is the man.

  2. We Fly Spitfires

    Ok, loads to comment on here! I'll try to keep it cohesive but no promises 🙂

    I enjoyed SG-1 for the most part. When I first saw the pilot, I wasn't completely enamored by it as the first season really does seem to suffer from a lack of budget. However, once the actors got into their strides and the characters developed a bit and the budget increased, the show became a lot better. I'd agree with Tesh that season 3-6 are the best, by far.

    I kinda lost interest in the show once RDA's influence started to decline. It seemed like they were dragging it on for the money rather than the purpose of storytelling and entertainment. I've seen that a lot. Smallville, for instance, should've just stopped a couple of years ago but they drag it on and drag it on until they've ruined all continuity by throwing in cheap ideas to boost ratings. Let it die a graceful death.

    SG-1 also has a ton of "filler" episodes in it when nothing really happens at all. Plus let's not forget the frequent "montage" episodes in which they just slice together scenes from the previous series. Seriously, we're expected to pay for that? I hate that in any TV show. Personally I'm all up for shorter series, like 12 episodes instead of 24.

    As for the boobies. Great stuff. You can never have too many boobies. Adding some nudity to the pilot was a stroke of genius imo. Pardon the pun.

    Once you're done with SG-1, check out Star Trek Enterprise. I'm watching season 2 now. It's pretty decent. Nothing on The Wire but not bad at all.

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  1. […] my dad and I started watching Stargate SG-1 a while back, I had no idea the kind of attachment I would foster with the series. In the time that we’ve been […]