Sometimes, I’m prone to hyperbole. I’ll state that Stephenie Meyer is the worst writer who’s ever lived, when I’m pretty sure there are worse ones who have gone unpublished. I might say that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the best theme park ever created, but I haven’t experienced every theme park in the world. For all I know, EuroDisney rocks its socks off.
However, when I say that Stargate SG-1 is very likely the best science fiction television show ever created, I say it with not the least bit of exaggeration or hyperbole. I truly believe it.
After watching tons of SF TV in my life, I can honestly say that the ten seasons of SG-1 are consistently the highest quality of any shows I’ve seen in terms of production, acting, entertainment, and narrative.
A Year of Awesome
Though the series initially ran 1997-2007, my dad and I watched all ten seasons (and the two movies) in just under 12 months. We had been hesitant to start the series because of its length; ten seasons is a big commitment to make to a show, even as good as we always heard SG-1 to be.
Admittedly, when we first started the series, we had some reservations. Everyone spoke English, no matter what planet they were from, and most of the planets visited were primitive, making Earth seem like a bastion of civilization that it really shouldn’t have been. There was unnecessary nudity in the pilot, and that kind of bothered us both. Not because of us being prudes, but because we feel that there’s not much of a point. Move the story along with those boobs, ya know?
But as we moved past the first few episodes, and even seasons, the show began to really find its stride. The Goa’uld were a real threat, and interesting to boot. We were finally introduced to a snake-head who was not Apophis, and by the end of the series, there are other big bads (the Replicators and the Ori) who are far worse than the Goa’uld ever thought about being.
And now that it’s all over, I’m both sad and satisfied. Sad because, well, there is no more. After finishing the second movie, I’ve now seen everything that was ever filmed for SG-1. And I’m satisfied because over the course of ten seasons, I learned to care about these characters and their stories in a way that I’ve never done with a TV show before. When they were all over, I felt like it was okay. Because I had experienced the narrative, and while I wanted more, I could not complain about the quality of what I had been given.
Sometimes, casting directors just get it right.
Amanda Tapping as Sam Carter? Genius. She’s normal-person-pretty, but not movie-star-hot, which I much prefer. I can believe she’s actually an astrophysicist and still be attracted to her, which is impossible when they cast someone like Jessica Alba to play Sue Storm. Teal’c is frighteningly large and impressive physically, yet his dry humor comes through Chris Judge perfectly. Don Davis and Beau Bridges bring the SGC the right kind of command presence the narrative needs, and the other, smaller characters each consistently make me smile because without them, the show would seem lifeless—Sylar, Walter, even Dr. Lee.
But there are three characters/actors who really stole the show for me. Michael Shanks as Daniel Jackson, Richard Dean Anderson as Jack O’Neill, and Claudia Black as Vala Mal Doran.
Obviously, RDA is awesome. MacGyver is a pop culture phenomenon for a reason, and only part of that is because of being able to make fighter jets out of three bendy straws, a rubber band, and two ounces of hydrogen peroxide. When taking on the role of SG-1’s leader, though, RDA brought a kind of fun and pizzazz to it that the movie’s character (played by Kurt Russell) simply lacked. By the time he left the series after Season 8, I felt that I knew Jack. I felt that I knew Jack because I had experienced so much with him, and I felt that the show was a little weaker without him in it. The character always had something snarky to say, but always had an edge of seriousness to it that showed the actor knew what he was doing in playing a military role.
When Vala Mal Doran was introduced to the show in what seemed like a throwaway episode, I thought she was funny. Claudia Black had a strange kind of chemistry on the screen that I couldn’t help but like. And while she’s not the kind of person I typically find attractive—overtly sexual and in possession of a smoky/raspy voice—I found myself laughing at her and enjoying her escapades. So when she came back and became a major player in the cast during Season 9/10, I was thrilled. She, more than anyone, brought that lightheartedness that was missing since RDA’s absence back to the series. And when she and Daniel finally admitted to having feelings for one another and spending their lives together in a time-dilation field in “Unending,” well, I won’t say that I didn’t tear up a little.
And then there’s the man. There’s Daniel Jackson. Just let me go ahead and say it: Michael Shanks is one hell of an actor. I always knew that he was better than the movie’s James Spader, but it wasn’t until a few seasons in that I realized that Shanks is a real actor. When tasked with playing another character in Jackson’s body, he’s believable. When asked to be a bad guy Daniel, he does it believably. Whether he’s being beaten and killed for the umpteenth time or simply reading through some books in his office, I never once thought that his role was forced. So when he left the series during Season 6, I avoided spoilers and did a little nerdly glee-dance when he returned throughout the season as an ascended being. And when he came back as a full-cast member? I was ecstatic. He moves the SF archetype of the smart guy into the next generation, making it not something to loathe and be ashamed of but to embrace because, hey, smart people can be bad-asses,too.
Norse. Egyptian. Judeo-Christian. Greek. Probably others I’m forgetting after 200+ episodes. At some point in the series, Stargate SG-1 utilizes the religious philosophies of each of these ideologies within its narrative. And each time, its well-done.
One of the things I hate about science fiction is how it often avoids the subject of God or any other religion. It’s almost as though because we can’t quantify faith, we shouldn’t fictionalize it, either. Well, SG-1 taps into every corner of Earth’s mythology and crafts a narrative that does a pretty good job of not just sounding like another “ancient astronauts” History Channel special.
The best part is how easily integrated these mythologies are within the universe of SG-1. It’s no big deal that the Thor from the Asgard race is the actual Thor Nordic peoples worshipped centuries ago. O’Neill yells, “Thor! Buddy!” when he comes in, and it fits. Not just because of O’Neill’s character, but also because the world is set up that it’s no big deal. The same comes when dealing with Hathor, Set, Osiris, Chronos, Apophis, or any of the other characters who, in the world of the narrative, are the actual “gods” of old religions. It’s no big deal to the characters, but to me, the interesting part for me as a viewer is that these aren’t titular usurpers; they’re the actual beings from the stories.
Even though it gets a lot of flak among fans, the ninth and tenth seasons are probably my favorites of the series. Why? Because they deal directly with philosophical ideas regarding faith and its ability to empower anyone. They deal with religious zealotry and choice and agency vs. truth and moral ambiguity. And all the while, the Ori and the Alterans are weaved inextricably through Judeo-Christian belief systems, even explaining in the vilification of fire as evil instead of cleansing.
And while the Goa’uld were nasty, nasty baddies, the Ori are infinitely more terrifying. Because the Goa’uld were never possibly a threat to us. The real us. They are based off of religions that are long dead, and their followers, the Jaffa, are caricatures. The Ori on the other hand, are steeped far more intrinsically in Judeo-Christian belief systems we are more familiar with, and the storyline involving them calls-out religious fanatics, and begs of them the question “why does that deserve your faith?”
So while the Ori may not be as SF as the Goa’uld, I think they make for much more interesting villains because the situation they incur becomes far more easily relatable than anything Apophis, Anubis, or Ba’al ever came up with.
I love any work of fiction that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And Stargate SG-1 certainly fits that bill. Early on in the series, a TV show within SG-1 was created called “Wormhole X-Treme” for the 100th episode that let the creators have a little fun with the absurdity within the series that was ordinarily off-limits. Then, in the final season, the 200th episode—aptly titled “200”—brought “Wormhole X-Treme” back, only this time it had been optioned for a movie.
The great thing about “200” was that each of the segments that made up the episode was based on another fictional work. One was Farscape, another was The Wizard of Oz, while yet another was Star Trek: The Original Series. Daniel Jackson even says to a character, “No, that’s Star Trek.” The inclusion of a Farscape scene was also very interesting, given that Claudia Black and Ben Browder (two new actors in SG-1) were Farscape’s main characters. Also in “200,” it is said that the TV show did poorly on TV, but was optioned for a movie because of strong DVD sales—an obvious nod to the whole Firefly/Serenity scenario we’re all too familiar with.
By not taking itself too seriously, the producers of Stargate SG-1 were able to make the series watchable over long years. Can you imagine how emotionally drained we would all be if Battlestar Galactica had lasted for ten seasons? Sure, they would have been great, but they would have been nearly unwatchable in marathon settings, which is where I feel that SG-1 shines. By being able to meld seriousness (ala the Ori storylines I mentioned) with camp like “Wormhole X-Treme,” the series knows precisely where its boundaries lie and just how far to edge over them and when not to.
The Best Ever?
I think so. I really do. I care more about the characters from Stargate SG-1 even than those from LOST. I know…blasphemy. But it’s the truth. The SF in the series is better than any Star Trek I’ve seen. And for the length of the series, the narratives are surprisingly complete, even if there are a few filler episodes here and there.
Overall, I recommend SG-1 wholeheartedly. Luckily, Stargate Universe has actually become quite good after a good start and lackluster follow-up. And I really can’t wait to get back into Stargate Atlantis. Do I wish that the show were still running? Well yeah, I do. But I can’t complain after having ten seasons, two movies, and two other entertaining spin0ff series. Watching all of SG-1 in right around a year has been one heck of a ride. In a way, I look forward to being able to sit down and watch the entire series again. I’m sure there’s a lot there that I missed the first time through.