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Eureka – Some Initial Thoughts August 31, 2008

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After hearing some positive comments about this show, I decided to give it a try. I’ve watched the first three episodes, which includes the extra-long “Pilot”, plus the first two regular length episodes, “Many Happy Returns”, and “Before I Forget.”

Regrettably, my initial impression is not very positive, although I’m planning on watching a few more episodes, in order to be sure. After all, it often takes a bit for a good show to hit its stride at the beginning.

I have various issues with what I’ve seen so far. First off, the thing with Sheriff Carter (Colin Ferguson) being an inept, guilt-ridden father, complete with snot-nosed teenage daughter who not only is the dominant person in their relationship, but who somehow has more expertise and moral authority than he does when it comes to relationships in general—this is really tiresome. Why do shows do this? It’s not fun, it’s not funny, and frankly, it’s a little bit insulting. I don’t know any real fathers who allow their daughters to treat them like this. It’s a cliché, and I wouldn’t feel at all bad if the whole idea went away forever.

There’s a femme fatal on the show (Dr. Barlowe, played by Debrah Farentino), although this doesn’t become apparent until the final few minutes of the pilot. A couple of things bother me about her. Having a character like her in such a picturesque, suburb-like setting reminds me more of Knots Landing than any sci fi show I’ve ever watched. That’s really not what I’m wanting to be reminded of. It also bugs me that she’s the only sexually assertive female character on the show, and she’s evil. This is another tiresome cliché (one even older and more worn out than the inept father idea). Why don’t they just call her “Dr. Mantis” and get it over with? And, as if those things weren’t enough, she’s also a psychiatrist. That alone would make her annoying, but with the rest, I’m just kind of hoping she mysteriously goes away.

Ok, I admit, it’s probably too early to fully judge her as a character. I’ll be interested to learn more about her motivation. Why is she evil, exactly? And how evil is she? Yes, she’s working for some shady corporate interest, but why? Is it just for money? That would be disappointing.

As for her being evil, this raises the question of how good and evil will be portrayed on the show. Are they going to be simplistic, black-and-white concepts? If so, then I’m probably going to have a hard time staying interested. So far it looks like that’s where they’re headed. In three episodes, we have one woman who’s a poisoner/murderer (and not for any reason other than pure avarice, as far as I can tell), and one guy who uses a magical memory-wiping gizmo to steal his wife’s entire life (which he does strictly for his own vanity). Not a very promising start. Villians need to be interesting for a show to succeed.

I mentioned a magical memory-wiping gizmo, which brings me to the next thing, namely that the show is pretty heavily gizmo-oriented. The stories seem to revolve around gizmos and people who misuse them. Neat gizmos and technobabble don’t make an interesting story, or a successful series. You can pile those things onto a story all you want, but in the end, it won’t really be about anything, other than a machine that goes haywire, or maybe an evil guy who uses an evil gizmo to commit evil. The messages conveyed with these kinds of stories are pretty suspect, too—”evil machine” or “mad scientist” or “innovation is dangerous.” I need something better than that if I’m going to really enjoy a series.

Believe it or not, there were actually some things I liked about the show. The cast is likeable enough. I especially enjoyed the deputy who molded her own bullets in the pilot: Erica Cerra, as Deputy Jo Lupo. I could see myself becoming a fan, if she keeps up with the coolness. In the succeeding two episodes she sort of reverts back into cookie-cutter mode, though. I hope she doesn’t stay there.

Matt Frewer (formerly of Max Headroom fame) also makes an appearance as the local whackjob, Jim Taggart. He plays the part with a prominant Aussie accent. Nice. :)

I also have to admit that I’m liking Zoe Carter (Jordan Hinson)…when she’s not being an annoying little brat. (Seriously, the teenage attitude problem is yet another tired cliché. Writers really need to figure out how to portray inexperience and immaturity in a more interesting way.) Will she develop into someone interesting? Hopefully she will. As a teenager, they are going to have to make her develop as a person just to be realistic. She’s also forming a friendship with Deputy Jo, which is very promising for both characters.

Like I said, I’m going to give Eureka more chance than just these three episodes. There have been other shows with less than stellar startoffs that went on to be quite good. Stargate: SG-1 for instance, arose out of a movie that was just plain dumb, but then the TV movie was better, and its first season kicked all kinds of butt. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had some very good points in its short first season, but was quite rough around the edges and didn’t really become itself until season two. Star Trek: The Next Generation didn’t get really good until its sixth season, and Star Trek: Voyager was totally abysmal in its first couple of seasons, getting much better later on. It’s a rare show that’s just plain excellent right from the beginning. So I’m going to stick with it a bit, just to see what happens.

Universe casting suggestion! August 27, 2008

Posted by ce9999 in Stargate: Universe.
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At some point, the Powers That Be at Stargate Productions are going to be casting their new Stargate spinoff, Stargate: Universe. It’s been said by Sci Fi channel president Dave Howe that the hope is for the cast to be more “fresh faced.” I assume he means “fresh faced” in comparison to the casts of the previous two shows, which feature all sorts of dull, middle-aged people, several of them bald. I suppose we can’t have that if we’re wanting to appeal to 20-year-olds, can we? (sarcasm alert!)

Actually, accusing the Atlantis cast of not being appealing to a younger audience is kind of ridiculous. Take a look at the leads, and what do you see? A whole mess of very cool people, and with the possible exception of Robert Picardo, not one of them appears to be middle aged. David Hewlett and Joe Flanigan are both slightly over forty, but I never would have guessed that if I hadn’t looked it up. (I’m 40 myself, and I would love to be in as good a shape as Joe Flanigan!!) Jason Momoa, on the other hand, isn’t even thirty yet, and Jewel Staite is even younger than him.

Furthermore, why do media industry types insist on believing that the characters on a show have to be the same age as the audience? Who the hell came up with that, anyway? I know identification with a character is a big appeal, but it’s not necessary for the character to be the same age as the viewer in order for that to happen.

Example: The leading actors of the original Star Trek series were all older than the standard which the Stargate folks seem to be shooting for, and yet the show really took off in popularity in the 1970’s, with an audience that was mostly college students and younger at that time. DeForest Kelly was in his late forties when he first started playing Dr. Leonard McCoy, and I never once had any coolness issues with him. I was only nine years old when I became an avid Star Trek fan—do you suppose that’s youthful enough? Likewise, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were both closer to 40 than they were to 30, and I practically worshipped both of their characters. James Doohan was actually the same age as DeForrest Kelly. There weren’t any women in the lead roles of that show, but for primary supporting roles, Nichelle Nichols was one year younger than Shatner and Nimoy. All of them were mid-30’s or older when the show began.

To take a more extreme example, in the most recent season of Doctor Who, the coolest supporting character of the whole season is probably Wilfred Mott (played by Bernard Cribbins), more commonly known as Donna’s grandfather. He’s just a fun character, and it’s hard to imagine him not appealing to pretty much any age group. I’m not sure how old he is, but as the grandfather of a woman in her 30’s, that must mean he’s in his 70’s at least, right?

A counter-example: How did people react to Wesley Crusher when Star Trek: The Next Generation started? I remember wishing he would die, frankly. :) That character was sort of a blight on the show, although he did get better in later seasons, thanks to better writing and Wil Wheaton’s acting talent. My reaction to early Wesley was pretty typical, though. I was 18 or 19 when that show was first broadcast.

So, who says you need to have youngish characters to appeal to a youngish audience, and who says that if you do, it’s even going to work?

So here’s my casting suggestion for one of the male leads on the new Stargate: Universe program: Adam Baldwin!

He’d be an excellent choice. For one thing, he’s got a bit of history in the Stargate universe already, having played Col. Dave Dixon, the leader of SG-13 in the double episode “Heros.” He’s in his mid 40’s, which is probably older than what they’re thinking of, but on the other hand, he’s younger than the parents of the target demographic, by roughly a decade, which means he could easily play a mature, leader-type role without conveying an uncool level of parentalness. Casting him would also create an opportunity to set up some inter-team conflict between him and another, younger male lead. Baldwin is also funny. Not just a little funny either—he’s a lot funny. Just watch his previous appearance on SG-1, or his 14-episode stint on Firefly if you don’t believe me.

One slight problem is that he appears to already be cast in another series. Oh well. I still think I’m right about this.

Season 5 – the best yet for Atlantis? August 23, 2008

Posted by ce9999 in Stargate: Atlantis.
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Based on the six episodes I’ve seen so far this season, I’d answer that question with a definite “yes.” Just a little while ago I finished watching this week’s story, “The Shrine.” As I was watching, it occurred to me that a lot of the criticisms I levelled at the show just a few weeks ago are being addressed fairly well by the six episodes so far.

Notice Sheppard in this episode, in particular. There’s a scene with him and McKay, the two of them just hanging out and having a beer while they wrestle with the painful fact that McKay’s brain is gradually being squeezed to death by an alien parasite. McKay, wracked with fear and embarrassment over his continually worsening condition, suggests that this meeting be their last, so that Sheppard can remember him as he really is. But Sheppard will have none of that, doggedly insisting that he’s going to be there for his friend until the bitter end. Why? Because that’s just the kind of guy that Sheppard is. And HEY! All of a sudden, in my mind, Sheppard wasn’t two-dimensional anymore. Not only that, he’s the kind of friend anyone would really want to have. Wow! I am loving this!

I wonder why they couldn’t have hit this point home back in season one?

Remember Firefly? That show makes an interesting contrast to Atlantis, when talking about issues like this. It managed to accomplish more with character and relationship in its mere 14 episodes than Atlantis did in its first four seasons. There were nine primary characters on Firefly, all with their own agendas, many of them in direct opposition to each other. Forming them into a cohesive ensemble cast would seem like a virtually impossible task, much less doing so in only a handfull of episodes. And yet, that’s exactly what Joss Whedon and his writing team managed to pull off.

I still remember marvelling at it, the first time I ever watched the series. In one particular episode (unfortunately, I can’t remember which episode), there is a moment of obvious resolution, when the last of the big initial issues between the nine characters is finally resolved. It felt at that point as if they were no longer nine disparate people, but almost a family. It also felt right, not artificial or as if it were being forced on the viewer by arbitrary writer fiat.

That’s some pretty good writing, and the way character based stuff ought to be done. It’s also similar to the way things felt on Atlantis this week, except on Atlantis it’s taken so very long to get to this point, and the journey has been as much one of trial and error as being intentionally planned.

And, of course, it’s happening just in time for the show to be cancelled, hallelujah!!!! :(

Atlantis goes pay-per-view August 22, 2008

Posted by ce9999 in Stargate: Atlantis.
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I became aware earlier today that the Sci Fi Channel, MGM and Stargate Productions have mutually decided to end the television run of Stargate: Atlantis at the end of its current season.

Really, I shouldn’t be surprised about this, but I am. Does that mean I’m gullible? Well, yeah, but apparently I’m not gullible enough to qualify as a viewer that the Sci Fi Channel is interested in. They’ll be replacing Atlantis with a new show, Stargate: Universe, that’s specifically aimed at a “younger demographic.”

People, “younger demographic” is simply marketing double-speak for “people who are more gullible and susceptible to advertisements.” In other words, if this new show is aimed at you, it means the Powers That Be are assuming you are dumber and easier to sway than the current viewership of Stargate: Atlantis. Are you?

What’s also disturbing about this is the way Atlantis itself is apparently being switched over to “pay-per-view” status. No, it won’t be like regular PPV. You will actually have to go to a store and buy a DVD, or use whatever other means they might offer for getting your money (iTunes, for instance). But paying is paying, regardless of the means of delivery. Right now, you can watch Atlantis for free. Next year, you won’t. What’s more, I think they are doing this specifically because they believe Atlantis is at a popularity peak right now, that it can only go downhill from here, and furthermore, why should they continue to allow people to watch the show for free when they can replace it with a more profitable show which will probably cost less to produce, which will also appeal to a more desireable demographic, while still popping off the occassional Atlantis “movie” to rake in a few bucks on DVD sales to boot? To summarize, we, the viewers of Atlantis, are being ripped off precisely because we made this show as successful as it is.

What are my sources for these allegations? The changes have been documented with multiple articles on Gateworld, with the one of primary interest being “Wright: Atlantis is going out on top.” This quote is of particular interest:

The decision to end Stargate Atlantis and jump to the movie format was made mutually by the SCI FI Channel, MGM, and Stargate Productions in Vancouver, executive producer Brad Wright told GateWorld today. Rather than canceling the show because of under-performance, the Powers That Be decided to go out on top while Atlantis is still popular enough to support the release of DVD movies.

See?

However, there is a potential positive side to this. While I’ve seen some concern expressed that the new Stargate: Universe show will end up being nothing more than the Stargate remake of Star Trek: Voyager (credit goes to Glenn H for that idea), it seems that the creators of the show are aware of some of the concerns I previously mentioned on this blog. An article entitled Stargate Universe Has A Go! states:

The show will be “a little more character-based, a little less rooted in a sci-fi mythology,” co-creator Brad Wright told GateWorld. “It really does come down to characters and stories that are engaging, and that people want to see — that they feel like they haven’t seen before.”

I’m not sure what Wright means about “rooted in sci-fi mythology”, but I do like what he’s saying about making the show more character-based, provided they don’t end up with a bunch of squeaky-clean noobs like on the first couple of seasons of Star Trek: Voyager.

The other problem with that show’s initial seasons was pretty simple too: the villians were boring. Remember the Kazon? No? I’m not surprised. Theoretically, they could have been interesting, but in practice, I groaned painfully at their every appearance on the show, and jumped for joy when Janeway and the crew finally got their asses out of that sector of the galaxy. The Wraith are somewhat better, but not a lot, and I’d consider them to be one of the primary flaws of Atlantis as a series. If Universe is to succeed, they really need to work on the bad guys. Look back at Apophis and Ba’al, and tell me I’m wrong.

I admit, I’m already wondering who they’re going to cast on Universe. They’re aiming for a younger demographic, so there’ll probably be some 20-something male heartthrob in the lead. Zac Efron, anyone? He’s 21 now. Heheheh. (I suppose I should shut up, before somebody gets the idea to do High School Musical In Space!….)

All in all, if Universe turns out to be a better series than Atlantis, then I’ll probably be ok with this. There is one thing, however, which will disappoint me, even if that happens: Robert Picardo will only have one season to really show his stuff.