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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.

Atlantis: A Question of Character July 29, 2008

Posted by ce9999 in Stargate: Atlantis.
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The other night I watched the latest installment of The David Hewlett Show Stargate: Atlantis, the episode entitled “Broken Ties.” This is the third episode of the new fifth season. I’m glad that these new episodes are being aired now, because with Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica on hiatus, I’d be in a real pickle otherwise. Who knows—I might actually have to go outside, or meet some people or something!

On the other hand, Atlantis has never been a top-tier show for me, especially when compared to these other shows, or even to its parent series, Stargate: SG-1. I don’t think it has (so far) lived up to its potential, for a number of reasons. The main reason has to do with character, and this last episode just happened to bring the issue to the forefront of my mind.

In the episode, the question was raised whether Teyla, after the birth of her baby a couple of episodes previously, would be returning to “the team” [1]. As she hemmed and hawed about this question, I surprised myself by hoping that she would decide not to return, but instead would stay on the Atlantis station in some sort of advisory capacity or something. In other words, while I didn’t want to see Teyla removed entirely from the show, the prospect of integrating a new team member seemed more interesting to me than simply having her carry on as before.

Why? Well, I really do hate to say this, but, over the first four seasons, and even so far this year, she just hasn’t turned out to be a very interesting character. It seems like she hasn’t changed one iota since the very first season, and frankly, I’ve virtually lost interest. This recent development with her partner and her having a baby, it reminds me of Will Riker cooking omlettes for Enterprise crewmates on Star Trek: The Next Generation so many years ago: an obvious attempt to add “dimension” to an otherwise flat character, without taking the apparently forbidden risk of having real character development. It’s more tedious than interesting.

I could say similar things about many of the characters on Atlantis. Take Sheppard, for instance. The most interesting thing that ever happed to him was the one episode where he turned into a bug (“Conversion” in season two). Sure, this was an amusing story, and I imagine the ghost of Franz Kafka got a chuckle or two, but imagine how much better this episode could have played if only we had cared deeply about Sheppard as a person. “Ohmygawd! He’s turning into a bug!!!!! This is horrible!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1!!!!1!” But no—it was more like, “Ha! He’s turning into a bug. Cool. This should be good. Hey—you got any more potato chips over there?” The writers have continued this pattern throughout the series. Once and a while, Sheppard is put through some sort of ordeal, presumably to give him “depth”, but really they’re just giving us more omlettes.

Carson Beckett is like this too. He’s very likeable guy, but I admit I didn’t feel much regret when he once again left the show at the end of last week’s episode “The Seed”, and I don’t find myself caring very much whether they bring him back.

This flatness of character is a systemic problem with the show. To take the Beckett example a bit farther: His character was originally killed, it was only later that they pulled a Mr. Spock on him and brought him back. So let’s compare his death to Mr. Spock’s death. When Mr. Spock died at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, people cried. Seriously. I had to struggle with every fibre of my being to avoid crying openly in the theater (as a teenager, I would have felt like a complete ass if I cried, even if nobody noticed). When Carson Beckett died, well, I did feel bad. There may have even been a tear. I mean, he really is a nice guy, you know? His dedication to his profession is more than admirable—he’s a genuine hero. However, while his death actually did suck, there wasn’t much to it beyond that. This was not epic tragedy the way Spock’s death was. Another good comparison would be to Daniel Jackson’s death/ascension on SG-1. That really hurt, and the fact that he was supposedly still around as some sort of mystical energy-being was no consolation at all. It would have been the same for any member of the SG-1 team. I loved those guys! They were the best! However, with the possible exception of Rodney McKay, I have never had that depth of feeling for any character on Stargate: Atlantis. I doubt that I am the only one who feels this way. Why is this so? Because the characters just don’t inspire that much feeling.

Replacing Teyla with a new team member might not have helped, of course. The last new person on the show was Dr. Keller, and where has she gone so far, as a character? Almost nowhere. Just as with Sheppard, the most interesting thing to happen to her is getting transformed into a bug. Ooops, I mean a giant tentacled creature. Whatever. (Does it really matter?) This happened in last week’s episode, “The Seed,” and, in fact, that story was even worse for Dr. Keller than Sheppard’s bug-guy transformation, because in “The Seed”, an episode revolving entirely around her, she spends the majority of her screen time unconscious!

I know full well that Jewel Staite can do more than what is being asked of her, too. Her completely delightful portrayal of Kaylee on Firefly was a highlight of that series—she stood out even though she had to compete with eight other well developed characters, and even though there were only fourteen episodes finished before the series was axed. But the character she’s playing on Atlantis doesn’t stand out much at all. I have to admit, if I wasn’t such a Jewel Staite fan, I doubt Dr. Keller would have made any impression on me. I actually had to look up her name for this article because I couldn’t remember it, in spite of the fact that she’s been on the series for a whole season already.

However, I do have a couple of reasons to maintain hope. The first is that Dr. Keller is still fairly new. Even though she’s been around a whole season, and even though her most significant moment during that time was her metamorphosis into a giant seaweed monster, it is still possible that some evolution could happen. She doesn’t yet have four seasons of inertia holding her back like some of the other cast. The writers might go with idea of hooking her up with Dr. McKay, for instance. Anything involving Rodney McKay is probably a good idea, so that is a ray of hope. I also know that, if there’s any shred of interest to be found in the Dr. Keller character at all, Jewel Staite will find it, if only the writers and directors give her the chance. She’s also got star billing now, her face right up there in the main titles with all the others. Can this be an omen of things to come? I hope so.

I’m being pretty so critical of this show, but the truth is that I really do enjoy it. I wouldn’t bother with all of this if I didn’t care. But, to lighten this up a bit, I’ll finish with a new development which I think is quite promising: Robert Picardo’s addition to the cast.

Those faithful Trekkers who, like myself, suffered through the first couple of seasons of Star Trek: Voyager will probably recall Picardo’s portrayal of The Doctor as one of the bright spots of that dreadfully dull early period in Voyager history. It’s for this reason, and for his previous appearances on the Stargate shows, that I was very happy to see him included as one of the regular cast on Atlantis, even if it meant losing Samantha Carter.

(I know a lot of people are not happy about Carter leaving. However, as much as I like Carter, I’m not inclined to agree that her leaving the show is necessarily a bad thing. That, however, is a whole other topic, one which perhaps deserves a post of its own someday.)

Like Carter, Richard Woolsey comes with some predefined developmental background, although not nearly as much as Carter did. Woolsey was one of the more enjoyable antagonist guest characters on SG-1. He first appeared as a butt-clenching bureaucrat sent to sabotage the entire Stargate program through procedural means. It didn’t work, not because he failed in his mission but because he changed his mind about the program. That right there was the beginning his evolution into someone interesting, and a sign that he wasn’t going to be a one-dimensional villian like Senator Kinsey or Apophis. A one-dimensional villian can be entertaining, sure, but given a choice, I’ll take a fully fleshed out antagonist just about every time (Peter Williams’ excellent portrayal of Apophis notwithstanding).

Woolsey has some qualities similar to General Hammond, who also came to SG-1 in a somewhat antagonistic capacity (although Hammond was obviously never intended to be a real antagonist). Like Hammond, Woolsey can be swayed through reason, and will even occassionally break the rules for the greater good. He also has a hard-nosed side, so he can make the tough calls when he needs to. On SG-1, he abandoned his prejudices about the Stargate program, and ended up becoming a firm believer in it and the members of the SG-1 team (just as Hammond learned to trust the intelligence and integrity of Daniel Jackson, who he was pretty skeptical of at first). That sort of attitude change isn’t just gratifying, it’s interesting. Furthermore, unlike Carter, who’s a character of action, thriving on movement and mission, Woolsey is entirely a thinker, a decider, a manager. Where Carter would carry out a mission, Woolsey would produce a mission statement. He’s the kind of guy who could be your boss at that cushy desk job you want so much (and you’d be lucky to have someone as fair-minded as him, too). Perhaps most promisingly, although Woolsey does have very strong desk-jockey tendencies, it’s already obvious that in order to be effective as the leader of the Atlantis team, he’s going to have to grow beyond that, to acquire a bit of that movement and mission quality that Carter possesses.

It all sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Everything is set up just so: We’ve got a moderately developed and fairly interesting character in a position where he’ll have to develop some more if he wants to succeed at his job. The question now is, will the writers take this ball and run with it? We can only wait and see. So far, Picardo himself seems to be making the most of the opportunity he’s been given. Witness the little moment in this most recent episode where Woolsey couldn’t figure out how to get the conference room doors open. It wasn’t just played as a matter of technical ineptitude, but also as an element of his larger struggle to earn the respect of the team. He’s frustrated that the team doesn’t yet respect him to the degree that he would like, but he’s not simply throwing his authority around to gain that respect. He genuinely wants Sheppard and the others to respect him, and he wants to earn that respect fairly. He wants to deserve it, without compromising his authority, and this goal is important to him. Using the door-opening problem to illustrate this was a welcome detail, and a sign (I hope) that he will end up being more than just a cardboard cutout character. Yes, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what happens with Woolsey.

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[1] By the way, why doesn’t “the team” have a name? SG-1 had a name. Shouldn’t Sheppard’s team have a name too? Or at least an official designation of some kind???