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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.

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.

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???