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BLOG Stargate Universe - the best and worst

Who controls the destiny of the Destiny? Blogger John Cooper casts his kino over a season and a half of Stargate Universe [spoilers!]

Ever watched a show that frustrates you? A show you'll happily pick holes in, rant at, wonder why you're watching then do it all again next week?

This is my relationship with Stargate Universe.

While series one enjoyed laying out its rebooted franchise of mismatched characters lost in space, it ended in a bit of a mash-up, with some naughty mercenaries managing to get on board the destiny, a ship supposedly billions of miles from earth, leaving series two opening with loads of flabby exposition, and not much going on.

Some of my confusion may have been due to lost references having not followed either previous series SG1 or Atlantis in any detail. But then the whole ethos of SGU was to re-boot the franchise, attempting to mature it into "big telly" like Lost or True Blood and bring in new viewers - in which it's had some success.

One of the reasons I'm still watching is Robert Carlyle, or more specifically the relationship between his character Dr Rush and Colonel Young, an equally impressive Louis Ferreira.

I'm sure I wasn't the only one to be initially suspicious of Carlyle as a bit of stunt casting given the motivations of the morally questionable character, the proverbial "man with ulterior motives". One season and he'll be off, I thought - doing the Eccelston shuffle; but no he's still there and very watchable. Thing is, the problem with a "man with ulterior motives" is once those motives are fulfilled he becomes less interesting unless he finds another dark ulterior motive - in Rush's case the kind of passion project where survival and the death other people is just a by-product of waking up and getting on with it. Once you've got more than a couple of those under your belt, the friends of the other dead people are less likely to accommodate you, regardless of how clever you are. Either that or worse, the character starts to soften up.

Which is where my frustration comes in with SGU as a whole, and I'll state examples so pardon me for spoilers...

Season one's "Lost" was a tightly scripted jungle-based gem and before that was "Justice" where Rush and Young have proper fisticuffs and bitching, but between these episodes there's stuff like "Faith" where not much happens but it looks nice, and "Human", which suffers from a recurring problem that's cropped up twice recently in season two's "Cloverdale" and "Visitation"... it can be a bit predictable.

Sometimes it's slow. Slow can be good, but some episodes are just... well, signposted a bit too much. Like the ship in "Visitation" that was broken, then magically fixed and the people followed suit. Or "Awakening" where Telford stays at the controls of the seed ship, and surprisingly gets stranded there. On occasion the premise is just too slight, like "Human" where the episode is simply a showcase for Carlyle's performance - great telly, but not much in the way of plot.

SGU is a good show; it has great production values and a very broad ensemble cast, a textbook example of how to keep characters fresh on a show set on a spaceship with a limited crew by revolving the "second tier" faces regularly so that everyone gets a look in, and someone can actually die without resorting to red shirts.

Which I think is why I get frustrated: SGU is so nearly great, but not quite. It's come a long way (literally) and there's no denying it was a brave but necessary move to reboot the Stargate franchise, pissing off a few fans in the process. It's not quite as dark and layered as it likes to think, but it's not meringue posing as gateau either - and that's enough it keep me coming back for more.

This is a personal article by regular SFX blogger John Cooper. Are you watching SGU? Let us know whether you consider yourself friend or foe of the second season.

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