Oct 10

Stargate / SG1 / Atlantis / Best characters evah!

When the movie Stargate came out I loved it. I was about 17, so perhaps I was easily impressed at the time but having recently rewatched it, I still think it stands up. When the TV show spin-off first aired I was very disappointed and abandoned it after only a few episodes. This turned out to be a mistake… or was it? I’m actually glad I waited until the entire 10 year run of the show concluded before buying the DVDs and watching the entire thing in the span of about 4 months.

There are some shows that benefit from being seen on a weekly, or otherwise sporadic basis. I tried to watch Six Feet Under all in one go but wound up tying a noose up to a light fixture and placing it around my neck, so depressing is that show. It should come with a warning: only watch in the summer, when in a good mood, with someone you love. Middleman and Eureka also benefit from slow viewage. They are good, campy fun but my camp tolerance only runs so deep and after too many episodes I lose interest, therefore those shows are best viewed intermittently.

Other shows benefit from being viewed all at once, such as Battlestar Gallatica, which is so good that it can be viewed according to any schedule but is probably best enjoyed when viewed in a marathon.

Still other shows absolutely require obsessive, sequential viewing. Lost, I’m looking at you. Lost is so convoluted that you lose track of what’s happening on a minute to minute basis, nevermind week to week. Heroes is also kind of confusing, what with the overload of useless characters, but I’m not sure I would want to watch too much of it all at once since I might be overcome with annoyance at Mexican Wonder Twin and her Crying Black Eyes of Death.  In fact, I’ve been rather annoyed with Heroes this season.  I think I’m starting to hate that show, but I digress.

Back to the topic at hand, which is Stargate. SG1 turned out to be the type of show that is best appreciated when seen all at once. Thank you to Space for their constant reruns because I randomly started watching a few episodes here and there and didn’t think much of them as catching the odd episode doesn’t leave much of an impression. But then here and there turned into every day, sometimes twice a day and when I found myself thinking about Daniel Jackson while shopping at Winners, I knew I was hooked. So I bought the whole series. All ten seasons of it. And I’m glad I did.  Once I got into it, it was all I could think about, and watching it all at once allowed me to appreciate the subtleties as well as the overarching storyarc. 

Stargate SG1 may just be THE most internally consistent show I have ever seen, with continuity that makes Star Trek look like a fourth grader’s science-fair project. It also boasts an impressively realistic portrayal of the military, so much so that it has won awards from the American airforce, for its “positive” portrayal of said airforce, although I would argue that the military is displayed warts and all, and oftentimes the negative trappings of the military are relevant to the plot. 

Of course there are a few unrealistic elements to SG1, as is inevitable for a sci-fi show that needs to move things along plot-wise (*cough*everyone in the galaxy speaks english even though their written language is totally different*cough*) but I have been continuously impressed by how grounded SG1 is in the real world, while simultaneously exploring every possible concept available to a science-fiction premise.  So yeah, there are a lot of sci-fi clichés on display but SG1 always retains its sense of humour and never tries to be important, unlike some other genre shows like the aforementioned BSG.  Yet it does have some very worthwhile things to say, particularly when it comes to the issue of religion. 

SG1 also deserves props for managing to stretch one villain into 8 seasons.  Most shows beat their villains into the ground until they aren’t scary anymore (borg anyone?) but the goa’uld maintained their menace and remained consistant while simultaneously evolving according to the ways in which they were repeatedly defeated by the heroes. 

Another plus for SG1 is that it is one of the only shows I have ever seen where I actually like all the main characters.  I could write an entire point by point comparison between Stargate and Star Trek (don’t worry, I’ll spare you) but one of my biggest issues with Trek has always been the abundance of douchebags on display.  Sooo many characters to hate.  And I don’t mean characters you love to hate because they are so deliciously villainous, I mean characters that just suck up the screen.  No such problem in Stargate.  Everyone rocks in their own way.  I’m sure not everyone would agree with me on that but I will make a strong case for each character if challenged in my assertions. I would also argue that the TV versions of the characters that carry over from the film are actually superior to the cinematic versions. Take that James Spader, Michael Shanks pwns you!  Same with Richard Dean Anderson turning the character originated by Kurt Russell into someone who doesn’t suck.

SG1’s spin-off Atlantis isn’t quite as good.  The main villain, the wraith suffer from a comical resemblance to Marilyn Manson and many of the plots are tired and recycled. And I’m not much of a fan of any of its female characters, though that’s something most shows struggle with (BSG excepted, which has no less than 5 rocking women in its central cast [still only half as many as there are male BSG characters but one takes what one can get]).  SG1 only had one female character but she rocked so hard she was equal to three men, even though one of those men was Daniel Jackson, who makes my top five list of best TV characters of all time.  But Atlantis makes up for its flaws through one character:  Dr. Rodney McKay. 

McKay is introduced in SG1 and he is immediately detestable.  In fact, he was introduced solely for the purpose of giving Carter a foil, because she was kind of too perfect and it was necessary for someone to give her some shit, because most people rightfully worshipped at her altar of amazingness.  McKay comes across as a pompous, arrogant, condescending sleaze and while he is supposed to be brilliant, he just seems petulant and underwhelming.  However, it soon becomes clear that he too worships Carter, but like a 12-year-old boy, displays his love through jerkiness.  He is a character who is used primarily for comic relief and yes, he is funny but also profoundly annoying.

But then came Stargate Atlantis.  The pilot episode was written with some other dude being the science guy but apparently the producers weren’t feeling it.  So they brought in David Hewlett, who plays McKay and suddenly it all clicked.  It is an amazing thing to behold:  Hewlett reads lines that were written for an entirely different character and yet you never doubt his McKayness for a second.  Subsequent episodes were written with McKay in mind but thankfully they converted his lecherousness into awkwardness, which transforms him into something approaching likeability. 

I mentioned my top five list of all time best TV characters and I think McKay tops that list.  There’s Data, Picard, Daniel Jackson and Dean Winchester. (Female characters need their own subset list because TV writers always make the coolest peeps white dudes [chick list: 7of9, Willow, Kai Winn, Samantha Carter, the entire female cast of BSG]). But McKay is different from everyone else on my man list, because McKay is a dope. The others exude awesomeness but McKay, while technically a genius, who often saves the day through his intelligence, making him an excellent addition to any dream team, is a loser.  Everyone around him hates him and it’s easy to see why.  If I knew him in real life I would surely detest him and plot his demise at every turn but as a TV character he has no parallel.  He is hilarious, entertaining, interesting and deeply, almost overwhelmingly flawed.  

Most awesome characters have a few quirks that prevent them from being unlikeably and unrealistically perfect (for Carter it was her black widowness and her workaholicness)  But in McKay’s case it is not a matter of having a few flaws, it is a matter of having a few saving graces.  Again, in real life: pure hate.  But on TV he is amazing because he grounds a show about the sunken city of Atlantis set in the Pegasus galaxy firmly in reality.  While other awesome characters rock their way through episodes, McKay fumbles*. He reacts to situations the way real people do.  When they go to a planet that has no ozone layer and everyone just accepts the inevitable sunburn, McKay freaks out and insists on wearing a hazmat suit for protection from UV rays (I would so do that). When McKay knows fersure he is right about something and it turns out he is wrong, he gets defensive and makes excuses and yells at his boss, and even his apology is actually just assurance that he’ll never be wrong again.  When someone just like him shows up, just like him except cool and nice, he becomes pathetic and realizes he has no friends and his resentment turns to sadness.

I could go on but this post is already spanning the entire page.  Let’s just agree that it sucks that Atlantis got cancelled.  But I hear that another spin-off is in the works: Stargate Universe.  Just like original recipe Stargate, except with a younger, hipper crew!  Hmm… didn’t the producers watch episode 200 of SG1?

*I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Buffy, the Vampire Slayer because that was a show where all the characters were realistically flawed and fumbled towards success, but enough has been written about Buffy that my additional thoughts are not required.
I’ve also made much mention of BSG, but it doesn’t get its own post either because it is the benchmark by which every other show is to be judged and if you aren’t already watching it and loving it then there’s not really much I can do for you, now is there?

5 niqueheads for the whole Stargate shebang. 

4 comments

4 Comments so far

  1. Caro October 14th, 2008 7:45 pm

    Daniel Jackson top 5??!? Really?? Did you like the last season of SG1? Because I wasn’t a big fan. I much prefer atlantis to the last season of SG1. And on Atlantis, what do you think of Ronon? I can’t stand that guy. And I hate that the wraith are getting easier and easier to kill every season…what’s up with that?

    I’m not sure what my top five male characters would be, but I think Mckay would be in there…and maybe Stewie from family guy…he’s hilarious, hehe!

    And for female characters…BUFFY!, Sam Carter, Anya, Amy Gray, & 5th place is a tie between Debra Morgan & Elaine benes

  2. Nique October 14th, 2008 11:22 pm

    Yes really! I like Daniel Jackson because he’s so obsessive and so caught up in his own world. He believes in his own moral code and does what he thinks is right and speaks his mind (with just a touch of condescension) while also trying to work within the parameters of his job. These are all traits I can relate to.

    I did like the last season of SG1 because I really enjoyed the addition of Vala as a character. She was fun.

    I’m still only on season 2 of Atlantis so I can’t comment too much on the wraith degrading season by season but I do like Ronon, although I admit that may have something to do with his extreme hotness.

    You know, Buffy as a character was never a fave of mine. She’s too whiny, too angsty, too eager to be normal. I always thought Willow did a much better job of welcoming her own abilities. Willow was excited to fight demons. Buffy just did it because she had to. Plus bonus points for Vamp Willow.

    Good call on Debra Morgan. Dexter almost made my top five.

  3. kebes October 25th, 2008 4:07 pm

    I’m finally deep enough into season 2 of Stargate Atlantis that I can understand this post. I don’t have much to add except to say that I hardcore agree with your analysis. I love the way McKay is. His arrogance is amazing, especially the way that he constantly insults the other scientists (who are also insanely smart and qualified, but McKay won’t let them forget that he’s just a bit smarter and a bit more qualified).

    The Stargate franchise continues to impress me by depicting scientists and the scientific process in a satisfactory way. (The ridiculously accelerated pace notwithstanding: they solve problems in hours or days whereas in real life it would take years or decades.) I love listening to the scientists argue, come up with ideas, and make tons of mistakes. And McKay’s intellectual arrogance, but ineptitude in social regards, is realistic and genuine (rather than being a boring rehash of the “nerdy scientist” stereotype).

  4. niqueworks » Stargate Universe October 5th, 2009 10:30 pm

    [...] Stargate is back!  My love of Stargate is well documented so I’m glad to report that SGU is still delivering the gatey goodness.  The 2-hour premiere gave [...]

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