Rewatch: Stargate Universe

Stargate Universe is the final series to follow Stargate SG-1 (read the Rewatch review here) and Stargate Atlantis (read the Rewatch review here). The series premiered in 2009 and ran for two seasons when it was canceled kind of on a cliffhanger, more on that later. The series is definitely a tone shift for the franchise. You’ll find overall that it’s darker and has more character-driven drama than SG-1 and Atlantis.

The show follows a set of occupants from the former Icarus Base who are forced to flee through the base’s Stargate to a mysterious address that the base’s obsessive lead scientist has dialed instead of Earth during the evacuation. The base was on the only planet Earth knew of at the time that could power dialing it, so in that scientist’s view, there was no reason to let it go to waste. Unfortunately, the planet explodes after they go through, leaving them no way to get back to Earth (or get supplies from Earth). They are now stranded several billion lightyears away on Destiny, an Ancient ship with an unknown mission and a predetermined course. They have no way home, they are lost in space, the ship is falling apart, they have no control over it, and they are the wrong people for the job.

That obsessive lead scientist I mentioned is Dr. Nicholas Rush, played by Robert Carlyle. He is exactly where he wants to be, unraveling the mysteries of the universe, and everyone else is just getting in his way. He frequently comes into conflict with the ranking military presence, Colonel Everett Young, played by Louis Ferreira. He’s a kind leader who cares for his people, but he wasn’t supposed to be the one commanding the expedition, and while Rush wants to forge forward to the mysteries of the universe, Young wants to get his people home. They’re balanced out by Ming-Na Wen as Camile Wrey, the ranking representative of the International Oversight Advisory. She often provides a bridge between leadership and the civilians onboard.

One real standout on the show is Eli Wallace, played by David Blue. Eli cracked the code for dialing the mysterious address, a task that Rush begrudgingly could never figure out, so he hid it inside a game that Eli, an unemployed college dropout, just happened to solve. Minutes later, he was visited by Rush and Lt. General Jack O’Neill, beamed up to the U.S.S. George Hammond, dropped off at Icarus Base (with his permission), finished the program to dial the mysterious address, and of course evacuated to Destiny. As the fresh newcomer to this entire experience, he is our analog throughout the series, and in case you ever forget, the only shirt he has says “You are here.” Eli constantly has to prove himself, a task he often excels at, despite being constantly out of his depth. He’s like a son to Young, an unwanted pupil to Rush, and a close friend to everyone on board. He doesn’t want to be there, no one wants to be there, but he’s going to make the most of it.

There are a few more characters of note. The entire science team is delightful, and it’s a lot of fun to watch them grow close (and grow a sense of humor) over the series. Besides Rush and Eli, there’s Peter Kelamis as Dr. Adam Brody, Patrick Gilmore as Dr. Dale Volker, and Jennifer Spence as Dr. Lisa Park. And, if you ever need a dose of realism, look no further than Jamil Walker Smith as Master Sergeant Ronald Greer and Mike Dopud as Varro. They are both no-nonsense military men who will do the right thing simply because they see no reason to do anything else, and they’ll tell anyone exactly what they need to hear at any time.

Yeah, I know, that’s a lot of characters, and this is a huge ensemble cast, so that’s not even half of it. What matters is, these are all the wrong people for the job. Some want to explore, some want to put every resource into going home, and at many times they clash. The bulk of the first season is devoted to figuring out how to work together, how Destiny works, why it randomly stops at system with active Stargates for only a few hours, and where it’s going in the first place. The characters drive the drama here. By the time we get to the second season, everyone knows their place and everyone works together, because they understand this is their life now. Almost sensing that, Destiny reveals her bridge, giving them full control over the ship (thought there is still no way to gate home, and the trip would still take far longer than a human lifespan). This all opens the series up to some more interesting developments.

As mentioned earlier, the show’s cancelation does leave it to end on a cliffhanger. Normally I don’t recommend shows that end on cliffhangers, but it’s by far the most gentle cliffhanger I’ve ever experienced. There is no peril, in fact they are escaping peril, and all we are left with is plenty of time for Eli to solve a problem that we all know he can solve. He even has enough time to look out the window and smile as we fade out. Most folks can easily imagine their own continuation of the series from that point, but if you absolutely must know what could have happened next, the show’s producer covered some of the possibilities.

Stargate Universe was the end of an era for a TV franchise that ran uninterrupted for 14 years from 1997 to 2011. The studio which owned the property switched gears and launched the incredibly low-budget and incredibly terrible Stargate Origins in 2018, which ignored all previous shows, and thankfully appears to have been canceled.

You can stream Stargate Universe for free on Amazon Video if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber or buy the complete series on Apple TV for just $29.99. If you loved SG-1 and Atlantis, there’s no reason to not at least give it a try, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Rewatch: Mystery Science Theater 3000

There are two types of people in the world: those who love Mystery Science Theater 3000, and those who have never seen it. If you’re in that latter group, it’s time to change that.

MST3K was a TV series of bad films, featuring colorful commentary during the films to elevate and transform them into something far better. The series followed an unfortunate human, initially Joel Hodgson as Joel Robinson and later Michael J. Nelson as Mike Nelson, paired with two cranky robots, Crow T. Robot (voiced by Trace Beaulieu, then J. Elvis Weinstein, and finally Bill Corbett) and Tom Servo (voiced by J. Elvis Weinstein and later Kevin Murphy). The three are trapped on a research satellite where they are forced to watch bad films in order to find the one that will eventually drive them insane, you know, research. To break up the film, there are small low-budget interludes often featuring the characters discussing the film, their predicament, or doing something inspired by the film, and there are also interludes featuring their tormentors (a rotating cast of hilarious folks throughout the series).

The series premiered in 1988 on a low-budget local Minneapolis TV station, but quickly made the jump to Comedy Central and later Syfy. The series later saw a revival on Netflix, but since that started in 2017, I’m only focussing on the classic seasons here.

If you have never seen MST3K before, I strongly recommend starting with Space Mutiny. I think it features the best balance of a watchable film and great commentary.

If you need just one more to convince you, check out The Pumaman, which is just an odd film, so very odd.

MST3K has an impressive legacy, with many homages and spinoffs. If you somehow make it through all of the episodes, I recommend checking out RiffTrax next, or just check it out now anyway. It’s a still-active spinoff features Nelson, Corbett, and Murphy, and it’s just as great as MST3K.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 ran for an impressive 11 years. You can stream many episodes for free on Shout! Factory TV, and you can probably find the rest on YouTube (after all, many episodes of the series ended with “keep circulating the tapes”).

Rewatch – Batman: The Animated Series

Of course the first animated series I review here is going to be Batman: The Animated Series, a 1992 children’s animated series that has aged incredibly well. There series is dark, artistic, thematically dense, and unlike anything on children’s television at the time. Collecting numerous awards and nominations throughout its run, Batman: The Animated Series redefined Batman and many other characters for generations.

Kevin Conroy voiced Batman and Bruce Wayne, and started the trend of considering Bruce Wayne as a mask that Batman wore, rather than the other way around. Wayne had a high-pitched and jovial voice, while Batman had a lower pitched rough voice. When alone (or amongst trusted friends) in Wayne Manor or the Batcave, you heard Batman’s voice, whether he was in costume or not. Bruce Wayne’s voice only came out in public when he was out of costume or on the phone as Bruce Wayne. He was Batman, and Bruce Wayne was simply a disguise that he wore for the public.

Mark Hamill voiced The Joker, and quickly became a fan-favorite Joker for a whole generation, perhaps more. Arleen Sorkin voiced Harley Quinn, the series was actually the introduction for the now fan-favorite character. Michael Ansara voiced Mister Freeze, a haunting voice that I will always and forever read his character with. Adam West (yes, the 1960’s Batman), voiced The Gray Ghost, a television hero from Wayne’s childhood. These are just my favorites, but there are many more.

This clip is from the Mask of the Phantasm spin-off film, but it’s the best quality I could find with both Conroy and Hamill as their characters.

Most of the episodes are self-contained, there are a few two-parters, and one or two that reference previous episodes, but it’s generally safe to start at any point and skip around. I recommend starting with the show’s third episode and introduction of Mister Freeze, Heart of Ice. If you’re still wondering how you’d enjoy a children’s show, this is the episode that will change your mind.

Batman: The Animated Series had two spin-off films. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm hit theaters, and Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero was direct-to-video. Both are definitely worth watching too. As for the show itself, you can stream Batman: The Animated Series on DC Universe, or buy the complete series on iTunes for $79.99. Batman: The Animated Series is a genre-defining success that still holds up to this day, and I hope you agree!

Rewatch: Generation X

Well, this is an odd one. Generation X wasn’t exactly a TV series, but it was supposed to be one. Instead, it’s a failed TV pilot episode re-packaged as a TV film. As far as I can tell, it aired only once on February 20, 1996, and it was never released on home video. Perhaps most notably, it’s the first live action attempt for the X-Men franchise, predating the first live action X-Men film by 4 years and the first live action X-Men TV series by 11 years.

If you aren’t familiar with the Generation X comic series, you’d be forgiven for thinking this wasn’t part of the X-Men franchise, that is if you just missed the few incredibly short references to the Xavier School for Gifted Children. All of your fan-favorites are here! Banshee (Jeremy Ratchford), The White Queen (Finola Hughes), Jubilee (Heather McComb), Skin (Agustin Rodriguez), M (Amarilis), Mondo (Bumper Robinson), Buff (Suzanne Davis), Refrax (Randall Slavin), and Dr. Russell Tresh (Matt Frewer)! Not ringing any bells? Yeah, I understand. In fact, Buff and Refrax are totally new characters subbing for Husk and Chamber due to special effects budget concerns. The standout is of course Frewer as Dr. Tresh, as there is an incredible eccentricity to his portrayal that makes Jim Carrey’s Riddler look tame.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2woRmWMhm0

Despite a cast of mostly industry unknowns, there are actually no bad actors in this TV film, just bad choices. To name just one, there are so many Dutch angles that I wondered if the production could only afford a broken tripod. I’m not sure what director Jack Sholder’s goal was here, but if he wanted to disorient the audience for almost the entire TV film, it worked! Roger Ebert once said of Battlefield Earth, “The director, Roger Christian, has learned from better films that directors sometimes tilt their cameras, but he has not learned why.” I’m getting the same feeling here.

Generation X is not a terrible TV film, it’s actually one of the more entertaining TV films I’ve ever seen. If you’re looking to fill an hour and a half of your time, get some friends together and watch it! You can watch Generation X via the YouTube video embedded above or download it from The Internet Archive.

Rewatch: Stargate Atlantis

Stargate Atlantis is technically the second spin-off of Stargate SG-1 (read the Rewatch review here). Stargate Infinity came first, but it’s not great and largely no longer considered canon, so I like to think of Atlantis as the first true spin-off.

The show premiered in 2004 during the 8th season of SG-1, so a lot of the universe’s ground work was already laid. They’re able to focus exclusively on the new worlds, technology, and cultures of the Pegasus Galaxy without getting bogged down with explaining previous Stargate lore. The show initially followed the team of Joe Flanigan as Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, David Hewlett as Doctor Rodney McKay, Rainbow Sun Francks as Lieutenant Aiden Ford, and Rachel Luttrell as local recruit Teyla Emmagan, all under the leadership of Torri Higginson as Doctor Elizabeth Weir. The series begins with the discovery of Atlantis in the far-away Pegasus Galaxy, and we very quickly and accidentally awaken the Wraith, the primary villain of the series, who literally feed on the humans. It’s time for our heroes to quickly get to work both exploring the galaxy and stopping the enemy they inspired, which when you put it that way, sounds a lot like SG-1, and that’s a very good thing here.

Like SG-1, the cast is great. Also like SG-1, there were some notable cast changes during the entire 5-season run. In season 2, Francks’s character is essentially replaced by Jason Momoa as Ronon Dex (though you may know him as Aquaman these days), and in season 4, Higginson’s character is essentially replaced by Amanda Tapping as Colonel Samantha Carter (who transitioned over from SG-1 when the series ended).

And finally, in season 5, Tapping left the show and was replaced by Robert Picardo as Richard Woolsey. You may remember him as The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager, and speaking of doctors, Jewel Staite as Doctor Jennifer Keller was upgraded to the main cast this season.

Compared to SG-1, the villains don’t feel as developed. You’ve got the Wraith, they’re basically vampires who routinely conquer the galaxy by feeding on most of the humans, slumber for decades, and do it all over again. They’re bad because that’s bad. They aren’t pretending to be a variety of established gods from our past, like the Goa’uld, they just feed on humans and we obviously don’t like that. You’ve got your re-imagined Replicators, in which they actually have a more believable origin story, but not much else. You’ve got your evil Asgard, who only show up for two episodes. And, finally, you’ve got your variety box of bad humans doing bad things.

Despite those shortcomings though, there are some fascinating individual villains, in particular Christopher Heyerdahl as Todd the Wraith, who forms an often tenuous alliance with Atlantis when the Wraith hives start fighting each other over their food supply. Wraith fighting Wraith is definitely advantageous for both sides, but they always know where they really stand with each other, and Todd has a solid wit when it comes to calling our heroes’ bluffs. Every episode with Todd guarantees plenty of delightful dialogue sparring. And it’s always fun when Robert Davi shows up as Commander Acastus Kolya, a mostly one-note character, but one who is played with a captivating singular conviction.

As I mentioned earlier, the cast is great, but a few really stand out. Hewlett really shines as McKay, and has the most character growth throwout the series, along with some impressive solo episodes. He grows from a cowardly, selfish, know-it-all scientist; to a cowardly, selfish, know-it-all scientist who is happy to return fire with the enemy and take charge of rescuing his team. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but if you were to watch the first and last episodes back to back, it’s quite a range given how Hewlett handles the character. Picardo shines if only for one brief season as Woolsey. He started in SG-1 as a paper-pushing policy-enforcing overseer, but once he’s actually put in charge of Atlantis, he begins to learn that policies don’t have all the answers. His growth is similarly subtle, but Picardo again puts some impressive range into it. And last, but not least, David Nykl as Radek Zelenka. Zelenka is often paired with McKay as his top subordinate, perhaps equal, perhaps even his better. He’s not part of the main cast, but he almost always manages to save the day when he’s around, and he presents a delightfully humble balance to McKay.

Stargate Atlantis ran for 5 seasons, and though it was canceled before it could be given the ending its creators intended, the ending it did receive wasn’t a cliffhanger and offered a lot of closure. Stargate Universe (read the Rewatch review here) followed in 2009 as the final spin-off of SG-1, and I’ll get around to reviewing it as soon as I’m done rewatching it. You can stream Stargate Atlantis on Hulu or buy the complete series on iTunes for just $49.99. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!