When the Stargate is unearthed in 1928 Giza, it remains a mystery until its code is cracked by archaeologist Dr. Daniel Jackson (played by Spader). With the gate active, forming a wormhole between a similar gate across the known universe, Colonel Jack O’Neill (played by Russell) will lead a team, including Dr. Jackson, to the other side. What they discover is a world, and an adventure, beyond their wildest imaginations that I just can’t do justice with text, so please enjoy the trailer embedded below.
The whole cast is great, not just Russell and Spader. In particular, Jaye Davidason as Ra is uniquely captivating, and even French Stewart is here without being the comic relief. And the soundtrack by David Arnold, the second of his long career, ranks among my top favorite soundtracks of all time.
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.
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.
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).
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 SG-1 is the best and most balanced series to have ever aired on television. Ok, so some of you who have followed me for a very long time are thinking, “He’s making the same mistake he did on Splash Panel, reviewing the best too early on!” and you’re right. I guess I just find it hard to move forward with my mind constantly drafting the review of my favorite, so it’s time to get this out there.
Beginning in 1997, Stargate SG-1 was more or less a sequel to 1994’s original Stargate film (read the Rewatch review here). There are some notable small differences for whatever reason, but the point is, if you’re a fan of the original movie, there’s no reason you wouldn’t be a fan of this series too. It expanded the mythos, characters, and the overall Stargate universe for 10 whole seasons, 2 straight-to-DVD films, and 2 successful spin-offs. If you were sad that there was never a film sequel to Stargate, this is far better than you could have ever hoped for.
The series follows Colonel Jack O’Neill and Doctor Daniel Jackson from the original film, joined by new characters Captain Samantha Carter and Teal’c. The series kicks off quickly when we learn that Ra of the original film was not the only alien posing as a god in our galaxy. In fact, his entire race, the Goa’uld, make quite the habit of it. Stargate Command quickly assembles several SG teams to both explore our galaxy’s vast Stargate network, and to take down these false gods whenever they can. Our main cast makes up SG-1, in particular Teal’c joins during the first episode. Cementing the show’s premise, he’s a former JaffaFirst Prime of Apophis (like a second-in-command), who turns on his master when he realizes that SG-1 may be the first who can convince everyone that the Goa’uld who have dominated the galaxy are nothing more than false gods.
The cast takes about a season to really mesh together, but that may very well be a story element too, as Carter and Teal’c really haven’t worked with O’Neill and Jackson before, and O’Neill and Jackson weren’t exactly the best of friends either. There really isn’t one stand-out actor here, Richard Dean Anderson as O’Neill, Michael Shanks as Jackson, Amanda Tapping as Carter, and Christopher Judge as Teal’c are all outstanding and bring constantly believable depth and emotion to their characters.
Where Stargate SG-1 shines for all 10 seasons is its balance, and I really have never seen a show balanced this well since. It manages to maintain long over-arching plots with constantly returning enemies (Cliff Simon as Ba’al is a personal favorite) alongside fun stand-alone episodes with relative ease, and much of that is due to the engaging characters. Like a good book series, you aren’t watching the next episode based on its synopsis, you’re watching to see what these characters do next. The world that the Stargate film crafted seemingly never stops growing, and you will easily find yourself watching all of it. There is no “best episode” in this case, it’s simply a wonderfully engaging experience.
As with any long-running series, there are cast changes, but surprisingly not many for a series of this length. Shanks left the show after season 5, replaced by Corin Nemic as Jonas Quinn, who was then replaced by Shanks when he returned in season 7.
Anderson retired after season 9, replaced by Ben Browder as Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell for the final season. And if you thought Browder wasn’t enough to bring back the Farscape nostalgia, don’t worry, Claudia Black also joins the team in the final season as maybe-reformed and possibly ex-thief Vala Mal Doran. The incredibly low cast turnover really helps you engage with the characters for the entire length of the series.