This one belongs in its own special category: Shows I always thought looked pretty stupid, and wondered for years why they stayed in production so long (in this case, even switching networks). From time to time someone would tell me how great it was, and I would usually just nod and grunt and change the subject. If the recommender was someone I felt comfortable with, I might share my inner monologue, which rambled around the topics of MacGuyver playing the Kurt Russell role, and how the original movie wasn’t that good, and what’s with the guy with the thing on his forehead? You see where I’m going.
So that’s where I’ve been coming from. So when I finished Lexx, I was left with a need for something to take with me to work that I could fall asleep in front of in the hotel. Hey, it’s what I do. So I browsed Netfix for a while, and figured that 10 seasons of something ought to keep me occupied. SG-1 basically spends the first season getting it’s legs under it, establishing the relationships between all the various characters, and determining just who and what the bad guys are going to be all about (they never really do decide how to pronounce them, by the way). Richard Dean Anderson does a nice job of sliding into Col. Jack O’Neill’s Kurt Russell-shaped shoes, and gradually turning him from a military officer who acts just like Kurt Russel into a military officer who acts just like MacGuyver. Michael Shanks has a similar challenge in stepping into James Spader’s Dr. Daniel Jackson, the nerdy but cool archaeologist. Amanda Tapping lucks out, in that her character, astrophysicist Capt. Samantha Carter is new, so she can overact without disappointing anyone on continuity grounds. The same is true of Christopher Judge, who plays Teal’c, the forehead guy. They all work at a secret U.S. Air Force facility called “Stargate Command”, where the big ring-shaped Stargate from the movie is kept. They are collectively known as SG-1 (get it?). About halfway through season one,I realized something that actually surprised me, and that also made me fall head over heels in love with this program: SG-1 is what Star Trek, The Next Generation should have been! I have always thought that the original Star Trek series had something special that was never seen again in any of the spin-offs. Captain Kirk was fearless, strong, decisive and overplayed. O’Neill adds a touch of smart-ass to this mix. The Fab Four of SG-1 go on their missions of exploration and first-contact diplomacy in full fatigues, with O’Neill leading the way with his Glacier sunglasses and his P90. Good stuff!
For the next six seasons, I was transfixed. The team showed up literally all over the galaxy, rescuing enslaved humans from truly odious bad guys, using those P90’s to defeat gigantic armies of alien warriors armed with energy weapons (luckily, they were also equipped with “Bad Guy” marksmanship skills), and making new friends wherever they went. Just as the venerable Mr. Scott used to routinely redefine what was possible to do with Dilithium crystals and Chambers coils, and did it in a matter of minutes, Captain Carter figures out how to reverse the polarity of things or set up a multidimensional field of particle stuff, and does it all with a Naquada-enhanced booby trap hurtling toward whatever planet they’re on. What Carter has that Scott never did, though, is a C.O. that hates listening to techno-babble. So she gets to rattle off some cool technonyms, until O’Neill interrupts and simply asks “It it gonna work?” To which Carter replies “I think so, Sir”. This is the kind of straightforward and effective storytelling that just works.
Stargate is also one of those shows that is never at risk of taking itself too seriously. In season one, Carter makes a MacGuyver joke. Later, an episode centers around a television show that bears an uncanny resemblance to the Stargate program, complete with signature lines and actors asking why people in a state that allows them to walk through walls don’t fall through the floor. A few years later, in one of the most creative clip shows I’ve seen, Dan Castelanetta, the voice of Homer Simpson, makes a guest appearance as a regular guy who, with the help of an alien artifact, channels O’Neill’s experiences and writes them as a series of short stories, all of which are rejected. There are, of course, others, but you get the idea.
The series also preserved one of the more interesting elements of the movie: As in the movies, the gods of ancient Egypt were in fact aliens. In the case of the Egyptians, bad guy aliens. The good news is, they are more than balanced by a race of good guy aliens who also visited, and were though to be gods. These aliens are known as the Asgard, and you guessed it, they have names like Thor and Freyr. I hope we eventually get to met Odin!
At the time of this writing, Mrs. Zennmaster has gotten on board, which means I don’t watch Stargate by myself on the road anymore. We’ve got two more seasons to go, and maybe it’ll all go downhill, but I don’t really care. I’ll definitely be checking out the spinoffs and the movies, and I’ll let ya know.