Pilot Review: Life Unexpected

The Brief: Fifteen year old Lux is trying to escape the foster care system and go it alone as soon as she hits her birthday in a couple of days. But to do that she needs the signatures of her birth parents, who had a one night stand when they were sixteen and never really looked back. Inevitably they find they need each other and end up forming a very strange extended family group.

The CW is an odd network, it’s targeting the pretty specific female 18-34 demographic and has a collection of shows that are completely unashamed about what they. While there’s a lot of stuff I don’t care for (America’s Next Top Model, Melrose Place) and there’ve been some real clunkers (The Beautiful Life, about New York models only lasted two episodes), there’s also some real gems like Gossip Girl, Supernatural and Smallville. It also used to broadcast Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls, and Life Unexpected clearly owes a debt to both of those shows.

Sixteen years and nine months ago Cate and Nate (ugh) had a one night stand after a prom, she got pregnant and put the baby up for adoption, Nate thought she had an abortion. Now she’s a breakfast host on the local radio station and he owns and lives in a bar. Lux was never actually adopted and has been bouncing around foster homes and is petitioning to be granted emancipation on her sixteenth birthday, but for contrived reasons needs her parent’s signatures. Hijinks ensue and they all end up reconnecting and needing each other. It’d be a pretty short show if they didn’t.

The themes are all pretty clear and simple, the ‘parents’ generally have less of a clue about life than the child does, but she in turn isn’t nearly as grown up as she thinks she is. They’re all busy proclaiming too loudly that they’re fine and happy with their lives – Cate’s whole on-air persona is about being bitter and lonely, Nate is a 32 year old living like he’s in a fraternity and Lux screams that she’s self-sufficient and doesn’t need anyone. It’s cheesy and obvious, but it makes sense and forms a good foundation.

The characters are all really nicely crafted and introduced. When Cate is asked if she even thought about keeping her baby, she answers ‘no’ with complete honesty. She wants to do the right thing by her daughter, but she doesn’t spontaneously become an all knowing mother figure, you can see her thinking things out and just trying really hard. The relationship between Nate and Lux is a little different, he doesn’t have the same feelings of guilt, but he sees the opportunity to embrace the responsibility for a change.

The pilot is enjoyable and touching without being too smaltzy. There’s a lot of spirit in the characters and the gang of supporting side-kicks adds a lot of humour. I liked the look of the show as well, set in Portland, Oregon and has a sort of grungy lived in feel to it. I doubt it’s going to be a surprising show, I suspect I could predict the plots of half a dozen episodes based on the pilot alone, but the show has a spark to it that made me want to watch more.

Links
imdb, tv.com, wikipedia

TVSquad review

I can’t find any info about a UK channel showing this.

Pilot Review: Caprica

The brief: A prequel to Battlestar Galactica, set on Caprica 50 years or so before the fall. Two very different families find themselves connected and possibly, accidentally, bringing about the end of civilisation.

This pilot has been out and about for a while thanks to a DVD and iTunes premier last April, but I hadn’t watched it as I felt I needed to detox a little from Battlestar Galactica. But the full series is now starting on the US SyFy channel, so it seemed fitting to review it as the first of my mid-season reviews.

If you liked Battlestar Galactica I think there’s very little chance you won’t like this show. In all the core qualities it is very similar, it reaches the same high standards in terms of production values and demands the same attention and consideration from the viewer. This is not an easy show to watch, the characters are pretty much dumped in unpleasant situations and forced to make the best of a bad lot. As independent observers we can judge that the decisions they make are not necessarily right, but while the end point of their actions may be terrible, each step in their processes is understandable.

Where it most obviously differs from Battlestar is in the visuals. Where Battlestar was cramped interiors in gun metal grey, Caprica is open plan houses and shiny glass. It actually feels more like a science fiction show than Battlestar did; there’s more technology and it’s all more obvious and slick. While Battlestar had very good reasons for using minimal technology (even the space ships somehow felt far less technologically advanced than our own fighter jets), it is really nice to see cool stuff just treated as part of everyday life. Everything here feels right, not just the technology, but the architecture and costumes all feel like they’re not far out of our own reach. But it’s not all shiny new things, there’s still historical buildings and varied fashions making it feel like a culture and society that’s developed, not just sprung into life fully formed for a TV show.

Like Battlestar Galactica this is Good television with a capital G, but it is by no means easy to watch. The sense of doom hanging over the characters and civilisation is depressing, but also somehow freeing. With Battlestar part of what made it heartbreaking was that there was always the slight hope that things would get better. With Caprica, knowing that the end of the story has already been written means that you can just focus on appreciating the way fate unravels. With the quality of design, writing and acting on display in the pilot, I’m confident that it will be a fascinating and satisfying journey to watch.

Links
imdb
Wikipedia
TV.com

Caprica starts on Sky1, Tuesday 2nd Feb, 9pm

Pilot Review: V

I think V is the final premier of 2009, and coincidentally one of the new shows I was most excited about. I’m not sure dragging the anticipation out really did them any favours.

It’s not exactly a new thing to be remaking cult classics, I don’t think the phrase “hot on the heels of Battlestar Galactica” is really valid when the heels first appeared 6 years ago, but someone clearly went searching for shows that could be made relevant to a new audience and found the 1984 series V. I will admit that despite my claims to be a science fiction and television fan, I’ve never actually seen the original V. I feel bad about that. But it does allow me to review this show without any pre-established feelings as to whether the new show is butchering a past classic.

Basic premise – a bunch of human looking aliens come to Earth in their ships and declare they are here to be our friends, they want to help and they’re basically big floating space hippies. So far so good, but then it turns out there may be something more to their story, they’re not all they seem and they may have ulterior motives. Blah blah blah.

First problem is that ‘blah blah blah’ right there. There’s a big speech at the end which says something along the lines of “we have to fight for humanity” and I just thought “oh who cares?”. Now maybe this says more about my current frame of mind than the quality of the pilot, but after being told that this may be the end of life as we know it, I just didn’t really care either way. The pilot reminded us how screwed up the world is and I utterly failed to connect with any of the human characters, so who cares if the aliens want to come and eat a few mice or inslave humanity (those aren’t spoilers, I’m guessing)? Good luck to ’em.

The pilot is very rushed, revealing a lot more than I expected it would in the first 45 minutes, there’s a couple of twists that would probably have been more impressive if they’d waited a few more episodes to reveal. But I guess they’ve decided those aren’t the stories they want to be telling, they wanted to get all the set-up out of the way so that they can move on to… whatever it is they’re moving on to. Frankly the pilot gives very little idea of what a weekly episode will be about.

I think the problem is the characters, or possibly even the actors themselves. It’s a great cast on paper, but most came with baggage attached. Elizabeth Mitchell stars as an FBI agent and concerned single mum… but all I could see was Juliet from Lost. Joel Gretsch is a troubled priest, but all I could see was the same “I’m troubled by this but I’m not sure why” face that he had in The 4400 and Taken. Scott Wolf will forever be the kid from Party of Five and Morena Baccarin was playing the same aloof alien she played in Stargate, just with a different haircut. I adore Alan Tudyk and he was the only character with any spark, but at the end of the day, he was just a slightly watered down Wash.

The whole thing left me feeling incredibly ‘meh’. The design didn’t really do anything for me, the aliens and their technology were all kind of sleek, grey and featureless. I didn’t notice any music, so I guess that was vanilla as well. The direction was resoundingly mediocre, with some crappy blue screening to get people into the alien environments complete killing any sense of connection. Also there were way too many times when I felt ideas were just lifted from other shows, everything from Battlestar Galactica to Frost/Nixon seemed to get a look in.

The other reviews I’m reading seem a lot more positive, but to me it just felt like it had all been done before (and that’s even without seeing what it’s ACTUALLY retelling). By the end of the episode I just felt bored and utterly unenthused with the idea of watching the rest of the season do exactly the same things as dozens of shows, films and books before it. I will however give it another few chances in the vague hope that it just turns out I was in a bad mood when I watched the pilot.

Links: wikipedia, TV.com, imdb
Reviews: TV Squad, CliqueClack

V will be shown in the UK on the Sci Fi Channel in 2010.

Pilot Review: White Collar

Although I’m done with the bulk of the pilot watching, I figured I might as well post the occasional review of the later airing pilots that will occasionally appear. Particularly for things like White Collar which manage to have a notable impact on the overall quality of the season as a whole.

White Collar is a fairly unoriginal concept, a con artist buys his way out of prison by becoming a consultant for the FBI and helping catch his peers. If the pilot is anything to go by, we’re going to be focussing on the rather more sedate side of the FBI, more accounting and paperwork than guns and car chases.

The tagline of the network this airs on is “Characters Welcome”, and they’ve certainly kept on message here. It’s a true buddy-cop show, from the very start there’s a wonderful chemistry between the conman and the FBI agent who caught him. It’s instantly clear that there’s a mutual professional respect that rapidly and easily falls into friendship. The characters feel smart, they don’t continually get surprised when the other does something completely in character (Dr Cuddy on House, I’m looking at you) they just learn to work with each other and have fun. The same is true for the relationship between the FBI agent and his wife (the only cast member I recognised I’m ashamed to say – Tiffani Thiessen from Saved by the Bell!), after 10 years of marriage, she is again unsurprised when he’s late for dinner yet again.

I really liked the pilot, I laughed and smiled a lot more than any of the comedies I watched and was engaged with the mystery story, completely satisfied with the pacing of the reveals and the twists and turns. The show would be pretty unremarkable if not for the fact that the writing, acting and directing all mesh together in a solid and competent manner that I’ve found sadly lacking from most of the pilots this year. It’s not going to win any Emmys and it’s not going to blast to the top of the ratings, but it’s a really enjoyable way to spend an hour.

Official Site, imdb, wikipedia, TV.com

TV Squad review, CliqueClack review

New Season So Far

I’ve reviewed 21 pilots this season and I am declaring myself done. If I were to be a completionist about things, there’s still two pilots I haven’t reviewed: The Cleveland Show which I’m choosing to exempt because it’s an animation and the reimagining of Melrose Place which I just don’t think I can bring myself to dedicate 45 minutes of my life to. There are also a few shows which may debut later in the season, the most notable of which is the reimagining of V which I’m quite excited by, but doesn’t appear until November.

I’ve gotta say, I’m not hugely impressed with this year’s selection. These things tend to come in waves and this is clearly not a poster year for television. For example 2004 was a good year – it saw the arrival of Battlestar Galactica, Desperate Housewives, Veronica Mars, CSI:NY, Boston Legal, House and Lost – that’s a pretty good haul!

Even though there’s only a couple of direct spin offs on the roster this year, the vast majority of the shows that are obvious attempts to cash in on something already successful. The Beautiful Life tried and failed to be the new Gossip Girl, Mercy is Grey’s Anatomy with nurses, Eastwick is Desperate Housewives with magic and FlashForward is enthusiastically selling itself as the new Lost to anyone that will listen. The Vampire Diaries is a TV show for Twilight fans, Glee owes a lot to High School Musical and Defying Gravity is actually a remake of a BBC documentary!

The problem is that for each of those you’ve got an obvious problem. If I don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy, it’s unlikely I’m going to watch the new version. If I AM already loving and watching Grey’s Anatomy why would I also want to watch a cheap copycat? You’re setting yourself the difficult challenge of being so much better than the original that people don’t care you’re not original. The best thing FlashForward could say about itself is not “if you liked Lost, you’ll like us”, it’s “if you liked the idea of Lost, but gave up on it, come watch us because we learnt from Lost’s mistakes”. It’s not such a catchy slogan, but it might just work.

What that means is that no show is really going to stand out because of what it’s doing creatively. What does stand out is quality writing, acting and directing. The Good Wife is far and away the best pilot of the year, not because there was anything particularly original about the story, but because the writing and acting were a step above everything else out there.

So on the flip side, there were lots of potentially good shows let who’s pilots turned me right off because they just weren’t polished enough. Stargate Universe was the key example of this, I desperately wanted to like it but found myself continually frustrated in my attempts by lazy writing. NCIS: LA has some great characters, and the actors are making it watchable while the writers don’t seem to even be trying. Both these shows are lucky because their pedigrees mean they can get away with slow or bumpy starts, but I’d hoped for a bit more from each.

The pilots for Glee and FlashForward both got the job done, in that I’m still watching the shows a few episodes down the line. Both have a lot of hype and noise about them and I sorta like both of them, but I’m not exactly a raving fan of either and it wouldn’t take much for me to lose interest. I think FlashForward I’ll stick with because if it does get great I don’t want to have to admit that I missed it. Glee I suspect I’ll probably watch in chunks when I’m feeling down – a little quirky goes a long way and I’m continually frustrated by the bad dubbing.

There are a couple of shows that are bubbling away. When I reviewed Trauma I loved half of it and hated the other half, but after a couple of weeks for some reason I can’t get it out of my head so have got a few more episodes to watch. I guess the pilot did what it needed to. On the flip side I really wanted to love Eastwick, but hated the pilot, I’ll keep an eye on the reviews and potentially pick it up later if the news is good. Likewise if by mid-season Mercy, Three Rivers or The Forgotten are getting decent reviews I might have another look, none of them were bad really, just utterly unremarkable.

One of the things I’ve learnt about myself is that I just don’t get sitcoms. I watch television in a very pro-active kind of way, I sit down to watch specific shows which I’ve sought out and none of the new season’s comedies inspired me to do that, despite the fact that other reviewers I respect say that they’re pretty good. Community and The Middle were the only two that I actually enjoyed watching and at best I might tivo/pvr/sky+ or pick up a dvd box set on special offer. Most of the others made me want to punch people.

Last time I did this in 2007 I reviewed ten shows, so I’ve doubled my workload this time around. If I do it again I’ll definitely drop the ½ hour sitcoms. I have enjoyed the challenge of writing the reviews, sometimes having to expand “it’s awful” into something a bit more lengthy, and sometimes having to shorten three pages of incoherent gushing down to something that people might actually read. Forcing myself to watch bad things definitely makes me appreciate the good more though. I would never have thought it could be so hard to write good pilots, but what do I know!

Show Title UK Airing Category Cancelled? 1word Review
Accidentally on Purpose E4, 2010 Sitcom   Meh
Bored to Death   Sitcom &nbsp Dull
Brothers   Sitcom   Awful
Community   Sitcom   Smart
Cougar Town   Sitcom Renewed Ugh
Defying Gravity BBC2 Scifi Cancelled Good
Eastwick Hallmark Channel Drama Cancelled Poor
FlashForward Five, Monday Scifi/Crime Procedural Season deal Possible
Glee E4, 2010 Drama/Comedy   Unsumarisable
Hank   Sitcom Cancelled Awful
Mercy   Medical procedural   Uninspiring
Modern Family Starts Thurs 15th Oct, Sky1 Sitcom Renewed Cringe
NCIS: Los Angeles Starts Sky1, 21 Oct Crime procedural Renewed OK
Stargate Universe Sky2, Wednesdays Scifi   Troubled
The Beautiful Life: TBL   Drama Already cancelled Doomed
The Forgotten   Crime procedural   Dull
The Good Wife More4, 2010 Legal Procedural Renewed Superb
The Middle   Sitcom Renewed Good
The Vampire Diaries ITV2, 2010 Drama   Unoriginal
Three Rivers   Medical procedural Cancelled Vanilla
Trauma   Medical procedural   Not sure

Pilot Review: Brothers

To make a long story short, this is a half hour comedy that is impressively lacking in humour and is borderline offensive to black people, football players, wheelchair users, Alzheimer’s sufferers and people with gaps in their teeth. Ooo – isn’t it funny how he keeps forgetting stuff. Um, no. Not really. If it WERE funny, I might make a more considered post about the complex issue of using stereotypes in comedy, but frankly that really would be giving way too much time to what is just a very cheesy, unfunny messy comedy that will hopefully not be on the air too long.

Links: imdb, TV.com, wikipedia

metacritic – 53 (why didn’t I just think of linking here earlier!)

Pilot Review: Three Rivers

The Brief: The organ donors, recipients and doctors who pass through a transplant centre.

This is my 20th pilot of the season and I think I might have just broken. I mean seriously, why do they even bother getting out of bed in the morning to produce this stuff? Did they honestly create this thinking it was going to be something special or original, or did they just do it for the cash and to fill a gap in the schedule. It’s pretty hard to get excited about another medical procedural show when there are already seven on the air and six new ones trying out this year (according to this Wikipedia page, which doesn’t even list Three Rivers). Maybe there’s a gap in the market with ER finally closing its doors last season, but surely no one really thought that Three Rivers was going to fill those shoes with this utterly mediocre, unremarkable, and unenthusiastic contribution. It’s a competitive time out there people, do something special or get off the playing field.

So, to give the illusion that this is a proper review rather than me just losing my mind, let’s do a whistle-stop through the usual debate points of plot, characters, writing and direction.

Plot – not a bad set up for an episodic concept, something horrible happens to a couple of people, one ends up a donor, one a recipient – medical stuff happens. Meanwhile the doctors, nurses and administrators deal with subplots involving their everyday lives. The fact that every episode someone is going to die and there’s going to be sobbing families is maybe just a little too depressing though even for me.

Characters – All perfectly watchable, no real criticisms, but also no one who made me intrigued about what their story was. Marina Sirtis stood out in a guest star appearance because she was utterly dreadful, the dialogue wasn’t great to begin with but the delivery was breathtakingly bad.

Writing – Pretty acceptable. There’s a good balance of humour and melodrama and each character had their own distinct voice. There were a couple of plot holes where I felt they rushed things along for the sake of drama, but it didn’t matter too much. Bonus points for the fact that one of the characters pointedly asked someone why they couldn’t just tell her the piece of information over the phone and the other replied with “some things just need to be seen in person”. Nice.

Directing – saving the best until last. The direction of the pilot was shockingly awful. Really painfully, miserably, ham fisted, “I read a book once that said you needed close ups for emotional connection” awful. Every few minutes there’s a painful snap zoom or pan to make sure that we catch something dramatic, like an eyebrow twitching or a thought about doughnuts passing through someone’s head. Then they’ve tried to add in 24-style little montages at each act break to make sure we remember that there are multiple threads to the plot in case you forgot in the last 2 minutes. Utterly amateur.
As a random additional aside can I make a small complaint about the level of technology which seems to be creeping into shows. CSI used to keep its technology reasonably believable, except for their admitted compression of the time things take to process. Now however every CSI lab, hospital and police station seems to have the very latest in holographic display and digital projection. Am I actually hopelessly out of touch to find it odd that every room and doctor in the hospital is equipped with touch screens, tablet computers and funky visualisations?

All in all, this show is utterly unremarkable with the exception of bits that are awfu. I didn’t really come away from the show hating it, just a resounding sense of ‘meh’. Apparently the blogging world agrees with me because none of my usual sources of review have any comment on it at all. I did find out that the original pilot was recast, reshot and then pulled in favour of showing episode 2 instead, hardly ringing endorsements that the show is solid and well thought out. I very much doubt this will be on the schedules for very long.

Links: CBS.com official site, imdb, TV.com, wikipedia

Random review that agrees with me from Eclipse Magazine

Pilot Reviews: Hank and The Middle

I’m doubling up on the half hour comedies again, these two air back to back starting with Hank and following with The Middle, although thankfully I watched them the wrong way around and started with Hank.

Kelsey Grammar stars as Hank, a rich company exec who gets fired from his the company that he founded and has to move his family from a swanky New York mansion to a run down house in Virginia. Call me bitter, but I think it might be a bit early to try to get us to sympathise with rich executives and their spoilt families who have to survive without their expense accounts and suffer the ‘indignity’ of living without servants.

I think if I just sat and read the script, I might find it funny. But the realisation of the script was painfully awful, with wooden acting, phone-it-in direction and the worst canned laughter track in the history of mankind. I don’t understand how two talented actors like Kelsey Grammar and Melinda McGraw, directed by the legendary James Burrows (Cheers, Friends etc) have managed to produce something so painfully amateur. The most talented things on the screen were an 11 year old kid and a sheet of bubble wrap, not necessarily in that order.

All things considered I’m pretty glad that I didn’t watch Hank first, because after sitting through that I probably wouldn’t have been able to bring myself to watch another comedy. As it was I watched The Middle first and was really charmed and entertained by it, briefly stirring my faith that there was good in this world before Hank then stomped it out.

The Middle is about a middle class family, a middle aged Mom living in the middle of Indiana. So immediately a slightly more sympathetic premise. The most important thing – I laughed all the way through it. I laughed at the first line, I laughed at the last line and I chuckled, smiled and laughed during pretty much every scene in between and I didn’t feel bad or guilty about laughing. It occasionally drifted a little too far into schmaltzy for my taste, but it always paid off with something funny. The characters were quirky but not caricatures and the situations ridiculous but believable, it had a subtlety and charm that Hank couldn’t find with satnav and neon signs.

Watching Hank felt like watching stand-up, someone trying to tell jokes and waiting for people to tell them how funny they are. The Middle felt like watching a friend tell me an anecdote, over a drink. not to set up a punchline, just to tell an amusing story. That’s the difference between telling a joke and being funny.

Links: Can’t be bothered

Pilot Review: Mercy

The Brief: The lives of three nurses, both inside and outside of the hospital.

This show is pretty fundamentally screwed. It’s basically Grey’s Anatomy but with nurses, not doctors. So if you don’t like Grey’s Anatomy, you won’t like Mercy, because it’s the same show. If you do like Grey’s Anatomy you still won’t like Mercy, because it’s just nowhere near as good.

The whole show is like they took Grey’s Anatomy and washed it on too hot a setting until it was all damp, floppy, washed out and fuzzy. Grey’s has problems with categorisation, is it a drama, a comedy, a soap, a medical procedural or what? But watching Mercy made me feel better about Grey’s schizophrenia, because Grey’s is actually all of those things within the scope of a single scene sometimes and it does them all really really well. Mercy flip flops wildly around the spectrum and does all of them badly. A character in Grey’s (even in the pilot and early episodes) could get away with turning on a dime from laughing to crying and the audience laughs and cries right along with them because the dialogue and characterisation and acting are all superb. In Mercy they did that and I was left with whiplash trying to work out where on earth the mood swing came from.

I have any number of issues large and small that I could spend several pages going over, but it just isn’t worth the effort because this show is just poor. It’s not that it’s astronomically bad, but it’s just really weak and clumsy. Throughout the whole thing I just found myself rolling my eyes, sighing and muttering “aw, come on!” at ever increasingly bad pieces of writing. Even if this were the last thing left on the air, I think I’d still just re-watch my Grey’s Anatomy dvds on endless loop instead of giving Mercy any more time, even the episodes with the stupid g.

Links: imdb, TV.com, wikipedia

Slightly less harsh reviews from TV Squad and CliqueClack

Pilot Review: Stargate Universe

Since Stargate Universe (SGU) was announced months and months ago as the successor to Stargate Atlantis I’ve been cautiously following the news and buzz about it. The creators say they want to make a Stargate that’s edgier and darker, one that learns from shows like Battlestar Galactica. They got off to a really good start with some impressive casting. I was surprised a Canadian sci-fi show could attract talent such as Robert Carlyle (surely most famous for Hamish Macbeth, but I guess also Trainspotting) and Ming-Na (ER). Most of the rest of the cast weren’t big names, but through interviews and blogs seemed to at bring the enthusiasm and energy I would expect of a Stargate cast.

The information that started coming out about the plot didn’t really grab me though. A slightly random group of people unexpectedly find themselves evacuated onto an Ancient ship cruising between galaxies. They must find some way to work together and maybe find a way home. So this is Stargate Voyager then? Also, Atlantis was supposed to be about a group of explorers trapped far from home, but they bottled out of that idea after a couple of seasons seemingly once they realised that surely by now the expedition would be out of ammo and batteries.

The trailers looked good, feeling a bit more grown up than the usual Stargate, even the music was used rock music instead of orchestral pieces and set a completely different tone. The trailer left me feeling excited and interested, but the two part pilot (technically it’s a three parter, but they only aired the first two parts together) left me feeling pretty unenthused and disappointed. It’s not that the show is bad at all, it’s thoroughly ‘ok’ and ‘acceptable’ and ‘serviceable’, none of these words indicating much in the way of powerful emotional response.

The large cast works pretty well together and there’s certainly plenty of material for relationships and conflict amongst the dozen or so characters that were featured. Robert Carlyle is impressively disconcerting, an extremely complex character on first appearance with dubious motivations. Some of the younger members of the group also do great jobs with characters completely out of their zones of experience, contrasting with the nonchalant attitudes of SG1 and Atlantis of “Oh yeah, just travelling to another planet, back for tea”.

The concept is also fine, it’s pretty basic but it gets the job done. It’s not original and it’s a bit contrived and rushed, but it’s perfectly acceptable. There’s a mechanism introduced for how the planet of the week can be introduced and again, it’s perfectly serviceable if maybe a little too easy as a plot device.

A whole bundle of stuff can be described in the same way – basic but functional, missing opportunities is to shine. I had hoped the musical style of the trailer might be continued, setting a different tone and style from the other Stargates, but it goes back to plain old orchestral stuff. The direction was utterly unremarkable except for a slightly tedious device to allow a kind of first person perspective in places (you’ll know it when you see it). I was a bit disappointed with the extraordinarily minimal grey set design, but again it makes sense. Most of what we see in the pilot is just dusty and grey utilitarian corridors, maybe once they get the lights working some character will appear.

I actually watched this pilot twice through before writing this and what grabbed me the second time was that the opening few minutes were really great. The characters arrive at speed through the Stargate, into an empty, dusty room; they had no idea where they were and the audience has no idea who they are. It’s brutal and interesting. But then they immediately backtrack into a flashback and there’s an immediate loss of adrenalin and this pattern continues through the episode. Like the worst episodes of Lost someone in the present would say something slightly cryptic, look meaningfully into the distance and ZING to flashback that immediately explains what they were thinking. What happened to the good old days where in order to understand a character’s back story the writers had to subtly interweave it with present day narrative and the audience had to pay attention?

Often when I watch things a second time I’ll spot flaws and irritations that I didn’t notice the first time, sadly with SGU I didn’t have to wait for the second viewing to have found plenty of frustrations. This pilot and concept has been in development a long time. I really don’t expect to watch this wanting to ask questions like “Why didn’t they just..?” or “what happened to the…?” every five minutes. The whole pilot was packed full of ridiculous dramatisations and writing tricks. By the fifth time someone was summoned away from their assigned task with “You need to come here and look at this” I was desperately wanting someone to just respond with “Kinda busy saving our lives, how about you provide me with a decent sit-rep and I’ll decide if it’s worth my time?” It’s sloppy, lazy writing and it happened over and over again.

The thing is, it’s all perfectly OK. Stargate has always been about good characters and fun adventures. SGU certainly has the former and the potential for the latter. It’s *not* Battlestar Galactica, and I really don’t want it to be. I watched Battlestar because it was absolutely superb, but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it and was glad (in a satisfied and exhausted way) when it closed after five seasons. I watched 15 seasons of SG1 and Atlantis because I enjoyed them, not because I thought it was amazing. If Stargate Universe tries to be good, but not necessarily enjoyable, I think it’s going to end up being mediocre and dull and fall on its arse.

Links: Official site at MGM, imdb, TV.com
TV Squad review, CliqueClack review

Stargate Universe is on at 8pm, this Tuesday (6th) on Sky1 (repeated on Wednesday on Sky2)