Posts Tagged ‘ stargate universe ’

The 2010-2011 Season

As always my definitions of what counts for a season are a bit variable, pretty much anything that aired somewhere between the beginning of September 2010 and the end of August 2011 are fair game for this.

Blue Bloods: S1
Bones: S6
Brothers & Sisters: S5
Castle: S3
Criminal Minds: S6
CSI: S11
CSI:NY S7
Doctor Who 2011
Downton Abbey: S1
Friday Night Lights: S5
Fringe: S3
Game of Thrones – S1
Glee: S2
The Good Wife: S2
Grey’s Anatomy: S7
House: S7
Leverage: S3
Lie to Me: S3
Mad Men: S4
Merlin: S3
NCIS: S8
NCIS: Los Angeles – S2
Sons of Anarchy: S3
Stargate Universe: S2
Supernatural: S6
Terriers: S1
The Big C: S1
The Walking Dead: S1

There’s a few bits and bobs that don’t make the list – Outcasts (meh), Mad Dogs (ok), Warehouse 13 (fun but poor), Bedlam (awful), Falling Skies (still haven’t got round to finishing) more documentaries than I might expect (I remember being impressed by a lot of them but the only one I really remember is the superb Inside Nature’s Giants).

Between everything listed above and the pilots I reviewed that’s getting on for 600 episodes of television, probably about 500 hours, which given the national average is somewhere between 20 and 30 hours a week, actually is still way below ‘average’. Of course most normal people don’t watch television in the ridiculous concentrated way that I do, so I guess I shouldn’t jump up and down and declare myself well adjusted just yet.

All in all, I’ve not been massively impressed with this year. Although I found it hard to narrow down most of the categories below there were relatively few things that I’d label as outstanding. I don’t know whether this is because I’m getting increasingly hard to please in my old age or because television writers and networks are getting more willing to settle for mediocre in the tough financial times. Either way, given that several of the shows I mention below have come to an end or are looking at likely final seasons, it doesn’t bode particularly well.

Best Shows
These are the shows that are superb – with amazing writing, beautiful direction, compelling acting and thought provoking stories. The ones that the Emmy’s and Golden Globes *should* be nominating.

  • Friday Night Lights – I don’t think season 5 was the best season of the show, I never fell in love with the Lions as much as I did the original Panthers, but even with that in mind it was still one of the absolute highlights of the year and I will miss it.
    Mad Men – this show can appear very slow and dull to a casual viewer, but if you invest in it and pay attention there is such incredible depth that with a little bit of analysis and discussion you have a real sense of satisfaction fitting everything together.
  • Fringe – I rewatched a few episodes of the first season recently and who knew that the ok but unspectacular X-Files wannabe would turn out to be such a fascinating and creative story about alternate worlds literally colliding.
  • The Big C – A comedy about terminal illness, really? But it manages to combine being hilariously funny with being beautifully moving without becoming cloying or preachy. It’s one of the most uplifting things I’ve seen in a long time.
  • Stargate Universe – as far as I’m concerned season 2 was as near to my idea of perfect science fiction as is likely to be seen for a long time. It had interesting stories and ideas, but more importantly was all done with a fascinating group of characters and a lot of humour.

Favourite Shows
These are the shows that I adore. They’re the ones that I desperately wait for new episodes of, the ones that I follow on blogs, the shows that make me smile, cry, and forget that the characters aren’t actually real. Comparing these to Mad Men is like comparing apples and oil rigs, but they still deserve recognition.

  • Glee – this is far and away my favourite show of the year. It has massive consistency problems when it comes to writing and storylines, but every single episode makes me laugh, and simply hearing one of the songs on my ipod can make me forget all about my troubles and grin like a fool.
  • Grey’s Anatomy – with the exception of a questionable couple of storylines towards the end of the season Grey’s has been right back on the sort of form that got me addicted to the early seasons of the show. Even my frustrations with what I describe as poor writing choices are only because I’m so unhealthily emotionally tied to these characters.
  • Doctor Who – I’m not sure whether I’m referring to the previous season that ended at Christmas or the one that’s currently half way through (which is likely why I’m missing the season review), but it really doesn’t matter because each has been superb, somehow managing to be hugely entertaining Saturday evening family viewing, but also superb quality drama with delicate and beautiful writing. This one really could have gone in either category.
  • Terriers – This may be a partial pity vote, if it hadn’t been cancelled would I have been so passionate about it? Don’t know and never will, so it’s on this list because I thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • Downton Abbey – I’d been looking forward to the remake of Upstairs Downstairs and probably to the BBC’s consternation, this ITV almost-rip-off blew it out of the water. A great cast, hilarious writing and a lovely Sunday evening vibe to the whole thing made this a lovely piece of television to watch with friends and family.

Male actors

  • Tim Roth, (Cal Lightman, Lie to Me) –Roth’s performance was so entertaining and unpredictable that it took me three seasons to notice that the rest of the show around him was actually not very good at all.
  • Jared Padelecki (Sam Winchester, Supernatural) – I’m a Dean girl through and through, but even I have to acknowledge this season that Sam got the better material and Padelecki acted his way through Sam’s splintering personalities impressively.
  • Matt Smith (The Doctor, Doctor Who) – who knew that I’d start forgetting David Tennant. The energy and charm of Smith’s doctor is just infectious.
  • John Noble (Walter Bishop, Fringe) – Noble made it on to my list last for playing the wonderfully bonkers character of Walter – sometimes brilliant scientist, sometimes emotionally unstable child. Given that in addition to that performance he adds on the character of Walternate, an alternate universe version where he’s a terrifying politician, there was no way he wouldn’t make the list this year too.
  • Kyle Chandler (Coach Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – poor coach had a miserable couple of years struggling with having to chose between the lesser of two evils over and over, nothing ever seemed to quite go his way. Chandler’s understated performances just broke my heart.

Female actors
I still find myself struggling to find 5 decent nominees for this category, I hope that it’s just a coincidence of the shows I watch, but I fear that it’s representative and that’s very troubling.

  • Laura Linney (Cathy Jamison, The Big C) – I imagine this is the kind of role that actors dream of. Linney is simply phenomenal.
  • Julianna Marguiles (Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife) – I think this season of The Good Wife lost its way a little, but that doesn’t change that this continues to be a wonderfully rounded character and a lovely performance.
  • Anna Torv (Olivia Dunham, Fringe) – I’ve found her character a bit bland in previous seasons, but this season thanks to playing multiple different characters, Torv proved that it’s the character that’s bland, not the performance. The subtle differences with her alternate universe version were fascinating, and as for her performance of being possessed by Leonard Nimmoy…
  • Connie Britton (Tami Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – like her husband, nothing ever seems to go Tami’s way, every piece of good news is balanced with a difficult decision. She’s got more stoic and resigned to this as the years have gone by, but watching her wrestle with the potential break up of her family at the end of the season felt like the world was ending.
  • Katey Segal (Gemma Teller-Morrow, Sons of Anarchy) – I very nearly put her into the group category alongside Maggie Siff’s Tara because these two women at the heart of the male oriented motorcycle club are incredible. But Segal’s performance is the more nuanced one, the balance between confidence and insecurity, cold blooded scariness and utter devotion to her family.

Casts
In cases like Tom Sellek there’s one actor holding together an otherwise mediocre group, in cases like Laura Linney, she’s clearly carrying the weight of the series and standing out from an already very good supporting team. But for these guys and gals it’s the pairings and groupings that are the standout, if I commented on one of them, I’d have to comment on them all or I’d have the guilt.

  • Grey’s Anatomy – this show has always been the gold standard of ensemble acting and character development and this season has been no different. Everyone has interesting relationships that grow and mature (if you overlook some terrible backwards steps) and all are equally capable whether dealing with melodramatic emotions, intense medical scenes or hilarious comedy.
  • NCIS LA – the season has been an exploration of what it means to be partners and each of the pairings has delivered fascinating and entertaining performances, ably supported by the centre point of Hetty, NCIS could learn a lot from its offspring.
  • Glee – although Chris Colfer is clearly my (and the writers) favourite this is a spectacularly talented bunch of kids. The movie proves that they can perform just as well live in front of thousands of people, while the tv series shows that they can also deliver even the most ridiculous of storylines compellingly. All this on a ridiculously intensive schedule, imagine what they could do with decent material and a bit of sleep.
  • Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James (Terriers) – My new favourite partnership sadly gone too soon, but I loved the easy camaraderie and open friendship of two people who came from entirely different backgrounds and ended up exactly the same.
  • Stargate Universe – it took a while, but eventually I came to love these characters and performances, right from the flamboyant ones at the front, through to the ‘supporting’ array of scientists and soldiers who could steal an entire scene with a throw away reference to Star Wars or a perfectly timed eye-roll. A dysfunctional family, just like lies at the heart of every great science fiction show.

Notable absences
Not listing Supernatural as one of my favourite shows of the year actually hurt, but it came down to a choice between it and Terriers and Supernatural was edged out just because my abiding memory of the season is one of sadness. It all just got a bit much this season for the show to be as enjoyable as before, but while it was all done really well it doesn’t quite make it into the other category of top shows because it wasn’t quite even enough to stand alongside the other shows.

Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead – being a genre fan I also find it sad that I can’t comment on these more favourably, but just being about a different subject doesn’t give you a free pass, you still need to be good. Game of Thrones was good, it only narrowly missed out in the favourite category, but The Walking Dead just wasn’t good enough, yes it’s great to see zombies on television but it still needed to just be better – better writing, better characters, better acting – just better. My feelings on BBC’s Outcasts meanwhile were so confused that apparently I never even got round to writing a review of it… it tried hard, but it really wasn’t very good.

British TV – there are a few British series that I watched all the way through this year, and a few that were so short they didn’t make it to proper reviews, but generally I find that I really have to force myself to watch them. Partly it’s self-fulfilling, I watch mostly US stuff, so I mostly read US blogs etc and therefore mostly find out about US stuff. I often find out about British stuff a couple of episodes in and then never get round to catching up. iPlayer et al help, but it’s one of the areas that I’d like to watch more of this year.

Stargate Universe: Season 2

Warning – there are spoilers for the final episode in the final paragraph.

I liked and enjoyed Stargate Universe more and more as it went on, I was originally snippy about the pilot, but was generally favourable towards the first season as a whole. Maybe it’s the rose tinted glasses of cancellation speaking, but I am dangerously close to gushing about the second season. Everything just seemed to work, from the big things like the stories, characters and acting through to the smaller stuff that you don’t necessarily notice like the very different, but extremely good music choices and the attention to detail in the scripts.

There are some pretty gritty storylines going on, difficult choices for characters to make with impacts that ripple out through the rest of the season. It’s nice to see that continuity, events are not forgotten, people struggle with whether they made the right decision, there’s no instant forgive and forget – it’s all very satisfying for viewers that invest. To be honest one of the most irritating elements of the show was the long repetitive “previously on…” that started each episode – loyal viewers didn’t need reminding of these things, they remembered and by focussing on them it killed the subtlety of the references.

Even more than the first season though, this season really felt like Stargate because it had the easy camaraderie of a team that shows in the Star Trek franchise never quite seemed to manage. These characters really do behave like a bunch of random people who’ve been living together in trying circumstances for some time. After an additional year living and working together the sharp edges and confrontations that caused such trouble in the first season have been battered off in a way that makes perfect sense and doesn’t feel rushed (compare with Star Trek Voyager where everyone was suddenly best friends over night). In the truest traditions of Stargate these relationships are reinforced with occasional mushy speeches about becoming a family, but what really sells it is the way they tease each other, bicker, share knowing looks and finish each other’s sentences. They still disagree, sometimes passionately, but they do so with respect.

This is what Stargate at its best is about, creating a group of characters that (other than their magic scientists and engineers who are seemingly experts in everything) feel like they could have walked off the street. They make the same pop-culture jokes that I would, they’d rather be sarcastic than sit down and talk about feelings, they lose their tempers, forgive but don’t forget, grumble about the food and have a bit of a sulk. It’s normal. Just in space.

It’s impossible to review this season without commenting on the fact that its marking the end of an era. After 14 years, 17 seasons and over 350 episodes there is no Stargate in production. With that knowledge in mind I really did find the last few episodes of the season slightly devastating. The final moments of the series, watching the lights go out across the ship as the crew goes into stasis for who knows how long were beautifully poignant and heartbreaking. How long it will be until there’s another Stargate series, or if we’ll ever see TV movies to wrap up the Universe and Atlantis storylines, I have no idea, but at least it went out on a note that all concerned can be extremely proud of. Universe was a great show and a great instalment to the franchise, the fact that there was no place for it in the television landscape is by far a reflection on the sad state of the television business rather than on the quality of this series.

End of year report card

The start and end points for the television year is pretty fuzzy. Given that I watch mostly US shows, I tend to go by their year which runs roughly from September rather than the calendar year. So I decided that I’d count the start of the year as 1st September (and I go by American air dates, not the UK). BUT life isn’t that simple, because what do I do with shows that start in one year but end in another. For example Mad Men season 3 ran August-November 2009, running one year to the next. Then I looked at what the Emmys do and it turns out they run June 1st 2009-May 31st 2010. BUT they don’t strictly speaking pay attention to show seasons, it’s just whichever episodes ran in that time frame, which means from what I can tell – the last two episodes of the season of Glee weren’t eligible for entry as they aired in June 2010.

So after all that, I decided to hell with it and I’d count what I felt fit within 2009-2010 and be pretty much arbitrary about it.

Bones – Season 5
Brothers & Sisters – S4
Caprica – S1
Criminal Minds – S5
CSI – S10
CSI:NY – S6
Defying Gravity – S1
Dollhouse – S1
Doctor Who – 2010
FlashForward – S1
Friday Night Lights – S4
Fringe – S2
The Good Wife – S1
Glee – S1
Grey’s Anatomy – S6
House – S6
Leverage – S2
Lie to Me – S2
Mad Men – S3
The Mentalist – S2
Merlin – S2
NCIS: Los Angeles – S1
NCIS – S7
Outnumbered – S3
Sons of Anarchy – S2
Stargate Universe – S1
Supernatural – S5
Trauma – S1
Warehouse 13 – S1
White Collar – S1
V – S1

Top of the Class – Best Drama

  • Mad Men: For once, I’m in absolute agreement with the Emmys. Season 3 (season 4 has just started on BBC4) was a work of near perfection. The pacing, the way everything had been so carefully and subtly built up until the final episode which was one of the most satisfying hours of television I’ve ever seen. The detail of this show is incredible, it’s a slow burn, but it’s really worth it.
  • Friday Night Lights – I have a guilty relationship with this show, because despite the fact I have it ‘available’, I haven’t managed to bring myself to watch the second half of the season. This season has felt like really hard going, everybody’s’ lives really seem to suck and it’s just hard to watch. But that doesn’t make it any less superb or any less worthy of its position in the number 2 slot in the drama category.
  • Sons of Anarchy – There’s just something about this bunch of gun running, murdering, hells angels that just makes you forgive them everything they do. The closest thing I can think of to this show is Brothers & Sisters, it’s got the same sense of families fighting amongst themselves, but ultimately doing anything for each other – just with more Nazis.
  • Trauma – Maybe this show wouldn’t have made the cut if I didn’t feel bad for it being cancelled, but I really do think it was one of the better shows of the year. It’s not perfectly refined like Mad Men, but the heart and soul of it are true, the characters and relationships are interesting and different and I enjoyed every episode.
  • The Good Wife – Proving that ‘legal procedural’ doesn’t have to mean Law and Order or wanting to kill all the characters. The ensemble cast is amazing and contains some of my favourite actors, and seeing them together creating such complex characters is immensely satisfying.

Head Boy – Best Male Actor/Character (you don’t get to be a great actor without a well crafted/written character and great characters don’t survive great actors)

  • Tim Roth (Cal Lightman, Lie to Me) – I don’t understand why Tim Roth and Lie to Me don’t get more attention. In a world of dark, sober, troubled and angsty television detectives, Tim Roth lights up the room. He’s manipulative and arrogant, but he’s also a brilliant father, a caring friend and of all the investigators on television, he’s the one I’d want in my corner the most.
  • Matt Smith (The Doctor, Doctor Who) – I had my doubts, not because he was young or unknown or anything like that, but just because I thought David Tennant had created an un-equalable character. Matt Smith blew me away with his charm, his goofiness, his terrifying speeches and his ability to make a fez look cool.
  • Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – This man seems to do less acting than anyone else on television, he hardly says anything, sometimes he barely moves, but somehow you understand every single thing the character is thinking.
  • Jenson Ackles (Dean Winchester, Supernatural) – I was a bit disappointed by the season of Supernatural, but I was never disappointed with either of the lead performances. Part of what frustrated me about the season was that it was all over the range from slapstick to suicidal angst, via homicidal range and utter psychosis. Jenson Ackles nailed each of the emotions and how stubborn, but over-his-head Dean would approach each one.
  • Hugh Laurie (Dr House, House) – I didn’t like this series of House much, as per usual I think it spent too long coasting through the middle of the season and then made some dubious relationship choices. But Hugh Laurie was consistently great throughout, except for the bookending episodes, where he was absolutely amazing.

Head Girl – Best Female Actor/Character (is actress politically incorrect?)

  • Julianna Margulies (Alicia Florrick,The Good Wife) – A breath of fresh air on network television, a woman with kids, a career, issues and most importantly a personality of her own. I loved when she got drunk with Kalinda, or acted as a big sister to Cary, or didn’t quite know how to interact with Diane. But mostly I loved the way she fell back to being a college student falling for her friend and not knowing what to do about it.
  • Katey Segal (Gemma Taylor-Morrow, Sons of Anarchy) – Gemma had the epitome of a bad year on Sons of Anarchy, but through it all she was their Queen, she loves all the members of her family and fights to protect them, whether with a gun, her fists, or just by keeping a secret. Katey Segal was amazing.
  • Connie Britton (Tammy Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – The other half of the best couple on television, Tammy’s not had a great year either. But like her husband, she doesn’t have to say anything for you to understand the multiple faces the character presents to everyone, including herself. When she steals her little victories wherever she can, and fights for her kids (the whole school load of them) it makes me want to hug her.
  • Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy) – Meredith grew up and got happy and made me love her. Last year I put her on this list partially out of pity, this year she’s there on merit, actually taking her position as ‘lead’ actress more than just being a ‘prominent female member of the ensemble’. She’s completely settled into her position as the mother of the group – her reaction to her marriage and the loss of her friends was really mature. Whiny Meredith is hopefully gone for good.
  • Sally Field (Nora Walker, Brothers and Sisters) – When Sally Field cries, I cry. When she screams, I hid under a cushion. Whether herding her unruly brood, or causing chaos all by herself, I love her to pieces.

Prefects: Boys (Supporting actors)

  • John Noble (Walter Bishop, Fringe) – Walter is crazy. Utterly and completely, self-medicatingly, one-too-many-magic-mushrooms, bucket loads of crazy. But then in alternate world Walter is utterly sane and calm and scary and slimy. Noble bounces around between Walters multiple personalities and bodies with amazing talent.
  • Chris Colfer (Kurt Hummel, Glee) – The best thing in Glee. He’s completely over the top and ridiculous to the point you almost want to throw him in a dumpster yourself, but then he does something heartbreaking. Also, he can belt out a tune like the best divas out there.
  • David Blue (Eli Wallace, Stargate Universe) – He’s exactly what the stereotypical Stargate fan would be like if they found themselves inside a Stargate series. He’s got no clue about the military, or really people at all. He’s a massive geek who breaks tension by making Star Wars jokes. He brings a bit of reality to the otherwise slightly highly strung Stargate team.
  • Cliff Curtis (Rabbit Palchuk, Trauma) – Cliff Curtis became one of my favourite actors this year playing the deeply troubled, but utterly charming Rabbit. A really fascinating character and a slightly unlikely leading man, but he was the heart of this show.
  • Enver Gjokaj (Victor, Dollhouse) – I ummed and erred between Victor and Fran Kranz’s Topher, but eventually the Doll edged out the geek because he got to play a different role (and accent) every week and nailed them all, even managing to play Topher to perfection.

Prefects: Girls (Supporting Actresses)

  • Chandra Wilson (Miranda Bailey, Grey’s Anatomy) – She wasn’t even nominated for an Emmy this year, which I was so astonished by I had to check multiple times. Bailey follows the Sally Field rules – she cries I cry, she shouts, I actually cheer out loud. Her final scene of the final episode just destroyed me.
  • Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson, Mad Men) – “I’m Peggy Olson. And I want to smoke some marijuana” and “Beg me? You didn’t even ASK me”. Nuff said.
  • Christine Baranski (Diane Lockheart, The Good Wife) – Although her colleague Archie Panjabi (Kalinda) got the Emmy, I think Christine Baranski was far superior if for no other reason than she seemed to be having so much FUN with the role. Not afraid to flirt with a colleague or laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of a situation.
  • Allison Scagliotti (Claudia, Warehouse 13) – like Eli in Stargate, Claudia is the voice of the fan. She’s a geek who loves a gadget and points out the idiocy of all the plans. She, and her ever changing hair colours, brings life to the show.
  • Linda Hunt (Hetty Lange, NCIS:LA) – A breath of fresh air, a bizarre mix of motherly and drill sergent that manages to make even LL Cool J quake in his boots.

Team Players (Best pairings/ensembles)

  • Callen and Hanna (NCIS:Los Angeles) – A perfect yin and yang thing of hot headedness and cool, all bundled up in a caring (but not out loud!) partnership. Who’d’ve thought it.
  • Team Free Will, Supernatural
    “This is it… Team Free Will. One ex-blood-junkie, one drop-out with six bucks to his name and Mr Comatose over there. Awesome.”
    “It’s not funny”
    “I’m not laughing”
  • Christina and Meredith (Grey’s Anatomy) – When Meredith revealed the plans for her and Derek’s dream house and pointed out Christina’s Room I burst into tears yet again. I love these two sisters.
  • The Walker Clan (Brothers and Sisters) – You can’t really break this group up. They squabble and occasionally even fight, but the group of them together and the complex relationships between all of them are amazing.

Points for effort – The home of the things that are solidly doing their job, are entertaining, and occasionally verging into brilliant, but are generally just really solidly plugging away doing what they do.

  • CSI:Original had a really solid season, settling down after the changes of recent years and just turning in an entertaining, reliable and interesting season, there’s not many shows that can say that moving in to their 11th season they’ve still got some spark.
  • Grey’s Anatomy deserves a lot of praise for bouncing back from the previous terrible season, I nearly gave up on the show, but I’m glad I didn’t.
  • Brothers & Sisters – cheesy, melodramatic, sappy and utterly sentimental – it embraces these things with such enthusiasm and does them so well, it’s hard not to love.
  • Glee – If only the quality of the plots were more consistent, this would be worthy of considerably more praise. As it is, I enjoyed most of the episodes, but ended up frustrated that it wasn’t just slightly better.

Must Try Harder

  • The Mentalist – A nice idea, a charismatic lead character… but ultimately the character development isn’t, ‘mysteries’ aren’t, and the novelty wore off.
  • Outnumbered – It was still funny, but it just wasn’t as good as previous seasons. Not least because it seemed to spontaneously stop dead, to such an extent that I completely failed to note it had finished and never got round to writing a review.
  • Science fiction – it’s not been a good year for science fiction imho. V, Caprica and Flashforward were all disappointing.
  • NCIS – Still flipflopping all over the place with a lack of consistency and character development. Maybe it’s time for this one to retire.
  • Criminal Minds – I praised the show for finally having the team come together and having an impressive group of strong female characters… then they sacked two of them.

2009-2010 – New Shows

Not including the comedies, I’ve watched 27 pilots this year, I’m discounting the sitcoms, ‘cos I’ve finally come to the realisation that I just don’t like them. Of those 27 I ended up watching the whole season of eight of those shows and partially watching another two of them before giving up. There are seven shows that I might pick up at some point and that leaves eleven that I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. Twelve of the shows have been cancelled, most of the ones I wasn’t going to bother with and a few of the ones I did.

Watched Might Watch Not Gonna Watch
Defying Gravity The Gates The Beautiful Life: TBL
Glee The Good Guys The Deep End
FlashForward Justified Eastwick
The Good Wife Life Unexpected The Forgotten
NCIS: Los Angeles Parenthood Happy Town
Stargate Universe The Vampire Diaries Human Target
Trauma Mercy
White Collar Miami Medical
Past Life
Caprica Three Rivers
V Treme

The Good
The successes this year have been quite spectacular, Glee and The Good Wife have both been critical and popular success. Both are refreshing and enjoyable, the difference being that The Good Wife is really rather good, and Glee is really rather terrible. NCIS: LA meanwhile has been a big hit ratings-wise and is pretty entertaining. It delivered exactly what it promised as a cash in on a successful franchise and, for me, outshone its older sibling.

Stargate Universe has been a big success for sci-fi channel, managing to breathe new life into the 16 year old Stargate franchise without pissing off the old fans. I was critical of the pilot, but actually mostly impressed by the series as a whole and am looking forward to next season. White Collar was enjoyable, well written, with some great characters and has been a success for the relatively small channel it’s shown on. I enjoyed watching it, but it’s not quite remarkable enough to have spurred me to start watching the second season yet.

The Bad
I don’t really mean the bad shows here (that’s saved for the ugly section) more the things that didn’t work.

I was disappointed at the cancellations of Trauma and Defying Gravity, both of which I thought were well made, different, interesting and never really given a chance. Meanwhile V and Caprica I gave multiple chances and eventually gave up on (for reasons I explained in more detail over here).

There’s a number of other shows in my ‘might watch at some point’ list where I liked the pilots a lot, but just didn’t quite have sufficient enthusiasm to keep watching. A few didn’t quite have enough spark (Life Unexpected and Parenthood), a couple I just didn’t quite get along with (Justified and The Good Guys) and a couple were too cheesy even for me (The Gates and Vampire Diaries). Human Target is a tolerable addition to the genre of ‘cheesy, mindless, disposable action’, but I tend to satisfy my cravings for that through movies where the actors are better looking.

The other show I’m going to put in the ‘bad’ category is Treme. I just didn’t get on with it. I didn’t understand what was happening, I didn’t know who anyone was, I couldn’t hear what they were saying, I didn’t particularly like the music and generally found the whole thing a bit depressing. But the reason that I’m putting it in the ‘bad’ category, not the ‘ugly’ is because I think I’m probably missing something, I think it’s entirely probable the show is wonderful and that I just don’t get it. My loss, but life’s too short for me to watch something I didn’t like.

The ugly
There’s been some pretty public and miserable showings (FlashForward, I’m looking at you). The number of cancelled shows, some of which had big names, big budgets and big promotion behind them is a bit shameful. I feel quite smug about the fact that almost all the shows that I decided not to watch have been cancelled.

The biggest genre of casualties were the procedurals, Medical shows Miami Medical and Three Rivers only made it to 13 episodes, Mercy and Trauma at least it saw out the season, but neither was renewed. Legal show The Deep End couldn’t compare to it’s much more mature sibling The Good Wife and crime procedurals The Forgotten and Past Lives were doomed from the start with a terrible title and terrible premise respectively.

The other cancellations weren’t really any big surprise to anyone I don’t think. Happy Town suffered from trying too hard to be Twin Peaks and being dumped into the unforgiving summer schedules. I didn’t mind the pilot, but it was obvious from the start it wasn’t going to see out its storyline, so why bother watching at all, and yes, I do realise that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve no idea what went wrong with Eastwick, but I wasn’t particularly enthused about the pilot, and I guess no one else was either. The Beautiful Life: TBL meanwhile had so many things wrong with it, the mystery is how it ever got on the screen to start with.

What about next year?
Everyone is looking for the next CSI, the next Grey’s Anatomy and the next Lost, and marketing departments aren’t doing the shows any favours by trying to push the similarities. After this year where everyone was trying to copy the recent smash hits, the networks seem to have just gone back to the people who created those hits in the first place and asked them “please could we have some more”. Next season has a new medical series from Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy), a new police drama from Shawn Ryan (The Shield), a new legal thing from David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice) and spin-offs in the shape of Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour and Law & Order: Los Angeles. It seems everyone’s playing it safe and sticking with what, and who, they know.

Of course the holy grail isn’t to emulate, but to innovate – to come up with the new foundation of a franchise, or something so wildly different it breaks genres. It could be that a period where TV is going through massive changes in the way it’s watched, distributed and paid for and everyone is looking at their accountants nervously isn’t the best time to take a chance, but maybe with the unbelievable success of Glee, network executives will be a little bit more willing to take a chance. The line between genius and rubbish is pretty thin and I’m looking forward to seeing things on both sides of the line when pilots start up again in just a few weeks.

Three golden rules for science fiction

What’s gone wrong with science fiction shows this year? It looked set to be a good year, with a spattering of returning shows and a good crop of new ones coming in. Sitting at the end of the year looking at the list though, there are very few successes, a lot of mediocrity and a couple of high profile failures.

The most embarrassing failure of all has been FlashForward. Promoted to death as the new Lost, launched with a pretty decent pilot it barely made it out of the gate before its ratings collapsed and the critics turned on it. For me there are three big problems with FlashForward, and they’re representative of what’s been wrong with some of the other sf shows this year.

1Smugness
Yes, yes Mr Showrunner* you’ve got Big Ideas – parallel universes, complex analogies, virtual reality, fate and whatnot. You’ve also got a big budget and a giant marketing team. But you have to actually deliver that. If you’re presenting yourself as smart, you need to BE smart.

I need to have confidence in the people that are making a show that they know what they’re doing, where they’re going and how they’re going to get there. It doesn’t matter if every episode is action and excitement melded into a perfect 45 minutes, if the next week you contradict everything that happened I’m rapidly going to get annoyed. But at the same time it doesn’t matter if you have an amazing plan for a five year series if every episode is really dull, I’ll rapidly get bored. It’s a difficult middle ground to hit, but it is achievable – go back to and watch Babylon 5. That’s how you create a masterpiece.

2Charisma vacuums
My god there’ve been some boring characters this year! The lead character of FlashForward was just a kind of gaping, well paid hole where an engaging person should be. The cast of V looked so good on paper, but as it turned out by the end of the first episode the only ones I found interesting were the aliens (notably the Firefly duo of Morena Baccarin and Alan Tudyk). If on careful consideration I’ve evaluated your entire ensemble and have decided that in fact the best thing for you is to be eaten by the invading alien force, you’ve rather failed in your mission. I lasted half a dozen episodes and then gave up. Sure, the show is shiny and some interesting ideas, but if I don’t care about anyone, I’m not gonna bother.

3Lighten up!
The other big failure of the year for me was Caprica. I’m a big fan of Battlestar and thought this could be really interesting – same concept, different setting, characters and philosophy. Six or so episodes in and I just couldn’t take it anymore. Battlestar was never exactly laugh a minute, but at least they blew stuff up periodically and appreciated a nice fist fight or sarcastic aside. Caprica was the most depressing, soul destroyingly slow thing I’ve seen in a very long time. Battlestar seemed to be about hope in the face of overwhelming destruction, Caprica was about doom in the face of overwhelming shininess.

When it works… it works
Caprica and FlashForward both got good pilot reviews from me and then failed to deliver. On the flip side, Stargate Universe got a poor pilot review and then I cheerfully ate my words for the season review. The Stargate showrunners have been at this a while and I should have had more faith. They pulled it all together – it was smart AND fun, happy AND sad, sometimes characters moved forwards, sometimes they moved backwards, but they actually seemed like real people who it would be interesting to have coffee with. The confidence from the showrunners was quiet and reassuring – ‘we know what we’re doing, just trust us’.

I personally thought Defying Gravity had a lot of things going for it. I found it interesting and entertaining. This is one I think where the show was let down by everything around it – it wasn’t on the right network, it wasn’t marketed right and it was kind of doomed from the start. I think if it had been on the sci-fi channel we’d probably still be watching it, but Grey’s Anatomy in space was gonna be a tough sell.

Warehouse 13 is a truly awful show. The plots are all over the place and the production is often terrible with poor blue screening and budget effects. But it somehow manages to actually pass all three tests and ends up being one of the staple shows in our house just because it’s so entertaining! The characters are likeable, the dialogue snappy, the stories follow on from each other and no one is taking themselves seriously, it’s like some sort of ugly mongrel that you can’t help but love.

When it doesn’t, it’s kind of sad
Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse should have worked. It has great characters, an original plot, some fun episodes and a showrunner with a built in fanbase and a lot of success under his belt. But, much as it pains me to say it, I think it failed on the smugness test. It put a lot of emphasis on the long term plot and asked for a lot of trust, which only those of us with an unhealthy obsession with Joss had any faith he could deliver. To everyone else the cocky attitude of “you’re watching something special and you don’t know it yet” was too patronising.

Although I adore Supernatural, I find I have to also put this season into the “kind of sad” category, because it too failed a couple of the rules. It often drifted away from being fun to watch, the endless misery of the apocalypse does get you down after a while. The smugness also occasionally overwhelmed, it took the season a long time to get started, spending way too much time wallowing and mucking about before finally squashing a lot of plot into the final half dozen episodes. It’s a real shame, because I think the first four seasons managed a really good balance of the rules, I have high hopes for season six though.

And there’s no coming back once you’ve lost me
Of course the gaping hole in this review is the assessment of Lost. This year of television will probably be remembered as the year that Lost ended. But I can’t comment on it, because I stopped watching three years ago, when the smugness became too much for me. I don’t know whether it redeemed itself, maybe it really was as good as it purported to be. Maybe one day I’ll go back and watch it all again. Today is not that day though.

* I did a check, although sadly imdb doesn’t seem to list ‘showrunner’ as a job title, despite the fact that it’s referred to in the press a lot, so I looked at ‘creators’ and ‘executive producers’ (and no I don’t really know what they do). Of the shows I have name-checked (and Doctor Who and Fringe which were mentioned and then edited out) in this article there are a total of seventeen people listed as show creators, only one is a woman (Jane Espenson on Warehouse 13). Of the 43 executive producers listed, there are seven women (including Jane Espenson again for Caprica). These are not good percentages people.

Stargate Universe: Season 1

I was initially quite troubled with the direction of Stargate Universe, I felt that it was trying too hard to be all things to all people, and risked disappointing everyone. It was trying to find a way to be the more gritty, complex type of science fiction that everyone seems to expect in a post-Battlestar, post-Lost world. But the Stargate franchise had been successful for fifteen years following more brightly coloured themes of adventure and families of characters. At the end of Stargate Universe’s first season, I am happy say that they seem to have found a successful balance. While Universe certainly features more conflict and darkness than its older siblings, there’s still an obvious family resemblance in the mythology, themes and storytelling.

The frequent crossovers of technology and characters (helped along by the extremely clever plot device of the communications stones) are the most prominent display of the Stargate genes, but the structuring of the episodes also shows some familiar traits. Most episodes have a combination of some off-ship mission and on-ship character driven issues. The difference from previous Stargates is that the missions are often the smaller, more forgettable part of the story. There was a clever one involving time that I remember being impressed with and the two-part episodes all had some nice construction, but they’re mostly pretty forgettable. Mind you, they’re still more variable than the SG1 trick of visiting the same village set each week, just with different props, costumes and weather.

Meanwhile though there’s plenty going on back onboard to fill up the majority of the time. The collection of characters are fascinating, both individually and in the relationships and tensions that are set up amongst them. I’ve had more than one heated debate about the psychology and sociology of the crew as they come to terms with where they are, how they’re going to survive and how they’re going to live together. It is interesting that they are not just rehashing the ‘military vs science/civilian’ debate, but adding an additional layer that has never really been dealt with in Stargate before – what happens when the people you have, while not incompetent by a long way, would hardly be considered the elite. It seems to me that the original mission was probably never thought likely to succeed, meaning it was a bit of a dumping ground for scientists, administrators and military who have a whole variety of issues with anger management, communication, traumatic pasts and ill-advised romances.

It does make me despair a little that in this situation, people aren’t a little more supporting and constructive. There’s quite a bit of antagonising and posturing centred around the leaders of the three factions – Dr Rush, Camille Wray and Colonel Young. Dr Rush is an interesting but troublesome character, he’s like the dark version of Dr McKay – obnoxious, arrogant and extremely smart – but also manipulative and self-serving. His attitude usually pushed me towards siding with Colonel Young, despite that character’s own hot headedness and frequent demonstrations of poor judgement – at least he was genuinely thinking of the good of the group. I guess it could be said that Rush’s self-centerdness was for the good of the group too – he is the smartest person on-board, without him everyone would be at risk – but his unwillingness to even consult with the others frequently made situations worse before making them better. The third part of the equation is Camille, the civilian administrator/HR person who I felt was utterly useless, escalating tensions rather than soothing them as one would assume it was her job to do.

These three spend so much time trying to score points and leverage power that they just make all the situations worse, staging a coup is fine in a pissing contest for a week, but you’re gonna have to live with these people for years, there’s no point making communal breakfast uncomfortable. Meanwhile the junior members of the team – Lieutenant Scott, TJ the medic, Eli and to a lesser extent, Chloe all have a much stronger sense of “why don’t we all just try to get along”, acting as bridges between the different factions. But sadly while I found it satisfying that they often gave voice to what I was thinking, they often got ignored and over-ruled. They’re generally just left with the task of cleaning up after the grown-ups have made a mess, with only the faint satisfaction of getting to mutter “I told you so”.

As a whole, I enjoyed the season and found it extremely interesting, if occasionally frustrating due to characters making poor choices. It established itself well as it’s own entity – still a part of the Stargate franchise, but Stargate for the 2010s. It’s nowhere near as bleak and hard going as Battlestar, but it has risen to the challenge of being more than the somewhat disposable fun of Atlantis.

They do need to be careful to keep things moving forward in the second season, having the group start to come together, not to a perfect happy family, but acknowledging that they’ve got to start planning for the long haul. The first season has put down some good foundations, but things need to gradually build up from there, I’ll be very frustrated if this time next year I’m still writing about the endless bickering between the characters.

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)