Without a really good spaceship, here on Earth we’d need some extremely special method of transportation to reach any alien world. That’s why the 1994 film Stargate, while not quite original, was pretty cool: here’s this big stone ring that’s actually advanced alien technology that creates a water-looking dimensional tunnel connecting the stargate on Earth to a gate on another world. Sure, the film gets dull when the focus turns from the creative discovery phase on Earth to the “let’s free the oppressed slaves from the powerful aliens!” macho action on the world through the stargate. But the movie was a smash hit and overall it’s definitely worth seeing once.
Three years later, with the debut of the Showtime series “Stargate SG-1,” we find out that not only can our stargate dial into the gate on the world from the film, but there are multitudes of different combinations on the gate and they all correspond to gates on hundreds of other worlds. While this is cool from a exploratory point-of-view, the fact that the rest of galaxy is under siege from the same evil alien race thought vanquished in Stargate means that suddenly Earth is open to potential invasion a hundred different ways. Something has to be done! America’s answer (we have the stargate, so we get to answer!) is to create Stargate Command (SGC) and have several different teams who go through the stargate to different worlds and discover new technologies as well as build relationships with other races. It’s all pretty cool, and because stargate jaunts frequently deliver our heroes into danger there is plenty of action all around while at the same time supplying plenty of sci-fi constants (dizzying names and languages, big alien guns, funky make-up) to keep any viewer entranced. It’s all fun, and you can catch it every week! What’s better than that?
Like I mentioned, the 1994 film was a little dull. Kurt Russell (brooding yet dedicated Colonel Jack O’Neill) was a little stiff and James Spader (eccentric yet brilliant rogue archaeologist Daniel Jackson) was a lot wacky, but other than them the cast was pretty forgettable. That problem was taken care of with the new ongoing series. Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver!) took over as O’Neill and retained the underlying grief of the character (he lost his son in a tragic accident involving his own handgun) while adding a rebellious streak and a much needed sense of humor. Michael Shanks, as Jackson, played the character as a fun and inquisitive scientist who doesn’t always agree with the trained instincts of O’Neill, and in fact the by-play between the two of them works as the heart of SG-1 for the first five seasons. Added to the team are Amanda Tapping (Major Sam Carter) as a capable officer and Christopher Judge (Teal’c) as a renegade Goa’uld who joins with the enemy (us!) to fight the injustices his race is perpetuating on the inhabitants of the galaxy. The four of them are team SG-1, and every week they deal with all the madness the universe has to offer, and occasionally more!
The series has been consistently top-notch in all aspects. All types of problems are dealt with in various episodes (time travel, xenophobia, creature rights, etc.) but often in fresh and creative ways that keep you guessing as to the resolutions. Each hour-long episode is fairly self-contained but there are plenty of recurring themes and references to keep dedicated fans scribbling in their notebooks about episode 3.05 mentioning the events of 1.02. It’s all in good fun, folks. There have been lots of guest stars, like Dom DeLuise (don’t ask me why), and supporting Earthbound characters played by Don Davis and Teryl Rothery really add talent to the mix. It’s a wonderful, wonderful show!
Recently, “Stargate SG-1” has gone through some controversy as Shanks decided the tone of the show had moved from scientific discovery to a steady focus on military machinations and action overload, so there was no real need for the scientific non-violent Jackson. He quit and although on the show his character was written out in a way that allows him to come back at any point (like, say, for the big-screen adaptation of the show) Shanks has departed the show as of the end of season 5 and his replacement is an alien character played by none other than Corin Nemec, perhaps best known for his work as Parker Lewis in “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose.” We’re all six degrees from each other, people! It remains to be seen how the show will perform with the switch, though the internet is currently aflame with “Bring back Daniel Jackson!” petitions and webpages detailing why the show’s producers (which included executive producer Anderson) are “poo-poo heads” for letting the “sexily intelligent” Shanks get away.
Can SG-1 keep up the good work and continue to wow us with new episodes on Showtime and Saturday syndicated episodes on Fox? Time will tell, but until then try out an early episode one Saturday afternoon instead of the stupid baseball game. And avoid the action figures from the 1994 Stargate film: they suck!