Sunday, August 21, 2005

TV: The Sci-Fi Three

Normally, I like to watch my episodical TV in at least month-long chunks. Especially the shows given to cliff-hangers. Thus, over the last few years, I've become accustomed to sitting down and watching the whole of a Stargate SG-1 season. Somehow, however, I actually slipped two season behind and never actually got to watch the first season of Stargate Atlantis ... until recently.

About a month ago, I watched seasons seven and eight of SG-1 and the debut season of Atlantis. And I thoroughly enjoyed the week it took me to watch the 60 hours or so of science fiction. I was a sceptic of SG-1 when it debuted, utterly convinced there was no way the show could last beyond its inaugural season, despite liking the show. Keep that in mind as you read further, I COULD be wrong again, and in a major way.

The last two seasons of SG-1 each were meant to be a final season. Thus, the shows ended pleasantly at a conclusion of sorts. This is a wonderful thing. Atlantis did not. And this was not a good thing.

I had found myself quite enjoying Atlantis more than its parent. Torri Higginson and Rachel Luttrell grew on me with each passing show, while I found I could put with David Hewlett's caustic Canadian (we had to export him to the States to maintain our 'nice' reputation). Joe Flanigan had his Richard Dean Anderson patter down pat and I was constantly reminded how much the early years of SG-1 was fun. But the cliff-hanger ending meant breaking the now-established pattern of "wait 'til the year's over" viewing habit.

Besides, it wasn't the only show solving a cliff-hanger from last season. The two Stargates have been teamed with Battlestar Galactica to provide viewers with a Friday-full of good 'ol space opera. So I reluctantly started watching the shows as they come out, starting early last month.

And I am troubled. Of the three, only Atlantis has remained fun to watch. I have no qualms with it, so far into the new season. Jason Momoa, one of the few good things about the not-sadly belated North Shore, has largely replaced Canuck Rainbow Francks as a regular. But Francks has gotten himself a Daniel Shanks-like semi-regular guest-star spot that's been effective so far. (Shanks largely took season six of SG-1 off, making it into about a quarter of the episodes). Nothing has been cringe-worthy in the show and each hour seems to be able to stand on its own.

Before bouncing off the roof about the other two, let me state that I'm a card-carrying agnostic. I think religion is good, organized religion too frequently not so good. I've played bridge on teams with a Scottish Presbyterian, a Roman Catholic, a Hindu, a Jew and and Muslim. You CAN get along, whatever your beliefs, if you permit others their's. I think religion belongs in the home and at your place of worship. Not on my TV screen, as a major plot element.

So, despite a real star turn by ex-Farscaper Claudia Black as the mostly amoral Vala, SG-1 has come close to losing me for this season. In fact, Black has ended her arc as of this week, and woe to any producer who doesn't rush to get her back. They MUST take advantage of the out they left themselves when Vala apparently sacrificed herself to stave off the religious zealots, the Ori. (The religion being Origin, get it, ORIGIN. Yeah, lame.)

As such, the shows have descended from the fight against the Goa'uld false gods, who KNEW they were taking advantage of ignorant followers, to nuts who are doing it for religious reasons. Gak! Sure, there's some resonance in forward-thinkers as to pastiching the current uber-evangelic society we Earthlings find ourselves in these days. But I watch TV to get AWAY from the vagaries of our existence. The Ori schmucks (And YES, I know the translation of the word) are all-too powerful in a way that means we are a "War of the Worlds" viral solution away from winning. It's not going to end up being human engenuity that carries the day. Just some random happening. Even though I have enjoyed the other SG-1 additions, Ben Browder, Beau Bridges and the always welcome Lexa Doig (of Andromeda fame), I've got serious worries that SG-1 is finally in a final season.

Which brings me to the new, darker Battlestar Galactica. And it's internal battle between the religious following of now-deposed President Roslin and those following the orders of Commander Adama. Sure, it's a made-up religion and yes, I didn't shed any tears when the book-carrying priestess got blown up this week, but it's so ... ground-level. Galactica is SUPPOSED to look somewhat grungy. Sure, they don't have top-level communications to go with their star-spanning space-ships. But the primitiveness of what they do have, makes this whole Cylon thing, with their instant Galaxy-wide internet too incongrous. A lot of people make a lot of stupid decisions in key positions. When you have no real internal logic that makes sense, you play up religion. Gak, yet again. Or should I say FRAK again! It's cute the way the writers get Frak to replace the other F-word, but EVERYBODY in Galactica's using it and the cute charm of it has become TOO FRAKKIN' MUCH!

There ARE some nice touches this season in Galactica. The constant Baltar-Six internal monologues have been few and far between. Tish Helfer is gorgeous, but SOOOOO unneccesary. Richard Hatch is getting some good play as a bad guy who's going to be a REALLY bad guy some time soon, aided by henchman James Remar, who's work is consistently enjoyable. The multi-Boomers have devolved into the single Cylon who MIGHT be siding with the humans. Grace Park's handling that duty well. But I still can't get over having religion thrust into my fiction.

At some point, and that point's soon, the Sci-Fi Three, might become ONE ... and wait for the others, for a time when I've got absolutely nothing else to watch.

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