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Joe Flanagan

The news came out, this week, that Stargate Atlantis was being cancelled in favor of one or two annual direct-to-DVD movies – the first one to wrap up the series’ final storyline – and where have we heard that one before? Still, the puzzling thing is that the series is being cancelled after its ratings rose this summer – which makes as much sense as the little pig in the straw house moving into his brother’s brick one and having the middle pig take it down with a bulldozer in a fit of envy.

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The main reason we’ve been given is that making the series in Vancouver, British Columbia is getting to be too expensive, though I humbly suggest that if the series was being produced in the U.S., its rising ratings would pretty much preclude such a move. So, why then, would MGM and the Atlantis production team go in this direction?

After a quick run through the season’s first six episodes, it’s certainly not because of any loss of quality – a potential reason that was rendered unlikely by the way that more people are watching, on a regular basis. With the franchise maintaining its usual high level of quality – of the six episodes, only Ghost in the Machine – which was hampered by Torri Higginson’s decision to not return] was less than a B effort – the rest ranged from A [The Daedalus Variations] to B- [The Seed]. Certainly, the show’s writing, production, direction, effects and performances have been as good as usual.

The answer is given, and quite clearly, in the press release for the upcoming series, Stargate Universe. In it, Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper are quoted as saying, “In ‘Universe,’ we plan to keep those elements that have made the franchise a success, such as adventure and humour, while breaking new ground in the relationships between mostly young and desperate explorers, thrust together and far from home. Above all, we believe the Stargate self remains an enduring icon with infinite potential as a jumping off point for telling stories.”

It’s the “let’s get a cast of younger, more kick-ass military and civilians – nothing wrong with kick-ass civilizations – and punch up our numbers in the 18-24 demo… and the ‘tween demo.” After all, nobody’s watching the old fogies on Atlantis except, well, more people than did last year – thereby punching a bit of a hole in the typical variety of network thinking.

What’s the big plus, here? It’s that the mainstays of the Stargate creative team remain aboard – even though they aren’t the young pups they were when they convinced Richard Dean Anderson into signing up. Happily, unlike the creative teams of other series, they get to space out their writing in such a way that they are still capable of writing engaging and entertaining episodes – unlike the Star Trek duo of Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, who were completely out of touch with their audience by the time season two of Enterprise came around [not to mention that ghastly series finale].

Stargate has survived big changes in the past. When Michael Shanks left, Corin Nemec stepped in and the show rolled on [and a lot of fans wouldn’t have minded if Nemec had stayed on]; Richard Dean Anderson left – for perfectly good reasons – and was replaced by Ben Browder, whose character injected a fresh enthusiasm to the series that almost made up for the introduction of the Ori. Claudia Black came aboard the SG-1 franchise at the same and her charming thief/con artist fit in – after awhile…

Then there were the changes on Atlantis, where a first-season regular departed after getting a buzz from Wraith venom; Dr. Elizabeth Weir, the leader of the Atlantis Expedition, became a Replicator and was replaced by Col. Samantha Carter – whose successes while in command got her moved out and fussy, protocol-happy Richard Woolsey took over [and discovered that protocol is pretty much just another word in the Pegasus Galaxy].

Throughout the changes – not to mention some of the best humorous eps on any SF series – the quality of the Stargate shows has been kept well above average. Now we’re going to be getting a series that features a younger cast that is stranded even farther away than the Pegasus Galaxy. The chances are that its creative team will be looking for fresh ideas – or at least, fresh spins on ideas – and that it will be worth watching.

It’s just too bad that Atlantis has to suffer cancellation because of it. And that idea for finishing off the final season cliffhanger with a direct-to-DVD movie? Still little more than an blatant cash grab.

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