04/04/2003

Stargate's Place in Science Fiction, or, Why I don't think SG-1 is cutting edge speculative fiction, and why that isn't a bad thing...

A few weeks ago I wrote a little diatribe about the SciFi channel and their programming choices. An online aquaintance linked to it in his weblog, agreeing with my, ahem, reasoned arguments.

One of his readers, however, didn't. I found a comment to the link to my entry, stating his disagreement with my perspective that "Stargate SG-1 (which, while I adore it so, is just not in the same club as Farscape, Firefly and Buffy by any stretch)" in terms of being cutting edge or experimental speculative fiction. In his view, my comments backhanded the show.

I don't at all begrudge this guy his opinion, and I can see his point to a certain extent. It probably does sound like I'm backhanding the show, or at the very least damning it with faint praise. But I stand by my perspective, and here's why.

I think Stargate's done some great work, but it's never been truly groundbreaking SF in terms of pushing the envelope of the genre, at least not in the same way as Farscape or Firefly, or even Buffy (though this comparison is probably unfair, since they are different sub-genres). It does what it was intended to do (action adventure SF with a moral twist) very well, spectacularly on occasion, especially when it deliberately uses (and on occasion mocks) any and every SF genre cliché in existence.

But Stargate doesn't break away from those clichés or twist them in the same way I think shows like Farscape does. And I'm not sure it ever really intended to. It's solid science fiction (maybe edging toward science fantasy, but certainly more straight SF than Star Trek). It's also very character driven, and that's what drew me to it in the first place.

I didn't get into the show until this past summer, when SciFi picked up Season Six. I saw the first half of it, and promptly ordered Seasons One and Two on DVD. By the time I'd gotten to "Solitudes" at the end of Season One, I was a goner. I love this show. Even the bad episodes couldn't dampen my enthusiasm. The dynamic of the core cast was really what drew me. RDA, Amanda Tapping, Michael Shanks and Christopher Judge melded into this wonderful ensemble that made me believe the characters had the bond that was portrayed. I love this show because it's good SF, but even more I love this show because of the characters.

Stargate rarely pretends to be something it's not. It plays to its strengths (strong characters, humor, drama, action/adventure, moral commentary), rather than pushing the envelope. There's really not another SF show on TV that does that. And it's managed, for the most part, to avoid becoming a sad parody of itself, a trap Star Trek fell into with both Voyager and Enterprise.

So yeah, I don't think Stargate's pushing the envelope. But that's doesn't mean that the PTB are doing something wrong with show. Really, I think it means that they're doing the right thing.

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