“Stargate SG1″ – Ten years in one post

I liked it. I really, really liked it.

Those were my thoughts upon finishing Stargate: SG1 the series and the two movies, “Ark of Truth” and “Contintuum.” I decided a couple months ago that since I liked the first two episodes I saw, “Window of Opportunity” and “Prometheus,” plus “Continuum,” I wanted to go back and watch the whole series, all ten seasons, just to see what it was about.

And to get this out of the way early, yes I am a crazy person. And no, I don’t have a life.

Another blog I frequent referred to “SG1″ as science-fiction comfort food, and I can’t really think of a better description. It’s easy to dive into, and easy to step away from if you need a break. It’s a good show, with moments of greatness, but nothing more or less than that.

The premise is pretty simple: taking off where the movie stopped, the U.S. Air Force decides to use their Stargate to explore the galaxy and 1) find as much cool technology as possible and use it to defend Earth from the uber-baddies, the Goa’uld, 2) find allies to help in the fight, and 3) not get themselves into too much trouble (that last one proves to be quite the challenge).

If you read that description, and you’re mind immediately yelled “Star Trek,” you’re not entirely wrong to; there are a lot of similarities in the concept, but the big difference being that in Trek, the humans have the fancy toys, and they are the ones who don’t share, and in SG1, the humans are constantly having their new toys taken away. It’s a subtle choice, but it gets rid of the pompousness that occasionally plagues the Star Trek franchise, and it also allows the characters (and us) to be wowed by new technology.

The lack of pomp is one of the many selling points of the series; there are some dark and serious episodes, but SG1 just did not take itself too seriously, thanks in large part to the show’s lead, Col. Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson), and Vala (Claudia Black) in the later seasons. They are the show’s comic relief, and they are always there to offer some inappropriate (but damn funny) remarks at their enemies (or friends’) expense. That playful spirit helps carry the show through some thoroughly ridiculous, but always entertaining, adventures.

 The other major selling point of the series comes down to the casting; the show began with five leads, Anderson, Amanda Tapping, Christopher Judge, Michael Shanks and Don S. Davis (Corin Nemec, Black, Ben Browder and Beau Bridges would come later), and right from the beginning, their chemistry sizzled.

(And that’s just the main cast; I don’t really want to bore you by listing the also exceptional recurring/guest cast, but I’ll just say they rocked too, with the standouts, in my mind, being Teryl Rothery, Carmen Argenziano and Tom McBeath.)

Chemistry is not something that can be quantified, it’s entirely subjective, and you can’t fake it, and the cast, new and old members, never let me down. Even when the writing was less-than-stellar, the acting was always solid, from every member. Even in the later seasons, when new cast members come in and others go separate ways, the team’s spirit remains the same, and that’s what carried the show (and keeps the viewers watching).

Of course, not everything was perfect. The fate of the world (or our heroes’ lives) would be at stake, and because I have watched television before, the urgency of the situation was mostly lost on me. The writers would too often use technobabble as a means out of a tricky spot. O’Neill was too often portrayed as stupid in the hopes of getting a good laugh. Transporters would always arrive at just the right moment to rescue our heroes. The Earth episodes, especially the conspiracy ones, were farfetched and occasionally boring. Some of the ‘funny’ episodes are just embarrassingly bad.

It feels wrong to fault for a show for being overly ambitious, but especially in the later seasons, I really wished the shows could have been about 5 minutes longer. The writers tooled around with good episodes and concepts, but they always ran out of time and had to wrap the episodes up in the last minute of airtime.

And of course, there were the clip shows.

I understand the need for clip shows; it helps free up money for other episodes (like whiz-bang season finales), helps with the shooting schedule, and can help viewers catch up before a big event episode. But understating is not accepting, and while SG1 had only five (“Politics,” “Out of Mind,” “Disclosure,” “Inauguration,” “Citizen Joe”), it felt like five too many.

To be fair, I think two of those are the best clip shows I’ve ever seen (“Out of Mind and “Citizen Joe” if you’re curious), but a really good clip show is still a clip show. Not to be too petty, but they are by nature inferior.

(I pick and poke at the show because I care; those are minor quibbles, and not a one of them was enough to make me stop watching. The good parts of the series far outweighed the occasional stumble.)

Ten years in one post is a lot to cover, and I haven’t even gotten to why I liked this show so much in the first place. As always, the answer is the characters, and once I cared about them, I’ll put up with a lot to keep watching them. Fortunately, SG1 didn’t push that boundary often. The first season was fairly shaky, but it was not anywhere near as painful as the first season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” my barometer for awful, and after that shaky start, things just got better and better. 

End of the day, I’m glad I took the time to watch this show. It’s not always a comedy, but too often I get suckered in by serious and epic shows, and it’s good to have a show like this, one that’s comforting, humorous and a good time. It had its flaws, but the cast’s chemistry, the fun approach and the willingness to change kept the good times coming.

I can’t sum up everything good about SG1, but I can highly recommend the show.

And what would my write-up be without picking my favorites? With 214 episodes to choose from, I’m mostly picking the episodes that moved me to tears of sadness or laughter. There are a lot of good episodes (with only a handful of truly bad ones), but the ones below are those that worked for me.

Best Episodes

Season One: “Cold Lazarus,” “Fire and Water,” “Singularity,” “Enigma,” “There but for the Grace of God”

Season Two: “In the Line of Duty,” “Secrets”

Season Three: “Point of View,” “A Hundred Days,” “New Ground”

Season Four: “Upgrades,” “Divide and Conquer,” “Window of Opportunity,” “Scorched Earth,” “2010,” “Absolute Power”

Season Five: “Threshold,” “Ascension,” “Between Two Fires,” “2001,” “The Warrior”

Season Six: “Abyss,” “The Other Guys,” “The Changeling,” “Full Circle”

Season Seven: “Lifeboat,” “Grace,” “Lost City”

Season Eight: “New Order, Part 1,” “Gemini,” “Prometheus Unbound,” “Threads,” “Moebius”

Season Nine: “Avalon, Part 2,” “Babylon,” “Arthur’s Mantle”

Season Ten: “The Quest,” “Line in the Sand,” “Bad Guys”