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Preview: ‘Stargate: Universe’ Gives Franchise Fresh New Life

Not exactly ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ but definitely deserves similar level of respect

When the producers announced they were working on yet another spinoff of the Stargate franchise, all I could do was sigh.

“Stargate SG-1” was fun enough, except it went two seasons too many. “Stargate: Atlantis” had a wonderful start, but there seemed to be far better job stability on “Earth: Final Conflict,” and it simply wasn’t worth an effort to invest in many of the characters there.

So “Stargate: Universe” … what areas of the franchise hasn’t already been covered in the last 15 years worth of Stargate episodes?

Well, Brad Wright, Robert C. Cooper and Carl Binder show us in the first seconds of the new series. The stargate is fired up, and instead of watching someone casually walk through the puddle, we instead see someone shoot through it as if they were just shot from a circus cannon.

It happens over and over again, until the gateroom is filled with people disheveled, confused, and ready for adventure.

“Universe” is the Stargate fans have been waiting for. And a long time, too. Sure, “SG-1” and “Atlantis” had its serious moments, every show does, but “Universe” is all about serious drama. While we might find ourselves chuckling here and there, especially with some of the cameos we see of our favorite characters in past series, get ready to have that tissue box ready because “Stargate: Universe” isn’t playing around.

You really don’t want to be spoiled at all going into Friday’s premiere. Seriously, you don’t, and I was once the king of all spoilers, and I’m still telling you this. You’ll want to watch “Universe” on a big screen television with some great surround sound. And if you don’t have one, “borrow” it from your neighbor’s wall.

“Universe” creates a sense of urgency we haven’t felt since, well, “Battlestar Galactica,” No, I’m not saying that “Universe” is a replacement for Syfy’s best-known series, but then again, nothing could replace that show. However, with so many television shows competing for our attention these days, there has to be a reason to tune in each and every week. And the setting for “Universe” alone is enough to make sure I’m sitting in front of the television.

Robert Carlyle, who at one time was rumored to take over the sonic screwdriver in “Doctor Who,” instead plays a far more dark character in the form of Dr. Nicholas Rush, a genius in his own right, who isn’t afraid to sacrifice anything — or anyone — to find the answers he’s looking for.

Louis Ferreira is Col. Everett Young, an expedition leader who didn’t intend to be an expedition leader, but finds himself trying to overcome some major obstacles right from the start.

Stealing scenes, however, is Brian J. Smith, who some might say has taken on the Col. John Sheppard. But that was a role for Joe Flanigan, and it’s safe to say 1st Lt. Matthew Scott is nothing like that other colonel. He’s tough, yet he has that babyface that cries out innocence. If only that were the only conflict he had to deal with.

Because it’s hard to have Stargate without its humor and its fanboy presence, “Universe” also includes David Blue as Eli Wallace, an everyday geek just like the rest of us who suddenly finds himself living out a fantasy … and like “Galaxy Quest,” it’s all real. Blue represents us well, since the actor has already admitted he and Eli have a lot in common, and while he can never be Rodney McKay, we don’t want him to be.

Elyse Levesque plays a character that really comes out of nowhere and is the last person we would expect in a series like this. As Chloe Armstong, she’s the daughter of a powerful U.S. Senator, but proves early on that she worked her way up and didn’t need her father’s help at all.

Alaina Huffman plays 1st Lt. Tamara Johansen, who sadly, takes on a smaller role than we would’ve anticipated, at least in the first few episodes. But then again, ask the beautiful Ming-Na, who plays Camile Wray in “Universe,” what it’s like to poke your head up in such an ensemble effort, and all you can do is simply wait your turn.

The overall cast is rounded out by Jamil Walker Smith as Master Sgt. Ronald Greer — a soldier with a short fuse who you’d rather not cross — and Lou Diamond Phillips as Col. Telford who finds himself more as an observer than an active participant.

It’ a lot of people to get to know in a short period of time, but Cooper and Wright pull it off brilliantly in the pilot, making you almost ask, Daniel who?

The last two Stargate series seemed to lose their way after a certain period of time, but the producers on “Universe” seem determined to make sure they stay focused this time around. Sure, getting home will be nice, but there’s no need to whine about it every 10 minutes, and Cooper and Wright give everyone so much to do, they don’t even have time to think about it.

“Universe” will find it difficult to be grouped with its Stargate siblings, but that’s OK. It’s a show that stands all on is own. And while it may never be “Battlestar Galactica,” there’s a good possibility “Stargate: Universe” could be this generation’s “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” And if you know anything about my science-fiction preferences, that’s probably the highest compliment I’m capable of giving anything.

What Worked

Constantly moving action. And not just fight scenes or moments where you’re on the edge of your seat.

The story moves fast in the pilot, even if everything is told in an order that’s anything but. That’s good, because the last thing you want to be doing is wondering if you should turn the channel or not. But with a good pace set by director Andy Mikita, you simply don’t get time to think about it.

David Blue and Ming-Na are going to be the actors to really watch in this series, but Brian J. Smith is the cast member most likely to explode to star status because of this series.

“Universe,” however, has to be careful to not run out of steam too quickly. Otherwise, everything accomplished in the first three episodes of this series would simply be wasted.

What Didn’t Work

Robert Carlyle is a great actor, but his character of Dr. Nicholas Rush needs some serious work. He gives audiences reasons to dislike him, and maybe even a little to empathize with him. But unless he defines himself at least one way or another, he could easily become a throwaway character that no one would miss.

I don’t want to see that because I think there’s a lot of potential for Dr. Rush. To realize that potential, however, we need to see some better focus on who his character is, and exactly what role he intends to play in the overall “Universe” mission.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

The pilot for “Stargate: Universe” stars Robert Carlyle, Louis Ferreira, Brian J. Smith, Elyse Levesque, David Blue, Alaina Huffman, Jamil Walker Smith and Lou Diamond Phillips. It was written by Robert C. Cooper and Brad Wright, and directed by Andy Mikita.

“Stargate: Universe” premieres Oct. 2 at 9 p.m. ET on Syfy.

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Could they be a Rut-ro! Shaggy
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