May 08, 2007

Why SG-1

Over on Making Light, there's a thread about Entertainment Weekly's list of the top 25 SF movies and TV shows from the last 25 years. Stargate SG-1 is not only not on EW's list, it isn't recommended in the 233 comments prior to mine at Making Light. Torchwood (blegh) was listed, but SG-1 wasn't. That floored me.

Full fangeek confession here: Not only do we own five seasons of the show, we also get together with friends on Fridays for dinner and to watch. When the show is on hiatus, the only thing we've done that's more than a placeholder is watch the new Doctor Who. Otherwise, we're just waiting for our stories to come back.

I'm not sure why it's less than cool in the SF fan community to like SG-1, but I'm not ashamed to say that I do. In the interest of combating lists with lists, here's why.

  1. The writers know how to pay me back for an hour of my time. Too many shows right now go in for soap opera storytelling, where I have to put in hours of watching before anything is resolved. Not SG-1. The arc goes on, but something is resolved every hour (or two).
  2. The characters are geeks. Each of the team (including rotating members) has an overriding passion.
  3. The characters are bright. They're risk takers, since it's the nature of their profession, but they mitigate the risk where possible.
  4. There are consequences. Decisions made in one episode affect the events in later episodes, later seasons. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes expediency proves to be terribly short-sighted.
  5. There are non-fatal consequences. The writers trust me as an audience member enough to ease up on the stakes from time to time. These episodes are still compelling.
  6. Enemies of our enemies are not necessarily our friends. In fact, enemies have become (uneasy) allies when a new, bigger threat looms.
  7. Our allies don't have the same priorities we do. Our friends from other planets and races have responsibilities to their own people that come first. Everyone wants to know what the risks and potential for gain is for them before deciding whether to help.
  8. Ascension may be a long-term goal to be aspired to, but nobody's really ready to leave behind being human while they still have another choice.
  9. Ba'al. Woof. (Four Ba'als in one room? Intriguing, but a little creepy.)
  10. The characters have frequent philosophical differences. They are rarely resolved.
  11. Nobody seems to be afraid that being funny means they won't be taken seriously.
  12. There are good scientists and bad scientists, pragmatic scientists and space cases. Being a scientist doesn't keep a character from being a human being. Ditto for women. Ditto for people in military or government service.
  13. Our main characters are highly competent people, but they work at it. They don't spend a lot of time, say, in front of the TV.
  14. The new big gun/shield is always a stopgap. Technology never stands still.
  15. There's plenty of fan service, but it never overruns the story. Except maybe episode 200. I'm not sure. I was too busy laughing for most of it.
There's more, but that's the top-of-the-mind list.


Teresa Nielsen Hayden said...

I don't think it's uncool to like SG-1; it just didn't happen to be a favorite item of the people who were posting.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Hi, Teresa.

Midnight insomniac blogging isn't the best for making distinctions. I didn't mean to imply that this particular group of fans was saying it was uncool. In fact, the only mention of the show was a side note about one commenter's preferences that science fiction not try to be funny, in reference to episode 200's Hugo nomination.

However, this silence echoed a lot of other silences in places where I expected SG-1 to get some mention. I've attended a con panel with the subject (paraphrased), "Why don't we do panels about Stargate?" I didn't get it then. I still don't.

This isn't new. I'm the person who routinely goes to the grocery store and finds my favorite food discontinued. I'm still baffled that people love House, because it's one of my favorite shows. I'm just groping for an explanation of the difference in this case.

That, and I like talking about Stargate.

Anonymous said...

Okay, Steph, I hear you. Now, I'm in the other camp on this one. SG-1 never did much for me, and has primarily filled in as something SF to watch on days I'm home sick with the flu.

Many of the reasons you listed are subjective. Your first reason, for instance, is a matter primarily of subjective purchaser qualification--you like this flavor, so you buy this flavor.

Personally, I think the plot arcs tend to be very similar in their emotional arc, the characters are a bit two-dimensional, and the zany/romp type feel doesn't always work for me--though sometimes it does.

I do really like the syndicated plot-style; I was a big fan of ST:TNG for exactly that reason, and not so much of Babylon 5 because it was an ongoing, unresolved plot. But I love what Heroes is doing, and that is perpetually unresolved--it's practically their selling point. (I do have to say that it surprised me how much I liked the show, given that. I really strongly tend to prefer self-contained plot arcs.)

I think SG-1 is the sort of show that has a different impact based on what you want to get out of it. It doesn't quite work for me, and no, I would never put it on a top 25 list. But that's going to be different for each person.

Stephanie Zvan said...

I find that I have to watch three episodes of Heroes in a sitting to feel like there's progress. I enjoyed the first six or nine episodes that way, but I couldn't keep investing time like that. Maybe when it comes out on DVD.

SG-1 rewards me on a sliding scale. If I watch an episode, I get a tough problem with a resolution that depends on the characters being smart (IQ and EQ, both). I get a small bit of commentary on modern life or human nature, and someone says something that makes me laugh or cringe. Popcorn.

If I watch more episodes (in order helps), I get gradual character development, shifting political alliances and priorities, and the occasional in joke ("He's bald, his name starts with an H, and he's very important to me.") that requires recording the show so I can hear what happened while I was laughing so hard.

So I don't know how much it's a matter of purchaser bias as it is of purchaser needs. I can only watch so much TV and in ways that make being able to skip an episode or stop at just one rather important.

Although, when it comes right down to it, politics plus smart people being generally smart (instead of dramatically emotional at inconvenient times) might win whatever the format.

As for the top 25 list? Well, of course it's on mine. I don't call it Starcrack for nothing. The reason I think it should be on a general top 25 list is the audience it's reached. It was the world's most syndicated show at one point, and it's reached people most science fiction programming doesn't. That and 10 seasons.