22 January 2011

Stargate: Atlantis - Season 1

Stargate: Atlantis - Season 1

Created by Robert C. Cooper & Robert Wright
Starring Joe Flanigan, David Hewlett, Rachel Luttrell, Rainbow Sun Francks, Toni Higginson, Paul McGillion, Dean Marshall
Transmission season: 2004-2005
Syfy Channel. 20 episodes

Plot: A expedition team locate the lost city of Atlantis, created by the Ancients millions of years ago, and find themselves stuck there without the necessary power to travel back to Earth. But all fun and games takes a backseat when the Atlantis crew come face to face with the nefarious life sucking Wraiths, who intend on seizing Atlantis and making their way to Earth for a whole new crop of feeding - unless this crew of scientists, civilians, and military can stop them!

The Stargate franchise. 10 seasons of STARGATE: SG-1, five seasons of STARGATE: ATLANTIS, and 2 seasons of STARGATE: UNIVERSE. These guys must be doing something right, or how else in the hell do they have seventeen seasons worth of program produced?

Mark this as one of the few successful spin-off shows, especially in the sci-fi department. Now, I’ve tried watching the original show, STARGATE: SG-1, but failed to really get into it. This, though, I quite honestly couldn’t stop watching. I rented the first season from the library and watched this whole shebang in a very, very short amount of time (three days, which included going to work here and there). Quite in love, I stopped over at a local DVD store and to my absolute pleasure, found a set for $24.96 that included not only the first season I had just finished watching, but the complete second season! How am I supposed to beat that price, exactly? And the following week I stopped at Sam’s Club and found the remaining three seasons for $9.98 a piece. Suffice to say, I now own all five seasons of this spectacular and awesome show, and in-between schoolwork these days, I am fully committed to the show (as of this writing, I’m halfway through the third season). Point is, I didn’t expect to get past the first disc of this season, and here I am head over affordable shoes in love with it.

The series follows an expedition team venturing off to the lost city of the Ancients, Atlantis, located in the Pegasus Galaxy. Unfortunately they don’t have enough power (sourced from something called a ZPM which looks like a thick orange crystal) to dial Earth through the Stargate, so they’re sort of stuck there. Along this expedition are some absolutely great characters: Colonial Jack Sheppard (Fanigan) is a wise-cracking action hero who more than once gets compared to Captain Kirk for his tendency to act the hero, save the day, and attract the attention of alien women. Dr. Rodney McKay (Hewlett) is the brilliant, egocentric scientist who knows more about the Ancients than everyone on the team combined, saves the day just as often as Sheppard, and works well under life-threatening circumstances. From the first episode onwards, Dr. Rodney McKay became one of my favorite characters of all time, his hilarious and deadpan dialogue and performance making him not only hysterical but emotionally moving. Hell, I nearly love the guy more than the complex Gaius Baltar of GALACTICA.

Leading the expedition to Atlantis is Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Higginson), a woman whose life ambition is to find Atlantis and learn more about the Ancients. She gets her wish. As a civilian, she leaves the military decisions to Sheppard, but for the most part, she’s in command of Atlantis and it does take quite the toll on her throughout the season. Friend of Sheppards is Lieutenant Aiden Ford (Francks), loyal and willing to go head-first into combat, Ford also never fails to match Sheppard and McKay with the wisecracks. Introduced in “Rising” is Teyla Emmagan, an Athosian who accompanies Sheppard and his team to Atlantis in hopes of escaping the Wraith along with her people. Over time, she becomes a trusted and valuable asset to the team, what with her kickass girl power and knowledge in trade with other planets.

All these folks and more create an interesting family dynamic, where everyone looks out for each other and saves the day on an episode by episode basis. It’s a great cast, and this show wouldn’t be half of what it is without them. The actors are phenomenal in their roles, and thanks to some equally fantastic scripts, each episode is major amounts of food because of them.

Like any good science fiction show, there needs to be a deadly end-of-the-world type villain, and in the case of STARGATE: ATLANTIS, it’s the Wraith, long-haired blood sucking creatures that harvest humans and feed on their life source in order to live. It’s their hunger, mahn! Initially there were only a few Wraith around the galaxy causing trouble, but thanks to Colonial John Sheppard and his team, they inadvertently caused the entire Wraith civilization to wake up from hibernation and get a tad antsy. With food sources becoming increasingly limited around the galaxy, the Wraith find themselves quite interested by a new food source: earth. Oh shit, is right, ladies and gentlemen.

Not only do the Atlantis team need to deal with the Wraith, but there’s also this group called the Genii, a military team intent on destroying the Wraith. Sounds good on paper, but they’re not exactly the kindest human beings in the world, and are more than willing to kill and torture people, not to forget mentioning overthrowing Atlantis, to achieve their goals. Basically, they’re merciless good guys without conscience, making themselves quite a problem for Atlantis.

ATLANTIS’ freshman season has some absolutely outstanding episodes. The two-part series premiere, “Rising”, is every bit as epic and jaw-dropping in its execution as a big budget cinematic venture; the two-part midseason finale/premiere “The Storm/The Eye” is basically the sci-fi version of One Man vs. An Army with a giant life-threatening tidal wave thrown in for good measure; “Thirty-Eight Minutes”, a seemingly stand alone episode that has greater importance to the signature villain of the show as well as featuring some great comedy and genuine tension as Sheppard and his team are stuck halfway through a Stargate and only have thirty-eight minutes before certain death; “Home”, a welcome departure from the normal DNA structure of the show where certain members of the Atlantis expedition return home, but not everything is as it seems; “Letters from Pegasus” is an heartwarming and emotional charging episode as the characters send videos to their loves ones through a wormhole to earth, and we get to see another side of McKay; and of course the two-part season finale “The Seige” which is every bit as stunning and big-budget feeling as “Rising”.

There are, of course, many more very good installments in this 20-episode season, but in an attempt not to seem overly in love with the show, I decided to hold back. You’re welcome. Although the show does have some very, very good episodes, characters, visual effects, and even a great writing staff, it does, as expected, falter on occasion. For one, there are far too many cases of Deus Ex Machina, most head-shakingly in “The Seige” as out of nowhere a military team from Earth arrives to assist Atlantis against the Wraith. Sure, enjoyable episode and it helps even the odds (sorta), but the sudden and entirely random appearance of this ‘salvation’ is so abrupt and obviously a Deus Ex Machina, even my mom (who was partially watching) cried foul. One aspect of this type of series I couldn’t stand in STARGATE: UNIVERSE actually works surprisingly well here: how the problem of the week gets tied up in a nice little bow by episodes end. Mostly it works, other times I wished the writers allowed time for characters and story to breathe, but it’s only a small complaint to an overall immensely enjoyable series.

If my description of the series sounds even half interesting, I can't recommend enough giving STARGATE: ATLANTIS a shot. It's great science fiction, and more than that, it's a great program with some really human characters in an brilliant adventure. Bad guys, attractive alien girls, Problem(s) of the Week, certain death, laugh out loud humor, great characters, and the promise of enterprising stories and galaxies to be explored (which strangely look A LOT like Vancouver...) episode after episode...what's not to love? Highly Recommended

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