The Reasons Why Stargate SG-1 Should Be Recognized as a Classic in Science Fiction Television

The future, decades or centuries in the future, when humanity has advanced technologically to the point of interstellar travel, is what comes to mind when we think of science fiction, about marching out into the stars and encountering aliens. But Stargate skipped a step. What if we could just go out there right now? was the premise of this franchise. The end result was a story so engaging that it spawned not one but three TV series, each of which ran for over 15 seasons. Stargate deserves to be remembered as nothing less than a landmark science fiction show because it showed us that humanity’s interstellar evolution was not a fantasy of the future; rather, it was something we could build right now.

Seeing as how Amazon has recently acquired MGM and is possibly ready to revive this oft-overlooked franchise, the 25th anniversary of Stargate SG-1 is a great time to reflect on what made the show great and why the world needs Stargate now, more than ever.

Emerging into different dimensions

“What set us apart was the fact that we were grounded in the present moment.” This is what Stargate SG-1 co-creator Brad Wright says. The MGM film that inspired both SG-1 and its two offshoots ran for a total of ten seasons. Studio executives saw the potential for a TV series based on the cult science fiction film Stargate and hired two writers from the anthology show The Outer Limits to create a pilot. Partners in writing, Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner, came up with the idea that the Gate could reach other planets and that there might be other false gods in the universe.

Image:Allison Corr

Wright, who took over when Glassner left after the third season, was motivated by the excitement of the Space Race to fill a void by contrasting human technical ingenuity with far more advanced alien villains. When asked what makes SG-1 so popular, Wright replies, “We are people from the here and now, warts and all.” Over our heads, unprepared, and succeeding despite ourselves. The central idea was, of course, SG-1, the team that represented the original NASA astronauts. Wright explains, “At the concept stage we wanted them to be a team we rooted for,” citing the “leave no man behind” motto as the glue that held the group together.

Daniel Jackson (James Spader), who deciphered the ancient symbols of the mysterious Stargate, and Jack O’Neil (Kurt Russell) — spelled with one “l” — who led the charge through the Gate to another world, were the central figures of the first film, rather than a team. With Spader and Russell no longer available, a replacement Daniel and Jack had to be cast. The studio needed a draw, so they cast Richard Dean Anderson, aka MacGyver, as the show’s star and executive producer. When Anderson joined Stargate: SG-1, he was ready to share the spotlight (or perhaps just the load) with the ensemble cast after eight years on a show that centred heavily on his character.

Anderson, who came to the auditions, participated in the process of selecting his new team. All three of the new characters, Samantha Carter (played by Amanda Tapping) and Teal’c (played by Christopher Judge), were introduced thanks to Michael Shanks’s excellent Spader impression and sincere line delivery.

The natural chemistry between Tapping, Shanks, and Judge began in the audition room, where the three actors quickly bonded and helped each other with their lines, and it shone through the screen for the next few years. As the show was given an unprecedented (at the time) and unthinkable (now) season order of 44 episodes, the cast and crew remained close, even living together in Vancouver until everyone had found their own place to call home. Amanda Tapping (Carter) assures me that the team’s cohesiveness was crucial.

Ben Browder (Cameron Mitchell) and Claudia Black (Vala) joined the cast in season nine, but the chemistry between the original cast and them had remained strong for the previous nine years. To illustrate his point, Browder recalls the time he and his wife Amanda made snow angels in the Arctic, a region that had never been visited by humans. After being flown in by helicopter for a lengthy walk-and-talk shot, the two decided to have some lighthearted fun. It was a group decision, and I don’t recall whose idea it was, but we agreed to be making snow angels on the ground when the helicopter returned. Wow, that was an incredible opportunity. U.S. Navy officers travelled 300 miles out onto the ice floe. So we made snow angels.

The heartfelt, friendly humour was the show’s greatest strength and what made Stargate so endearing. According to Tapping, “we truly adored each other and looked out for each other.” “I believe that emotional investment was conveyed on screen.”

Lightheartedness, character-focused narrative, and teamwork

What makes Stargate so special is how it makes you feel like you’re hanging out with a bunch of friends, even if it’s been years since you last saw the show. When compared to the utopian formality of Star Trek or the gritty antagonism of Battlestar Galactica, SG-1’s laid-back sci-fi style stands out as something of a rarity. Despite the team’s dire circumstances—which included being captured and tortured frequently, losing loved ones, and facing the possibility of annihilation at the hands of far more powerful enemies—they always managed to find humour in the situation. This ironic humor never detracted from the seriousness of the situation and actually made the dramatic highs and lows more effective. Stargate has a radical optimism: no matter how bad things get, there is always something to be happy about.

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