Awesome to Fail in 60 Seconds

Amazon had a deal last month for the entire series of Stargate: Atlantis for only $35. We already had season 1 but jumped at this.It used to be on Netflix but had gone away and for $7 a season, good deal. Naturally I started rewatching it.

This would probably be the third or fourth time I’ve watched the first season. Its got a few missteps but by and large, its an incredibly well crafted season of television. You have the excitement of adventure and exploration as the expedition travels to a new galaxy, completely cut off from home. There’s the mystery and discovery of Atlantis itself; an ancient city full of things beyond our understanding.

All of this is played with a foreshadowing of danger as the Wraith threat grows, incremental at first but then becomes a major threat, something beyond their ability to handle. This increase in tension is done really well, with hints being dropped in episodes, building to the arc in the final few episodes as you watch the characters prepare to face off against impossible odds.

The characters are a nice mix of experienced and green. They are all facing the unknown and you can see them struggle to deal with situations they’ve never even dreamed of facing. Confident and cool negotiator Weir has to make tough decisions that are far outside the realm of a team administrator. Sheppard finds himself in command of a military unit and with little experience with the Stargate. McKay goes from an arrogant prick in SG-1 to an arrogant but lovable guy.

The only real flaw in the first season is the premise. The Ancients were defeated by the Wraith and pushed back to Atlantis. They couldn’t penetrate the cities shield though. Why did the Ancients need to evacuate? Since the city clearly survived for the next 10,000 yrs, they could have continued living there. With the stargate, they could go anywhere in two galaxies for supplies. You just have to assume the Ancients are a bunch of quitters who don’t pick up after themselves.

The greatness of this first season only serves to highlight the sad state of what happened to the show. The next two seasons are still quite good but signs of floundering start to become evident. The final two seasons really are a roller coaster in terms of quality. I was sad to see the show canceled but in retrospect, its not to surprising as the show wasn’t sure what it was about anymore.

Upon examination, I really think things fell apart in the third season, especially the transition into the fourth. Killing Dr. Beckett in a really stupid way cost a lot of fan loyalty. Then killing Weir cost them even more. I liked Carter on SG-1 but she had no place on Atlantis. Woosley wasn’t bad, far better than I had expected when I heard he would be there in the final season, but this flux of lead characters was a symptom of a show floundering. How much of that was due to executive meddling vs poor show running I can’t say.

The biggest story element that harmed the show was probably the Asurans/Replicators. Again, this was a bad guy that worked in SG-1 that had no place in Atlantis. I personally never liked the whole human form replicators so an entire civilization of them just felt ridiculous.

What really failed about the Replicators was that it took the Wraith and made them insignificant. The show was supposed to be about fighting the Wraith and working in a galaxy that views the heroes as equal parts savior and curse. Making a new super bad guy appear just muddied the waters. The Asurans did to the Wraith what Voyager did to the Borg.

The fourth season story arc about Michael wasn’t terrible in concept but the bit about the Athosians being captured and then Teyla being captured was groan worthy. I liked that, for a change, they had incorporated the pregnancy of the actress into the story. It made for some interesting character development. But then they go and pull a Scully and have her get abducted. I think it would have been better if, when Rachel Luttrel took time off to go, you know have a baby, Teyla had just done the same. Make it a character piece but don’t make it an essential part of the major story arc.

Its sad how many shows suffer from this fate. A strong start with an excellent premise that just starts to peter out. I’m sure a ┬álot of it has to do with the tyranny of the viewer numbers. Execs don’t see the numbers as high as they want so meddling begins. This invariably ends up killing what people who watched liked about the show, making things worse.

But you can’t rule out failure of imagination. Sometimes people have great ideas and then have no idea what to do with them. I can’t say I would do any better. Ask my editor, I’m terrible at endings on the first draft. With time and work we make it better, but in the high pressure and quick environment of developing a tv series, they don’t necessarily have that time.

As much as I like having a lot of something awesome to consume, much like food, I think television shows could stand to remember that its best in moderation. If more shows were to go with a more limited run, the story would benefit. Tell a particular story and then be done. If that story is well received, tell another one about the same people ┬ábut only if you have another one. Don’t just throw out 2o episodes just to make 20 episodes.

All that said, I’d still love to see an Atlantis movie that wraps up the show better than the “meh” final episode. It’s been off the air for 4yrs and the project canceled for more than 2 but you could still bring it back.


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