After the combined 15 series of SG-1 and Atlantis came something a little different. Universe features a small group, partly military, partly scientific, and partly wrong place/wrong time people, being hurled onto a ship far, far away from Earth and with no prospect of returning.
Immediate concerns are sustainable water/food supplies, ensuring the ship (Destiny) doesn’t fall to pieces and deciphering how the damned thing works. I really like the premise, and two of the leads (Rush, played brilliantly by Robert Carlyle, and Eli) gel very well together. I’m not normally a fan of everyman figures, but Eli (normal in character albeit mathematically genius) is great.
Most of the other characters were either ok or not of much interest, to be frank. There were some nice moments, such as coming at the friendzone from the other direction, when politician’s daughter Chloe essentially tells Eli there’s no chance of romance and doesn’t want him to see being a friend as a consolation prize or being second best, but on a persistent basis Rush and Eli were the two chaps I found intriguing.
However, there is a very big but. Two, in fact. The tone is grim and dark, which I like, but it absolutely doesn’t fit with the Stargate approach of all preceding series. There’s very little levity, and when O’Neill makes a guest appearance with his trademark humour, it grates against Universe’s dark and cynical tone.
The other problem is that of adversaries. Initially, there’s the problem of survival, and then an ongoing conflict between military and civilian personnel, and both are well done. Beyond this, there’s nothing to match the Goa’uld, replicators, Ori, or Wraith. A couple of persistent villain races (intelligent machines, and some aliens deliberately tracking the Destiny) are introduced, but neither are especially engaging.
There is the Lucian Alliance, a group of inter-galactic freebooters who cause trouble sometimes directly for the Destiny and sometimes on Earth, before a small number are incorporated into the crew. Individually these villainous groups aren’t bad, but they should be the garnish, not the main course. Nowhere is there a Baal being a smug jester, or Evil Carter outwitting everyone.
Viewership declined and the show was cancelled after two series. It did have a perfect ending, which leaves things open should anyone wish to resurrect the series. The central premise is great, as are the actors portraying Rush and Eli, but that isn’t enough, alas, to make Universe more than the third and least of the Stargate series.
I like grimdark things. But not everything has to be like that. SG-1 and Atlantis were fun, witty, and had great characters.
There’s been recent murmuring about a reboot or new series (although Stargate Origins hasn’t gone down too well, probably because fans wanted more than a few 10 minute episodes). I wouldn’t be surprised if Stargate returned. With a total of 17 series and over 300 episodes, there would certainly be interest. If it does, I hope they take their time with it, and get it right.