I’ve been binging through Stargate SG-1 recently, and my theory is that the show is secretly a sitcom.
The sci-fi ideas in the show are not that innovative; some of the plot lines are quite bad; the effects are definitely not anything to write home about; the villains are just plain silly. But (but!) the show is occasionally very self-aware, and at the end of the day, you’re really just hanging out with some cool, amiable dudes explorin’ other planets (i.e., the forest just outside Vancouver). That’s it. That’s the heart of the show.
Do you want to watch Richard Dean Anderson chill out with his friends? Sure you do. The very best episodes are just O’Neill and the recurring character, Maybourne, going on wacky adventures around town, riffin’ on each other. There aren’t any stakes, no real danger. Oh, sure, Maybourne says he does lots of *bad stuff* and kind of hints towards some of the secret organizations he’s involved with, and for most episodes there is some lip-service paid to the end of the world or the threat of the Goa’uld or something, but we don’t really care. O’Neill and Maybourne might as well be trying to get to White Castle, since no one actually cares about whatever random MacGuffin they’re supposedly looking for (random ancient Egyptian artifact #56), and we don’t actually believe the earth is about to be invaded or destroyed in the middle of the season. (I should add, though, that we’re at a point now in television where I could imagine a show that would be able to make me believe this, which is pretty awesome, when you think about it.)
Mostly, it’s not O’Neill and Maybourne, unfortunately, but O’Neill and the rest of the SG-1 team: Carter, Daniel Jackson, and Teal’c. But the structure of the show is the same, and we watch for the same reasons. Sometimes the show tries to get serious for an episode, and sometimes it does indeed aim to pull on the heart strings. And it’s not always unsuccessful. But it earns those moments (when it does earn them) only via a bunch of episodes of banter between some friends that we learn to care about.
I haven’t watched Stargate: Atlantis of Stargate: Universe, and I’m debating whether to bother. I’ve heard that SGU gets a bit dark, relative to the rest of the franchise, but that it actually finds its own feet and gets pretty good in its second season, only to be cancelled. So, uh, I dunno.