Entry for January 13, 2009: Space opera TV

The series finale of Stargate: Atlantis was decent, if a bit rushed and predictable. I liked some of the characters in this latest military science fiction installment, but the plots weren't as strong as they could have been.

In addition, as with the Star Trek franchise, Stargate is following a pattern in which a strong premise is eventually watered down. Popular movies (Treks II, IV, and VI/Stargate) led to television series focusing on the best and brightest crews (The Next Generation/Stargate SG1). The next spin-offs focused on old space stations on the far side of the universe from Earth (Deep Space Nine/Atlantis) and included interstellar wars and cameos by actors from previous iterations.

Stargate: Universe seems to be following Star Trek: Voyager's premise of a starship far from home. Let's hope for the sake of space opera on television that Stargate is more successful at sustaining a mix of scientific speculation, idealism, camaraderie, and fisticuffs with aliens than Trek, which after the short-lived Enterprise has gone back to the beginning for a cinematic reboot. Of course, such things are cyclical.

Even given Star Trek's strong influence on the subgenre, other approaches to space opera are possible. Like Buck Rogers (I recently picked up the late 1970s/early '80s series on DVD), Andromeda featured a protagonist who was displaced in time. Like Flash Gordon, Farscape's human hero found himself lost, surrounded by strange beings involved in their own conflicts. The computer-animated Star Wars: the Clone Wars has done a good job so far of expanding George Lucas' universe and still being accessible to younger viewers.

In other "SciFriday" news, the first season finale of Stargate SG1 alumna Amanda Tapping's Sanctuary was decent, if a bit convoluted. The cryptozoology show has veered into steampunk conspiracy, and viewers unfamiliar with either might get lost in the mix of a vampiric Nicola Tesla, lost cities, and the now-cliche cabal of corporate/government villains who want to harness unusual powers for their own ends (see also Fringe).

This past weekend, I also enjoyed the retro animated Batman and the Brave and Bold, fantasy Legend of the Seeker, and comedic sleuths of Psych. Even with the grim Battlestar Galactica and Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles, I'm looking forward to several midseason returns! While I didn't see most of the nominated movies, the Golden Globes were entertaining, even if the red carpet interviews were often inane. As with 2008, there are several noteworthy genre movies coming this year, including Watchmen and the aforementioned Star Trek.

Coming soon: comic book and gaming roundups!