I really liked both of these shows, at first. Each was canceled due to low viewership, but I think there are really a few things that can be blamed for the failure of each show.
1) Cameron Mitchell (Ben Browder) and Vala (Claudia Black)
I’m not saying it was the actors faults, but the characters, let me say that from the start. After Richard Dean Anderson left the show Stargate was going to loose viewers, that was unavoidable. His character was what made the show from the beginning, and his acting was always the best out of the bunch. But it wasn’t as if it was impossible to work back up from there. The initial shock to the plot of adding the character of Vala and Mitchell at the same time could have worn off and gotten on with it, but the writers wanted to make a different point. They were trying to continue the series as if nothing had happened, without going through a break-in period you usually see (it typically lasts a season) in which the audience can get to know some of what drives the character. For Jack (Anderson) it was the death of his son. In early SG-1 the character development around Jack was mostly reminder, as fans of the original movie already knew everything. There were some episodes devoted to this just in case. Each member of the team had an episode or two in the first season to really develop their characters.
Mitchell and Vala didn’t get this at all. They were dropped into the series with no back story (Vala was given a kind of story, but they didn’t keep to it like they should have). The series became more action based and stopped going in depth on the characters, which is what people initially cared about. Mitchell was a shallow character with nothing to hold on to, no back story at all. In every scene he was either perfectly serious or perfectly humorous, but never in between. Browder did a good job in Farscape, so we know he can do the more emotionally-driven character, but Mitchell was underwritten from the start.
Fans could not care about Mitchell or Vala, and so they were never able to catch the audience. The characters had their own connection, since the actors spent so long working as a loving couple of Farscape probably, but this connection added by the actors is pretty much the only real emotion they were given. If the writers had gone back to their original format- stories which develop characters instead of seeing how many explosives they could pack- I think it would have been better. In the last episode or two, and the subsequent movies that were released, you finally saw more of Mitchell and Vala’s personalities. They should have been doing this from the beginning.
2) The Ori
The actors of SG-1 pegged this menace (which came as the chief alien threat after the Replicators and Goa’uld) as the best in the series. Michael Shanks (Daniel Jackson) said in an interview that the draw of the Ori was that you never actually saw them, only those who supported them. This gave them a more sinister feel than the Goa’uld, who were not as all-seeing or all-knowing.
I think this enemy might have been a really great one, but in another time. Since September 11, 2001 we have learned to live with the fear of terrorists worldwide. Ever since then that is all the news has been concerned with. The Ori were a powerful force who exercised control and power through their fanatical followers, who were willing to die for them. I think this is way too close a description to terrorists, and maybe that is what the writers were going for: a way to make the fear in the series more real. But people watch television to escape into another world with whatever story they prefer. People don’t want to feel the same as they would just sitting and watching the news. The Goa’uld were brilliant because of their fantastical nature that made them more than real. If the fans wanted real they wouldn’t have gone for them from the beginning. An enemy that can be seen is always better than one who can’t, which grows very old very quickly.
3) The Replicators
This one is what helped to kill both SG-1 and Atlantis. The Replicators were brought in initially as a small enemy (they were only in 1 episode), but grew to be a great force of evil. They were fine if they had just lasted one season, but when you have a united enemy such as the Replicators and you keep bringing them back then they become ridiculous. The Goa’uld were disjointed and fought constantly amongst themselves and one another, but the Replicators were all branches of one organism, and always acted together. They started to appear far too much in SG-1, and quickly became annoying. When they appeared in Atlantis (in fact, the first episode they appeared) was when I lost all interest and only watched the show when forced. The writers brought in an old enemy that wasn’t even popular in the original series. Plus when the Wraith came together and allied with the humans to fight Replicators the show was completely screwed. People did not want to see the Wraith come together, they wanted to see the Wraith fight the team, just as the Goa’uld did. The Replicators were a flat enemy compared to the Goa’uld and Wraith, and when they brought them through from SG-1 to Atlantis it made it seem the writers were completely dried up and done.
4) Repeating Storylines
This is actually something that is kind of fun to do. Watch the first season of SG-1, then the first couple of seasons of Atlantis. Fans who are familiar with the first few seasons of both shows can draw parallels between the themes of episodes. While a specific plot may not be repeated, you’ll see the same concepts over and over again. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, at least not early on. It gave fans a sense of familiarity with the show, as though they had seen it before. Again, not in a bad way. Like smelling a scent that links you back to a good memory. The common storylines linked back to some of the popular episodes of early SG-1. But the links were used too much, and I think in the end it harmed the story. The show felt less original, especially after the Replicators came through *glares pointedly at the writers*.
5) WHERE THE HECK DID THEY GO?!?!?!?!?!?!?!
Ok, this one really bugged me. There are two instances where people have vanished off the face of the universe in Atlantis (ok, so one kept dying, I’ll rave about that later). The first person to disappear is Sora. Don’t remember who that is? Well, let me refresh your memory. Sora was a Genii girl whose father died on a mission with the Atlantis team when a Wraith caught and killed him. She believed the team left him to die and swore to get revenge on them for it. In “The Storm” and “The Eye” she is part of the force who invades Atlantis, only to be caught by Teyla. At the end of “The Eye” Teyla says she is being kept in the cell at Atlantis. Apparently there was another scene where she was to be traded back to the Genii as a peace offering, but it was cut from the series. So basically this girl, as far as the audience is ever concerned, stays in the basement for the entire show. What’s more, they use the cell repeatedly to hold wraith. It became a running joke between my brother and I if her skeleton would be shown that episode or not. IF YOU ARE GOING TO PUT A CHARACTER IN A CELL TO USE FOR LATER, DON’T FORGET THEY ARE THERE! A sentence among dialogue would have been enough to clear this up, and they met with the Genii enough to give them plenty of opportunity to slip one in (it would seriously take a few seconds, and didn’t even have to be a conversation “We gave Sora back to you, doesn’t that count for anything” would have been more than enough!).
The second wasn’t a disappearance so much as a “ok, what the hell?”, and that would be Aiden Ford. In the first series he had a roll as a member of the team, but he became a half-wraith after an accident. I’m not sure if they meant to get him away as a main actor and demote him to recurring character or if they really just kept forgetting about him, but he kept coming into the series almost like a Deus Ex Machina or some kind of cheap party trick who could fix the problems and would vanish again. Just when you thought “Aw, he’s dead” he would return and surprise everyone. So seriously what the he** was up with that? This trick got overplayed, and in the end it was more like “oh look, Ford again, whoo~”, “Oh no, he died… moving on, see him next season then”. They needed to make his death more clear. The continuous vague death scenes just ruined the character.
Ok, so those are my reasons the shows failed. I know it is probably not happening, but if the writing staff could just get back to their roots and start again I’m sure Atlantis could live up to its potential. After all, didn’t SG-1 get canceled and brought back on a different network (or am I thinking of Sliders?)? In summary here are the secrets to making these two shows more of a success:
1) DEVELOP YOUR CHARACTERS, DON’T GET LAZY!
2) STUPID ENEMIES ARE STUPID, WE DON’T WANT REAL LIFE!
3) JUST STOP WITH THE EFFING REPLICATORS ALREADY, SERIOUSLY WTF?!?!?!?!?
4) FAMILIAR IS GOOD, BUT TOO FAMILIAR IS NAPTIME
5) DON’T DROP CHARACTERS OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH, AND IF YOU WANT TO, THEN TELL US!!!!!!!!!
Hope you enjoyed my rant. As you can tell, I really loved both of these shows… up until the Replicators.