BsG vs. SG:U — The Humor Factor

Nov 23rd, 2010 | By | Category: Commentary, Ramblings

Following up on characters…

Recently, I pulled out my Battlestar Galactica DVDs and rewatched the entire series, from beginning to end–including that abomination known as “The Plan”.

I’m also a fan of Stargate: Universe (sometimes jokingly referred to as “Stargate: Galactica”).

It’s fairly easy to compare the two, and many people have done so–usually to the detriment of SG:U.  There are, and will continue to be, a lot of comparison regarding tone, direction, characters, etc.  The one thing that stands out for me, however, is the dimension of the characters.

BsG was an incredibly intense story about an incredibly tragic event and the incredibly stressful and depressing fallout resulting.  However… They still had time for humor.  They still had time to be people.

One of the best comparative examples I can give is “the still”.  Both BsG and SG:U introduce a still not too far into their journey. In both cases, it’s a cobbled-together apparatus that puts out a distasteful–but potent–moonshine.

On BsG, it’s a source of entertainment, a place for the “knuckle-draggers” to gather around and slam a few back to let off tension and feel not quite so alone.  Even the creation of the still is filled with giggles and childish sneaking about.  It becomes a place for the XOs to speak freely and crew to relax.  It even allows an enlightening glimpse into the playful side of Col. Tigh as he finds patently obvious excuses for snagging a jar full.

On SG:U, however, it’s a big sucking vacuum of despair.  It’s created by a depressed (and depressing) scientist with a sort of cold calculation.  Nobody laughs, they just drink and become even more stoic and depressing than they were when they’re sober.  There’s no camaraderie, no sense of belonging, no unlacing of the corsets or untwisting of the jock straps.  It’s a way to get plastered so they can forget where they are.

This is the running theme throughout both shows.  BsG shows humor and emotion throughout the series by all the characters.  SG:U shows a bunch of depressed people being depressing–except, of course, for the angry people being angry.  Even Eli–the one cheerful character–has been sucked down into depression.

Adama: “What d’you hear, Starbuck?”
Starbuck: “Nothing but the rain, Sir.”
Adama: “Then grab your gun and bring in the cat.”

That exchange–spoken within the first hour or so of the miniseries, and repeated sporadically throughout the 4 year run–immediately set up a connection between these characters.  They have a history.  They have respect for each other, but also something more casual, more friendly.

On SG:U, you have approximately 100 people who have been working closely with each other for months, if not years–combat personnel in high-stress situations–and yet (aside from a couple instances of random sex) they appear to be nothing more than casual acquaintances; people that sit next to each other every day on the bus and talk about the weather or the game, but don’t even know each others’ names.

What makes it really sad is that this show comes from the same people who created fascinating characters in SG:1.  Yes, the tone is darker and more harsh, but that doesn’t mean the show has to become 2-dimensional.

Take, for example, Lt. James.  Most people only know her as “that marine with the big rack” and/or “the chick from the broom-closet sex scene”.   Here’s an accomplished military officer (she’d have to be in order to get an off-world assignment) who has some very blatant obstacles to being seen as “one of the guys”–especially in a military setting.  And yet… she is.  Why?  What did she do to get that respect?   Were I writing the character, she’d be a farm girl who grew up with a couple brothers and learned to toss shit back at people better than they every could.  She’d have a sharp tongue, a quick wit, an immunity to sexual comments, and the ability to make a marine blush.  They guys would love to have her around, because she’s “one of the guys”.  She’d be a “Starbuck”–though probably not such a drunk.  She and Greer (angry black guy) would be best buddies.  She’d be one of the few people that could make him smile–by making him blush.

The show is rich with characters who can become so much more.  Why is the team who created such memorable characters on the preceding shows so afraid to do the same now?  Do they really think that injecting some humor and light-hearted interaction will destroy the show?  That you can’t be “dark and serious” if people have a good time ever now and again?  There’s a whole lot of combat veterans with a whole lot of stories that will prove that wrong.

Criticisms like these are part of the reason the Trilobyte Project was created.  The insights and criticisms of the fans and community can be a major resource for the writing teams.  Fans know what they want.  They know what’s good and what’s not.  They know how to make things better.  Not all of them, for certain (some fans have some really bad ideas, too), and not all the time, but there are definitely great ideas to be pulled from the fan base–and in return, great ideas to be given back.

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