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If There Had Been Tribbles, My Head Would Have Exploded

I finally got a chance the other night to watch last Friday’s episode of SciFi’s Stargate SG-1 — and experienced a pretty weird moment of geek dissonance.

So there’s Stargate regular Michael Shanks as Dr. Daniel Jackson … alongside Ben Browder and Claudia Black of the late, lamented Farscape (the only reason I’m watching in the first place) … and for some reason, Shanks and Browder are done up in so-similar-they’ve-gotta-be-a-homage replicas of Malcolm Reynolds’ space cowboy gear from Joss Whedon’s Firefly. (This may have been an excuse to get Browder back in the sort of tight pants his female fans apparently have strong positive feelings about.)

And then Wallace Shawn shows up. Yes, Vizzini from “The Princess Bride.” Talk about inconceivable. I felt like I tuned in for a TV show and got fan fiction instead.

As for the show in general… eh, it could be worse. Browder’s one of those actors you can’t go wrong with. Even if he’s basically playing a more superficial version of Farscape’s John Crichton, he seems to be having a grand time of it, which makes the show’s carbon-copy plots and aren’t-we-cute attempts at humor a lot more palatable.

Black has been valiantly playing against type as a flirty thief named Vala, and she’s just as fun to watch as Browder. But there’s little more to her character than a few straps of leather and an endless string of really bad sex jokes. Her work on Farscape proved her a hugely classy and talented actress, even in the most bizarre situations. Having her done up as shameless nerd bait seems somewhat beneath her dignity.

Shanks and Christopher Judge — who seems to be playing Mr. Spock’s NFL-linebacker cousin, Teal’c — are pleasant enough. Shanks has good comic timing and admittedly sharp chemistry with Black, while Judge seems to have mastered the Vulcan art of the dry one-liner. Former star Richard Dean Anderson, in his few brief appearances before exiting the series for good, has seemed bored to the point of stupefaction, delivering emotionless lines while scanning the horizon for his paycheck. For shame, MacGyver! Apparently there’s also someone named Amanda Tapping in the cast, but she seems to be on pregnancy leave for the nonce. Or perhaps her character’s invisible?

On the whole, I’ve got to roll my eyes at the show’s loving emphasis on bureaucracy. The galaxy is threatened! I’ll start the paperwork — you form an exploratory committee! And don’t forget, we’ve got a funding hearing coming up, so if you could push back the alien invasion until the 25th, that’d be great.

Then there’s the vague sense that while girls may be pretty to look at, they’re kind of weird and icky if you actually have to talk to them about something other than science. (Daniel Jackson spurns Vala’s not-unreasonable advances with an almost pathological fervor — which kinda makes one wonder about those long glances he and Teal’c share.) Who knows? Perhaps this sort of thing satisfies the legions of regional managers and software engineers who’ve made this show such a ratings success. It just makes me feel slightly ashamed for tuning in, Browder or no Browder.

Then again, I’ve also been enjoying the new Battlestar Galactica, with its refreshing balance of theology, politics, characterization and GIGANTIC KILLER ROBOTS. Considering the shaggy-haired awfulness of its source material — and the riveting excellence of the new series — perhaps my shame threshhold needs an adjustment.


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