SF TV Cagematch: Flashforward vs. Stargate Universe

The two big science fiction television shows for this season have had their premieres and have two hours under their belts. With a few exceptions, TV is not kind to science fiction so let’s put Flashforward and Stargate Universe into the ring and let them fight it out for supremacy (in this case meaning which will last the longest).

In this corner we have ABC’s new entry: Flashforward.

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The Premise: – What happens when humanity experiences 2 minutes and 17 seconds of unconsciousness where everyone also sees a glimpse of themselves in the future?

The StoryFlashforward is loosely based on Robert J.Sawyer’s novel of the same name. The TV show has taken the basic premise and grafted a mystery/conspiracy storyline on top. They’ve also slowly added the fate vs. free will theme from the book (illustrated by John Cho’s character knowing he is murdered at some point, can he stop it from happening?) The more interesting take here is the apparent conspiracy behind the time stoppage. This, plus the ‘flashes’ has lead to the inevitable LOST comparisons (it’s not that good yet, but LOST wasn’t LOST right off either. So far I’m really intrigued by Flashforward. I’m definitely looking forward to where they go with the story. Maybe they’ll answer why the Suspect Zero would be a Tigers game to begin with?

The Characters – This is probably the weakest part of Flashforward. There isn’t one character that I really like or care all that much about. In that respect, the plot is more interesting with the characters being a means to push it forward. There’s certainly time to improve the characters and it would be nice if one or more would actually change for good because of what they saw.

The Execution – I have to give high marks to the producers for how Flashforward looks. The disaster scenes look pretty good for a TV budget and the flash forwards have a nice feel to them. I can’t say I’m impressed with the music as I can’t remember any of it. Flashforward definitely looks like a professionally produced piece of television.

The PrognosisFlashforward has garnered some decent ratings for its two showings. Of course it has a very nice time slot to work with. Add in some character work and a (hopefully) interesting story for the flash and this could stick around. Which is actually a problem. There’s a built in stop, set at April 29th, 2010, which is the future point shown during the flash forward. After that, then what? Will the conspiracy still be in hiding? Will they (the creators) have another flash and start all over again? I know what happens in the book but I’m not sure that translate well into a TV show that needs to have an ending in sight (LOST anyone?). This seems like a better proposition for a mini-series or a limited run series (13 episodes) rather than an open ended series, but I see it sticking around for a bit.


In the other corner we have: Stargate Universe, the latest in the Stargate franchise, from SyFy.

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The Premise – A group of humans are stranded on the Ancient starship, Destiny, as it traverses the universe.

The Story – The story is pretty much the premise, repeated, but with attempts to try and find a way home. Very Voyager-ish, only light-years better than that show. This is what I really want to see in a science fiction TV show: big @$$ spaceships (I hope we get some battles), exploration of new worlds, ancient technology and a universe that feels lived in. Universe has a bit of an Alastair Reynolds feel to it for me, which is probably why I liked it right off, which I can’t say for the other Stargate TV endeavors. The tone and look is definitely a big change from the previous two shows which probably explains why some fans of the earlier series don’t like Universe. Since I’m not a huge fan of Stargate overall, maybe I’m more predisposed to take Universe at face value instead of comparing it to the others. In any case, I’m very interested in where the creators and writers take the show and I hope we see a very diverse range of settings for the characters to explore.

The Characters – As with Flashforward the characters get short shrift in the pilot. There were too many characters and too much plot to expound for us to get a real feel for any of them, other than the stereotypical roles they play: the arrogant scientist, the geek guy who may be Wesley re-incarnated, the gung ho military guy with behavior problems, the medic who is in over her head, and a bunch of other people we don’t really get to know well. If there’s a problem area for me about Universe it’s the sheer number of characters they are working with. How do you know that’s a problem? When Lou Diamond Philips rates about 2 minutes of screen time in the pilot.

The ExecutionUniverse also looks pretty good. I love the design of the Destiny and the fact that it is basically falling apart was a very nice touch and adds a lot of interest to the story. The quick space battle at the beginning was done well with some nice visuals and I like the ‘documentary’ style shooting. I know people have complained about that but I don’t have any issues with the ‘shaky-cam’ approach and in fact think it serves to differentiate Universe from the other two series at a glance. As with Flashforward, the music hasn’t made any impression on me.

The PrognosisUniverse premiered to good ratings for a cable show. The question is, can Universe pull in enough new viewers to offset those Stargate fans who aren’t going to stick around.

The Verdict – This is a tough one. Flashforward has to pull in decent ratings to stay on network television and so far it’s doing that. Unfortunately I can’t see the story supporting much more than a season or so. Universe doesn’t have to pull in the same ratings to stay on the air, but it has the obstacle of angry fans to overcome and the added pressure to try and gain new viewers. It has an open ended story that can support a multi-season run. But since I have to make a verdict, I’m going to say that Universe will last longer than Flashforward. That’s not to say that Flashforward is ‘worse’, I’m just taking into account the harshness of the network environment and pressure to keep up ratings. LOST has been losing ratings as the story becomes more complex which I’m assuming Flashforward‘s will do. Unfortunately, Flashforward doesn’t have LOST‘s ratings headstart, so I’m picking it to be canceled first.

5 thoughts on “SF TV Cagematch: Flashforward vs. Stargate Universe”

  1. I have to agree with you on everything you said here.  I watched the first episode of Flash Forward and decided to not get invested in it.  It looks like it can be really good, but I just don’t see it lasting long either.  It is funny because I was thinking just last night that it should be a miniseries instead.

    As for Universe, I love the difference.  Yes, the idea is not entirely new.  But I don’t want another SG-1 or Atlantis right now.  The hated the Ori and the Wraith became weak.  The Gould were not much more of a threat in my opinion either.  The only other option I saw was for it to become even more unlike the originals.  Universe can be a good bridge to even broader horizons if done right. 

    I just hope that Universe can get enough viewers to keep it on for 3 or 4 seasons at least.

    Thanks.

  2. I have to say that I was eagerly anticipating both shows, and for my money I have not been disappointed in either.  Yes, the characters have not had as much of a chance to define themselves, but that’s part and parcel with serial fiction.  We’ve seen surface characterization that hints very strongly at the iceberg underneath the surface.  That’s a lot better than no hints at all, or something like Star Trek’s “The Naked Time” where the show threw characterization at the viewers as early as possible through a plot contrivance.

  3. Okay – so,

    FlashForward seems very interesting to me. I am not a fan of the lead guy. He reminds me of Avery Brooks ala ST:DS9; far too soft spoken, emotions conveyed through a raised voice and wide eyes, maybe a trembling eyebrow or jaw.  Maybe he’ll grow on me (Avery did not, alas. I liked him better in Spencer.)

    I am a huge fan of the Stargate shows.  SGU looks like they hired away all the cinematic people from BSG when it went away – this is not entirely a bad thing.  I liked the darker look of the show, but I didn’t care for the vomit cams because I think it’s becoming a joke.  Anything that is overused becomes a joke, and it’s certainly getting its time in the spotlight a lot lately.

    With SGU, it was time for a change.  I wasn’t happy to see Atlantis go away – I felt they’d finally found their sweet spot.  But it really was simply a copy of SG1 set in a different universe.  I think ultimately the show would have been far better if there had been no contact with Earth for years and no way to travel back and forth.  SGU gives them that opportunity to get away from Earth and continue doing something different.

    Comparisons with Voyager are inevitable and will not go away anytime soon.

    I don’t think I like one better than the other yet.  I will say that I have forgotten FlashForward twice now, and have had to catch the repeat they’ve been doing on Friday nights (via TiVo).

    SGU’s 1st episode ended too easily for me.  Plot points abound (You have a gun, the Doctor doesn’t – he just told you he communicated with Earth – cool, stick gun in face and ask for a repeat. Not rocket science here).

    I guess we just have to wait and see where they go with it.

    ~P

  4. FF looks the more interesting show to me, its the one that seems to have some real guts. As to how long it can run that depends on the quality of the writers… personally I hope they use at least one more blackout in this season which would instantly give the show more legs. I like the fact that some of the characters are a bit off, I just hope that they become people I can care about over time.

    SGU got off to a decent enough start but it was entirely formulaic, about the only original thing going on in the show was having a nobel politicia, who sacrificed himself in a depressingly formulaic manner to deal with a truly uninspired peace of plotting. I am glad they held back on introducing to many of the cast as it gives me something to look forward to. The biggest worry I have is that they are going to bump into mostly humans speaking american :( If the only humans we meet are from earth then I will be a very happy chap.

  5. Putting aside the fact that I haven’t really been much of a Stargate fan and that I do tend to enjoy Rob Sawyer’s stuff (although the TV show is quite a bit different than the book), my bet is that FlashForward is going to last longer because it’s basically been put together as a cop show (we may as well call it Law & Order: Temporal Displacement – or maybe 24 + 2 Minutes 6 Months Down the Road) and thus will have a greater appeal to the general audience. I’ll give you the fact that the Stargate franchise has had staying power, but look at the massive proliferation of cop shows on TV. The general audience loves ‘em, and some, like the Law & Order franchise, having been going for quite some time. When ratings time comes, it’ll be the impact of the general audience’s viewing that carries greater weight.

     

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