The Show Remains The Same

The other day I was having lunch with a friend of mine and she recommended I watch the last few episodes of Stargate Universe (SGU) season one.

My friend has pretty good taste and when looking at the Wikipedia episode synopsis I noticed that Rhona Mitra was in the final three episodes, so that’s what I did the other night (thank you, Netflix streaming).

She was right, these episodes were pretty good and  yet as I watched them I started to “see behind the curtain” and realize that I was about to be disappointed.

Without spoiling anything, the setup for the season cliffhanger was extremely dramatic.  It reminded me of Dynasty’s “Moldavian Masacre” season finale in which terrorists swarmed the wedding and sprayed machine gun fire and the audience was left wondering who would live and who would die.

And that was the problem.  The stakes were raised fairly high and the audience demands a payoff that equals (or exceeds) those initial stakes.

Sure, they killed a minor character (a “red shirt”), but that was meant as a distraction because the modern television audience understand the mechanics and inner workings of how television is produced.  We know that all these actors are on contracts and that everyone will be coming back and that everything will go back to normal.

The larger the franchise, the less risks that are taken so as to protect said franchise.

It has gotten to the point where modern television dramas have polarized themselves into two types of shows; procedural franchises (like SGU) and groundbreaking originals.

The procedural franchise shows (SGU, Law & Order, CSI, etc.) have a simple formula.  Every week there’s a something.  The cast of characters solve the something in the unique way that they do it on that show (forensic science with CSI for example) and the end.  Plot threads are weaved in to keep viewers entertained week-to-week, but not much “happens” over the course of the season to the environment or to the characters.

The groundbreaking originals are the type of shows that have strong creators or show runners behind them and networks that are willing to take risks.  While they might follow some level of “formula,” they are not slaves to it.  I can point to any number of episodes of Lost or Mad Men that completely broke formula to push the characters (or the story) forward.  As far as plot, the season three (and season four) finales for Dexter are great examples of taking the character and changing their environment and making the old new, and different, again.

Any episode of The Wire.

You know those shows when you watch them.

Which is why if we plotted the continuum as a barbell, there are shows that run up and down the line from one pole (CSI) to the other (The Wire).

From what I saw, SGU’s position while maybe not entirely in procedural franchise is not far enough towards groundbreaking original where this finale left me loosing any sleep for the characters.

As much as Stargate Universe wanted to convince me it was leaning toward groundbreaking, I know that it doesn’t have the guts.

It’s a procedural franchise and needs to protect itself from risk.

I have nothing against procedural franchises (some of my best friends are procedural franchises).  I might even casually follow the show into season two, but let’s face it, I don’t think this is going to come near some of the great Buffy cliffhangers of day’s past.

I could be wrong.  I hope I’m wrong.  I’d love to be surprised.  And if I am, I will be the first to publicly state on this blog that I am wrong.

But it’s been my experience that you know the groundbreaking shows when you watch them and the rest remains the same.

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