For a group of civilians, military and scientific research personnel trying to evade an alien attack, their desperate escape through the Stargate lands them aboard an ancient, unmanned space ship, the Destiny. The ship, created thousands of years ago as a way to place Stargates throughout the universe, is on an unstoppable pre-determined course. With no way to alter the ship from its current autopilot, the group unwittingly has to continue the mission with the hope of somehow eventually dialing back to Earth via the Stargate.
Through the Destiny crew and their struggle to survive, viewers learn via flashback a bit of backstory. Given the size of the ensemble, these stories are designed to unfold slowly, but as a pilot, things are especially vague. Director Andy Mikita’s dark style, combined with “The Mist’s” Rohn Schmidt’s lensing, creates a deliberately unsettling milieu. Everything and everyone is presented as a possible underlying menace.
At the heart of much of the discord is Dr. Rush (the excellent Robert Carlyle), who seems the least frantic about their situation, though his motives are nebulous at best. The counterbalance is Eli (David Blue), the unemployed gamer geek who unwittingly won a place on a Stargate research team by solving a math problem within a computer game. It’s a smart marketing move — deifying your target audience by making one of them the show’s only obvious hero.
Still, it takes a galaxy to raise a sci-fi show, and to fill the macho roles are Louis Ferreira as Col. Everett Young and Lou Diamond Phillips as Col. Telford. Ming-Na, as the putative highest-ranking member aboard the ship, is wasted in the first three hours; Blue is the only source of humor, and Brian J. Smith as Lt. Matthew Scott seems designed almost solely as fan fiction fodder.
It all makes for an intriguing setup that doesn’t quite gel, even by the end of the third episode. Sure, “SGU” is grittier, darker and psychologically deeper than previous versions. But so far, it’s also a lot less fun.