Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Starting shows - The Unit & Stargate SG-1

Watched the first disc for each of two shows.

The Unit is one I was aware of without paying any attention until recently learning that David Mamet was the creator. How could I pass that up? Well unfortunately from these first four episodes there's not much Mamet-like about it. I didn't expect anything on the order of his stark Spartan, a sort of American Le Samourai, but this is even more standard network. Don't know if Mamet wanted it this way or it's a compromise or if just the first eps are laying the groundwork. So far each ep is divided into two parallel stories - one about the anti-terrorist unit's mission of the week and the other about the at-home wives dealing with being at home. I really hope it gets a bit more complex than this because so far it feels very outdated with the men out hunting and the women cooking. Not helping is that at the start the women appear Stepford-Wife-ish in their blank comittment to the secrecy of the unit, so much that I thought this was deliberate but it might have been intended to be completely serious. The unit's activities also seem a bit odd (though the show is supposedly based on a memoir about Delta Force). In these eps they're in Afghanistan, the Serengeti, Indonesia, Idaho and Los Angeles. For all I know this is how Delta Force actually operates but it seems a bit scattered if not actually illegal (something they pay lip service to for Indonesia). There are a few story glitches such as sending one soldier out to nearby forest to infilitrate an assassination mastermind's cabin without ever explaining how anybody knew even roughly where he was. Still I'm an action film junkie and this works well enough that I'll likely finish the first season.

Stargate SG-1 is something I also never paid any attention to until recently starting to hear good things about it and the related series. The original movie is just godawful, notable only for Kurt Russell having one of the worst haircuts in film history. The first disc of the series is the double-length pilot and two eps. The pilot actually was a nice lead-in with a consciously b-movie feel (seemingly modelled on the first Star Trek series) and setting up some potentially interesting stories like a renegade alien warrior joining the team and a refugee crisis. It's got humor without going completely tongue-in-cheek and keeps a fairly brisk pace. The two eps make me wonder about the rest of the show. One is a decent story about an alien infestation that's familiar but at least not boring. It's a change from the pilot though and in fact even resolves the refugee story completely off-screen. (They're sent back to the original planet even though that was not a possibility before.) The next ep is called "Emancipation" and is as dully heavy-handed as anything I've seen. The basic idea is that a world based roughly on the Mongols keeps women in a second-class position (and one thing about the show seems to be that these cultures transplanted from Earth in the past never evolve over the centuries). The woman physicist/soldier doesn't like this and by the end, well, emancipates them. So the team just happens to end up with the one tribe where the leader wants this to happen then they decide it's their role to change the social and political structure (with a tiny bit of discussion just as when Kirk justifies ignoring The Prime Directive yet again) then they show magic sticks (ie guns) that awe the natives just as any cheesy b-movie and so on. The capper is when this desk-jockey physicist who had "level three" hand-to-hand combat training fights a hardened warrior who has been doing this his whole life and inexplicably defeats him - an ending made all the worse because there's a potential reason within the story that is completely ignored (that the warrior wanted his daughter to live so he lost as a way for that to happen and still save face). I'll certainly give this another disc because after all Babylon 5 might have been the greatest TV show ever but it had at least one huge clinker ("Infection" I'm looking at you).