Stargate Atlantis/Season 4: Focus on Character

With the flurry of broadcast net launches this week, and the cable summer season winding down, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that cable still has some aces up the sleeve.

Season two of Showtime’s Dexter and Brotherhood takes off next Sunday night.  And season four of SCI FI Channel’s Stargate Atlantis, sister series to Stargate SG-1, premieres this Friday at 10p.

This week we turn our attention to Stargate Atlantis.  Later in the week I’ll post full transcripts of interviews with showrunner Joe Mallozzi (duties he shares with long-time writing partner Paul Mullie) and Amanda TappingStargateSG-1’s Colonel Samantha Carter, who moves into position on the Atlantis team for the first time.

Both one-on-one’s were conducted last July at Comic-Con.

For years, Atlantis was overshadowed by SG-1, the show that survived cast changes and network shifts (from Showtime to SCI FI) to become the longest-running cable drama in television history.

But now SG-1 has evolved into a series of DVD movies.  Battlestar Galactica moved to Sundays.  Atlantis is the last of the original triumvirate (Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis and Battlestar) that once dominated SCI FI’s Friday night line-up.

In previous years, Atlantis originals aired first in the U.K. and Canada -  but illegal downloads, and Internet spoilers available months in advance, impinged on ratings.  So, this Friday’s U.S. season premiere will also be Atlantis’ world premiere. 

According to showrunner, Joe Mallozzi there won’t be the "traditional lay-off…. [SCI FI] will continue to air original episodes for the first time ever through January" and beyond.

If the season progresses as well as the first two episodes, Friday nights ’07-’08 will be Stargate Atlantis’ moment in the sun.  Both episodes hold up nicely, worthy of the SCI FI’s popcorn/escapist tradition.  Atlantis is fun without being too dark, too serious.  It’s a great way to kick back on a Friday night – especially in front of a plasma screen. The special effects and the sets are just…wow.

Both Stargate’s are known for their superb production values - fabulous sets and killer CGI effects.  Atlantis has suffered in the past from some uneven writing, something Joe Mallozzi honestly pointed out.  This year the producers have a little more head space.   SG-1 and Atlantis shared a production team so staff is no longer churning out 40 episodes of television.  “Now that we’re doing 20, we’re so spoiled!” said Mallozzi, “….it’s almost like a holiday.”

Mallozzi was upbeat about season four, saying that “so far” (at the time of the interview) he was feeling “really, really positive” about the consistency and quality of the scripting. 

It was absolutely clear in a long discussion with Mallozzi that season four is the year of character development for Atlantis.

Atlantis has a nice ensemble cast.  But the cast was upended when Paul McGillion (Dr.Carson Beckett) was dropped from the line-up and replaced by Jewel Staite.  Amanda Tapping (Colonel Samantha Carter) was recruited to replace Torri Higginson as commander of the Atlantis base, most likely to lure more SG1 loyalists to Atlantis.

So far, at least, the transition appears to be smooth.  Worth mentioning – because he’s often overlooked -  is David Nyki as the Czech scientist Dr. Radek Zelenka , an appealing secondary character.  At least the writers haven’t killed off Radek.  (It’s worrisome though.  On SG-1, beloved secondary characters were as expendable as Star Trek’s red-shirted security guys.)

(oops - out of room - go to Part 2!)