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Pop Culture Corner: Through the Stargate of Memories

We don’t watch things in a vacuum.

Growing up, I never read the Harry Potter series—a classic “Christian parents spooked by the occult” thing. But a few weeks before the final book came out in 2007, my Grandma died. She was a voracious reader and had the first four books on her shelf. We were about to leave from their house after the funeral, and I asked my Grandpa if I could borrow the books. He said I could have them.

To this day, I remember what road my 16-year-old self was on when I began Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I vividly remember nearly every detail of reading them for the first time—and not just because of my familial relation. The world was abuzz with Harry Potter fever, what with the fifth movie coming out and the seventh book coming out within a month of each other. The community built around Harry Potter was special, and if you missed it I’m truly sorry.

You see, media isn’t consumed in a vacuum. Well, if you’re reading something in the International Space Station, you are excused. For the rest of us who aren’t being frightfully literal, though, it’s true. Our life experiences, age, and what’s going on in our lives fuse with our consumption of the media to present an intertwined experience. Who you are is the lens through which you see not only the world, but the creations within it.

For me, the shows Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis are important to me not because they are some of the funnest sci-fi shows with the biggest heart out there—which they are—but because of how I watched them. Once during our family Christmas at our house, my cousin was flipping through the channels and landed on the then Sci-Fi channel. It was an episode of Stargate (Season 8 episode Avatar, if you care to know) and he said that it was a cool show. Over the next few months, I would watch Stargate reruns—5 pm Central on channel 63, every weekday—and generally get my parents to start watching.

It just so happened that Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis were part of the Sci-Fi channel’s Friday night programming during the 2014/2015 television season (along with the Battlestar Galactica reboot’s first season, though I didn’t get into it as much). My dad and I called it Sci-Fi Friday, and for two hours we would sit down and watch as Daniel Jackson, Samantha Carter, Teal’c, Jack O’Neill, John Shepard, Rodney McCkay, and the casts of SG-1 and Atlantis as they go on their adventures.

For two years we watched both shows, and then for another three we watched Atlantis on its own on Friday. I remember watching the backlog of SG-1 episodes via reruns and renting seasons on DVD from the library. But they didn’t compare to sitting down with my dad every week to watch the new episode or waiting for months between midseason and season-end cliffhangers.

I don’t just love Stargate for the Stargate. I love it because I’ve enjoyed episodes with people—my parents, my cousins, multiple sets of friends who I’ve introduced the show to, my wife who loves watching anything Teal’c does—not to mention the characters that you come to know and love.

SG-1 and Atlantis are very similar in tone and style, taking place in the same universe where crossovers are semi-frequent, but are very different. SG-1 first aired on Showtime in July 1997 and was led by Richard Dean Anderson as Colonel Jack O’Neill in his post-MacGyver career. He leads an ensemble cast that never developed a true second star, though to be fair most actors don’t end up starring in over 200 episodes during a 10-year run. Early episodes can be wildly cringey and extremely hokey, which is simultaneously part of its charm and a portion of the show that nobody missed after a few seasons.

Atlantis, however, premiered in 2004—firmly in a different era of TV. It ran for five seasons until Sci-Fi cancelled it, the 2008 financial crash and the lack of streaming services to swoop in and save it the final nail in the show’s proverbial coffin. Its ensemble cast is led by Joe Flanigan as Major John Shepard, though a quick glance at the regulars will yield that a superstar did rise out of the ashes of the show: Jason Momoa. Atlantis avoids SG-1’s early awkwardness, but it never quite coalesced as clearly as SG-1 did. Granted, few shows do.

In the New Golden Age of Television with premier shows left and right, it might seem that SG-1 and Atlantis seem like relics of the past. They lack the production value of something like The Expanse and the acting and drama of a Game of Thrones. And they might be relics in some way. But it would be a mistake to assume that they don’t have worth, or that they aren’t fun.

Consider this: when I’m feeling down, or when I’m having a tough go of it in life for whatever reason, I usually queue up an episode (or two, or five, or ten) of Stargate. There’s literally hundreds of episodes to get lost in, dozens of characters to love, and it’s suitable for the whole family. So, consider getting lost in some Stargate this quarantine season. Make some memories of your own.

Stargate SG-1

Jack O’Neill in Stargate Command in the TV Show Stargate SG-1

Stargate Atlantis

Ronon Dex, played by Jason Momoa, looks out a spaceship

Watch them on: Amazon Prime

Length: 214 episodes (SG-1), 100 episodes (Atlantis), 43 minutes each

A good watch for: Everyone who likes their sci-fi not too stressful, anybody who enjoys spending a long time with main characters, fans of fun and occasional cheese

A bad watch for: People who don’t like hand-waving about aliens speaking English except when it’s part of the plot, those who are looking for prestige sci-fi acting and storytelling, anyone who fundamentally dislikes having a good time