It’s dead, Jim

michaelbThe Michael Burnham Show aka Star Trek: Discovery completed its third season this past week and I’m still rather speechless. I don’t know what kind of deranged minds are behind this show but frack me it must surely be the worst sci fi show I have ever seen (at least until season four arrives next year). I suppose I should commend them for having the audacity to make a show about a psychopath with a God Complex infecting the galaxy with her psychosis.  Its pure Philip K Dick really, and quite fitting for our times: an Insanity Pandemic infecting the universe, 3188: A Messianic Odyssey in fact. 

How else to explain anything that happens in this show? I have no idea how many or how few are actually watching it, but I’m sure it has its fans: I’m sure its endless fascination with Wish Fulfilment is just wonderful for them: its all something of a Dream. We all like to think we are special, and the fantasy of The Chosen One is quite seductive; part of the appeal of the Matrix movies is the idea of being Neo, of being The One. Of being the subject of prophecy. The Michael Burnham Show is that fantasy writ large, in the guise of what we fans used to call Star Trek.

But Star Trek is dead. Its been dead for awhile, but if that wasn’t confirmed by the reboot movies from JJ Abrams or by last year’s Star Trek: Picard, then it surely is now. In fact, The Michael Burnham Show has surely kicked its corpse into the gutter. Maybe Star Wars got away lightly after all.

Michael Burnham is never wrong, and even when she is, it turns out she’s right in the end. When she ignores protocol or even direct orders, when she abandons her post to go off on one of her own far more important errands, and when she is subsequently demoted for such, its only a purely token gesture. Her voice and opinion will always still be desired, and when the push comes to shove, the Command Chair will always be vacated for her to take over and save the day. Its obvious everybody, even the head of Star Fleet, and certainly her fellow crew of the Discovery, are vastly inferior to her and will always defer to her. 

Just to underline the fact, none of the Discovery crew have any opportunity to compete with her on any level. Most of them don’t even have names, or at least names that matter or are memorable, and they surely don’t have any lines to speak, or any personality to inject into the proceedings. Arguably the co-star of the show, Ensign Tully -sorry, Tilly (the characters are so bland that even the nominal co-star has a name I find hard to remember)- is a prime example of a non-achiever, more suited perhaps to operating the sick-bay radio channel or the canteen, she is inexplicably promoted to be Number One in Burnham’s stead, if only to prove how most excellent Burnham was in comparison: I think its within thirty minutes of taking the Comm that Tilly manages to lose the Discovery to an alien aggressor (the Green Woman and her Motorbike Helmet goons) who board and take control of the ship and imprison the crew. Tilly can bluff and bluster like a ginger Boris Johnson- but typical of the show, there’s no substance to her, and after she escapes from confinement her attempt to retake the ship ends with her and her team asphyxiating in a corridor. Never mind Tilly, Michael’s here to save the day/save the galaxy/save the universe.

Its all fairly obnoxious and really insulting. I’ve never witnessed such stupidity in writing. The writers inject some 3188 tech – personal transporters in the uniform lapel badges- which, when they are tapped by the wearer’s fingers instantly teleports them anywhere they want to be. No coordinates, no voice commands, just tap the badge and this magic shit reads your mind or something. Now, you give all the crew this magic badge and hey presto, you’ll have empty corridors from then on because everyone just teleports everywhere, right? Canteen? The loo? Who even needs doors anymore? Tap the button and in a flash you’re there. And yet, and yet, in each subsequent episode we still see crew walking around pretending to look busy. I mean, they even have a gag in the episode in which they have the new tech in which an alien crewmember keeps on teleporting into scenes by mistake, and yet next episode nobody’s using them. These writers can’t even manage their own internal logic, even in the very same episode- in the finale the crew set off a bomb to wreck one of the nacelles and pull the ship out of warp, and then scarcely fifteen minutes later its magically all fixed and the ship is whole again and fully operational. I mean, wtf? 

I could go on. I think when I realised that Burnham’s God Complex psychosis is infecting everyone around her was when the show started to make sense to me, as regards how stupid it was and how crazy every character was behaving. It certainly explains how the show can shit all over established canon by suggesting Spock had a half-sister never mentioned in all the decades of the various incarnations of the franchise. Its obvious now that Spock never had a sister until she appeared, like one of Lovecraft’s Elder Gods from some deep sleep, her psychosis infecting Spock into accepting her, her sudden existence affecting the fabric of reality and the mythology of the show. I half-expect the psychosis to infect our own reality, so that people will start re-reading their Star Trek paperbacks from the 1980s and 1990s and suddenly be reading, indeed, of Spock having a half-sister called Michael. Its fiction infecting reality like in John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness. God help us all. 

Never mind. Michael will save us.

The Expanse finds its Event Horizon

exp3At the risk of seeming an intolerable geek, I was immediately dumped into a funk this morning when I looked up my news feed at Breakfast and was met by headlines that The Expanse has been cancelled at Amazon. I nearly choked on my Muesli, and that’s a hell of a way to start the day. Sure, there’s plenty more genuinely concerning and life-effecting bad news on the news every morning, we’re living in a very strange world now, but I think getting outraged by one of my favourite tv shows getting cancelled is almost reassuring, a glimpse of what used to be reality, what used to be my ‘normal’. 

It was so out of the blue that it was shocking, really. Amazon, once the exalted saviour of The Expanse, has now cancelled it. Seems that its too expensive, and even in the strange economically bizarre world of streaming, viewing figures do matter after all, and The Expanse hasn’t gotten enough, apparently. Colour me surprised by this one, though: I thought Amazon’s owner Jeff Bezos (personal net worth $181 billion and counting) was a big fan, which would pretty much guarantee us nine seasons (to match the nine original books). If the richest man on Earth can’t afford to bankroll his favourite tv show so he can watch it, then nothing makes sense. Viewing figures? Where does that get in the mix? Oh Ghost you’re such a naïve fool, I know, I hear you. Of course Bezos didn’t get so rich as he is by throwing money away… well actually, he practically did, I remember Amazon being a fiscal black hole for years. So how come he has decided to allow the show to be kicked into that Black Hole now? Did Bezos even see the memo?

The good news is that the imminent fifth season won’t be its last- Amazon have agreed to make a sixth season to allow the showrunners to give the show a decent ending. Which is pretty damned great in my book and something positive I can clutch at, in a world where ST: Discovery somehow gets renewed for another interminable season. How does a show like The Expanse gets cancelled when absolute garbage like Discovery gets made? Well, the answer is 42, my freinds, the answer is 42 (God bless you, Douglas Adams, I always turn to you in moments such as this).    

“We can’t call for help. We can’t call Michael.”

std3Well, maybe this wasn’t ALL bad. It was unrelentingly stupid though. This is a catch-up episode for all those wondering what happened to the Discovery and her crew while we watched The Chosen One’s adventure last week, so if nothing else, it strangely benefited from not featuring The Chosen One at all, except at the end when she typically turned up in order to save everybody again, because, you know, she’s The Chosen One and everyone is useless without her. No lie, the title of this post is a direct quote from the show when the Discovery has crash-landed on the alien planet and the crew realise they are on their own.  

As for that, the show immediately had me ready to throw my remote at my telly (my tv is looking worried every time I watch this show). Last week The Chosen One in her Iron Man -sorry, Time Travel- suit, fell out of a wormhole, crashed into a spaceship during a space battle and fell from space and smashed down onto the surface with nary a scratch, but the Discovery, a giant spaceship, loses its shit as it falls down to the planet for a crash landing, suggesting that The Chosen One is more powerful and durable than a starship.  The entire plot of this episode involves the crew desperately trying to repair the totally fracked-up starship lying dead on the surface, no communications, no sensors, no engines- but fortunately this is a crew of A-listers so no Dry Dock required, this thing can be repaired in about six hours (totally fracked up but repaired in six hours) as long as they can get the locals of the planet to replace one broken gadget that looks like a Space Vase. 

Ironically, as this episode is one of the better Discovery episodes if only because it focuses on the Discovery crew/supporting cast instead of the insufferable Burnham, I struggle to really elucidate upon it because for the life of me I don’t even know their names. After two whole seasons, I don’t really know any of their names or characters, an indication of just how poor the writing of the show has always been, and indeed how much it has steadfastly focused upon The Chosen One to the detriment of others.

As usual, the show looks pretty, something helped no end by further location shooting in what I assume is Iceland, augmented by really nice visual effects adding virtual alien skylines and alien structures. This is one of my major frustrations of this show- it is obviously expensive and looks gorgeously impressive at times, but its so undermined by bad writing and execution. It reminds me rather of Prometheus, a similarly gorgeous film that blunders abysmally whenever anyone opens their mouth to speak. Its just the same here- banal dialogue, woefully silly sentiments. Two of the crew go off the ship to recruit some locals to fix the broken Space Vase and they soon see a native in the distance- instead of calling out for help, they choose to simply follow the mysterious cloaked figure who could be a ruffian for all they know, across the wintery tundra to an alien outpost that might be a trap…  It all looks perhaps a little bit too video-gamey but it is awfully pretty-looking but my goodness its so stupid, with Ensign Tully (the podgy ginger one) wracked with self-doubt repeatedly babbling nonsense to quell her nerves while her commander (whatever his name is) calmly reassures her endlessly.

Anyway they make freinds with the locals – one of whom, like the sad git last week spending 40 years in his literal waiting room, has been waiting faithfully for the noble Federation to save their asses from criminal thugs who inevitably threaten our Discovery bunch. Fortunately Michelle Yeoh, Discovery’s resident bad-ass, turns up at literally the right moment to save the day (such lazy writing) and they are given a personal transporter gadget to return straight to the ship (yeah more lazy writing) and the repaired Discovery attempts to leave before being consumed by an alien ice creature (no lie) but they are struggling until another spaceship fortuitously arrives just in time (again, yet more lazy writing) and what do you know, the mysterious spaceship is commanded by their lost friend Michael Burnham, yep The Chosen One has saved the day again. The writing here is typically abysmal in its attempt to raise tension, I mean, literally a tractor beam suddenly picks up the Discovery and “Coms are back online!” and “Shields are back online!” followed by “Weapons armed and ready!” and the commander, Saru has to decide to fight or chat and his decision to chat is immediately vindicated when The Chosen One appears on the other end of the line. 

std4So I suppose everything is reset now and next weeks episode will resume the Chosen One Saga, and the episode really sank when Burnham’s face appeared on the communication screen to announce she was saving everyone, but at least this had its moments while it lasted. The lead criminal  Zareh (Jake Weber) is a definite highlight, a character that is interesting and hopefully will be a returning bad-guy. Star Trek: Discovery is one of those shows that, bereft of interesting leads/characters (other than perhaps Michelle Yeoh, who is unfortunately always curtailed by the lousy writing  (“What you call pain, I call foreplay!”)), is only enlivened by interesting guest actors who tend to steal the show.

 

Re-discovering The Chosen One

stdHere we go again folks, with another season of Star Trek: Discovery, the lamentable Trek series that has alienated franchise fans possibly even more than The Last Jedi did Star Wars fans. So here we go. 

Michael Burnham is The Chosen One. She literally saved all life in the Galaxy (hallelujah baby) from an AI menace in season two that threatened to wipe out all organic life or some such nonsense (not the same AI menace that menaced humanity in Star Trek: Picard earlier this year but hey, the future seems to be rather troubled by wannabe Skynet’s). The Chosen One has now been thrown nearly 800 years into the future because she’s now The Chosen One to save the Federation after its, er, fallen apart in the intervening years thanks to some  preposterous ‘burn’ nonsense that nuked all its starships instantly.

Remember, this Chosen One saved all life in the galaxy before Kirk came around and took the limelight, but is curiously  a character who nobody ever heard of in all the Star Trek‘s ever made or written. The fact that she’s also the half-sister of Spock, who Spock never mentioned in all those years he featured in the various Trek incarnations…well, you’ll possibly see my problem. Its like the next Star Wars movie suddenly revealing that  Padmé Amidala (what do you mean, ‘who?’) actually had triplets not twins and that Luke and Leia had a sister called Lucy and thus we can benefit from yet another Skywalker Saga (Disney call my agent, ‘cos I’m copyrighting that goldmine of imagination).

I know, I know, I can positively see you rolling your eyes. Reading someone moaning about continuity or mythology of a genre show can be pretty tiresome, specially as regards a franchise as long-running as Star Trek or, say, something like Dr Who. Its a hopeless task I suppose, and I’m certain most fans of any particular franchise would allow some leeway, but if you’re going to do something Trek, you should at least sow some indication of actually trying. The guys behind Discovery seem hellbent on alienating what would traditionally be expected to be its core audience, which has always seemed odd, but maybe that’s just something borne of laziness. But nonetheless, at least treat it with some respect.

 The people behind Discovery really don’t respect its core franchise fanbase. I really don’t think they consider them at all, in all honesty.

So anyway, what’s The Chosen One been up to? Well, she’s fallen out of a Wormhole into The Future in her Iron Man suit, sorry, Time Travel suit and she just happens to have arrived near a planet (which is handy, because space is, like, 99.9% empty space and is mostly the void between stars so, you know, better near a planet than middle of nowhere without a space ship, what are the odds?) and hey, talking about space ships, there’s a space battle that just happens to be going on between two ships and The Chosen One crashes into the one being chased and -bang- she wrecks it but naturally her Iron Man suit, sorry, Time Travel suit is built to withstand massive space collisions even if space ships aren’t (the poor bastard crashes to the surface totally buggered) and not only that, but its also built to survive high-g re-entry into a planets atmosphere and, yes indeedy, a crash-landing at those incredible velocities into solid ground with the wearer hardly suffering a, er, achy achy back. Its like the goddam show is daring you to throw the remote at the screen and kill your telly.

std2Oh sod it that’s enough already. I can’t be bothered with the rest, especially the prologue that ripped off the opening of the BSG reboot,  with an amateur Federation wannabe spending 40 years -40 goddam years!- like some moron going to the office every goddam morning without a day off waiting for someone to walk in and save the Federation. Yeah guess who’s that someone. Go on, have a guess.

I’ll see you after episode Two.

Star Trek: Picard

stpicardAs far as first episodes go, I thought this was a pretty solid effort. Certainly it feels more of a genuine ‘Star Trek’ than anything in Star Trek: Discovery,  which is all good in my book. I suppose a lot of this is due to having as familiar (and iconic) a face as Jean Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) as the central protagonist.  I must confess to feeling a certain glow when I saw Picard and Data together wearing their old TNG uniforms- I rather think that Stewart and Brent Spiner must have gotten a bit of a kick filming that scene. Whats most surprising though is that this still remains a pretty clear departure from Star Trek of old, particularly from TNG. This Picard is a rather bitter, lonely and frustrated man in his twilight years questioning the institutions that once held such importance to him, and perhaps questioning his life, what he achieved, what was the point of it all.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it (this first episode hints at more than it delivers, but I expect its just teasing answers soon to come in subsequent instalments) but I rather fancied that this series could just have easily been titled Star Trek: Kirk had it been made a decade ago, and perhaps would have made a fascinating epilogue for both Kirk and William Shatner’s role in the franchise, had that been possible.

Bad timing for Shatner, great timing for Stewart then, who seems to be relishing the opportunity this series affords him.

A friend of mine from work who left a few years ago, and was an avid Trekkie who read all the books etc, dropped me a text over the weekend informing me that he’d watched the show. He seemed to enjoy it, but couldn’t help but wryly note that the show credited 18 producers. A sign of the times, I guess, but I did text him an observation that too many cooks can spoil the broth, and that the cohesive vision of, say, a Gene Roddenberry and Gene Coon, the two grand old masters of the original 1960s Trek, seems to be lost to us now. Star Trek: Discovery seemed to spend too much effort trying to be all things to everyone, getting lost in a spiralling mess in the process, and I only hope that this series goes its own path and maintains the promise of this fairly solid beginning.

End of Year Report, 2019.

Didn’t get my Replicant Pleasure-Model in the mail, nor did my new car launch vertically into the air for a commute to work in the sky-lanes… and neither was I able to book my holiday Off-World, so thanks for ‘nowt, Ridley…

But 2019 did come with some great television shows and movies. That said though, there were plenty of clunkers and disappointments.  I think what I shall remember most of 2019 is that it was clearly a year when television content surpassed movies in quality by a pretty wide margin.

In my previous post I mentioned that I watched three seasons of The Expanse this year, which was pretty amazing and certainly one of my favourite shows of the year, but there was plenty of other quality shows. Some clunkers too, mind- February brought the first (and thankfully last) season of Nightflyers, a truly abominable creation that so soon after having enjoyed the brilliant The Expanse brought my sci-fi viewing crashing back down to Earth. At the time I was confident it would be the worst piece of television I would see all year, but I was innocently ignorant of Another Life coming later in April. The fact that Another Life has been granted a second season is just mind-boggling and very, very scary.

Certainly the good outweighed the bad, though, if only because you can afford to be judicious with so much content available across Netflix and Amazon Prime. By March I’d also see season two of The Crown, the first outing for The Umbrella Academy, season one of Stranger Things and Love, Death & Robots, a ridiculously entertaining anthology show that was a Fantasia for sci-fi geeks like me, and totally beautiful.

Regards movies though, I had really struggled to see anything really memorable until April, when I saw both Bad Times at the El Royale and Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse. El Royale really impressed me on a rental, so much so that a few months later I bought the 4K disc. Then in May John Wick Chapter Three: Parabellum blew my mind on a rare trip to the cinema, an absolutely dizzying action-fest that instantly put itself as prime contender for my Film of the Year. In an era of politically-correct naval-gazing and various worthy agendas being shoved in my face all the time, Wick was refreshingly old-school, unfashionably simple action-movie nirvana. May also brought Avengers Endgame, another rare cinema outing that this time proved hugely disappointing. I’m really curious to see if a rewatch will revise my opinion of the film, but even though I bought the 4K disc of the film when it came out a few months back, I still haven’t actually watched the disc. I keep thinking I should watch Avengers Infinity War first, maybe the two films in a double-bill over a weekend, but the length of the darn things proves rather daunting. All those Marvel geeks who watch all these movies often and know them inside-out are made of sterner stuff than I. Watching Captain Marvel just once, when the 4K disc came out in July , left me pretty burned-out on all things Marvel- the thought of the ultra-fans watching and re-watching that one is just plain scary.

Away from movies, April brought us the big television disappointment of the year, with season eight of Game of Thrones. In hindsight, it could only ever disappoint, it had hyped up the conclusion and all the show’s mysteries and intrigues over several seasons to such a degree, it was inevitable that it would all just implode. Didn’t think the crash would be quite so spectacular though. Having bought all the Blu-rays already, I bought the 4K disc set of season eight anyway, and am hoping that when I get the courage to watch it again after all these months the pain will be less, I can make my peace with some of the wilder crazier twists and maybe manage to see something in all the episode three murk now its in 4K UHD. We’ll see.

Much better television followed in June: and no, I’m not talking about season two of Star Trek Discovery, but rather it was the month when I caught up with Chernobyl, a breath-taking and harrowing series that was pretty much perfect. Discovery was far, far from perfect- it ably demonstrated that while much television can be great, it can also out-dumb and out-stupid anything Hollywood movie studios can do.

In August, I caught up with both Aquaman (a film that proved DC could still make worse movies than Captain Marvel) and Shazam! (a film that proved DC could actually make great, fun superhero movies). Aquaman would be another of those terribly busy movies that tried to fit three films into one, like some kind of Readers Digest edition of an actual film trilogy. It doesn’t work, it just gives me an headache. I watched the 2017 remake of Flatliners, and although I thought that was diabolically appalling, I had no idea I’d also see the Jacobs Ladder remake later in the year, a film which would make the Flatliners remake seem a classic and put me in a total dark funk for a weekend.

Returning to television shows, August also sprung a major surprise with the quite excellent The Boys over on Amazon. The quality television continued into September with the long-awaited (by me, anyway) disc release of the third season of True Detective, which I really enjoyed (I love all three seasons of that show- yes, that includes the maligned second season) and Carnival Row, another Amazon show that was much better than I’d expected, even if it did leave me pining for the superior (and sadly missed) Penny Dreadful.

Sheesh, all these seasons of television shows and all their complicated multi-layered narratives. I suppose I should be glad most movies turned out to be rather less demanding, more simplistic and comfortingly predictable. A prime example would be September’s Ad Astra, which I was expecting to be a high-concept sci-fi take on Apocalypse Now. Well, it was certainly a sci-fi take on Apocalypse Now, almost literally so, but with lunar space pirates and a mad Space Baboon, it was rather more Event Horizon than 2001: A Space Odyssey. A disappointment then, and another example of the lack of confidence of movie studios to challenge and provoke audiences as much as HBO etc do on television. I would imagine that had HBO made Ad Astra as a ten-episode serial, it would have proven far more enticing and thought-provoking.It would probably look just as good too- the gap between television and cinema in regards of visual effects is obviously still there, but its much narrower than it used to be, and television more than makes up for any deficit there by better script writing. November’s The Lion King would prove to be a startling reminder of what visual majesty only cinema budgets can presently afford, but the same months Spider Man: Far From Home ably demonstrated that cinema could just get dumber and dumber even as it got prettier.

November also presented us with The Irishman, a Martin Scorsese gangster ballad that incredibly came to us via Netflix (I prefer ‘ballad’ to ‘epic’ just because its more, well, thoughtful and mature than the joyously questionable glorification of Goodfellas). The idea that a $150 million Scorsese flick could just drop onto Netflix on a Friday night still feels dizzying and possibly game-changing. I really enjoyed the film (its certainly more Once Upon A Time in America than Godfather or Goodfellas).

The Irishman did show, though, just how much has changed during 2019. Streaming services are all the rage now, and really will prove more of a Big Deal in 2020. The prevailing move by studios towards streaming and away from physical media, and indeed away from traditional vendors like cable and satellite television providers, is just a gathering storm that gets windier by the month. For someone like me who likes to own my favourite films and television shows and enjoys special features and commentaries, its pretty worrying. I can see a future not far away where streaming and pay per view is everything. Its clearly inevitable, but its a future where The Irishman can’t be purchased on DVD or Blu-ray, a future where you’ll probably need to subscribe to Disney+ in order to watch future Star Wars and Marvel movies in the comfort of your own home (and I’m pretty certain that premium content on Disney+ will eventually require additional purchases in-app to watch; it may start as a subscription service but it’ll inevitably evolve into a pay-per-view service when alternative avenues like physical media are gone). Hopefully that’s more 2029 or 2039 though, and I’ll be past caring as long as I have a Blu-ray player working.

 

 

Ending Another Life

another2Euueew, what’s that smell? Could it possibly be this stinking turd of a series? I think it might. Quick, dig a deep hole and chuck this in, bury it.

The last three episodes of this show. Unbelievable. It may possibly be THE WORST SCI-FI SHOW I HAVE EVER SEEN. I was actually shouting at the television in my dismay/horror/frustration.

I have often written about bad writing, bad scripts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as badly written, badly constructed, or nonsensical, as this. I thought Nightflyers was bad. I’ve written about how poor so much of Star Trek: Discovery was, particularly in the second half of its second season. But neither were anywhere near as bad as this.

I could write about why. I could write a list of my WTF moments during the season. I could highlight the horrible lapses in logic, the stupid character moments/arcs. The soap opera inanity of it. I could write a list of all the better tv shows and movies that this thing kept on ripping off.  I think I’d be wasting my time though. It was a horrible, horrible mess, and it wasn’t even bad-funny that would make watching it passable, it was bad-unfunny and watching it was almost unbearable. I’d love to see the Netflix stats of how many people started episode one and got all the way through to episode ten. Not many of, I guess. We Unhappy Few.

another3According to the credits, Aaron Martin seems to be the lead showrunner/writer/producer of this show. I have marked his name for posterity and shall watch out for his future endeavours with trepidation. Checking on IMDB, he’s the creator of Slasher, a horror anthology series about serial killers whose beautiful something victims try to stay alive, The Best Years, a teen drama about the lives of beautiful somethings at college, and has previously worked on several seasons of Degrassi: The Next Generation, a romantic drama about beautiful somethings at Degrassi Community School dealing with the serious issues that plague beautiful something teenagers. Lots of clues there about how Another Life and its crew of beautiful something non-entities racing off into space turned out (clue: there’s romance and jealousy and stupid mistakes, sex with one guy, sex with two guys, sex with a hologram, rich daddies back on Earth, annoying little kids back on Earth, gay husbands back on Earth- basically all the trendy social concerns ticked). I’m sure Aaron is likely a very nice guy, and is clearly quite successful as a television writer and producer, but equally clearly, he’s not a science fiction writer, and was hopelessly unprepared and/or ill-advised on this show. Did nobody read the scripts, question the stupidity?

Another Life needed a science fiction writer. It needed someone who understood its conventions, its history, the required internal logic. Instead, well, this is mostly likely the most idiotic, absurd and asinine science fiction project I have ever had the misfortune to suffer through. I only hope that, like Nightflyers, it gets very quickly cancelled and put to rest, and that Aaron Martin departs this genre he has so rashly blighted, and goes back to the silly teenage angst dramas about the plights of beautiful somethings that he is so successful at.

And allowed nowhere near any genre show ever again, thank you very much.

Star Trek: Discovery Season Two

std6The problems with this show are manifold, but perhaps best summed up by its final moments. We are on the gorgeously reimagined bridge of the original Enterprise, Number One is at the helm, Captain Pike sitting in the command chair, and as they prepare to embark on another voyage in the newly-repaired starship, a clean-shaven officer Spock enters the bridge, wearing his familiar blue science uniform. Its like the clearest distillation of what was great about original Trek. Captain Pike (Anson Mount) has been the best thing about this entire season, the beating heart of it, and he’s only been the guest-star of the show. He’s (surprisingly) the nearest any Star Trek show or movie has ever gotten to recreating the vibe and style of William Shatner’s original Kirk. Smart, charismatic, bold, loyal, he’s been a magnetic personality dominating the season. Perhaps even more tellingly, Number One (Rebecca Romjin) who possibly only appeared in three or four episodes but completely stole the show from most everyone else on any bridge, Enterprise or Discovery. Now minus the irritating beard, Ethan Peck looks oddly ‘right’ as Mr Spock, glorious in proper starfleet uniform, familiar to, yet excitingly different from, Leonard Nimoy’s original. The bridge set design is better than anything in the Star Trek reboot movies, or any tv show of any Trek era. Bright colours, vivid, shiny, beautiful. Even the CGI Enterprise model is breathtakingly good- its no ‘hot-rod’ reimagining but rather the original done well, with all the added style and detail one could hope for. So the Enterprise and these wonderfully realised characters are going off on fresh adventures, closing out the season with all sorts of promise and possibilities….

std7

…only this is not what we’re going to get. Season three of Discovery will not show us what happens next, what bold exciting adventures this ship and crew will have.

Remember that other lot? You know, that other bunch of non-entity characters (beyond their names, tell me anything interesting about any of them) that populate the bridge of that other ship that buggered off to the future about twenty minutes prior. Yeah, go on, think hard, you remember them. That ‘Chosen One’ Michael Burnham, you know, the one that the universe inexplicably revolved around for about twenty-odd episodes and who had to save all sentient life in the galaxy by disappearing down a wormhole, yeah, the half-sister that Spock that never mentioned ever, in any of 79 tv episodes or several movies, whose Starship, the Discovery, which flew with some magic-sorcery Sporedrive nonsense and which has never been mentioned in any Star Trek series or movie, of any era, ever, even though it arguably saved all creation by, like, buggering off to another time after Burnham. Oh go on, think hard, that other bunch.

Yeah, them. Season three is going to be all about them, conveniently off on in the distant future nine centuries hence, so they can no longer toss about with Trek continuity or timelines or mythology.  Only they won’t have more interesting characters from the Enterprise to save the show and actually make it interesting. No, the writers will be on their own from now on. God help them.

I could go on about all the things that irritated me. Most of it, in all honesty, is the writing, which handicaps both the actors and their craft and much everything else. The show looks terrific, the costumes, the effects, most of the sets, the props, it’s all high-quality stuff, arguably the equal of anything from the movie Treks, including those reboots. But the writing is something from Sesame Street or Power Rangers or modern Dr Who or kids cartoons of the 1970s… its bloody awful. I was hoping it would improve as the season progressed but it actually got worse, mired in a tangled loop of science-as-sorcery and twisted time paradoxes. Something about ‘it was never Burnham’s mother in the timesuit, it was Burnham instead’ which was, like, apparently contradicting everything we’d seen before, when her mother actually told us she was the Red Angel repeatedly saving Burnham and actually was, because, like, when they caught the Red Angel it was her mother in the suit. All I know is I couldn’t give a toss about Discovery or its non-entity politically correct crew, I was more interested in the Enterprise and its crew of actually interesting characters with actual personality.

But alas that’s gone now. But maybe when season three inevitably implodes and gets cancelled, we’ll get that Captain Pike’s Enterprise as a spin-off or something. Hell, I’d even go see the movie if they turned it into a movie, it’s already miles better than that JJ reboot nonsense.

 

Its Trek, Jim, but not as we know it….

…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve been watching the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, and I’ve been enjoying it more than the first season; on the whole I’d say its much improved. I’ll withhold my final thoughts until I’ve seen the whole thing -I’m at the midpoint now, having watched the first six episodes- but clearly there’s good and bad. Funnily enough, mind, when I’ve been thinking back on these episodes I’ve watched, some of the best and worst moments has surprised me.

stOne of my criticisms of season one was simply that, like the film reboots, it didn’t really feel like Star Trek. One caveat here- when I refer to ‘Star Trek’ I’m talking about the original 1960s show, for me that’s always Star Trek and what I’ll always compare later stuff to, whether it be ST:TNG, DS9, Wrath of Khan or whatever. Anyway, the first season of Star Trek: Discovery surprised me by being, for the most part, not a complete disaster. But it didn’t really earn the title ‘Star Trek’ simply because, as a prequel to the original show, it fell into the familiar trap of not feeling authentic- by being so modern and flash and sophisticated it lost a lot of the simple charm of the original. It seemed, like the Disney Star Wars films in a way, to be appropriating the franchise ‘objects’ like Klingons, Vulcans, Starships etc from Star Trek but, in making it of its own it lost the authenticity, in just the same way as the ‘hot rod’ Enterprise of the Star Trek film reboots in no way looks or feels like the original Enterprise. It feels alien, an inferior subsitute.

The funny thing is, the second season possibly succeeds best when it fails to be ‘Star Trek’ and fails worst when it slips into the nightmare technobabble deux machina plots that the writers solve with technobabble in just the same way as Dr Who always fixes everything with that bloody sonic screwdriver- lazy writing basically. Are we supposed to be excited when three characters in engineering excitedly discuss theoretical solutions for their current predicament and come up with some handy gizmo and theory just in time, some  scheme so outlandish it might as well be sorcery? At least in the original Star Trek it was usually Kirks wits or Spock’s logic or just plain fisticuffs or photon torpedoes that saved the day- I didn’t have to stomach two minutes of meaningless techno jargon to somehow explain away something. In this respect, it seems the showrunners are too enamored with ST:TNG and those tv incarnations of that era. On the whole I just think its lazy writing, setting up problems/predicaments and then writing yourself out of it with a solution based on magic and sorcery, something out of left-field and excused by it being a story set in the future.  You know, that whole Arthur C Clarke thing about some sufficiently advanced alien technology being indistinguishable from magic misappropriated in a Star Trek writer’s series bible.

One thing I will say- it looks gorgeous. The sets, costumes, visual effects looking very feature-film quality (to stretch that Arthur C Clarke thing a bit further- television of sufficiently advanced visual quality being indistinguishable from theatrical productions, (ha ha, shoot me now while I go get my coat)). Its got a wonderful widescreen presentation and the Dolby Vision HDR really kicks, which really makes it all the more frustrating when the technobabble gets to spoil everything. While the Star Trek milieu should be really something to treasure it feels strange to report that it also handicaps it. I wish they’d use this quality and effort in a more retro fashion, really evoke the ‘period’ of the 1960s Star Trek than this odd ultra-2001/Avatar hybrid that feels more an approximation- I’m sure the showrunners would argue its what Gene Roddenberry would have intended to do with 1960s Star Trek if only he had the toybox they have now, but that’s not really true. Roddenberry wasn’t really interested in Klingons (that was Gene Coon’s baby) and neither did he really investigate Spock’s Vulcan heritage beyond his alien-ness, so all modern Trek’s fascination with Klingon and Vulcan cultures and languages is all LOTR Elvish to me. Sure it’s fun if you can spin some worthwhile plot from it but it shouldn’t be everything or bog down the adventure. Some of this stuff, well, maybe hardcore Trekkies (who can speak Klingon, God bless their nerdish hearts) lap it up.

Oh well, I’ll see where it goes, but it is pretty good so far. Its the best TV Trek since the original show I think I’ve ever seen, to be sure. It comes so frustratingly close to being brilliant, but maybe the second season saves its best till last….

Short Treks: Calypso

calypsoI haven’t watched the season two opener for Star Trek: Discovery yet, but I did watch one of the Short Treks on Friday that Netflix has finally put up over here, and it was awfully ‘meh’. Technically it was well done, the sets and effects work pretty terrific and the acting is fine but the story was cringeworthy even for Trek. Set a thousand years in the future with the Discovery abandoned for centuries… yeah that’s a great premise right there but dear lord what they went and did with it…

Calypso is basically a love story. Craft is a warrior castaway whose lifeboat stumbles upon the Discovery, and the ships AI computer has evolved over the thousand years to become, well, typically ‘human’ and a strange love story unfolds, complete with Zora (the AI) loving old 20th Century movies starring Fred Astaire and creating a Holo-version of herself that can dance with Craft and… ugh. There are some very firm similarities to the Officer K/Joi relationship from BR2049 here, both in plot and in physical execution. Sure technically it’s polished but this story is so old and, limited by the short running-time, so limited it just feels like Trek at its very worst: safe, predictable, cosy, embarrassing- yeah, thats modern Trek right there.  I mean, someone gives you the premise of jumping a thousand years into the future and someone stumbling upon the Discovery, abandoned somehow for centuries, and the show locks itself off from any reveals about the galaxy or the Federation a thousand years hence by becoming an intimate, ahem, love story between a stranger and an AI. Maybe I’m missing something somewhere, but there was a time when Star Trek was brave and bold- no wonder I adored Babylon 5 so much back in the day.