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.

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.

Picard hits rock bottom

picard2
“This is your Star Fleet Pizza delivery service- who ordered the meat-feast?”

Well its over.we can be thankful for that, at least, but frack me, it somehow managed to get even worse with its grand finale. The crass stupidity of the writing and direction, well, it beggared belief, frankly, and at the end I actually felt insulted. There’s no other word for it, as a Star Trek fan since a young kid, this current incarnation of the show was actually insulting- insulting my own intelligence as a viewer and insulting the history and legacy of the Star Trek franchise itself. The writer/s, producers and director/s have mugged everybody: I was shouting at the screen at several points, and actually stopped and rewound sections just to be sure I was seeing what I was seeing and hearing what I was hearing. If I had the time I would re-watch the whole thing again just so I could run through it and record here all the magnificently farcical stupidity for posterity.

Biggest example of the stupidity: that bloody magic gadget they had to instantly fix the engines by thinking about fixing the engines and also able to create a vast fleet of projected spaceships to fool EVERYONE by just thinking about a vast fleet of spaceships. I couldn’t quite figure out why, when Picard finally collapses, dying in some vain attempt by Patrick Stewart to finally get off the show, the dumb doctor didn’t just use the magic gadget to miraculously cure him (instead Picard is transported down to the surface for an interminably long death scene infront of his crew who wail like lifelong freinds but who mostly only met him a few days before). And of course, Picard is then dead and then he isn’t. Its quite the pathos of Pantomime. They aren’t telling some grand emotional story, they are taking the piss.

It was the sheer stupidity that angered me. The crass self-confidence that whoever wrote this rubbish thought they could get away with it by frantically rushing through the scenes and distracting viewers with flashy effects- its all smoke and mirrors, no substance at all, like most JJ Abrams stuff. If I were the studio, I’d have sacked these clowns from the show mid-season, and certainly never let them work on one again.

The dialogue made George Lucas’ writing on the Star Wars prequels seem genuinely Shakespearean: at one point a character yells “Planet sterilisation pattern number five!” 

Who. Writes. This. Shit.

They even get Riker away from his retirement cooking pizza to actually put him in command of a rescue mission (they literally reprise the hoary old chestnut of the cavalry saves the day); its some of the most crass and blatantly moronic fan-service I’ve seen in years, and God only knows we’ve seen some fan-service in geekdom lately.

Are audiences so mindless now that they just accept this rubbish (I see a second season has somehow been greenlit, presumably with the same creative team of talent-less jerks behind it)? How is anyone actually still watching it? I mean, other than us sad fools whose morbid curiosity saw us through to the very bitter end, who else actually managed to watch all ten episodes? I wonder what the drop-off rate was as the season progressed? Who was left watching at the end? And how many even cared?

Scariest thing of all- did someone actually watch this feast of garbage and actually like it?

Picard nears the bottom, at last

pic9
“wtf Patrick, no money is worth this!”

I don’t really want to waste my time writing this or your time reading it, but suffice to say the penultimate episode of Star Trek: Picard, having somehow crawled to its ninth interminable instalment, has somehow outdone itself in its gradual plunge into the very depths of diabolical badness. At this point, recalling its first episode, its almost become some other show entirely, with character actions that defy continuity or logic, plotholes so wide you could fly a Borg Cube through them, and so many wtf face-palm moments that its positively unhealthy from a Covid-19 standpoint. This isn’t Star Trek. I’m not sure what it is, but it sure as hell ain’t Star Trek.

Its really horrible and only morbid curiosity (and my own stubbornness) has kept me watching. Its a sad turn of affairs for Trek and I really struggle to imagine a way out of this really, other than putting the whole franchise into cold-storage for a decade or two. Mind, if I had my way, that’s what they’d also do with Dr Who; it seems everything is going to hell in a genre hand-basket of late and its thoroughly depressing, as if Real-World events weren’t depressing enough.

Regards those Real-World events, I hope all my readers are safe and healthy and we all get out to the other side of this relatively unscathed. Blogs such as this really seem quite inconsequential compared to whats going on but maybe what we love and enjoy is all the more important at times like this. Issues quite unrelated to Covid-19 has enforced a hiatus for me over the past week or so, and none of us know whats ahead of us particularly in times such as these, but hopefully I can get back to writing and posting for whatever that’s worth. Just hope I’m writing about better stuff than this Picard rubbish…

Weekly Saul? That’s why 1982 was so great.

bcs1Netflix dropped season five of Better Call Saul yesterday and in a surprise move (well, it surprised me) it comprised of one episode only, with episode two promised for today (Tuesday) and the remainder of the ten-episode season dropping on a weekly basis. There was me girding my loins for a week-long binge of the entire season, putting off books/chores/films/other television shows to enable me to do it, and Netflix pulls this stunt. Weekly episodes? That’s so 1982.

But of course, its a good thing really. It means the show ‘lasts’ longer and stays relevant longer at work as we (well, the two of us watching it) discuss it while getting a coffee. So there’s progress. Lets all go back to the way television used to be, maybe that’s the future after all. Amazon are doing the same thing here in the UK with Star Trek: Picard, albeit that’s been mandated by CBS over in America where the show airs on a weekly basis on the CBS All Access service. I quite like this way of staggering a release like this as opposed to dumping the whole lot in one go. My head loved going through all of season four of The Expanse over one weekend, but my heart knows it would have been better released on a weekly schedule. My head thinks I’m an idiot sticking with Star Trek: Picard, but my heart says its easing the agony watching it weekly doses on Friday nights while winding down from a long day at work. So its win-win.

 

Altered Carbon Season 2 soon

Netflix has this week finally released a trailer for its upcoming second season of Altered Carbon,  which lands on February 27th. Quite looking forward to this- I just can’t quite believe its been nearly two years since the first season landed.  Altered Carbon was one of  the first shows I watched on Netflix; indeed it was one of the reasons why I started my subscription. I guess I just couldn’t resist its Blade Runner, cyberpunk vibe.

The first season of Altered Carbon had rock-solid production values and an intriguing premise, and was really, really good at times, just hampered by, ironically, perhaps leaning on those Blade Runner nods too often. I’m not familiar with the original books that the series is based on, but I gather this second season has a different cast, is set much later and has a rather different setting. This could be both a good and bad thing, really, with a danger it will lose some of the cast I liked and some of the setting and mood that I really enjoyed, but we’ll see. In any case, it should be a nice change from the rather weak Star Trek: Picard and frankly terrible Star Trek: Discovery. I doubt that The Expanse will be losing its crown as the best and most exciting sci-fi show currently on television, but I’m hoping that Altered Carbon will improve on its first season and fulfil its promise. There’s always room for more good sci-fi.

Star Trek: Picard Episode Two

stpicard2Where I think a lot of the current genre material, on both television and film, gets into trouble is that it often feels a bit like trying to get square blocks into round holes- it doesn’t really fit right. I don’t know if its a general lack of imaginative, new thinking creatively or just the Corporate pressure to keep resurrecting old properties (because its easier to update/reboot/sell old stuff than come up with something genuinely original) but when you think about it, a lot of the genre stuff we see now is Star Trek or Star Wars or based on Marvel and DC comics we read as kids back in the 1960s or 1970s.  Its rather like the old saying, ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, after all, I’m not adverse to anyone making a show or movie based on a 1920s Lovecraft story or bringing back Conan or Tarzan or John Carter. But Star Trek was a 1960s show and of its time, retconned somewhat in the 1980s for The Next Generation, and Star Wars likewise was a 1970s/1980s film series. Bringing them back in the 2010s and now, crikey, the 2020s… well, its certainly causing a friction because a lot of our ‘wiser and more progressive’ thinking , as it is often referred to, is pretty much a bad fit for some of our genre classics.

Moreover, people rather forget that back in the day, there wasn’t a dozen other shows competing with Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, and while there were a few sci-films etc (The Black Hole, Star Trek: TMP, Battlestar Galactica, take a bow) there wasn’t really much competition with the Star Wars films either. These days there are so many genre shows and films being made I think the talent pool is really pretty thin, and I think we’re getting films and shows written and made by people who just aren’t up to it, but are finding careers easy to pursue in an arena where Netflix and Amazon and Disney are throwing so much money into it. Genre stuff is too popular now and I think as we’re getting so much of it general creativity and the quality of writing is sinking fast.

I don’t think JJ Abrams was a proper fit for the Star Trek reboots and I don’t think he was a proper fit for the new Star Wars films either. His Star Trek films tried to refit so much of the old shows mythology but never seemed right, with characters and plot-devices (teleportation to ships in warp or across star systems) that just weren’t correct to established logic or mythology. I know, I sound like a raving geek all the time raising that stuff, but it gets to a point at which Star Trek stops being Star Trek, and it may as well be something else entirely, but of course the Corporate heads want to exploit already established and easily marketable IP. What, after all, does Star Trek: Discovery really have in common with Star Trek that isn’t just in name only,  if the Klingons don’t look or act like Klingons, the Vulcans don’t look or act like Vulcans, and Star Fleet doesn’t look or behave like Star Fleet proper? Its the same thing with the new Star Wars films, which I have frequently berated elsewhere on this blog- if characters or events are so indistinguishable from what was established before in the Original Trilogy or elsewhere, when is it frankly no longer Star Wars and something else?

Its happening now with the current iteration of the BBCs Dr Who, with established cannon being sacrificed, far as I can tell, to just excuse bad writing or lack of creative responsibility to the franchise. Fans and critics are being blindsided by a lot of ‘progressive’ and blatant  ‘social agenda’ material being thrown in, but on the whole its disguising the real tragedy that is a really crummy, lazily written show that is really Dr Who in name only.

Its not that everything is creatively redundant. Ironically some new stuff is very good- The Expanse, for instance, is terrific and is perhaps thriving because it isn’t beholden to decades of established mythology and fans who are experts on those decades of material. Characters in the show can be fresh and exciting and challenging because in behaviour they don’t have to be true to anything established decades before, only what has been written in novels written by genuine talented sci-fi writers who know what they are doing.

Which brings me, finally, to the subject of this post, which is the second episode of Star Trek: Picard. Yeah, I got here eventually. Its not that I dislike this show, its certainly watchable (if only much of that is simply from the presence of Sir Patrick Stewart) but it certainly has its problems, and a lot of this is the writing, the creative choices. Its not a disaster on Dr Who levels, but it does have the feel that the core idea for this series is from some other franchise. Maybe somebody at Alcon had an idea for a Blade Runner series on Netflix and retconned it into a Star Trek story, because all this talk about synths and rebellions Off World (sorry, Mars) feels more Blade Runner, or maybe Westworld, than it does Star Trek. I can almost imagine a pitch meeting where one of the suits responded “yeah, nice idea but that Blade Runner flick flopped, can you maybe write it for the bald guy from Trek, I hear he’s looking for a gig?” I’m sure that’s not how it happened but it feels like it could have. Or maybe the suits looked at HBOs Westworld and thought, “yeah, I fancy a bit of that on my streaming channel, what IP do we own that we can retcon?”.

The result is something that looks good, and can even be entertaining, but doesn’t quite feel right. I enjoyed the first episode because for all its issues, it at least felt more like Trek ‘proper’ than Discovery did, but with its second episode that feelings getting a little stretched. Moreover, returning to my point about the talent pool getting thin, some of the writing here is really pretty atrocious and slipping to Dr Who levels. The rooftop fight (and explosion, remember) of the first episode, has been cleared up, the evidence disappeared, we are told, as if it never happened. Picard doesn’t wake up in hospital but in his villa back in France and his testimony apparently the ravings of a crazy old fool. Going back to the apartment of Dahj we see that it has been cleared up, all traces of the fight (and murder of her boyfriend) all gone, until some magic gadget can recreate what happened in a 3D Hologram until some point at which even that has been erased clean (my sorcery is more powerful than your sorcery!). If it wasn’t for the charisma that Stewart had, or the fact that this show would still be watchable if it was just him reading names out of a phonebook, I doubt I’d be sticking with it. You see, in the old days of Babylon 5, Fringe, the BSG reboot etc, when shows like this had mysteries or multi-episodic arcs, they were often worth sticking with, because I could have confidence in the creative team and the main arc winning through, but on the evidence of so much current genre stuff I really have my doubts here.

And really, I don’t know if its the writing, but other than Stewart, some of the acting is really pretty bland and dire.

Here’s hoping it gets better!

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.