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 Phantom Menace that is Holograms

westwHere’s one of my absolute pet hates with sci fi films and television: holograms. They piss me off no end, its like some kind of fourth-wall busting nonsensical ‘magic’ posing as genuine scientific plausibility. I’m getting really anal about it; its worse than sound in space or artificial gravity or teleportation for me (more on that latter travesty some other time maybe). The ‘artistic license’ that scriptwriters and film-makers exercise with holograms, endlessly frustrates me.

There is a scene in the third season of Westworld… well, there’s not just one, actually, they do this shit a few times and it raised my blood pressure every time… there’s a scene in a boardroom with this guy, Serac (Vincent Cassel in very fine form) holding court, I think he’s sitting down, stands up, the scene is tense, there’s a confrontation, and a character snaps and shoots him in the head and… the bullet goes through him and he flickers and he’s revealed to be a hologram, a repeated gambit of his. But how does this even work? Is his hologram ‘projected’ by hidden cameras, and if so, where are they, why can’t anyone else see them ‘projecting’ the Hologram and how does it work when he’s outside (they do that, they have someone chatting to a hologram outdoors). How does his voice emanate from an empty point of space where his holographic mouth is rather than from a loud speaker across the room, and how the hell does he hold eye-contact with someone when he’s not really there? How does he enter the room,  how does his chair move as if taking his weight, how does… 

How does the person projecting the hologram from some other location even ‘see’ the other people in whatever space the hologram is projected into? He may have a screen in his villains lair that he is looking at but what’s filming that image to broadcast to his screen?  Its just too much like magic to me, and over the years as writers get lazier, its all getting sillier as they take things further and further (what was that ‘hardlight’ bullshit they had in Star Trek in which Holograms could actually pick up items and touch people?). 

I know, I know, its just a sci-fi show. But its not space fantasy like Star Wars, is it, a show like Westworld. Its a more adult, considered and thoughtful piece, a show of bold, often existential ideas such as self, memory, humanity, free-will, purpose, programming biological and digital, all sorts of reflection on technology good and bad. But they slip into these silly sci-fi tropes sometimes, betraying all the good work with lazy writing. Don’t get me wrong, I adore BR2049 but I have such a hard time all the way through that film rationalising Joi and how they portray her in physical space. They sort of nod to it by us seeing lights ‘through’ her but that being said, how does she magically just ‘be there’ in a room or Spinner etc? I’d have an easier time if they just revealed she was something in K’s head and he was ‘seeing’ her in the outside world through his imagination, that he can ‘see’ her but nobody else can. But hey, what am I to do?

One of the things that frustrated me regards the holograms in Westworld is that in a number of episodes they actually manage to rationalise the technology, in that people could only see them when wearing special glasses- you can see something flickering on the interior  glass of the specs so that you can accept them ‘seeing’ 3D imagery in front of them via the glasses, possibly being projected onto the eye’s retina or on the glass itself like a HUD kind of thing. But I have to suspect the showrunners and writers got a bit carried away with it, pushed it too far when suddenly there’s a hologram walking around that everyone seems to see and we’re in bloody Star Trek territory.

I have a nagging theory/suspicion that the way we can tell that the whole third season of Westworld (and by extension seasons one and two too) is actually a simulation within a simulation like a stealth mimicry of The Matrix. You read it here first, just pretend to be surprised when Neo turns up in Westworld Season Five.

Anyway, I may eventually get around to an actual review of Westworld‘s third season, but you can possibly tell by this pointless stream of consciousness/geek rant that I have so many conflicting issues with it. I feel like Indy moaning about snakes, only here its me moaning, “Holograms. Why did it have to be Holograms?”

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.

Lost in Space: Season Two (2019)

lost2A little bit late to the party? Yes I guess so, since Netflix dropped this second season of the surprisingly good Lost in Space back on Christmas Eve, 2019, if I recall correctly. I suppose that might have been a genius move for many, having a family show like that available for the holiday, but it obviously didn’t suit me as I’ve only gotten around to it several months later. Indeed, funnily enough two episodes in I was asking myself why I’d waited so long, as this show is pretty great, and it was like I’d forgotten just how good/successful that first season had been (reviewed here and here back in -gulp- 2018).

So its still good then? Like the Ron Moore BSG reboot, this Lost in Space is much, much better than its original: the 1960s Irwin Allen show was a childhood favourite of mine (I loved all those American sci-fi shows, really) but it was decidedly camp and hasn’t aged too well, but this new incarnation is much more serious and brought bang up to date. Obviously its still family entertainment, much less dark than the BSG reboot was (which was informed by Post-9/11 sensibilities, terrorism and dangers of AI into something quite removed from its Glen Larson original), so it has certain limitations, but it has to be said, within those limitations of a show that tries to offer something for all the family, it works very well indeed. The danger, particularly for sci-fi shows, is that there is a tendency to alienate adults by aiming for a kid audience, with sillier genre tropes, and likewise when aiming for an adult audience danger of no longer being family-friendly with darker, more violent genre tropes. Lost in Space manages its balancing act very well, indeed much better than recent seasons of the BBCs Dr Who, and I rather think CBS Access’ recent forays into Star Trek might benefit from learning a few lessons from the show too.

lost2bStill looks pretty? Crikey, almost absurdly so. Particularly so in 4K and HDR on Netflix- its absolutely gorgeous.  The sets, the costumes, the whole thing looks very spectacular and convincing and the visual effects even more so- really, shows such as this really cross the wide divide that lay between TV and film productions a few decades ago. Quite a few times early in the second season I was seeing sets/locations and effects that looked up there with recent Ridley Scott genre projects such as The Martian and Prometheus. I’m not sure how realistic it is to describe some of these cable/streaming-giant productions from Netflix, Amazon etc as television shows. Strictly speaking some of them have motion-picture budgets, really, and some of it is a little derivative, but fair play, its mightily impressive most of the time. Actually, it does give me some pause in considering what ‘proper’ movies can do to really distinguish themselves from some of these ambitious small-screen genre projects. Hopefully Villeneuve’s Dune will make things particularly clear for me. And certainly the script-writing and acting can actually be better than those movies, and while some of the acting talent may be a little suspect the characterisation and narrative writing is top-notch and on the whole, part of the success of the show is just how endearing the characters are. The irony that it doesn’t really need to look that bloody good because the character arcs and writing is rewarding enough to warrant a watch is quite amusing.

So another season…? Yes, a third season has been commissioned for next year, and its been announced that it will be the last season too, so I assume the show-runners have laid out a plan to wrap things up satisfactorily. I would imagine that there’s a danger Covid-19 might delay things as usual of late, but if the pre-production has been progressing in the intervening months since the commissioning in March, then perhaps things will move along roughly to plan: shooting I think was due to start in September and I believe many tv and film productions are aiming to be operational in September/October.

So looking forward to it, then? Punch me. Well, okay, maybe not, best pinch me instead. Yeah, really, its hard to believe that a Lost in Space remake/reboot all these decades later is so enjoyable.

Be careful the endings you wish for?

fugitiveWe were over my mother-in-law’s yesterday delivering the weeks groceries (she’s shielding during the Covid 19 troubles – yes there’s another dishonourable mention for that bugger we’re all so weary of), when during a commercial break there was a spot announcing the commencement of a complete re-run of the old 1960s tv series The Fugitive, which starred David Janssen.  I asked if that series -immensely popular at the time- ever had a proper ending. Turns out, it did- a two-part finale at the end of its fourth season concluded the series with an actual ending, which was quite unusual at the time. Television shows used to come and suddenly just go, when ratings suffered enough to warrant a show’s cancellation. The crew of the Enterprise never completed their five-year mission in Star Trek,  the family Robinson never returned to Earth (or found Alpha Centauri) in Lost in Space, the two doctors trapped in time in The Time Tunnel never found their way back home either.  Fans of these shows and so many others would be just left hanging; their investment in the shows frustrated by open endings.

Its something which we thankfully are usually spared these days. Babylon 5 had an ending, the BSG reboot did, Fringe did, Lost did… Game of Thrones did. Of course, sometimes fans didn’t get the endings they wished for- Game of Thrones being the most obvious example of a show that didn’t stick the landing (and indeed in that particular case the crash proved particularly ugly). Part of the morbid pleasure of sticking with shows these days is the oddly perverse pleasure of seeing how they finally end, whether its a satisfactory conclusion or not. Partly that was why I stuck with The Walking Dead through some nine seasons, until I realised that thing is NEVER going to end, but yeah, surely one of the main reasons to stick with Westworld is to just see how they manage to wrap all that up.

Mind, the movies are catching up- just look how satisfyingly Disney concluded the Skywalker Saga with The Rise of Skywalker… Maybe those 1960s tv shows were onto something.

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…

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.

Still Open All Hours: Season Six

Well, here’s a strange one to post about here, but I thought it might be apt, tying in with a few thoughts regards some genre shows etc of late.

still1First, a moment to explain what this show is for anyone outside the UK unfamiliar with the programme. Still Open All Hours is a British sitcom which airs on the BBC, and is a belated spin-off (how timely is that, in this day and age) of Open All Hours, a sitcom that aired between 1976 and 1985 (the pilot episode of which actually dates to 1973 when it formed part of an anthology show). Like the original series, Still Open All Hours is based around a corner shop in Balby, Doncaster; once run by his late uncle Arkwright (whose ‘ghost’ still gently haunts the shop), Granville, who used to be Arkwright’s assistant  now runs it with his son Leroy.  Its a very old-fashioned, very traditional show that really feels totally out of its time- which is, I suspect, much of its appeal with viewers. Having now totalled 41 episodes over six seasons Still Open All Hours seems to have quietly had some considerable success, arguably surpassing that of its shorter-lived predecessor (ratings not withstanding). Much of this is likely the charm of  David Jason, who has had a decades-long career on British television across all sorts of programmes, chiefly of course his role as Derek ‘Del-Boy’ Trotter in Only Fools and Horses, which is most probably the most successful British Sitcom of all time. Possibly its because it must be fairly cheap to produce, and is in this day and age, frankly, the ratings don’t have to be as high as they used to when such programming was more popular.

I never used to watch Open All Hours– back when that show aired I was a kid more interested in playing outside and my viewing was mostly more exciting stuff like Star Trek, Space:1999, The Tomorrow People or Dr Who. As I have grown older though, I have to admit its clearly part of Still Open All Hours charm and appeal that it calls back to such old-fashioned and gentle comedies of a bygone era. I’m sure many people sneer at it and some (the majority, even) think its quaint and traditional comedy old and irritating, but for an harmless thirty minutes of escape from modern-life anxieties its rather perfect. Comfort food, perhaps, for those who think the world has passed them by.

still2The success of the show is largely due to its ensemble cast, who on the whole are pretty good comic actors the majority of whom are old veterans of the genre clearly in the twilight of their careers (if not indeed actual semi-retirement). Much of the comedy is predictable, even hokey, but I suspect that’s part of the appeal, the audience being ‘in on the joke’ and ahead of things the majority of the time. While much of it centres on Granville and his relationship with Mavis (Maggie Ollerenshaw), a woman he met during his youth and whom he still loves- its something that mirrors Arkwrights pursuit of Nurse Gladys of the original series, the appeal for many are the recurring plot-lines surrounding the ensemble cast of characters. There’s Mr Newbold (Geoffrey Whitehead)  trying to escape the attentions of ‘The Black Widow’ Mrs Featherstone (Stephanie Cole)  Eric and Cyril’s (Johnny Vegas and Kulvinder Ghir) comic duo of foolish men somewhat frustrated by their middle-age and lost youth- its quaint and silly really, like the banter between the middle-aged and elderly women bemoaning the antics of their men. The (currently) final episode was a Christmas episode that ended with a surprising, and really quite effecting, coda that perhaps indicates the series is better than even its fans think, and while it manages a fitting moment of closure, it also suggests a certain affection for the characters and the humour that surprised me.

My point is, this show is not trying to be anything groundbreaking. It knows it audience and is quietly, gently efficient in being what it needs to be. The cast aren’t going to win any awards, and neither is any of the writing, but it works, and while the ratings possibly are somewhat niche, I suspect (and certainly) hope that they are sufficient enough to merit a seventh season. All the episodes have been written by Roy Clarke, a veteran of British television who is now ninety years old and clearly someone of another era who is writing what he knows as a throwback to those days of old, as he did in his other popular sitcom, Last of the Summer Wine (which incredibly ran for 295 episodes over thirty years). Clarke is just writing what he does best, and it works.

Compare this to some of the current incarnations of other long-running and ‘classic’ genre shows like Star Trek, Dr Who and film series like Star Wars. Taken over by a new generation of creative teams and aiming to update the franchises for modern audiences and more up-to-date social agendas, the series seem to be struggling to succeed at pleasing both old fans and new, and managing to sustain the properties of the originals with all the new updating. It suggests that possibly some of these shows should be less ‘new’ and more familiar (or ‘honest’?) to the originals. While there might be frustration with that, it does seem to be the dichotomy inherent in trying to bring back franchises of old if show-runners are going to take them in unusual or odd directions and lose the appeal of those originals. It would be much more preferable, I think, to just do something entirely new (like The Expanse, for instance) than keep on trying to utilise the old and familiar as a mechanism to exploit established IP and fanbases. Maybe.

So anyway, maybe that excuses writing a post about a show like Still Open All Hours. Normal service resumes tomorrow….

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: 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.