Some thoughts on the second series of Star Trek Discovery

“Sir, there’s another starship coming in…it’s the Enterprise!”

I have a lot of thoughts about the second series of Discovery. Few, if any, are me actually mentally tackling anything the show presented in a moral, philosophical, social, political, comedic or emotional way as that would indicate the show had the strength to do so. No, a lot of those thoughts are “Whyyyyyyyy” and “That was super dumb” and “Uggggggggh”.

There are three areas I want to focus on that combine to explain probably my biggest problem with the series. The first is the cast of characters and the emotional manipulation to try and get us to care about them. The second is the plot, or at least the narrative, and how it was tired and dull. The third is theme; namely the attempt at having one and its lack of ambition.

By the end of the first series I was seriously disappointed with how several characters had been handled, but there was word that they’d be opening up the cast a little more so that we could have a greater familiarity with the people who crewed the titular ship. Initially this was true and I was thankful for it. The addition of an old character, despite my reservations, proved to be incredibly effective and the first episode made an effort to tell us the name of the bridge crew at least. I mean, I don’t remember half of them, but it was welcome and I’m glad I could go “Yeah, I like the helm, Detmer, she’s quite cocky in a fun way” rather than “The red-haired woman who I think flies the ship?”

Hi, I’m Captain I.M. Suave, nice to meet you.

It didn’t last long, however. Characters came and went and it felt like I was being teased as to what morsel of information I’d get next about character X or Y, but it never really materialised. There are significant points in the story where our emotional attachment to various characters is required for strong reactions and it just doesn’t for various reasons, be it stringing out obvious states of feeling or simply having no build up to that character going through a specific experience. When you’re sort-of hoping for a major character to die when they enter a dangerous situation in vain hope despite the fact you know they won’t, something is wrong. There are few characters on board Discovery I actually cared about and I think most of that was just the work of the actors and not the script.

The lack of effective empathy really damaged the story though because at times it was hinged on these people we were supposed to care about having to deal with serious issues. What would it be like to never see your child again? Can you assist with someone’s suicide? And so on. The show really wants you to know when it is portraying an emotional sequence and it lays it on so incredibly thick, either through overly-long scenes or by spelling everything out loudly. So many times, especially towards the end of the series, whole groups of people were standing to attention as someone left the room because on the surface it seems that oh, character N is respected by all these people, isn’t that nice? What actually happened was I’d think “There’s a massive countdown visible. They don’t have time for this.”

Tigg Notaro is incredibly welcome as Jett Reno, featuring both a brilliant name and a character full of, well, character

As a story then Discovery undulated between urgency and a complete lack of, despite the fact the show very much wanting to present it as the former. The characters that come and go? Sometimes they just randomly appear a few episodes later and you have to wonder how they covered so much distance because space is quite big, it turns out, except through the demonstration of all the wondrous technology we’d supposedly have in the future, characters come and go like travelling half-way across a part of the galaxy is like bobbing round to your neighbour.  For a narrative that very much pits itself on a strict time-line very little is done to give you an accurate sense of how desperate, or not, things are. When we’re being told something is urgent, yet everything surrounding it suggests otherwise, a massive disconnect happens and I found myself disengaging.

Talking about care, there are a ton of logical issues with the story that for having characters going around saying “logic” so much, you’d think someone would’ve gone over just to make sure it was all above board. It’s the 23rd century and no-one in a military organisation full of scientists and otherwise smart people thought that maybe video footage could be edited?? Why can this technology work then, but not now, but again in a few minutes without any justification? These people travelled all the way over here knowing danger was approaching just to pass on their regards, yet didn’t bring any support whatsoever? Why does this character make an appearance here, didn’t they emphatically declare that that wasn’t going to happen again super seriously?

After fan blow-back they decided to give the Klingons back their hair, immediately making them look a ton better

Seemingly every episode was riddled with these gaping holes. It really took me out of the moment to try and fill in those gaps when the show, again, made no effort to do so or even hint at a possible explanation. Sure, some were small and you could dismiss them as not being important, but the bigger ones couldn’t be ignored. Regardless of their size, the fact that it happened so frequently meant that whatever narrative I, as a viewer, could follow along with was upended not because of an interesting twist, but because something suddenly came in that either had no explanation or was just straight stupid.

This is of course all before actually discussing the plot itself which was so uninspiring and frustrating with almost nothing new brought to the table in terms of the story it was telling. I’d seen it before so many times and even the Star Trek twist on it was loose. Bizarrely, the main thrust of the plot comes about half-way through the series and seemingly just out of nowhere. It felt like some important information I should’ve known about at some point despite the fact it hadn’t been mentioned at all prior.

The story then goes through various ridiculous moments, including the incredibly tired “but this disability was actually a blessing!” and culminating in an infamously bad ending that on the one hand gives them a nice slate to work from for the next series. It also serves to highlight what a massive mistake it was to pitch the show as it was in the first place as well as wrapping itself up as if the first person in the writing room to pitch an ending that could fill a few minutes of air time would be the one that was used.

But what does it meaaaaaaaaaaan?

Worse was how as the show went on the protagonist seemingly became the centre of the universe, which to an extent a protagonist would be, but it pushed suspension of disbelief. The show even comments on this very fact as if to make a serious point, but then immediately backtracks when moments later it almost confirmed that yes, in fact everything does revolve around the protagonist to a cosmically ludicrous degree. A protagonist who seemed to cry once per episode like the writers had a bet as to if they could include a sob scene and the person who couldn’t had to buy lunch for everyone.

A brief note on the third big issue then, theming. I mentioned a load of ways at the top that entertainment can provoke thought and it seemed that, like the naming of the bridge crew, there would be something committed to during the series that the story would cling to. The idea, which the writers in fact said before starting, was science versus faith. Faith hasn’t been used too much in Star Trek so the idea, whilst one I wasn’t totally fussed by, was something I was still intrigued to see how it was done. What it amounted to was some people going “I like science” and others going “I believe thing will work”. Empty sentiments that were proven right or wrong based on whatever contrivance needed meeting.

That CG budget has got to go somewhere and it’s all in the aft

Tonally the series started a little all over the place before settling into a mixture of melodrama and thriller, with the former being handled poorly and the latter not having much meat to wrestle with. This combined with the inconsistent pacing and story made the entire series bumpy and lacking in confidence; big set pieces might have had a neat spectacle but lacked in being meaningful.

So, what combines all of these things? Consequence. From character interactions to massive events, the show was completely unwilling too much of the time to explore what it had done. For a serialised story to not have (logical) consequences be given a chance to happen it robs any depth that could exist. Being left wondering “Why?” every so often is fine, but finishing an episode and going “Wait, what about X…and Y, come to think of it?” and having it skipped over was completely unsatisfying. There’s no point creating a story in a well-trodden universe because you want to use that universe and then not following through with what contributing to that actually means.

“Captain, permission to poop pants.” “Granted.”

There are quite a few other issues I have that were sizeable, but briefly…The camera work was negative more than positive, with grossly unnecessary movement that was at worst disorientating and at best distracting. Special mention must go to an action scene early on where a column obscures about a third of the screen which I found hilariously inept. It also didn’t help a lot of scenes across the series were very dimly lit and there seemed to be a blue filter over the screen making living on a technologically advanced ship look dreary.

Certain characters would say things that wouldn’t make sense for them to say. One character, in particular, had solid efforts made to be more likeable despite the fact that it didn’t at all square with their fundamentally vile and abhorrent morals, but it’s cool because they’re going to be the lead of a show and I definitely find myself wanting a Star Trek show’s protagonist to be a genocidal cannibal fascist. I also was concerned that Discovery was going to stay in the shadow of the franchise itself and whilst the lead-in to the third series makes it clear that won’t be a problem it didn’t seem to mind that it still was the rest of the time.

And yet I watched it all. There’s teases, moments of interest or engagement where the show does work and lulls me into a false sense of hope. There is massive potential the show squanders, but it does at least establish it is there waiting to be exploited. A lack of confidence in the vision of the show as its own unique thing stands in the way of something that should be very good, especially with the amount of money being poured into it, but it’s just not there. I’m still on board, especially as again the next series should be rid of a lot of the trappings holding the show back, but that really is its final chance.

There was a spectacular CG sequence in one episode that caused my mind to wander as I realised what I was watching was very pretty but nothing more. I found myself reminded of the song ‘Razzle Dazzle’ from Chicago. The song is about playing something up to masquerade and obfuscate reality. Rather than all flash and no substance, it’s flash to hide the substance. That, then, asks the question of why? In the case of Chicago it was to get out of a murder trial. In Discovery’s case? Well, I think it’s because they simply didn’t think through what purpose the flash actually served. I really hope they get it right next time around.

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Some thoughts on the first series of Sex Education

Every so often they go crazy and it’s a different colour.

In the last few years I’ve found myself oddly attracted to three romcoms. You’re The Worst, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Catastrophe are something akin to a distant orbit from the genre’s pillars, yet deliver in engaging ways. YTW’s central couple are terrible people who rebel against the love they want, Crazy asks the question of which love is more important, the ‘one-true-pairing’ or self-love and Catastrophe just sort of skips the genre’s foreplay.

Sex Education, however, is a romcom where the central two help others have the good sexy times. And if you think I’m going to lace the rest of this with as much innuendo as possible, well…maybe.

There are tons of things I could talk about here, from the straight-up bizarre cultural and temporal mishmash that makes up the setting, to the fact that all the sexualities and identities represented are done so fairly and not for laughs, that it can be absolutely hilarious (I don’t think I’ve ever seen something parody the famous “I’m Spartacus!” scene quite as amazingly as this) and brutally sad. I could also talk about how it looks gorgeous, has a killer sound-track and somehow, somehow, is so obvious at times that I’m prepared to let it slide even though I definitely feel other shows would have me rolling my eyes at the fact.

Can’t think of any puns for this one, so let’s just go with the simple “Otis and Eric”

I want to spend all this time gushing about the cast who are excellent. I don’t want to dismiss Gillian Anderson’s minimal but perfect screen-time as a mother unsure of how to approach her very mature son, whilst also being a sex therapist who makes no efforts to hide that fact from him. Nor do I want to downplay how affecting I found Ncuti Gatwa’s performance of Eric, a joyously flamboyant gay young-adult tumbling through a world that isn’t exactly heaping much needed love or acceptance towards him.

Instead I find myself wanting to focus on Asa Butterfield’s Otis and Emma Mackey’s Maeve because those were the characters that resonated incredibly strongly with me. Pasty nerd and free-spirit embark on an undercover operation to help their peers with their sexual relationships. Except that’s such a reduction that the show intentionally sets it up only so that it can demolish it as it goes on. Otis would in any other scenario be The Nice Guy and in this, he is. Except he’s a nice guy who accepts no for an answer, with no attempts at manipulation or deception highlighted by the one time he tries it, not liking it and then not even getting what he wants and accepting it all. He never tries to be anything to anyone, only his truest self. Maeve is…

…right here!

Maeve, for me, is the heart of the show. I think that’s entirely down to Emma Mackey. She inhibits the character that I believe it’s her and don’t get me wrong, Butterfield is perfect, but Mackey is more perfect. These are two characters who are real, damnit and you’re not going to be able to take that away from me. Everyone else is putting in a quality performance, but the way Otis and Maeve move helps them stand-out. Don’t confuse this as me saying these characters/actors lift the show to a watchable state either; besides everything else the writing does that alone, but for characters that have as much presence as they do boy you can see why.

The first episode had a line in it that I haven’t been able to forget. When Otis and Maeve end up working together in a class, Otis reluctantly goes to sit next to his friend-in-the-making and after a death glare from her, he remarks “I get it, you’re mean.” Otis is the kind of person who even states that he’s happy being the nobody, but that simply enables him to be highly observant and empathetic. The thing about it that sticks is clearly just how much it impacted on Maeve. Otis knew the shield she put up in front of her and he straight up does not care. He’s not rude with it, nor intends any malice, but is his subtle way of saying ‘I get you.’ Maeve, having only one friend who can’t even be seen with her in public, does not know how to react to this.

Try and count how many sexual things are in this pic. *Insert witty joke about Anderson here*

It’s the subtlety of that line that the show anchors itself around. Beneath its raunchy surface lies something that pretends it isn’t quite as deep as it goes on to demonstrate. The show practically begs you to engage it on the wrong terms just so it can upend it all. And it works. It invites you to be tricked by it, despite it absolutely throwing out obvious plot-lines after another.

Except that is for the ending of the final episode. When I started writing this I was very angry with it. I wasn’t going to not watch the next series that’ll inevitably happen, but I was going to go in being severely miffed. It takes one step too far revelling in obviousness that I dislike not because of said obviousness, but because I just think it didn’t make sense. Without going into detail, there are certain tenets, those things everyone expects to happen in each genre; romantic comedies come with their own that you already know. Sex Education clips the final hurdle because it feels obliged to include a very specific one.

That said, better to clip the final hurdle than fall at any of the ones before because you’re at least finishing the race. Sex Education is an incredibly enjoyable show that is wide-open about sex and relationships and tells you it’s okay, being a horny teenager is/was weird…which is precisely why the odd setting doesn’t faze me at all, it just helps highlight the right things even more. Given how moreish the show is, you might even say it’s worth a minge watch.

I’m sorry.

You damn well know I’m not.

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Things What I Liked In Twenty-Eighteen

This year happened whether we like it or not. Fortunately, mass media is here to make us feel again when everything else is like “Nah, it ain’t worth it.” So here’s a list of things I enjoyed that were first available this year, with absolutely no rhyme or rhythm to them.

Janelle Monae is powerful (with a little bit of tender)

Janelle Monae is well good. Make Me Feel is basically a sequel to Prince’s Kiss, appropriate given Prince helped produce the song. So, y’know, if Prince worked on it, it’s probably going to be cool. And it is! Arguably it’s more funky than cool, but that’s an argument that doesn’t need to happen because we can just accept it is all of the positive things. It’s the kind of song that you would do naughty things to, regardless of whom that is. Also, you should watch the film she created that stitches together a load of the songs from the album with an interesting sci-fi narrative. I want her to make a sci-fi film at some point, but until then this will do.

A female GP from up north took us on a trip

Doctor Who since its regeneration with Ecclestone has been a very wobbly ride. It has at part been rather great and others rather not great. I definitely felt ready for a change and this series provided that. Whilst it’s as ever wobbly as I would expect it to be, the change has been incredibly refreshing. The scale has been dialled in which has been something I’ve been craving for a long time, there’s been moments of genuine curiosity that make you go “Oh, huh, I did not know that” and moments of “Oh boy this is, yeah this isn’t great” but its hearts are in the right place.

Praise Satan and have some cheese!

Like many who grew up in the 90s I watched Sabrina the Teenage Witch. The idea of tackling similar base material that itself had been revised more recently was interesting to me and the cast looked and very much proved to be stellar. Here comes The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina which takes its practices of the dark lord super seriously, to the extent that it all becomes a bit daft in a highly engaging way. Kiernan Shipka excellently plays the teenage Sabrina who is deeply in love with Harvey Kinkle, whilst being in a community where cannibalism happens and is encouraged. So pretty normal for a teenager.

Halestorm made a song about sex. Again.

One of the things I like about Halestorm is when they do one of their many required songs about sex, there’s zero ambiguity to it. Do Not Disturb is a song about having a threesome with some fans, but putting aside just how entertainingly blatant it is they did a music video to go with that was greatly inspired by Rocky Horror. It’s not long, it’s not clever, but it’s juuuuuuust right.

Metric released an album that is both old and new

Why does Canada produce so many musicians? Does the cold make them want to get away and tour round warmer climates? I don’t know the answer to these questions. I do know, however, that I’m rather fond of Metric with their electric-indie-alt-rock…ness. The latest album, Art of Doubt, combines energy and melancholy to present a lovingly rich mix of music and great lyrics. If you’re familiar with their discography you can see where they’ve iterated from and then mixed in their more recent slide into electronic styling. A neat bonus, I think.

A talking yellow mouse had me confusingly excited for films in 2019

Yeah yeah, Reynolds is just doing his Deadpool voice, but you know what? This film actually looks like it’s going to be okay? It might even be good. Hell, everything about it looks so stupid and absurd they have to know what they’re doing and god damnit, I’m going to spend money on it. Yes I am. And you might too. Look how wrongly good it looks!

An old hero returns to remind us that the future exists and is hopeful (hopefully)

Okay, technically, this isn’t something to come back to or really linger on too much because ultimately it’s just an announcement for something, but damn if it isn’t great seeing Sir Patrick Stewart boldly announce that Jean-Luc Picard would be returning to our screens. Picard’s character was a symbol of what to aspire to, part of the whole Star Trek universe’s mythos that optimism wins out in the end. Hopefully that is the message they carry through to the show itself. Of course it could be utterly terrible, but it’s about bloody time sci-fi remembers that it can be fun and hopeful again. I’m pining a lot of hopes on you, television show!

Baddies with Malthusian ideals can make for pretty good protagonists

I fell off the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a while there. It had become a rote affair with little flair for new or interesting, however apparently I’m a sucker for hype and went to see Avengers: Infinity War after a hasty catch-up of preceding films. Punishment to the bladder aside, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed IW. Thanos, an evil purple dude, had a surprisingly strong presence for a villain and whilst his motivation is guided by some thoroughly terrible philosophy, it did prompt some creative scenes and despite its length the film maintained a good sense of pace. Blockbusters are gonna blockbuster, sure, but I was suitably impressed by this one.

A video game battle worth millions went down to the wire

With Fortnite hurtling its way into the mainstream like Thor in the final moments of IW, there may be a greater appreciation for e-sports, that hyper competitive wing of…competitive video games. Yes, e-sports as a title does suck, but that’s what we have and we’re sticking with it. DOTA 2 is one of those e-sport type games, one I play pretty regularly. Each year fans of its competitive scene, as well as those who just like competitive games in general, are treated to The International, a sort of football world cup of teams of players the world over. The final, between two teams of five, would go on to be a wild ride of ups-and-downs. You’ll probably skip over this one and fair enough, but if you don’t think video games can be exciting to watch competitively, I dare you to give this a go.

History remembers a large explosion

Giant Bomb (dot com) is a website…about video games! A smart, fun and eclectic bunch of people make up this wonderful site that is punctuated with its two weekly marquee podcast releases, the Giant Bombcast and Giant Beastcast. Along with the site itself, the former turned ten this year resulting in a special podcast that celebrated the anniversary with notable clips from its own illustrious thousands of hours of history along with commentary from the site’s current staff.

Danny Dyer called David Cameron a twat


Blue blur gets blurrier

Sonic Mania! Gosh, what a bloody treat that was last year. Some extra content was launched for it this year that gave it even more life. It’s always a good sign, I feel, to realise when you’re smiling from pure joy when playing a game and I have worn one all the time I’ve spent with it. Not only that, but they went and did some lovely animations that make you wonder why on earth they’re doing a live-action Sonic when traditional animation can offer so much to it. Good god, those legs.

Brian Blessed interviewed himself

Over the years I’ve very much enjoyed listening to Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, where he brings on (usually) comedians to discuss everything and nothing, broken up by his absurd Emergency Questions. After a long time of clamouring for it, he eventually got BRIAN BLESSED on. What then proceeds is an utterly wonderful sensation of seeing control immediately slip away from a host, who then makes no effort to reclaim it, so that everyone can bask in the absorbing madness that is BRIAN BLESSED. The man is a bizarre treasure.

Human encounters pizza delivering perfect comedic timing

It’s on Twitter and I’m counting that as mass media because at this point it practically is.

Bonus end-of-2017 marvellous entry

The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel is by the creators of Gossip Girl. *Breathes in* An-upper-middle-class-New-York-Jewish-mother-becomes-seperated-from-her-husband-and-starts-a-career-in-stand-up-comedy-which-she-turns-out-to-be-rather-good-at-and-is-surrounded-by-a-wonderfully-colourful-world-that-presents-itself-as-very-authentic-which-would-make-sense-as-something-loosely-based-off-Joan-Rivers’-life-with-a-great-cast-of-characters-that-makes-this-comedy-drama-spring-to-life-effortlessly-and-nails-everything-it-wants to. *Hastily breathes* Of course they don’t speak quite as fluidly as in Gossip Girl, but keep with its sharp pace and it massively rewards you.

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The Incredibles 2 was bad enough to make me want to write about it

Baaa-buh-buhhhhhhhh, ba-ba-ba-ba baaa-buh-buhhhhhhhh…BOW

On reflection I shouldn’t really have been surprised at the fact that I didn’t enjoy the film that much. None of the trailers gave me any encouragement it would be a satisfactory sequel to my favourite Pixar film out of the ones I’ve seen. Yet when the energetic and tone-setting theme tune started up I realised I was smiling broadly and had the thought the trailers were just bad and it was going to be a-okay after all.

Reality hit though and at the end of the film I was left with a sinking feeling. Worse is that as I mulled over the film in the days after seeing it, I kept finding more things that I didn’t like. What I’m left with is a whole long list of issues, mostly small to the few bigger ones, that I have to wonder if they’re just nit-picks that aren’t that worth getting annoyed over or if, as I suspect, the film did the bare minimum to keep me engaged causing my mind to wander and find all of these problems.

The best version of the Fantastic Four (and a bit) returns.

Let me get all the good stuff out of the way first because whilst I was disappointed by the film, it is not without some merit. The opening is a lavish action sequence where the artists were clearly told to go all in. The film wears its technological marvels proudly, as it should. Not just that, but they make good use of the medium of animation to convey actions that simply would not be possible with people whilst maintaining believable CG. One action scene involving a runaway train, probably the film’s Must See sequence, was just simply cool.

The soundtrack returns with a triumph, loudly declaring that yes, The Incredibles Are Back! Whilst the spy aspects from the first film do not return, the abstract setting for the universe still lends itself perfectly to the heavy brass and jazzy styling that helped give the first its strong sense of character, tone and atmosphere. Upbeat, energetic, over-the-top without being distracting and funky, it remains infectious and rather unique compared to the litany of contemporary superhero soundtracks.

Unfortunately that’s mostly where my praise ends and honestly, I wasn’t expecting the look or sound of the film to be lacking. The first’s was so confident and with well over a decade between films, the tech was only going to get better and the soundtrack refined. Instead it’s the writing that completely fell flat for me, at best being slightly entertaining or interesting and at worst being awful. Characters to plot, the film not only does a disservice at times to the first but also, to the sizeable gap between the two films that really asked for something far better than what was eventually served.

“Okay, but what if, and hear me out here, Elastigirl had a cool bike?”

The ending of I1 showed the family coming together to fight a baddie who was stuck in the mind-set of a child wanting to show the adults that they were right. With the climax, the general public, who had grown accustomed to no longer having supers around due to being banned as per law, saw that goodies will always try and do right and for said public not to be fearful of them. I2 immediately says “Well, actually…” and turns that around, but then sort of doesn’t later on and presents a very confusing thought on what it wants to say about supers. It ends more optimistically, but not without feeling detached from its starting point.

What its villain has to say about superheroes, however, is staggeringly stupid and borderline nonsensical. I don’t want to go into detail because hey, the film is still out at cinemas, but their justification/motivation is tantamount to victim blaming. I then can’t decide what is worse of the following; that the villain is so utterly predictable almost from the off or that as the film goes on the villain has enough interactions to show that they think they might be wrong, a fact the film doesn’t miss because the villain outright says this too, but after years of hate I guess they can’t accept this blardy blah. It’s bad. It’s first draft kinda bad.

Most damning though is that the villain pointlessly monologues. You know, in the sequel to the film which lampooned monologues in one of its most well-known scenes. What are you even doing at this point? If this scene in I2 had been taken out we’d have lost the obvious motivation, but it would’ve left something of a mystery which I have to believe would have been better than its current dull thud.

Characters in general seem to be poorly treated. Dash, one of the family members, barely has anything to do other than deliver the odd punch-line. Dash was so important in I1 due to him being about the age Syndrome was at the start of the film so you were provided with a similar mind-set showing that, as mentioned previously, Syndrome was just being a big kid. Dash also had some great action sequences, highlighted the fun aspect of being a hero as well as being a loving foil to his sister. Violet, incidentally, gets to almost repeat her plot from I1 including showing the frustrating part about being a hero.

Mr. Incredible seems to have lost some of his intelligence in order to make one of the major plot-lines work better as Jack-Jack, the family’s baby, displays a variety of taxing powers…which somehow comes as a surprise to the parents, but given two of their previous kids have powers doesn’t feel like it should be as surprising as they are shown to be; a nit-pick I thought of during one of the more dull exposition scenes. Jack-Jack takes up a lot of the screen-time and is the primary source of the film’s comedy which became tiring quickly. The crux of the jokes being “Look at dad, he can barely keep up, ho-ho-ho.” Nah.

Talking about surprise, Elastigirl seems to be greatly excited by an admittedly heroic deed, but speaks of it with nostalgia as if weeks before she hadn’t just done something similar, or weeks before that saved an entire city. Again, another nit-pick during the slog of one scene. The point is, we’re supposed to care about Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl as superheroes who believed they had their time to shine, but are given a new chance to do so and how great that is. It is a good point, so much so it was a major theme of the first film. Again, what are you even doing?

Why pick Dash over any other character to use? Because I felt bad that he was barely used in the film.

Both films try to show what domesticity is like for super-powered individuals who can’t utilise their powers. In I1 this was shown as Elastigirl vacuuming the living room in their generally speaking modest house and using her stretching powers to reach really far underneath a sofa and table. A cute little demonstration of using what they can where they can, but that otherwise they’re a normal family. With their home destroyed at the end of I1, the family is moved into an ostentatious mansion of a home as a gift in I2, but their problems are still all real. This, again, might be fine, if it weren’t for the fact it was done better previously.

There are a great many more things I could go “And what about this??” to but I already know the concluding point I want to make, so much so that it’s right there in the title and opening line. I don’t know if they just took the wrong lessons from I1 or they didn’t understand what people, like me, loved so much about it, but after saying for so long there wouldn’t be a sequel until they had the right idea and this was the best they could come up with it paints a very sobering picture about the imagination in play. The world was given about 15 years to come up with their own idea for a sequel and I would have to imagine this was one of the worst ideas of the lot.

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Some thoughts on the first series of The Orville

This isn’t an Enterprise either!

When I was young there were two sci-fi shows I grew up watching. One of them was Doctor Who when re-runs of the older serials were shown; my first Doctor was Jon Pertwee, so I was rather fond during Peter Capaldi’s run when his clothing echoed Pertwee’s. The second was Star Trek: The Next Generation. Young me really liked TNG because the ship looked cool and the main guy was British and the ship looked really cool. It was an impressionable time.

Star Trek has since gone through numerous iterations both on TV and big screen with me having varying degrees of interest between them. When Discovery was announced and with the rumoured plan, to have the show be an anthology with each series having a different crew, ship and time era, I was incredibly excited. The Trek universe is rife of possibility, in much the same way any SF universe is, but this one was familiar and already had my interest. Then the delays happened and the show was cemented into the format we then got. I’ve already jotted down some thoughts on that though.

At some point a funny thing happened. Mr. Family Dad, Seth MacFarlane, said he was making a live-action sci-fi show. Okay. Then he said it was going to be a bit like Star Trek. Errm. What? Of course when you see MacFarlane’s credentials, as someone who had a cameo on ‘Enterprise’ and clearly grew up fond of Trek and specifically TNG, it’s easy to see how this could have happened. I was apprehensive of course because ignoring what I think of him, Family Guy and American Dad (the only shows of his I’ve seen) are not exactly close to anything Star Trek-y.

Gosh Joel, you’re about to start the fourth paragraph and the only mention of the show is in the title. What gives? I know this is a bit odd, but it’s all necessary.

“These are the voyages of the starship Orville”

Then the trailer was released and. Huh. Errm. Huh.

The fact is grown-up me still likes TNG, now much more so than when I was younger because over time I started to understand what was going on. It wasn’t just a cool ship; it was an interesting collection of various characters that had their own nuances placed in stories that could be adventurous, serious, philosophical, comedic and everything else. TNG also boasts talking. A lot of talking. Some of the best talking in any show I’ve watched. It’s not without its flaws, sure, but at its best it was really quite excellent.

The Orville is basically TNG. That’s the gist of it.

I’m not a big fan of nostalgia. For as much as I do look back, I like to look ahead to the future. I’m sure TNG played a big part in forming that perspective. Memories and experiences are of course important, but I don’t believe we should be governed by them. Pandering to it I find quite sad. My memories of the old won’t go anywhere. Give me something new. After an attack of nostalgia, I’m only going to remember the thing I’m being reminded of, not what is trying to pander to me because it’s not offering anything other than a memory of something else.

With that in mind The Orville sits in a dangerous place. Whilst Discovery tries to go for new, but set in an old universe it isn’t entirely sure it wants to be part of, The Orville tries to go for new, but set in a thinly veiled copy of a universe it desperately wants to be part of. I don’t want to get too much into comparing the two because they are different shows that go for different tone and form, but I will say that the optimism and idealism I thought I’d get from a show prefixed with Star Trek I got from one that wasn’t fortunate to be part of that body of work.

Captain of the Orville, Ed Mercer

I’ve seen a few descriptions of The Orville that I find amusing and maybe fairly accurate: “Seth MacFarlane’s vanity project” and “The most expensive fanfiction on TV” stand out in particular. It’s one thing that MacFarlane produces it, but he’s also The Captain. The universe the show occupies is Star Trek’s, but with enough changes so it’s not. The United Federation of Planets? Nope, you mean The Union. Warp engines? I think you’ll find it’s the Quantum Drive.

Really everything about the show could be described as “Like Trek/TNG, but”. Again, I don’t see any value in getting into all the counterparts and their necessary differences, but if you know your stock Star Trek bridge crew, nothing of the cast comes as a surprise, but then it does. It’s essentially impossible to talk about the show’s identity without naturally wanting to talk about Trek, which is why I started this off without even bringing up The Orville.

What becomes interesting then are those differences and surprises. I mean duh, that seems obvious with any story, but I do think The Orville puts itself into scenarios that Trek/TNG tackled and then tries to do something a touch more daring. Primarily, some endings aren’t perfect. It’s a critique of the all-important optimism that Trek seldom approaches. So sure, it’s not a perfect ending, but it’s still hopeful and because of this it feels more real. I might even say that The Orville has some good talking.

Definitely not sitting on a plot point.

Of course how those scenarios occur is the show’s biggest sin. There are stories that seem almost ripped verbatim from Trek/TNG. Not for nothing did I say “Oh, it’s the shuttle crash episode” when the time was right. If there’s effort put into the talking aspect, it’s not really there with the set-up. Frustratingly it’s as if the writers wanted you to know precisely what they were riffing on so that you would understand the importance of what it was they were shaking upside-down. When the show dared to have a fuller original idea it really shone and at least put some space between it and its clear inspiration.

It doesn’t stop at the stories either. A lot of people who produced Trek prior were involved and it’s blindingly obvious. The camera movement as we’re introduced to the Orville is so similar to how the Enterprise-D is introduced in TNG’s opening that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was intentionally identical. Even the fly-by shots share similar angles. If you were to close your eyes you would think the score was from TNG. Is nothing sacred?!

So here’s the kicker. I really enjoy The Orville. I think the characters stand on their own as not being good enough to be on the universe’s equivalent of the Enterprise, with various flaws and attitudes that would need to be ironed over repeatedly before they could rise to that point. At the same time there’s a clear camaraderie that the crew of the whole ship, not just the bridge, share and excel in. These are people that joke and eat with each other, that can get on other’s nerves or confide in. Hell, one of them is a gelatinous blob that is almost care-free, a romancer and a great engineer.

Okay, which one of you will be the non-human who discovers what humanity truly means?

There’s a healthy injection of humour befitting our not-good-enough crew too. Like all comedy some of it works, some of it doesn’t. I find most of the jokes go by quickly enough that those not quite up to standard don’t drag anything down, so whilst the trailer I’ll link below might have the show as an out-and-out comedy, it absolutely plays second fiddle to the drama and adventure. There’s a tad overreliance on references to 90’s culture onwards in what is perhaps a misguided homage to Trek’s referencing contemporary things, however I think most of them hit in that way that makes you feel a little bad that you’re definitely laughing.

So nostalgia then; The Orville walks an exceedingly tight rope between that and originality. I definitely found myself being comfortable whilst watching it, as if I was familiar with everything going on almost before it happened, but before I could get too comfortable it did enough to snap me back to see what it was offering. I don’t think it does enough of that either. When the second series comes round, as much as I like and might even defend it, it really has to go out there with boldness and try something entirely new. It can’t persist surfing on what’s come before and changing some details because that will unquestionably wear thin.

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Some thoughts on the first series of Star Trek Discovery

Wait, you’re not an Enterprise!

Discovery is a very curious show to talk about. Its serialised format makes it quite difficult to discuss specific issues without giving away important plot and character details and to really get into what about the show works or doesn’t, you have to do that to some degree. I could leave it here, simply stating that I enjoyed it however finding it deeply flawed. That to me feels a shallow point to make; what does enjoyment say about the quality of it and does what I find to be flawed speak of personal issues or those more to do with the show itself?

There have been a number of arguments made about the fact that Discovery “isn’t real Trek”. To me, Star Trek is a universe attached to a set of morals demonstrated by various races and characters. Primarily, it’s a universe that focuses on optimistic idealism for the future, but not to dismiss the problems and threats that come with this. Without these we would be denied the Borg, one of the most threatening races in all of science fiction who reflect a society that has no morals. Or what about the Cardassians, a society reliant on fascism but still cherishes its culture and history? That’s to say nothing of the classic Klingons, whose warrior tendencies highlight the need for talk.

Starfleet finally has a fleet with more than a few ships in it

Do I think Discovery is ‘real Trek’? Going to have to go with a classic “yes…but”. Discovery lives in this universe, but I don’t think it quite carries the message. We find our contemporary politics dedicated to fear of this or that, looking backwards rather than forwards. Discovery has all of this technology that we’ve seen before (and even some that we haven’t which given the time-line, well, whatever, production values have changed in fifty years) and talks a lot of the talk we’ve heard before, however it never took the leap to challenge any of what it said. It says it’s about optimism in a time of strife, but what it shows us is that reciprocating violence or the threat thereof is the key.

I’m not going to sit here and make an argument saying that during a war you want the ‘goodies’ to never fire a shot or that Star Trek has to be constantly optimistic, that’s a futile gesture and one that doesn’t reflect a need to constantly re-evaluate itself to survive. Ultimately a Trek show shouldn’t be rated on what a widely subjective ideal says it should be. Instead, a lot of what Discovery does wrong it does so as a television show and whilst it definitely does get things right, I can’t help shake the feeling that a lot of that feels by accident.

So, what makes the basic tenets of a show? You want a good stable of interesting characters, a cohesive plot that is easy to follow yet still capable of catching you off-guard and a mixing of the two that help each other move forward in a timely fashion.

Michael Burnham, Chief Protagonist Officer

Before the first episode came out, we were told there was going to be a focus on one character rather than the traditional grand ensemble, with episodes highlighting one or two that Trek usually had. By the end of the series, it felt like they were dramatically trying to course correct which given the characteristics of the lead makes perfect sense, but also brings up the question of why they even went that direction in the first place. When your protagonist, Michael Burnham, is given a reason to suppress their emotions in universe you maybe want a larger cast to highlight the differences this can manifest in.

I can’t imagine how hard it would be to act with that direction, so I’ll just quickly chime in here and say the acting is, across the board, excellent, with a few notable stand-outs. Still, you can only do so much with certain characters and scripts. A lot of the stand-out characters get side-lined or eventually derailed with interesting plots or positions prevented from happening or unravelled hilariously so. “Oooh, moral ambiguity, cool. This is something Trek has done before, but never really shined a spot-light on and, wait, oh, no, they’re just legit full evil. Okay then.” “Ah, an exploration of situations not often explored in TV. Way to go Discovery for depicti-oh, wait, it’s not that at all. Forget I said that.”

Pssst, I think one of them might be an alien

The problem with having an almost emotionless lead is that their story gets subdued by everyone else, not aided by pretty much all of the cast bleeding charisma. To recap then, our lead is written as plodding, some of the other main characters get diminished and I haven’t even mentioned the secondary and recurring cast, primarily the ship’s bridge crew, who I can barely name a fraction of. Not to mention I know almost nothing about them. Oh, also, everyone is super dour with exception of one, maybe two characters. By the end of the series in the cast that remained the strongest arc went to a character who was definitely given air-time, but felt like they slipped through the cracks of everyone else’s plots and had strong development.

Looking at the plot and, well, I thought on the whole it was pretty tame. As I’ve mentioned in passing, the series is established around a war and what-ho, it’s with the Klingons. Gasp! What could be a nuanced discussion of the contemporary developed world’s societies is brushed to the side because we don’t want any of that, thank you very much. Admittedly, it was nice early on to see a lot of time spent from the perspective of the Klingons, to hear their side and boy, did we hear what they had to say. Some brazen and arguably unneeded make-up changes to the Klingons from their iconic design and an adherence to Klingon-only scenes being spoken in a stilted, passionless Klingon language, led to those sequences feeling long and tedious. Funniest thing is, felt like the Klingons did more speaking than the philosophical Federation.

I feel like there is a definite irony in these Klingons chanting “Remain Klingon”, yet have been significantly altered visually removing them of their previous identity.

Anyhow, war wages on and you’d barely be able to tell because we’re seldom shown how the war is going, merely told it as if it’s supposed to be important this many episodes in. This would have been a perfect way to highlight what was being fought for, the ideals of this era of Star Trek, but nope, we get a little bit of it inconsistently and then a bit more at the series end where it’s too little too late. Numerous character arcs are tied into this war, but they are either predictable from miles off or are never developed in a way that feels natural or entertaining. A mid-series excursion gives some relief, but brings with it the demolition of one of the leads in such a depressing manner that I wished it hadn’t happened.

A Trek show dealing with war isn’t at all new. Whilst it’s been done well, it can always be done better. Discovery, in this regard, lacked any sense of ambition to do so. Sure, it had twists that might shock and amaze if you didn’t see them coming, but the twists felt more like twists for the sake of it rather than interesting plot. If you asked me what the show was about, I don’t think I could do so easily. Is it about being true to yourself? Not really? Is it about talking it out with your enemies? Ha, no. Is it about what we shouldn’t let ourselves become, as a society? Maybe, but not with specific focus.

I don’t think it’s to seek out new life and new civilisations either

Still, I did say that I was entertained, so what on earth did the show do well? Like I said, even if I think many characters met unfortunate conclusions, some rose to be incredibly likeable. One amongst the cast was an eternal optimistic, a beacon in the night. Another was a stubborn scientist who didn’t like the situation they found themselves in. One thrust into a position of command that they were not comfortable unsure they were even suited to it, but organically found their way. Even the less enjoyable characters were still performed with care and purpose.

The production values were absurdly good, providing a grand sense of scope and movement. I do think there was a bit too much time spent on-board ships, especially for a show prefixed with “Star Trek”, but they felt they were used and operational. Costumes and sets are lavish too, shown off with camera work that mostly is well shot. If this weren’t the case the show might have been a write-off for me, but it’s hard to deny how immersed you can be in a world when it at least looks the part. All of this given the time to do so with some generally pretty good pacing.

Imposing, yet dainty. Sorry, but no points for working out this is the baddie’s ship.

It’s hard when even the positive things about the show I feel compelled to deduct a point from for various reasons. I don’t think it at all helped that what I found to be the worst episode of the series was the last one, riddled as it was with what I’d have thought would have been enough glaring stupidity for someone to stop it from taking form in the way that it did, but guess not. Topping it off, its final scene a reminder of the shadow Discovery stands in and demonstrably doesn’t want to move out of.

Look, I made it to the end of the series and could largely say I enjoyed watching it, even if it wasn’t the best thing on TV during its run. That’s got to count for something. Not just that, I want to watch the second series. I want to see the show’s potential unleashed, but I’m concerned that the show doesn’t. This feels distinctly clear with the opening theme; bookended by familiar notes its middle is an orchestral sweep that fills the time, but not your memory. It inspires nothing. I’ve gone this whole piece without making a pun on the show’s title, but really, Discovery needs to find out what it wants to be and embrace that, otherwise I think the show will plod on accepting it will never be better than it currently is. That would be a shame and critically, defies the message of the universe that things can and should be better.

[You can now read my thoughts on the second series. Right here, in fact!]

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Short: The Dancing Fire

My family gathered around the fire fighting against the breeze chill
Howling in the Autumn months we watched the flame stood still
Embers of the blaze licked our faces with heat
Stepping closer now my heart and flame met with a beat
I looked around the family our eyes locked in a trance
The flames kept on rising in its fledgling dance

My father lost himself to the red light
It tugged and twisted to him in this cool night
But mere seconds passed before I heard a groan
He was on the floor writhing, his heart had flown

My mother moved with the wriggling flicker not knowing why
Making her think of times to come, those gone and won’t come by
She stepped and reached out to it as a dancer to their partner
Kept on walking the blaze embraced her without falter

I looked around what remained her eyes locked in a trance
The flames kept on rising in its gruesome dance

My sister occupied her mind with fear
She fell back and the flames singed her tears
Bringing her back into the fold of its burning life
Shrieked one moment then no more of strife

My body was locked from movement running
In my head of thoughts that were not coming
I knew the dancing flame would scorch me next
But it sat smiling at my eyes, my fear perplexed

I looked around and nothing remained except a flames’ eyes locked in a trance
The flames were dying now it had no more to dance

I realised what it had done,
A reaction to what we had begun,
My father lay still motionless,
My mother unrecognisable into crisp,
My sister scared to her death
and me alone but with my breath

The fire had chosen us to see its wrath
That I was last was surely its torturing path
Myself alone I tried to scream
It’ll come for you next Hallowe’en.

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