SHORT TREKS: The trouble with “THE TROUBLE WITH EDWARD” (editorial review)

SPOILERS…LIKE TRIBBLES…ARE EVERYWHERE!

I’m not sure I can forgive the creators of SHORT TREKS for eternally inserting a connection in my head between actor H. JON BENJAMIN and tribbles. I will never again be able to watch an episode of Bob’s Burgers or another ARBY’s commercial without wondering if those small, furry creatures somehow made it into their food menus. And if I’m ARBY’s, I am not happy right now.

But all kidding aside, I really wish this episode had put all kidding aside…or at least a good deal of it (tribbles do invite comedy, after all). But they didn’t. Short Treks is an experimental medium for CBS, and they’re to be admired for at least trying some new things. But as a fan, I felt the jokes landed as flat as a tribble falling off a desk and dying (something the episode actually mentioned!). And it does make me a little more wary about what kind of content we’ll be seeing from the upcoming new LOWER DECKS animated Star Trek series. If this is the level of humor we’re in for, well, I might be writing a bunch more critical blog reviews. Time will tell.

As with my review yesterday of the first of this season’s Shorts Treks, “Q&A,” I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this episode…although sadly tipping more into the latter emotion this time out. For anyone who hasn’t had a chance to see the episode and wants to know what the heck I’ll be talking about, here’s an excellent review that includes a summary…along with some of the same annoying points that I’ll be kvetching about.

First, however, I’ll list the positives. I loved seeing Anson Mount‘s Captain Pike, even for just a few seconds. I also found it cool to glimpse a Trill. And it was nice to see the costume department finally getting a chance to create some Starfleet uniforms without the weird single collar.

Um, what else, what else? Let’s see…well, the lighting was lovely. The music was good. The acting was quite decent. And the tribble vacuum cleaner was a nice touch. Oh, and I did like them showing how your generic detractor of just about anything might be created, even two and a half centuries in the future…

But yeah, aside from that, this episode was hard to love….

DON’T OVERTHINK THIS

Similar to my main complaint about “Q&A,” once again, the tail wagged the dog. In other words, the story itself became more important than the logic of the story (does the plot make sense?) and whether or not it followed the established “rules” of Star Trek. So basically, the writers / producers / whoever thought excitedly: “Wouldn’t it be super-cool if WE (humans) created the reproductive tribbles and infested the Klingon Empire with them???”

Well, no, now that you ask, it would not be super-cool. In fact, it would be rather troubling and uncomfortable for many fans to watch and incorporate into canon..

Y’see, Star Trek was always about discovering new and fascinating things about the universe—and tribbles were just such a thing. A completely alien creature, born pregnant, forced to reproduce quickly in a predator-filled environment…that totally sounded like the sort of thing natural selection and evolution could have produced, and it fascinated us.

But now the whole continuity shifts; the tribbles were doing just fine until Edward put his DNA into one. And somehow, Edward’s DNA (human DNA) means the tribbles are now born pregnant!? How the flying flamingo feathers did THAT happen???

As I said, the tail wagged the dog on this one, while logic and reason went out the window faster than a chorus of “Modern Major General.” In just about every way, this episode makes no sense. It doesn’t even follow its own established rules.

Anyone else thinking “Mystery Science Theater 3000” from this image?

Let’s start with the new captain. They made her cute and perky….and young! (Hey, wasn’t Kirk supposed to have been the youngest captain in Starfleet history? Well, maybe starship captain, and this was a science vessel.) Anyway, I think we were all supposed to like her. And I kinda did. But as the review I linked to above pointed out, she’s also kinda clueless when it comes to dealing with awkward people like Edward.

I agree with the reviewer that, if you think back to how Picard dealt with Lt. Reg Barclay, you’ll be even more unimpressed with Captain Lucero’s interpersonal skills. She brushes off Edward, tries to reassign him to a totally different speciality (“We’re all scientists…”), and doesn’t allow him to discuss his transfer. She just wants to boot him off the ship ASAP so she doesn’t have to deal with him anymore. That’s not very Starfleet…at least it hasn’t been up until now. Sure, Edward’s a miserable a-hole, but as a boss to him, so is she. And in her hearing at the end, she even calls him an idiot. This isn’t command material.

On the other hand, this brings up the question of how Edward got that far to begin with? He’s a lieutenant, so not only did he graduate from Starfleet Academy, but he’s gotten promoted at least once. This episode created a character that defies belief. I realize that Barclay, also an emotionally awkward Starfleet officer, was likewise a lieutenant. But Barclay was never insubordinate. Edward seems to have insubordination written into in his DNA (which means that now tribbles are insubordinate, too?). People like Edward don’t get transferred; they get kicked out of Starfleet (or promoted to captain if it’s a J.J. Abrams movie).

I think the idea the writers wanted to convey was, “Hey, Starfleet is just like your office environment. And there’s always some stuck-up, know-it-all idiot in your office, right?” But Starfleet was never my office. These were Earth’s and the Federation’s best. Sure, sometimes they carried baggage, but Star Trek was always about overcoming our personal demons and embracing diversity, not simply transferring the emotionally damaged people to another ship. But I guess this is the “new” Star Trek…a.k.a. The Office in Outer Space. (Or let’s just call it Office Space. I call copyright on that!)

And not only are they violating Star Trek canon, they’re violating their own…along with the frickin’ laws of physics! First take a look at this snippet…

So somehow these delicate creatures who can’t even fall 27 inches without perishing managed to survive the vacuum of space, the heat of plummeting 8 miles through the atmosphere of a planet, and what can only be imagined as a not-at-all-soft landing to then quickly infest a planet? How many impossible things do we need to believe this episode?

And since I brought up “quickly” and “impossible,” let me just state for the record: tribbles are NOT popcorn! I’m sure the writers and producers thought this scene would be hilarious…

Well, hilarious if this were 1975 and we were watching Far Out Space Nuts (also produced for CBS, by the way!). But true Star Trek at least TRIES to base itself in science and reason. Tribbles can only breed if you feed them. In order for there to have been that many tribbles all over the ship, there would have needed to be that much food. You can’t grow a tribble out of thin air! Scientists would call it “conservation of matter.” Watching the scene, I just call it unbelievable and, well, dumb.

And finally, speaking of dumb, here’s the Rorschach test for this episode…

Um, what the heck was that??? I call this post-credits sequence a Rorschach test because a viewer can see it any way they want to. Was that some kind of “lost” VHS commercial from 1985? Is it officially part of Star Trek canon now? Was it just a dream…or perhaps the last thing that went through poor Edward’s mind before he was crushed to death by a tribble tidal wave? Or has Canada’s decision to legalize marijuana produced some disturbing results in the Star Trek writer’s room in Toronto? Should we even really care? In Rorschach tests, there is no “right” answer. The subject’s response simply provides some insight into who they are and how they think.

In my case, my reaction can best be summed up by Mr. Horse…

Most likely, the writers just wanted to have a little fun and threw this sequence together for shats and giggles. Like the numerous fan parody examples I have posted in the FUNNY STUFF section of Fan Film Factor, this commercial is simply intended to be an outrageous little farce and not meant to be taken seriously.

But for me personally, I just didn’t find it funny or clever. Maybe I’m just comedically challenged (although I’ve done stand-up comedy a few times and was never booed off stage). So no, I’m sticking with my theory that the stoners in the Trek writers room just aren’t as funny as the ganja makes them think they are.

AM I BEING TOO HARD ON SHORT TREKS?

As I typed up my many complaints about these first two Short Treks, I had to wonder if I might be coming down unfairly and hyper-critically on CBS’s efforts. After all, when it comes to Star Trek fan films, I am MUCH more forgiving. Of course, I don’t have to pay $6/month to watch a fan film on YouTube.

And in a way, that’s sorta the difference. Even though Short Treks are expected to have smaller budgets (heck, 90% of “Q&A” was filmed in a single turbolift set!), they’re still studio-produced. The folks writing the scripts are the same ones creating the stories on Star Trek: Discovery and Picard. So really, I and other fans shouldn’t have to “pull our punches” when it comes to Short Treks.

And it wasn’t that either of the first two episodes was horrible. “Q&A” was actually quite good with just a few notable “unforced errors” (in my opinion). And as for “The Trouble with Edward,” well, I’m sure my nine-year-old would love it…which is more than I can say for a lot of Discovery‘s first two seasons (with the blood and gore and f-bombs and sex scenes and Klingons peeing in alleys).

So I’ll continue watching Short Treks because I love Star Trek. But I reserve the right, as a fan, to bitch, moan, gripe, kvetch, criticize, snipe and complain…because that’s what we’re good at, dammit! No, seriously, I like to believe that our reactions—both positive and negative—when strong enough and unified enough, eventually travel it up the virtual ladder to the ones creating the show. I truly think that many of the changes made during Discovery’s second season came from an awareness of what the fans were not happy with.

So maybe, just maybe, some of these criticisms from me and others like the reviewer at Trekcore and elsewhere through social media will make their way to the writers room and things will eventually improve. But if we fans say nothing, then nothing percolates to the people in charge and nothing changes because they think all is well.

In other words, I complain because I care…just like Edward.

16 thoughts on “SHORT TREKS: The trouble with “THE TROUBLE WITH EDWARD” (editorial review)”

  1. I think most people know an “Edward”. I’ve certainly *worked* with a quite few, and they all seem to have been promoted waaaay beyond their capabilities.

    About twenty years ago, I worked in a computer factory and frequently had to retrain new staff how to do *my* job because the assigned member of the training team had done it incorrectly.

    Anyway, the Tribble-vac. Yes, loved that too. It just shows that Batman isn’t the only one who’s prepared for any eventuality.

    Captain Lucero looking a bit young to be a captain? Yes, I agree with you there, she looks barely out of her teens – but a quick check of IMDB shows actress Rosa Salazar is in her mid-30s.

    Overall, I’m enjoying these new Short Treks. They’re making me laugh, and kind of remind me of the Star Trek books and comics written by Peter David.

  2. Well, as a captain of a starship and a scientist, her attitude about transferring him from one specialty to another that was so far out of his wheelhouse that he would have needed another four plus years to even be competent is ludicrous. This proves that SHE was not competent for command. Does her character actually think that all scientists know everything, or can learn something foreign in a day or so? Nope, sorry. I try so hard to give this show a chance. I come back every once in a while because I hear how it has changed for the better, and I try. It’s Star Trek. I want it to succeed, but it seems like they want to turn it into every other sci-fi space show out there. It was just a dream… just a dream…

  3. The Short Treks for this season is batting .500 with me. The Trouble with Edward episode should have been a no brainer given the source material. The idea of Edward injecting his DNA into a tribble sounds as ludicrous as Kirk being saved by Tribble blood. That actually makes sense now. No, this doesn’t make Star Trek Into Darkness any better. Still, I think the problem lies with the humor itself. Since many people, like myself, feel like the Orville is more Trek than Discovery, this Short Trek less Discovery tried to make itself more like The Orville. Sadly, it doesn’t work. I do have more thoughts on my podcast if you’re interested. https://bit.ly/2Mt1vGl

  4. Good review, as always. I for one found the commercial at the end hilarious, but maybe that’s just me! πŸ˜‰ Other than that, yeah, as always with the Discovery writers, there’s some good and at least as much bad. The pity is that if they’d just turn on their brains for once, much of the bad could easily be avoided. And they’re the ones getting paid for that shat, not you and me. To quote Alanis Morissette (also Canadian, right?): isn’t it ironic? πŸ˜‰

    1. The thing is, the Orville misses the mark on humor every now and then, too. But I adore the Orville without reservation. Why aren’t I adoring these Short Treks as much?

      1. Because The Orville is obviously a labour of love and Discovery comes off as a cash grab by people smug and mostly incompetent? Or is it just me?

        1. I choose not to vilify the folks at CBS like that. You’re welcome to, but the furthest I’ll go is suggesting they’re smoking something (legal) in the writers room…and even that’s just tongue-in-cheek.

      2. I adore the Orville, as well. But I also love the jokes that some people complain about. In German it’s called flat humor/jokes, don’t know what it’s called in English, but there’s people who like that sort of thing, and people who find it too silly. And that’s ok, it’s just that I happen to like that kind of humor, and the more cerebral one, too πŸ˜‰

        And why you don’t adore the Short Treks as much as the Orville? Guess you’ve already answered that with your editorials/reviews. The Orville isn’t officially Star Trek, but is at its heart and core, while Discovery/Short Treks is officially Star Trek, but is *not* at its heart and core. Too bad, I guess…

  5. I wrote up my own thoughts on Quora a couple days ago, but it boils down to this: The biggest reason the episode is infuriating is not the tribbles violating basic laws of physics, but that you can make an argument that Edward is actually RIGHT that Captain Lucero wasn’t ready to command a starship… because she didn’t have the guts to properly bust him for blatant insubordination and disrespectful conduct to a superior officer.

  6. Why you adore this “funny” Short treks not so much as the Orville? Because the writing in STD is bad.
    Do you remember the Elevator Scene with the Alien are sneezing?
    Not funny.
    Mudd, in the original Series a funny Character. In STD not a bit.
    We have an expression in Germany.
    “Schuster, bleibe bei deinen Leisten.”
    “cobbler stay with your afford” I hope this is the correct translation from Google.
    The writers should first develop good Scifi stories. If this is out of the way, then they can make comedy.

  7. The short treks are bad, not funny, and lacking in so many ways as you so artfully described. The funniest thing I’ve seen so far concerning newer trek, was the Viagra voiceover of the first Picard trailer! Now that WAS funny! Too bad it’s no longer visible online, I was going to post the link.

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