I expected the WORST, but STAR TREK: PICARD’S fifth episode was its BEST yet! (editorial review)

OODLES AND OODLES AND OODLES OF SPOILERS!!!

Who remembers “The Naked Now”? Thirty-two and a half years ago (!!!), it was the second episode of the The Next Generation to air. While it wasn’t the worst episode ever (that would be “The Royale,” in my opinion), it definitely wasn’t the best. At a time when the main characters of TNG were just being introduced to audiences and still making first impressions, they were each reduced to comedic caricatures—Yar throwing herself at Data, Beverly and Picard throwing themselves at each other, Wesley taking over engineering…sheesh, even Data got goofy! Two episodes in, and they’re doing comedy???

That was the mental image I had before watching this past Thursday’s fifth episode of STAR TREK: PICARD, “Stardust City Rag.” The trailer showed what looked like a modern day version of TOS’s “A Piece of the Action” or DS9‘s “Badda Bing, Badda-Bang“—complete with characters dressing up for some kinda heist from dangerous-looking gangsters or something. Even the sneak-peek preview scene from the end of the previous week’s THE READY ROOM showed a comedic vignette of annoying holo-spam ads popping up all over the bridge, requiring the gallant crew to do something physical to get rid of each one.

I was NOT expecting to like this episode.

So imagine my ecstatic surprise when “Stardust City Rag” turned out to be the strongest and most enjoyable episode of Picard thus far…at least for me (and many other reviewers, as it turned out).

What happened to make this episode so good…?

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Why I lose my head every time I hear F*ING SWEAR WORDS in PICARD and DISCOVERY! (editorial review)

NO SPOILERS…BUT LOTS OF SWEARING!

I really liked the fourth episode of STAR TREK: PICARD. It wasn’t perfect (ahem, Narek and his sister Narissa), but it was close enough that I really loved the entire experience of watching it. And let’s face it, JONATHAN FRAKES knows how to direct Star Trek! Patrick Stewart and the entire cast (aside from the guy playing Narek) give consistently outstanding performances.

Show-runner MICHAEL CHABON was the lone writer credited this episode (all the other episodes have had multiple credited writers), and those 44 minutes flowed perfectly. With solid pacing, new and fascinating characters were introduced and developed. The episode filled in more of what happened to Picard over the last decade and a half, had amazing VFX (not too dark, too too fast, not too confusing), wonderful music, incredible make-up and costumes, gorgeous locations, and a thrilling surprise ending.

I truly have nothing to complain about…except one thing: the f*ing swearing!!!

So this time, because the episode itself was so enjoyable, my editorial review is going to be more editorial and less review. After all, this episode was titled “Absolute Candor,” so let me share my truth with you.

Let me start by saying that I am not a fucking prude. I know how to swear, and I’ll even indulge in “colorful metaphors” myself from time to time. I also know how NOT to swear. I don’t use profanities within earshot of my 9-year-old son or with my in-laws or in mixed company or with clients. I don’t use them during my audio interviews with fan filmmakers. Swear words are a choice…even if you accidentally drop a stack of dishes and they shatter all over the floor.

And I don’t mind hearing swear words on most shows on television. In fact, I welcome them! For me, not hearing swear words on network TV takes a little of the realism out of certain dramatic scenes.

So why the #$%@ do I have a problem with swearing on Star Trek, you ask? After all, if I want more realism on TV, then why shouldn’t Star Trek be as realistic as other shows?

Fair question. And I am going to explain why. But in order to do so, I need to take you all on a fast time wrap through the first 50 years of Star Trek

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Sunglasses on Vulcans and other nits to pick about PICARD…and why they don’t matter to me! (editorial review)

SPOILERS ABOUND!

As I read review after review of the third episode of STAR TREK: PICARD, “The End IS the Beginning,” the one common complaint I encountered over and over again is that the series seems to be moving TOO SLOW. It seems a fair number of people are really bothered by the fact that this third episode wasn’t any more action-packed than the first two (except the Zhat Vash attack on the Château Picard toward the end), and how after three full episodes, it was only in the last few seconds of the third episode that Picard finally says “Engage…” (hooray!) and we’re finally leaving Earth for deep space. The end really was the beginning.

Too slow, huh? Give me a break people! Let’s be honest: the real problem with this episode is that there was a Vulcan Commodore wearing sunglasses! I mean, really? Vulcan has a stronger sun than Earth, and Vulcans have that inner eyelid thingie (which we learned in the TOS first season finale “Operation: Annihilate” when Spock recovers from temporary blindness).

Oh, sure, there’s sunglasses in the 24th century. Barclay wore a pair on the beach in Voyager. But on a VULCAN??? Never! And just look at that commodore rank pin! It’s skewed! Would a Vulcan ever allow such a thing to happen? Would the Starfleet of the future even have rank pips that didn’t stay perfectly in place? This is is the FUTURE, people! Between the sunglasses and the rank pip, people might start to suspect that Commodore Oh isn’t really a Vulcan at all—despite her smooth forehead—and a Romulan agent would never be that sloppy…nor would an actual Vulcan!

And speaking of foreheads, we’re now told that the bumpy heads of Romulans are just a genetic variation of those from the north??? Really? Like blond hair or blue eyes here on Earth? Pshaw! Everyone knows that in the 4th season TNG episode “Data’s Day,” the faux-Vulcan Ambassador T’Pel returns to the Romulans and reveals herself to, in fact, be a Romulan…complete with a bumpy forehead!

“Vulcan” Ambassador T’pel’s forehead goes from smooth to bumpy when she reveals herself to be a Romulan spy in “Data’s Day.”

What? You can explain that? Maybe she was really a northern Romulan and just got smoothed over for the undercover espionage assignment? Suuuuuure she was. I don’t buy it for a second.

Actually, you guys shouldn’t buy anything I just wrote! I was totally kidding!!!

None of the above items really bothered me. Well, technically, I wasn’t thrilled about Commodore Oh’s rank pip. But when it comes right down to it, I really don’t have any desire to criticize this show right now. And that’s kind of weird because I’ll jump down the throat of any random goof or discontinuity in an episode of Discovery and bash any Star Wars movie made after 1983 for every stupid, illogical, incoherent plot hole I find.

I’m a sci-fi fan, and we live to complain. So why don’t I want to complain about Picard? It’s really weird! Let’s do some soul searching…

Continue reading “Sunglasses on Vulcans and other nits to pick about PICARD…and why they don’t matter to me! (editorial review)”

Forget poker…STAR TREK: PICARD is all about CHESS! (editorial review)

Admiral, there be spoilers here!

Have you ever watched a poker tournament on TV…or even just flipped past one while channel surfing? (Do people even channel surf anymore?)

It’s a pretty good bet that you’ve probably seen at least a glimpse of a poker tournament. They’re actually kinda exciting! Every hand is different. Every bet could change the balance of power and the fortunes of any player at any time. The stakes can be high and the tension even higher. It’s no wonder that poker tournaments have found their way onto broadcast television.

But what about chess?

Chances are you’ve never seen a chess tournament broadcast on television…except maybe highlights of one on the news. And why would you? Chess isn’t exactly a thrill-a-second game (although it can be if you know what to look for, but most of us don’t). And unlike poker, where a game is made up of a series of hands that each reset gameplay, a chess game unfolds and develops veeeeeeery slowly and carefully. It’s not what you’d call riveting TV!

Since the very first season of TOS, Star Trek has embraced both the games of poker and chess—from Kirk’s corbomite bluffs to Spock’s 3D chess to the TNG crew’s regular poker nights. And of course, the first episode of STAR TREK: PICARD opens on a dream sequence poker game with Data.

I thought about these two games as I watched the second episode of Picard, “Maps and Legends.” After a very exciting teaser where we see and learn more about the First Contact Day synth massacre on Mars (they were hacked!), the episode very quickly puts on the brakes and doesn’t accelerate again for the rest of the 44-minute episode. It was pretty much all talk—although still dramatic and well-acted—for 37 straight minutes.

This seemed odd to me as a viewer.

The friend I watched with said he definitely didn’t like the second episode as much as the first. The first, he opined, had a message, a theme, of growing older, of looking for purpose in one’s twilight years, of seeing the world change into something your idealistic self wouldn’t recognize nor approve of. But what was the message of the second episode? There wasn’t one that he could see, just scene after scene of mostly exposition.

It wasn’t that either of us didn’t like the episode. We just didn’t like it as much as the first one. And initially, I didn’t understand why. But now I do…

Continue reading “Forget poker…STAR TREK: PICARD is all about CHESS! (editorial review)”

What PICARD got right…and DISCOVERY and JJ TREK got wrong! (editorial review)

SURPRISINGLY FEW SPOILERS…

I had almost forgotten the feeling. Maybe that’s because it’s been 15 years since I’ve felt it.

I used to get the feeling often when watching Star Trek episodes. They’d end, and I’d go “WOW” or (as when Riker said “Fire!” followed by the words “To be continued”) I’d just want to see more…NOW!

There were episodes of Next Gen and DS9 that left me feeling proud to be a Star Trek fan, like I was being treated to carefully crafted masterpieces like “The Inner Light” or “Sacrifice of Angels.” Even Voyager and many episodes of Enterprise‘s final season had this effect on me. Star Trek was exciting, fun, thoughtful, brilliant even…and these episodes always left me feeling happy and satisfied with my decision to dedicate so much of my life to this grand sci-fi franchise.

And then the feeling just…stopped.

I really wanted to like the 2009 JJ Abrams Star Trek movie reboot. The ingredients all seemed to be there. But that movie completely missed the mark for me. Star Trek Into Darkness frustrated me even more. And while Star Trek Beyond had a few moments, the feeling of excitement and satisfaction just wasn’t there. I spent more time complaining about unbelievable and illogical plot holes, wondering why Khan was suddenly a white guy, and trying to figure out why a small starship needed to carry a motorcycle and a Beastie Boys soundtrack.

And Discovery only seemed to worsen the situation. I suffered through most of the first season. And while the second season improved noticeably, when each episode ended, I still wasn’t feeling like I wanted more…like I was truly satisfied with what I’d just watched. I wasn’t feeling proud to be a Star Trek fan anymore—at least not with this new series. And most of the Short Treks, while enjoyable, didn’t spark that old feeling either.

Fifteen years.
Three blockbuster movies.
Ten Short Treks.
Twenty-nine episodes of Star Trek: Discovery.

And all I felt was “meh.” I actually had to frequently remind myself why I was sticking with the new releases from the franchise rather than jumping (star)ship as many other disillusioned fans were claiming to have done.

But with just a single episode of the new STAR TREK: PICARD series, the feeling is back, baby, and as strong as it’s ever been! How the heck did that happen???

Continue reading “What PICARD got right…and DISCOVERY and JJ TREK got wrong! (editorial review)”

What would GENE RODDENBERRY have thought about SHORT TREKS “Children of Mars”? (editorial review)

There can be spoilers…just for one blog!

Wow.

I just finished watching the sixth and final SHORT TREKS of the second round of mini-episodes (do we call them “seasons”?). The shortest of all of the Short Treks thus far, the episode runs only 6 minutes and 47 seconds before the closing credits roll. But it’s time well-utilized!

It’s hard to know what to say first. In these editorial review blogs, I try not to just parrot what all of the other reviewers are saying because…what’s the point? Most reviewers are offering a summary of the episode. If you want that (and don’t mind the spoilers), then check out this review for a short summary or this review for a much more detailed recounting.

Many reviewers are concentrating on the kick-in-the-gut feel of the attack on Mars, and that was very obvious. This incident is going to be a paradigm shift for the Federation …just as the December 7, 1941 Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and the terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 were for the United States and the world. Nothing would ever be the same again. After “Children of Mars,” the date that will live in infamy will be April 5—First Contact Day—and the culprits won’t be a foreign Pacific power or Middle Eastern extremists but these mysterious “Synths” (whatever they are).

A few folks are complaining that the starships at Utopia Planitia look more like movie-era or even Discovery-era designs rather than 24th century vessels. And yeah, the VFX guys probably kept things cheap and used the models they had on hand. Others complained that it was never really explained why these two girls initially hated each other (was it all just over a shoulder bump?), although I don’t think that was important for us to know. The impact of the story wasn’t why they were fighting so much as what made them stop.

So no, I’m not going to rehash any of that. Instead I am going to say something totally provocative and controversial:

I think GENE RODDENBERRY would have hated “Children of Mars” being presented as Star Trek.

And even more controversial:

I also think he would have been dead wrong!

Okay, let’s begin…

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Two new ANIMATED SHORT TREKS and what my 9-YEAR-OLD SON thought of them… (editorial review)

SP-SP-SP-SPOILERS…TURN AWAY OR FACE THE STRAIN!

This past Thursday, CBS All Access released (at least for viewers in the United States) the final two SHORT TREKS for 2019. You can read my reviews of the previous three episodes—“Q&A”, “The Trouble with Edward”, and “Ask Not”—to see that they’ve been a little uneven in quality (at least in my opinion) but generally worth the 8 to 15 minutes of time invested to watch them. Also, there’s one more Short Treks episode scheduled for release on January 9: a STAR TREK: PICARD prequel titled “Children of Mars.”

The final two Short Treks of this year marked Star Trek‘s first return to animation since the animated series aired its final episode 45 years ago on October 12, 1974. (Of course, I’m not counting animated Star Trek fan films, although if you’d like to see some really good ones, might I suggest Star Trek: Aurora, Stalled Trek, and Stone Trek.)

The two new Short Treks—“Ephraim and Dot” and “The Girl Who Made the Stars” were REALLY short—-just under nine minutes and just under eighth minutes respectively. This isn’t surprising, though, as animation is costly to produce both in terms of budget and time. Unlike live action, an extra four minutes for either episode could literally have increased the production budget by nearly 50%.

So what did I think?

Before I answer this question, let me tell you what my nine-year-old son Jayden—a lover of TOS and a current watcher of TNG—thought. This is actually a rather profound question. I have and continue to refuse to show STAR TREK: DISCOVERY to Jayden (with the F-bombs, the Klingon rape scenes, and generally not-for-a-9-year-old content) until he’s much older. In comparison, we LOVED watching the new Lost In Space together on Netflix (season two is just 10 days away!) and are currently enjoying The Mandalorian. As a Trekkie, it was frustrating not to be able to share the new series with my son.

But these two new Short Treks were 100% child-friendly. So having the opportunity to say to Jayden, “Hey, come over here and watch this and tell me what you think…” about the new Star Trek is a new and exciting experience for me.

So what did Jayden think…?

Continue reading “Two new ANIMATED SHORT TREKS and what my 9-YEAR-OLD SON thought of them… (editorial review)”

Why the new SHORT TREKS “Ask Not” shows why there needs to be a CAPTAIN PIKE series! (editorial review)

WARNING! The reading of this blog WITHOUT first watching “Ask Not” WILL ruin an amazing experience for you!

It only took seven minutes and forty-five seconds.

Actually, it took even less time than that. Without the traditional SHORT TREKS opening title sequence, this latest offering of CBS’s series of mini-episodes dropped me immediately into the action. What followed was a whirlwind of masterfully delivered, impactful lines between two very strong characters. One was Captain Christopher Pike, and ANSON MOUNT could be taking a nap in a hammock and I’d still be mesmerized. So imagine what this amazing actor can do when the dialog is flying fast and furious…and lives are at stake.

The other is a brand new character, Cadet Thira Sidhu (played perfectly by Amrit Kaur), a young engineering cadet facing an impossible decision: does she follow Starfleet protocol or trust Pike? The answer is surprising, to say the least! It’s also the culmination of a tense, non-stop five-minute sequence that doesn’t leave the viewer any time or opportunity to ask “Hey, what’s really going on here?” And that was a very, very good thing!

This is where I start spoiling the episode, folks. Seriously, if you haven’t watched it yet, stop reading now, subscribe to All Access for 10 minutes, and watch “Ask Not.” Or if you’re in a country that hasn’t gotten the second series of Short Treks yet, bookmark this blog and come back to it in January. It’s not time-sensitive.

Okay, I warned ya. If you read further, the irreparable damage is all on you…

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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….

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

“Q&A”: Are SHORT TREKS just elaborate studio-produced FAN FILMS? (editorial review)

SPOILERS A’PLENTY!

On October 5 and five days later on October 10, CBS released the newest two 15-minute episodes of SHORT TREKS to All Access subscribers in America (sorry, rest of the world): “Q and A” and “The Trouble with Edward”…or as I like to call them: the latest two fan films from CBS.

CBS was actually rather quiet about marketing the debut of these two Short Treks, releasing the first on the same Saturday they announced it would be available (during a presentation at New York Comic Con) and the second during Thursday Night Football later that week. In fact, the rest of the Short Treks will also be premiering during Thursday Night Football (as will STAR TREK: PICARD) because that’s when the majority of All Access subscribers are watching (don’t ask me how I know that). Here’s the schedule for the remaining new Short Treks:

  • Ask Not” – Thursday, Nov. 14
  • The Girl Who Made the Stars” – Thursday, Dec. 12
  • Ephraim and Dot” – Thursday, Dec. 12
  • Children of Mars” – Thursday, Jan. 9

Because CBS is targeting the sports viewers of All Access with these “15-minute commercials” more than they are the hard core fans, many folks weren’t even aware that Short Treks had already debuted. In fact, I took an informal poll on the Fan Film Forum Facebook group and discovered that 40% of our responding members had no idea any new Short Treks were available….

But since these two episodes have, indeed, been released, how about we do a good ol’ editorial review? Or rather, let’s make it a two-parter since there were two Short Treks

Continue reading ““Q&A”: Are SHORT TREKS just elaborate studio-produced FAN FILMS? (editorial review)”