LOWER DECKS premieres, but is STAR TREK ready for animated comedy? (editorial review)

NO SPOILERS – PROMISE!

Okay, I’m not going to waste time telling you the premise of the show or explaining who the characters are in the new STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS. You can get that info elsewhere. Instead, I want to talk about this “great experiment” and discuss whether CBS should have taken this risk in the first place, and now that they have, was it worth it?

First the good news: the Lower Decks pilot episode “Second Contact” wasn’t awful. And I can’t say that about every new Star Trek series. After watching the pilot episode of DISCOVERY back in 2017, I had a list of complaints a mile long. But with Lower Decks, it was more a feeling of, “Is this all that there is? Is there nothing more?” (Oh, wait…that was V’Ger’s line.)

And that’s kind of the thing with Lower Decks. My last joke about V’Ger was something that hard-core Trek fans are going to appreciate. And Lower Decks certainly passes the Trekkie CAPTCHA challenge. It’s obvious that the folks in charge of this show know their Star Trek, and they throw in a parade of references (almost too many!) to assure us that “we reach” and that the creators wish to mind-meld with us and share their love of Star Trek. And thank Landru(!), so far their attempts to reference canon have been deeply respectful rather than trying to upend it….unlike some CBS series I won’t mention (COUGH, COUGH, Discovery, COUGH).

Also, I have to say unequivocally that the show looks FANtastic. Despite the caricature cartoon style of most of the characters (more of a feature than a bug), the look and feel is straight out of 24th century Star Trek. The one thing that fans can’t complain about it (although I’m sure some still will!) is that this show doesn’t look like Star Trek. It most certainly does!

And I love the opening credits sequence. For anyone who has ever visited Disney’s California Adventure and ridden the Soarin’ ride (originally Soarin’ Over California), that’s where the music is (mostly) inspired from…since the U.S.S. Cerritos is a California-class starship and Cerritos is only 10 minutes from Anaheim where the Disneyland theme park is located. The opening sequence is fun, showing the traditional “hero” shots of the starship—all gorgeously rendered—but with the ship looking anything but heroic! It sets the stage nicely for what to expect.

So as an animated comedy, I think CBS got the “animated” part right. That’s half the battle. Ah, but then there’s the “comedy.”

The famous saying in Hollywood goes, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Did sh0w-runner MIKE McMAHAN hit a home run, barely make it to first base, or strike out completely? And even more importantly, should CBS have even given him the baseball bat to begin with?

Batter up…!

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My final verdict on SEASON ONE of STAR TREK: PICARD…good, bad, both, neither? (editorial review)

Star Trek unites us. It binds us. It holds our universe together. No wait…that’s the Force. But like the Force, Star Trek fandom is fractured into a light side filled with positivity, patience, and tolerance…and a dark side of anger, resentment, and even hatred—at least when it comes to the newest Star Trek TV series.

I remember when The Next Generation premiered in 1987. While I wasn’t one of those who boycotted the show because it dared NOT feature Kirk, Spock, and the rest, I still wasn’t all that thrilled about what I saw at first. Here’s a few actual snippets of an early review I wrote partway through the first season for my fan club’s newsletter (yeah, I was even reviewing Trek 33 years ago!)…

  • So there’s this unknown British actor playing a French captain with a British accent? But even harder to accept: he’s bald! Starship captains need to have toupees!
  • Wait, the blind guy is steering the ship?
  • They’re all wearing pajamas. I mean, the uniforms look all science-fictiony, but going to the bathroom must be a ridiculous experience! Hey, where is the bathroom?
  • Why is the ship’s counselor on the bridge all the time instead of seeing patients?
  • If that kid Wesley saves the ship one more time, I amm going to throw something at the TV!
  • I do NOT like that starship design at all. The top is a clam, the bottom is a duck, and when they separate, it sticks its tongue out at you.
  • Pick a chief engineer already!
  • “Captain, the ship is going to blow up in ten seconds, what do we do?” “Conference!”
  • If I never see Lwaxana Troi again, it’ll be too soon…same with Q!
  • Stop surrendering, dammit!

I still watched the show every week. I even recorded them all on the highest quality SP speed on my VCR (two episodes per VHS tape, with commercials paused out!). I didn’t love the show, but I didn’t hate it either. It wasn’t “my” original Star Trek, but I was willing to give it a chance—even if it was oh-so-easy to make fun of. Part of me hoped I’d get used to it, or it would get better…and eventually, that’s exactly what happened.

Similar things happened with the launch of Deep Space Nine (“how can you “boldly go” anywhere if you’re stuck on a space station?”), Voyager (“shouldn’t the ship be trying to get home rather that stopping every episode to be attacked by the Kazon?”), and don’t even get me started on Enterprise and Discovery!

Each time, however, I made certain to give the shows a chance to grow on me—even Discovery—and find their way. It’s not easy to create and produce any regular TV show, and even more so if that show is the latest iteration of a multi-decade billion dollar franchise!

So with that preamble-ramble out of that way, let’s take a look at the first season of STAR TREK: PICARD

Continue reading “My final verdict on SEASON ONE of STAR TREK: PICARD…good, bad, both, neither? (editorial review)”

Why I loved…and hated…the finale of STAR TREK: PICARD! (editorial review)

SPOILERS…SHINING ON ME—
NOTHING BUT SPOILERS…DO I SEE!

As usual, I’m probably going to piss off the folks who love STAR TREK: PICARD if I say anything negative about the season finale…and piss off the folks who hate the series if I gush about the last episode.

So let’s just piss off everyone this time, shall we?

To properly convey my reaction(s) to “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2,” I need to walk you though the following sequence of events that affected the way I thought about this episode…

It began last week when I was underwhelmed (for the first time this season) with the ninth episode, which I detailed in my previous editorial review. I realized that, being a part one, the penultimate episode was setting things up for the ultimate episode. But I wasn’t certain that I liked everything that was being set up. The tail was beginning to wag the dog as the writing was getting somewhat sloppy and lazy, trying to check boxes in order to move the pieces where they needed to be for the “big finish.”

Then, a day before the finale aired, I read this really great interview from Variety with Picard co-creator and show-runner MICHAEL CHABON (a MUST read, folks!). It provides some fascinating insight into what sculpted the writing of this series, but one passage stood out for me in particular:

I think a useful metaphor for thinking about it is an Etch A Sketch. If you remember, there are two dials on the Etch A Sketch, one is plot and one is character. What you’re trying to do, and it’s really hard, is to turn them exactly the same amount so that you’re getting a perfect 45 degree angle. But as soon as you commit to a plotted story, which we committed to from the opening scene of Episode 1, you’ve strapped yourself to a plot-driven engine that you’re going to have to push back against really hard to try to hold it into that 45 degree angle.

I realized as I read that part of the interview that the first eight episodes were much more front-loaded with character development. There might not always be enough time to develop every character as much as we (or the writers) might want, but what the show lacked in action and speed of storytelling was more than made up for in series after series of deep, character-defining scenes. And I was getting kinda used to that.

But eventually, you have to not only get on with the plot but you actually have to finish the darn story already. And that’s when I felt the show had finally delivered a mediocre episode. Would the trend continue into the finale? Would finally giving us some action “ruin” the last episode for me, as well?

And so Thursday came and a finally hit play

Continue reading “Why I loved…and hated…the finale of STAR TREK: PICARD! (editorial review)”

FLOWER-POWER doesn’t energize this week’s weakest episode of STAR TREK: PICARD… (editorial review)

A FISTFUL OF SPOILERS!

By now, you guys know that I love the new STAR TREK: PICARD series. I’ve raved about every episode so far. And even things I didn’t like (such as the swearing or Narek’s inability to act convincingly or his incestuous sister Narissa or Commodore Oh’s unfortunate name choice) I was still able to overlook because I was enjoying everything else so much.

Not this time, folks.

Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t “hate” this episode or even really dislike it. I was simply rather underwhelmed. And I found myself annoyed by enough plot contrivances and missed opportunities that, this time, the bad outweighed the good.

Granted, my hat is completely off to ISA BRIONES, who plays her sister Sutra with a subtle, sinister sleekness signaling significant sophistication and a solid skillset. (Sorry, sometimes alliteration frantically flows through my fingers.) And of course, the rest of the cast does a solid job…but at least for this one episode, not a really great job.

And yes, I do blame director AKIVA GOLDSMAN for that. He’s just not a great director yet. Over the past ten years, he’s directed less than a dozen hours of television, and four of those were episodes of Fringe in the first two seasons. And for the next four years, he directed nothing. He directed two episodes of Discovery‘s lackluster first season (including the disappointing finale), and now he gets to direct both parts of the season finale of Picard…which is unfortunate and doesn’t bode well for next week. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Of course, if a director is given a weak script, that can also be a problem. And “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1” wasn’t the best script of the season. Even though the excellent MICAEL CHABON had a hand in writing it, so too did AYELET WALDMAND and Akiva himself. Sometimes multiple writers on the same script is a boon. But sometimes, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

So what went wrong this episode? Well, to be fair, it was a “part 1” episode, setting up the pins so that the conclusion next week can knock them all down with a strike. This means we can expect a lot of plot contrivances making sure characters are properly placed for the finale (Seven and Elnor on the Cube, Narek escaped, etc.). But there were also some “unforced errors,” as they say in baseball.

Let me tell you what bothered me the most…

Continue reading “FLOWER-POWER doesn’t energize this week’s weakest episode of STAR TREK: PICARD… (editorial review)”

STAR TREK: PICARD’s “Broken Pieces” has a little something for EVERYONE…even the complainers! (editorial review)

HOUSTON, WE HAVE SPOILERS!

At this point, if you’re not liking (or loving) STAR TREK: PICARD, then I really just don’t get it. Not to say you’re not entitled to your opinion, but it’s just beyond my ken trying to figure out if we’re even watching the same show!

I enjoy this series as a Trek fan, as a sci-fi fan, and simply as a television viewer. I love the story, the characters, the acting, the writing, the VFX (just enough lens flare not to drive ya nuts!), the costumes, the make-up, the sets, and even (especially!) the music.

This eighth episode had a little something for everyone…even the complainers. So if you’ve been criticizing the show on social media, did you at least like any of the following…?

YOU WANTED ACTION? YOU GOT ACTION!

Okay, I’ll admit that a good portion of this eighth episode featured the crew members of the La Sirena just sitting around and talking to each other. The ship wasn’t getting shot at, Elnor wasn’t cutting off people’s heads, and no one was being murdered.

But meanwhile, back on the Borg Cube Artifact, it was Fast and Furious 7-of-9! (Let’s all pause a moment to appreciate that pun.) For those viewers complaining that episodes of Picard are “too” slow, these cutaways to Seven-of-Nine and Elnor must certainly have felt like a welcome pick-me-up! The stakes were high, the tension palpable, the urgency immediate, and the action thrilling. The bad guys were nefariously plotting and preparing, the good guys were struggling to come up with a workable defense, and our “hero” Seven was forced by circumstance into making an impossible choice.

And let’s hear it for the “head fake” of leading us to the edge of having Seven release the Borg hounds and then—SWOOSH!!!—having Narissa space them all in five seconds. So much for that idea! Granted, in retrospect, that “plot twist” saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in make-up and wardrobe costs that would have been required to turn the end of the episode into Borg War V (or whatever we’re up to…”Descent,” First Contact, “Dark Frontier,” “Unimatrix Zero,” feel free to add any Borg-heavy episodes to that list). But even knowing that the decision was as much cost-savings as anything, the moment was still unexpected (for me, at least), and it definitely left Seven in a very scary place.

Let’s see what other goodies were on the menu this episode…

Continue reading “STAR TREK: PICARD’s “Broken Pieces” has a little something for EVERYONE…even the complainers! (editorial review)”

For STAR TREK: PICARD, don’t allow the PERFECT to be the enemy of the REALLY REALLY GOOD! (editorial review)

THE SPOILERS’ BACK IN TOWN…SPOILERS’ BACK IN TOWN

I really don’t understand the folks out there who are trying so hard to convince others (or maybe just themselves) that STAR TREK: PICARD isn’t a good show. I mean, the critics certainly love it (and by those I mean the trusted sci-fi critics who provide reviews—rather than just recpas—at places like DenOfGeek, IndieWire, IGN, Space.com, TrekMovie, Escapist, and many others). And numerous fans on Facebook certainly love the show, too. Granted, not everyone is giving it perfect 10’s each time out, but the general consensus seems to be extremely positive as people are enjoying what they see.

And then there are the detractors. There always seem to be detractors.

I’ve personally written more than fifteen thousand words over the last month and a half very specifically explaining why the show is so good (minus the blog about the swearing). So that’s quite the wall to climb in trying to convince me that I, the critics, and an endless parade of fans on Facebook and elsewhere have been wrong all this time. But that doesn’t stop these negative nellies from making such keen and thought-provoking arguments as the following…

Deep thinkers, I know.

I also tried watching Nerdrotic’s latest video podcast bashing the show (as he always does). However, it’s hard for me to give a critic any real credence when he can’t even pronounce the name of the episode…despite living a few hours drive from a famous restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur with the same name. Nepenthe (neh-PEN-they) has been around since 1949 overlooking the cliffs of the majestic California coastline and serving the world’s best hamburger (the ambrosiaburger) along with other culinary delights. For a person who lives in San Francisco to not have heard of Nepenthe…well, that’s just wrong. Take a drive down the coast, dude; it’s lovely!

Anyway, as I watched Gary Buechler skewer the episode on his podcast, all I could think were 1) he’s using juvenile name-calling to make a lot of his points, and 2) he’s getting donations from people while doing the skewering. If people paid me money to bash a show each week, I’d probably find a way to do it. I’m just not sure I’d trust what I had to say as objective or fair-minded. But enough about that.

I’m really trying to understand the folks who don’t think this show is good. A teensy few have written thoughtful, reasonable comments that I’ve published on previous blogs. And while I don’t agree with them, I respect their efforts to convey their thoughts clearly and civilly. But by far, most people who criticize this show just seem to fall into the following five categories…

Continue reading “For STAR TREK: PICARD, don’t allow the PERFECT to be the enemy of the REALLY REALLY GOOD! (editorial review)”

Is there a “RIGHT” way to watch STAR TREK: PICARD? (more editorial than review)

100% CERTIFIED SPOILER FREE!

I was there at the dawn of the third age of TV science fiction…

I was actually there at the dawn of the second age, too, but I was still in diapers. The first age was completely before my time, and the fourth age…well, the fourth age is happening right now! And what the flying flark am I talking about????

I find it interesting to read the comments of the folks who don’t like STAR TREK: PICARD. A few anti-CBS fans out there, I believe, had convinced themselves to hate the show before the series ever started. Others, I suspect, saw how slowly the first few episodes were going and decided right then the show was “garbage.” Still others can’t forgive Picard for not being the second coming of The Next Generation the way The Orville has been. Some don’t like the “dystopian future” or the damaged characters or the swearing (I raise my hand for that one) or the mustache-twirling, sunglasses-wearing, way-too-over-sexual villains.

And as Roseanne Rosannadanna used to say on Saturday Night Live, “It’s always sumthin’. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” And I think that’s true of much of recent sci-fi—and especially Star Trek…and especially lately. But as we crossed the midpoint of the 10-episode run of the first season of Picard, I wondered something…

Are the fans who DON’T like the show—for whatever reason—are they just not watching Picard the “right” way? And for that matter, is there, in fact, a “right” way to watch Picard? I actually think there is!

But to truly appreciate what I’m going to tell you in this blog, we need to take a slight detour through the 70-plus year history of science fiction on television…

Continue reading “Is there a “RIGHT” way to watch STAR TREK: PICARD? (more editorial than review)”

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…?

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

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

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

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)”