Why I loved the M*A*S*H episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY! (editorial review)

SPOILERS! GET YER SPOILERS HERE!

I was going to title this blog “Now, THAT’S a Star Trek!” But I wasn’t certain that most of my readers would get the reference to the “Spocko/Lost Episode” skit from Saturday Night Live from 2017. And also, the more that I thought about it, the latest episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, “Forget Me Not,” wasn’t just Star Trek. In many ways, it was also very much like the 1970’s TV series M*A*S*H, and it was just what I’ve been wanting—praying!—to see out of this show.

Okay, a LOT to unpack there…

Let’s first talk about what “today’s” Star Trek is and isn’t, and what it can and cannot be. Gone are the good ol’ days of TOS and TNG where Kirk could talk a computer into committing suicide and everyone always got along swimmingly. In fact, the days of perfect people and perfect relationships had already disappeared by the time Deep Space 9 started airing. And that’s fine. I like seeing folks with frictions and problems and then watching how they deal with themselves and each other. I certainly don’t want to follow a completely dysfunctional cast or crew each week, but I’m happy to see realistic people with realistic issues.

Even folks who say that The Orville is what Star Trek should be right now need to remember that Bortus is having marital problems, Ed Mercer has been struggling with his feelings about Kelly Grayson, and Isaac’s people are a threat to the entire galaxy. The Orville ain’t your daddy’s Star Trek either. (“Oh, I am my daddy. Wait…huh?”)

So the Star Trek of today cannot be the Star Trek of yesterday. The world has changed too much. Audience’s tastes have changed too much. Television has changed too much. But that doesn’t mean that any piece of crappola can be thrown at fans and still be considered Star Trek. Yes, Star Trek needs to evolve to suit the ever-changing viewer landscape. But the question remains: has Star Trek been evolving in the right way?

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The one problem STAR TREK: DISCOVERY may not be able to fix… (editorial review)

SPOILERS…I’VE HAD A FEW…BUT THEN AGAIN, TOO FEW TO MENTION

Okay, first let’s get the review part out of the way. I liked the third episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY season three, “People of Earth.” I didn’t love it, but it was a solid “like.” JONATHAN FRAKES did a very nice job directing, the acting was strong, as usual, the episode was exciting, and there was some decent character development (or at least attempts at it…more on that later). I’m intrigued by Adira, the new human character with the Trill symbiont…and let’s face it, Frakes knows all about being a human with a Trill symbiont in your abdomen!

Were there some things I didn’t like? Yep. I realize the whole “What was the Burn?” is the mystery of the season, and so each episode gives us more clues. But it seems like we’ve gone from “A century ago, all the dilithium in the quadrant/galaxy/universe suddenly exploded” to “Oh, by the way, the galaxy was also running out of dilithium before everything went KABOOM.” This seems like an important detail that could have been added previously, since it appears to be something big worth mentioning.

Also, I was annoyed for a second week in a row to see Michael Burnham once again save the day. And not only did she save everyone on the ship and restore peace to Earth and the Titan Raiders (sounds like a mash-up of two AFC football franchises), but she did so without telling Saru her plan first. Look up “loose cannon” in the dictionary, and you’ll see a picture of Michael Burnham. Look up “trustworthy first officer” and she’s nowhere to be seen. The fact that Saru still kept the offer of being his first officer open AFTER Burnham pulled that stunt amazed me (in a bad way). How many second chances is this headstrong woman gonna keep getting???

But enough about all that! I still liked the episode, and I’m sticking with Discovery for a bit longer. But that’s more than I can say about my best friend, who just told me that he’s now completely bailed on the show. He won’t watch it anymore, and his reason intrigued me enough that I’ve decided to devote today’s blog to talking my way through it, as it’s not the standard “This isn’t MY Star Trek!” But yet, at the same time, maybe it is. Maybe my friend has finally hit the nail on the head of why so many long-time Trekkies don’t like the show.

Let’s discuss…

Continue reading “The one problem STAR TREK: DISCOVERY may not be able to fix… (editorial review)”

What STAR TREK: DISCOVERY just got very RIGHT…and WRONG! (editorial review)

AND THE REVIEWER SAID UNTO THE READERS: “LET THERE BE SPOILERS!”

Reviews for STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s second episode of season three, “Far from Home,” have been mostly positive (with a few dissatisfied clunkers that I skimmed here and there). Speaking only for myself, though, I think it was my most enjoyable episode of Discovery so far.

Now, “enjoyable” doesn’t mean best or strongest or most amazing. But I very much ENJOYED the experience of watching it. It was an “easy” episode to watch—not too dark or broody, funny in a lot of places, not too convoluted or filled with exposition, decent character interplay, and a pretty straightforward bad guy to root against.

But that’s just the view from orbit. Let’s get closer to the surface and discuss WHY this episode worked so well and was so enjoyable to watch. Let’s look at what they got right and what they got wrong…

AND THE AWARD FOR BEST STARSHIP CRASH INTO AN ICE WORLD GOES TO…

Visual FX are no substitute for good writing and acting and directing and all the rest, of course, but you do need to give credit where it’s due. And while I detested most of the over-cluttered “epic” battle at the end of season two and found most of the VFX in season one too dark and undefined, I now have a favorite Discovery CGI sequence…by a wide margin.

This episode opened with a very exciting sequence where the Discovery crashes into a strange, new world. You might remember that, a week ago, Michael Burnham in her time suit also emerged from the temporal rift and immediately crashed—twice!—once into Book’s ship and then into the world with the Orion and Andorian Mercantile. Perhaps it’s just a pet peeve left over from when I was taking Astronomy 101 back at Cornell in 1987, but I do hate it when writers forget how big and empty space actually is. In this show, however, space is as crowded and as tightly packed as a Trump campaign rally. (Sorry, no politics, Jonathan! Bad blogger! Bad!)

Be that as it may, I’m not going to hold any of that against Discovery. So space is crowded—if it weren’t, the show would be super-boring. Anyway, Discovery emerges and then this quickly happens…

I did find it amusing that, once again, so many lives could have been saved from injury through the use of a 20th century invention known as the seat belt. But hey, at least they can always shout, “Brace! BRACE!!”

However, all kidding aside, that is one awesome sequence! And it shows how far Star Trek has come visually from 1998 when Voyager previously won the award for best starship crash into an ice world…

Continue reading “What STAR TREK: DISCOVERY just got very RIGHT…and WRONG! (editorial review)”

Is STAR TREK: DISCOVERY overcompensating? (editorial review)

SPOILERS NEVER GO OUT OF FASHION!

It’s been a year and a half since we saw Michael Burnham leading the U.S.S. Discovery and her crew into the far future. Eighteen months for us, 930 years for them. Either way, it’s a whole new world for us and for the actors/writers/producers (hey, anyone remember 2019—before the pandemic?), and a whole new galaxy for the show. And it seems like we’re going to need to get used to both 2020 and 3188!

Okay, so it’s time to start these editorial reviews again. When last we left CBS’s flagship Star Trek series, I had a LOT to complain about:

  • The show was way too serious.
  • The plots were too convoluted.
  • The scripts were overly contrived showing lazy/sloppy writing.
  • There was almost no banter between characters.
  • Michael Burnham remained an undeveloped character—coming from a place of controlled logic from a demanding Vulcan upbringing, Burnham was never much “fun” as a character and often uninteresting to watch (despite SONEQUA MARTN-GREEN being a strong actor)
  • The writers jumped from beat to beat without giving the characters a chance to breathe in between.
  • The stories felt too dark and seemingly hopeless most of the time.
  • Trek canon was, more often than not, completely out the window.
  • For a franchise born from “exploring strange, new worlds,” we almost never made it down to an actual planet.
  • The series didn’t feel like Star Trek…only a sci-fi mish-mash with Star Trek elements hung on it like decorations on a Christmas tree.

So when STAR TREK: DISCOVERY jumped to the far future and added a new co-showrunner, MICHELLE PARADISE, to join the always-controversial and always-rumored-to-be-fired-and-never-actually-being-fired ALEX KURTZMAN, I wondered if the series would finally be able to course-correct in its third season. I really wished it would because it’s hard to be a Star Trek fan with such mixed and often frustrated feelings about a current Star Trek TV series.

Well, folks, be careful what you wish for…

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What does a 10-YEAR-OLD think of STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS? (audio interview)

Special thanks to MARK PAYTON for the above drawing of me and Jayden.

I love watching Star Trek with my son Jayden. We’ve been enjoying the Trekkie experience together since he was four when we started with the animated episodes. Then we moved onto TOS and watched them all though twice. Then we watched the movies (going chronologically, of course) followed by NEXT GENERATION. Jayden is now ten, and we’re nearly at the end of TNG season five—in a few more months, he’ll get his first taste of Deep Space Nine!

It’s so much fun sharing these wonderful episodes and movies with Jayden, and I plan to do it as long as Jayden is enjoying it, too (and maybe just a weeeee bit longer if he doesn’t turn into too much of a grouchy teenager!).

When CBS All Access first began airing new Star Trek, I suspected that DISCOVERY would not be appropriate for my son…and $#!& was I right!!! Even three years later, I still wouldn’t let Jayden watch that series yet. As for PICARD, same f*cking problem.

I was actually a little uncertain when LOWER DECKS was announced. As an animated show, it would be something that Jayden might like to watch with me. But would the content be appropriate for a kid Jayden’s age? I screened the first episode without him and felt relief to see that they were bleeping the swear words. And while some of the content might be a little mature for Jayden (some people die), it was nothing worse that what he’s already seen on TOS and TNG.

So Jayden and I started watching (and loving!) Lower Decks every Thursday for the past ten weeks. It was so cool that neither of us knew what to expect next!

As the first season came to an end last week, I began wondering whether I should write a final review of the entire season. I seemed like everyone had already commented—good or bad—on what they thought of it. In fact, so did I! I joined in a group podcast for Axanar Confidential last week with a number of movers and shakers in the fan film community asking “Is Lower Decks Canon?” (the podcast is really worth checking out). So what else was left to say? Every kind of fan had chimed in.

Or had they?

I suddenly realized that the one kind of Star Trek fan that hadn’t shared their opinion yet was a KID…and I had one of those easily available! And not just any kid—Jayden is all personality, all the time. If you’re wondering what Jonathan Lane’s offspring would be like (even though Jayden is adopted), this is your chance to see where the acorn is relative to the tree.

That said, Jayden did a really awesome job with this interview, and I’m very proud of him. Trust me, you’re gonna laugh…a lot (often at ME!). So please give a round of applause to one of the two best things in my life, JAYDEN LANE…

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I figured out the secret of STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS, and it’s gonna BLOW YOUR MIND and make you LOVE this show! (editorial)

NO SPOILERS AT ALL!

I think I’ve discovered the secret of STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS…and it’s a revelation! Granted, if you’ve already figured it out, too, then you’re just gonna write “So what? Big deal. It was obvious from the first episode…” and curse me out for wasting your time. And of course, if you’re an irate fan determined to hate this show and the very molecules of VCBS and ALEX KURTZMAN, then I doubt any “secret” is going to make you suddenly re-watch Lower Decks with and kind of fannish love and adoration.

But I digress…

Let’s wander back to last Thursday and what turned out to be my favorite episode of the series so far: “Terminal Provocations” (and not just because J.G HERTZLER guest starred as the alien captain). The episode opened with this one-minute gag…

After the episode had ended, I was e-mailing back and forth with my friends David, Marc, and Gorf…telling them how much I (and my son Jayden) enjoyed the latest episode. Like most fans, we’re not all in agreement on how we feel about the show, and Gorf (former DC Comics Batman editor JORDAN GORFINKEL) responded with the following:

GORF – My problem with it is [that] the characters are played as contemporary people with far advanced technology. I’m enjoying it. It’s the closest thing to aspirational Trek that New Trek is putting out. But it’s still living in the shadow of what was.


Although I agree that Lower Decks isn’t on the level of TNG, DS9, or VOY, I didn’t feel it was fair to complain about the characters played as contemporary people because, to be fair, that’s what makes comedy work. It needs to be relatable to the audience in some way. The viewer/listener needs to say, “Oh, I soooo get that!” And thus did my next e-mail contain the following response…

Continue reading “I figured out the secret of STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS, and it’s gonna BLOW YOUR MIND and make you LOVE this show! (editorial)”

LOWER DECKS brings balance to STAR TREK… (editorial review)

SPOILER FREE SINCE…LAST WEEK!

Y’know what? I like to laugh. This world is just so darn serious, scary, depressing even…just like Star Trek has been recently.

Recently?

I’m thinking back and trying to remember the last time when Star Trek was just good, old-fashioned fun. I mean, there was the Mirror Universe episode of Enterprise, that was fun. I think that might have been the last time for me. Since 2005, we’ve had the three J.J. Trek movies, which weren’t so much “fun” as they were exhausting and, quite often, aggravating (McCoy cures death with Khan’s blood?). STAR TREK: DISCOVERY has been anything BUT fun (not even the two Harry Mudd episodes or Tilly dropping inappropriate F-bombs into otherwise tense scenes). That show is just a downer. And while I thoroughly enjoyed STAR TREK: PICARD, that one’s not exactly a light-hearted romp through space either.

Not that Star Trek HAS to be a light-hearted romp through space, mind you! But when you watch an episode of Picard, it’s emotionally draining. When you watch an episode of Discovery, it’s emotionally draining. You watch J.J. Trek and it’s physically draining. And heck, the entire third season of Enterprise was emotionally draining. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of that. But frankly, folks, I could really use a good laugh right about now!

Sure, there’s a ton of comedy shows out there, and I don’t necessarily need Star Trek to fill that light-hearted void for me. But what I realized after watching the second episode of STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS on Thursday was the following…

WE HAVE ALL BEEN TAKING STAR TREK WAAAAAY TOO SERIOUSLY LATELY!!!

Especially the people criticizing Lower Decks for not taking Star Trek seriously enough or not finding it funny, they are definitely taking Star Trek way too seriously. I know this because, for way too long now, I myself have been taking Star Trek way too seriously!

Don’t get me wrong. Taking Star Trek way too seriously can also be a GOOD thing. Heck, I write multiple blogs each week about Star Trek fan films, and I take each of them very seriously. I’ve been a serious Trekkie/Trekker nearly all of my life. I’m fine with taking this show seriously…just as I take aspects of life seriously: family responsibilities, work, health, taxes, politics, what to binge-watch on Netflix.

But all work and seriousness and no play makes Jonny a dull and VERY overstressed boy! I need to bring balance to the Force…and to myself. And in my opinion, so does Star Trek.

Continue reading “LOWER DECKS brings balance to STAR TREK… (editorial review)”

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…!

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

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)”