In the best traditions of Star Trek, STRANGE NEW WORLDS uses metaphor to spotlight TRANSGENDER phobias and prejudices in OUR society… (editorial review)

SPOILERS AND POLITICS – A WARNING COMBINATION!

Star Trek has never shied away from holding a mirror up to the more controversial aspects of modern (20th and 21st century) culture through the “safe lens” of viewing a future, or an alien society, with surprisingly similar challenges. In fact, this was one of the main goals that GENE RODDENBERRY had in mind when he was first pitching his “Wagon Train to the Stars” concept to the networks.

Indeed, as most of us know, the original Star Trek series tackled some of the biggest issues of the 1960s: prejudice and discrimination (“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield“), the Vietnam War (“A Private Little War“), overpopulation (“The Mark of Gideon“, women’s struggles for equality with men (“Turnabout Intruder“), and a growing paranoia that computers could replace people (“The Ultimate Computer“)…to name just a few!

In the 1980s and 1990s, Star Trek continued to advance a mostly left-leaning political message with movies and episodes spotlighting homophobia (TNG‘s “The Outcast“), environmentalism (TNG‘s “Force of Nature” and of course, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), labor rights (Voyager‘s “Workforce“), government-sponsored torture (TNG‘s “Chain of Command“), homelessness (DS9’s “Past Tense“), white supremacism (Enterprise‘s “Terra Prime“/”Demons“), and even the prophetic dangers of overreaction to a foreign terrorist attack on our own soil (DS9‘s “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost,” which eerily predicted the September 11 attacks and subsequent curtailment of freedoms half a decade before 2001!). And again, the list could go on and on.

Star Trek has also charted its course by embracing all variety of dramatic presentation: action/adventure, mystery, romance, suspense, comedy, tragedy, etc. And one of those many genres was the legal procedural, usually with the message being delivered most effectively and dramatically within some kind of courtroom. In TOS’ “Court Martial,” the message was to beware of computers presenting false-but-believable information (a concern rearing its head right now in 2023 rather than 2267!). In TNG‘s “The Drumhead,” a trial quickly turned into a witch hunt, demonstrating how paranoia could quickly spread fear in the name of righteousness. TNG‘s “The Measure of a Man” and Voyager‘s “Author, Author” deal with rights being taken away from certain individuals for very arbitrary reasons. Lest you think this applies only to androids and holograms, consider that several states permanently remove the right to vote from any convicted felon, even after they have served their time in prison. And DS9‘s “Tribunal” showed how the government can turn a trial into political theater in order to advance state propaganda.

And so we finally come to the second episode of STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS season 2: “Ad Astra per Aspera” (“To the Stars Through Hardship”), a courtroom drama with a definite message. And it’s that message that I plan to discuss in today’s blog. So if you have fear and hatred in your heart for transgender people, you probably want to stop reading now—although I really hope you won’t…

Continue reading “In the best traditions of Star Trek, STRANGE NEW WORLDS uses metaphor to spotlight TRANSGENDER phobias and prejudices in OUR society… (editorial review)”

STRANGE NEW WORLDS avoids nearly every OUTDATED COMPLAINT in its SEASON 2 debut! (editorial review)

Pick a complaint…any complaint! A complaint about what? About any of the new CBS Studios-produced Star Treks. Goodness knows, there have been many—complaints that is, although there have been five series. Granted, LOWER DECKS and PRODIGY have been generally well-received, but DISCOVERY and PICARD have certainly struggled.

And while most fans would argue that Picard’s third and final season was the best and strongest Trek effort thus far of the “new era” (I will forgo using the term “Nu-Trek,” as it has taken on a negative connotation in certain circles), even Picard‘s latest masterpiece drew a few complaints along the way (cough, too dark).

So pick a complaint. And let’s see how the season two debut of STRANGE NEW WORLDS, “The Broken Circle,” measured up…

TOO DARK? NOPE!

Oh, why not give me something harder to start with! While SNW isn’t as brightly lit as TNG was, it’s by far brighter than either Discovery or Picard. The amount of care and detail that went into building those beautiful SNW sets and wonderfully colorful costumes is never hidden from view. And honestly, Star Trek has always had very strong lighting—perhaps a little too strong on TNG from time to time—and even the later “darker” series like DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise still showed wonderful detail and vibrance….harkening back to the days of TOS when color television was just emerging and bright lights and color saturation the cinematographers’ prime directive.

Discovery was too dark from the moment we first saw that bridge, and Picard certainly didn’t help alleviate the problem. But SNW checks (or Treks) the light box perfectly. Next!

Continue reading “STRANGE NEW WORLDS avoids nearly every OUTDATED COMPLAINT in its SEASON 2 debut! (editorial review)”

Oh, yeah? Well, who asked YOU…?!?! (editorial)

I don’t usually write blogs about trolls, but I’m not entirely certain that “CHUCK IN TEXAS” knows he’s a troll. It’s possible that he actually believes he’s being helpful in some way. So in an attempt to be “helpful” to this fellow myself—in the same way he was—I am writing this blog with the hope that somehow, some way, Chuck will read it.

Wait, who the heck is Chuck???

Last week, “Chuck in Texas” posted a separate criticizing comment on nearly every fan film on the AVALON UNIVERSE YouTube Channel. I have a screen cap of one of them…

The other comments were of a similar tone, critiquing everything from the quality of the wig worn by the Vulcan nurse T’Prin to the type of lenses that JOSHUA IRWIN was using to the shoot those films. After a few of these comments, Josh responded that he felt that Chuck was being rude. Chuck ignored Josh’s responses and kept right on posting.

“He was addressing me like I was a teenager who had never made a film before,” Josh told me, “saying obvious things like ‘Choreograph your fight scenes!!’ and ‘Invest in a real makeup crew!!’ and telling me to shoot more than one take….like I’m not already doing that.”

Eventually, after being ignored and just seeing more and more belittling posts popping up like mushrooms, Josh blocked “Chuck from Texas”—which effectively removed all of Chuck’s comments from the videos. “I don’t mind constructive criticism,” ” says Josh, “and in fact, if you look at the comments on my fan films, you’ll see a lot of that. But if someone is being rude or nasty, that’s just uncalled for.”

Normally, I’d completely ignore a story like this because such condescending criticism is a fact of life on social media, and Josh dispatched this guy quickly and without incident. But then I thought about it a bit more and realized that this could become a “teachable moment”…possibly for Chuck in Texas if he reads this but at least for others who watch Star Trek fan films and decide to be armchair filmmakers themselves.

Am I saying that no one should ever be allowed to express negative feedback of a fan film? Of course not! The world is full of people, and people have opinions. My issue is with the sanctimonious approach to telling someone how to “fix” their fan film. In short, unless you’ve made a better fan film yourself, you really don’t have a right to tell others how they should have made theirs. And you wanna know something funny? People who have made fan films do NOT offer unsolicited and condescending advice like that. They just don’t.

People who manage to produce fan films of their own realize what it takes to complete a project, and they (typically) offer their respect to other filmmakers. The anonymous “Chuck in Texas” offered no such respect, which leads me to conjecture that he has never completed a film production of his own. And perhaps that’s why he wanted to “help” with advice rather than doing any real work or having to make hard choices.

What kind of hard choices, you ask…?

Continue reading “Oh, yeah? Well, who asked YOU…?!?! (editorial)”

Could the WGA WRITERS STRIKE spell TROUBLE for the future of live-action STAR TREK??? (editorial)

Two things happened last week that could potentially affect the future of live-action Star Trek…and not in a good way. The first is that, at 12:01am on May 2, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) labor union, representing 11,500 writers, went on strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The last such strike happened in 2007-2008 and lasted 100 days.

Remember that number, because it’s important, and I will discuss it shortly.

The following morning, Paramount Global—which owns CBS, Nickelodeon, and the Paramount movie studio…and holds the rights to Star Trek—announced its earnings to shareholders for the first quarter of 2023. The news wasn’t good. By the close of the NASDAQ on that same Wednesday afternoon, Paramount share prices had dropped more than $6 (or upwards of 28%) from the previous day…which is a huge loss for investors and in market capitalization for the company.

Now, before anyone jumps up and starts blaming ALEX KURTZMAN for this, the bad earnings statement is not his fault. In fact, Paramount+ added 4.1 million new streaming subscribers during the first quarter, reaching a total of 60 million worldwide. While that’s certainly less than the 160 million subscribers internationally for Disney+, the latter has just experienced a slight drop in the most recent quarter while Paramount+‘s subscriber base has continued a steady growth. The issue for Paramount isn’t viewership. Instead, there’s what CEO BOB BAKISH called a perfect storm of “peak streaming investment intersect(ing) with fiscal ad softness.” In other words, there’s a scramble at the moment to load up on content for Paramount+ (spending a LOT of money to produce new streaming shows), while at the same time, advertisers aren’t exactly diving in yet to purchase ad time on the streaming service (less revenue).

There are also other systemic problems that Paramount had long before Alex Kurtzman ever got involved with Star Trek, and the movie studio along with CBS have both struggled financially for decades. Most recently, Paramount had only one major theatrical blockbuster hit in 2022 (Top Gun: Maverick) with $718 million gross ticket sales, three movies in the $100 million range, and the rest only in the the tens of millions. (See the full list here.) Granted, all of the Hollywood film studios are struggling at the moment as movie box office revenue is declining worldwide with the rise of streaming services—which is why so many studios like Paramount have been throwing money into launching new projects.

Indeed, that is the main reason that ViacomCBS (now Paramount Global) inked a jaw-dropping $160 million 5-year contract extension with Alex Kurtzman and his Secret Hideout production company. The idea was that Kurtzman would continue bringing out new Star Trek shows through at least 2026. Other streaming services like Disney+, Netflix, AmazonPrime, Apple+, and HBOMax were likewise spending like drunken sailors on content development, and announcements of new series and new seasons of returning series seemed to come almost weekly!

Then a harsh reality set in…

Continue reading “Could the WGA WRITERS STRIKE spell TROUBLE for the future of live-action STAR TREK??? (editorial)”

A FAN FOURSOME of friends discuss and debate STAR TREK:PICARD’s pros and cons… (video)

Remember the days when friends would get together and talk about Star Trek for hours WITHOUT hating on it…or each other? It’s not like we gushed over everything. We could discuss good episodes and bad ones, awesome movies and clunkers. And we were always nice to each other because…well…that’s the way the world used to be!

These days, it’s all about the echo-chambers, and the “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” approach to critical thinking. Even with sci-fi (maybe especially with sci-fi), you either love a show or hate it…with almost no middle ground allowed. You see the vitriol all over social media, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, etc. and you know what? I miss those friendly disagreements, dammit!

About halfway through the run of the final season of STAR TREK: PICARD, I was texting with my longtime friend, DAVID KEKST, about the show. I think “The Bounty” has just aired, and I was so stroked about that total fan service episode with the Starfleet museum, all those starships, Geordi, Moriarty, and the discovery of Data. I assumed that David, a lifelong Trekkie like myself, would be just as stoked at all the nostalgia and was probably loving the series as much as I was.

Apparently not.

David had a lot of critical things to say about the final season, complaining about most of the things I was praising. But this wasn’t the first time he and I disagreed on something. He’s a conservative, and I’m a liberal. He’s very religious while I don’t actively practice any traditional theology. We’re best friends, but we oh-so-often don’t agree with each other…often passionately! The e-mail exchanges and late-into-the-night debates and even frenetic back-and-forth texts frequently seem to stretch on and on—often with little ground gained by either side despite massive amounts of research and what each of us feels are valid and logical arguments.

But it’s never once hurt our friendship.

In a world where families are being torn apart over political disagreements, David and I have continued to be friends despite sitting on opposite side of the aisle. We’re always respectful of each other and usually “agree to disagree.” And hey, sometimes we actually DO agree…but not terribly often. But it’s kinda fun to debate in a safe environment like that.

And so, as David and I traded dueling analyses of the pros and cons of Picard, I had a thought: wouldn’t it be fun and interesting to have two fans passionately disagreeing about Star Trek WITHOUT being nasty to each other? It would be just like the old days!

Continue reading “A FAN FOURSOME of friends discuss and debate STAR TREK:PICARD’s pros and cons… (video)”

A look back at the final season of PICARD…and proof that it was WELL-WRITTEN! (editorial review)

ONE LAST TIME…INTO THE SPOILER ZONE!

It leaves me scratching my head that people are still complaining about STAR TREK:PICARD…even after an extremely satisfying conclusion. Did the season have some shortcomings? A few here and there. But on the whole, this was a solid piece of television entertainment aimed squarely at longtime fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

My friend ADAM “MOJO” LEBOWITZ (who worked on DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise…along with Babylon 5 and the Battlestar Galactica reboot)), summed up his feelings about Picard’s final season in this way…

My point is the overall story and plot were just not that great. After ep 9, pretty much everything that happened prior was meaningless. If the show didn’t feature the TNG cast and had every easter egg you can think of, no one would be raving about the show. In fact, the ONLY thing anyone talks about is seeing the old cast, the old ship, and all the easter eggs.

That doesn’t make a it a good show.

I told Mojo that I thought he was totally missing the point. The whole reason for doing this final season was to celebrate the seven seasons and four feature films of Star Trek‘s longest-running television series (in terms of number of episodes produced)…and to honor the actors and actresses who portrayed the seven main characters (as well as a few unexpected guest appearances) with one final, heroic adventure together.

Mojo and I went back-and-forth, as people on Facebook do (I wish I could provide a link to the discussion, but it’s not accessible publicly), but it got me thinking enough that I decided to dedicate my final review to this question:

ARE SOME FANS SETTING THE BAR TOO HIGH FOR STAR TREK: PICARD ?

I mean, what were people’s expectations for this final season? I think those who found things to complain about were coming in already primed for disappointment. In Mojo’s case, he went on to say this…

From my point of view, the writing just wasn’t that good. If the words had been spoken by a different cast, no one would care. NO ONE is talking about the story or amazing new characters – just the nostalgia factor. That’s not a sign of a great show.

Personally, I’ve seen people talking about the story and new characters. Heck, I was lobbying for STAR TREK: SHAW until they killed TODD STASHWICK’s incredible character. I loved AMANDA PLUMMER’s portrayal of Vadic. And I certainly had a lot of things to say about the story (more than 30,000 words as of this blog!).

But putting all of that aside, in my opinion, this finale season was written specifically to be about the nostalgia factor! Picard never needed to be Hamlet (SIR PATRICK has done that to death anyway, as has Star Trek) nor even “the best Star Trek ever.” It needed to tell a decent story that allowed our seven characters to be the heroes and have an uplifting send-off, saving the Federation/Galaxy/Universe one last time. It needed to be Star Trek…pure and simple. And gosh darn it, it was!

Continue reading “A look back at the final season of PICARD…and proof that it was WELL-WRITTEN! (editorial review)”

Assuming no one RUINED THE SURPRISE, you probably loved the penultimate episode of STAR TREK: PICARD! (editorial review)

SPOILER WARNINGS PROTECT EVERYONE!

I had already been told by a close friend that he’d seen some photos from the set of STAR TREK: PICARD‘s second-to-last episode, “Võx,” but if I saw them, it would give away a huge surprise. “NO!” I texted back. “No spoilers!” I had my day all planned. NO FACEBOOK until after I had watched the episode! No e-mails, no phone calls, I wasn’t even going to check texts!

But something in me knew, the night before, that a big surprise would be ruined for me…despite my bests efforts to be careful. Yes, I could have stayed up late to watch after midnight, but I was going to be visiting a friend in the hospital the next morning, and I wanted to be rested.

My alarm went off twice, and the second time, I dragged my sleepy butt out of bed, groggily grabbed the iPhone, and headed for the bathroom. I wasn’t really thinking yet. Taking a seat, I glanced at the phone to use facial recognition to turn it on. The phone immediately showed me a Facebook IM received just after midnight…

Oh, FFS!

I had no idea (yet) exactly what the IM meant, but I obviously couldn’t unsee it. And from the time stamp, the person who sent it (I’m not sharing his last name) hadn’t even possessed the consideration to give me the benefit of watching it as soon as it was available. Had I been awake, I would have had 11 minutes to watch a 47-minute episode!

Several hours later, after watching the episode and knowing, as the shuttle entered that Starfleet Museum Spacedock, what I would next see inside before I saw it, I told my friend that he’d effectively ruined the surprise for me. Dave apologized, saying it was “an accident” and “I got caught up in the moment.” I responded, “Well, at least one of us did.”

The more I thought about it, the more angry I became at what was such a selfish thing to do to a friend or, really, to any fan. Whatever the excuse, the same surprise reveal that had gotten my friend so giddy and ecstatic had now forever been taken away from me. I would never experience the shocked joy and jubilation that he had felt…ever…because he decided to ruin it for me.

I’m not going to end the friendship over it. Mistakes happen and people do stupid, inconsiderate things sometimes. But I’ve seen so many people on Facebook doing this same thing, STEALING that magic moment from others—even in the first 24 hours after the episode dropped—that I wanted to share my own story and the stinging sense of loss that I feel because of the thoughtless and selfish actions of another. With luck, this will NOT happen again next week to anyone (but sadly, I doubt it).

And now I will move on…

Continue reading “Assuming no one RUINED THE SURPRISE, you probably loved the penultimate episode of STAR TREK: PICARD! (editorial review)”

STAR TREK: PICARD’s eighth episode, “SURRENDER,” recovers strongly after last week’s minor stumble… (editorial review)

SPOILERS ARE JUST ANOTHER WAY OF SAYING “YOU COMPLETE ME…”

Before I begin this week’s blog, I have to mention my dismay (although not shock) at how many people skewered me for even suggesting that the previous episode of STAR TREK: PICARD, “Dominion,” had a slight stumble. Slight! But sacrilege that I even SUGGEST the series isn’t perfection. Here’s a few of my favorite zingers:

  • I love other people’s opinions. Just kidding! Zip it!
  • Bullshit!!!…was a great episode!
  • Wrrrrong
  • Why would anyone search for the negative while millions of us are thoroughly enjoying this?!!!
  • I don’t feel the need to dissect every aspect of every scene and character. Relax and enjoy.

Almost no one who took issue with my post actually bothered to read what I wrote (and they’re probably not reading this either), and certainly no one seemed to care that I’d posted six weeks of POSITIVE reviews before finally critiquing one episode.

But what I find the most amusing is that, for those first six positive reviews, almost no one blasted me for LIKING Picard‘s third season! It was only when I dared even lightly suggest criticism that the arrows started flying.

Now compare that to all of my critical reviews of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY and several of the episodes from Picard‘s first two seasons. Finding fault when those aired seemed fine with most people. In fact, people would often complain when I LIKED an episode!

But now? Heaven forbid someone speak ill of this season! Sure, there are still some fans who haven’t been enjoying these last eight episodes as much as most of the rest of us have, but it seems that fandom is speaking up loudly and proudly in favor of Picard‘s final season and jumping quickly to defend its honor against any who dare complain!

Quite a difference, huh?

Anyway, onto the eighth episode, “Surrender,” perhaps one of their most watchable. That doesn’t mean it was the best episode (so far, for me, that was episode #6, “The Bounty”), and this one had a few issues, which I’ll discuss below. But generally, it was a good, old-fashioned good-guys-versus-bad-guys struggle where we know exactly whom to root for and whom to jeer. There were no gray areas, and when the good guys finally win, we feel like cheering. There were also some really strong dramatic moments for just about every major character (except Beverly, Sidney, and Alana) and a few tour de force moments. It was fast-paced, suspenseful, perhaps a wee bit predictable, but oh-so-satisfying to watch.

Get the popcorn, and let’s discuss…

Continue reading “STAR TREK: PICARD’s eighth episode, “SURRENDER,” recovers strongly after last week’s minor stumble… (editorial review)”

STAR TREK: PICARD stumbles slightly with their seventh episode “DOMINION”… (editorial review)

SPOILERS! GER YER SPOLIERS HERE!

Each week, I read around a half dozen (sometimes more, if I’m late) online reviews of the latest episode of STAR TREK: PICARD. I do this mostly to make sure I’m not just saying the same thing everyone else is, but I also like to get an idea whether I’m in the majority or minority when it comes to my reactions to what’s just aired.

This week’s “consensus” seemed to be that the seventh episode of season three, “Dominion,” was decent but nothing as awesome as last’s week’s episode “The Bounty.” One reviewer called it “a solid base hit rather than another home run.” A second reviewer, who has given nearly every episode this season a rating of 4 to 5 out of 5 stars, gave “Dominion” a 3.5 score.

And I pretty much agree.

It wasn’t that this was a “bad” episode. In fact, “Dominion” was significantly better (in my opinion) than any episode of DISCOVERY to date and the entire first two seasons of Picard…plus a few STRANGE NEW WORLDS episodes. But in my opinion, season three has set the bar sooooo high that, even with all of those favorable comparisons, “Dominion” just seemed weak and problematic.

That said, there were certainly some very well-executed and memorable scenes, including Seven’s verbal sparring match with “Tuvok” before discovering that he was a Changeling infiltrator, and the scenes between Geordi and Lore/Data were awesome.

On the other hand—and especially upon a second viewing—there were intrinsic aspects of the episode that just felt, well, SLOPPY and RUSHED. And by “rushed, ” I don’t mean that not enough time or care was put into creating a quality production. Each episode has shone brightly (except for the dark lighting…which seems to have gotten somewhat corrected on the broadcast/streaming side) in that department. Instead, I mean rushed as in the episode was edited so as to be fast-moving and exciting at the expense of some plot logistics that the viewer was left to figure out for themselves. For example, who here understands how the Titan was able to find a nearly-destroyed Vulcan vessel and fake a communication from it in the short time they had while the minutes were ticking away to Frontier Day?

But for me, the issues with sloppiness of writing and storytelling were the most frustrating. And so I am about to do something I haven’t yet indulged in this season and write a blog filled with complaints!

Ready…?

Continue reading “STAR TREK: PICARD stumbles slightly with their seventh episode “DOMINION”… (editorial review)”

For longtime fans, PICARD’s latest episode, “THE BOUNTY,” was a real quicker picker-upper! (editorial review)

SPOILERS? OH, IVE GOT YER SPOILERS RIGHT HERE!

In the late spring of 1977, I did something that I’d never done before. I exited the movie theater on East 87th Street in New York City and and immediately walked back to the entrance on 3rd Avenue. Then I went up to the box office, bought another ticket, and headed back into the theater to watch the same movie again. Most of the audience did the same thing.

It wasn’t just that Star Wars was really good. No, it NEEDED to be watched again…to take in everything it was showing us, to catch things we probably missed, and just to try to process this life-altering, even world-altering cinematic experience.

While I’m not saying that the sixth episode of STAR TREK: PICARD‘s third season, “The Bounty,” is another Star Wars, the fact remains that for the first time in I-can’t-remember-how-long, I finished watching a Star Trek episode and immediately began watching it again. There was just so much to see, to experience, and yes, to LOVE about these 52 minutes, and even after two viewings, I’m still trying to process it all!

So rather than trying to find some unifying theme for this blog, I’m just going to watch the episode for a third time and write down my thoughts as I have them…

VADIC KILLS THE CAT

One of the “bibles” for Hollywood screenwriters is a book by BLAKE SNYDER titled Save the Cat! It literally argues that all movie scripts have the same basic story structure, and one of the common elements is when the main character “saves the cat” (like Ripley did the movie Alien) that shows the viewer that the main character, for all their flaws, is inherently a good person and worthy of being the protagonist of the film. Watch for it, and you will almost always see a “save the cat” moment.

After reading his book, I realized that there is also a technique used by writers that I like to call “kill the cat.” The villain does something nasty and vile, often to someone who doesn’t deserve such harsh treatment. The bad guy beats up or kills an innocent victim…or maybe they even shoot one of their own henchmen. “Yeah, this is one bad dude!” You’ll see this a lot, too, if you watch for it.

And in fact, Vadic “kills the cat” when she shoots one of her own Changeling henchmen (or rather, has one of her other henchmen do it) simply because he’s disagreeing with her. So, yes, we’ve now established what a truly evil baddy she is! (By the way, please excuse my pronouns. If you think about it, any Changeling really should be a “they.”)

But here’s the problem with that scene…

Continue reading “For longtime fans, PICARD’s latest episode, “THE BOUNTY,” was a real quicker picker-upper! (editorial review)”