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…

Continue reading “Is STAR TREK: DISCOVERY overcompensating? (editorial review)”

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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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)”

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)”