DISCOVERY’s new Vulcan proverb: “Only BURNHAM could go to Ni’Var…” (editorial review)

A SPOILER’S GONNA DO WHAT A SPOILER’S GONNA DO…

Mixed feelings about the latest episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY….but can I UNIFY them in my mind?

On the one hand, this was—hands down—my favorite episode of the series thus far. As a long-time obsessed Trekkie, I felt as though KIRSTEN BEYER’s latest Discovery episode, “Unification III,” was a buffet of comfort food. This is no accident. Beyer’s first episode of Discovery, “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,” was one of the only episodes of season one that I (and many others) really thought FELT like Star Trek. Beyer has written a dozen Star Trek: Voyager novels, is the official liaison between Discovery and the IDW comic book publishers, and of course, she is the co-creator and executive producer of STAR TREK: PICARD.

In other words, she’s a long-time obsessed Trekkie just like me…and probably many of you, too.

So in that, this latest episode—exactly midway through season three—was a love-letter to longtime fans. There were ample mentions of Spock and a celebration of his legacy as, it seems, the Vulcans and the Romulans ended up reunifying again after all…mostly. And considering how out-of-the-blue (green?) the fifth season Next Gen plot of the two-part “Unification” and “Unification II” had seemed initially, this was a wonderful continuation of what had initially come off as a crazy idea by the TNG writers. The Romulans were unquestionably the recurring TNG bad guys…a position they’d proudly held since TOS days, in fact. Why in heck would Spock want them to reunify with Vulcan??? And yet, those two episodes were so well-executed and so frickin’ AWESOME that who cared what Spock’s motivations were! And when he stayed behind to continue working for his noble goal (despite the Romulans’ nefarious betrayal), I secretly rooted for it, too. And of course, thanks to J.J. Abrams, we know that Spock was trying to save Romulus right up to the moment he went back in time.

Fast-forward about 800 years, and the Vulcans and the Romulans are living in “peace” on a renamed home world, NiVar. And guess who’s there, too? The Qowot Milat, the “sisterhood of the absolute candor” that was actually one of the most fun things to come out of the Picard series. (My wife tells me that I need to learn to “read the room” and know when NOT to say whatever is on my mind. But deep down, I love the idea of absolute candor!)

However, not everything about our favorite green-blooded friends is as we remember or expect it…

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If you ignore the stupid and annoying stuff, DISCOVERY’s sixth episode was PRETTY GOOD! (editorial review)

SPOILERS ARE JUST A REVIEWER’S WAY OF SAYING: “I LOVE YOU”

Before anyone thinks that I didn’t like STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s sixth episode of the season, “Scavengers,” I did very much enjoy it. I simply had to get past the stupid stuff that really annoyed me. So let’s get that out of the way first…

Okay, I just need to say it: DETACHED NACELLES ARE RIDICULOUS!!! Seriously, who thought of that? I want to see some fan with VFX skills take a CGI model of Discovery, cut to Saru ordering the ship to warp, and then have both nacelles whoosh forward and out of sight while the rest of the ship just sits there motionless. (You reading this, SAMUEL COCKINGS???)

Likewise, the NCC-1031-A was completely unnecessary…and wrong. When the U.S.S. Enterprise was refit in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it remained NCC-1701. The “A” came later on a different ship because its predecessor had been destroyed over the Genesis planet. Same with the bloody B, C, D, and E…and any other letters that came later.

Those personal site-to-site transporter badges might not be stupid, but they’re annoying as anything…just ask anyone who is trying to make out in a turbolift just as Linus shows up and announces, “This isn’t the science lab!” just before disappearing again. Yeah, hooray for the comedy relief, but the gag got old really fast and brought up a lot of very disturbing questions:

  1. Does everyone on the Discovery suddenly have the superpower of teleportation? (Suddenly, Nightcrawler of the X-Men isn’t particularly impressive anymore.)
  2. What about privacy on board? Can you materialize inside someone’s bathroom and go, “Oops”? I actually might not feel particularly safe on a ship full of people who can suddenly appear anywhere at anytime.
  3. Isn’t there a danger of materializing inside of someone else…or something else? One would hope there’s a “shove” function built into the beam, but what if two people transport simultaneously into the same spot?
  4. How do people doing delicate tasks requiring steady nerves and concentration guard against the sudden, unexpected pop-ins that now happen regularly?

All three examples come under the heading of “just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean that you SHOULD do that thing.” The writers decided that the future has some amazing stuff. But perhaps they went a little too amazing with things like personal transporters and “programmable” matter and detached nacelles. When technology becomes more like “magic,” you might have jumped a shark or two.

Just one more kvetch before I get to the good stuff: while I’m more of a dog person, I like cats, too…and fat-shaming a feline is not cool (unless it’s Garfield). The jokes about Grudge’s size bother me—perhaps because I have a weight problem myself. It wouldn’t be appropriate to make those snarky comments about Tilly’s shape, so why is it okay to mock the cat?

Okay, I’m done complaining. Let’s start saying some nice things…

Continue reading “If you ignore the stupid and annoying stuff, DISCOVERY’s sixth episode was PRETTY GOOD! (editorial review)”

CHARACTER COUNTS this season on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (editorial review)

FOUR OUT OF FIVE REVIEWERS RECOMMEND SPOILERS FOR THEIR PATIENTS WHO CHEW GUM

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s fifth episode of the season, “Die Trying,” was pretty strong. There were, of course, a couple of annoying aspects of absurd writing, like a 1,000-year-old “seed ship” floating defenseless in space with no protection and a crew of four (two of whom were children)—why not build more than one seed ship, or locate the seeds safely on a planet, or use a ship that isn’t a millennium old?—and Empress Georgiou knowing how to “blink-off” 32nd century holograms. That would be like a 10th century Viking showing up today and somehow knowing that he could clap his hands twice to turn off a light when he shouldn’t even know what a light is!

But hey, nobody’s perfect…and Discovery‘s writers aren’t the first in Star Trek history to come up with unrealistic and absurd ideas. “Spock’s Brain,” anyone? How about “The Royale” or “Threshold”?

What I’d really like to talk about in this blog, however, is an aspect of this episode that elevated to a much higher level—and that was the handling of the various characters, both old and new. The strength of “Die Trying” wasn’t an amazing story (’cause, frankly, the plot itself was pretty predictable: Discovery‘s homecoming wasn’t what they expected, future Starfleet was suspicious, and the crew had to prove themselves by completing a mission that only they could accomplish).

No, what made this episode such an effective success was that viewers got introduced to new, intriguing characters while also being treated to wonderful scenes featuring the characters we already know getting to strut their stuff. Let’s discuss…

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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…

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)”