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New Escapist Column! On “The Good Place”, “Brooklyn 99” and “Parks and Rec” as the True Successors to “Star Trek: The Next Generation”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. With self-isolation, I’ve been taking the opportunity to binge some light, feel-good television including Parks and Rec and Brooklyn 99, and I’ve come to the shocking realisation that these network sitcoms are probably the closest thing in the modern television landscape to Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Of course, there are a variety of reasons for this. Most obviously, it seems like the only viable space for that sort of utopian humanism in the modern world is within the narrative trappings of the familiar sitcom, a space where audiences are inherently more accepting of a fundamentally functional world. More than that, there’s a sense in which The Next Generation is perhaps closer to an idealised workplace show than its science-fiction trappings would attest; at its core, The Next Generation is about a band of hopeful and hyper-competent people working together for the common good. That’s admittedly a much harder sell these days than it was a quarter of a century ago, but shows like Parks and Rec and Brooklyn 99 offer a very similar vibe.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

 

New Escapist Column! On “Star Trek: Picard” and Parental Failure…

I published a new piece at Escapist Magazine yesterday evening. Given that Star Trek: Picard just wrapped up its first season, I had some thoughts expanding on my discussion of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part II on Make It So.

The first season of Picard is undeniably messy and awkward. The pacing is a little off in places, and it pulls several of its most powerful punches. However, at the heart of the series is a story that simmers through a lot of contemporary pop culture, from Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker to Bad Boys for Life, the idea of a failed parent trying to redeem themselves through their child. It’s a fascinating inversion of the Campbellian archetype embodied by Star Wars, the quintessential story about a son come to terms with his relationship to his father. Stories like Picard invert that dynamic, and look at the responsibilities that parents owe to their children to provide them with a better world.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Podcast! Make It So – Season 1, Episode 10 (“Et in Arcadia Ego, Part II”)

I binged Star Trek: Picard over the course of the previous week, and so was thrilled to join the wonderful Kurt North on Make It So: A Star Trek Universe Podcast to discuss the first season finale, Et in Arcadia Ego, Part II.

I have somewhat complicated feelings about Picard. There are parts of it that I love, and parts of it that I am a bit more skeptical about. One of the joys of coming into the podcast to discuss the season finale was getting the chance to talk about the season as a whole, given how its various arcs were set up and how they paid off. It’s a nice, broad and comprehensive discussion of a sprawling, ambitious and complicated conclusion to the larger season. I feel really bad that I talked as long as I did on the episode, but there was a lot to dissect and discuss. For all the criticisms of Picard as shallow or superficial, there’s clearly a lot of meat on the bones.

Anyway, it was a huge honour to be invited on, and I hope you enjoy. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

New Escapist Column! On how “Star Trek” has Always Been more about Our Present than Our Future

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening, looking at the launch of Star Trek: Picard last week.

One of the minor controversies around Picard has concerned the series’ more cynical and world-weary tone, particularly in contrast to the optimism and enthusiasm of Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, the mythology around Star Trek tends to over-emphasise the franchise’s optimistic outlook, ignoring the extent to which the shows are better reflections of the present than reflections of the future. They offer snapshots of moments in time, rather than a roadmap to a better future. In that regard, Picard is very much a snapshot of this moment in time, grappling with the legacy of The Next Generation.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Star Trek – Insurrection

“I think I’m having a mid-life crisis,” Riker tells Troi at one point in Star Trek: Insurrection, and it might be the most telling line in the film.

Insurrection is many things, perhaps too many things. However, it primarily feels like a meditation on what it means to grow old, focusing on the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. That first live-action Star Trek spin-off had revived the franchise as an on-going cultural concern, even launching a feature film franchise including Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First Contact, and spawning its own spin-offs including Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

A fist full of Data.

However, by the time that Insurrection arrived, The Next Generation was looking quite old. The Next Generation had launched more than a decade earlier, and had been off the air for almost five years. Although it had been a pop cultural behemoth, even its children (or its younger siblings) were starting to look a little long in the tooth. Deep Space Nine was in its final season, and Voyager was closer to its end than to its beginning. There was a creeping sense of fatigue and exhaustion.

In theory, this positions Insurrection quite well. After all, the original feature film franchise really came into its own when the characters found themselves forced to confront their own mortality. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan breathed new life into the franchise as it forced Kirk to come to terms with his old age, while Star Trek III: The Search for Spock indulged the sense of grown-ups behaving badly in a story that forced Kirk to throw aside his ship and his career in service of an old friend.

Picard’s hairpiece was fooling nobody.

Stories about age and mortality resonate, and so Insurrection has a fairly solid foundation from which to build. There is just one sizable problem. The cast and crew of The Next Generation have no intention of growing old, of wrestling with mortality, of confronting their age. Insurrection is fundamentally a story about rejecting this maturity and this sense of age, of refusing to accept that time takes its toll and denying that old age is best faced with solemn dignity and reflection.

Insurrection is a story about mamboing against the dying of the light.

A familiar dance.

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Non-Review Review: Star Trek – First Contact

Star Trek: First Contact caps off the thirtieth anniversary celebrations with one eye to the past and one eye to the future.

The second film to feature the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation is surprisingly nostalgic in places. The script makes several rather blatant nods towards Star Trek II: The Wrath of the Khan, perhaps the consensus pick for the best Star Trek feature film. It marks the return of a memorable antagonist from the parent series, serving as a direct sequel to a particular episode and pitting the lead character in a battle of wills against an old opponent. More than that, it builds upon a rich tradition of the franchise riffing upon Moby Dick.

"This scene is going to seem really ironic when they launch Star Trek: Enterprise."

“This scene is going to seem really ironic when they launch Star Trek: Enterprise.”

However, there are other major influences. Most notably, the film leans quite heavily upon Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In both films, the Enterprise crew film themselves sent back in time to save Earth from an alien threat, resulting in comedic misadventures as the characters interact with a supporting cast native to this time period. Most analysis of First Contact tends to focus on The Wrath of Khan parallels, as they dominate the primarily plot. Nevertheless, the secondary plot draws heavily from The Voyage Home.

More than that, the feature film draws heavily upon the existing Star Trek mythos. The movie is a direct sequel to The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II, recognising that two-parter as the moment that The Next Generation truly came into its own and stepped out from under the shadow of the original Star Trek series. Even beyond that acknowledgement of franchise history, First Contact does not take the crew back in time to the present day or a historical event. It takes the crew back to the point at which the future of Star Trek truly begins.

"Mister Worf, I'll be damned if I'm going to let Star Trek: Deep Space Nine out-badass me."

“Mister Worf, I’ll be damned if I’m going to let Star Trek: Deep Space Nine out-badass me.”

Still, while the movie is constructed as a definite celebration of the past, it also serves to define the future of the franchise. The template for the remaining Rick Berman years can be found in this feature film. The success of the action and adventure beats in this instalment undoubtedly informed the emphasis on such elements in Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis. The final two films in this particular iteration of the franchise owe a lot more to this particular film than to Star Trek: Generations.

Even more, the impact of the film reached well beyond this set of characters. The other three television series were all heavily shaped and defined by this particular feature film. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine inherited a lot of the look and feel of this film, with the crew swapping out into these grey uniforms with Rapture. The Dominion War would use a lot of the ships designed for the combat sequence towards the opening of the scene. Some of the other production design also bled in, including the space suits in Empok Nor.

No time like the past.

No time like the past.

Star Trek: Voyager would inherit some of that production design as well, including the space suits in episodes like Day of Honour or Demon. However, the film’s biggest impact on that particular series was the renovation of the Borg. Brannon Braga would seize upon the idea of the Borg as a recurring threat, setting them up in episodes like Blood Fever and Unity mere months after the release of the film. The Borg would serve as the basis of the big third and fourth season two-parter, Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II. Alice Krige would appear in Endgame.

In its own way, this film also signals the end of the Berman era. The arrival of the Vulcan ship in the closing minutes serves to set up the premise of Star Trek: Enterprise. James Cromwell would make the torch-passing cameo in Broken Bow, reprising his role as Zefram Cochrane. The idea of doing a prequel television series that charted the origin of the franchise feels very much rooted in the (critical and commercial) success of this iteration of the film franchise.

"Captain, when the Borg promised you a pound of flesh, it turns out that they meant it literally."

“Captain, when the Borg promised you a pound of flesh, it turns out that they meant it literally.”

On the audio commentary, writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore speak of the thirtieth anniversary as “the peak” of the franchise. After all, it seemed like the celebrations would last forever. First Contact was just one small part of a whole season of television that marked the best that the franchise had to offer. There was a wide selection of material, including episodes like Trials and Tribble-ationsFlashbackFuture’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II. Following all of those, First Contact was really just the cherry on top of a very delicious cake.

However, the issue with First Contact as “the peak” is quite simple. From this vantage point, the audience can survey the entire Berman era. First Contact is positioned so that the audience can see the metaphorical beginnings of the Star Trek franchise, but also the makings of the end of this particular iteration. From the peak, there is only one direction.

"Just checked Rotten Tomatoes there. Still the best in the series. Don't make me put on Nemesis, Mister Worf."

“Just checked Rotten Tomatoes there. Still the best in the series. Don’t make me put on Nemesis, Mister Worf.”

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Brothers (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Brothers is Star Trek: The Next Generation getting back to business at usual. Well, not quite usual, but close enough. Following the monumental season-bridging epic that was The Best of Both Worlds and the breathing space afforded by Family, Brothers is a good old-fashioned science-fiction adventure story revolving around one of the show’s most popular character and really written to satisfy a laundry list of Star Trek tropes and conventions.

Although its notable for maintaining a thematic consistency that is threaded through the fourth season, and also for affording Brent Spiner to play three different roles, the most striking aspect of Brothers from a production point of view is the fact that it is written by Rick Berman. Berman had been serving as producer on the show since Encounter at Farpoint, but this was his first scripting contribution. He’d only write one more episode of The Next Generation before the show went off the air.

Given Berman’s production style, it feels strangely appropriate that Brothers is so carefully and meticulously structured and constructed.

"Let's put a smile on that face..."

“Let’s put a smile on that face…”

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