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Black Mirror – USS Callister (Review)

What is Space Fleet? I’ll tell you what it is. It is a belief system founded on the very best of human nature. It is a goal for us to strive towards for the betterment of the universe, for the betterment of life itself.

And you assholes are f%$king it up!

Black Mirror originated in the United Kingdom, broadcast on Channel 4 and written by Brass Eye and The 11 O’Clock Show writer Charlie Brooker.

The first two seasons of Black Mirror tended to focus on British talent, drawing in a wealth of talent from the British Isles to tell a set of stories about technology run amok: Daniel Kaluuya, Rory Kinnear, Jodie Whittaker, Toby Kebbell, Domhnall Gleason, Lindsay Duncan, Jessica Brown Findlay, Rupert Everett, Hayley Atwell, Rafe Spall and Oona Chaplin. Jon Hamm appeared in White Christmas, but Hamm is arguably an honourary citizen of British television, having appeared in shows like Toast of London and A Young Doctor’s Notebook, and the film Absolutely Fabulous.

In contrast, the third and fourth seasons of Black Mirror moved over to America. This shift was most obvious in the change in locations and talent employed by the series: Bryce Dallas Howard, Jodie Foster, Wyatt Russell, Mackenzie Davis, Rashida Jones, Mike Schur and Cherry Jones. However, it is also quite clear from a shift in emphasis in the stories being told. In particular, the two stories being told that bookend the fourth season of Black Mirror feel uniquely American. Black Museum plays as an allegory for one of America’s foundational sins, its exploitation of its racial minorities.

The feature-length season premiere, USS Callister is transparently a riff on the larger Star Trek franchise and a broader cultural war raging over ownership of established franchises like Ghostbusters or Star Wars. There are undoubtedly ways in which this story could be told with an emphasis on British experience, but USS Callister is very firmly a story about the ownership of one of America’s most beloved and abiding pop cultural mythologies. It is at once a deconstruction of certain strains of fandom and a love letter to the idealism at the heart of such stories.

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Iron Fist – Felling Tree With Roots (Review)

Danny Rand is perhaps the biggest problem with Iron Fist.

In many ways, Danny is really just an extrapolation of the kind of live action comic book hero seen in Daredevil and Batman Begins, the angsty young man with father issues who struggles to get past his own dysfunction to become the hero that the city (if not the world) needs at this exact moment. Danny is full of emotional turmoil, with Iron Fist revelling in his insecurities and uncertainties. Even when he succeeds, the show makes a point to stress how incredibly difficult it is to be Danny Rand.

Sleeping beauty.

This feels ill-judged on several levels. Finn Jones lacks the sort of nuance and ability that is necessary to bring that sort of mopey self-centred sulking to life in an engaging manner. Jones is no Charlie Cox, and he’s certainly no Christian Bale. However, Iron Fist itself also struggles to properly capture the right tone. Immortal Emerges From Cave ends with Danny saving an innocent life, but he spends Felling Tree With Roots whining about it. The loss of K’un Lun in Dragon Plays With Fire is treated as something that affects Danny more than its residents.

Ironically, the Iron Fist himself seems to be the weakest aspect of Iron Fist.

Her Hand-iwork.

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The Lone Gunmen – The “Cap’n Toby” Show (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

In its own way, The “Cap’n Toby” Show feels like an appropriate farewell to The Lone Gunmen.

The “Cap’n Toby” Show was not the last episode of The Lone Gunmen to be produced, but it was the last episode to air. It was broadcast three weeks after All About Yves closed out the first season of the show and more than a fortnight after news of the cancellation first broke. It aired with very little fan fare, avoiding even the modicum of publicity that FX earned as it burnt off the last six episodes of Harsh Realm only a year earlier. Just in case there had been any doubt, or any hope held out, The Lone Gunmen was definitely dead.

No need to get crabby...

No need to get crabby…

There is a melancholy to The “Cap’n Toby” Show that fits quite comfortably with The Lone Gunmen. The episode had clearly been held back in the hops of airing it during a hypothetical second season. Ideally, it would have given the production team a little lee-way at the start of the next season, perhaps even allowing the three title characters to pop over to The X-Files. The ninth season of The X-Files would be launching without Mulder, so some friendly faces would not be amiss. Airing The “Cap’n Toby” Show in mid-June puts paid to that optimism.

However, even allowing for all these issues, there is an endearing pluckiness and romance to The “Cap’n Toby” Show that feels at once entirely in keeping with the show and the characters. What better way to make a cancellation than with a forty-five minute ode to the nostalgic joys of television?

"Bye bye."

“Bye bye.”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Exile (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

If Impulse was Star Trek doing contemporary horror, then Exile is Star Trek doing gothic horror.

It is quite impressive how committed Exile is to its gothic horror trappings. Tarquin doesn’t just live alone in exile and project flattering images of himself; he lives in an honest-to-goodness gothic mansion lit by candles, where he dabbles in the occult while wearing what is a highly stylised dressing gown and between tending to the graves of his beloved(s). Exile does not skimp on its pulpy trappings. Like a lot of the early third season episodes, Exile would make for a satisfying dime-store paperback sci-fi novel; several images from the story would make a suitable cover.

It was a dark and stormy night...

It was a dark and stormy night…

That said, it is quite difficult to pull off gothic science-fiction. The original Star Trek pulled it off on a number of occasions – most obviously with The Squire of Gothos. The later spin-offs have struggled getting the right balance of po-faced seriousness with heightened absurdity. Star Trek: The Next Generation attempted Sub Rosa in its final season, while Star Trek: Voyager had some early experiments with Janeway’s gothic horror fantasy. Neither could be deemed a resounding success, and Exile stumbles a bit in the execution.

There are a number of leaps that the plot doesn’t quite articulate as well as it might. It is hard to believe that Archer would leave Hoshi alone with Tarquin, even with a phase pistol tucked under her pillow. The revelation of Tarquin’s powers should terrify the crew; having the ability to alter another person’s perception across lightyears is utterly unlike anything these exploreres have seen before. However, everybody seems to accept it at face value so that the plot can move along at a reasonable rate.

Somebody has a fixation...

Somebody has a fixation…

The way that Exile ties back into the larger arc is somewhat clumsy, right down to the convenient segue into The Shipment that comes in the final scene. In many ways, the structure of Exile recalls that of Extinction, an effectively stand-alone story that contains a very trite nods to the larger Xindi arc without any substantive connection. Despite the vital exposition that Tarquin provides in his final scene (and the subplot involving the spheres), Exile feels rather unnecessary in the larger scheme of things.

And yet, despite all that, Exile has something quite interesting to say. Written by Phyllis Strong, directed by Roxann Dawson and starring Linda Park, Exile is a very rare episode of Enterprise. It is a story with a very clear (and somewhat prescient) feminist subtext that has some very astute observations to make about certain facets of what might be deemed “nerd culture.” Specifically, male nerd culture.

He sees you when you're sleeping...

He sees you when you’re sleeping…

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