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New Podcast! The Time is Now – Season 1, Episode 1 (“Pilot”)

The wonderful folk responsible for The X-Cast have launched another podcast, covering another beloved Chris Carter property, and I’m thrilled to be a guest on it.

Millennium is a massively underrated (and largely underseen) show. It is one of the most striking television series of the late nineties, and a show with an impressive cultural footprint and reach. I’m on record as arguing that the second season of Millennium is one of the best twenty-odd-episode seasons of television ever produced, but the first season also has a lot to recommend it.

Tony has already recorded a primer or introduction to Millennium, but I’m honoured to be the guest invited on to discuss The Pilot. Indeed, The Pilot is a remarkable piece of television, and one of the most striking pieces of television that Carter ever produced. Millennium struggles a bit in the first half of the season to establish a sense of tone and to figure out how to tell the stories within this framework.

You can listen to the episode here, subscribe to the podcast here, or click the link below.

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Harsh Realm – Pilot (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man.

– Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, The First Part, Chapter XIII

Harsh Realm is essentially a war story, or a collection of war stories.

To be fair, there are other themes that bleed through the show’s short nine-episode run; a critique of late-stage capitalism, a healthy dose of Chris Carter’s patented nineties existential spirituality, an exploration of American masculinity. The show plays on all sorts of genres across its short lifespan, from horror story to western to modern noir film. However, all of these unfold against the backdrop of a world locked in total warfare. The opening scenes of The Pilot unfold against the Siege of Sarajevo, setting the tone for the rest of the series.

Tom's not here, man...

Tom’s not here, man…

Carter tends to wear his cinematic and televisual influences on his sleeves. The X-Files was a spiritual successor to Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with a little bit of The Parallax View and The Silence of the Lambs thrown in for good measure. Millennium launched in 1996 and owed a lot to the look and feel of David Fincher’s work on se7en. Harsh Realm owes a lot to the resurgence in war movies towards the end of the twentieth century, coming less than a year after Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line both scored Best Picture nominations.

On the commentary for The Pilot, Chris Carter notes that the show’s protagonist was named for the philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Carter cites that Hobbes’ most famous observation is that life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The same might be said of the life of Harsh Realm.

Fading out...

Fading out…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Expanse (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 April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

And, finally, everything changes.

It feels inevitable. Maybe not in this particular form, maybe not in this particular way, but Star Trek: Enterprise needed something. The show needed to stop feeling like a relic of the early nineties – a great song played on loop to the point where it became nothing more than generic white noise. The Expanse gives the show a clear sense of direction and a clear sense of purpose. It is not a direction that is unanimously loved, and it is not a purpose that is realised as well as it might be, but it finally feels like Enterprise is boldly going in its own direction.

A walk among the wreckage...

A walk among the ruins…

In many respects, the obvious point of comparison for The Expanse is an episode like The Jem’Hadar or A Call to Arms. It is an episode that is clearly written to reach an ending so that the show can start doing something new. These episodes tend to tease a brave new future, one utterly unlike anything that Star Trek has done before, but they play like extended forty-five minute trailers. Watching The Expanse, it feels like show runners Rick Berman and Brannon Braga are thinking more about the direction than the destination. That’s not a bad thing at this point.

Polarising as it might be, and occasionally awkward as it might be, The Expanse was utterly necessary. Enterprise is a Star Trek show that exists in the shadow of 9/11. That horrific terrorist attack has reverberated throughout the series. The War on Terror informs and distorts narratives like Shadows of P’Jem, ShockwaveThe SeventhCease FireThe CrossingJudgmentRegeneration and Cogenitor. However, there is a sense that Enterprise never accepted that heavy pull of gravity.

Homecoming...

Homecoming…

Sometimes it worked; Judgment, Regeneration and Cogenitor are all examples of the series trying to apply its own morality to a more complicated and confusing geopolitical climate. However, the War on Terror made it hard to reconcile Jonathan Archer as both an explorer and a paranoid reactionary. The unquestioning trust in authority in The Seventh, to the point where he did not question the Vulcan High Command’s mindwipe of T’Pol? The all-consuming dread upon meeting something different in The Crossing? These do not fit well within Star Trek.

So The Expanse pushes all that to the front. The opening teaser features a strange alien ship appearing and carving a large scar in the surface of the planet – a very visual representation of the damage done to the utopian optimism of Star Trek. Now that the scar had been literalised, it could be discussed and explored. The Expanse made sure that nobody was talking around the elephant in the room; everybody was now charging right at it.

The way ahead is cloudy...

The way ahead is cloudy…

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Millennium – Gehenna (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Written by Chris Carter and directed by David Nutter, Gehenna feels very much like a continuation of The Pilot.

More to the point, it feels like a restatement of many of the key themes of The Pilot, an attempt to reinforce many of the core ideas in that first episode, and hint at something larger. In many ways, it is about ensuring that Millennium retains its identity as it transitions from a pilot that had a relatively relaxed schedule and high budget into a weekly (well, eight-day) production schedule. Gehenna is about Carter and Nutter proving that Millennium can do what it wants and needs to do week-in and week-out, while also indicating towards larger threads.

Touching (or, at least, seeing) evil...

Touching (or, at least, seeing) evil…

This isn’t a bad way to approach the first regular episode of a television series. Indeed, Carter had done something similar with The Pilot and Deep Throat on The X-Files, structuring the episodes as a one-two punch of reinforced themes and world-building. Gehenna is very much about convincing the audience that The Pilot was not just a flash in the pan, and that the series has a long clear arc ahead of it. Much like Deep Throat really sketched the outline of the alien conspiracy only hinted at in The Pilot, Gehenna features more than a few nods towards a larger evil at work in Frank’s world.

There are points where Gehenna feels a little bit too forced, and a little bit too eager to restate and repeat the themes and ideas of The Pilot. However, it is an interesting episode that does hint towards the show’s future in a number of interesting ways.

Ear today...

Ear today…

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Millennium – Pilot (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

You think you’re protecting me but you make it worse, Frank. You can’t shut the world out for me. You can’t ask me to pretend that I don’t know what you do.

Everyone pretends. We all make believe. These men I help catch – make us.

We’re raising a daughter, Frank. The real world starts to seep in. You can’t stop it.

I want you to make believe that I can.

Fade to Black...

Fade to Black…

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Star Trek – The Omega Glory (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Gene Roddenberry is a controversial figure who casts a fairly large shadow. It is very hard to talk about Star Trek – particularly the classic Star Trek – without talking about Roddenberry’s influence and vision. Roddenberry was fond of myth-making when he was alive, of playing up his own contributions to Star Trek while marginalising or dismissing the other people who shaped or defined the franchise.

Roddenberry is a polarising figure among fans and critics, insiders and outsiders. To some, Roddenberry was the man who created Star Trek. While this doesn’t immunise him against criticism, it does provide a sense of context – whatever sins he may have committed and whatever faults he may have had must be offset against that. To others, Roddenberry was prone to exaggerate his accomplishments at the expense of people like David Gerrold or Gene L. Coon who shaped the franchise just as much as (if not more than) he did.

Flagging trouble ahead...

Flagging trouble ahead…

While those are two extremes, they are not the only possible views of Roddenberry. There are a broad range of opinions that might be offered, and not all of them are mutually exclusive. Ask a dozen people who know their Star Trek about Roddenberry, and are likely to come up with a dozen nuanced and defensible positions on the man and his legacy. Nobody seems entirely what to make of Roddenberry and his creative contributions to the franchise.

The Omega Glory is an interesting episode, one that invites as much debate as any of Roddenberry’s contributions to the franchise.

A strong constitution to make it through this one...

A strong constitution to make it through this one…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Broken Bow (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 January, we’re doing the first season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Broken Bow is probably the strongest pilot in the Star Trek canon, with Emissary and The Cage vying for second place.

That’s not saying a lot. Broken Bow is still a troubled production with some rather sizeable issues marring what is otherwise an ambitious début for a new Star Trek show. Watching, Broken Bow – as with watching most of the first few years of Star Trek: Enterprise (or just Enterprise) – it feels like the show is at war with itself. It wants to be something new and fresh and exciting, but it also wants to be an important part of this larger tapestry. And the episode has difficulty reconciling that.

New (old) frontier...

New (old) frontier…

So we get new aliens like the Suliban, but a plot that revolves around the Klingons; we get an entirely new crew with a Vulcan science officer and Southern gentleman as the Captain’s best friend; we get a ship without most of the conveniences that we take for granted on Star Trek, but with substitutes and a resolution that relies on technological gimmickry; we get to explore an uncharted part of the Star Trek canon, but with the intrusion of the future to help make it feel a little more familiar.

From the first episode, Star Trek: Enterprise seems to exist as a show trapped between what it could have been and what it has to be. It’s a premise rich with potential, but which still feels a little too much like everything that came before.

Into the sunset...

Into the sunset…

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