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The Orville: New Horizons – “Electric Sheep”

orv-301review-head2-777x437Multiple episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation involve Data or Worf going rogue, seemingly abandoning their lives in Starfleet only to see the light by the end of the episode and be assimilated back into day-to-day life on the ship with little or no mention of the incident or any consequences.

The Orville has been an homage to TNG since its beginning so the fact that no one on board has said much about Issac’s betrayal and then reinstatement in season two just feels like it’s the nature of the series. Until the third season premiere, which finally looks at the consequences of Issac’s decision not only on him but the various characters around him. In the end, “Electric Sheep” ends up feeling a bit like what “Family” was to TNG – the opportunity to examine the consequences of what could and should be a fundamental shift in a character’s life.

And yet, I can’t help but think “Electric Sheep” isn’t as strong an entry as “Family” was, though it was probably just as necessary to The Orville.

Issac’s ostracizing by the crew, especially the new character of Charly Burke (who has a legitimate bone to pick with Issac), works well enough and sets up some interesting questions and moral concerns. Seeing the crew struggle with their relationship with the artificial lifeform worked well as does the dichotomy of knowing how to feel when Issac decides his continued existence is harming crew efficiency and he takes his own life. I have to admit I didn’t necessarily see that coming, though I did like the choice. Also, allowing the episode to not be constrained by a running time because it’s streaming now allowed us to live in the grief for a bit longer. Seeing the crew’s reaction to Issac’s decision and the various points of view worked well and walked a fine line.

I do wish that same restraint extended to other areas of the show. Because Seth McFarlane is one of those creators who does better when he’s not allowed to roam free. As much as I liked seeing everyone live in the grief, I felt like there were some other “look, we’ve got new toys to play with” moments in other spots. One particular sequence is the introduction of the shiny new shuttlecraft and the games played to break it in. It also feels like McFarlane and company put in a lot of new exterior shots of the ship simply to show off the exterior of the ship and not to add to the overall story as a whole. (And this comes from a fan who loves and defends the Enterprise fly-by in The Motion Picture).

As with most things The Orville, it’s hit or miss for this fan. The parts that work, really work. The parts that don’t connect really take me out of it.

However, it’s fun to have this show back and I am looking forward to seeing where this season may take up.

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Star Trek: Picard: Fly Me to the Moon

star-trek-picard-fly-me-to-the-moonAs Picard enters the mid-point of its second season, we’re treated to another episode that feels like it’s moving chess pieces on the board a bit.

This week, we meet Renee Picard, a distant aunt of Picard who was part of the Europa missions that first explored the galaxy, and Brent Spiner’s latest descendent of Dr. Noonian Soogh, who is exploring the field of genetic engineering to keep his daughter alive. Of course, said daughter is played by the same actress that plays Data’s daughter in season one – because, of course, she is.

Behind the scenes, Q is manipulating both parties for reasons that haven’t quite been made clear yet. Given that Q doesn’t experience time in quite the same linear fashion as we do, I can’t help but wonder what his overall end game here is. Has his interest and fascination with Picard turned to hatred, to the point that he’d change history to get back at him? Or are there changes to the continuum that are so radical that Q wants to stop PIcard from ever making them, dating back to the trial on the way to Farpoint station?

I’m not sure what Q’s agenda is – perhaps beyond getting his powers back. But I can’t help but feel that as Picard tries to save Renee Picard that he’s overlooking something fundamentally important with Dr. Soongh’s manipulation. It would be like Q to distract Picard and his crew with one thing while fundamentally altering something else to make the real changes.

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Star Trek: Picard: Assimilation & The Watcher

bqvKB7iYbNR65xUPUR3XpV-1200-80Can we just address the elephant in the room for this fan of Star Trek and Impractical Jokers?

With the cameo by Brian “Q” Quinn from IJ, does this mean that IJ and Star Trek are set in the same universe and that Q is actually a member of the continuum?

OK, so there are probably deeper, more fundamental questions arising from these two episodes of Picard, but it’s still fun for this fan of both shows to ponder.

The first two episodes of the season seem to be about establishing the situation that Picard is addressing in season two – namely that Q has somehow interfered with time and created an alternate timeline. “Assimilation” and “The Watcher” start making steps toward finding a way to correct that adjustment, even if our characters don’t necessarily have a clue yet about where the timeline went wrong and just how to fix it. Continue reading

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Star Trek: Picard — The Stargazer, Penance

Picard-202-penance-q-picard-e1647032601569-1024x512Watching the second season premiere of Picard, two thoughts kept running through my mind (almost to the point of distraction). One was – why did we spend all of season one getting this crew together only to break them all up again? The other was – when is Q going to show up?

I can understand in the times in which we live that the news of Q showing up wouldn’t have been spoiled by the Internet trolls who get up at 3 a.m. to watch new episodes of everything and then put out clickbait headlines to ruin it for those of us who like to do silly things like sleep, but it still felt like a lot of time in the premiere was treading water waiting for John de Lancie to pop in.

Of course, the question of when Q is going to arrive probably distracted me from the feeling that it took ten episodes of season one to get up to the same moment we got to in ninety-minutes with “Encounter at Farpoint” with the crew being assembled and ready for some adventures, only to see everyone scattered again. Now we have to spend an episode or two bringing everyone back together again so we can get this season’s story underway.

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Both of these issues are probably more on me as a viewer than the production itself. But they still stuck out and distracted me from fully engaging with “The Star Gazer” until the final moments.

This probably wasn’t helped by the fact that this viewer is a bit weary of “in media res” openings that tease a huge conflict and then flashback to show us just how we arrived at the said moment. In this case, it’s Picard ordering the destruction of the ship to stop the Borg Queen because Starfleet has incorporated Borg technology in their new ship design. Yes, we get to see the action scene twice and it’s nicely done – but I feel like it wasn’t the best way to start off the season. Continue reading

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The Robert Holmes Doctor Who Rewatch: “Pyramids of Mars”

downloadWhile his name doesn’t appear in the opening titles, Robert Holmes heavily rewrote “The Pyramids of Mars” enough that it I can count it as one of his stories for the purposes of my rewatch. (And if you doubt me, Steven Moffatt cited Holmes as the writer when this serial was chosen as the representative of the fourth Doctor’s era for the fiftieth anniversary, saying that Holmes was teaching everyone how to write for Doctor Who).

For a while, “Pyramids of Mars” was my favorite Doctor Who story. The years have reordered my list a bit and it’s still in the top ten.

I clearly recall the first time I saw it on KTEH in San Jose, being utterly mesmerized by part one. It aired on a Friday night and by the time we got the “I bring Sutekh’s gift of death to all humanity” cliffhanger to end part one, I was hooked. We had a VCR at the time and I was allowed to collect favorite stories on video-tape. I found myself wishing I’d recorded part one that night and vowing I would have it as part of my collection.

Pyramids_of_Mars_1988_VHS_USThe story was one of the first wave of VHS releases and came to the United States in the omnibus format. I plunked down by twenty dollars (mail order through the PBS catalog) and couldn’t wait to watch this one over and over again.

Which may be the reason that before my rewatch, it had been seven or eight years since I’d dusted off this one and watched.

My enthusiasm for it hasn’t changed. Despite feeling like I know large passages of this one by heart, the story still enthralled and entertained the heck out of me this time. It’s easily one of the top ten greatest stories in the Doctor Who canon and it’s Robert Holmes having a marvellous time rewriting. Continue reading

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TV Round-Up: LaBrea, “Pilot”

NUP_193928_2191-H-2021Early in the first episode of NBC’s La Brea, a character turns to another and notes that it feels like they’re living an episode of Lost.

Which is all well and good, if you’re doing something that feels fresh and original like Lost did when it debuted all those years ago. Alas, too many shows since Lost have come and gone by attempting to capture lightning in a bottle again by doubling down on big mysteries that promise answers that will be as mind-boggling as those we got on Lost.

Part of what made Lost work was that it allowed us to invest in the characters on the island. Even in the pilot, there was enough time to at least give us something to grasp onto about each character beyond the superficial.

In its pilot episode, La Brea hasn’t yet given me anything concrete about these characters that makes me want to invest in them. We have the estranged husband and wife, Gavin and Eve, and their two teenage kids. They’re separated but Eve is still wearing her wedding and engagement ring on a necklace. Meanwhile, Gavin has headaches and sees visions of something that he can’t quite identify yet. Those visions drove him out of the Air Force where he did, um, something.

Eve carries a massive amount of guilt over not being their for her kids — especially the daughter who lost a limb in a car accident because Eve couldn’t or wouldn’t get away from work.

One morning, while taking the kids to school, a massive sinkhole opens up in downtown Los Angeles. Eve and the son, Josh, are sucked into the sinkhole while the daughter, Izzy, isn’t. Turns out there is some type of tear (think Doctor Who’s tear in space and time from Matt Smith’s first season) and somehow Josh and Eve end up in a prehistoric time, complete with no cell service and hostile animals.

La Brea - Season 1

Meanwhile, Gavin sees birds flying out of the sinkhole that match his visions and now he’s seeing his wife. Is he somehow connected to them and will the governmental agents, who are covering up the rip in the space time continuum at the bottom of the sink hold up, believe him?

The pilot throws a lot of characters at us, fast and furious. We have a doctor/survivalist and his daughter, a guy who wants to commit suicide, and the wacky comic relief guy who has downloaded music to his phone and has working air pods. The pilot builds in a lot of mysteries and threads but none of them particularly seized my imagination in quite the same way a polar bear on a seemingly tropical island.

La Brea also suffers from some effects that make your basic SyFy series great by comparison and some rather dull direction. Again, comparisons to Lost, which had its pilot directed by J.J Abrams (back before he started polarizing fan bases), don’t help.

After a single episode and an extended preview of what’s to come, I’m not sure I necessarily will be coming back for more. I’m already behind on so many other things I want to or feel like I should be watching (looking back, I should have watched the first episode of Foundation instead) that I’m not sure I can or want to give this show any more bandwidth.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes Eve does lose the wedding ring necklace and its dug up by her husband near the exact spot she lost it. So, there is apparently some wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff going on here. Except, Doctor Who has already done it and done it better…

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The Robert Holmes Doctor Who Re-Watch: “The Ark in Space”

ark1Cited by modern Doctor Who showrunners, Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat as the best story of the classic era, “The Ark in Space” is also a great entry point for fans who want to see what all the fuss classic Who is about.

Robert Holmes had just taken on the reigns as script-editor when he had to do a full page-one rewrite of a script by John Lucarotti. Holmes kept the setting of a space station because the sets were already under construction (a cost-cutting measure for the first fourth Doctor season had the sets used here and later in “Revenge of the Cybermen.”) In place of the original story, Holmes gave us a four-part serial with an utterly chilling monster and a high stakes as the Doctor and a group of humans fight for the survival of humanity.

In many ways, this is Holmes taking the base-under-siege stories of the Patrick Troughton era and upping the stakes dramatically. Yes, we’re concerned with the fate of the group of newly revived humans as they battle the Wirrin. But also at stake is the future of humanity and whether or not humanity will survive or become Wirrin food. Continue reading

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Robert Holmes Doctor Who Rewatch: “The Time Warrior”

imagesDoctor Who was originally intended as an education program for families — one that would see the TARDIS crew traveling backward to various eras and imparting a bit of knowledge about history to the viewing audience of the day.

But by the time the series celebrated its first decade on the air, journeys to historical settings had become a thing of the past. That is until producer Berry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks decided to bring back the historical story for the show’s eleventh season debut. Dicks jokingly says that he dragged Robert Holmes “kicking and screaming” into the Middle Ages with the debut story of Jon Pertwee’s final season, “The Time Warrior.”

“The Time Warrior” is a story of a lot of firsts. First appearance of the Sontarans, first appearance of Sarah Jane Smith, the debut of the diamond logo and new opening credits (I can’t tell you how much this surprised on my first viewing of season eleven), and the first time Gallifrey was used as the name for the Time Lord’s home world. Given all these firsts, it feels like a no-brainer that Letts and Dicks would go to Holmes for the story. Continue reading

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Robert Holmes Doctor Who Re-Watch: “Carnival of Monsters”

unnamedFor the series’ twenty-fifth anniversary, Doctor Who took a moment to offer up a satire of the series and its fans with “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.” Set at the Psychic Circus, the serial sees various parties trying to keep a trio of ever-hungering god-like beings entertained with varying degrees of success. In many ways, the serial is a predictor of the ever-increasing hunger that the world seems to have to consume pop-culture and then how quickly it can be and is forgotten. The Gods of Ragna Rock use up various acts, quickly moving on to the next one with the constant chorus of “Entertain us.”

It’s a brilliant, subversive bit of Doctor Who and one that sits in my top ten.

But, it wasn’t the first time that Doctor Who would be so subversive. The series would offer up a satire of itself fifteen years early to celebrate the show’s tenth anniversary. But as with everything involving the late, great Robert Holmes, not only would the serial be subversive and point out the current state of Doctor Who, but it would also create a template for the next decade or so of our favorite program. Continue reading

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Robert Holmes Doctor Who Rewatch: Spearhead from Space

spearheadlogoFor its first six seasons, Doctor Who featured call-backs to its past but hadn’t really started building any significant amount of mythology. That all changed with the introduction of the Time Lords in the last installment of “The War Games” and solidified for the next five years under the leadership of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks.

The Jon Pertwee years were the time when the show began to establish precedents that would continue not only for the rest of the classic series run but are still being used and built on today. It even extends as far as when the series decided to come out of retirement that Russell T. Davies borrowed heavily from Pertwee’s first four-part serial “Spearhead from Space.”

During the wilderness years, a fellow Whovian and I were discussing what it would be like if the show came back and it was pointed out that a great monster to bring back the show wouldn’t necessarily by the Daleks or the Cybermen but the Autons. The Autons are significant in the series, appearing twice in the original series run, and the sequence of them breaking out of shop windows in episode four is one that is indelibly burned into the minds of the viewing public. But the Autons don’t have the same level of backstory, expectation, and baggage as some of the more popular foes the Doctor has squared off against. Continue reading

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