Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Netflix: Lost in Space Season 2

Posted in entertainment, netflix, reviews by commorancy on January 5, 2020

LostInSpace.jpgOn the whole, I enjoyed season 1 of Lost in Space on Netflix. The premise stayed fairly true to the original Irwin Allen idea. The actors chosen are not bad for a TV series. However, by Season 2, the series veers way off course. Let’s explore.

Spoilers

This review contains spoilers. If you wish to watch this series for yourself, I’d suggest that you stop reading here. The spoilers won’t be huge, but this review must reveal certain plot elements to critically discuss how the series went so off course.

Additionally, because Netflix has dumped their ability to leave reviews directly on its site, I feel that it is important that someone reviews Netflix original series somewhere. I’ll begin this one as a new series of reviews as I watch various Netflix efforts. The posts will always be prefixed with ‘Netflix:’ when it is a review of a Netflix original series.

Lost, Lost and more Lost

The original premise of Lost in Space is that the Jupiter 2 gets, you guessed it, lost on its maiden voyage. The original 60s series starring June Lockhart and Bill Mumy kept to this premise all throughout the run of the series, changing format only to move the Robinsons around, but not disband the “alone” premise.

However, this Netflix original series sticks to the original plot only for the first season. The second season sees only one episode that holds true to that original plot. In fact, after inexplicably resolving their “stranded” predicament in pretty much “Lost in Space” form, the whole series takes a turn for the worse and it goes downhill from there. Let’s get into it.

Robot Lost

The first problem is that the Robot has disappeared and is lost. After escaping the planet they find themselves on, one with inexplicable lightning events that traverse across the planet at a specific location and in flashing sequence no less… a location they can see from shore, they shrug it off as a natural event. There’s absolutely nothing natural about that event. Yet, Maureen, the “mother with a head on her shoulders” even shrugs it off as “part of the planet”. There’s nothing at all natural about a clock work event on a planet. She, of course, gives some nonsensical explanation citing a location somewhere on Earth that seems to have a similar kind of storm activity. A lame justification at best.

Worse, Maureen concocts an idea to turn the Jupiter 2 into a sailboat to “sail” out to the lightning storm to recharge the Jupiter 2’s batteries. Yeah, lightning is, at best, unpredictable. At worse, it would fry every electrical system on the Jupiter 2. Yet, Maureen mentions nothing of that danger. Instead, she goads John into turning the Jupiter 2 in to a sailboat by attaching rigging and a mast. Yeah, its fairly far fetched.

After doing all of this modding to the J2, they push the J2 into the sea and head out to where the lightning occurs. After a few mishaps on the ocean (to be expected), they find the need to let Dr. Smith out of her confinement to help the sailing process. It seems that Dr. Smith is some sort of a jack of all trades. She can do everything and she always does it exceptionally well, even though she also happens to be a ruthless, conniving, cold psychopathic killer. We all must shrug her behavior off and let her become “friends” every time the family needs her. This whole story premise is so badly concocted, I’d have stopped right here. But, I decide to press on and boy does this series go from bad to worse.

The Resolute

After finding an inexplicable structure that rings the planet creating a huge waterfall in the middle of the ocean (yeah, how is that supposed to work exactly?), they find writing on the bottom of this trough and some huge spikes that “they don’t know what they do”. Um, Maureen, are you all right there? Clearly, the spikes attract the lightning. For what reason the builders want to attract lighting isn’t exactly made clear. But, use some logic there, hon.

One thing is clear, the spikes are likely collecting electrical storm energy for capture. More specifically, if the trough is man made to capture the lightning, then it’s crystal clear that someone or something is harnessing that lightning for energy use purposes. Yet, Maureen’s head is clearly not in the game here. It’s like she’s taken a dumb pill or something.

The short of it is, after a few struggles and silly setups, lightning strikes “The Chariot”. That lightning is then miraculously captured by the J2 which then gives it all the power it needs to lift off and fly away immediately. No waiting on charging up couplers or anything.

After getting into space, they locate and land on the Resolute, a floating ring station that allows docking of multiple Jupiter crafts. After a few moments on the Resolute, they find an abandoned child with the rest of the station not having been inhabited for seemingly weeks or months (it’s never made clear). It also seems that those who formerly lived on the Resolute left in a hurry as food is all still sitting out in the mess hall.

While Maureen, John and the rest of the Robinson family wander the empty halls of the Resolute, Dr. Smith does her own nefarious thing of managing to hack her way into the Resolute’s security computers. She then changes her identity to Dr. Smith, implants her wrist with a new RFID sensor that she’s conveniently ripped out of the real Dr. Smith, whom she happens to find on board in suspended sleep (convenient!), which allows her to gain access to higher classified areas. Oh, so she’s implausibly good at medical implantation too? Yeah, so…. let’s skip the rest of the Dr. Smith stuff here. This part is incredibly badly written.  Eventually the family simply uses Smith as a tool to get what they need from the now returning Resolute crew. I can’t even believe that such a conniving person as Dr. Smith would allow themselves to be so easily manipulated by the Robinson family, after having gone to the trouble of “becoming legitimate”. Let’s move on.

Robot Found

Here is where the series takes it biggest sour turn. Inexplicably the abandoned Resolute crew “hear a signal” coming from the Resolute and fly their Jupiter back up to the Resolute to find out what’s going on. In doing so, they find the newly minted Dr. Smith and the Robinson family wandering its halls.

In fact, there’s apparently a rogue robot of some form wandering the halls loose on the Resolute. After a few moments, Maureen concocts a plan to capture the loose robot and she does it so quickly and efficiently. You’d think Maureen is some kind of miracle worker! After her lapse in judgement on how capturing lightning works, I guess she’s trying to make up for that here?

Inexplicably, the rest of the Resolute staff decides its time to return to the Resolute (with no explanation). Now that Jupiter 2 is back, I guess that means “everything is okay” and they can all return to the abandoned Resolute station. Oh, but there’s one catch. The Resolute’s jump engine has been taken by a robot. Sad face. Maureen again concocts a plan to take the jump drive from the Jupiter 2 and place it back into the Resolute so they can get to Alpha Centauri. The only problem is, no Robot as it’s still lost… somewhere.

Without Robot, they can’t use the jump drive. Suffice it to say that after some toiling and a lot of fill time, they discover Robot (and other similar, but hostile, Robots) on the planet just below the Resolute (convenient). They bring Robot back, but he refuses to help because of “family” issues. After doing things for Robot, he decides to help but not before…

Hastings Interferes

Hastings is a security officer over the Resolute, but clearly seems to be in command over the whole thing. Even the captain seems to take orders from Hastings. Additionally, Hastings seems to also be psychotic… willing to strand the vast majority of the “colonists” on the planet below simply to get the Resolute to Alpha Centauri.

Let’s just stop here to understand exactly how badly written this is as a story concept. If this is supposed to be the best and the brightest sent into space, how does a man like Hastings, with clear psychological problems, get a job aboard a critical mission like the Resolute? Wouldn’t mission protocols enforce subduing potentially psychotic individuals to prevent further damage to the mission? How is a person like Hastings left to roam free on the ship to do whatever he pleases?

The captain of the Resolute should have seen to Hastings removal the moment his intentions to abandon 500 people became known. That’s not the mission. Anyone with a brain could easily see Hastings mental faculties have been compromised. Whether that’s from a pathogen or from space sickness, it’s clear that Hastings is not in his right mind. Yet, no one even questions this man’s mental situation.

Any organization putting together a space mission would have not only clear mission objectives, but also personnel sanity protocols in place. If a person gets beyond their ability to lead, then someone else needs to assume command of that role. Hastings was clearly compromised. Both he (and anyone loyal to him) should have been relieved and brigged. Yet, Hastings remains free to not only abandon 500 colonists, but also endanger with intent to kill Maureen and John and anyone else who stands in his way. Hastings is not rational. Yet, even after that, no one sees it. No one acts on it. No one even mentions it. The biggest danger to the Resolute is not John and Maureen, it’s Hastings. While Maureen’s stunt to capture ammonia from a gas giant to clear out the water supply of a foreign contaminant borders on insanity, at least her idea was born out of good intent to save ALL colonists. Hastings has no good intentions. Hastings isn’t at all rational and shows all of the signs of space sickness. Being in a position of security, that should have immediately thrown up red flags throughout not only the rest of the Resolute’s crew, but also to John and Maureen. Yet, everyone seems to blindly overlook Hastings’s delusional behavior.

Gone Astray

This season’s story flaws and woes go way deeper than the above. Lost in Space is a show about the Space Family Robinson who, through no fault of their own, become lost and on their own. This show is not about finding other backstabbing humans. They have already enough of a backstabber in their midst with Dr. Smith. They don’t need another one in Hastings. Hastings was an unnecessary antagonist. In fact, everything that transpires between the Robinson family and Hastings could have been handled by Dr. Smith. In fact, all of that story should have been given to Dr. Smith. We’re still trying to come to terms with our trust levels of Smith. Keeping not only the Robinson family on their toes with her treachery (along with the audience), giving this arc to Smith would have cemented her two-faced personality.

That this arc was given to an extraneous character, Hastings, who is effectively wasted and a throw-away, is in fact a pointless exercise. We as an audience learned nothing. The Robinsons also learned nothing. Dr. Smith gained nothing. It’s better to give these kinds of story arcs to characters who will remain with the show season upon season, building their character arc. Giving such deep story arcs to effectively throw-away characters shows just how amateur this show’s writers really are. Think, writers, think. Give important story arcs to the recurring characters, not to characters we don’t know and don’t care about.

If all of what Hastings had done had been given to Dr. Smith, this would have nailed down Smith’s treacherous nature. Instead, we are treated to John and Smith colluding to determine what the Resolute staff is actually planning. Why? What point did this serve? It showed us that Dr. Smith wasn’t beyond manipulation by John Robinson. John also didn’t need to really know the Resolute’s details. However, if John can manipulate a character like Dr. Smith, then John Robinson is way beyond the amateur status of Dr. Smith. Instead, by giving Hastings’s arc to Dr. Smith, this would have shown us that while Dr. Smith appears to be nice and good on the outside, she’s as treacherous as they come… something that the show dearly needs to prove to us.

Instead, we get a watered down Dr. Smith who is about as strong willed as a turtle.

Overall

Season 2 is definitely a sophomore effort in all senses of the word. The writing is convoluted, logically bad and in places asinine. The music is top notch, but that’s not enough to carry the weak and silly plot lines. Molly Parker, as an actress, needs to let go of using her smirk at the wrong times. It seems to clog up the character and makes her seem silly and less serious than she should appear.

Overall, the show was decently okay, but there were plenty of times where I wanted to tune out and go watch something else. Unfortunately, it’s 20 far too long episodes. If you’re really a die-hard Lost in Space fan, then you might like parts of season 2. I was hoping for far better with season 2, but it delivered much, much less than it should have.

In fact, the writers need to ditch the Resolute quick in season 3 and go back to the Robinsons on their own flying around in the Jupiter 2. Let the story focus on the Jupiter 2 rather than a ship we care nothing about. If the Resolute must make a reappearance, it should only be one or, at most, two episodes in length and then move on. Oh, and let’s not lose Robot again, m’kay?

Overall Rating: 2.2 stars out of 5 (with music being the best part of this season)

↩︎

 

 

 

 

What went wrong with Disney’s Star Wars

Posted in botch, business, entertainment by commorancy on December 22, 2019

StarWarsLogoRoundedThis article is not intended to review The Rise of Skywalker, even though it is in the theaters as I write this. I will write a lengthy review of this final film later. No, this article is intended to explain what went wrong at Disney with Disney’s not-so-recently acquired Star Wars property. Let’s explore.


Star Wars as a Serial

When George Lucas envisioned Star Wars, he envisioned it as a new take on the Saturday morning “Damsel in Distress” story. In fact, he held true to that vision throughout the Star Wars Original Trilogy (Episodes 4, 5 and 6) and even into the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (Episodes 1, 2 and 3). I’ll deep dive into how these two separate trilogies manifested this “Damsel in Distress” Saturday morning serial ideal.

Prequels

While George’s Prequel trilogy story idea was, for the most part, a snoozefest, George maintained and held true to his Saturday morning serial idea of the female heroine coming under constant distress. If you review Padmé Amadala’s role in films 1, 2 and 3, this idea is readily apparent. In the first film, Padmé’s planet of Naboo comes under fire requiring help… and she, with the help of two Jedi, makes her way to Coruscant to plead her case. Along the way, she runs into all sorts of treacherous situations where her new found Jedi colleagues have to bail her out. These situations are not necessarily of her own making, but they are situations that require rescuing her. In The Phantom Menace, however, there weren’t a lot of occasions where Padmé needed rescuing personally, but there were global situations that warranted her protection by the Jedi.

However, this constant motif of peril and rescue is an important story element in George’s Star Wars universe no matter the form it takes. This situation happens with more and more regularity as the prequels progress, putting Padmé in ever more and more perilous situations requiring rescue by someone… someone like Obi-Wan on Geonosis and again someone like Anakin. Further we see Anakin rescue her again and again once he becomes her lover. This peril and rescue story element sets up incredible tensions and keeps the story narrative flowing properly. It also breeds another story motif which I’ll describe shortly.

Even as much as the acting was stilted and wooden, this “Damsel in Distress” motif comes through clear as day.

Midquels

During Episodes 4, 5 and 6, Princess Leia is the damsel. In these films, once again, Leia is set into ever more and more perilous and precarious situations requiring rescue by Luke, Han, Chewy and on occasion, even Lando. It’s a never ending motif that lends credence to the story and helps the audience keep its eye on the ball.

I’ll point out a few of these. Leia’s rescue by Luke during the swing across in A New Hope. Leia’s rescue by Han from Hoth Base in The Empire Strikes Back. Leia’s rescue by Han at the end of Return of the Jedi after being injured. Leia’s rescue from being Jabba’s slave. There’s nothing more motivating to another character and satisfying from the audience than getting the damsel out of harm’s way. Such a situation allows a character to overcome insurmountable odds to achieve success to save the damsel. This one is yet another motif that is common in Star Wars… “Overcoming Insurmountable Odds”. This motif is in all of the films, even Disney’s versions. But, the two concepts of “Damsel in Distress” and “Overcoming Insurmountable Odds” go hand-in-hand. The characters need motivation to put themselves in very dangerous situations (and for the audience to believe it — eye on the ball). Thus, rescuing the a lead character, male or female, is just the motivation the character needs.

After all, Luke’s motivation for defeating the Death Star in Star Wars was predicated on saving Princess Leia (and the rest of the rebellion, of course). Luke, however, had personal stakes in this fight. Even Han’s last minute rescue of Luke was born out of both vying for Leia’s attentions. Both Luke and Han knew what they stood to lose (or gain). Luke then was able to overcome insurmountable odds by leveraging the force.

Disney’s Sequels

Here’s were things begin to go awry, but not right from the start. The Force Awakens manages to keep both the “Damsel in Distress” and the “Overcoming Insurmountable Odds” motifs mostly in-check throughout most of the film. In fact, The Force Awakens uses Finn as the agent to carry this motif along throughout most of this first Sequel film. Unfortunately, this motif remained relatively paper thin and Finn is unable to “save” Rey most of the time simply because Rey is not in danger. However, JJ is very good at copying ideas, but not at implementing them properly. For this first film in the final trilogy, these two important story motifs manage to maintain their place mostly within The Force Awakens, but only weakly. Although, by the end of The Force Awakens, these motifs begin to fail by seeing Rey become far too powerful and far too independent way before she should have. In fact, by the end of the film, Rey was so capable of managing to save herself, no other characters really needed to be there to help her.

By the second film, The Last Jedi, the “Damsel in Distress” motif was entirely tossed aside. No more saving Rey. It just wouldn’t be a motif in the film at all. Rey was such an independent and powerful “Mary Sue” that she could handle any situation with ease. No need to have Finn, Poe or any other character feel the need to “save Rey”. For as far as they were concerned, she didn’t need saving. The removal of the “Damsel in Distress” motif yanked out one of the core themes of this “Saturday Morning Serial”. It also left many fans disenchanted by this change in direction of Star Wars.

By The Rise of Skywalker, not only does the series entirely abandon the idea of “Damsel in Distress”, it throws the idea in the face of audience as entirely unnecessary. It states definitively that Rey is a “Mary Sue” of the highest order and is fully capable of rescuing herself without need of anyone else. No longer is Star Wars about being a team effort, it’s about a single person’s rise to power… something which the Jedi order actually forbid.

…. And here is where Disney’s Star Wars falters ….

By The Last Jedi, Rey is so capable of saving herself that there’s no need for anyone to “come save her”, not even when strapped into an interrogation chair when Kylo is laying the figurative thumbscrews to her.

When Leia is trapped in a cell on the Death Star in A New Hope, Luke and Han hatch a plan to save her against impossible odds… and they succeed, even if not for the garbage shoot. When Rey is trapped in a cell on Kylo’s carrier, no one hatches any plans to save Rey. She has to save herself. In The Rise of Skywalker, it goes way beyond that. Rey has become so powerful and self-sufficient, anyone trying to “save” her would look like an idiot. This is the reason why Disney’s Star Wars has more in common with fan fiction than it does actual canon. Disney has effectively turned Star Wars into a series about wish fulfillment.

Star Wars was not and has never been about empowering the female lead to become entirely self-sufficient and “save the galaxy” by herself (like Holdo). Star Wars was also not about wish fulfillment. Star Wars is about having a team of people save each other, but specifically still managing to afford the “Damsel in Distress” motif at times. Even still, it wasn’t always the damsel who always needs saving in Episodes 1 through 6, but Leia did need help relatively frequently. After all, Leia did have to rescue Han after being frozen in Carbonite and sent to Tattoine… an alternate form of “Damsel in Distress”. This motif is not always about rescuing a female. It’s about a team effort of rescuing each other against great odds.

While the “Damsel in Distress” motif may be considered a bit antiquated in these more female empowering times, it still has a place in storytelling… and in particular, it is a key element of Star Wars that simply can’t be discarded. Star Wars is, for better or worse, stories about the female ending up in situations needing assistance by her male cohorts. Though, setting up the reverse in today’s times might be perfectly acceptable.

Unfortunately, Disney has lost its way in this franchise. It sacrificed the core “Damsel in Distress” motif to its own sociopolitical ideals of “female independence and empowerment”. Female independence is not a central theme in the Star Wars cinematic universe and never has been. Star Wars is a story about working together as a “team” (male or female) to create a positive end result.

Listening to Leia’s speech on Hoth to her pilots right before battle sums up what Star Wars is about. I can hear some people saying, “Well it should be about female independence”. I counter with, look at how that turned out for both The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker… hint: not well. Even trying such shtick as “Role Reversal” (aka 2016’s Ghostbusters) is so obvious as to what it is, it’s almost impossible to avoid the backlash. The Star Wars universe has already overcome such petty squabbles such as “female” versus “male”. In Star Wars, the characters live in a universe where the most important thing is SURVIVAL, not which gender is most important.

While a Star Wars TV series may be able to expand on many different motifs, including delving into female empowerment, due its lengthy episodic nature, theatrical releases have only a few precious minutes to unfold a story that makes sense using the existing Star Wars motifs. Holding true to the Star Wars original story methodologies and ideals would have fared far better for Disney than what we were handed in Disney’s trilogy.

I liken this problem to the idea of “tossing out the baby with the bathwater”. It may solve a certain problem, but it creates more problems than it solves (aka JJ’s 2009’s Star Trek reboot). With Disney, that’s where we are… and that’s why Disney’s Star Wars films consistently draw fan ire, contempt and criticism.

This article is not intended to describe everything wrong with Disney’s Star Wars. Instead, it is intended to draw attention where Disney first went astray from what Star Wars is fundamentally designed to be. Clearly, there are many, many more story and situational problems within Episodes 7, 8 and 9. However, all of these other problems stemmed directly or indirectly from the primary problem described above.

↩︎

 

Remembering the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas

Posted in amusements, entertainment by commorancy on November 9, 2019

las-vegas-sign.jpgBack in the late 90s and into the early 00s, the Las Vegas Hilton had a Star Trek attraction called The Star Trek Experience. This attraction morphed some over the years and added new features, but its first attraction remained its most impressive. It closed in 2008. Let’s explore and remember this amazing attraction.

Star Trek at the Las Vegas Hilton

The Las Vegas Hilton was a casino and hotel not far off the strip at the south end. Down at this end of the strip and at the time you’d find hotels like the Stratosphere, the Sahara and Circus Circus. Though the Las Vegas Hilton wasn’t on the strip directly, it was not far off of it across from the Las Vegas Convention center.

To combat its off-the-strip location, it employed various marketing practices to entice would-be gamblers to head to this hotel and casino. In that effort, in 1997, it enticed Paramount to build its Star Trek Experience attraction at the hotel where it remained in operation until 2008. I actually liked this casino, not strictly because of its Star Trek area. Today, this hotel is no longer named the Las Vegas Hilton and the Star Trek Experience no longer operates there having lost its lease. The hotel was later briefly renamed the LVH and is today known as the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino and received this rename in 2014. It no longer bears the Hilton name.

However, back in the early 2000s, The Star Trek Experience was something to behold.

Star Trek Experience

This experience was like none other that I’ve visited. When you first entered the hotel where the attraction lived, the Star Trek Experience was to the left. The hotel was to the right. There was also a bar to the immediate right. In fact, the entire casino portion of the hotel around the entry way was entirely space and futuristic themed. This included everything from the carpeting, to the beams to the lighting and even the slot machines had a futuristic theme. The Hilton did up this area right and it entirely looked appropriate with its space theme.

As you entered the Star Trek Experience, the entry way consisted of basically a museum of Star Trek props, video screens running, large starships were suspended from the ceiling, including the Enterprise. As you made your way into the area, you came upon a desk. This is where you bought tickets to enter the show. When it was just the Star Trek Experience alone, you had two ticket choices: the museum alone or the museum and the experience together.

Whichever ticket you bought gave you admission to mill around the museum and look at the props and use the interactive exhibits. The museum encompassed mostly the entry way and ran up into the upper level. The Star Trek Experience had two levels. The upper level, which the museum had ramps and/or stairs to lead you to the queue line. The downstairs included various gift shops and Quark’s restaurant and bar. We’ll talk about the downstairs a bit later.

In the museum, one of the interactive exhibits was a pseudo functional replicator. Of course, it didn’t replicate anything, but the screen in the well area simulated the replication of food and drink items. It was interesting, but it was also a little bit cheesy in quality… as were many of the interactive exhibits. They really weren’t cutting edge when this museum was in operation. The museum portion of the Star Trek Experience wasn’t really the reason to go there. In fact, I found the museum portion to be of such average quality that it kind of set off warning bells that the actual experience itself might not fare much better (at least when you’re a first timer). In this case, it is very much a don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover situation. The Star Trek Experience show part was well worth every cent of that ticket price… at least to me. The museum, on the other hand, was a rip-off that I wish that I could have skipped. Unfortunately, you were locked into buying both with one ticket if you wanted admission to the “show”. To me, it was just a way to boost the ticket admission price.

The Experience Itself

After you made your way to the back of the museum, there was a queue line where you would queue up for the next show. The shows ran about every 15 minutes or so. This meant you could stand in line for up to 15 minutes for the next show, assuming you were in line at less than the number they admit per show. The show itself could only house maybe 15-20 people. I don’t recall the exact number, but once they counted enough heads into the show, the line closed off to wait for the next show.

I visited the show maybe 3 or 4 times while it was open over the years and I think I had to wait one time for the next show because of the head count situation. If you had intended to visit the show at certain times of the day or on certain days, you could encounter larger crowds. If you went on some weekdays, you could breeze through the line into the next show.

All the while you’re standing in line, there are TV displays talking about various Star Trek stuff, sometimes showing excerpts from the TV show or the movies. As you move to the head of the line, there’s a monitor that talks about the safety requirements of the show itself. The museum extended down the queue line hallway which housed props and costumes from characters such as Lursa and B’ator and various Spock outfits from the then recent movies. While the museum portion was interesting enough for the first time visitor, it was simply wallpaper on subsequent visits. It wasn’t even very impressive. I can’t recall the museum updating its contents or remodeling during the entire run of The Star Trek Experience. I could be wrong about that, but that was entirely my impression of the museum area. I personally would have been just as happy to skip the museum cost entirely and jump right into line.

Once you were let into the Experience, you were led down the hall into a small blue room with an interesting lighting concept. You were asked to stand on a line. I believe there were 5 yellow stripes down the center of this rectangular blue room. This meant there would be 5 groups of people each standing on a line. Everyone was situated so that you were standing in the center of the room not touching any of the walls. If you inadvertently leaned on a wall or were touching it, one of the staff would loudly request not to do this.

Once everyone was situated on their line, we were directed to look up and forward to a screen which ran a video that began the entire Experience. Mostly, it discussed safety protocols and not leaning against walls and blah, blah, blah. It was a mostly cheesy video that really was nothing more than what the staff had already told us about standing on the lines. In the middle of the video, the lights begin to flash and there’s a bunch of audio noise as if the power is going out and the whole room plunges into darkness. And… pitch black it was. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. There was no light anywhere.

Suddenly, there’s a huge whoosh of air flow all around. It wasn’t gale force or anything, but it was a startling cold breeze that didn’t seem to come from any specific direction. Then, the floor and ceiling lights come on and… we’re now standing in the center of a transporter room. A literal round, brownish transporter room. The circular room with a circular ceiling, light in the center and all of the paint job of a Next Generation transporter room. It was uncanny. Gone was that small blue room with its yellow lines and in its place was an honest-to-goodness transporter room.

The effect was uncanny and astounding. It was the single thing that made the entire Star Trek Experience worth its price tag. I could have walked out of the Star Trek Experience right at that point and I would have felt satisfied.

But no, the show had only just begun. Two people dressed in Next Generation jumpsuits walk in and one explains that we were transported and intercepted on the Enterprise. The show proceeds on the premise that one in the crowd is related to someone on the Enterprise and that gave the whole show its “story”. As we are led from the transporter room, we are led onto the bridge. This is where the whole story derails a bit. Randoms transporting onto the Enterprise are not likely to be lead to the bridge due to the possibility of takeovers. That’s a breach of protocol. Instead, we likely would have been led to a cargo bay large enough for a crowd of our size or perhaps some place like Ten Forward. I digress.

Anyway, we are led to the bridge… and, a marvel that bridge was. This TNG Enterprise bridge set reconstruction was amazing and entirely spot on. From the wooden arch in the back to the seating just below to the helm control seats in front of the screen. The lighting was spot on, the paneling, the paint job, the leather on the seats… everything was as spot on as I could have ever imagined. It was simply an amazing bridge replica.

Because the story needs to progress, we are again lined up either around the back of the bridge or around areas where the ‘actors’ could do their thing without obstructions. The view screen begins showing a ‘transmission’ about the “heir” being transported aboard for safety and a bunch of blathering ensues between the screen and the actors. The hired actors ranged from decent to downright bad. It all depended on the show. Most of the ‘actors’ were hired due to their height and weight proportions… not so much for their acting abilities. I can guarantee you every single person wearing those TNG jumpsuits looked immaculate in them. They could have easily been an extra in any TNG episode. Everything about this part of the show was high quality. From the costumes to the communicator on their outfits to the pips. Everything was nailed perfectly. In fact, it was so perfectly designed, the show could have used one of these bridges in a pinch had they needed to film there.

The concept of the show itself was really its weak point. The story was designed to enthrall the audience, having them become active (sort of) and unwitting participants. It worked to rope the audience in, but the story was just not that great… and the next part bears this out.

As the whole bridge scene ends, we are led out of the bridge into a oversized turbolift. Once we’re suitably situated into the “turbolift”, the whole thing rocks a bit, the lights flash, there’s some sound and an announcement during the commotion and then it all subsides and the door opens. Not a terribly convincing effect here, admittedly. We’re told while all of the commotion ensues that something is firing upon the Enterprise. At this point, this is where the magic kind of dwindles a bit. As we’re led out of the turbolift, we walk down a hallway that looks more like a hallway on DS9 than the Enterprise and then into an open area, presumably a Shuttle Bay where there’s a shuttle craft parked waiting with the door open. There are also visible EXIT signs along the walk which completely break the magic and which were presumably required by law. As I said, the magic kind of ends here. The shuttle bay area wasn’t that well designed and the shuttle interior looks like a cheesy motion simulator, which it in fact is.

At this point and once we’re in the motion simulator, the “experience” concludes with a ride in a movie based motion simulator that sways, rocks and jerks in time to a movie. The difficulty with the “movie” is that I always found it to be blurry and not a great experience. It was filmed and I believe it actually used many from the TNG cast, but the overall story just wasn’t that great. Additionally, the simulator’s movements were overly herky jerky. If you were one with back or neck problems, you’d want to skip this last part of the ‘ride’ entirely. This part was extremely hard on even people with healthy backs. Again, Shuttle Crafts would have been designed with inertial dampeners and, in fact, you probably wouldn’t have felt much movement at all with the inertial dampeners operating, even when diving and banking and whatever other screen movements were going on. In reality, the entire rocking, swaying and jerking motions were entirely unnecessary and pointless. As I said, the magic dies pretty quickly once you get into this cheesy motion simulator ride.

If the show had ended on being transported back out at the end, that would have been something I could have found to be a befitting ending. At the end, when we exit the shuttle craft, we’re back on Earth and the room looks like a standard building interior. We are led to an elevator and are deposited to the gift shop and restaurant area below the attraction.

The entire show experience lasted perhaps 15 minutes all told, most of it being the movie at the end. The sets built and costumes used were all spot on. The actors were of average quality, many of them you could tell had been doing it for far too long. Though, the actors all being height and weight proportionate certainly made the costumes look all the better. There was certainly not a single overweight actor there.

Gift Shop and Restaurants

After the final elevator deposited us into the gift shop area, we were left to shop from various stores. I believe there may have been 3 or 4 different gift shops with Quark’s bar and restaurant being the primary food place there.

While I did eat at Quark’s once and the food was typical for a mid-high-priced American Bistro like TGI Friday’s or Chili’s, the reason to go there was simply for the ambiance. The bar itself did resemble Quark’s bar on DS9. Though, I think it would have been more appropriate to build Ten Forward than Quark’s. While the area downstairs was themed DS9, the shops themselves looked more like a mall shop than it resembled being on a futuristic ship. The wares being peddled ranged from cheap crap to middle of the road to high end props. It depended on the shop.

I didn’t buy much from these stores because everything was way overpriced. Even Quark’s was overpriced for the type of food quality you get. As I said, the only reason to eat there was its atmosphere and its unique bar drinks. I always liked to look at everything in the shops, but look only, don’t buy.

Costumed Actors

In the shop area, you’d also find additional actors in various dress. Some were dressed like Klingons, some dressed like Ferengi and some dressed like TNG officers, male and female.

As I understood it, the people working these “roles” were actually hired as actors by Paramount. In the Experience itself, these people actually had speaking roles. Downstairs it was all free form. You asked questions and they would ad-lib answers. Mostly it was for photo purposes. I believe you could only take pictures in the shop area, but I could be wrong about photography.

Photographs were entirely off limits throughout the attraction and the museum, from what I recall. Though, many did sneak pictures here and there.

Behind the Scenes

Later during the run of the Star Trek Experience (toward the end of its life), the show began offering a Behind the Scenes ticket purchase. This was separate from and unique to the original show. Instead of going through the show like normal, in between the shows, you would take a tour of the set behind the scenes. You would get photo opportunities on the Bridge itself that you don’t get during the Experience show.

The behind the scenes showed how the gimbal setup worked for the transporter. Basically, the entire blue room was on a gimbal / fulcrum of sorts along with creative lighting, sound and set movement. In about 10 to 15 seconds, the entire room sans floor moved swiftly upwards. The round ceiling and walls quickly moved into place just below the now raised room. When the lights are brought up, it’s as though you’re now standing in the transporter room. The effect is uncanny and astounding. It’s even more astounding when you realize the engineering involved in getting this to work so seamlessly, quickly and noiselessly. The behind the scenes showed a much slowed down version of it to show how the effect was achieved.

The breeze was an unintended side effect of the room being raised up so rapidly. It wasn’t designed as part of the effect. When something that large moves that rapidly, air is displaced. Because the air movement heightened the transporter effect, no effort was employed to get rid of it. Even after knowing how the effect was achieved, subsequent visits, at least for me, were just as mesmerizing. In fact, the entire transporter effect was the entire reason to visit the Star Trek Experience. The rest of it was all gravy. The transporter effect was worth the price of admission alone… which is why I wished they had utilized it twice. Once to start. Once to end it. The cheesy motion simulator was a big letdown after all that had come before.

The Borg Invasion

Around the time the Behind The Scenes began (maybe a little before), the Star Trek Experience introduced a new show called the Borg Invasion. This show was even more of a letdown than the final motion simulator. In this one, you enter a room and you sit in a standard movie theater type seat. A 3D movie begins playing and the only thing that happens with this is a light motion to the seat itself. The seat cushion piece also goes up and down.

The experience was, in fact, so bad compared to the original Experience that I find it hard anyone could have greenlit the idea. It was an average experience that was more akin to seeing a movie than having an experience. Even when the Borg Invasion began, the original Star Trek Experience continued to operate. You could still experience the transporter effect and visit the bridge.

The Overall Experience

The best part of the Star Trek Experience was definitely its transporter effect. It was so well done and so convincing that everything else around it pales in comparison. I do wish that they had given more thought to the story line around the show. The “being an heir to Picard” (or whomever) idea was such a stretch that it felt clumsy. Though, the sets, costumes and the primary effect were top notch. Even the downstairs shop area was convincing as being set inside of DS9.

I do wish the original Star Trek Experience was still in operation somewhere. The show would need to be retooled a bit and perhaps updated for Discovery, but that transporter effect boggles the mind as to how impressive it is (or was).

If you have visited the Star Trek Experience in the past, please recall your experience below in the comments. If you formerly worked at the Star Trek Experience, I’d like to hear from you as well. Please comment below. To avoid any copyright complications with Paramount or CBS, I am avoiding the use of any Star Trek imagery in this post. Please enjoy this post without Star Trek images.

↩︎

 

 

Star Force Book Series: A Review

Posted in entertainment, novels, reviews by commorancy on September 8, 2019

While Audible and Amazon both allow you to review individual books separately, they don’t really offer a way to review a book series as a whole. Let’s explore B.V. Larson’s Star Force book series.

SPOILER ALERT: If you wish to read this book series, this review may contain spoilers.

Book Style

Let’s start by how these books are written. Unlike many books which might jump back and forth between several unfolding story arcs between different characters, this book series is written entirely linear with a single story thread told to us in first person by the protagonist. Unfortunately, this linear unfolding is a bit detrimental to this series of books because there are a number of characters who could have benefited from having their own separate story arc. Seeing these events unfold separately from the main character’s story would have given us deeper depth into this universe and its series of unfolding events.

Instead, the author chose to focus entirely on Kyle Riggs, our protagonist of this series, and his specific circumstances, always from Kyle’s point of view. In fact, the book series is almost written as a fictional memoir… as if Kyle is recounting these stories from some distant future rather than being told to us “in the now”. This aspect was neither confirmed nor denied by the author. It’s simply left open.

Swarm

The Book Swarm starts the series. Kyle’s kids are killed by an unknown UFO when they are summarily nabbed by, then ejected from the UFO. When Kyle himself is nabbed by the same UFO, he is able to solve the riddle and remain alive. This is where the entire series sets its foundation for what comes in every later book… sort of.

Unfortunately, there were many missteps in this series along the way. Well, maybe not exactly missteps, but definitely missed opportunities to delve deeper not only into the Kyle’s psyche, but into the psyche of the machines (and ultimately “The Blues”). “The Blues” being the creators of not only the “nano” tech used to create the nano ships that killed Kyle’s kids, but they also created the “macros”. This one race of beings created the entire series of circumstances that set this entire series in motion… and imparts important technology to humanity that allows it to become space faring.

Kyle meets most of his important contacts in this first book including Sandra and Crowe. Other characters would make appearances later on and remain throughout the series. Some characters are killed for various sometimes unexplained reasons. Swarm is the foundation book that lays the groundwork for all that comes in the remaining 8 other “Kyle” novels.

You might be thinking, “9 total novels? I thought there were 14?” Well, kind of. Beginning with the novel Outcast (book 10), this is the first collaborative novel between B. V. Larson and another author. Usually when I see an extra author name on the cover, the lion’s share of work is likely done by the co-author, not the original series author. This means that beginning at Outcast, I’d consider this the beginning of a new series even though it continues with the same numbering scheme and is under the Star Force label.

In fact, because Outcast begins with Cody Riggs, the offspring of Jasmine and Kyle, at a point in the future when he’s “coming of age”, I’d consider this no longer about Kyle Riggs. His story is done and ended at book 9. For me, I consider the series actually complete at book 9. All books after 9 are intended to carry on in this universe, but with an entirely different cast of characters and years later… even though Marvin, the ubiquitous robot, is still at play and so is Kwan.

Let’s Get Started

With the above story groundwork laid, I can begin this review in earnest. One thing that irks me is when authors abscond with pop culture references in works without really giving due credit to any of the original creators. For example, the transport “Rings” in this novel are almost ripped off entirely from Stargate… and in particular, the Stargate SG1 TV series. Most notably, B. V. Larson’s use of not only the ring itself, but absconding with the idea that ‘Ancients’ created the rings, the exact terms used in Stargate SG1. Whenever I run into such references, I have to shake my head.

While I can’t begrudge B. V. Larson being a fan of SG1… hey, I’m a fan of that series too… I can’t really agree with using such blatant copying of ideas right down to the use of the same names.

Other such references include Star Wars, with Phobos… a moon-like space station with a “gravity canon”, in similar form to the planet killer weapon of the Death Star. These references are quite immediately apparent. Another pop culture reference includes the nano technology used throughout the book series. While B. V. Larson uses these nanites in specific ways to improve humanity, the technology was actually again ripped from both Stargate SG1 and Terminator 2. However, in SG1, the “nanos”, actually the Replicators, were enemies and could not at all be tamed and used from the betterment of humanity. The liquid metal described by Kyle always resonated with me in the same way as the T-1000 terminator in T2.

Kyle Riggs

Within this story, Kyle Riggs is our protagonist. He’s the one we are supposed cheer on. In some cases, his actions are worth cheering. In other cases, his actions are questionable and his motives are not explained. In fact, there are many ideas left unexplained in the series and we’ll come to that section of this review a bit later.

Kyle Riggs begins this tale as a computer science teacher turned farmer and ends this tale as emperor over the known earth… who then steps down and goes back to farming with his new kid, Cody, in tow. Basically, the book ends where it begins. In many ways, it’s a contrived tale that comes full circle. What happens between book 1 and book 9 simply fills in Kyle’s gap between these two bookends. That’s not to say that everything that happens between book 1 and book 9 is uninteresting, but know that if you delve too deeply into its meanings, you’ll definitely come up short changed.

Kyle makes his way from school teacher, to nanoship pilot, to nanotized warrior to colonel of the Star Force fleet. It’s a somewhat slow-ish progression predicated by the fact that we have no other character tales unfolding in the background. We can accept this series of events because we are not told of many other characters seeking similar opportunities in the flying fleet. When such characters do present such as Crowe, Kerr or Miklos, they are summarily and rapidly sidelined by all-too-convenient plot lines. In the beginning of this tale, there were hundreds of nanoships. There had to have been at least one other nanoship pilot capable of performing as well or possibly better than Kyle Riggs. We must, therefore, simply accept what’s happening at face value and not question this series of events at all. That Kyle Riggs was the “smartest” and “brightest” of the bunch was something we simply have to accept to buy into this book series. If you can’t buy this concept, then the books won’t work.

Kyle also acts in all sorts of odd ways throughout the run of the novels. At first, he’s a school teacher trapped in a ship fending for his life. He’s steadfastly against what these ships are doing and pro-humanity (and protector of all “biotics”). Later, he converts into a commander over Star Force… which conveniently more or less disappears until they can rebuild. He then changes his tune a bit. He’s still more-or-less pro-human whenever it suits his fancy. He’s brash, impulsive and reckless. He likes to show us that he’s in charge and that he knows what he’s doing. In fact, he tells us that he doesn’t know what he’s doing over and over and over.

This part was a little overdone. We get it. He’s unsure of himself, but he does whatever thing that seems most logical to him at the moment in time, which usually turns out okay. He’s an okay protagonist with a bit of a streak of meanness built-in. Granted, he is sour over his loss when the story begins, but he seems to quickly forget all about that.

It’s really odd, too. He never properly grieves for his kids, yet he goes way over the top when Sandra dies.

The Blues

During the run of the novels, there comes a time when “The Blues” deliver Kyle a dire warning. The Blues claim that Kyle and his team violated some fundamental universal law that you don’t create or link anything to the existing “ring” system or if you do,  you’ll face the wrath of the “Ancients”. Yet, the entire series ends out Kyle’s saga without having this event occur. Why even bring up large such a story event and then not even follow through with the thread?

Worse, the warning from the Blues is entirely illogical. Why? Because the Ancients would go after “The Blues”, not the humans. Why would the Ancients do this? Because “The Blues” gave the technology to the humans that let them hook anything to the ring. The Blues gave humans nanotech and brain boxes. These fundamental tools allowed Kyle, in turn, to create Marvin… who, again in turn, then created technology to hook into the ring system. It is, therefore, the Blues who are at fault for allowing additional things to be hooked into the ring system, not the humans.

Without “The Blues”, none of what happened in any of these books would be possible, let alone hooking up to the rings. The Blues are entirely responsible for the mess that occurs after their own meddling with the universe. It is the Blues whom the ancients would wipe, not humanity.

As smart as the Blues are, I was entirely surprised they couldn’t logically deduce this outcome. Yet, it doesn’t much matter after Kyle’s second bombardment of The Blues home world. A bombardment, I might add, that while it might be satisfying for Kyle, there’s no confirmation it actually did anything to the Blues. The only way to wipe out the Blues would be to reduce the Blues home world to star dust. We never get confirmation that Kyle’s second bombardment did anything at all. It just all ends with Kyle’s retirement from Star Force.

Untold Tales

In among what is spun in these books, there are a number of un-closed threads. Let’s explore some of these now:

  1. Fate of the Nanoship swarm — When the nanoships leave Earth because they have decided it is no longer of interest to them, they take their captive pilots and disappear. Riggs, however, manages to escape this fate, along with Crowe. Though, we don’t find out about Crowe until a bit later. These, apparently, were the only two nanoships convinced to return to Earth? The rest disappeared into the void and we only hear of them again once more in passing and then they are no longer heard from again. We assume them to all be destroyed, but I got the impression that there were many more nanoships that we never learned of their fate. This thread is left hanging.
  2. Crowe — After Crowe becomes “emperor” on Earth by using his nano factories to outnumber and outgun the planet, we are left with only questions. How did this happen? Why did it happen? Yes, Crowe was basically a scoundrel, we never get the full details of how this coup was accomplished or even why. We get a minimal tale from Jasmine, whose own personal agenda isn’t really known even at the very end. Yes, Crowe was a money hungry person, but was he the kind of person who would do what he was alleged to do on Earth? I’m not so sure. I was never even much convinced that he had taken the nano injections as he always seemed a bit too skittish about doing that. Yet, he manages to become Emperor? Out of sight, out of mind. This is a story that should have been told properly.
  3. Crowe as a Cyborg — Eventually, Crowe must have become nanotized (or cyborgnized) because he was able to fight a nanotized Riggs and survive. Still, Crowe seemed goldigging, but timid. This isn’t the worst part of Crowe’s tale. When Riggs comes face to face with Crowe to sign the peace accord much later, it turns out that Crowe was a cyborg. Wait.. what? How do we go from mindless automaton robots with limited human portions which mindlessly attack the Riggs pigs ships to thinking, speaking, walking, talking, fighting, rational human looking cyborgs? I’ll let the cyborgs that attack Riggs’s ships slide. Sure, the nanos might be able to create such an abomination with a limited brain box. I can see that. But, replacing a human being entirely with a cyborg? That story line came out of nowhere with entirely no explanation.
  4. Crowe escapes? — Assuming Crowe is actually smart enough to invent walking, talking cyborg clones… any cyborg created that appears like Crowe is merely a facsimile of Crowe. Not the real thing. Crowe was way too chicken to actually fight Riggs for real. Yet, at the time when Riggs fights cyborg Crowe, not once does this thought cross the minds of Riggs or, more importantly, Jasmine or even Marvin (who can see many, many steps ahead). Probably one of the biggest oversights in the book series.
  5. Marvin’s Progression — Marvin was created by Riggs from a data stream that was transmitted to his ship. He thought this transmission originated from the Centaurs. Later, we come to find that that wasn’t entirely true. In fact, Marvin surmises his own reasons for his existence. You’ll need to read the novels to know who and why it was transmitted, even though it was never confirmed. Anyway, Marvin acts in increasingly odd ways as the story progresses. At first, Marvin acts mostly like a computer. In the end, Marvin acts contrary to a computer… making decisions that are, in fact, questionable and problematic. Though, many of Marvin’s actions are questionable and problematic. I’m not entirely sure why Riggs really kept him around.
  6. Sandra — Sandra was Riggs’s love interest for most of the series until B. V. Larson decided it was time to kill her off. I’m not entirely sure the actual reasoning behind her death as nothing was really accomplished, nor did Riggs really mourn her in any meaningful way… unless you count getting drunk for months on end mourning.
  7. Cyborgs — This is a story that didn’t get told and also needed to. First, we see the mindless half machine, half flesh cyborgs that come attack Riggs ship and Phobos (the Blues death star). Other than being a somewhat convenient plot device that keeps Tolerance (the Blue aboard Phobos) occupied, the story of these things is never explained. Where they nano constructions? Were they some other tech that Crowe managed to get hold of? Where they something not from Earth? Riggs made a lot of assumptions about these cyborg drones that never got explained. Additionally, when Crowe turns out to be a Cyborg, we have no way of knowing if the Crowe cyborg was the same as or entirely different from what Riggs encountered in space.
  8. Macros defeated? — Were the Macros truly defeated? Time and time again, the macros showed themselves to be a resilient robot species. Sure, they may have had a base located on the dead sun that Riggs destroyed. But, why was it assumed that that was the only base that the Macros had?

Cody Riggs

At the birth of Cody, the series summarily ends seeing Riggs gallivant off to his farm (where the series started) and become a farmer again… never to command a space fleet again. It’s an odd abrupt transition for a character who was methodical about contemplating all of his options. While this section probably should have been under Untold Tales, I found it questionable to bring Cody’s tales into this series as a successor. This tale was about Kyle. When Kyle ended his reign, to me the series was over. Bringing in Cody to carry the torch just doesn’t work… at least not in Outcast. The Outcast book is all over the place and bungling in all of the most inane and trite ways. It tries hard to rekindle what we liked about novels 1-9, but it fails pretty tremendously throughout. While I found each of books 1 through 9 very worthy, even though they are completely told from a single point of view, I found book 10 hard to get through.

Book 10 is disjointed. It starts off on the wrong foot by killing Cody’s girlfriend as the first major event… an entirely unnecessary random thing. Yes, it brings in some measure of action right out of the gate, but it’s the wrong action. The opening action in Swarm at least made sense for the circumstances. The opening of Outcast didn’t actually make any sense. While Cody is Kyle’s offspring, why would anyone have put a hit out on a kid who hasn’t yet done anything? If anything, they would want to hit Kyle, not Cody. That would have been a more suspenseful book opener. Let Cody rescue his dad from yet another assassination attempt.

There were many ways this Cody series opener could have gone and still involved Jasmine and Kyle in more important ways. Instead, Cody’s first book is all about Cody and his first command… not at all about his family.

Ancients

While I have discussed this above, I want to reiterate how much this part of the series relies on Stargate for its premise. The “rings” are almost identical in complexity and functionality to Stargate’s gate rings… right down to them having been built by “Ancients” (a term used in both Stargate and in Star Force).

In books 1-9, “The Blues” warn Kyle Riggs of impending doom from the “Ancients” which, unfortunately as I said above, never materializes within these books. This to me was a huge miss. If you’re going to tease such a power exists in the universe, you should at least show it to us before Kyle’s retirement. I don’t want to see Cody deal with these ancient aliens. I want to see Kyle do it. It was warned on Kyle’s watch, it should be Kyle who handles it.

I’m also generally okay with limited uses of copying from other science fiction as long as you give a nod (in the form of credit) to the material somewhere. Perhaps naming Kyle’s ship “Samantha”. Just give us a nod to the science fiction universe from where you stole your ideas so we both know what you did, can agree to it, smile at the nod and move on. Without a nod like this, it just looks like theft of ideas… and worse, without credit, it simply looks like you can’t come up with your own original ideas. Sure, the transport ring system used in Stargate was an excellent transport device. But, so was the matter transporter in Star Trek. Why didn’t you use that, too?

If the use of the word “Ancients” was supposed to be the nod to Stargate, it failed. Don’t use an obscure reference when giving a nod. Nod by giving us a tongue-in-cheek reference to a main character such as Samantha Carter, Daniel Jackson, Teal’c or Jack O’Neil. Don’t use “Ancients” which makes your theft look more like a theft than a nod. Make us understand that the reference is intended towards another pop culture icon series. The use of the word “Ancients” doesn’t read as a proper nod.

Overall

Books 1 through 9 are decent reads with the exception of a few eye rolling passages here and there, a few logic errors and a few oddities that were included but never followed through. I’d give the whole series a solid 4 out of 5 stars.

If you’re into science fiction which relies heavily on concepts introduced by Stargate, then you may like the Star Force book series. If you’re looking for more original and cerebral science fiction content, you’ll want to keep looking. This is not the book series for you. The books in no way blaze a new, distinct trail in the science fiction universe. Instead, it retreads many older formulas in sometimes new, but sometimes tired ways. The story is mostly fresh, but the technology concepts have already been introduced by the likes of Star Trek, Stargate and Terminator. In these series cases, many times it was done better.

With that said, I’d call the series quits at book 9. Book 10 effectively starts a brand new series set in the same universe, except with Cody (Kyle’s son) at the helm. Cody is okay, but the author tries way too hard to fit Cody into the same mold as Kyle… to the story’s detriment. The setups in book 10 are contrived, unoriginal and, in many ways, juvenile. As I said above, because Cody is so young, the story just doesn’t read as genuine or fresh. It reads as forced. It also reads as a genre change from mature science fiction to young adult. To me, this genre change almost seems like a slap in the face to the readers. Anyway, why is Cody so gung-ho to follow in Kyle’s footsteps? Why did he want to board a starship and head to the skies? What was the urgent urgency of this decision? This wasn’t set up at all.

It seems to me that Kyle and Jasmine would have brought up Cody with ideals of staying on the farm and helping out there… not gallivanting off into the universe on a starship. Cody’s whole premise simply comes out of nowhere with no explanation. One minute Cody is in a barn with Marvin setting stuff on fire and the next minute Cody is aboard a starship heading off to new adventures. It seems to me that Kyle, as headstrong as he is, would have had something to say about that… but where are dad and mom? No where really. Jasmine only makes an inconsequential appearance, long enough to nurse Cody to health. Kyle doesn’t even really make an appearance. Book 10 starts out so weird and progresses to nonsense in short order.

My advice is to read books 1 through 9 and call it quits. Leave book 10 and the rest unread. If you really want to know what happens to Cody, sure go ahead. But, know that Cody’s stories don’t in any way tie into Kyle’s stories. They’re all new adventures in all new universes with all new friends and foes. Basically, with these stories, they’ve thrown out the baby with the bathwater to start a new series starring Cody. Start and end with the “Kyle” books and you’re set. Only do the “Cody” books if you really want this additional post-story content.

↩︎

 

 

What is 35mm film resolution?

Posted in entertainment, film, movies, technologies by commorancy on December 26, 2018

filmstrip-fI’ve seen a number of questions on Quora asking about this topic, likely related to 4K TV resolution. Let’s explore.

Film vs Digital

What is the amount of pixels in a 35mm frame of film? There’s not an exact number of pixels in a single frame of 35mm film stock. You know, that old plasticky stuff you had to develop with chemicals? Yeah, that stuff. However, the number of pixels can be estimated based on the ISO used.

Based on an ISO of 100-200, it is estimated that just shy of 20,000,000 (20 million) pixels make up a single 35mm frame after conversion to digital pixels. When the ISO is increased to allow more light into the aperture, this increases film noise or grain. As grain increases, resolution decreases. At an ISO of 6400, for example, the effective resolution in pixels might drop to less than 10,000,000 (10 million) due to more film grain. It can be even lower than that depending on the type of scene, the brightness of the scene and the various other film factors… including how the film was developed.

If we’re talking about 70mm film stock, then we’re talking about double the effective resolution. This means that a single frame of 70mm film stock would contain (again at ISO 100-200) about 40,000,000 (40 million) digital pixels.

Digital Cinematography

Panavision Millenium DXL2With the advent of digital cinematography, filmmakers can choose from the older Panavision film cameras or they can choose between Panavision‘s or RED‘s digital cameras (and, of course, others). For a filmmaker choosing a digital camera over a film camera, you should understand the important differences in your final film product.

As of this article, RED and Panavision digital cinematography cameras produce a resolution up to 8k (7,680 × 4,320 = 33,177,600 total pixels). While 33 million pixels is greater than the 20 million pixels in 35mm film, it is still less resolution than can be had in 70mm film at 40 million pixels. Red DragonThis means that while digital photography might offer a smoother look than film, it doesn’t necessarily offer better ‘quality’ than film.

Though, using digital cameras to create content is somewhat cheaper because there’s no need to send the footage to a lab to be developed… only to find that the film was defective, scratched or in some way problematic. This means that digital photography is a bit more foolproof as you can immediately preview the filmed product and determine if it needs to be reshot in only a few minutes. With film, you don’t know what you have until it’s developed, which could be a day or two later.

With that said, film’s resolution is based on its inherent film structure. Film resolution can also be higher than that of digital cameras. Film also looks different due to the way the film operates with sprockets and “flipping” in both the camera and projector. Film playback simply has a different look and feel than digital playback.

RED expects to increase its camera resolution to 10k (or higher) in the future. I’m unsure what exact resolution that will entail, but the current UW10k resolution features 10,240 × 4,320 = 44,236,800 pixels. This number of pixels is similar to 70mm film stock in total resolution, but the aspect ratio is not that of a film screen, which typically uses 2.35:1 (Cinemascope widescreen) or 16:9 (TV widescreen) formats. I’d expect that whatever resolution / aspect that RED chooses will still provide a 2.35:1 format and other formats, though it might even support that oddball UW10k aspect with its 10,240 pixels wide view. These new even wider screens are becoming popular, particularly with computers and gaming.

Film Distribution

Even though films created on RED cameras may offer an up to 8k resolution, these films are always down-sampled for both theatrical performance and for home purchasing. For example, the highest resolution you can buy at home is the UltraHD 4K version which offers 3,840 x 2,160 = 8,294,400 pixels. Converting an 8k film into 4k, you lose around 24 million pixels of resolution information from the original film source. This is the same when converting film stock to digital formats.

Digital films projected in theaters typically use theatrical 4K copies, much the same as you can buy on UltraHD 4K discs, just tied to a different licensing system that only theaters use.

Future TV formats

TV resolutions have been going up and up. From 480p to 1080p to 4K and next to 8K. Once we get to 8K in the home, this is the resolution you’ll find natively with most digitally captured films. Though, some early digital films were filmed in 4K. Eventually, we will be able to see digital films in its native resolution. 8K TVs will finally allow home consumers to watch films in their filmed resolution, including both 35mm film and 70mm film stock both as well as many digital only films.

For this reason, I’m anxious to finally see 8K TVs drop in price to what 4K TVs are today (sub $1000). By that time, of course, 4K TVs will be sub $200.

8K Film Distribution

To distribute 8K films to home consumers, we’re likely going to need a new format. UltraHD Blu-ray is likely not big enough to handle the size of the files of 8K films. We’ll either need digital download distribution or we’ll need a brand new, much larger Blu-ray disc. Or, the movie will need to be shipped on two discs in two parts… I always hated switching discs in the middle of a movie. Of course, streaming from services like Netflix is always an option, but even 4K isn’t widely adopted on these streaming platforms as yet.

Seeing in 8K?

Some people claim you can’t see the difference between 1080p and 4K. This is actually an untrue statement. 1080p resolution, particularly on a 55″ or larger TV, is easy to spot the pixels from a distance… well, not exactly the pixels themselves, but the rows and columns of pixels (pixel grid) that make up the screen. With 4K resolution, the pixels are so much smaller, it’s almost impossible to see this grid unless you are within inches of the screen. This makes viewing films in 4K much more enjoyable.

With 8K films, the filmed actors and environments will be so stunningly detailed as to be astounding. We’ll finally get to see all of that detail that gets lost when films are down-converted to 4K from 8K. We’ll also get to see pretty much what came out of the camera rather than being re-encoded.

Can humans see 8K? Sure, just like you can see the difference between 1080p and 4K, you will be able to see a difference in quality and detail between 4K and 8K. It might be a subtle difference, but it will be there and people will be able to see it. Perhaps not everyone will notice it or care enough to notice, but it will be there.

Film vs Digital Differences

The difference between film and digital photography is in how the light is captured and stored. For film, the camera exposes the film to light which is then developed to show what was captured. With digital photography, CMOS (Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) or possibly CCDs (Charge Coupled Devices) are used to capture imagery. Most cameras today opt for CMOS sensors because they’re less expensive to buy and provide equivalent quality to the CCD sensors. For this reason, this is why RED has chosen CMOS as the sensor technology of choice for their cameras. Though, RED cameras are in no way inexpensive, starting at around $20k and going up from there.

Overall

In concluding this article, I will say that 4K is definitely sufficient for most movie watching needs today. However, Internet speeds will need to improve substantially to offer the best 8K viewing experience when streaming. Even Netflix and Amazon don’t currently provide even an amazing 4K experience as yet. In fact, Netflix’s 4K offerings are few and far between. When you do find a film in 4K, it takes forever for Netflix to begin streaming this 4K content to the TV. Netflix first starts out streaming at 480p (or less), then gradually increases the stream rate until the movie is finally running at 4K. It can take between 5-10 minutes before you actually get a 2160p picture. Even then, the resolution can drop back down in the middle and take minutes before it resumes 4K.

Today, 4K streaming is still more or less haphazard and doesn’t work that well. That’s partly due to Netflix and partly due to the Internet. The streaming rate at which 4K content requires to achieve a consistent quality picture can really only be had from Blu-ray players or by downloading the content to your computer in advance and playing it from your hard drive. Streaming services offering 4K content still have many hurdles to overcome to produce high quality consistent 4K viewing experiences.

For this reason, 8K streaming content is still many, many years away. Considering that 4K barely works today, 8K isn’t likely to work at all without much faster Internet speeds to the home.

↩︎

 

Why Star Trek Discovery is not canon

Posted in botch, business, entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on November 2, 2018

A lot of “fans” of the latest Star Trek TV series installment of Star Trek Discovery claim to love the show. They also claim that because the show runners have claimed Discovery is official canon, that the show is canon. But, is it? Let’s explore.

What is Canon?

Canon is previous story and characters that a show must follow so as not to contradict something that has come before. Yet, Discovery has contradicted established canon all along the way. The first contradiction was the Klingons with their … well, let me show a picture:

Star-Trek-Discovery-TKuvma-Klingon-Leader

This is a Discovery Klingon. This Klingon above looks nothing like these 3:

NextGeneration Klingon

or even this Klingon from a TOS episode:

Classic-klingon

The latter two having been Klingons in The Next Generation and in the Original Series, respectively. The “bonehead” Klingons became the norm from 1979 onward. It was the bonehead Klingon design that Gene Roddenberry himself approved.

With Star Trek Discovery, that all changed and now we have the Klingon pictured in the top most image. The difficulty is, “Where did this Klingon come from?”. It doesn’t match the canon approved and used throughout the 80s and 90s and even into the 00s with Star Trek Enterprise.

Now, Discovery appears and gives us this odd designed Klingon that has never been used in any previous series ever. It doesn’t much resemble a Klingon, even though they’re speaking Klingon and have a kind of “bonehead”. The question remains, what happened? Is this design canon or not? Before I answer that question, let’s talk about how this Intellectual Property has been fractured between studios.

Paramount versus CBS

When Roddenberry was alive and even up until not too long ago, Paramount was the sole rights holder of Star Trek. However, when Viacom bought and then split Paramount and CBS, this all changed who owned what and it fractured the Star Trek franchise in unnecessary and inexplicable ways.

A little history. In 1994, Paramount was purchased by Viacom. In 1999, Viacom agreed to purchase CBS. This means that from 1999 to 2005, Viacom owned both Paramount and CBS. In 2005, Viacom’s then board of directors voted to split Paramount and CBS into separate companies for better “shareholder value”.

When the companies split, CBS was given the rights to the Star Trek TV series universe and Paramount was given the rights to the Star Trek motion picture universe. Ultimately, this now gives two separate entertainment companies the rights to create and make up canon in their respective universes. This is ultimately where the fracturing of the intellectual property comes into play and why Discovery is such a mess when it comes to producing its series based on canon.

This split also means that the canon is now split between two separate companies. A franchise disaster, to be honest.

Motion Pictures versus TV series

The TV series includes Star Trek The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. These properties up to Enterprise existed at the time of the split. Discovery did not exist then.

The original cast motion pictures include Star Trek The Motion Picture, II, III, IV, V and VI. The Next Generation cast pictures include Generations, First Contact, Insurrection and Nemesis. The Kelvin time line pictures (i.e., J.J. Abrams) include Star Trek (2009 Reboot), Into Darkness, Beyond and there is a possibility of a fourth film which is in limbo as of this article.

This means that CBS owns the rights to the above TV series properties (in addition to Discovery) and Paramount owns the rights to the above Motion Picture properties. It also means that CBS can now ignore motion picture canon and Paramount can ignore TV series canon when producing future works.

Clearly, this is how CBS is proceeding with its latest TV series, Star Trek Discovery. One can argue, the “bonehead” Klingons appear in the TV series. They do. And, to a degree, the design above does appear somewhat like a bonehead Klingon, except without hair, much darker skin, odd shaped facial features and odd shaped outfits. However, no Klingon has ever appeared on screen in any way (TV or Movie) that looks like this Discovery Klingon. This Klingon type is actually the first of its kind… which means, it is NOT Roddenberry canon.

The Trouble with Tribbles

Or, more specifically, the trouble with double ownership of the Star Trek franchise means there is no effective steward maintaining canon. There can’t be. There are two separate companies competing for your almighty Star Trek dollar. One company can make shit up and the other company doesn’t have to use it. This is effectively what CBS is doing… making shit up as they go along because they don’t have to answer to canon placed into the motion pictures. Even then, they’re not following canon established by previous Star Trek TV series either. After all, Star Trek Discovery is clearly set at the same time as The Original Series.

The TV series timeline goes something like (timeline courtesy of Memory Alpha):

2151-2155 -- Star Trek Enterprise (Season 1 thru 4)
2254-2254 -- Star Trek The Original Series: "The Cage" (Episode)
2256-2257 -- Star Trek Discovery (Season 1)
2265-2269 -- Star Trek The Original Series (Seasons 1, 2 and 3)
2269-2270 -- Star Trek The Animated Series (Seasons 1 and 2)
2364-2370 -- Star Trek The Next Generation (Seasons 1 thru 7)
2369-2375 -- Star Trek Deep Space Nine (Season 1 thru 7)
2369-2370 -- Star Trek Enterprise: "These are the Voyages" (Episode)
2371-2378 -- Star Trek Voyager (Seasons 1 thru 7)

As you can see, Star Trek Discovery is actually set BEFORE Star Trek The Original Series, before The Animated Series and before any other series with the exception of one Star Trek TOS episode and Star Trek Enterprise which come before Discovery.

STMP-KlingonBasically, the canon that Star Trek Discovery must adhere to is what is seen in Star Trek Enterprise and in one episode of The Original Series (and, of course, anything in later TV series that corroborate Enterprise and TOS). Enterprise and this one episode of Star Trek TOS are both enough to set canon as to how Discovery should run. Discovery also occurs 9 years prior to The Original Series. However, The Original Series only showed the non-bonehead Klingons while Enterprise showed us both styles of Klingons. This means that both Klingon types already existed in the Roddenberry universe when Star Trek TOS existed. This also means that both Klingon types exist at the time when Discovery is operating. One could argue that Enterprise broke canon by showing us the bonehead Klingons that we wouldn’t see until Star Trek The Motion Picture in 1979 (picture to the left). However, Discovery’s Klingon type comes out of nowhere and goes back into nowhere because this Klingon type won’t exist after Discovery ends.

AfflictionHowever, in the Enterprise episode “Affliction” in the 4th season, I guess this episode is supposed to explain the difference between the bonehead and non-bonehead Klingons and the reasons why the non-bonehead Klingons appear in The Original Series. I think it was a cheap cop-out episode, but hey, at least they held true to the TMP and TOS Klingon designs… which is more than I can say for Discovery.

Discovery, on the other hand, doesn’t hold true to either design. They made their own Klingon canon. They made a Klingon design that has never exited before or after… not in ENT, TOS, TNG, DS9, TAS or Voyager. They’re clearly, “making shit up”.

Additionally, there’s the Spore Drive. Yet again, Discovery is found “making shit up”. This drive type has never been discussed either before or since, yet Discovery has introduced this propulsion system as some experimental thing that only existed during Discovery’s existence. I’m sorry, if the spore drive were a real thing in the Roddenberry universe, there would have been talks of it both in Star Trek TOS and likely Star Trek Enterprise and even in TNG, DS9 and Voyager (it would have at least come up, particularly in Voyager when looking for a way home). That no information was ever discussed regarding this drive system, Discovery is simply creating things out of thin air to make their series more watchable (and make more money). However, there may be another reason… so, keep reading.

Because “The Cage” episode shows us that the Federation chain of command already exists in a formalized and hierarchical command structured way, having Discovery show its characters as chaotic, insubordinate and outright informal makes me believe that the Discovery creators had no intention of following established Roddenberry “Federation” canon. In fact, I will go so far as to say that Star Trek Discovery is actually operating in its own universe. Perhaps it exists in the Kelvin universe along side the reboot Star Trek motion pictures, but I believe it lives in its own new CBS universe. But, Discovery does not live in the same universe as the Roddenberry universe TV shows do.

CBS Universe

Because Star Trek Discovery lives in its own universe, the creators of Discovery can literally make up anything they wish and it will be canon. It’s canon because the show isn’t set in the Roddenberry universe. It’s set in a CBS offshoot universe where everything can and does exist if the creators want it to. In this universe, weird shaped Klingons, spore drives and insubordination are all accepted because in this universe it’s all there.

In the Roddenberry universe, Discovery never existed and couldn’t exist. The spore drive doesn’t exist. The weird Discovery Klingons don’t exist. The F-bombs don’t exist. The nonsensical highly sophisticated NCC-1031 starship doesn’t exist with its operating panel designs that don’t exist on the Federation’s flagship Enterprise NCC-1701 just 9 years later.Star Trek Discovery BridgeDiscovery living in a CBS Universe is the only explanation that can possibly work for this TV show. When a show runner says it’s canon, well it is. But, it’s only canon if you consider that Discovery is a show created in an offshoot CBS universe that has never before existed. It is not canon were it to exist in the Roddenberry universe. Obviously, the show creators aren’t going to make this distinction because they don’t want viewers to understand the difference between the CBS universe and the Roddenberry universe. They just want the viewer to believe it somehow magically exists in the Roddenberry universe when this show clearly cannot.

It’s clear, Discovery does not exist in the Roddenberry universe. It can’t. That universe ended with the close of Star Trek Enterprise. It remains to be seen if the new Patrick Stewart series will be set in Discovery’s CBS universe or if CBS will try to set that series in the Roddenberry universe. My guess is that CBS may want to attempt some type of crossover episodes between Discovery and the as yet unnamed Patrick Stewart series. However, that would be a feat considering that Discovery occurs 98 years earlier from the original TNG series (see timeline). Considering Patrick Stewart’s age now, they’ll have to age forward the new series to have it make sense with Stewart’s current age… which means this new series must occur over 100 years in Discovery’s future. It will then be difficult to have a crossover without time travel. However, they can engineer dual episodes which causes something to happen in Discovery that impacts the Picard series 100 years later. This is akin to a crossover and would establish both series being in the same universe; the CBS universe.

Personally, I’d rather the two series remain entirely independent. No crossovers. No incidental references to prior events in Discovery. This means that Discovery can officially be announced as operating in its own CBS universe and that the Picard series will be set in the Roddenberry universe and no crossovers will be possible.

Kelvin Universe

When J.J. Abrams became part of Paramount’s efforts to reboot the Star Trek movie franchise, he decided to create an entirely new and separate universe. In that effort, he had elder Spock (from the Roddenberry universe) fall through a time hole and land in an alternate universe much earlier in its unfolding life. Elder Spock then meets up with his much younger alternate version of Spock along with younger versions of Kirk, Sulu, Chekov, Uhura, Bones and so on. Basically, these alternate versions of these main characters set the tone of this alternate universe’s ‘Five Year Mission’, set in an alternate Enterprise, set in an alternate timeline known as Kelvin. It’s named after the USS Kelvin, the ship which fell through the time hole with elder Spock. Why is this important?

It’s important to understand this Kelvin alternate universe idea because it appears CBS has done the same exact thing with the Discovery TV series. Instead of trying to disturb and hold true to the Roddenberry universe canon, it’s far easier to create a brand new offshoot universe set in its own time line. This then means the writers can write anything they wish, on any ship they wish, with any technology they wish. Because Paramount has already established their own playground universe for the movies to live in, it appears CBS is also running with this idea and has done the exact same thing with Discovery. Even the name ‘Discovery’ hints at the existence of this alternate universe.

In fact, I believe that this alternate universe will reveal itself and will likely become a big part of Discovery’s future stories. I’m assuming that the writers are holding this point back until just the exact moment when they can reveal a character like Picar… er Spock falling through a time distortion and we can clearly see that Discovery is not set in the Roddenberry universe. It makes for a good plot twist, don’t you think? Holding this point back allows the Discovery writers to craft and unfold an entire season long story arc about this new CBS universe (or whatever name they decide to give it). For now, I’m calling it the CBS universe, but it will likely be named differently after someone from the Roddenberry universe falls into it.

I’d suspect it might be a TNG character who falls through this time. Perhaps Q created this universe? I’d steer clear of Q as using this character always feels like a cop-out. Because Wesley had become a kind of universe traveler, I’d like to see him return a bit older so we can finish out his story arc that never really closed properly in TNG. I might also like to see Kess show up as she also didn’t get proper closure in Voyager. Seeing a new Dax might also be a good way to handle this reveal also. Dax’s immense knowledge and age would allow for some very good stories. Even Guinan might be a good choice to land in Discovery’s alternate universe.

For this reason, I believe that Discovery’s writers and creators are holding back on this idea, but will eventually reveal it. For this reason, the show runners can say that Discovery is canon, because it is, in its own universe. They just haven’t revealed this alternate universe point in the TV series yet. They can string the fans along making them think it’s in the Roddenberry universe when they haven’t yet unveiled the story. It’s still too early in this TV series to reveal a story point this big.

Canon or not?

Because I surmise that Discovery is set in its own CBS universe, which is entirely separate from the Roddenberry and the Kelvin universes, Discovery can be its own bubble show and do whatever it wants with its stories. It doesn’t need to follow any Trek lore or, indeed, anything to do with Trek. It can feel free to “make shit up” however it wishes. I’m fine with that as long as the show runners finally fess up to this. As it is now, trying to shoehorn Discovery into the Roddenberry universe where it doesn’t belong is just stupid.

To answer this Blog’s ultimate question, Discovery is not canon for Roddenberry’s universe. It is canon for its newly created CBS universe. It’s possible that Discovery exists in the Kelvin universe (doubtful) where it may or may not be canon. The difficulty is that, as I said above, the motion picture canon is operated by Paramount. The TV series canon is operated by CBS. This means that never the twain shall meet. This fracturing of intellectual property rights was a horribly bad idea for Star Trek. It has now left this franchise with a fracture right down the middle of its canon. Show producers for Discovery can now claim canon when what they’re doing clearly isn’t canon and cannot possibly be unless the show is set in its own CBS universe (which the CBS universe ultimately has no canon except for what Discovery has created so far).

↩︎

Rant Time: Netflix’s Stupid Ideas

Posted in botch, business, california, entertainment by commorancy on August 29, 2018

NetflixApp-smNetflix has had made some questionable product decisions recently. That is, since it has begun buying its own original content. At the same time, it has made some platform changes that don’t make any sense whatsoever. Seriously Netflix, WTH? Let’s explore.

Original Content

Netflix has been having a hard time as of late. It has been heavily dipping its collective toes into original programming. However, much of the movie programming content has turned out to be bombs. Not just everyday bombs, but you know the movie kind that make you cringe so hard, you want to throw something at the TV. Programs like the oh-so-forgettable The Cloverfield Paradox, Bright, Extinction, The Beyond and Tau. With these questionable movies, Netflix seems to be missing its mark so much of the time. So much, in fact, that I’m contemplating cancelling my membership with this service. I’m beginning to think that Redbox streaming might be a better alternative.

Until recently, the only way to find out exactly how crap the movies actually were was to read the Netflix movie reviews. This is not possible any longer.

Netflix Deletes and Closes Review System

In its infinitely stupid wisdom, Netflix has decided to close down its review system (deleting over 10 years worth of reviews in a day), citing that it is not being used by its subscribers. I call bullshit on that excuse, Netflix management team. I, and clearly many others, regularly used the review system all of the time to steer clear of these recent Netflix bombs.

Unfortunately, we can no longer do this thanks to Netflix flipping us subscribers the collective bird after not only closing the review system down, but dumping all of that user review content. If Netflix’s management team is trying to tear the company apart, they’re doing a bang up job at it.

A review system says that service cares about its users’ opinions and it values its users. It allows users to make their views known to the larger community. Unfortunately, Netflix has now deprived its user base of that valuable resource by dumping all of the reviews and no longer supporting a review system at all. In fact, removing the movie review system says Netflix no longer cares about its users.

Worse, Netflix has dumped its 5 star rating system in lieu of a stupidly simple thumbs up and thumbs down approach. This overly simplistic system which, in reality, does nothing at all to influence anything. What this change says to us members is that Netflix solely wants to be the entire wielder of content power. No longer can any content be influenced by external user opinion… or so Netflix management mistakenly thinks. Nope, that is absolutely not important to Netflix. Netflix wants to be able to target its crap content to us with impunity and without those pesky user reviews getting in the way… even if the Netflix original content is the dreckiest dreck ever to have been conceived, which most of it is.

Netflix’s Agenda

I’m really tired of businesses like Netflix always feeling that they need to get the upper hand in every situation. In fact, even with the review system, they already had an upper hand. Netflix’s ultimate agenda to remove the review system isn’t what they stated on the surface. They claimed that people weren’t using the system. False. New reviews were being written every day. People were reading them every single day.

If people weren’t using the system, they wouldn’t write reviews… and yes, people were actively writing reviews. In fact, if the the review system was being used less, it’s because of Netflix’s design choices. It’s not because users weren’t interested in using the review feature. It’s because Netflix kept burying the review system deeper and deeper under menus, making it difficult to find. If reviews were on the decline, it wasn’t that people didn’t want to use it, it was because your UI team made it hard to find. Even with that said, people were STILL finding it and using it. That’s tenacity. That means your valuable subscribers actually WANTED to use it and did.

This means that Netflix intentionally caused the decline of the system. They set the review system up to fail and then blamed it on lack of use by the users. No, it wasn’t for lack of use, it was that it was too hard to find and too hard to navigate. That’s not failure to use by the users, that’s failure of your UX design team. People will use features when they are easily available and front and center. Bury it under layers of menus and it’s certain that usage will decline.

The real agenda is that Netflix no longer wants users to influence content such its The Cloverfield Paradox and the rest of its poor quality original content. Netflix mistakenly believes that if people can’t see the reviews or write them that more people will watch its crap. False. Netflix was likely also reeling over the horrible user reviews being left on its own site. Netflix wanted to stop that problem and the only way they could do that is step 1) bury the feature so it’s hard to find forcing many users to stop using it and then step 2) remove the feature claiming no one used it. Not only is that a lie, Netflix’s UX team is actually responsible for its lack of use.

Review systems work when they’re well designed and placed in conspicuous, well trafficked locations. They don’t work well when they’re buried under layers of unnecessary UI clicking. That’s proven. In fact, if Netflix’s user experience team doesn’t understand this fundamental UX 101 concept, they should all be fired!

Crap on a Stick

Netflix needs to get their crap together. They need to fix their horrible UI system and provide a much more streamlined system. They also need to bring back the user review system and place it into a much more prominent front and center position. A place where people can find it right up front, not buried under many UI layers.

Movies and Reviews

Movies and reviews go together like a pea in a pod, coke and hot dogs and hamburgers and fries. They simply belong together. You don’t get one without the other. Netflix thinking that they can change this fundamentally ingrained concept is a huge misstep. This misstep is as huge as when Netflix renamed its DVD service to Qwickster. That naming and concept failed miserably. This one will too… and it will backfire on Netflix.

I don’t even understand how a movie site like Netflix can even think they get away with not having a review system. By their very nature, movies require reviews. A movie is not 3 minutes long like a pop song. No one will spend 2 hours of their life watching trite, predictable, boring, poorly written garbage. Storytelling is an art form that when done right can take us to places we cannot even imagine. Yet, when storytelling is done wrong (i.e., too many of Netflix’s crap originals), it wastes hours of valuable time. The review system is there to prevent that loss of time.

Sorry Netflix, if reviews actually give you that much butthurt, you either need to grow a pair and get over it, or you need to shut down Netflix. Perhaps Netflix should stop its purchase of its crap original programming and this will no longer be a problem.

↩︎

TV Review: Wayward Pines

Posted in botch, california, entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on August 27, 2018

WaywardPinesNote: *** Contains Spoilers ***

Here’s yet another M. Night Shyamalan thriller, this time in the form of a two season TV series.  Let’s explore.

Comparisons

This show has a similar premise to Stephen King’s Under the Dome. However, it is based on novels by Blake Crouch. Basically, it’s a small town that’s been cut off from everything and everyone. As a result, the town must live by its own rules. These two premises pretty much match up.

The way in which the Wayward Pines diverges is how the plot unfolds. With Under the Dome we come to find that the town is encased in a huge dome that, when the dome wishes, allows some exchange of air with the outside. In the case of Wayward Pines, we come to find that it’s supposed to be set in the year 4028, after a great holocaust mutated the human population. Both Under The Dome and Wayward Pines have populations that are cut off from “the outside world”, but for differing reasons.

Both towns, however, fundamentally operate in very similar ways with the exception that Dome runs out of resources a whole lot faster since they were cut off from the world without any resource planning. The dome town’s resources wear thin much, much faster. Wayward Pines, on the other hand, has the benefactor, David Pilcher, who not only had foreseen this event, but seemingly planned for it well in advance by building infrastructure and storing limited food rations to sustain the small town. We’ll come to find that Pilcher didn’t quite think ahead much or have planned for all contingencies.

Characters

The Wayward Pines town is inhabited by a number of adults and children including a sheriff, a nurse, a doctor and several primary families who become part of the series. It’s a similar kind of makeup as there was in Under The Dome. There’s also a faction of disenchanted citizens looking to escape from the city… so they can get “back home”. The characters change over time, particularly in season 2.

Weak Opening Premise

The show starts off entirely on the wrong foot indicating the “making it up as we go” syndrome. Meaning, the show begins by making no sense. Burke wakes up near a creek, beat up, bruised and injured. The question is, why stage this 2000 years in the future? What purpose does it serve?

If he had just awakened from cryosleep, why take him out of his cryosuit, dress him back in business attire and place him in the woods? Is it simply stage his awakening as though he had just crashed from a car? Why not start the episode off with Burke in a hospital bed recovering from his car injuries. That’s just as easily explained and shows us the Wayward Pines hospital right from the start.

If they want Burke to accept his life in Wayward Pines, why spend that time and effort staging his awakening? Did they stage other reawakenings in this way? They didn’t do it for Burke’s wife and kid. Staging reawakenings like this also means that someone at Wayward Pines needed to be 100% up to speed on exactly how Burke (or anyone else) was abducted into cryosleep to know exactly how to restage the reawakening. There are so many better things to worry about in a burgeoning town than dealing with staged awakenings.

Trapped in the Past

As with the isolated town premise in Wayward Pines, I find that there are a lot of stupid ideas, particularly from the supposed creator of the town, David Pilcher. According to his telling, the first time Pilcher tried to set up Wayward Pines, he chose to reveal the 2000 year old truth to the residents. While the children seemed to accept their fate, the adults couldn’t face life in this way and eventually the town self-destructed. This forced Pilcher to commit genocide by using the indigenous mutated humans to clear the population. This idea is stupid from the go. If you’re trying to repopulate humanity from limited pool of people, why kill them? You’re going to need that genetic diversity to repopulate… as much of it as possible.

David Pilcher has his (very large) crew (including his sister Pamela Pilcher) clean up the town, only to reset it all and restart it for a second time with group B. For group B, instead of revealing the truth, this time Pilcher decides to only tell the children the whole truth and withhold that information from the adults. This led the adults to believe they are still in 2014 (or whatever time period they came from). It also meant the adults believed they could leave the town and get back to their families… the idea that would inevitably become the town’s undoing. This keeps the adults in the dark of the reality of the world. This second time up to bat, Pilcher decides to incorporate corporal punishment in the form of town center lynch justice as a means to control order in Wayward Pines. If someone gets out of line or breaks rules, they are summarily brought to town center and executed by slitting their throat in front of the town mob. This is called a reckoning.

Here’s where I dislike this plot idea, where I feel this part was entirely unnecessary and sent the story premise off the rails. Pilcher is indeed correct to be worried that his group B town is degrading into chaos and destruction, just has had group A. It is. There is an underground movement that is growing and sowing the seeds of a second town self-reckoning once again. However, the reason for this is primarily because of Megan’s ideas she fed Pilcher. Megan’s ideas were the poison seeds that fueled Wayward Pines’s destruction, every time. Megan is a cancer on Wayward Pines.

Cryonics and The Past

To give a bit of backstory here, Pilcher foresaw the destruction of the 2014 world due to a DNA mutation he found, a mutation that would lead to humanity’s destruction in the future. He tried to alert the attention of the scientific world, but failed. Instead, Megan Fisher (eventually becomes the teacher at Wayward Pines school), urges David Pilcher to take whatever means necessary to ensure survival. This was the primary piece of bad advice David Pilcher took in securing his vision and the piece of advice that single-handedly ensured Wayward Pines’s demise. Megan would go on to not only continue giving bad advice, but poison the children and jeopardize the entire project.

Anyway, Megan’s continual bad advice leads Pilcher (being all wealthy that he is) to use his great wealth to hire people to nab random folks off of highways and put them into cryosleep. One set of unwilling participants is our protagonist Ethan Burke, his wife Theresa Burke and his school age son Ben Burke (season 1). Ethan Burke was sent to the area by the secret service (?) to investigate the disappearance of two of his colleagues. Ethan becomes the eyes of the audience as the great mystery of Wayward Pines unfolds. Of course, the premise includes everyone else in Wayward Pines, who were all unwillingly abducted and cryofrozen. The only people willingly there are those that who David Pilcher hand picked to operate the mountain complex to keep Wayward Pines functional as a township.

The Philchers (Pam and David) call Wayward Pines the Ark.

Aberrations

In season 2, we find out more about the original awakening of group A via C.J. Mitchum. He was the advanced cryo engineer who was the first to awaken and who awakened group A. He was also the person who found the aberrations and alerted Pilcher to them. This is also where the story takes a bad turn. Instead of staying and killing off a bunch of indigenous humanoids, C.J. suggests heading back into the pods to wait more time for them to die off. In fact, there were so many ways this story could have been handled, Wayward Pines might have worked as a simple utopia. Pilcher decides not to wait… yet another dumb idea from someone who’s supposed to be very smart. Anyway, Pilcher clears the area and erects an electric fence.

Outside the electrified fence, the indigenous humanoids (called Abbys … short for aberrations) inhabit the countryside. They also inhabited the area where Wayward Pines has been built. This means that David Pilcher kicked them off of their land. The aberrations are the remnants of humanity left over after the DNA mutation and the event that David had predicted. The aberrations are vicious carnivores that eat any animal flesh they can find, including any 2014 humans that happen along the way.

However, we come to find in season 2 is that Pilcher cleared out the area where Wayward Pines was to built by killing all off the indigenous folks. This action effectively starts the war between the aberrations and the humans and ensures all of the problems for Wayward Pines going forward. A problem that could have been avoided had Pilcher taken CJ’s advice and waited longer.

Keep It Simple Stupid

The first problem I have with this premise is that Pilcher kidnapped folks without consent. He also didn’t vette them for suitability or compatibility for living in a utopia city project. He yanked them out of their life and put them into cryosleep. After unfreezing them in the year 4028, he has two options. Tell them their reality or make them think it’s still 2014. After all, the town looks like it did in 2014 so it’s not that hard to convince those who are unfrozen.

There are lots of reasons why this town won’t ultimately succeed. The primary reason it is doomed to fail is that these folks didn’t consent to be there, the problem treated by Megan. They still think it’s 2014 and they think they can leave and get back home. Yet, they are being told never to talk about that. That idea won’t work. You simply can’t tell people to suppress their desires to go back home to their families and loved ones. If he had explicitly kidnapped folks who didn’t have loved ones waiting, then perhaps he could have used that. David didn’t think the kidnapping idea through very well.

Another secondary reason why this township won’t work is limited food and medical supplies. While he did stockpile food to get the town started and maintain certain levels of conveniences like ice cream, liquor, fudge, toy shops, hair stylists and various amenities offered by the 2014 standards, that cannot possibly last. There is also simply not enough food resources to maintain a growing community of people. Pilcher also failed to foresee the need for medicines in the future. While he did bring some medicine forward in time, it simply wasn’t enough (season 2). Over time and with enough generations, there would be no way for 2014 humans to survive, particularly without access to modern medicines. It’s not like he also brought along a pharmaceutical company and people to run it.

This lack of foresight sows the seeds of destruction for any forced community at some point in the future. The corporate punishment only serves to double-down on this destruction by, along with microphones and cameras monitoring everything in the town, eventual dissent and violence. If David stays this course with each successive town reset and restart, he’ll eventually run out of people to inhabit the town. Thankfully, Pam puts a stop to that, but too late to really save Wayward Pines.

Survival

Even if there had not been any indigenous population to defend against, the community would still have failed. As I said above, Pilcher didn’t bring along enough medications, vitamins and food to last indefinitely.

If the town had been able to survive without the threat of attack, the population would have eventually overgrown the town. They would have had to either institute population controls or force people to leave and settle elsewhere. There were so many better and more horrifying story avenues than the aberrations, the aberrations simply ended up as a convenient copout distraction from all that was missing when actually trying to build a utopia.

Season 1 versus Season 2

Season 1 started out promising by offering hope that the town might survive and morph into something useful. By season 2, not only had the show jumped 3 years into the future, which robbed us of the internal struggles, we come to find that the first generation is now running the town. While this is a fairly stupid premise to begin with, it effectively turned the show into a Young Adult novel.

On so many levels for a TV series, this change doesn’t work. You can’t start out with adults running the show only to turn it into a teen fest. That, in and of itself, caused too many problems going from season 1 to season 2.

Additionally, season 2 introduces a lot of foreign concepts that take the show in a direction that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. While I have not yet read Crouch’s novels, I’m assuming that the two seasons follow the novels to some degree. Ultimately, I can see why this show was not renewed after season 2. It just wasn’t strong enough of a premise to survive such jarring changes between season 1 and season 2. By jarring changes, I not only mean the survival concepts, but also the never ending cast changes, particularly the teen fest.

Overall

This was not a great show. It had a lot of promise when it began, but it quickly degraded into a story place that couldn’t work. Additionally, there were so many unaddressed mistakes made by Pilcher, these made the show’s story entirely weak. For example, where was the livestock? If you can cryofreeze humans, why didn’t Pilcher cryofreeze cows, pigs and chickens? They will need protein and vegetables as food sources… particularly if they’re to repopulate the earth.

Also, if Megan’s population birthing initiative was so all fired important, then why didn’t they cryofreeze a bunch of babies or pregnant woman to immediately restart the repopulation process?

Additionally in season 1, it was never addressed where all of the food was coming from or how much food there was. By season 2 and three years later, the town was already running out of food and needed to build farms to sustain the population. However, the valley soil where Wayward Pines is situated is supposedly tainted and cannot grow food with no real explanation of this. If food was an important thing to consider, why didn’t Pilcher cryofreeze some farmers and botanists? Also, why wasn’t this idea addressed in season 1?

Also, if Pilcher wanted his Wayward Pines town to thrive as a small town circa 2014 style, he must have packed enough rations to last for well more than 3 years. I’d suspect he’d brought along enough to last 10 or 20. If you don’t bring along enough rations to last 10 or more years, then why lure people in with all of the ice cream and hot dogs when in 1-2 years they’ll be starving or subsistence farming? Also, ice cream is made from milk. Where was the livestock to keep it all going? What about clothing? What about making cloth? What about growing cotton to make yarn to make cloth? What about sheep to make wool for winter clothing?

Clearly, the show’s writers weren’t thinking ahead. They might be able to blame some of this on Blake Crouch, but the show’s writers should have been able to read the book material, see the problems and fix them in the series. Overall, it’s a generally weak show that appears better than it actually is. It’s easy to see why it was cancelled after 20 episodes. In addition to being only half-assed in concept, the stories were simply not thrilling enough. The story needs a whole lot more thought and work.

↩︎

Rebuttal: Kelly Marie Tran’s NYT Op-Ed Piece

Posted in Employment, entertainment by commorancy on August 21, 2018

Rose and FinWhile I can’t identify with Kelly Marie Tran’s problems growing up as an Asian female as she describes in the New York Times, I definitely feel she has made some very empowering points regarding her observations. However, I also believe Ms. Tran missed some points that many Star Wars fans were trying to address within the Star Wars series. Let’s explore.

Haters Gonna Hate

It doesn’t matter much how much of a celebrity you are, you can’t please everyone. This is simply not possible. In fact, it’s not even worth trying. However, the bigger of a celebrity you become, the more of these folks will appear and attempt to make your life miserable. You can’t let them. This is why everyone needs to make a decision about social media and celebrity. I don’t know a specific number, but I’d venture to guess you’ll find at least 40% of the people at most social media sites spout some form of vitriol towards at least one or more people. Perhaps that number is even higher. While I personally believe vitriol has no place on social media, I acknowledge that it exists.

Judgmental Society

No matter who you are, you can’t let the vitriol define you.. not on Twitter, not on Facebook, not on YouTube, not on any other social site. Criticism is everywhere in every form everyday. It happens when you drive your car. It happens when you eat out at restaurants. It happens when you drink at a bar. It happens when you post pictures to Instagram. Simply… it happens. Everyone around you is always judging you.

People judge you for what you wear, how you look, how you walk, how you talk, how you act, what you say, your shoes, how your hair looks, your makeup… etc. People judge other people everyday. You can’t stop it. You can’t do anything about it. But, what you can do is ignore it.

I know it’s hard, particularly if people use cruel words that you read or that you can hear. However, you can’t live your life by other people’s judgement of you. You must live for yourself, not for anyone else. If you find someone who is particularly cruel or judgmental, eliminate them from your life. You don’t need Negative Nancys and Toxic Tommys around you. Simply cut those naysayers off. That doesn’t mean killing your entire social media presence, but it does mean actively using the moderation tools given by these sites to block those who only serve to harass you.

Constructive Criticism vs Prejudice

In any profession where you must perform, act, sing or even create visual art, your work will be criticized. Some people will like your work, some won’t. Many will be vocal about that criticism. As I said, you can’t please everyone. Criticism is the unpleasant part of the performing and visual arts. But, it doesn’t have to define you. When reading criticism, you must always review that criticism objectively. If you don’t, you’ll always assume that everything is a personal attack. Step back and see it for what it is, someone else’s problem. Not yours.

Someone who is looking at your work isn’t necessarily judging you personally, even if it may seem that way. If you put your acting skills up onto a silver screen, people will judge that work in the context of that entertainment. As I said, some will like it, some won’t. If you’re an actor and you don’t understand this concept, then you probably chose the wrong profession. The same goes for any other performing or visual artist.

Basically, if you can’t take criticism of your work, then you should consider a profession that doesn’t require putting so much of yourself out there to be judged in harsh ways.

What this all means… it seems Ms. Tran is a little bit too sensitive to be a celebrity in today’s Hollywood. It’s a rough business to begin with. If you feel dejected every time you release a film or because fans tongue lash you, then you’re way out of your element.

Star Wars fandom and Acting Roles

What’s worse, a lot of Star Wars fans can’t seem to distinguish an actor from the role they play. Ms. Tran did the best with the material she was handed by Rian Johnson. None of the vitriol aimed at her after the film’s release is in any way justified. However, being judged and criticized is part of being an actress and part of the Hollywood business. That is something you need to accept being in the public eye.

However, if Ms. Tran is guilty of anything in this, she’s guilty of not understanding the reason behind why the Star Wars team cast her in the role. This casting reason is not her fault, but it is her fault in failing to foresee and act on the potential problems caused by her being cast in that role. She states she was the first Asian female lead in a Star Wars movie. True. Though, we need to read on to find out why she might not want to be proud of that fact here.

I can fully understand Ms. Tran’s temporary blindness of insight she might have suffered after her agent told her she got the role. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to appear in a Star Wars movie? With that said, this franchise was already off on the wrong foot with the affirmative action program enacted by The Force Awakens casting folks. It was completely foreseeable that this program would both carry forward and escalate within The Last Jedi. To no one’s surprise, it did.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with Ms. Tran accepting a part in The Last Jedi… had the part been anything other than blatant attempt by the filmmakers to escalate an affirmative action program by creating a character and a role that didn’t need to exist. This is what Ms. Tran should have foreseen. This is what she should have understood about that role she accepted. This point was crystal clear to me the moment her final scene appears on the screen. This is what her gut should have told her before accepting the part. This is what her agent should have seen and explained to her. This is what she likely would have understood by reading the script in full. These were all mistakes made by her and the team around her. She was more than likely blinded by the words, Star Wars.

Film Roles can Backfire

Not every film role that an actor or actress accepts will be a success. Sometimes the filmed work never makes it into the final film. Sometimes the role is wrong for the actor. Sometimes roles occasionally end up backfiring on the actor or actress. This goes with the territory. No one can fully understand the consequences of a role they might accept until a film is released. However, an actor can usually ascertain if the filmmaker has created a part that is genuinely necessary to a film by reading the script. You can’t blindly take the word of any filmmaker, you need to read each script and understand the full role being offered.

In other words, as an actor, you shouldn’t jump into a part because it has a name like Star Wars which blinds you in excitement. You still need to do your due diligence to understand if the part fits with your personal ideals before accepting it. As an actor, you always want to be taken seriously. You don’t want yourself and your craft to become the butt of an inside joke only to become immortalized on the silver screen. You don’t want your craft to be taken advantage of by a filmmaker’s personal agenda. This is the reason that doing research about the project, even a high profile project like Star Wars, is extremely important.

In fact, this problem is not limited to the entertainment profession. You need to always research the company and the folks where you might consider working. If their company ideals don’t match with your own personal ideals, you likely won’t be happy in a job there.

Star Wars as a franchise

Rian Johnson broke away from the Star Wars mold by introducing a new lead character in the middle of an existing storyline. One might argue he introduced two of these. Yes, but kind of. Holdo was technically a dispensable secondary character. The new lead role was for a love interest to Fin, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). There’s a right way and a wrong way to introduce new lead characters into a narrative. Rian Johnson did it entirely the wrong way. Not only was the Rose Tico character’s presence entirely unnecessary for the greater narrative, Rose also served no real purpose in the side narrative. Rose’s presence, in fact, only served to distract the storytelling of the greater narrative.

That story and character problem is most definitely not the fault of Kelly Marie Tran. She didn’t have a hand in writing the character or the story to which the character is involved. That’s on Rian Johnson, Kathleen Kennedy and Disney. No, she simply acted the part on film. Unfortunately, many fans don’t understand this fine point in filmmaking. Instead, they see Ms. Tran as the problem. She’s not the problem, she’s the victim. She even admitted that, for a time, she also saw this as her problem.

In fact, the producers were the ones who sowed the seeds of affirmative action in this franchise and they followed through with its execution. That’s a production problem, not an actor problem.

Fans need to wake up and point their vitriol at the place where it belongs, at the producers and Disney. Leave the actors alone. They did their part by acting their role. Kelly Marie Tran performed her part admirably, all things considered. Their job is done. The producers, writers and directors must take the blame for anything related to the film itself, including casting and poor story choices.

Kelly Marie Tran’s Message

While I understand and agree with much of what Kelly Marie Tran describes in her New York Times article, I also agree that Ms. Tran needs to do a bit of soul searching and determine whether being an actress in Hollywood is her best career choice.

↩︎

Remembering the 80s: Moonlighting

Posted in botch, entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on July 24, 2018

MoonlightingIn 1985, Moonlighting began as a show TV viewers seemed to both love and hate. I personally became very fond of this show at the time. Today, it is simply a product of its time period. Let’s explore.

80s TV

After coming out of the 70s, where crime dramas tended to rule the roost, the 80s spawned more lighthearted comedy to balance out those 70s serials. In fact, the 80s spawned a lot of TV shows that are fondly remembered. One of these is the screwball romantic comedy Moonlighting produced by Glenn Gordon Caron.

Moonlighting hearkens back to screwball comedies of the 40s with a straight man (or woman) character Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) to the cuckoo character David Addison (Bruce Willis). At the time, Willis was an unknown. I’m sure the TV executives weren’t sure he could pull off the role at the time, but once the chemistry between Bruce and Cybill became palpable, all executive misgivings evaporated.

Moonlighting and Chemistry

Like Charlie’s Angels before Moonlighting, this cast was as tight on chemistry as they come. The on-screen chemistry between these two actors was amazing to behold. Unfortunately, what made the show a winner would also see to its demise. The quick and witty repartee between Maddie and David would become deeply symbolic of what went on behind the scenes. After the second season, the apparently deep and constant bickering between the two actors would ultimately end up in tabloids, tarnishing this series irrevocably. However, what ultimately did this series in was its writing, production in-fighting and Cybill’s pregnancy.

Biting off more…

The witty rapid fire repartee of the Moonlighting character dialogue wasn’t without peril. Oh, it was most certainly fun to watch. Apparently, each script required double the amount of written exposition found in a similar series. This meant writing double the amount of pages in a script. Effectively, each episode was two episodes worth of material. Instead of cranking out several episodes rapidly, writers were only able to produce half the number in the same period. Because of the quick witty interrupting repartee, sometimes with Maddie and David talking over one another simultaneously, this would only serve to delay how quickly an episode could be shot.

At the time, it was said that it took upwards of sometimes 10-14 days to complete one episode of Moonlighting when most series with half the dialogue took about 5-7 days.

For both filming and writing reasons, trying to reliably release one episode per week was a chore for the Moonlighting team. This meant that episodes didn’t reliably show up every week. Usually there was a rerun in between new episodes. This also meant you’d never know if the show that week would be a rerun or a new episode until it showed up in TV Guide. This didn’t happen during season one and two because these seasons had many episodes in the can by the time the show aired. However, once the series airings caught up to the currently filmed episode, they never could get ahead again.

For a viewer, this unknown led to a lot of disappointment after finding out that this week’s episode was a three or more weeks old rerun. That’s not to say that those episodes weren’t funny, but they were way too recent to rewatch. This problem stagnated the series and was Moonlighting’s first blemish. More blemishes would show as time progressed. Though, the reruns were helpful if you missed that episode.

First Two Seasons

For the first two seasons of this series, which encompassed a total of 24 episodes (6 in season one and 18 in season two), the series kept its chemistry entirely on track. The writers kept Maddie and David in check and at just the proper distance from one another as Maddie constantly played hard to get. The constant keeping-David-at-arms-length premise kept the sexual tension at just the right level. It’s what kept people coming back week after week to see if Maddie finally gets together with David. Between the magic of the witty repartee and keeping David and Maddie at arm’s length, this was the show’s mojo. However, the witty rapid dialog and sexual tension began to wear a little thin by season three. Viewers wanted to finally see David and Maddie get together. Careful what you wish for.

Season Three

In Season three, when Maddie and David finally hook up in the episode I am curious… Maddie, the series deflates like a balloon. That episode singlehandedly took the wind out of the sails of Moonlighting. Not only did the sexual tension vanish, the constant rumors of the on-set fighting between Cybill and Bruce began appearing in tabloids and only served as a major distraction to the series. This coupled with Cybill’s real life pregnancy and Bruce’s leave to be in Die Hard left the series in a quandary:

  • Incorporate the pregnancy into the show or go on without her
  • Go on with or without Bruce

This is also where the actor’s real lives intruded into the production of this fine series. This season also marks when the series ran off the rails.

Season Four

At this point in the series, had I been the producer, I might have opted to create episodes with other characters while Cybill takes maternity leave if Bruce had been available. However, because both lead actors were otherwise tied up with outside commitments, the choice should have been to delay any further production of the series. The network apparently didn’t want this which led to a bad decision.

After the series introduced Agnes DiPesto (Allyce Beasley) as more than just a charming rhyming receptionist and brought in Herbert Viola (Curtis Armstrong) as her love interest, the series tried expanding on these two characters in their own episodes while waiting on Bruce and Cybill to be available. This really didn’t work. Beasley and Armstrong had very little on-screen chemistry leaving the episodes flat and boring. Beasley was charming as the rhyming receptionist role, but she wasn’t in any way able to carry the series in an expanded role. Neither could Armstrong. Together, they simply had no chemistry together nor were the characters leading character material. They simply could not carry this series.

By this point, I felt that the series was way offtrack. At the time, I knew it was only a matter of time before Moonlighting was cancelled. Not only was the sexual tension lost, the series began focusing on forgettable side character arcs that didn’t matter. This all happened simply because the two lead actors were unavailable. You can’t run a series when your leads are missing in action. While I understand Cybill’s pregnancy, I can’t understand why the series allowed Bruce Willis to sign a contract to be in Die Hard while the series was still in production. This just makes no sense.

Without its leads, the series should have taken a hiatus. Coupled with the slow shooting schedule, the longer than typical scripts, the show just couldn’t make any headway. If this had had a normal filming schedule, they could have put a few (or many) episodes in the can in advance of both Cybill’s and Bruce’s departure and then had them to fill out the time slots when the actors were unavailable. Because of the size of the scripts, this was impossible. Though, they did get pre-work from Cybill before her maternity leave and before season four began. But, this pre-work was filmed before the full episodes were fully scripted or shot.

By the time Cybill went on leave with her pregnancy and Bruce was tied up with Die Hard, this meant that a lot of season four was created by the actors phoning in their parts. As stated above, Cybill had pre-shot her dialogue scenes separately which had to be worked into as yet uncreated episodes. Because the leads were never seen together in scenes, the series ratings continued to decline. You can’t exactly create sexual tension between two characters when they’re talking to each other over the phone and not in the same room.

The ratings didn’t improve when the series tried focusing on DiPesto and Viola in an attempt to carry the series. In season three, not only had Maddie and David come together and split, the series introduced Sam Crawford (Mark Harmon) as Maddie’s new love interest. By season four, Maddie gets pregnant (assumed to be by Sam, but could have been David), thus integrating her pregnancy (and the unnecessary Sam character) into season four. It was a horrible plot choice, particularly the ambiguity of the father of the baby.

There’s no way faster to lose the hot model image than by knocking up your main character, particularly if by a transient and unnecessary character. This third character also transformed the series from a twosome into a threesome, which also didn’t work. The chemistry between these three did not work at all. This further served to degrade this series into a train wreck about to crash. Not only had Maddie and David gotten together and split forever, Maddie takes on a new boyfriend which is assumed she consummates that relationship with a baby. It was the wrong play. It added a new character dynamic at the wrong time into a series that least needed it. It also implied that Sam, not David, was the father of the baby. As well, having characters phoning in their parts didn’t make the episodes great. It would have been a better choice not to incorporate the pregnancy or Sam at all. The best choice was hiatus.

By halfway through the season, I’d grown tired of seeing stories about DiPesto and Viola and Maddie and Sam. The series was originally about the detective agency and the relationship between Maddie and David. We lost that when the series began focusing stories away from Maddie and David and more on other characters. The magic, at this point, was irreparably lost and the ratings continued to reflect that change in creative direction.

As for Maddie’s baby, just think what would have happened to the Charlie’s Angels ratings had one of the main characters gotten pregnant on Charlie’s Angels? That series would have tanked harder than when Farrah Fawcett left the series. The Charlie’s Angels story is about hot female detectives performing detective work. Not about rearing children or getting knocked up. Same for Moonlighting. Moonlighting was about a hot model owning a detective agency. It’s not about getting knocked up and rearing babies.

By season four, the writers had lost their way with the plots. This was in part because, according to the tabloids, the actors were not only fighting with each other, they were also fighting over what they were being paid. It was also in part because of the lack of their lead actor’s availability to film episodes.  It was also in part due to the writers strike. This led to poor story choices and a swirl of tabloid gossip.

Season Five

By this season and after the writers strike concluded, which cut short the final episode of season four, the writers and producers seemed to have realized the error of their ways with Maddie’s pregnancy and penned a season opener that sees Maddie miscarry and lose the baby. It was too little, too late. It was also a bad idea overall. Setting Maddie up to have a baby, see her carry it and then miscarry? This isn’t a topic for a comedy show. This topic on this show misfired. This is a detective show, not a home and family show. The damage was already done.

By season five, the show couldn’t get its mojo back for a number of reasons. The first reason is because of the lack of enthusiasm by the show’s stars. Bruce had further created a successful new franchise in Die Hard. Cybill now had twins and wanted out of the long working hours to be with them. The second reason is that the writing failed to go back to Blue Moon cases with Maddie and David in the office trying to rekindle the sexual tension spark with witty repartee instead of dealing with Maddie’s personal life. This change in show direction was due to Glenn Gordon Caron’s departure. The creative team was gutted. The episode that attempted to reignite the sexual tension spark failed and tanked the ratings further. Ultimately, season three showed it had entirely spent its mojo capital when it got Maddie and David together. Everything after that point couldn’t save the series from cancellation. If season four was the purchase of the coffin, season five nailed it shut.

Aresto Momentum…

Even still, the show did reach two more seasons after David and Maddie got together.  That’s respectable, but not necessarily unexpected. Some of the episodes in seasons four and five were okay, if not a little tired. However, the show still had a lot of momentum going into into the fourth season if only the actors had been available to shoot every episode and keep that momentum going. Unfortunately, Moonlighting just couldn’t withstand the turmoil, chaos and the cast unavailability. The series eventually succumbed to its ratings slump and the eventual loss of Glenn Gordon Caron, the series creator by season five due to a rift between Cybill and Glenn. That change in the creative team didn’t help the stories in any way.

The Fourth Wall

By the third season, the shows regularly opened with David and Maddie staring directly at the camera offering some kind of message. Usually the message existed simply because the show ran short on time and they needed to fill it. These messages made no bones about it. These show opening messages would become the first salvo in fourth wall breaking that the series would begin exploring.

Personally, while I didn’t mind the show openers, I didn’t want to see fourth wall breaks within an episode. It is what it is. The show would take this to the extreme in the final episode. The series ending in season 5 shows the crew breaking down the entire set while David and Maddie are still trying to play their detective character roles while the producer states that the show has been cancelled. It was somewhat funny to watch, but it really dissed the show. Sure, it’s fun for shows to poke fun at themselves, but this went way beyond what I thought was appropriate for a professional series.

Everything that went wrong with the series was pretty much summed up in the series closing episode by breaking down that set.

A product of its time

Moonlighting was cute, funny and endearing when at its best. It was a hot mess when at its worst. However, it was also a product of the 80s in which it was spawned. Time has not been kind to this series. Producers today reference this series as something to avoid when creating new productions. They simply don’t want to revisit what happened when Maddie and David finally got together. That single episode is now considered the poster child of what not to do with characters in a TV series.

Because Moonlighting never went into syndication in the traditional way, it simply hasn’t had the power of reruns on its side. I don’t think syndication would have helped this series much, anyway. Unlike I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, which saw continual and never ending reruns, Moonlighting never got that chance. It’s probably a good thing.

The series was fun to watch during its era, but today the show’s comedy and antics seem antiquated and pretentious. Where I Love Lucy is mostly timeless, Moonlighting is a time capsule out of time when watched today. This show was definitely a product of the 80s with its shoulder pads and dated hair styles and clothing. If you like 80s TV, it’s a must watch. However, if you’re looking for something modern and relevant, you won’t find that in Moonlighting. The stories are definitely dated to its era.

If you really want to watch this series at its absolute best, I suggest watching seasons one and two and season three up to I am curious… Maddie and stop there. The last episode of season 5 is fun to watch if for no other reason than to watch the cast break through the fourth wall. Though, you can watch season four and five, don’t expect much from these two final seasons. Season three is ultimately where the series should have ended.

↩︎

%d bloggers like this: