PICARD IS TASKED WITH SAVING THE UNIVERSE – AGAIN!!

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF STAR TREK: PICARD REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Newest Star Trek show, this one starring Patrick Stewart as the now aged and retired Admiral Jean luc Picard on a quest to rescue a friend’s daughter and, oh by the way, save the Universe while he’s at it. And while it’s not as good as Star Trek: Next Generation or most of the movies, it is more “Star Trek-ian” than Discovery.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Unfortunately, THIS Star Trek venture uncharacteristically includes: profanity, even blasphemies, drug use, and hints at alternate lifestyles, which makes this show inappropriate for younger teens.

LONG TAKE:

I just got finished watching the first season of Star Trek: Picard. And while I was delighted to see Patrick Stewart in the saddle again, especially with cameos from the Star Trek universe, if this is the best the writers can come up with, then maybe it’s time for Picard to hang up his stirrups for good.

Like Discovery and unlike Star Trek‘s original inception, it is not episodic but moves along like a 10 hour movie (10 episodes at about 1 hour each). That is good and bad. If the storyline does not appeal to you then your are out of luck. You can’t drop into the middle of the season. Unlike the original shows it does not always seek to demonstrate the best that mankind can do, but far too often sinks to its lowest level, from drug addiction to bureaucratic disregard for entire civilizations, resulting in prejudice and genocide by neglect.

Patrick Stewart and the troupe from the original show were wonderful. Stewart throws himself into every role he plays. To underline that in a comic way, see the hilarious Honest Trailers for Star Trek: Next Generation.

I did think the plot pretty compelling and grew organically, pun intended, (you’ll see what I mean if/when you watch the show), from previous plots and concepts from the Trek universe. But while everyone is so busy being excited about the overall story line they forgot to include one of the things that made the Trek universe so relatable – the human element.

They took a few broad-stroke shots at it – but much of it felt like last minute thrown together ideas put on paper from the first brainstorming session.

For example: I know – Let’s give each of the characters some cliched “brokenness”. Rios, the captain of the ship Picard hires, (Santiago Cabrera), is a former Starfleet officer with an unresolved trauma. Picard’s best friend, Raffi, (Michelle Hurd) whose name inevitably reminds me of the children’s entertainer,  looks and acts like a female Bob Marley – drug habit included. All she’s missing is the Jamaican accent. NOT to mention the fact that even the most hard core Trek fan knew nothing about her. Alison Pill (Hail, Caesar!) is Jurati, a scientist with a tragic personal relationship with another familiar scientist (who I will not mention in the name of avoiding spoilers). Throw in some subtle, politically correct, lesbian overtones and you have the making of a Star Trek that might embarrass even the fanboys from Galaxy Quest operating out of their garage.

Not all is lost.

Soji (Isa Briones) does a good job as the damsel in distress with a past which propels the rest of the story arc.

The space special effects are pretty cool. Nothing spectacular, groundbreaking, or anything to write home about, but definitely up to the standard Star Trek TV show.

Jeff Russo creates a music score which uplifts familiar themes and makes them fresh. Hauntingly appropriate for the space through which the characters travel as well as the space of isolation through which each of the characters move.

BUT! And here I come to one of the more egregious points of evidence proving the show makers did not really do their homework on the characters. What the heck did they do to Data? I understand Brent Spiner is, realistically, decades older and a number of pounds heavier than when last he played Data in 1992’s Nemesis. But the makeup job they did on Spiner must now be a relief to those who did the understandably maligned CGI job on Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy. The Data in Picard makes the creepy bad youthening of Bridges in Tron: Legacy look like the amazingly good job they did on Chris Evans in Captain America: The First Avenger.

Data, in Picard, was suspension of belief killing bad. Contrast Data from the original show.

Picard‘s Data’s contact lenses were too big, covering the whites of his eyes, and the wrong color. The pupils were too small and reptilian looking. The color of his skin made Data look as though he had spent his afterlife in a tanning booth. And do not get me started on the semicircular hair line which made him look like Spiner had just come from an audition to replace Shemp Howard in a movie about The Three Stooges. How hard would it have been to touch up Spiner’s hair, contacts and skin color to make him look better than that he had spent 15 minutes in a chair with somebody’s leftover makeup bag? To quote Sam Rockwell’s character, Guy, in Galaxy Quest: “Don’t you people WATCH the show??!!”

ALSO, and I’m trying to be as spoiler-free as possible, there were some rationalizations for decisions in the last show’s denoument which should have been run through a couple more rewrites. I hate being this obscure but do not want to give away MAJOR spoilers, so if you want to know the details to what I am referring before or instead of watching the show, I’ll explain way down below.

ALSO also, the acting wasn’t all it could have been. Sometimes the cast sounded like they only had one table reading under their belt before they were thrown in front of the camera.

The cameos were great, with the previous regulars stepping right back into character as though they had just wrapped up their previous season or movie last week, (for which I do not want to include pictures because, again, I don’t want to give spoilers). And while Patrick Stewart gives it his all, I cannot honestly say the same for his fledgling crew. The new kids on the block were really hit and miss ranging from: not bad and establishing the groundwork for a new character, to first season Deanna Troi weeping, to awkwardly inappropriate and dulled affect.

I’m not suggesting that Picard is terrible or that you shouldn’t watch it. And there are lots of surprises which I don’t want to give away. But I am saying I was periodically disappointed. To be fair many of the Star Trek shows needed to get their first season under their belt before they hit their stride, mature their characters and improve their special effects – INCLUDING Star Trek: The Next Generation from which Picard originally sprung in 1987 .

But, to be blunt, as fond as I am of Patrick Stewart and as much as I respect his Shakespearean grounded acting ability, he is 89 years old. They don’t have time for a practice run if they’re going to get any traction with this show. I would hate to think this was Patrick Stewart’s last hurrah with Star Trek.

While almost any Star Trek is better than NO Star Trek, Star Trek: Picard could have been better.

MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

Near the tip end of this season’s last episode, Picard collapses and dies from a brain anomaly in his parietal lobe, caused by Irumodic Syndrome first referenced in All Good Things (the ST: TNG finale). OK – ballsy move. So – Star Trek being what it is, and no one really dies if they’re super popular – they put Picard’s mind into a “golem” or super advanced android that looks like him (Is anyone surprised?) Great – fine and in keeping with the story line. BUT they explain that his new android body was given an algorithm to age and he will not have any more years than he otherwise would have.

No extra years?! This incredible new body and it’s given to Picard pre-aged like a pair of pre-distressed blue jeans??

Wait! WHAT? REALLY? On PURPOSE!? WHY?

Because, it is explained to Picard, they “knew” he would not want anything to change with the already 94 year old (character not Stewart) body he was used to. EXCUSE ME!? I think I would have put my android fist through his stupid face. Did they not think that maybe HE MIGHT want a few more years?

OK Back up. I understand the writers can NOT do that because Stewart really is old – 89 as I have said. So the fact Picard’s character has to stay old is a given. But they needed a better reason than THAT. Whoever came up with THAT dumb excuse should have been relegated to checking for typos in the script.

This is an unfortunate limit that would only be believable if it was forced on them by circumstance. How about they had no choice? Maybe something about how an extension of years would have taken adjustments in the algorithms already in the golem which they didn’t have time to accomplish because he was dying? Or they couldn’t add years because the golem was built for someone else and there were problems getting him IN the golem. How about an elf came along and held a phaser to their head to prevent them from adding extra years? ANYTHING but this bizarre rationale – that Picard was USED to his existing deteriorating body so they KNEW he wouldn’t want to make any changes……This is just a new level of casual bad writing and beneath the quality we expect from Star Trek. Hopefully they will do better in the future.

A SECOND LOOK AT THE NEW DR. WHO, A LOOK BACK AT AN OLD STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION AND THE PRO-LIFE MESSAGE

SHORT TAKE:

The recent Dr. Who shows have been FAR better than the pilot and rely on puzzles, history, and most importantly, in The Tsuranga Conundrum, features — a pro-life message.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Anyone.

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LONG TAKE:

I was not wrong. The first of the new Doctor Who's was terrible. Click HERE to see why. However, the stories immediately began improving and I had already intended to write a revised blog. But episode 5, The Tsuranga Conundrum, put me over the top and inspired me to get it done.

Let me first say a little bit about the other improved episodes. Rosa, much like TOS Star Trek's "City on the Edge of Forever", where one person's decision changes the course of history, revolves around whether or not Rosa Parks will refuse to stand for a white person on a bus in the 60s. Her act of civil disobedience, striking a blow for the dignity of every human, sparked the Civil Rights Movement. The antagonist for the show was a fellow time traveler who wished to interrupt this key event. The Doctor and company were there to protect the time line. Rosa was a lovely story and the theme harkened back to Doctor Who's original 1963 intent of being a time-traveling historian and scientist.

The other shows highlighted the female Doctor Who's natural strengths of intellect and puzzle-solving. As a woman, she does not have the upper body strength to physically handle altercations. The other doctors, aside from Christopher Eccleston, though of  "academic" builds, were still far stronger physically than this one could be. So her strength lies in her being, as David Tennant put it often, "clever". And this comes off very well again in this story.

While her companions are still not especially noteworthy, you kind of get used to them, and they have the virtues of neither being bossy nor abrasive as previous companions have been. Neither is there some long game arc with them as the linchpin to the mysteries of the universe, which is pretty refreshing. So the shows have definitely improved.

But the most recent Dr. Who episode was the icing on the cake and deserves special commendation. Doctor Who has always been pretty pro-life, much like Star Trek was pro-life. The value of sentient life was recognized,  regardless of how they looked. And there was respect for life and Creation in general, (even though there was only rarely a reference to a Creator). And Doctor Who is very much in the same vein. Enemies' lives are respected, valued and protected with as much alacrity as friends' lives. Character arcs are often about redemption, and rarely does the concept of revenge in any form rear its head.

Acknowledgement of life's importance in all forms is an understood thread that weaves itself though both shows. But only once before this most recent Dr Who show have I seen the pro-life position so clearly and plainly stated as it was in "The Child," from Star Trek the Next Generation.  In "The Child" Deanna Troi finds herself pregnant from an unknown entity. The consensus from the rest of the command crew was extreme caution and Worf, the Klingon security officer, even recommended abortion of the "fetus". But Deanna, not even knowing how she got pregnant, not knowing what was the intent of the entity who, frankly, raped her, flatly stated to her captain: "Do whatever you feel is necesssary to protect the ship and the crew, but know this, I'm going to have this baby". Not fetus, not product of conception, but "baby".  The only issue to Deanna was protection of the child that she carried and an acknowledgement that it was indeed a baby.

DR WHO SPOILERS

I am so very pleased to commend this new Doctor Who, and obviously the writer, Chris Chibnall, for making the same clear pro-life statement. In episode 5, "The Tsuranga Conundrum", the premise is that The Doctor and her companions are trapped on a hospital ship without her TARDIS. Their literal deus ex machina is temporarily out of reach on a planet several days travel away. The main storyline revolves around an attack on the hospital ship by a new mysterious alien, the Pting. But that is not really relevant to the point of this blog, so I will let you enjoy that part on your own. 

Their subplot, partially intended for comedy, is really the most important part of the story. Yoss is a young unmarried man, in the last stages of pregnancy. Now bear with me. Though the young man looks human, he is a different species and this IS a science fiction show. When asked how he knows the child will be a boy, he responds matter-of-factly: "Boys give birth to boys and girls give birth to girls. That's how it is." So – yeah – alien. Somehow this struck me as especially funny, as I am sure the writer intended. When two of The Doctor's companions, understandably confused, ask him how this could have happened, meaning – how could he, a man, become pregnant?!!! the scared new dad misunderstands and explains that it was the result of an ill-thought out one night stand.

Here is where the pro-life begins. There was never any mention of Yoss considering abortion even though he makes clear that pregnancy was the LAST thng he wanted at this time in his life and that he feels woefully underprepared to be a parent. In addition, the writer, through Yoss, goes out of his way to show the companions what his unborn baby looks like in a series of 3D ultrasound images. There was no plot purpose to this slide show, but it made a brilliant point and, I thought was the highlight of the episode. His species' gestation takes only 5 days, therefore the pictures he shows are a succession of developmental shots only a few hours after conception, then after the first day, the second day, third, and fourth, all of which show dramatic gestation of a species that looks just like a normal human child. The last picture of his unborn baby, taken three hours earlier, shows a full-term, perfectly beautiful,  baby boy to the awe and delight of the attending companions.

I thought this masterfully done. Whether the writer intended to or not, he makes it clear, even to the most uninitiated, that it takes no time at all to get from "conception" to "baby".  And giving this species a five day gestation brings that thought home in a very condensed way.

There are some predictable but still funny moments of two squeamish human men in a delivery room assisting with the C-section birth of a baby. But all the concepts are treated tactfully, so not to worry. The rest of the subplot is cute as well and involves his decision whether or not to keep his baby or give him up for adoption.

And there's a bit of lagniappe. Usually Doctor Who, and even my own beloved Star Trek, avoid religion at best and take sly jabs at it at worst. But in this Doctor Who, during the funeral for one of the guest characters, prayers are requested from saints! While, unfortunately, no mention of God was there, reference to saints, a distinctly Catholic spiritual concept, was a delightful and blessed breath of fresh air.

As I have not been shy of doing in the past, I have re-evaluated the show. I hereby backtrack on my previous overall negative impression of the new female Doctor Who. While I continue to maintain that the first was poorly done, it did not put her best foot forward. The steep incline of improvement has been quite a pleasant surprise.

So, I recommend for all of you Doctor Who fans who have not tuned in yet, to give Miss Whitaker's Doctor Who a try. Based upon shows 2 through 5 she deserves another chance.

And bravo to our new MISS Doctor Who for her profoundly pro-life message. I will be tuning in again.