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.

THE ADDAMS FAMILY – GOOD MOVIE WHICH JUST FALLS – LONG – OF BEING AN EXCELLENT ONE

SHORT TAKE:

Charming animated movie based on the Addams Family characters, created decades ago by Charles Addams, but honestly, with not enough plot for a full length feature.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone who is interested. No sex, there is ghoulishness but nothing really scary (except for perhaps the very young), cartoon (obviously) violence, no bad language, but could be a bit slow for any of the youngish set used to the quick and flashy.

LONG TAKE:

The story, for anyone not familiar with this quirky bunch, is about a tight knit loving family who do not quite fit the standard mold. (Though some of them may be a bit — moldy.) Resembling nothing so much as a band of ghouls, vampires and assorted monsters, they frighten the neighbors wherever they go. In truth they just wish to be left (to rest) in peace to raise their children and live (or be dead) without bothering anyone else. Unfortunately, a developer buys the land around their home and a neighborhood eventually grows up around them. And not your ordinary neighborhood but a carefully planned and controlled one which sees the Addams as a threat to their desire for plastic conformity.

While this is a promising premise, alas The Addams Family animated feature falls not short of being a classic but too long. They had all the ingredients of a five star triumph: engaging memorable characters, excellent voice acting from grade A actors, excellent though stylized animation, and even a built-in multi-generational cult audience.

Unfortunately, what they did not have was a plot that could sustain a feature-length film.

When the kids were little we all picked a theme song. I won’t tell you what anyone else’s was but I will tell you that they ranged from Broadway to rock and roll and mine was the theme song from the TV show The Addams Family. “They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky, they’re altogether ooky … ” Okay, well it wasn’t Shakespeare but what it WAS was confident, eccentric and whimsical. While others saw them as odd and scary, I saw a warm loving and wholesome (in their own way) family. Gomez and Morticia were very much in love even after many, possibly hundreds, of years of marriage. The kids were homeschooled, they lived with extended family – Gomez’s brother, Fester, and Morticia’s “grandmama”. They took good care of their pets – well, OK a lion named “Kitty” and a tall man eating Venus fly trap named Cleopatra. Gomez was an extremely successful, kind and philanthropic businessman who kept an open pocketbook to anyone in need. They adored their children, spent all their time together as a family, were welcoming to everyone, including the neighbors who occasionally ran from the bemused but well meaning family in terror. They never forced themselves on anyone but were  happily content to quietly go about their own business. Yet they were looked at askance just because they chose to do things a little — differently.

In short they reminded me of — us.

As a kid I enjoyed The Addams Family for its unusual humor and adorable characters. Later in life I had a much deeper appreciation for their situation. A LOOONG time ago when the kids were little, homeschooling was a very peculiar affectation to many people. The two most common questions we got were: “Homeschool – where is that?” and “Is that legal?” Many thought we were crazy. Even some of our friends would distance themselves when the subject of educating children came up. And our families were convinced we would tire of this “cultish” idea. 30 years later we had graduated all 6 out of high school and into college and careers. And retrospectively I recognized – we WERE The Addams Family to a lot of people.

So they hold a special place in my heart.

The source material is from a single panel comic by Charles Addams that featured regularly in The New Yorker. It specialized in dark and macabre humor: Morticia discarding the blooms of flowers to keep the stems. The children chopping the heads off of dolls with a child sized guillotine. The 1960’s TV show with John Astin (the adopted father of Sean Astin aka Samwise Gamgee) as Gomez and Carolyn Jones as Morticia, kept the dark comedy, but converted it into a cockeyed Leave it to Beaver sitcom. The movies, with Raul Julia taking over for Astin, and Angelica Houston for Jones, echoed their predecessors with devoted enthusiasm and ramped up the outlandishness of the family’s eccentricities. I thoroughly loved all of it.

This animated movie wisely pulls from all three. The voice acting is perfect and evokes the — uh — spirit of all the unique personalities: Gomez harkens back not to the good looks of the human leads but portrays Gomez as the short squat little pin-stripped ghoul he was originally drawn to be. The acting talents of Oscar Isaacs (Star Wars, Operation Finale) and Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde, Tully, Mad Max: Fury Road) instill Gomez and Morticia with all the lively personality of their live action predecessors. And while Chloe Grace Moretz (Dark Shadows, Carrie) as Wednesday is much like Christina Ricci’s stone faced version from the live action movies instead of the sweet faced Wednesday from the TV show, Nick Kroll (Operation Finale) does a spitty mouthed Uncle Fester which is far closer to Jackie Coogan’s version in the TV show  than Chris Lloyd’s feature film Fester. Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things and It – that kid better watch it as he’s well on the way to being type cast) did a lovely job as the voice of the good natured but “explosively” enthusiastic Pugsley. Bette Midler (singer extraordinary and actress from The Rose) does a surprise “appearance” as the voice of Grandmama. SCTV veterans Martin Short (Inner Space) and Catherine O’Hara (Ode to Joy – see my post HERE) perform an adorable cameos as visiting deceased spirits who give Morticia advice. I think all the choices made by the animators and actors worked together beautifully – cherry picking the elements which work best in this medium and blending them together like the tints in a fine painting.

The music uses both modern and iconic, employing the likes of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” as well as the familiar theme song from the TV show. Of particular note is the BRILLIANTLY inspired end credit sequence wherein the animated characters repeat precisely the scenes shown at the beginning of the TV show: Morticia and Gomez’ sword practice, Lurch at the organ, Fester’s smudged post-explosion face – in a loving homage to the wonderful 1960’s super quirky sitcom.

Unfortunately, unlike the live action movies, there is just not enough for these wonderful characters to do. Events — occur — and there is a theme of conformity versus independence, but it is more Road Runner booms and sight gags than storyline. There’s lots of quick one-liners and don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-them clever sight gags, but it just doesn’t all quite gel into a whole idea worthy of its 87 minute run time.

The “villain”, Margaux Needler, ultra-micromanager real estate mogul and TV show host, who will stop at nothing to get her “perfect” development off the ground, is a carbon copy of the perfectionist and micromanager homeowner association chairwoman Gladys Sharp, whose personality is lifted right off the storyboards for Over the Hedge. Both characters are even voiced by the same actress, Allison Janney.

It’s not that The Addams Family is bad, but it treads no knew ground and drags. With the content available here this would have been far more successful as a quick paced 20 minute short.

However, I think with the talent at hand and the rich potentials for the premise they could do SO much better and I look forward to a sequel if the writers would just put a bit more effort into the script.

But for all the flaws, I was delighted to see my favorite eccentric family on the big screen again.