Star Trek: Lower Decks Lacks Humor & Wit

Trek Lower Decks poster

The newest Star Trek TV series, Star Trek: Lower Decks, is the first animated Trek series since the 1970s and while that old show for the most part lived up to Star Trek, this animated show does not, unfortunately. There are many reasons why Star Trek: Lower Decks is just not up to par with Trek standards, but the most glaring is with its humor, or lack of.

Star Trek: Lower Decks, which streams on the CBS All Access app, was promoted as a comedy that takes place on the starship Cerritos, an unexceptional Starfleet ship assigned to mundane missions throughout Federation space . The show focuses on a crew of young Starfleet ensigns who for the most part dream of being promoted to senior officers while burdened with humdrum tasks like cleaning the holodeck, changing carbon filters and so on. The problem is the show just is not funny.

It tries its best, sometimes too hard, to be humorous and slapsticky, but at best the show elicits a few chuckles or wry smiles that only Trek fans can appreciate. The show is saddled with trying to be funny while telling traditional Star Trek stories and the tone winds up being very inconsistent. Some story lines are kind of interesting and could have worked in a normal Star Trek episode but then they gets thrown off with uninspired sight gags and jokes that are not especially witty and ruin the story. Take for instance this episode called “Moist Vessel”. The Cerritos is supposed to tow an ancient generational ship that has a substance that turns inorganic material into organic ones, which would be useful for terraforming purposes. This substance is accidently unleashed on the Cerritos and uncontrolled growths of organic material threatens the ship. This would have worked in a regular Star Trek episode, but in this case the plot is used for cheap laughs, though it did provide a platform for some character study.

mariner and boimler

As for the characters, they are not outstanding except for Ensign Mariner (Tawny Newsome). Unlike her overeager shipmates, she is more of a disillusioned slacker who complains nons-stop about Starfleet life. This is an interesting way to go for a Star Trek character, except it leaves you wondering why does she still stay onboard the ship? Why not just quit Starfleet? How is it she is still allowed to remain on the ship? For that last question, there is more to her story; her mother is the captain of the Cerritos and she is especially hard on Mariner, but that is about it. Her partner is an overeager and over-annoying Ensin named Boimler (Jack Quaid whose talents are better used in The Boys), who comes off as those petty buttkissers that no one likes, so it he is hard to empathize with. There are a few more ensigns who are alien or enhanced with cybernetic parts, but they do not stand out at all.

Star Trek: Lower Decks would have benefitted with wittier and funnier scripts that went all out and perhaps even meta. Perhaps a different animation style would have served it better because right now the show looks so cartoony that you expect it to be stuffed to the bulkheads with outrageous, LOL moments and jokes or even oulandish scenes that would have been too expensive to film in live action.

The show is not the worse thing out there and some revamping would salvage the endeavor. It does have potential, so it may be worth keeping an eye on. However, if fans want something to tide them over in between regular Trek productions like Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery, they are better off watching The Orville, at least that show has better wit, humor and characters.

 

 

Time Runs Out For A Convoluted Tenet

Tenet is the latest film from director Christopher Nolan, which finally debuted at the tail end of the 2020 summer movie season; if one wants to say this summer has had a movie season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Tenet was heralded as Nolan’s grand epic, this year’s most anticipated film, the one that would salvage the summer movie season. Well, unfortunately, the film falls short of such aspirations.

This does not mean that Tenet is a disaster or a poorly made film. No, actually it is an ambitious film with high-end production values and the acting is generally good. The latter is due to the strength of the film’s lead John David Washington who is simply known as the Protagonist. The fact that Nolan could not be bothered to give the main character a name indicates one fo the problem with Tenet. The film is technically well crafted, but it lacks an emotional soul. This has been a flaw with some of Christopher Nolan’s other films, but in this instance, the issue overtakes the film. It is difficult to care about what is going on in the film even though there are high stakes in its meandering plot.

Christopher Nolan’s new film is a spy thriller with an Inception-inspired sci-fi angle. The Protagonist is a CIA agent who is recruited to prevent a world war and is involved with nefarious arms dealers and a secret organization called Tenet. During his mission, the Protagonist learns of bullets and other objects that run backwards in time due to a process called “inversion,” which means that if he tries to fire a gun with inversion bullets, from his point of view the bullets are already fired and fly back into the barrel of the gun. He learns the bullets came from a Russian arms dealer called Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who is gathering intel from the future and wants to create a doomsday event using artifacts that are inverted in time. Along the way, the Protagonist travels throughout Europe and Asia and finds himself operating backwards in time; in many instances revisting scenes from earlier in the film from a new viewpoint.

If this sounds confusing, you are not alone. Nolan is so enamored with having scenes play backwards throughout the film and trying to be too smart for the film’s own good. The result is a film with a disjointed nature that only add to the convoluted nature of the film’s plot. You have to pay very special attention to the film and frankly, watching Tenet several times is necessary in order to fully grasp it. The problem here is that the film is not engaging enough to make you want to bother watching it all over again (the film is nearly two and a half hours). The visuals are impressive and up to par with what Nolan has delivered in the past, but the inversion scenes quickly feel gimmicky. By the time, we get to the film’s climax, the entire viewing experience is just underwhelming and disappointing despite the film’s technical wizardry.

What makes matters worse is that the sound mixing is shockingly poor and leaves much of the dialogue difficult to hear. Most attempts to explain the convoluted and complex plot or how inversion works are garbled and spoken very quickly or too low from characters, which makes following the polt a chore. Unlike Inception where the process of entering people’s dreams was not important, Tenet demands a sound explanation of how inversion works in order to understand what is going on, but Tenet fails in this aspect.

Who knows? Maybe a third or fourth viewing of Tenet may improve it, but a film has to engage you from the initial watch to make you want to revisit it again. Tenet only calls for it just to watch the well-crafted visuals of inverted fights and car chases. But doing that will be easier and more rewarding when watching it at home instead of theaters. At least from your device or TV you can skip over the plodding and convoluted first half of the film and get right into the off-kilter action scenes.

Star Trek: Picard – A Season In Review

second picard poster

The first season of Star Trek: Picard has just concluded and it’s time to take a look at the season and the show itself. There will be many spoilers coming up, so if anyone has not seen the show streaming on CBS All Access or Amazon Prime then turn back. Otherwise, read on!

Star Trek: Picard naturally centers on the ongoing story of Admiral (retired) Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) as he left behind a tranquil existence at his French vineyard for one more grand adventure/mission which will reshape the galaxy.

The show takes place in 2399, twenty years after the film, Star Trek: Nemesis, and the death of the android Starfleet officer Data (Brent Spiner). Jean-Luc Picard angrily resigned from Starfleet fourteen years earlier and tends to his vineyard along with his Romulan employees, Zhaban (Jamie McShane) and Laris (Orla Brady). Picard meets Soji Asha (Isa Briones), a young woman who turned out to be a synthetic person and Data’s daughter. She is killed by Romulan secret agents but Picard learned that Soji had a twin sister, Dahj, and sets out to rescue her before the Romulans get to her. It turns out that Dahj is working in a deactivated Borg cube operated by Romulans and ex-Borg drones.

During his sojourn to find Dahj and protect her from the Romulan agents, a team forms around Picard who come in and out of his story. They include Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill), a cyberneticist; Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), a former Borg last seen nearly twenty years ago in Star Trek: Voyager, and is now a space vigilante; Picard’s former crewmate Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) who has a bit of an addiction problem; Elnor (Evan Evagora), a noble Romulan warrior devoted to protecting Picard; and Chris Rios (Santiago Cabrera), a former Starfleet commander who pilots his own private spaceship La Sirena and is a roguish space pirate in the Han Solo/Malcolm Reynolds mode.

sirena and old romulan ship

The Romulans secret agents are after Dahj because they believe her to be the fulfillment of an ancient prophesy that spells doom for all organic life in the galaxy. They hope to learn from her the location of her homeworld in order to obliterate it and prevent the prophesy. Obviously it is up to the nonagenarian Picard to get back into the captain’s chair and save Dahj and the galaxy before time runs out.

Star Trek: PIcard is another welcome Star Trek spinoff that effortlessly picks up the story of Star Trek after the events in Star Trek: Nemesis and parts of the Star Trek reboot. Doing this gives weight and meaning to the Star Trek Prime universe by exploring the ramifications of the destruction of the Romulan homeworld shown in the Star Trek reboot and the subsequent refugee status of many Romulans though their overall status of their government was unclear.It also gives a well balanced exploration of the Romulans themselves; something most of the other shows and films failed to do. Not all of them are one-dimensional, sneering villains.

The show is undeniably a sincere tribute to fans of the Star Trek Prime universe and of course, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Some may complain that it’s too much of a tribute with its numerous references, Easter eggs and cameo appearances, but they’re all just background layering for the uninitiated while rewarding for fans.

The show is clearly a Star Trek show, yet it isn’t. How can that be? Well, the show is not focused on current Starfleet personnel but on civilians and former officers. Freed from regulations and decorum the characters give us a feel for how life is like in the Federation and nearby regions for non-Starfleet people. The vaunted Federation is not as revered or as noble as presented in other Star Trek shows. In fact, there is an underlying notion that the Federation may be entering a period of decay; that it’s best times are past. Hence, one of the reasons why Picard walked away from Starfleet. Star Trek: Picard is edgier than the typical Star Trek show; there is a lot of cursing including F bombs. Most of the characters are deeply flawed including the humans, which goes vehemently against the idealistic and ultimately unrealistic Roddenberry future utopia where humanity is completely without fault. This will make some fans uncomfortable but it helps make the show more real and relatable to most viewers.

What we’re left with is a show that feels a bit like Firefly in that it stars roguish types who disdain authority. These are some truly interesting characters with their own complex back stories. Standouts include Rios and Raffie, who are both broken souls with troubled pasts and unwittingly gain redemption by joining Picard’s quest. It doesn’t hurt that both characters are well performed. Other characters like Elnor seek a just cause or for something to believe in. And holding the group dynamic is Picard himself, the moral glue that holds them together.

It goes without saying that Patrick Stewart puts in a bravura performance in the role that made him famous. As always, he eloquently portrays the bitter and defeated old man who finds a real reason to go out and make a difference in the galaxy. Stewart is so comfortable and elegant playing Jean-Luc Picard, it truly is a shame he has not done the role in so long. But at least he is back to usher in a new era of the Star Trek Prime universe.

Unlike most Star Trek shows, Star Trek: Picard follows a serialized format that is essentially a mystery. The payoff in the final episodes (“Et in Arcadia Ego, Parts I and II”) felt a bit predictable but it had its fist-pumping moments with cinema-quality effects and cinematography; one of those standouts was when Admiral William Riker (Jonathan Frakes, who also turned up in the season’s best episode “Napenthe”) literally shows up with the cavalry. Still, the payoff wasn’t as invigorating or as intense as “Such Sweet Sorrow” the second season finale of Star Trek: Discovery. Coming way from the finale its realized that certain plot elements were unresolved, which was annoying. Mother bit of a copout was how the show resolved the personal journey of Jean-Luc Picard. Without giving anything away, it was an interesting twist but it robbed much of the emotional impact of the fate of the former Starfleet admiral. Let’s leave it at that.

picard takes charge

Star Trek: Picard is a welcome return to the classic heyday of the uplifting era of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its immediate spinoffs. In these times, the show provides a much-needed reminder of the wonderful potential of humankind and what we should aspire to.

José Soto

Tron: Uprising Presents A Bold Digital Realm

As most of us are staying home as a precaution to the coronavirus, one way to pass time is to binge-watch the myriad of TV shows and films available in our physical media collections or streaming services.

Anyone who has Disney+ will see that the streaming service has the animated series Tron: Uprising. This show aired on Disney XD shortly after Tron: Legacy as a holdover to an expected sequel. Sadly, the sequel to Tron: Legacy never happened and the animated series was cancelled. This was a shame because Tron: Uprising was a well-done show that expanded on the world building of the Tron universe.

Below is a quick review of the show that was done for a previous version of Starloggers back when the show debuted. Tron: Uprising may not be as attention grabbing as other shows nor as fondly remembered but it is certainly a notable sci-fi show, which should be on anyone’s queue list; besides there are other things to watch on Disney+ besides The Mandalorian!

Tron: Uprising, the Disney animated series, follows the adventures of a young program called Beck (Elijah Wood), who becomes a heroic rebel leader in a virtual realm that exists within computers. This reality is the Grid that was visited by humans in the films and the series focuses on the programs that exist as distinct entities within the Grid.

The series actually takes place between the two films and has many aspects and references to the films, which will delight fans, while adding nuances and layers to the unique digital world. The cityscapes are wonderfully detailed and build upon the architecture seen in the Tron films. The result is that the digital world seems more complete, more vibrant, and more alive. Kudos to Disney’s animation team for pulling off this feat.

Disney released a preview episode on iTunes, YouTube and on the Disney Channel that sets up the series and is a must viewing to understand what is going in with the regular series. In that preview called “Beck’s Beginning” viewers are introduced to Beck a young happy-go-lucky mechanic and disc player in the distant Grid city called Argon. He has a joyous existence with his friends until the forces of the tyrannical program called Clu arrive and occupy the city.

Clu, is a doppelganger program of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges in the films) that became corrupted, took over the Grid and betrayed the heroic program Tron (Bruce Boxleitner, who reprises his role by providing the voice of Tron in this series).

After Clu’s forces, which are led by General Tesler (Lance Henriksen), kill or derez Beck’s friend, he decides to strike back against Clu’s reign. Tron by this time has become a cult hero who was supposedly killed by Clu. So Beck decides to assume Tron’s identity to inspire a revolution. Along the way he encounters enemies and allies including Tron himself, who passes on the mantle to young Beck.

Some of the graphics of Tron: Uprising are beautiful and faithfully represent the digital world of Tron but while the series is computer animated the series, on the whole, has a more traditional animated feel. It isn’t an obvious approach but it helps distinguish it from the films. But in trying to set itself apart from the films the series goes too far in terms of the characters’ anatomy that are grossly disproportional; characters are drawn with long, giraffe-like legs! It can be distracting but it doesn’t detract from the show. Many sequences are simply stunning to watch and capture the essence of Tron, especially the latter film Tron: Legacy. It’s an auspicious start for an animated series, one can only hope that future episodes maintain the quality seen in the first few episodes.

The digital world of Tron lives on with Tron: Uprising and it can be enjoyed by fans of those films, and even those who haven’t seen them.

Harley Quinn & Her Fantabulously Funny Show

With all the headlines about how the film Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is not doing well in cinemas, many have overlooked the animated series Harley Quinn, which is a better showcase for the popular DC villain. Currently streaming on the DC Universe app, Harley Quinn is a hilarious and better fit for one Harley Quinn than the live-action film.

As can be guessed by the title, Harley Quinn is about the Joker’s ex-girlfriend (voiced by Kaley Cuoco) and her efforts to move past the Clown Prince of Crime and build her own reputation as a major league villain. Along the way, she acquires her own gang of misfit villains who turn out to be something not quite a family but almost as close knit. The gangmembers include her BFF Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), who functions as a world-weary straight foil to Harley’s antics and rants; Dr. Psycho (Tony Hale), a small-statured, misogynistic megalomaniac whose foul-mouth gets him exiled from the Legion of Doom; Clayface (Alan Tudyk), who aspires to be a great thespian as he shapeshifts; and King Shark (Ron Funches), a deadly half-man/half-shark hybrid who is generally good natured and a social media wiz.

In the episodes, Harley has to contend with her skeptical colleagues and fickle public as she tries to pull off the major crime that will put her name on the books. During the misadventures she encounters many DC heroes and villains, especially Batman (Diedrich Bader) and the Joker (Alan Tudyk) himself. During her interactions with the Joker and the way she keeps bringing him up, it’s clear to everyone, except Harley, that she has unresolved feelings for the Batman foe. As the series progresses, the viewers and Harley herself learn much about her and what drives her. All jokes aside, the series is quite deep as she learns to live a life without Joker and be her own person. Watching her grief and bitterness, and the Joker’s apparent disregard for her, it is easy to feel sympathetic for her. But this show is not a pity fest. Just as soon as an emotional moment occurs it is quickly glossed over with some slapstick moment or raunchy humor.

Harley Quinn is way out there when it comes to vulgarity. Riddled with F bombs and lewd humor and bloody violence, this series is definitely not for the kiddies. Some prudes will be put off by the raunchy nature of Harley Quinn but it will have everyone else in stitches, especially comic book fans. Surprisingly, the show doesn’t do any fourth-wall breaking like Deadpool so that is a relief since Harley Quinn finds other ways to keep viewers laughing or grinning with giddiness. Namely the characters and plots as seen in the episodes.

In one episode, “Finding Mr. Right”, Harley steals the Batmobile to gather headlines and Batman’s attention. Instead, she and her crew are harassed by the Damien Wayne version of Robin who is basically a bratty kid that outright lies about his interactions with Harley. This turns her into a public laughing stock and her efforts to make herself seem formidably evil kept backfiring.

Other episodes are downright bizarre and nonsensical, but still amusing. “You’re a Damn Good Cop, Jim Gordon”, has the police chief (Chris Meloni) becoming best friends with Clayface’s dismembered hand. Long story short, after Clayface loses his right hand, it becomes an independent entity complete with stubby legs and a face on its palm. Brought to Jim Gordon as evidence by Batman, the hand and Gordon bond due to their loneliness. It has to be be seen to be believed!

Throughout all the zaniness, Harley truly shines as a character and a comedienne. Her friendship with Poison Ivy is arguably the heart of the show and their comedic chemistry work perfectly and go up there with Lucy and Ethel or Laverne and Shirley.

Harley Quinn deserves much more attention than it is getting. It could be due to the low number of subscribers the DC Universe app receives or Birds of Prey has drowned out the animated series. Thankfully, the powers that be saw how well done the show was executed and Harley Quinn is getting a second season which will come out this April. So we’ll be treated to more funny antics from one Harley Quinn.