Finally watched: Schitt’s Creek

(image courtesy CBC)

 

If you were to look at Schitt’s Creek‘s premise in isolation, you might be tempted to wonder if we haven’t been down this folksy, poorly-bitumenised road before.

That’s hardly a crime of course since most TV shows owes some debt of gratitude, large or small, to their broadcast antecedents, and to be fair, if it’s done well, the idea of pampered rich folks ending up living considerably down on their luck in a middle of nowhere, unadorned small town (which they own; it’s their sole remaining asset), can actually prove quite entertaining.

But it hardly screams originality as a lovely little narrative proposition on paper which is why its taken me three years, and a Netflix-subscription to give it the time of day.

The upshot of all this much-delayed viewing, with 39 episodes over three seasons tucked away in the binge-worthy bank, is that the hackneyed premise has been a whole new, uproariously funny lease on life by Eugene and Dan Levy, the father & son team who star in the show as fallen video store magnate Johnny Rose and his pampered son David respectively.

Joined by the inimical Catherine O’Hara as Sunset Boulevard-ish daytime soap actress Moira and Annie Murphy as daughter Alexis who has a thing for rich heirs named Stavros, the Levys, who are joined on the show by Sarah Levy as Twyla Sands, have come up with a fish-out-of-water sitcom that actually generates more than a few laughs per 20 minute running time.

Much of that has to do with the trouble they’ve obviously taken to craft characters who actually make sense; sure they’re trope-heavy to some extent, an almost inevitable outcome given the history of the genre and the needs for oddball personalities to serve the great machine of idiosyncratic comedy; but they’re also real, sweet, genuine people who have a life beyond the next punchline.

 

(image courtesy CBC)

 

Take the Roses themselves.

Johnny is actually a decent, in-touch kinda guy; yes, he’s taken aback by his change in fortune, precipitated by his business manager failing to pay taxes and absconding with all their money to a tax haven somewhere, and wishes things were different, but he’s also grounded enough to realise that he and his family have little choice but to knuckle down and make the most of things.

The rest of the family are not quite so together with Moira convinced that her acting as a spokeswoman for a local fruit wine company may presage a theatrical comeback, one that might derailed by her descents into weirdly disconnected of melancholy and professional regret, David, given to wearing designer clothes and a pansexual, glamorous lifestyle, not quite understanding he may need to work for a living, and Alexis struggling with the idea that her pool of status-climbing would-be husbands has dwindled to the depth of a small pool during the African dry season.

It’s their sense of dislocation and unwillingness to accept their new fate – made all the funnier by Moira constantly riffing on the idea of being in an internment camp or wishing that they all die before they wake up, patent overreactions that reflect how horrified the whole family by their new status in life – that drives much of the humour in the show.

But the Levys, backed by a crack team of writers, have gone to enormous trouble to move the family way beyond the realm of one-trick, oneliner ponies.

As time goes on, it turns Moira, who is not exactly mother of the year, does have a heart and a capacity for adapting, David finds out that perhaps there is a place for him in the most unexpected of places and Alexis discovers that not all her romantic prospects have to own expensive yachts and attend Diddy’s White Parties (in fact, frankly, it’s better if they don’t).

In other words, they’re fleshed out as fully-formed people who have inestimable quirks yes and a burning desire to get back to their old lifestyle but also authentically, realistically human, meaning the humour is less about the same old obvious jokes all the time and more about where the characters take it.

The same applies to almost every other character including mayor Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott; his name delights my inner five year old no end), his high school teacher wife Jocelyn (Jennifer Robertson), motel clerk-then-owner Stevie (Emily Hampshire), the unrequited object of Alexis’s affection Mutt (Tim Rozen) and girlfriend Twyla, and honestly just about everybody of nay note in the show.

 

(image courtesy CBC)

 

This comedy-boosting attention to detailed characterisation pays off bigtime, as does the willingness of Schitt’s Creek to treat everyone with the requisite amount of respect.

So committed to the cause is the show that at one point, when Moira, fresh from getting the same hairstyle of every other woman in town at the local salon, laments once again being in Schitt’s Creek at all.

She’s immediately picked up by Jocelyn who acknowledges that there is a lot the town doesn’t have but that it has a great deal to offer even so and it’s her defense of the show that forces Moira to reconsider her constant carping and explain to Jocelyn why she puts things down so often.

It grounds and humanises both characters, affirms that Schitt’s Creek may be quirky and less-than-ideal in certain ways but that’s still somewhere worth living; neither party is maligned, there’s enough left in the premise to fuel the comedy (which is largely character-driven anyway) and the show moves beyond cheap-and-cheerful set-ups to something far more sophisticated.

And, it must be said, very, very , VERY funny.

If you’ve reached the point with many sitcoms, such as The Big Bang Theory (I love it but it is well past its prime) where your reactions are measured less in uncontrolled guffawing and persistent ringing laughter than the occasional titter and half-baked smile, you’ll delight in the ability of Schitt’s Creek to make you laugh, and laugh hard.

Constantly. Persistently. Episode to exquisitely well-wrought episode.

It rarely drops the comedic baton, takes well-worn narrative and character tropes and spins them in a whole new light, engrossingly hilarious light, gives a damn about the longevity of its characters and understands that good comedy must have some humanity and substances to it if it’s going to have kind of longevity (three seasons and counting).

It’s not always absolutely perfect but what show is, and it gets it rights, and hilariously so, far more than many other sitcoms on air at the moment, proof that you can indeed teach an old genre new tricks and make it funny into the bargain,.

 

 

 

The John Lewis Christmas ad 2017 is here! And so the festive season begins …

Moz the Monster (image via YouTube (c) John Lewis)

 

Year after gloriously festive year, the Christmas ads of UK department store John Lewis are that one rare exception to featuring commercial ads on this blog.

That’s largely because the ads, while obviously selling something, are far more creative than your usual “Hey we have Christmas stuff! Come and buy it!”

The ads are usually exquisitely well-written, full of rich-emotionally resonant humanity and have that magical sense of otherworldliness that is inextricably linked to the festive season.

This year’s ad, directed by Michael Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) has just dropped after a great deal of feverish anticipation, and while it’s not as immediately affecting as past efforts such as 2015’s delightful The Man on the Moon which was one of the most beautiful short films I’ve ever seen, there is a real joy to Moz the Monster and his antics under the bed of one little boy.

 

 

At first scared, then intrigued and finally beguiled, Joe finally delights in the company of Moz, who shows a heartwarming willingness to keep his young friend company all through the night, no matter the activity.

The downside to all this frivolity and fun? It takes place at night which creates all kind of havoc for Joe who must decide whether it’s sleep or Moz he needs more.

There’s some genuinely sweet, moving moments in the ad, and while some people have complained it’s not Christmas-sy enough, there’s a huge amount of heart and you can’t help but fall in love with Moz who, it won’t surprise you to learn, has an impressive range of merch at John Lewis to his name. (10% of the proceeds are going to children’s charity Barnardo’s.

Granted some people have issues with the ad, but it has a gorgeous air of magical realism about it, a lovely theme of belonging and caring, and Elbow singing a pitch-perfect cover of The Beatles’ song “Golden Slumber”.

Yeah think I’m in love already …

Want to spend some quality time with Moz? You can! Go here and create your own monster.

 

 

Let’s be honest, the John Lewis ad is the main festive advertising game in town. But Marks & Spencer have made a major play for the delightful warm-and-fuzzies with their recently-released advert featuring a gorgeously oblivious Paddington Bear who mistakes a thief for Santa, in the process making things profoundly better for everyone concerned …

(source: Digital Spy)

Star Trek Discovery: “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” (S1, E8 review)

It’s peace, love and mung beans at 40 paves as Tyler, Burnham and Saru discover they may not be on the same existentialist page (image courtesy CBS)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND ALIENS TOO DAMN PEACE-LOVING FOR THEIR OWN GOOD … AND PRETTY MUCH EVERYONE ELSE’S 

Grab your tie dyed T-shirts! Get used to eating tofu and mung beans! Make love not war and slap a peace sign and some rainbows on a Volkswagen Beetle – it’s time to get your Star Trek: Discovery hippy on!

Well, at least it is for Lt. Saru (Doug Jones) who, on an away mission to the planet Pahvo, which owes a debt of gratitude to Avatar, down to the colour scheme, with Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Lt. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), found himself rather caught up in the peace, love and harmony (and maybe tofu? Hard to say but let’s say yes) of the ethereal blue-energy inhabitants of the planet who were the planet.

While not a note of “Kumbayah” was heard, it was fairly evident that Saru, a Kelpien (the first in Starflee, no less) whose species evolved on a planet with apex predators that hunted them, leaving them perpetually fearful and able to sense death (what a cheery combo!), had drunk the peaceful Kool-Aid and was hellbent on getting Burnham and Tyler to stay with him in his New Age commune.

Trouble was, and doesn’t real life always get in the way dammit, they were there to analyse the planet’s unending harmonic frequencies in the hope that it would give them some insight into detecting the Klingons’ invisibility cloaks that was giving their spaceships a rather sizeable tactical advantage.

Burnham and Tyler weren’t buying the new chilled Saru and did their best to carry out the mission, with Burnham getting as far as integrating their computer into the planet’s crystalline transmitting structure – handily it came with a USB port thus making the process all that much faster – but they kept getting violently waylaid by Saru who wanted PEACE NOW DAMMIT!

Yep, ain’t nothing worse than a fervent new believer is there? Doesn’t matter if its religion, washing detergent or a blue shimmering alien consciousness, recent converts are determined that you will join them come what may and Saru was definitely living out the cliche, doing everything he could to make Burnham and Tyler chillingly vibe along with him.

 

“So you’re acting really weird.”
“No, I’m not.”
“You thought I was the Captain.”
“Then yes I am.” (image courtesy CBS)

 

And frankly who could blame him?

After a lifetime of fear personally, and millennia upon millennia for his people, here was a chance to kick back, walk mindfully among the trees, commune with an alien race who simply want everyone to get along.

It’s an appealing idea, and one that, in a time of war where hundreds can die in an instant – “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”, which means “If you want peace, prepare for war”, began with a dogfight with the USS Gargarin, Discovery and some cloaked Klingon ships with the former Starfleet vessel losing out in the exchange – becomes even so.

The story, which combined good old-fashioned Star Trek story-within-a-story with the ongoing arc that has sustained Star Trek Discovery rather magnificently over the last eight episodes, gave us some touching insight into Saru who, later back on the ship was aghast at the lengths he had gone to in order to keep the peace, love and mung beans vibe kicking on for eternity.

Beyond that though, it spoke to the existential exhaustion of war – once begun it has to be fought especially if you want to preserve your way of life which the Federation won’t certainly wants to do but it is nightmarishly tiring on just about plane of existence.

The pressure, the tension, the loss, the death – it all goes on and on and on and it makes sense that Saru, run down by a lifetime of fearfulness, wouldn’t want to kick back and let the Pahvoans take charge.

Which, even once they’d all got to Discovery, they did, naively sending out an invitation to the Klingons to come and join them and the aghast people of Starfleet – what what? Yes we know they’re curious and love peace and we told we were at war and they want to fix it? WHAT?! – for some lovely, warm-and-fuzzy peace talks.

All very nice and life-affirming but when you are squaring off against a race whose highest honour is dying valiantly in war, and who live for a good old bit of biffo (Aussie slang – physical or verbal conflict; your new word for the day!), it can only end in near-disaster, likely that of the Pahvoans who have no idea what they have unleashed on themselves.

Burnham does however and urges Lorca (Jason Isaacs) who stick around save Saru’s tofu-loving friends; whether he will or not is another matter entirely since he has proven himself pragmatically ruthless in almost every situation, even sending his good friend, Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) into harm’s way where she was captured by the Klingons.

 

Love is in the air … and weird energy beings, strange vibrations, insanity … so lots of stuff really (image courtesy CBS)

 

Speaking of whom, are still not entirely unified and Pahvo-ing the hell out of life.

Clear evidence was provided by a clearly disgruntled L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) who decided, under the guise of interrogating Cornwell in a bid to please Kol (Kenneth Mitchell), sprung the Admiral from her cage, in return for some asylum in the Federation.

A thoroughly wonderful plan that almost came a cropper when Kol, ruthlesslsy uniting the Klingon houses with the promise of invisibility cloaks for their ships, saw him escaping down a passage way with Cornwell.

L’Rell naturally did what anyone would in that situation – she beat the crap of Cornwell, something Kol quite approved of (although oddly he left her to it, indicating he’s either way too trusting for his own good or late for dinner) – and dragged to a waiting shuttle which was, rather delightfully, full of the bodies of her slain friends and fellow T’Kuvma devotees.

But while things were looking decidedly south-ish for L’Rell, and it has to be said for Cornwell who has no doubt had way better days, Tyler and Burnham were going in for their first kiss, all while fending off a peaced-up Saru.

Of course, Burnham had to break the spell by pointing out that when the war ends, she’s back to a penal colony but that didn’t stop Tyler who suggested they keep the war going for years if it keeps them together.

Awwww that’s not the least bit selfish at all now is it? OK, WAAAAY selfish but also really sweet and romantic, as was Stamets’ (Anthony Rapp) decision, after being challenged by a concerned Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) who saw him wig out after a Spore Drive jump, not to tell his hubby, and the ship’s doctor, Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz), that powering the ship’s super fast drive was doing weird things to him.

Yes, just as Saru was lost in vistas of brotherhood, love and peace, Stamets was going back to being angry and loopy, a sign that maybe being a human engine – let’s hear for power by genetic manipulation! – was not really working for him in the long term.

Alas though it’s working for the Discovery, Lorca and the Federation and so you get the feeling that regardless of what he, Saru or Tyler or Burnham wants that the fight will go on at god knows what cost to everyone. (It was nice to have a little peace for a moment though wasn’t it?)

  • So what’s up next, Doc? Well, a mid-season finale in the form of “Into the Forest I Go” where Klingons and humans get up close and hostile and everything could go to crap  or … c’mon it’s cliffhanger so what do you think?

 

Jane Goodall and her love affair with Africa (documentary)

(image via Pinterest (c) National Geographic Society)

 

I have long had a fascination with the natural world.

It’s hard to say where it started exactly – the books of Gerald Durrell? The documentaries of David Attenborough? – but one thing is for sure, the magazines of the National Geographic Society, which my parents subscribed to for years, and specifically stories about conservationist and scientist, Dr. Jane Goodall, who went to Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, Africa to study chimpanzees at the age of 26 in 1960 and never really left.

I can remember poring over the issue above over and over (published mere days after my birth), obsessed with the wonder and diversity of life on this planet and impressed with anyone who would work so hard to study it and promote its preservation.

So it thrills me that National Geographic, who got the Goodall wagon rolling for me all those years ago, have commissioned a documentary, Jane, on the great woman’s life, which draws on an impressive amount of footage and research:

“Now, at 83, she’s the subject of a beautiful new documentary, Jane, from Oscar-nominated director Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture; Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck) — complete with an original score from Philip Glass. It’s made up of 140 hours of silent footage from Goodall’s earliest days in Gombe that were found in a National Geographic storage locker in 2014. And in addition to all the cute, and sometimes scary, footage of chimps, also reveals the swoon-worthy love story of how Goodall met her first husband, Baron Hugo van Lawick, in the wilds of Africa. He was a handsome and single Dutch photographer and filmmaker — widely regarded as one of the greatest wildlife cinematographers of all time — whom Nat Geo had sent out to chronicle Goodall’s journey, and it’s his footage that was found in that storage locker.” (source: Vulture)

 

 

Through the interview with Goodall and Morgen about Jane, featured on Vulture, you get the impression of Goodall’s down to earth nature, her curiosity for the natural world and her willingness to do what it takes to pursue her passion, a quality, she notes, that likely landed her the job with the revered paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey:

“Well, I’d read every book about animals. And then he let me go on an expedition searching for fossils in Kenya, and I think there he saw that I was really fitted for living in the wild, because we had one cup of water a day for washing, and I never complained. We were only allowed to wash our hair when the water truck came back and that was every two weeks.

“But I think even more important was there was one day when we came upon a young male lion, fully grown, and very curious. [The other young woman on the expedition] wanted to go into the thick vegetation to hide. And I said, “That’s silly. He’ll know exactly where we are, but we won’t have a clue where he is.” So I said, “No. We have to climb up onto the open plain.” I think that was the evening that Leakey agreed I was the right person.”

In just the short space of this engrossing interview you get a delightful sense of Goodall is and why she committed so much time and energy, indeed her whole life, to studying and publicising the diverse wildlife of Africa.

That alone should make Jane engrossing, must-see viewing.

Jane will screen in selected theatres across the USA in November and December; no word on international screenings at this time.

 

 

Weekend pop art: To every letter of the alphabet, a pop culture icon

Walter washing his Winnebago (image via Gizmodo (c) Dave Perillo)

 

Now if you’re anything like me (way older than school age), it’s highly likely you haven’t been asked to recite your ABCs or sing the Alphabet Song for quite some time.

Which is a pity because two artists, Tom Whalen and Dave Perillo, who recently exhibited their work at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles, CA, have gone to town with each of them giving all the letters their own personal pop culture makeover.

The results, as Gizmodo nicely observed, are “are always random, always cool, and occasionally laugh-out-loud hilarious.”

Want to teach the letter W with a Breaking Bad twist? You can! Feel like indulging in all things “J” by going to a galaxy far, far away a long time ago? Then you should!

In 52 distinctive pieces of art Whalen and Perillo have made the alphabet funky, fun and zeitgeisty, prompting all of us who have recited their ABCs in years to get back in the alphabetical groove all over again.

Admiral Ackbar playing an accordion with an antelope (image via Gizmodo (c) Tom Whalen)

 

Dracula driving Miss Daisy in a Dodge (image via Gizmodo (c) Tom Whalen)

 

Mr T taming a triceratops near a tent (image via Gizmodo (c) Tom Whalen)

 

Pokemon playing poker (image via Gizmodo (c) Dave Perillo)

 

Jawa, Jaxxon and Jar Jar jumping rope on Jakku (image via Gizmodo (c) Dave Perillo)

Godless: “‘Tis a fearful thing, to love what death can touch”

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
Set in the 1880s American West, Godless follows notorious criminal Frank Griffin (Daniels) and his gang of outlaws on a mission of revenge against Roy Goode (O’Connell), a prodigal son type who betrayed his former brotherhood. While on the run, Roy seeks refuge at the ranch of hardened, outcast widower Alice Fletcher (Dockery) in the isolated and run-down mining town of La Belle, N.M., which is mysteriously made up entirely of women—an interesting wrinkle to an otherwise standard-issue set-up. When the residents of La Belle catch wind that Griffin is headed their way, they’re forced to band together for a showdown with the outlaw’s murderous gang. (synopsis (c) Paste Magazine)

Westerns are one of those genres with (in some cases, literal) well-worn tracks.

Good against bad. Weathered souls and hopeful newcomers. Overwhelmed law enforcement (such as it is) against staggeringly powerful criminal elements.

Godless, from the master hand of Steven Soderbergh, seems to have all these and more, and yet for all the wild western tropes present and accounted for, you get the very real sense that there is something utterly remarkable and wholly original in the offing.

There is a real poetry (thanks in part to the sampling of actual poetry by Spanish-Jewish poet Yehuda Halevi) to this gorgeously-rendered teaser trailer, a sense of being taken deep into something, which augurs well for a TV show with a premise as immersive as this one sounds.

Godless premieres on Netflix 22 November.

 

 

Star Trek Discovery: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” (S1, E7 review)

Parties – you either love ’em or you hate ’em; guess which camp Burnham sits in? (image courtesy CBS)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND THE SAME OLD TIME SPAN AGAIN AND AGAIN …

Let’s do the time loop again!

OK, it’s not the time warp, and Dr. Frank n Furter is nowhere to be seen, but it is a staple of science fiction storytelling and happily, Star Trek: Discovery, in only its seventh episodic outing, absolutely nailed it.

Nailed it.

In the perfect blend of arc and self-contained episode, bringing it more into line with likes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine which expertly and often did the same blend of continuity and one-off over seven glorious seasons, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the rest of Captain Lorca’s (Jason Isaacs) Klingon-despatching crew, got their Groundhog Day on.

Reliving the same thirty seconds over and over again – best count according to Memory Alpha is 56 times, making the whole experience a 28 hour ordeal (if you’re Stamets, played by Anthony Rapp), lark (if you’re Harcourt Fenton Mudd, played by Rainn Wilson, the man behind it all) or a non-event (pretty much all of the rest of the crew until near the end) – a select group of people had to race against time to save the Federation’s war-winning weapon from falling into the hands of the enemy.

Yes, using a time crystal, that look like a steroid-assisted Fit Bit on his wrist, Mudd sought to discover the secrets of the Spore Drive, the better to broker a deal with the Klingons, pocket a whole heap of cash and get far away from his “beloved Stella” (Katherine Barrell), who it turned out was not so beloved after all.

But as is the way with these things, someone twigged that things were chronologically awry – that would one Mr Stamets who, courtesy of being plugged into the Spore Drive and existing outside of normal space/time (and getting giddily punch drunk at the same time much to his partner, Dr Hugh Culber’s (Wilson Cruz) amusement), saw stuff no one else did.

Lucky for the crew of the Discovery!

 

Mischievous and evil, playful and cruel, Mudd is perfectly played by the incomparable Rainn Wilson (image courtesy CBS)

 

What saved “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” from being just another time loop episode where the same events replay ad infinitum until one person works out what’s going on, convinces another it’s really happening and so on ’til the spell is broken, was some expert writing and nicely-nuanced acting, particularly courtesy of Sonequa Martin-Green, Anthony Rapp and Rainn Wilson.

Wilson, in particular gave us a Mudd, who was portrayed in the original series by Roger C. Carmel, who was both devilishly larkable, and brutally serious, a man who happily quipped about the number of times he’d killed Lorca, who he was angry with for leaving him behind in a Klingon prison (see “Choose Your Pain”) and yet despatched Discovery crew members with the same cold passion you might bring to squashing cockroaches under foot.

Giddily cavorting around the ship, enamoured with nothing but his own cruelly selfish ends – you could call him a playful psychopath, all fun and nightmare rolled into one nasty package – he toyed with any attempt to get a handle on the situation by changing how and when and where he killed Lorca, where he met the crew for the first time and what he was seeking to do.

Partly that was influenced by the fact that he was trying everything he could to crack the secret of the Spore Drive before the 30 minutes was up and Discovery exploded once again, but it was also, I suspect, to keep Stamets, Burnham and the dreamy Lt. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) on their toes, from guessing what he was up to.

He didn’t know they twigged of course until near the end but he must have suspected someone would eventually so he could switching and changing and mixing it up, keeping everyone trying to guess how in the cosmos they could possibly stop him.

Stop him they do, and in a most amusing and Star Trekky of ways, but the getting there is a hoot in an episode that references the ongoing war – at a party that kicks “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” off, with music by Al Green and the Bee Gees among others (“Staying Alive” featured; get it? Get it? Of course you do) they drink in honour of the 10,000 dead so far, while acknowledging that the death toll would’ve been way higher without the Discovery – and does some neat character development along the way.

 

“No, really, we’re in a time loop and … oh for god’s sake, will you just kiss already?!” (image courtesy CBS)

 

Principally that involves the sweetly simmering romance of Burnham and Tyler.

Burnham god bless her, who tells Stamets that she’s never in love so he has a way to convince they’ve talked about the time loop before thus cutting down on valuable convincing time (30 minutes really isn’t that long people!), has no idea that she’s been kinda sorta unofficially dating Tyler who likes, I mean really likes her.

During the multiple renditions of the time loop (which featured a space whale called a Gormagander; yes really), none of which really repeated each too much with the perspective changing all the time, Burnham, tutored by Stamets who gave the backstory to his and Culber’s romance which involved rudeness and honesty to Michael’s surprise, learnt to dance, talk to (well sort of; her small talk remains, and she admits this, AWFUL) and yes kiss the debonair Lt Tyler.

Granted they spend most of their time trying to stop Mudd and save the ship, which is as it should be, but along the way, the fires of romance were stoked, which was very “awwwww”-inducing but also highly amusing as Vulcan-raised Burnham grappled with the messiness of human love.

They didn’t end up as a couple by the end of it but they are well on their way, giving the Star Trek: Discovery writers plenty of narrative ammunition in the episodes to come.

“Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” was, quite possibly, the best episode of the franchise’s newest iteration to date, seamlessly moving the arc story along while delivering a neat, one-off storytelling bundle of fun and tension and good old-fashioned romance.

Drawing its title no doubt from Arthur C. Clarke’s iconic observation that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” (one of his three basic laws), “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” is proof positive that not only are the show’s producers and writers absolutely and definitely finding their feet, they are well-placed and thoroughly adept at delivering the Trek we love while pushing the boundaries out in darker and grittier ways which, when you think about it, is exactly what the franchise has always been about.

  • Behold another episode, “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”, awaits us with more sparkly blue alien life forms and Saru getting high on life …

 

Fire it up! Go behind the scenes of Stargate: Origins

(image (c) MGM)

 

SNAPSHOT
Origins will actually be a prequel to the original film, focusing on a younger version of the character Catherine Langford (first played by Viveca Lindfors). In the franchise’s mythology, Langford’s father initially discovered the Stargate, with Origins following the adventures that lead her to becoming the Stargate expert that appears in Emmerich’s movie. (synopsis (c) The Verge)

As sci-fi franchises go, the Stargate series, which kicked off with Roland Emmerich’s film in 1994, has always been on the expansive side of things.

That could be said of many franchises in the genre, but when you can be on another planet on the other side of the galaxy in mere seconds, simply by stepping through a watery blue wavering event horizon, then the narrative possibilities are damn near endless and almost instantly accessible.

This broad range of storytelling options, and a commitment to memorable characters and rich, intelligent writing is why Stargate: SG1, Stargate: Atlantis and Stargate: Universe – ended all too early after two seasons but continuing now in comic form – have all proved so enduringly popular.

 

 

Stargate: Origins, which takes us back to the time when the gate was first discovered by the Langdfords, whose daughter Catherine (Viveca Lindfors in movie, Ellie Gall in Origins) goes on to become the resident expert on the stargates in the film and later TV series, is set to restoke the fires of fandom (like they ever really went away) when it premieres a 10 episode (each 10 minutes) season.

The idea is to give us a sense of what it was like to stumble upon this amazing, long-buried technology and the behind-the-scenes video, while short of hard, fast, narrative detail, does at least give us a sense of what the series could be like.

From the little we do see, it looks like swashbuckling, Mummy/Indiana Jones fun, with action taking place on Earth and what might be Abydos (the presence of a Skaara-like character suggests this is likely the case.

Granted, we’re only getting about 100 minutes of new material to start with but that’s 100 more minutes than we had before so I’m inclined to dive in, join the adventure and see where Stargate takes us this time around.

Stargate: Origins was scheduled to premiere in 2017 on MGM’s won streaming platform Stargate Command, but firm date has been given at this time and 2018 is looking more likely.

Beware of The Walking Gingerbread! They will eat ALL your cookies #SesameStreet

(image via Muppet Wikia (c) Sesame Workshop)

 

One of the great, inestimable joys in life is when Sesame Street parodies a show you love.

Their brilliantly-realised parodies are a joy on just about every level – they capture the look and feel of the target show while making merry with its premise, its characters and plots while teaching all of us a valuable life lesson.

Their latest effort sends up The Walking Dead, which began its eighth season just last week, with the rapacious The Walking Gingerbeard‘s Crumbies turning up to eat all of Sheriff Graham’s (get it? get it?) cookies, all of them (oh the trauma!) and it takes the combined efforts of Muppet versions of Daryl and Michonne to make the forest safe for Sheriff Graham again.

The one big sticking point as the parody takes us to a host of The Walking Dead‘s favourite locales, all of which are surrounded by hungry Crumbies, is that Cookie Monster must be patient and not eat the cookies.

You can pretty much imagine how well that turns out.

The Walking Gingerbread is an absolute gem, proof that Sesame Street, which has long used pop culture to amplify it teaching lessons, is as strong in the parodying game as ever.

(source: io9 Gizmodo)

 

Star Trek Discovery: “Lethe” (S1, E6 review)

(image courtesy CBS/Netflix)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND A CANDY-COATED NEBULA THAT MAKES YOU THINK OF “LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS” … NO, REALLY …

Imagine being so intimately connected with someone that you can feel their pain and distress over vast distances of space.

Such is the bond though that exists between the tenacious protagonist of Star Trek: Discovery, Michael Burnham – newly promoted as science officer on the bridge, meaning she and Saru, played by Doug Jones, have now swapped life places – and her father, Sarek (James Frain), who found himself mortally wounded when a less than diplomatic Vulcan logic extremist detonated himself onboard the ship that were whisking them off to peace talks between the Federation and the Klingon.

Realising almost too late that his fellow diplomat, that we shall Pudding Bowl Haircut (real name V’Latak) because lordy there have been more fashionable dos on 14th century monks, was not feeling all that diplomatic and more than a little angry – given Vulcans don’t give into emotions, was he feeling really hardcore logical? Hard to say – Sarek threw up a shield that kept the spaceship intact but left him injured. (Personally I’d be taking the shield back for a refund.)

“May I inquire as to the nature of our diplomatic mission?”

“Allow me to be diplomatic and ask that you do not. In times of crisis, ignorance can be beneficial.” (V’Latak and Sarek)

All appeared lost for a man who is, for all his reserve, a renegade Vulcan, one of those rare individuals in any society who dares to gaze upon the status quo, and mutter “We can, and must, do better.”; lofty idealistic sentiments that anyone who abhors fossilising in place would applaud but one that brought him into conflict with the logic extremists, and which led him and Burnham to feel as if they had each failed the other.

Not that Sarek, a man who would sooner drive a bat’leth through his solar plexus that share openly and honestly with a therapist – so no forthcoming sessions with Admiral Cornell (Jayne Brook) then? – was going to volunteer that.

No, it took him nearly dying with his Katra (soul) subconsciously wandering willy-nilly across the galaxy until it found Burnham’s soul (thus spoiling her breakfast with the dashing Lt. Ash Tyler, played by Shazad Latif) for him to admit that he feels like failed Burnham, by choosing his son Spock over his adopted daughter for the one space offered him in the prestigious Vulcan Expeditionary Force.

 

(image courtesy CBS/Netflix)

 

For all his willingness to push boundaries, and go dashing out the other side of Vulcan envelopes, Sarek was only tolerated by many others, despite their nominal assent to his ideas, and the sole place in the Expeditionary Force was their “f**k you” reply. (After “Choose Your Pain”, the f-word is surely now Star Trek canon right?)

So Sarek made a decision; the wrong one, as it turns out, since Spock went to Starfleet and Burnham, who really, REALLY, wanted to join the Expeditionary Force couldn’t, ending up in Starfleet too.

Epic parenting fail there Sarek, not that he was ever going to say that aloud … unless he was dying in the middle of a nebula, subconsciously calling Burnham to his mind where they relived the events of his parenting faux pas, with human wife Amanda Grayson (Mia Kirshner) looking on, gasp, all emotional, much against Sarek’s conscious will and Burnham’s plans for breakfast with the hunky Lt Tyler, now the Chief of Security (enemy sleeper cell much?).

“All my life, the conflict inside me has been between logic and emotion. But now, it’s my emotions that are hiding. I think about him and I want to cry but I have to smile. And I feel angry but I want to love. And I’m hurt but there’s hope. What is this?” (Burnham)

It proved to be a cathartic moment for both Sarek and Burnham, who woke up Sarek long enough for him to push the transponder button on his ship and get rescued by the ever-disobedient crew of the Discovery (Lorca, played by Jason Isaacs, especially got in big trouble but more on that in a moment.)

Not that Sarek, all cosied up and newly re-logical, though not it must be said, extremely logical thank you, admitted to any such relational breakthrough; he remembered, of course, and Burnham damn well knew he did, and the event, which worked as a catalyst for bringing Lorca’s troubled self to the fore with consequences writ large, is something that will unite their souls, joined as they are in perpetuity, for life; but actually admit it all happened and have a mushy moment? Uh-uh, nope.

As character studies, it was an instructive double bunger, examining why Burnham is the way she is, the role of Sarek as a societal agent provocateur and the way familial shape us in ways we don’t even know exist until a major crisis of some kind hits.

 

(image courtesy CBS/Netflix)

 

Speaking of crises, Lorca has a Great Big One on his hands this episode.

It’s obvious from watching him in action over the last six episodes that he is a dilithium drive short of a functioning starship, but his emotional wounds were exposed in suitably dark fashion when Cornell, who is as much f**k buddy (canon, people, canon! I can swear now thanks!) as commanding officer threatened to take away command of the Enterprise from the Handsomest Captain Ever (sorry Archer but he ism he just is).

Perhaps her decision had something to do with him constantly telling Starfleet brass to take a great big hike of an orbitaL shipbuildingf platform? Or perhaps going on a rescue mission for Sarek just because he wanted to make his crew love him, owe him, whatever the hell twisted motivation is at work? Or maybe because he hasn’t quite recovered from blowing the crew of his ship the Buran to Klingon-free kingdom come or being held as a POW?

Or maybe, just MAYBE, and I’m spitballing here (yeah, no, I’m not) it’s because he keeps a loaded, switched-on phaser in bed that he almost shot Cornell with when she affectionately gave his back an affectionate, post-coital rub.

“I can’t leave Starfleet’s most powerful weapon in the hands of a broken man.”
“Don’t take my ship away from me. She’s all I got. Please, I’m begging you.” (Katrina Cornwell and Gabriel Lorca)

Whatever it was, and there’s a long list to choose from, Lorca is a troubled man, making dubious decision after dubious decision, even if some of them have happily ever after endings, and Cornell threatening to take away command was the last straw for his less than even keel mind.

So what’s he do? Why he ships Cornell off to fill in for Sarek at the peace talks which, let’s just say, do not quite go according to plan, something Lorca must have known would happen.

It was a douchebag move of the highest order, removing Cornell from the picture yes, and helping him keep his captaincy of the Discovery, but removing his last friend at Starfleet which could prove pivotal later on.

It was a Deep Space Nine dark move and you can expect there to be major repercussions as the narrative goes bombastically barrelling on in a galaxy where the ideals may be admirable but their execution is most certainly not.

  • Coming up in next week’s episode “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” … a good old time loop! It’s a hoary old trope but I have a feeling that Star Trek: Discovery is about to show us what happens when it’s dark as the inside of Lorca’s tortured soul, over and over and over again …