Star Trek: Discovery – s02e03 – Point of Light

There’s that incredibly disappointing “Star Trek: Discovery” I know. Though not exactly. I had no quality expectations going into the first season so I didn’t have any disappointment, just dread of watching the show. But this episode perfectly encapsulates everything the show has done wrong until this point. It’s not really a victory lap of its badness, it’s a bad episode hitting all those points, over and over again.

First off, Anson Mount plays a bit part in this episode. Smaller than Michelle Yeoh who’s a pseudo-surprise cameo but not really because it’s in the “remember the characters from Season One we’ve ignored the last two episodes (and the show’s been better), let’s check in with them” plot. That plot is all about Shazad Latif trying to fit in on the Klingon homeward as sidekick to new leader Mary Chieffo. Chieffo’s already got to deal with the old Klingon men not wanting a woman leader, much less having a human sidekick, even if he is a Klingon grafted onto a Federation officer or some such nonsense. Anyway, the Klingons bickering and plotting is like an old Atari commercial for a “Star Trek” video game but spoofing “Game of Thrones.” Though it gets much worse once there’s action. Director Olatunde Osunsanmi is really bad at the action.

Also it’s going to take a lot to believe Latif can fight off three guys bigger than him, even if they do all have enormous mask-helmets on because the Klingon makeup people have made all bad choices this year, which is impressive since last season’s choices were all bad too. They’re taking it up a (bad) notch.

And it’s hard to be onboard with anything else because the whole Anson Mount takes command, when is Spock showing up subplot has taken a terrible turn in the form of Mia Kirshner as Spock’s mother. Kirshner ain’t no Jane Wyatt. Kirshner ain’t no Majel Barrett, ain’t no Winona Ryder; she probably couldn’t do as good of a job faking Vulcan-birth as Cynthia Blaise either. Kirshner’s really, really, really, really bad. She’s so bad she sucks the life out of “lead” Sonequa Martin-Green. Martin-Green’s entirely support this episode, first for Kirshner, then for Mary Wiseman. Wiseman’s big cliffhanger plot—she’s seeing a ghost—gets resolved super fast here. “Discovery” doesn’t just have bad ideas, it has no commitment to them. Same thing happens, even bigger, in the Latif and Chieffo plot line but I’m trying to stay away from the Klingons. At least on Discovery, Anthony Rapp will amble through like his agent wanted to make sure he got paid for every episode of the season.

But, yeah, it might just be the “Game of Thrones” draining, but I’m currently terrified whatever Martin-Green did to Spock involves pon farr because… the writers are that desperate to be “Game of Thrones”-y.

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The Shadow of the Tower s01e01 – Crown in Jeopardy

In 2019, some forty-seven years since its first airing, “The Shadow of the Tower” feels like “Game of Thrones” without blood, booze, boobs, rape, battle scenes, dragons, prominent female characters, butts, zombies, and CGI. Oh, but it does have historical accuracy. There’s something really interesting seeing this “game of thrones,” specifically King Henry VII’s game for the throne, play out. Dramatized ingenuity is far more impressive than workshopped ingenuity. Even if they’re the same ingenuities. It’s kind of like Borges’s Don Quixote.

But it’s also might play more accessible these days because of “Thrones.” Amid everything else, “Game of Thrones” did teach modern audiences how to listen to plotting, something no one had been able to do since the British in the seventies with stuff like “Tower.” And they couldn’t hold that audience. At least not in America.

Anyway. This first episode introduces Henry, played by James Maxwell, who seems like he could go Bond villain at any time, making the whole thing a little disconcerting, and it introduces all the people pissed off or happy about him all of a sudden invading, killing the king, taking the throne. There are the armed insurrection guys plotting, there are the middle-of-the-road guys trying to figure out if they can work with the new king, there’s the princess—Norma West—who was promised to marry Maxwell when they were kids only she never thought it’d happen—trying to figure out her feelings on everything.

Now, “Tower” is bad at Bechdel. West’s got nothing to talk about but men and boys. Sure, it’s a patriarchy but… even with the limited expectations for a seventies dramatization of fifteenth century royal history, “Tower” doesn’t give West a lot to do except fret. West’s able to do something with it, which is impressive as hell, but it takes a while.

The episode’s got a good pace. Rosemary Anne Sisson’s teleplay is like a great lecture, the way she paces and plots the conversations and reveals. There’s no action, of course, no battles, barely any corpses, barely any crowds. It’s just about the cast providing a reasonable facsimile of their historical figures, reasonable but to the general viewer and, presumably, the informed. I didn’t do fifteenth century English history; it’s all going to be a surprise to me.

It’s very interesting.

Becker s01e07 – City Lights

Once again… I’m wondering how long it takes for “Becker” to start getting really good. I remember it being really good at some points. Like whole seasons.

This episode’s all about the streetlight outside Ted Danson’s apartment flickering and him trying to get it fixed. He’s not going to get the city to do anything because bureaucracy, am I right, and he can’t get his neighbors to help him because he’s been so terrible to them. Meanwhile, Shawnee Smith brings her dog to work; she and Hattie Winston get that very strange subplot. Though I guess it does give Winston more to do than sit around and react to Danson. She gets to walk around and react to Smith.

Second-billed Terry Farrell (and whatever billed Alex Désert) don’t show up five or so minutes in, long enough you forgot they were supposed to be in the show. Désert doesn’t get a subplot but Farrell gets a classical music concert one with Danson. It’s dropped in, not relating to Danson’s main plot.

If the subplots played the cast to their strengths, it might make sense. They don’t. Ostensibly Danson all riled up over city bureaucracy is a slam dunk but no. Russ Woody’s script lacks any of the charm Danson’s been finding in the character to this point.

Smith and Winston get different kind of comedy to do than usual but nothing like what they’re best at doing. Farrell’s just around, Désert’s less than around, the butt of jokes. It’s also unclear how the “Becker” timeline works because Désert seems unfamiliar with Danson’s relationship with Farrell’s (dead) father. The father owned the diner where Danson went so when Farrell takes it over, Danson keeps going. But apparently Désert wasn’t part of the diner… or Danson and the dead father were just terrible to him.

It could be either one, but where’s the show bible. Désert’s the worst-defined character; he needs all the consistency he can get.

It’s got to start getting better soon. Otherwise… I’m not sure I can make it.

Becker s01e06 – Man Plans, God Laughs

Writer Ian Gurvitz starts off with a bad joke at Alex Désert’s blind guy’s expense, which Désert doesn’t really essay very well either. Funny how the Becker (Ted Danson) rant was the most distinguishing thing in the first three episodes—at least recurring distinguishing thing—and now it’s tired and we’re only six episodes in. Who knew you actually needed content for rants.

Anyway, Gurvitz recovers somewhat with a rather touchy-feely episode about Danson palling up with patient John Slattery; they both like sports. Only Hattie Winston gets sick and she needs the day off, leaving Shawnee Smith to run things. Danson spends the day—or montage (at best, it’s mostly just good Smith moments)—worrying he’s not going to make it to a game with Slattery.

Meanwhile at the diner, Saverio Guerra plays a high school classmate of Terry Farrell’s who comes back to mock her for her station in life. See, she teased Guerra in high school and now he’s back to make her feel bad. It’s a weird subplot. Guerra’s funny. He’s a jerk, but he’s funny. Kind of bad when you have the diner, which has two regular cast members, and they needed to bring in a guest star to get some laughs. “Becker” has got such a weird split between the diner and the doctor’s office.

The end has some heartfelt stuff for Winston and Danson, which is fine. It’s a little saccharine but it gives them both different material than usual and they’re both great so… yay.

Becker s01e05 – My Dinner With Becker

It's Becker (Ted Danson) on a blind date. Danson lets himself get set up after some razzing from Terry Farrell, who's got a wonderful new boyfriend (Brian Cousins).

Cousins is a big sweetie, who treats Farrell and everyone else with respect and kindness. He does wear shorts–he's a UPS driver, apparently–and is just the kind of guy Becker would love to tease. So Becker teases him–Teresa O'Neill's teleplay has some great jokes–but then has to put up or shut up when it comes to his own dating life.

Enter Sandra Guibord, who he initially likes because she's hot, but then discovers she's into all sorts of basic things and he just can't. What makes the date scene interesting is Danson isn't mean to her, in fact he does his best not to be overly cruel. He understands himself well enough to know he shouldn't be there. That scene's juxtaposed against Farrell and Cousins out on a date and Farrell seeing the world through Becker-colored cynicism. How will Cousins react? Who cares.

Even though Farrell's good on the episode, she's straight-man to the joke good. She's get in some sarcastic response to Danson good. She's not lead her own comic subplot good.

Similarly Alex Désert's timing is a little off; though Danson being cruel to him is kind of hard to time well.

Shawnee Smith has a great C or D plot. "Becker"'s got an odd structure with the days starting in the diner, then going to the office, then getting into Becker's out-of-work life, sometimes with return trips to the diner (because there's supposed to be building chemistry between Farrell and Danson, which sure ain't happening yet). But there's nothing more for Smith or Hattie Winston once Danson abandons work. Similarly Désert's cut off when there's no one in the diner.

The show feels a little cramped by limited locations. Though when they branch out it's problematic–the restaurant set for Danson's date is distractingly bad.

O'Neill's script is maybe the all-around best so far on the show. Not the most laughs, but she at least seems to get how to make Becker function believably with

Becker s01e04 – Tell Me Lies

This episode doesn't have the belly laughs the other ones so far have featured, but it does finally give Terry Farrell something to do. Something to do she can do well, which is constantly lie to Ted Danson and Alex Désert about what's bothering her. It's actually rather impressive they got twenty-five or whatever minutes out of that A plot, especially when the B plot is Hattie Winston setting up a barter sequence to get more medical supplies.

This episode might be the first where they specify the action takes place in the Bronx. Maybe the opening credits give it away, but they're so stylized and the scenery so "New York" generic, it wasn't clear.

There are some good belly laughs, actually, but they're not for Danson and his rants or Farrell and her bullshitting. Désert, Winston, and Shawnee Smith all get some rather good one-liners. Smith's timing is getting a lot better; it was fine before, but she's really getting into the groove. Same with Désert–his scenes are always packed, either by Danson, Farrell, or Danson and Farrell; he's claiming room for himself.

Winston's been great since the pilot, however; she and Danson are the only two rocks in the show.

There's also some good old fashioned nineties sitcom passive misogyny in the episode, which one assumes hit the CBS target demographic of old White people.

Prolific TV actor (and director) Noam Pitlik has a small role as a patient Danson plays chess with. It's very cute and probably the reason there's the C plot, give Pitlik something to do.

Star Trek: Discovery – s02e02 – New Eden

This episode certainly doesn’t do anything to “solve” the Anson Mount problem—i.e. Mount’s leagues ahead of anyone else on “Discovery,” past and present, as far as commanding the show. He’s a TV show lead. It’s almost depressing to see Sonequa Martin-Green in scenes with him because she’s already had the indignity of being the first potential Black female captain on a “Star Trek” and now she’s just second-fiddle to Mount. Mount’s so good you’re tricked into thinking “Inhumans” might be all right, just because he’s so good on “Discovery.” No wonder people want a Mount-led spin-off.

New Eden feels like “Star Trek” for more reasons than White male captain; it’s got Jonathan Frakes directing, it gives the bridge crew something to do besides look at each other when Martin-Green pisses someone off, it’s got a very “Star Trek” main plot and a very “Star Trek” B plot. The A plot is about the ship finding this far-flung planet in the Beta Quadrant (I used to know everything about “Star Trek” quadrants; not any more) and on this far-flung planet is a human settlement. Now, it’s far enough away from Earth they can’t be settled, but there they are, complete with a church. It feels like a budget conscious “TOS” episode, where they find a civilization dressed in leftover frontier costumes Paramount had laying around. Throw in Mount and Martin-Green gently arguing about whether or not the Prime Directive applies to the people and some religiosity stuff and it’s like a mix of “TOS” and “TNG.” Very cool.

The B plot has Tilly (Mary Wiseman) figuring out a way to save the planet from an impending… asteroid swarm. Something. Lots of tense action, which Frakes does all right with but not exceptional. It’s all about the human adventure for Frakes and he does well with it. It’s taken seventeen episodes but Doug Jones’s Saru finally has a non-obnoxious scene. There might have been one in the first season but I think I’d remember it. Though then there’s the whole thing about alien Saru getting a lot less obnoxious because he’s second-fiddle, rank-wise, to Mount.

Okay stuff for Anthony Rapp—seriously, the show is wasting him so far—and the mysterious “Red Angel” C plot, which is going to bring in Spock and tie everything together. The Red Angel stuff seems a wee contrived for a “Star Trek” show and I really hope it ends with the introduction of Sybok and a trip to the center of the galaxy but I’m not hopeful.

“Discovery”’s much better, two in, this season than last. Though the “up next” teaser at the end threatens the Klingons; they’re always good for dragging the show down.

Also Sheila McCarthy shows up for a bit on the planet. She’s awesome as ever.

Star Trek: Discovery – s02e01 – Brother

There’s a lot going on with the season premiere of “Discovery.” And not just the multiple teases related to the original series. “Discovery” gets out of addressing the time, technology, and costuming discrepancies with the original series and the reboot movies by bringing Captain Pike into the mix. Pike was the captain on the original “Star Trek” pilot, which later got recycled into a two-parter in the regular run. Though he, like Sarek, appeared in the reboot movies. There’s no big “Discovery” deal about recasting supporting players.

So Pike’s a thing for a couple big reasons. First, the show does a bait and switch with Pike bringing his science officer (who is Spock) and his first officer (who was on the original show, played by Majel Barrett) only to have the transporter reveal a couple glorified red shirts. Even if their time doesn’t come this episode, they’re still just disposable stock Starfleet officers. Except the science officer guy; he’s a complete dick because White male privilege is still a thing in “Discovery”’s future. But the more important thing with Pike, played by Anson Mount, is he’s just what the show needs. He’s a fun, caring, White captain guy. More old(er) man Chris Pine than mid-sixties Jeffrey Hunter (who played Pike on the original “Trek” pilot, but not the two-parter). He makes the crew all feel good, which is important since their last White captain guy turned out to be an inter dimensional mass murderer.

The way the season opener deals with last season’s plot threads is… not good. There’s some follow-up with it, but then everything gives way to the new adventure—Pike’s taking over the Discovery because there are these seven flares or something. A message from V’Ger; who knows. But they’re investigating. So instead of worrying about the “regular” cast, “Discovery” becomes Mount’s show, which is fine. It’s kind of shitty for Sonequa Martin-Green because it’s supposed to be her show; instead she gets the subplot fretting over her relationship with so far unseen foster brother Spock only to discover he’s maybe tracking the galactic disturbance too. But on a sabbatical, because it’s “Discovery” and “Discovery” loves its reveals, surprises, and twists. It’s about all the show cares about.

Though this episode has at least two huge sci-fi action set pieces. Both of them are kind of lousy, but they’re huge set pieces.

We’ll see what happens but if it’s just Mount becomes the dynamic lead the show always needed and Martin-Green gets big subplots and lousy material… well, it’d be on par for “Discovery,” which is still an utterly pointless gesture.

Mindhunter s02e09 – Episode 9

Is Anna Torv leaving the show? Because she might want to leave the show after this episode; she's pointlessly shoehorned in for a brief scene to remind the audience they haven't missed her.

The boss comes back too in a similarly pointless move. A reminder of what came before and there's no need to remind because “Mindhunter” has got nothing left to prove. They're able to drop in a two-part “based on a true story” serial killer procedural and have it succeed. It's a qualified success, mostly because of the race stuff and Jonathan Groff.

See, Groff’s character arc this season is he wants to be a White savior and bureaucracy won't let him. He feels guilty about it but what more can he do… he's too much of a narcissist to actually do anything.

Poor hotel clerk girl gets it worst this episode. She gets to ring Groff’s doorbell to blather at him to set up his pseudo-subplot. Did they not realize how the season was going to go when they hired their recurring cast. Nobody matters once the serial killer procedural takes over. It's just Groff, Hoyt McCallany, the black guy and the suspect.

Suitably great performance from suspect as the suspect they can't quite get.

Some excellent but uncomfortable music choices, strong direction and editing.

When the episode comes to an end—I don't think the show has been renewed for a third season—it's with a nice sense of closure. Lots is still open, but it's open mostly because of the future of serial killer investigation. It's a great subject for a TV show… it's never going to get boring.

Unless Torv keeps dating next season or Joe Tuttle, you know, talks.

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