Saturday, August 27, 2016

Star Trek Episode Analysis – Future Imperfect (TNG Season 4)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here.

Episode Overview – (Star Trek: the Next Generation: Season 4) On his birthday, Commander Riker leads an away team where they are overcome by a gaseous emission. When he awakens, he is in the future, captain of the Enterprise, and with no memory of the last 16 years. He is expected to complete treaty negotiations with the Romulans while coming to grips with a future that is almost perfect.

Score: 7/10 – A fun “what if” glimpse into a possible future for our Enterprise crew. These sorts of episodes are always fun as they provide a scenario that changes things without having to stay true to those changes. Seeing another Klingon officer, a Ferengi helmsman (possible foreshadowing of Nog?), first officer Data, Admiral Picard, and Geordi with eyes all very interesting. The nice thing is that just when you think you have the twist to the story figured out, you are given a curveball by the writers.

Relevance – 2 points. This episode draws heavily upon the past. Tomalak, a Romulan adversary from a couple episodes last season, is back and apparently up to his old tricks. A fairly unusual reappearance of a holographic character, Minuet, from Season 1 is quite a clever throwback. In a show such as this, it is difficult to tie into future episodes, but some of the events in the perceived future are quite telling and actually do have a fair amount of alignment with things that are to come. Of a particular note, this episode marks the first of 18 appearances of Patti Yasutake as Nurse Alyssa Ogawa, although she appears as a future version of herself first.

Continuity – 3 points. Character continuity gets a point. This is exactly how Riker would act. Everyone else’s inconsistent behaviour is forgivable as it is not really them. Story continuity works well, as does Trek universe, so each scores a point as well.

Character development – 2 points. This is a strong Riker episode. He deals with a traumatic experience of losing his memory, the shock of learning that not only is he an important captain in Starfleet, he is the widowed father of one son, and the nagging feeling that something just isn’t quite right. Since none of the other characters seen for much of the episode are actually themselves, there is little of their development that is real.

Societal commentary – 0 points. As fun as this episode was, I just could not make a stretch that would teach us a lesson.

Cool factor – 3 points. As with this type of episode, the entire possible future is very cool to see. Whether it is Troi in a standard uniform for the first time since the pilot episode, Geordi not having a visor, or even fine details like the new design of the com badges, all is good. Tomalak being back is cool, as he does more than just appear on the viewscreen. I also thought that the design of the alien Borash was a unique twist on the traditional alien design. It is always cool to have actors display their natural talents, and seeing Riker (ie Johnathon Frakes) getting to play the trombone again is fun.

Rank – Captain (17 points). A good stand-alone episode that allows the actors a chance to play slightly different versions of themselves. I would recommend this for fans new and old to watch.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Why I Love the Original Series

I have seen a lot of posts as to which Trek series is the best, the worst, what is great about this series and what is terrible about that series. I thought, with this being the 50th anniversary of the start of the franchise, I would go through each series and talk about what I love about each one. I have issues with each series, things I wish were better, but at the end of the day, it is always better to talk about the good. I will start things off with the show that started it all: the one and only “Star Trek”.

1.      It truly started it all – Let’s face it, without the original Star Trek, there would be no debate, no conventions, no other series, no movies. We would not have Data or Quark or Tuvok or Hoshi. We would not be able to make Cardassian vs. Kardashian jokes. Without the original series, we would not be able to have anything to celebrate. So for all the complaints about cheesy special effects, Shatner’s acting, and the limited lifespan of red-shirted crew members, let us be grateful for this landmark series.

2.      The future looks bright – Science fiction has often and almost universally shown that humanity has a bleak future. Aliens were going to invade and enslave us, war was going to drive us from our planet, and we would be fighting every other encounter with another ship. While Star Trek does have its fair share of confrontation, the outlook of humanity is one of the most optimistic of the genre. In Star Trek, the mostly human crew will value, respect, and follow the half-human-half-vulcan first officer. Women are seen as equals, and the bridge is full of different ethnicities. We still argue and debate, but at the end of the day there is unity. Looking at today’s world, the need for such harmony on this planet is so very apparent.

3.      Enduring and iconic characters – When Leonard Nimoy passed away last year, the majority of people knew who he was, even if they had never seen the show. Spock became a central figure in pop culture. It is hard to find someone in the developed world who would not know what someone meant when they said “Beam me up Scotty”, and they would usually respond in their best Scottish accent. People knew Doctor McCoy and Captain James T. Kirk. Amongst all the characters in the Trek universe, these are likely the most entrenched in our society. Some may feel that later shows were better quality than the Original Series, but no other show has characters that have been so beloved or iconic.

4.      Great story telling – For every face-palm inducing “Way to Eden” or “Spock’s Brain” there are gems like “Balance of Terror” or “the City on the Edge of Forever”. Compelling stories for the day, they still stand up to test of time. And there was variety in the stories as well. We were thrilled with “Amok Time” and laughing loudly with “The Trouble with Tribbles”. Great stories that we can watch again and again. Yes, the effects and stunt work might have been more on the hokey side, but the stories were so good that we still watch them with enthusiasm and nostalgia. Plus, the stories dealt with issues in ways that only Star Trek could. As an example, racism is handled so well with “Let That be Your Last Battlefield”, giving us two “races” at war with each other whose only difference is which side of their face is black and which is white. Star Trek was able to tackle these issues with such finesse in a way that no show set in the current era would have been able to do.

5.      Never give up, never surrender – More than anything else, this show taught us the importance in never losing hope. When the original pilot, “The Cage” did not sell well, Gene Roddenberry kept at it until it was picked up. When the show was cancelled after season two, a massive letter writing campaign kept it going for one more season. Even after its cancellation, fans rallied around it, making it more successful in reruns than during its original airings. Plus, we have the fan movement. Before Fan-boys, Whovians, Browncoats, Potterheads, Ringers, Gateheads, and Scapers, there were Trekies. Do you love Comic Con? We started it with Star Trek conventions. We kept our franchise alive and well during the dry years. With a new film released this summer and a new TV series on the horizon, the Original Series is the heart of it all. Tying it in with my first point, this is where it all started.

Over the next few weeks, I will give each of the other live action series (and possibly the animated series, but no promises) a similar treatment. Feel free to add your comments about what you love about the Original Series. Live long and prosper my friends.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Lessons From the Las Vegas Star Trek Convention

Last week my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the Star Trek convention in Las Vegas. It was five days of fun and fandom. The convention was run by the great people at Creation. Trust me, if you have never gone to a convention run by Creation, put it on your bucket list. They know how to look after their fans. Unlike comic conventions, fan expos, and other such conventions, Creation makes sure that every fan has a seat in the main theater. These guys have been around for a few decades (since 1971), and they have perfected the art of the convention. Yes, the convention cost us some good money. Vegas is not a cheap place, and when there are over 100 celebrities and thousands of fellow Star Trek fans, you are definitely going to meet some great people.

Throughout the five days I immersed myself in my passion that is Star Trek. The Q and A panels were so very entertaining. Each I attended was memorable for different reasons. The Klingons and Ferengi were so very funny. Chase Masterson showed so much compassion as she spoke on her work to combat bullying in the gaming world. Whoopi Goldberg was as passionate as any of us fans in how she talked about her experiences with Star Trek. William Shatner was his usual exuberant self. The TNG cast were so tight and funny together. It was great hearing stories from how heavy the Gorn costume was to filming episodes outdoors during Voyager to Neil McDonough enjoying every minute swinging above the set of Star Trek: First Contact. There were great free photo ops that the fans could take advantage of. You could be jumping through the Guardian of Time portal, be assimilated in a Borg alcove, beamed onto the original transporter pad, or buried in a pile of tribbles. And the costumes, oh the costumes! Most of us wore our Starfleet uniforms, but there were dozens of Klingons and Vulcans. I found at least two pairings of Doctor and Wesley Crusher, a half dozen Borg (including the queen), and a mixture of Andorians, Ferengi, Gorn, Romulans, Betazoids, Bajorans, and Cardassians. I saw Weyoun and the Female Founder, a spot-on movie Scotty, at least four Troi-Riker couples, a couple tribbles, a Horta, and even the IDIC symbol. I was even given the opportunity to hold an Emmy award (it was just as heavy as I thought it would be).

As I look back on the convention, I thought about some of the things I learned, and thought I would share them here. I have had several choice experiences interacting with other fans and actors over the years, and I thought I would share some of my insights in how to do a convention. Here is my list:

  1.  Wear comfortable shoes. You will likely be standing in lines. Yes, for some of the    higher level tickets you can bypass some lines, but face it, you will be in a few lines  throughout the convention. I have worn both good and bad pairs of shoes, and  which kind you have does matter.

2.     Autographs aren’t free, and that is for a good reason. One complaint I have often heard over the years is the fact that the stars at these conventions charge a fee for their signature. I understand that people not in the industry may find this a bit strange, and possibly pretentious. I have heard them say “But if it wasn’t for us, they wouldn’t have a career!” I have reasoned that this is a bit unfair of us, to expect these celebrities to give their autographs away for free. The way I see it, when these guys are at a convention, they are not at an audition, on a stage, at a rehearsal, or in front of a camera. In other words, meeting us at a convention is taking them away from their livelihood. We cannot begrudge them from charging a fee for their signature. Plus, it gives us a few minutes to interact with them in a way that we may never have anywhere else, which leads us to…

3.     Conversations with celebs: if the star is having a nice chat with the next person in line, and you are four or five spots behind, please be patient. Some of the celebrities want to know more about the person that just plopped down $50 to get their autograph. Some want to make the experience special for each and every fan. Some will say a few nice words and move the line along. Regardless of whichever mood the star is in, let the other fans have their moments. This might be their only chance to say a few words to their favorite actor. Besides, you will get your chance for a quick 30 second chat soon enough. Keep it balanced, though. Don’t try to stretch your one minute into ten (unless you are the very last person in line).

4.     Respect the actor’s wishes. Some will happily shake your hand. Robert Beltran and Johnathan Frakes were quite happy giving us a handshake (Beltran even offered it to us). Others would rather you do a fist bump. When I received John de Lancie’s autograph I went to shake his hand. He held out the fist and said “If you don’t mind”. I said “Not at all”. Some would prefer to have no physical contact at all, while others will give hugs when asked. It doesn’t matter what their wishes are, don’t take it personally if they don’t desire to shake your hand or even touch you at all. They are in the middle of talking to hundreds of fans in a short period of time. Whether it is for health reasons or their own personal comfort, respect their wishes.

5.     Mention their work outside of Star Trek if you can. When I was a kid I was a fan of the fantasy adventure series “Dragonlance”. Several years ago I learned that Aaron Eisenberg (Nog) had written a short story for one of their anthologies. I told him that I really enjoyed that story. We talked a little about it and how he had wanted to do a live action movie and work with the original authors. He then warmly thanked me for mentioning that. Whether it is shows they are directing, a screenplay they are trying to sell, or a CD they just released, these people appreciate that we know them for more than just what they did in Star Trek. If you don’t know what else they have worked on, then feel free to ask. I learned a lot about J G Hertzler’s screenplay that he has worked on for close to a decade that is so very close to becoming a film.

6.     Q and A panels: keep your questions on point and fair. There are always going to be those fans that have long, rambling questions for the stars. There are also those that will ask very obscure questions in the mind of: “What color was the apple you ate in the episode you filmed 30 years ago?” Other fans seem to delight in asking about things that are a bit more controversial as if they are practicing for a journalism career. Try not to be one of these people. Also, and this was dealt head-on by Marina Sirtis, if you ask them in a public forum what it was like working with “insert name of actor/director here”, be prepared for the generic “they are lovely”. If you are looking for something juicier, they may not respond. They are professionals, and asking them to say something unkind about their peers is not only in poor taste but also could hurt their career.

7.     Don’t make assumptions. I have heard many people ask why this actress doesn’t do conventions, or why this actor only seems to work Comic Con. While I do wonder myself, avoid getting into the gossip mill. The truth may not be anything close to what you thought it was. It is easy to think that because so-and-so does not do conventions that they are too busy or that they don’t really care about the fans, but keep those thoughts to yourself. As an example, in last week’s TNG panel, Gates McFadden revealed that the reason why she did not do any conventions for such a long time was because prior to TNG she had a stalker issue. Being in crowds of strangers that all knew who she gave her anxiety. Never would I have guessed that about her, but it made sense. Someone next to us then started to speculate that perhaps this is why other actors did not do many conventions, and I shook my head. Don’t assume! That is how false rumors get started and spread. If nothing else, just hope that the actor you are wanting to meet will be able to find the time to come to a convention near you some day.

8.     Express gratitude to everyone. This means more than the actors after they sign your photo. It includes the security guards checking your badges, the hosts for the panels, the volunteers and employees that work behind the scenes to make sure the event runs smoothly. So many people are needed to make these conventions work well, so when you see some of them (especially on the last day), thank them for their work. Tell them you appreciate what they have done. While you are at it, thank the people you were in line with for chatting with you while you waited to get Brent Spiner’s photo op. Thank the hotel clerk and the waiter. Trekkies have a good reputation for being nice people. Keep that reputation valid!

9.    Be fair.  If something happens that you don’t like, be fair. Maybe somebody cut in line. You can say something about it, but be fair. Perhaps there were two lines that had to be merged into one (happened to me once). Perhaps the person was meeting up with a friend, or they had asked for someone to hold their place while they took care of something. Regardless of which, while you are entitled to feel a bit put out, if you make a huge stink over it (especially if you don’t know what the whole story is), you cause a lot of people around you to feel uncomfortable. Maybe there is one of those “socially awkward” fans that is hanging around and causing everyone to feel a bit uneasy. Be fair. All different kinds of people are Trekkies, and while the vast majority of us know how to act in public, a handful of us don’t. They need a place to feel safe too. They are every part of IDIC. Give them a break. You may need to ask them to move along and stop bothering you, but do your best to be nice about it.

10. Have fun. Do things you haven't done before. Introduce yourself to people in line. Attend Klingon karaoke. Dress up in cosplay. Get involved with the panel discussions. Whatever you do at the con, remember that what you get out of it depends largely on what you put into it, so go all out. Enjoy yourself.