Rob Watches Star Trek: Lower Decks

***What happens when I, a 30-something-year-old fanboy, decide to look at the Star Trek franchise for the first time with an open heart? You get “Rob Watches Star Trek.”***

SERIES: Star Trek
: Lower Decks
EPISODE: S1.E1. “Second Contact”
WITH THE VOICE TALENTS OF: Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Noel Wells, Eugene Cordero, Dawnn Lewis

WRITER: Mike McMahan
DIRECTOR: Barry J. Kelly
PREMIERE DATE: August 6, 2020
SYNOPSIS: Ensign Brad Boimler is asked to keep an eye on the antics of Ensign Beckett Mariner aboard the on the U.S.S. Cerritos.

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I’m not old, am I? My father, who’s [age redacted], assured me the other day that 30-something is not old. So I can’t be old, right….? Right?!?

The reason I ask is because Star Trek: Lower Decks made me feel really, really old. Because I found myself saying things like, “Slow down!” and “You’re giving me a headache?” At least they weren’t walking on my lawn…

Lower Decks isn’t a bad idea. An animated series about a few low-ranking crew members and their adventures on the U.S.S. not-the-Enterprise. Our main characters are Beckett Bariner, an irreverent rule-breaker with an attitude, and the straight-laced Brad Boimler, who has eyes on becoming a captain one day. So far, so good, right?

The problem, however, is evident from the very first scene: The Beckett character is annoying. Her attempts at humor are loud and obnoxious, and she largely ruins the episode.

I understand the rules for character-building can be a little bit different in a comedy. But I still need something to latch on to, someone to care about, something to emotionally anchor the story. We kick off the episode with Brad fantasizing about being a captain. That’s a pretty good starting point. We’ve got a character with a dream and a goal. Most of us can relate to that, right?

But then Beckett comes in with clumsy, babbling, rapid-fire attempts at humor. She says something about being drunk on Romulan whisky, and then swings a Klingon weapon around for no real reason.

I recently watched the classic original series episode, “The Trouble With Tribbles.” I was inclined to compare the Tribbles to the Ewoks of Star Wars fame, given their cutesy nature. Whether that’s a justified comparison or not, if the Tribbles are the Star Trek equivalent to Ewoks, then Beckett just might be the  Star Trek equivalent to Jar Jar Binks.

The super fast-paced, fill-all-the-silence dialogue is what hurts the episode more than anything. Lower Decks simply won’t shut up. In the following scene, for instance, where Beckett and Brad meet new crew member D’Vana Tendi (the green-skinned girl pictured above), it’s like somebody pressed the fast-forward button. We don’t have time to breathe or digest anything, so nothing lands.

What might have helped this episode is a slightly tighter focus. We have three main characters in Beckett, Brad, and D’Vana, plus a few supporting characters. Instead of trying to cram so much into 20-some minutes, keep things zoomed in on Brad and Beckett. D’Vana is seemingly supposed to be Brad’s love interest, so maybe do a brief intro at the end where we establish that he thinks she’s cute. But that’s all we needed.

Beckett’s execution is a problem, so she definitely needs to be toned down. But how about a little heart? Why is she so boisterous? Does she have trouble making friends? We find out late in the episode that she’s related to someone high in the ship’s pecking order. Does that have anything to do with it?

Give me something human to latch on to. Then we can talk about Romulan whisky and slimy tentacle monsters.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Rob Watches Star Trek – Series Pilot: “The Cage”

***What happens when I, a 30-something-year-old fanboy who’s never seen a full episode of Star Trek, decides to take a look at the franchise with an open heart? You get “Rob Watches Star Trek.”***

SERIES: Star Trek
TITLE: “The Cage”
STARRING: Jeffrey Hunter, Susan Oliver, Georgia Schmidt, Serena Sande, Leonard Nimoy
WRITER: Gene Roddenberry
DIRECTOR:
Robert Butler
ORIGINAL AIR DATE:
October 4, 1988,
First screened in February 1965
SYNOPSIS:
The Enterprise picks up a near-20-year-old radio signal from Talos IV. But upon investigation, the Talosians subject Captain Pike to a series of bizarre experiments.

By Rob Siebert
The same Rob from up top.

If you’ve watched television for any significant amount of time, you know it’s not uncommon for shows to evolve or change between when a pilot episode is picked up to become a series, and when the series actually begins. For instance, in the pilot for Seinfield was titled The Seinfeld Chronicles, and the Michael Richards character was called Kessler instead of Kramer. The Elaine character, who would eventually be played by Julia Louis Dreyfus, was absent entirely.

“The Cage” is the first pilot episode of Star Trek originally shown to CBS executives in February of 1965. It was rejected by the network, and another pilot was ordered. Ultimately, that was for the better. But that’s not to say this episode isn’t unenjoyable…

Mere seconds into very first interior shot of “The Cage,” the original pilot episode of Star Trek, it’s evident this is not yet the iconic show we’re familiar with. The only person on screen we recognize is Leonard Nimoy. He’s still playing Spock (shown left), but it’s clearly not the Spock we know. His hair is a little bit longer, his uniform (like everyone else’s) looks a little too sweatshirt-ish. He’s also got an emotional side to him. It doesn’t get much focus, but it’s there.

But the only person on the Enterprise bridge that we really need to know is Captain Christopher Pike, played by Jeffrey Hunter. The episode revolves entirely around him. He’s obviously the main character, so that’s not altogether uncalled for. But as we’ll see, he also gets a certain…uncomfortable focus. It’s because of that focus that the entire pilot doesn’t age very well.

So the Enterprise receives this 18-year-old radio signal from Talos IV, and the crew realizes there may be survivors. Pike takes a search party down to the planet, and is lured into a trap by Vina, a beautiful woman and supposedly one such survivor. The distress call was a ploy by the Talosians to lure the Enterprise on to the planet, so that they might capture a human to mate with Vina. Eventually, their offspring would be made into human slaves. The episode makes numerous Biblical references to the story of Adam and Eve.

So here’s the thing about these Talosians: Their heads really look like nut sacks. I’m sure I’m not the first to make that brilliant observation. But once I saw the shot on the right, that visual was all I could think about. I mean, what do they even need a male for? They’ve got testicles on their heads. They can just mate with Vina themselves!

MEANWHILE, IN FEBRUARY OF 1965: Malcolm X is assassinated during a speech on February 21. The iconic red and white Maple Leaf design is officially designated as the Canadian flag. 

Master illusionists, the Talosians and Vina desperately try to tempt Pike into giving in and accepting numerous false yet extremely enticing realities. When that doesn’t work, they abduct two women from the Enterprise, and attempt to place them in Vina’s role. They are Pike’s second in command known only as Number One, played by Majel Barrett, and a young lady known only by her Yeoman rank played by Laurel Goodwin (both shown below).

So from the Talosians’ perspective, because Vina was somehow deemed unattractive, two female crew members are brought into the story. We don’t know their names (though apparently Yeoman had one in the series proposal), and they are promptly judged by how they might be attractive to Pike.

See what I mean about  how this doesn’t age well?

What’s more, near the end of the episode, Yeoman has either the temerity or the stupidity to ask Pike, “Who would have been Eve?” As in, who would Pike have chosen between she and Number One? Number One quickly shuts the interaction down, and Yeoman walks off. Somebody’s jealous…

And what of Vina? Once the Talosians are defeated, it’s revealed she was the sole survivor of the ship that sent the radio transmission, and ultimately crashed on Talos IV. When the Talosians found her, they tried to heal her. But as they’d never seen a human, they had no frame of reference. As such, without the Talosians using their illusionary powers, she is old, hunchbacked, and gruesomely re-assembled. Instead of returning to the Enterprise with Pike and the others, she opts to stay with the Talosians and keep her illusion of beauty. As a consolation prize of sorts, the Talosians grant her an illusion of Pike to be with.

If you discount all the stuff I just ran down with Vina, Number One, and Yeoman, “The Cage” is actually a pretty fun watch. It’s got cheesy ’60s sci-fi aliens and monsters. Oddly enough, there’s also a viking. Many of the known and loved elements from Star Trek are there.

The Captain Pike character, judged strictly by his own merits, is fine. The problem is all the female characters in the episode are obviously drawn to him. Thus, their worth becomes largely based not on their merits as individuals, but on how attractive they are. Vina even decides to live inside a lie just so she can remain attractive.

Sadly, this pilot wasn’t turned down based on its sexist writing. Rather, it was deemed “too cerebral,” “too intellectual,” “too slow,” and without enough action. When NBC got to look at it, however, they made the unorthodox decision to pay for a second pilot. This one had William Shatner in what would become the iconic Captain Kirk role. It would eventually air as the third episode of the first season, entitled “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”

One thing I want to note in closing: As I’ve indicated, the writing of the female characters in this episode really rubbed me the wrong way. Especially as the father of a young girl. But I can’t bring myself to be overly angry with series creator and the writer of this episode, Gene Roddenberry. In 1965, we had yet to really get into the heart of the Women’s Liberation Movement.

Like all of us Roddenberry was a product of the times he lived in. Considering he’s largely responsible for what at the time was one of the most diversely cast television shows in history, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Supergirl S1E3 Review – Calling in the Cousin

Melissa Benoist, SupergirlBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This week I stumbled across a story in USA Today about Supergirl‘s audience thus far. The article cites Nielsen statistics which say Supergirl draws a 51 percent male audience. Naturally, the other 49 percent is female. That’s huge for a superhero show. Granted, it’s not that far ahead of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which draws a 53/47 ratio, or Gotham, which does 57/43.

Long story short, Supergirl seems to be doing exactly what people hoped it would: Bringing in female viewers. Needless to say, that’s a great thing.

Now, on to this week’s episode…

Cat Grant, Kara, Supergirl, S1E3Cat Grant conducts a brief interview with Supergirl. I liked that Supergirl kept her distance from Cat here, which almost helps with my suspension of disbelief about the whole glasses disguise. Much like Superman and Clark Kent, it seems that’s one of those things fans are just going to have to live with.

The newspeg she went with was that Supergirl and Superman are cousins. I’m not sure why that’s such a big deal, quite frankly. It seems like common sense that they’d be related somehow.

Alex calls Kara out about liking Jimmy Olsen. At the risk of coming off like Jeb “Supergirl is pretty hot” Bush, Melissa Benoist’s awkward giggle is adorable. There’s that girl-next-door appeal we’ve talked about.

Winn sets up a secret office for Supergirl-related activities in the office. I call BS on this one. In an office full of reporters, nobody notices all that tech is there? And nobody ever goes into that room? C’mon, now.

Supergirl, ReactronReactron makes Supergirl a pawn in his quest for vengeance against Superman. Reactron came off pretty well in this episode. The suit looked cool, and Chris Browning did a hell of a job when the mask was off. I’d love to see more of Reactron as the series progresses.

Superman saves Kara in her second fight with Reactron. Thus far, we’re striking a very delicate balance with Superman’s presence on this show. He’s obviously impacting the proceedings, and in this episode Winn even found out the Clark Kent secret. But we’ve never seen his face, and he has yet to actually become a full-fledged character on the show. So where do you draw the line? He saved Kara in the episode, and apparently they can instant message. But can she somehow talk to him on camera? Will they ever team up somehow?

We get our first look inside Maxwell Lord’s tech empire. It must be nice having people call you “Mr. Lord.” The guy already has a huge ego, but they you throw that in…

Lucy Lane, Supergirl, S1E3Lucy Lane, Jimmy Olson’s ex, appears on the show, played by Jenna Dewan-Tatum. Lucy Lane, Lois’ sister, tends to complicate things when she shows up. In the comics she did indeed date Jimmy Olsen, and for a time was actually the unstable Superwoman. In Lois and Clark, she dated John Corben before he became Metallo.

I expect more of the same here, especially with her coming between this odd Kara/Jimmy romance. I buy Jimmy more as Kara’s big brother than her love interest. Hopefully they’ll give this a little more time to develop, so it actually has some meat to it.

Image 1 from designtrend.com. Image 2 from superherohype.com. Images 3 and 4 from comicbook.com.

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A Supergirl, S1E2 Review – Fighting Like A Girl

Supergirl, Melissa Benoist, Episode 2By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Supergirl kept most of its momentum going this week, and we even got a surprising confrontation that could very well have been saved for the season finale. All in all, a fairly strong episode.

There are still some bothersome ticks hanging on from last week’s pilot episode. For instance, Melissa Benoist still needs to work on conveying exertion when she’s lifting something heavy. Right now it just sounds like an empty scream.

On the flip side, I like that they have Melissa bending her knees before she takes off. It makes the whole flying thing see a little more believable. Of all things, it’s actually reminiscent of the old Max Fleischer cartoons.

But all in all, we upped the intrigue in this episode, and that’s exactly what they needed to do here.

Calista Flockhart, Supergirl, Season 2, episode 2Cat Grant wants a one-on-one interview with Supergirl. I expected this. The Superman/Lois Lane interview is something a lot of people remember from Superman: The Movie. So it makes sense to do it here.

It’s irritating that they keep softening the focus when they do a close-up on Calista. That’s a trick sometimes done in TV to hide the wrinkles on an actor’s face. I really wish they wouldn’t do that, especially on a show that’s deemed as feminist as Supergirl. I don’t think Calista’s age is a secret. So what’s the big deal?

James Olsen advises Kara about doing an interview with Cat Grant, talks about the glasses disguise. The lack of practicality in the glasses disguise is something that plagues the Superman mythos to this day, and it’s going to plague Supergirl. The line about Cat “not really looking” at Kara is BS. At least people are used to suspending their disbelief about it.

So, are we moving toward a romance between Jimmy (He’s not James. He’s Jimmy.) and Kara? I’m not sure how I feel about that. But the exchanges they had in this episode were good. The line about Jimmy moving to National City (*gag*) to become his own man was endearing, as was Kara’s response about it being an honor to be part of a team.

Alex, Supergirl, Season 1, Episode 2At the urging of Hank Henshaw, Alex exposes Kara’s weakness at fighting. I like when they do stuff like this with the Superman characters. It makes sense, and it made for some nice scenes between Kara and Alex. Granted, it also made for some hokey dialogue (What was that about hiding from the popcorn popper?). But it got us a little more invested in Alex, which is obviously important.

Kara faces off against her aunt, Alura’s twin sister Astra. This was a surprise. The reveal and the subsequent fight could have been the midseason finale, or even the season finale. Obviously they’ll fight again, though. When they do, they need to work on not making it look like the girls are on wires. I’m sure that’s not easy. But something like that can take you right out of the show.

Peter Facinelli makes his first appearance as Maxwell Lord. In the DCU, Maxwell Lord has been both a heartless villain and a ruthless businessman of sorts. I’m definitely interested to see what kind of Max we get here.

Kara is reunited with her mother Alura via interactive hologram. I believe this practice is what they call “Brando-ing.”

Images from CBS.com.

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A Supergirl S1E1 Review – Keep It Simple, Supergirl

Supergirl, CBS, posterBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead for the pilot episode of Supergirl.***

People are understandably excited about Supergirl. In essence, the character is getting the same treatment Green Arrow and The Flash are getting on The CW. This isn’t a prequel like Smallville or Gotham (Blech). This is Supergirl, flights and tights, in all her glory. On a major network, no less.

The pilot episode of Supergirl is charming in its simplicity. It lays everything out with fairly broad strokes, which is fine for now. We have our hero, her supporting cast, a place for villains to come from, and our big bad for the season. There’s a lot of ground to explore, and they’ve got a whole season to do it.

So let’s do what we love to do around here: Pick stuff apart…

Melissa Benoist plays Kara Zor El, a.k.a. Supergirl. This was great casting. Benoist has fantastic girl next-door appeal, and seems like she was somehow custom-built to be a TV star. It seemed like she was set for stardom on Glee before that show took an even bigger nosedive in quality. Either way, she makes a fantastic Supergirl. She’ll obviously need some time to break into the role and truly make it her own, as most actors do. But give her enough time, and she’ll pull it off.

Supergirl, pilot, Melissa BenoistSupergirl is widely being heralded as a feminist TV show, and a celebration of girl power. As a male fan, I’m not threatened or dissuaded by that at all. Despite all the superhero movies that have come out in the last two decades, we have yet to see one dedicated to Wonder Woman, Black Widow, or any other female hero. If Supergirl is successful, it could open some doors in that respect, and bring in new fans.

Calista Flockhart plays Cat Grant, head of CatCo Worldwide. Cat Grant was almost one-dimensional in how she was written here. Granted, this is only the pilot. At certain points in the comic books, the character had some nice depth that I’d love to see explored here. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make her a villain. Several years ago during Sterling Gates’ run on Supergirl, Cat was essentially made the J. Jonah Jameson to Kara’s Spider-Man. Using The Daily Planet as an outlet, Cat was able to turn much of Metropolis against the Girl of Steel. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine that happening on this show.

Incidentally, I loved her little rant about the word “girl.” That was really well written.

Supergirl, Hank HenshawKara becomes aligned with her sister Alex, Hank Henshaw, and the Department of Extranormal Operations to face fugitives from a Kryptonian prison. This seems like a cue from Arrow and The Flash. On those shows, both heroes have a team around them that helps them with logistics and what not. It makes sense, at least as far as the first season is concerned. The Fort Rozz angle is also very similar to what we’ve seen on The Flash. On that show, the same freak accident that gave Barry Allen his speed also created various metahumans. On Supergirl, the arrival of Kara’s shuttle accidentally released various prisoners from the Phantom Zone. This begs the question of why those prisoners are only surfacing now. But again, it’s only the pilot.

Also, in the DC Comics Universe, Hank Henshaw is the evil Cyborg Superman. Just throwing that out there.

Kara works alongside Winn Schott, who she later reveals her secret to. On the subject of supervillains, in the DCU, Winslow Schott is one of the incarnations of the villainous Toyman. Perhaps unrequited love drives Schott to madness?

Kara Zor El, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl, CBSWhile Superman’s presence is felt, he is never fully seen on camera. I was excited when I heard how Superman would be dealt with on this show. Essentially, it’s the same way Veep deals with the President of the United States. The character’s influence is felt on the show, but we never see him. I’m pleased they didn’t do anything stupid to Superman, like kill him or banish him to the Phantom Zone. But this episode leaves me wondering why Kara doesn’t have more of a direct relationship with her cousin. You’d think he’s be the one person she’d want to talk to about superheroics and what not.

From a creative standpoint, the reason for keeping Superman out of the show is obvious: He draws attention away from Supergirl. But I’d like to see some reason given as to why she can apparently only communicate with him through other people.

Image 2 from youtube.com. Image 3 from moviepilot.com. Image 4 from cinemablend.com.

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