Posted in Television

Rob Watches Star Trek – The Value of Failure

***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: The Next Generation
TITLE: S1:E19. “Coming of Age”
STARRING: Patrick Stewart, Will Wheaton, Jonathan Frakes
GUEST-STARRING: Ward Costello, Robert Schenkkan
WRITER: Sandy Fries
DIRECTOR:
Mike Vejar
ORIGINAL AIR DATE:
March 14, 1988
SYNOPSIS:
As Wesley takes his Starfleet entrance exam, the Enterprise is the subject of a mysterious investigation.

New Around here? Check out the “Rob Watches Star Trek” archive!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I’ll admit, despite insisting that I don’t mind the Wesley character, I did groan a little when I realized this episode was largely about him. Young Will Wheaton did have a very punchable face…

This is another “Mary Sue” episode. That’s a damn shame. As it actually could have been really good if the impetus wasn’t there to make Wesley seem so damn perfect. 

The show sees Wesley attempt to pass the Starfleet entrance exam, and ultimately fail. Though he doesn’t fail due to any fault of his own. At least not as far as the viewer can tell. Over the course of the episode we see him being effortlessly smart, generous, kind, and brave. It largely seems that the only reason Wesley doesn’t pass is because he chose to help another candidate during a crucial moment.

I like stories that take a hard look at failure. Not just because I’ve tried and failed a bunch of times myself, but because failure has a lot of value. Our failures shape who we are every bit as much as our successes. Sometimes more. An episode where this apparent young prodigy gives it his all but ultimately comes up short, thus learning to cope with failure, might have been really compelling. Not to mention make for some nice character development.

The episode tries to play that tune. But ironically, it fails. Instead or seeing him struggle, we see Wesley emerge as the likely winner from the start. His only flaw (if any) is that he’s too kind for his own good. Toward the end there’s an attempt at a teachable moment in which Picard tells Wesley he failed at his first attempt at the Starfleet exam as well. But it falls flat. Because Wesley didn’t really fail, did he? He made a sacrifice, thus causing his own failure. It doesn’t add up.

Running parallel with the Wesley plot is a clumsy one about the Enterprise being investigated, which leads to Picard being offered a job as the head of the Starfleet Academy. The only interesting thing that comes out of it is the conversation between Wesley and Picard. The notion of the ultra-strict captain being offered a teaching position seems like a bad fit at first. But the scene where Picard counsels Wesley about failure shows that, despite certain inclinations, he can in fact be a good teacher. That’s an important quality for a leader to have. So it made for some nice insight into Picard.

But overall, this one was a stinker. As is much of season one at large. That’s a big disappointment, as I’m still waiting for this show to live up to all the hype…

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

Posted in Television

Rob Watches Star Trek: When Aging Turns to Caricature

***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: The Next Generation
TITLE: S1.E16. “Too Short a Season”
STARRING: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner
GUEST-STARRING: Clayton Rohner, Marsha Hunt, Michael Pataki
WRITERS: Michael Michaelian, D.C. Fontana
DIRECTOR:
Rob Bowman
ORIGINAL AIR DATE:
February 8, 1988
SYNOPSIS:
The Enterprise hosts an elderly admiral who has taken a drug to reverse the aging process.

New Around here? Check out the “Rob Watches Star Trek” archive!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Early in this episode, the bad guy addresses our main guest character, Admiral Mark Jameson. The first thing he says is: “So, Jameson, I see time has not been kind.”

That could very well be the biggest understatement in the history of Star Trek.

Our premise for this episode is that Jameson, a retired admiral, is brought in to negotiate over a hostage crisis with a old rival Karnas (shown below). Are we to believe that these men are the same age? If so, what in God’s name happened to make Jameson look the way he does by comparison?

From a meta perspective, we know what happened. The story called for this character to age in reverse thanks to a drug, so they wanted to make him look as old as humanly possible from the start. The problem is, unless Jameson was in some kind of toxic chemical accident at some point, what’s happened to him doesn’t look like it’s in the realm of human possibility.

Looking at Jameson (shown above), along with the make-up job they did on DeForest Kelley for Bones’ appearance in “Encounter at Farpoint,” it seems to me like the showrunners were overthinking the extended aging process of the Star Trek universe.

The implication seems to be that medical science has advanced to the point that people can live to be well over 100. So from a production standpoint, you’d want to make it obvious to your audience that this person is very old. Fair enough. But in theory, if medical science can extend human lives, can’t it also allow people to age gracefully to the point they don’t look like monsters?

Why even mess with latex prosthetics to begin with? What’s wrong with a basic white wig and conventional make-up? A character doesn’t have to have flappy jowls or exaggerated liver spots for us to understand they’ve aged.

The moral of this story? Whenever possible, keep it simple. Star Trek is filled with over-the-top ideas and visuals as it is. So there’s no need to go over the top with something as simple as human aging.

Incidentally, Michael Pataki, who plays Karnas, was also in “The Trouble With Tribbles.” Given what we saw in “The Naked Now,” I’m quite surprised we won’t be seeing tribbles this season. Or for that matter, any point during TNG. What, they make an actor look like Freddy Krueger’s cousin, but they can’t invest in little multicolored puff balls for the actors to play with?

Then again, considering how “The Naked Now” turned out, perhaps we should be grateful.

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

Posted in Television

Rob Watches Star Trek: Mary Sue Crusher

***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: The Next Generation
TITLE: S1.E13. “Datalore”
STARRING: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Will Wheaton
WRITERS: Robert Lewin, Maurice Hurley, Gene Roddenberry
DIRECTOR:
Rob Bowman
ORIGINAL AIR DATE:
January 18, 1988
SYNOPSIS:
The Enterprise visits Data’s home planet, and discovers his lost “brother.”

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

So Data was found, not built? Huh. That’s interesting. Two decades of The Phantom Menace trained me to believe he’d been built by Wesley…

What we have here is essentially your standard evil twin story. The Enterprise travels to Data’s home planet, finds another robot like him, he turns out to be evil, the other crew members mix them up. Pretty paint-by-numbers stuff.

While Data is our central character, the young Wesley Crusher character is also front and center, and is ultimately responsible for saving the day. And not for the first time.

The term “Mary Sue” gets tossed around a lot in this day and age. In fact, Wesley Crusher is often cited as a textbook Mary Sue. But what the hell is a Mary Sue, anyway?

Urban Dictionary defines “Mary Sue” as, “a character who is so perfect that he or she warps the world around them to display their perfection,” and who “forcibly make the world and people around them defy logic to simply display how amazingly radiant they are.” In other words, a character that is illogically infallible. Go to the Wikipedia page for “Mary Sue,” and the cited characters (in addition to Wesley) include Arya Stark from Game of Thrones and Rey from the Star Wars sequel trilogy.

Fittingly enough, the term dates back to a Star Trek fanzine published in the early ’70s.

Apparently, Gene Roddenberry was the one who pushed for the Wesley character. And as his involvement with the show decreased after season one, so too did Wesley’s relevance on the show. Personally, I don’t hate Wesley. Nor do I mind the inclusion of a younger character in general. It offers a different perspective on the Star Trek Universe that we never had on the old show. It might have even been interesting to watch Wesley grow and mature over the course of the series.

I do, however, find the role young Wesley often plays among the crew to be highly illogical. Indeed, Spock would not approve.

Though he secretly has a heart of gold, Captain Picard is strict to the point of coming off short-tempered. You don’t mess around on this guy’s ship. In “Encounter at Farpoint,” the guy was hard-pressed to even let Wesley set foot on the bridge. And yet now he’s an acting ensign who’s regularly performing duties on that same bridge? What gives?

The “Wesley problem,” as D.C. Fontana once put it, will seemingly be less and less prevalent as we get into subsequent seasons. But I’ll maintain that the character itself, despite becoming a Mary Sue, wasn’t bad from conception.

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

Posted in Television

Rob Watches: Star Trek: The Return of Q

***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: The Next Generation
TITLE: S1.E10. “Hide and Q”
STARRING: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Levar Burton, Brent Spiner, Michael Dorn
GUEST-STARRING: John de Lancie
WRITERS: C.J. Holland, Gene Roddenberry
DIRECTOR:
Cliff Bole
ORIGINAL AIR DATE:
November 23, 1987
SYNOPSIS:
Q returns to tempt Riker with powers much like his own.

New Around here? Check out the “Rob Watches Star Trek” archive!

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

I wouldn’t call “Hide and Q” a great episode. Maybe not even a good one. But it does have one thing going for it: It feels like an episode done in the spirit of classic Star Trek, as opposed to mimicking it.

The show is play on, and even directly references, the old proverb “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Q, who we last saw in “Encounter at Farpoint,” endows Riker with powers like his own. Naturally, our villain’s expectation is that Riker will succumb to temptation and want to keep the power permanently.

The climactic sequence of the episode sees everybody on the Enterprise bridge, with Riker offering to grant them their heart’s desire. Ultimately they all turn it down, as they don’t want it to be tainted by Q. But one person is conspicuous by her absence from the bridge, and the episode at large: Deanna Troi.

It’s been fairly obvious from the get-go that Riker and Troi are going to be linked romantically. was it always so obvious these people were standing in front of a green screen? So why not have Troi be a part of Riker’s big gift giving sequence at the end? Swap her in for, say, Tasha. She could be the one to convince him to reject Q’s powers once and for all, thus drawing them that much closer together.

I’unno. Seems obvious to me. Granted, 30 years of hindsight…

Not only did this feel more like Star Trek on a thematic level, but on a visual one as well. That planet set was very reminiscent of the way many otherworldly locations looked on the old show. Incidentally, was it as obvious back in the ’80s as it is now when the actors were standing in front of green screens? Perhaps it’s easier to tell on high-definition TVs. But at times it feels like it’s beating you over the head.

I imagine Picard gets a little less prickly as the series progresses. Obviously, Riker is forgiven in the end. But before that happens Riker admits his mistake to Picard, adding that he feels like an idiot. Picard respones: “Quite right. So you should,” Easy there, Cap. The man was trying to grant everyone their heart’s desire, not rule the universe…

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

Posted in Television

Rob Watches Star Trek: Waiting For Greatness

***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: The Next Generation
TITLE: S1.E7. “Lonely Among Us”
STARRING: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn
WRITERS: Michael Halperin (Story), D.C. Fontana (Script)
DIRECTOR:
Cliff Bole
ORIGINAL AIR DATE:
November 2, 1987
SYNOPSIS:
An alien entity takes possession of several crew members, as the Enterprise is assigned to escort delegates from feuding alien races to peace talks.

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

These first few episodes of TNG that I’ve watched are interesting, in that they’re, quite frankly, uninteresting. And in the case of this episode, rather stupid at times. (I’m specifically looking at Data doing his Sherlock Holmes impression.)

“Lonely Among Us” has a story that might have been plucked out of the original series. Various crew members are possessed by an invisible alien entity, all the while two feuding alien factions are on board the ship. In many ways, it’s textbook Star Trek. It may also be a microcosm for what’s been wrong with the show (at least what I’ve seen) thus far.

On paper it makes sense. Especially with 30 years of hindsight. You want to make a new Star Trek show two decades after the first one. What do you do? You look at what worked on the old show, and try to at least partially fit that mold. Ergo, you get episodes like “The Naked Now” and “Lonely Among Us,” which feel like dressed up episodes of the ’60s show.

It’s not an accident that this happened during a season in which several writers from the original show were brought in. In addition to Gene Roddenberry’s involvement with the show, D.C. Fontana became both a writer and an associate producer.

It all makes sense. These people know Star Trek because they created Star Trek. They’re the keepers of the flame. You’d be silly not to involve them on some level. But, to use an example from the same era, there’s a reason that Batman: The Animated Series didn’t have the same kind of stories the ’60s Batman show did. It was a tonal mismatch, of course. But it also didn’t fit with what the new show needed to be in order to succeed.

Even all these years later, as someone just discovering these shows for the first time, this first season of TNG very much lives in the shadow of the original series. How could it not? The way you fight that is to allow this new show to pave its own way and establish its own identity. You can’t do that while mimicking the old show.

More than 30 years later, Star Trek: The Next Generation is still looked at with love and reverence. But I, as a newbie, am still patiently waiting for greatness…

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

Posted in Television

Rob Watches Star Trek: Data is a Sex Robot?

***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: The Next Generation
TITLE: S1.E3. “The Naked Now”
STARRING: Patrick Stewart, Denise Crosby, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton
WRITERS: John D.F. Black, D.C. Fontana (Pseudonym: J. Michael Bingham)
DIRECTOR:
Paul Lynch
ORIGINAL AIR DATE:
October 5, 1987
SYNOPSIS:
Members of the crew find their inhibitions lowered after contracting a mysterious (but not unfamiliar) infection.

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

Okay…wait a minute here….

So this is the sequel to the original series episode “The Naked Time.” As with its predecessor, “The Naked Now” sees characters infected with a strange disease that lowers their inhibitions. In essence, they all get drunk and sweaty.

One of the first characters infected is Tasha Yar, security chief aboard the Enterprise. Evidently Tasha is a horny drunk, as she abruptly becomes hypersexual. She’s eventually found by Data, the ship’s chief operations officer. More importantly, he’s a synthetic android. Their verbal exchange ends this way…

Tasha: “You are fully functional, aren’t you?”
Data: “Of course, but…”
T: “How fully?”
D: “In every way, of course. I am programmed in multiple techniques, a broad variety of pleasuring.”
T: “Oh, you jewel! That’s exactly what I hoped!”

They have sex. Human-robot sex. I have questions. Very awkward questions…

So Data is “fully functional.” I’ll assume that means he can do virtually anything a human can do. He’s got synthetic, man-made organs, tissue, etc. In the Marvel Universe he’d be called a “synthezoid” like Vision. So he can have human-robot sex if he chooses to.

But how does that work? Like, physically? Physiologically? My understanding of Data is that he doesn’t experience emotions the way humans do. So, in theory, he wouldn’t register arousal. So when it’s time for intercourse, does his CPU have to give a command that it’s time for a robot erection?

Because that’s not awkward enough, let me ask: Does synthetic sperm exist? Does it…”present itself” during robot ejaculation? Is there robot ejaculation? Or in that moment, is Data’s primary function to provide pleasure to his human partner?

The question of Data’s “primary function” brings up an odd issue. Assuming he’s principally programmed to serve humans, is there a question of consent? Could Data have said no to Tasha? If not, does that mean any synthezoid can theoretically become a sex robot at any given moment? Never underestimate the power and prevalence of human perversion, folks…

The big question, ironically, is posed by Tasha herself: How fully functional is Data?

See, these are the questions you’ve got to answer if you’re going to have human-robot sex in your show. (This is how you know you’re becoming too invested in a TV show.)

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