In this week’s adventure on the School of Communication, I’m teaching on Writing & Composition, although in many ways I’m really talking about “Storytelling.” We’re looking at creative writing in general, and will be using some aspects of film to talk about story structure in general, and then will eventually get into writing short stories (which is the students’ assignment out of this week). It’s fun; I enjoy teaching.
After a week of being a “close contact” with regards to COVID-19 (although not being sick at all) and then another week of just having extended mask-rules because having been a close contact, I’m now done with all of that. I’m glad for that–although of course we all still have to exercise normal caution, I’m grateful to be able to be start walking around in a manner that is akin to being “back to normal.”
And naturally, in the midst of things, my family and I are still plowing through a bunch of interesting television.
An interesting phenomenon has developed in my household. Whenever we watch Enterprise (later known more helpfully as Star Trek Enterprise) and the opening credits begin, pretty much the rest of my family starts singing along to the opening theme song, Where My Heart Will Take Me. The song, based originally on something by Rod Stewart but sung here by Russell Watson, is a controversial footnote in Star Trek History. Many hate it, but my kids think it’s fun (and generally more fun to the other themes the franchise has offered).
I’ve watched Enterprise before but am now re-visiting it with my girls. My memory is that the first couple of seasons were not all that good, but then it picked up with Season 3. Well, we’ve just finished watching Season 1 and I am surprised to note that it’s actually pretty good. It has a meandering feel to it at times and I think the supporting cast of Hoshi, Reed and Mayweather are taking a while to get interesting, but most of the episodes are at least passable and some are really entertaining. I like the way Archer (Scott Bakula) is developing as a diplomat and a character, and I think T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), Trip (Connor Trinneer) and Phlox (John Billingsley) are pretty fully formed characters right from the get-go.
The show occasionally has this silly thing where everyone has to stand around in the underwear coating each other with blue gel (seriously) but there is an interesting story about the formation of the Federation going on here; it’s just a shame that I know that the show didn’t get a chance to complete it.
Still, not even the worst of Enterprise holds a candle to how irritating Picard is for me.
Star Trek: Picard
This show continues and we keep watching it because it’s Star Trek and because it’s freely available on Prime Video, but it’s pretty annoying. The third episode just dropped and reminded me why Raffi might be my least favorite regular character in all of Star Trek (although she has competition from some of the regulars on Discovery).
She’s suffering grief in this episode because of the weird decision to kill off Elnor, a conceptually interesting but barely developed Romulan character that my daughters call “the hot space elf.” His death is used to turn her (back) into someone who is full of entitled rage against Picard for causing all her problems. (Although to be clear her self-centeredness didn’t start there–how immature is it to throw potshots at Seven just because she’s married in an alternate history). Her histrionics are terribly written and unconvincingly acted, and I would have paid good money to see her character killed off instead (or as I mentioned before, left behind instead of the android girl from last season).
Unfortunately, she’s only mildly more annoying than Picard himself, who has lost pretty much everything that made him an interesting character on Next Generation–primarily his commanding presence (more than his command of a ship).
I do like Rios and I find that against all odds Agnes is growing on me. Q is of course a potentially interesting presence but so far the show hasn’t really taken advantage of the fact that he is there. I’ve heard Brent Spiner will be showing up again as yet another Soong–it’s too bad that we can’t just have Data but of course Spiner is almost always good (Masks notwithstanding).
The plot has gotten our characters to Los Angeles in 2024 which seems to be on verge of being a dystopian nightmare. I’m still waiting to see how the show ties this into real world politics, although there are some hints–I imagine that the show will strive for subtlety but fail.
Anyway, I’m probably being too hard on the show, but I do find it riles me something terrible.
I just realized that I never mentioned Space Force although I think I finished the second season more than a week ago.
It’s a comedy developed by Steve Carrell and Greg Daniels. It’s set in the headquarters of United States Space Force, the United States’ space-based military branch. Carrell plays General Mark Naird who oversees the operation, which isn’t quite as silly as the Scranton branch of the Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company, but occasionally threatens to be. Tawny Newsome, who also stars in Star Trek: Lower Decks co-stars in the show as a pilot-turned-astronaut.
The second season was fun–and brief, at only 7 episodes. It ended with an interesting cliffhanger where Space Force discovers a giant asteroid on a collision course with earth, which makes me eager to see the presumed follow-up.
The Man in the High Castle
We’ve been working on this series for a while now and have just finished the third season. It’s an alternate universe story about a world in which the Allies lost World War II, and the United States has been divided into regions controlled by Nazi Germany and the Japanese empire, with a large Neutral Zone in between. Alexa Davalos stars as a Juliana Crain, a woman who seems to be at the center of a variety of film reels that have turned up, depicting alternate versions of history, notably ones in which Germany and Japan lost the war. The third season is largely about the Nazi’s working on a machine that will allow them to travel to these other dimensions and conquer them.
In the last few episodes we’ve watched, it seems that three of the main characters have been killed off. One is killed by Juliana herself and though it was kind of gross it made me kind of cheer–it was a character that my daughters and I have hated from the beginning. Another was executed in a very brutal way after surviving another near-death experience at the end of the previous season. He had been going off the rails at that time but came back quite redeemed, and so we were sorry to see him go.
And the third died abruptly at the start of the fourth season without the actor appearing. I supposed the actor was no longer available for some reason? If so it’s too bad because this person was one of the best characters of the show, and is someone who will be sorely missed. And the show is having to work hard to deal with his absence.
With all of these major characters now gone it awaits to be seen if the fourth and final season can hold up interest. Oh well, at least we still have Juliana, plus Rufus Sewell’s John Smith (a guy whose family troubles are strangely compelling even though he is clearly unspeakably evil).
And last but not least (because that would be Picard), I finally watched Bombshell, the real-life story from 2019 about the take-down of Fox News head Roger Ailes by a variety of women who spoke out against his chronic sexual harassment.
It’s not a fantastic movie, but it is an interesting one, especially to get a picture of just how bad things were with this guy. Part of its problem I think it’s inconsistent tone–it seems to be wanting to capture the same sort of quirky self-aware comical vibe that we got with The Big Short, but it doesn’t go anywhere close to far enough to pull that off, which just make those moments kind of awkward. I think in general it works far better when it’s just being a straight drama–there is good enough acting to support this. Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman are booth strong, but Margot Robbie is especially good a fictional harassment victim, and John Lithgow is unbelievably creepy and unpleasant as Ailes.
Some of the negative criticism I’ve seen about the movie is focused on its failure to take the real-life people that Theron and Kidman are playing to task strongly enough for the problems they helped to create or perpetuate, owing primarily to the fact that they were conservative icons involved with Fox News in the first place–which seems to me to be more of a comment on the critics’ own political bias than anything else.
In any case, Bombshell has got some obvious flaws, but I find it a worthy effort.
Until next time, it might be time to get into the second season of Upload that was just released!