TV review: Star Trek Picard

Since we’re in Stay-at-Home lockdown, we picked up a subscription to CBS All Access for a couple months to catch up on some shows that we have been wanting to see. In particular, Star Trek Picard. We finished watching it last week and so I thought I’d share a few thoughts. I’ll be getting in to spoilers later on, but this first little bit will be generic.

First off, I’ve been a huge Trek fan since I was a kid. I was right there, glued to the TV, when Next Generation came out, and loved the original movies. When I heard that they were bringing Picard back for another show, I was obviously intrigued, as he was one of the best characters of any of the series. I was excited to see what they wanted to do to expand his story.

Unfortunately, mentioning “story” means that I need to start with one of my bigger dislikes of the series. I felt like the overall arc of the story was the weakest part of the series, and in many ways distracted from what I was hoping to get out of Picard. The story for this season felt so incredibly rushed that I kept shaking my head at how random plot points just jumped out of nowhere. There was SO much more than could have been explored in this season, and the fact that it was just breezed right on through was a huge disappointment.

I’ll dive into that more in a moment, but let’s divert to some things that I liked. The nostalgia factor was huge in the show, and for the most part I felt like it wasn’t just playing fan service. There were nods here and there, but they were handled really well. Seeing old favorites getting to interact together was amazing, and so heartwarming. In fact the chemistry when members of the original cast were together was beautiful.

The visuals were also incredibly well done, and I felt like they upped their game when it came to Star Trek. I loved the introduction of new technology, and new interfaces to it. This isn’t a huge spoiler, but at one point Picard has to interact with a VR, holographic, control and can’t figure it out. It just shows that technology continues to march onwards. Star Trek has always leaned in to its role as a visionary of what the future could look like, and this series is no different.

Despite what I’m about to get in to, I didn’t hate the show, and I encourage other Trek fans to watch it. However, I do need to take a moment to express where I feel that everything fell apart.

***** SPOILERS ****** SPOILERS ****** SPOILERS

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TV Review: Doctor Who 12th Season

I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who since the relaunch, and it’s been wonderful to watch all of these different actors put their spin on the character. It’s one of the really cool parts about having a main character that “regenerates” into someone new, but still familiar.

I was really excited about last season’s take on the doctor with Jodie Whittaker, being the first Doctor to regenerate into a woman.  The eleventh season gave her a chance to express herself and show off what she wanted to do with the character. I was excited to see this continue in season 12.

**** SPOILERS BELOW ****

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TV Review: The Good Place

A week ago, The Good Place concluded after a 5 season run. My wife had discovered this show a couple of years ago, and much like Parks & Rec (another show by the same creator), this one really worked for me.

I’m going to keep this review spoiler free, because it’s really a show that you need to experience the way it’s presented. However, in brief, this is a show about the afterlife, and how a group of people deal with their situation in the afterlife. There are lots of twists and turns, but that’s the basic premise that begins the show.

When dealing with comedy shows about the afterlife, it’s way to easy to move into campy territory. Making fun of sitting on clouds with harps, or representations of heaven as all-inclusive resorts, only work for very brief moments in time. The Good Place doesn’t go in that direction, and instead uses a solid base of humor to ask questions about the human condition, and the very fundamental meanings of life.

The show is an ensemble cast, and despite the fact that Kristin Bell and Ted Danson are obviously the stars, the entire group works. They’re a bunch of misfits that all end up together, despite having almost nothing to do with one another. Their individual flaws accentuate the good parts of each other, and create a wonderful dynamic that builds a true “group”. I’m probably going to have a hard time watching any of these actors in other settings because of how strongly they are now tied to this world.

Suffice it to say, The Good Place was an amazing piece of television for me. It’s profound, honest, funny, and heartwarming. It’s a wonderful show, and worth the investment to see it through to the end.

TV Review: The Boys

A couple of months ago my wife suggested we watch through the new Amazon series, The Boys. Last month we finally sat down and did just that. This series is based on a comic book series that run in the early 2000’s to a lot of critical acclaim. I had never read the books, but was familiar with the basic premise, that superheros existed, but that they often were corrupt, serving their corporate overlords. The show stars Karl Urban as the leader of a rag-tag group of misfits who are trying to take the supers down.

First off, this show is dark and gritty. There are no punches pulled and you will see blood, gore, and full frontal nudity. It’s about desperate people doing whatever they can to accomplish their goals. When I say this is a comic book series, it’s more akin to Walking Dead than Captain America. Despite this bluntness everything still works. The violence fits with the narrative and never feels gratuitous. If someone were hit with heat vision rays from a superhero’s eyes, they would slice in half with blood and gore. This isn’t hidden, but at the same time it’s not celebrated.

Along with a dark and gritty tone, the story follows suit. This isn’t a happy-endings type of story. All of the characters, even the good guys (especially the good guys?) are morally questionable. The ethics rule book goes out the window for almost every character. That means you sometimes feel weird rooting for the “good guys”, but in the end they’re not as bad as the bad guys.

I won’t get into spoiler territory, and so I’ll wrap up my review saying that this is a really well done show, despite its gritty nature and questionable ethics. It’s easier to write a story where the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and winning is black and white. That isn’t this story. This is a much more difficult tale, and it’s told well.

I’m happy that season 2 is in the works, though it’ll probably be quite a bit before it’s released. I know the story is going to get darker before the end, but as long as it continues to be well told, I’ll keep tuning in.

Review: Good Omens (Amazon Mini-series)

This weekend the wife and I finished up watching the new Amazon Prime mini-series Good Omens. This is a series based on a book written by (the late) Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Due to Pratchett’s passing, Gaiman took the helm in writing this adaptation of the book. In doing so, he created a work that very closely aligns with the book, which is a rare thing in entertainment.

I’ll keep this review spoiler free, but the basic premise of the series is that armageddon is coming soon, and an angel and a demon, who have been stationed on Earth for 6000 years, decide they don’t like the idea of humanity getting wiped out. The pair end up in the middle of a cosmic fight that is bigger than the two of them, yet seems to completely center on their unlikely (and unsanctioned) friendship.

One of the absolute biggest strengths of the series is David Tennant and Michael Sheen who pay the demon Crowley and angel Aziraphale respectively. Whenever these two are on screen the chemistry is magic, and the banter is as witty as it gets from authors like Pratchett and Gaiman. Between Tennant’s swagger, as he channel’s his inner Bill Nighy, and Sheen’s soft-spoken demeanor, we get an odd couple pairing for the ages. The series thankfully delves into the backstory of their relationship, and you get to see how they became truly great friends.

This strength is also the one weakness that I found with the series. Other reviews have noted that the supporting cast wasn’t as good as it could be, and I would tend to agree. In general, the secondary characters are just that… secondary. They are brought in to the story to fulfill a specific purpose, but we get very little beyond their caricature. This should be a familiar paradigm for fans of this genre of books. Characters are often introduced in the pages of these comedies, given an important role to play, and then disappear. Many of the supporting cast simply are there to do one or two things, and they’re not really meant to have depth. That’s not typical for most modern TV, and so it can throw people off who aren’t expecting it.

Beyond this little nitpick, I thoroughly enjoyed the series. It’s a wonderful story, and Tennant and Sheen tell is beautifully. The fact that it’s only 6 episodes long is great as well. It makes it easily digest-able for folks who have a lot of other TV vying for their eyes. It’s well work the investment in Good Omens.