Category Archives: Television

saturday morning flashback

Set the wayback machine for the early 80s, Sherman. Any Saturday morning will do . . .

I was such a nerd, I thought Timer was actually kind of cool. He taught us how to be healthy through song!

I was such a nerd, I thought the Dungeons  & Dragons cartoon was really cool.

Except for Uni. I hated that stupid little Scrappy Doo idiot.

Remember how excited you were to see your favorite video games become cartoons? The only thing that could have been better for a kid in 1983 would have been turning your favorite video games into a cereal!

Hmm . . . on second thought, maybe not.

Happy Saturday, everyone.

Angel One Review at TV Squad

My review of Angel One, which is part of the Top Five Most Painful TNG Episodes Ever, is up at TV Squad.

If you missed this morning’s preview (and if you did, what the hell, man?) here’s another bit of Mojo for your Nixon:

When they get to the planet, we discover that the women are all
statuesque beauties with perfectly feathered hair, and the men are all
refugees from Planet Simper V. After a tense palaver with the planet’s
only two leaders with any opinions whatsoever, Mistresses Beata and
Ariel, the away team is sent to their room to think about what they did
while mommy and mommy talk. Like all kids who are sent to their rooms,
though, instead of contritely thinking about what they did, they plot
against the people who sent them there.

Troi says that pretty
much everyone in the room was freaked out about something. Maybe it has
something to do with the Odin crew. Tasha’s insightful analysis: "Why?
Good question." Data (and the audience) wonder what they’ll do if the
Mistresses deny the existence of any survivors. Hey, that’s a good
question, and probably something we’d all like to be prepared for,
right, Riker? Actually, no. Riker petulantly tells Data, "Let’s not
look for problems." Yeah, because looking for and solving problems just
isn’t the way we do things in Starfleet, dog.

Of all the reviews I’ve done so far, this was the hardest for me to write. I didn’t work on the episode for more than one day, so I don’t have that many behind the scenes memories. The final product is so unbelievably horrible, it was a challenge to do more than write, "This thing was stupid, this thing was also stupid, this thing should be retconned, this thing was lame," etc.

So I wrote the first draft, and I asked Andrew to give me some help with the rewrite. I figured that he would have his own take on it, and would be able to help me find jokes where I was missing them. He did, and so far, the jokes everyone is picking out as their favorites were all written by him. I believe in giving credit where credit is due, so direct your praise for Worf’s sinuses and Riker’s wait for command in Andrew’s direction. He also found a gag to go with the vase, which I wanted to put in, but just couldn’t find on my own. The snu-snu, though, was all me, baby. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is spongy and bruised.

The column was getting long, so I didn’t have space to include something that I think it historically important about this show. If I only had a blog where I could share the additional information, I’d say . . .

Angel One is mostly crap, but the original story  sounds like it was pretty cool. Larry Nemecek’s Star Trek The Next Generation Companion (which is a surreal experience for me to read, because it speaks to the fanboy and cast member in me simultaneously) says that "Heavy rewrites changed Patrick Barry’s original story — a direct, action-filled, allegory to apartheid using the sexes instead of the races to make his point." Larry gives more plot details in the book, which I won’t reprint here because I think that probably exceeds fair use. Director Michael Rhodes says that a big reason this story falls flat was Gene’s determination to strip any conflict out of this script, and that Gene decreed that there was "no place for conflict in Star Trek." I hate to be critical of Gene, but I clearly remember Rhodes and several members of the cast sitting on Stage 6 one morning, absolutely incredulous that anyone could think that interesting drama was possible without conflict.

You know how you’re a kid, and your parents are arguing about something, and you know they’re arguing but they tell you everything’s fine, we’re just talking, so go back to bed? That’s how I felt during this entire episode (even though I wasn’t working on it, I was there every day to go to school.) The actors hated it. I mean, they really, really hated it — almost as much as I hate Dick Cheney. I haven’t been able to confirm this with people
who allegedly participated, but I’ve heard from other Star Trek alumni
that some of the actors hated this script so much — it was even more
sexist and stupid in one of the drafts that it is in the final cut, if
you can believe that — they refused to work for a day or so until
various things were rewritten. Some people would say that’s a case of
actors being difficult, but I’d say it’s an example of how much we all
cared about the show, and how we all wanted it to be awesome and

Oh, and if you Digg it and Propel it, a talking goat will bring you a box of wine, for free! If that doesn’t wax your skis, I can assure you that Digging and Propelling will get you laid. And who doesn’t like that?

(Heh. "get you laid" sounds like 9th grade tough-guy talk during lunch. It also makes me think of Beavis and Butthead, for some reason.)

Angel One Preview

Sometime soon, my review of Angel One will go live on TV Squad. Until it does, here’s a little preview:

While Data and Trent are off seeing the wizard, Riker gets ready to
play dress up for a meeting he has with Beata. She’s sent him one of
the hideous twink suits, apparently unaware that body wax and muscle
definition have gone out of favor in the Federation. Tasha and Troi and
throw up in their mouths a little when they see it, one of the first
times in TNG when we can clearly see the characters sympathizing with
the audience, instead of the other way around. Riker gets really
defensive about the whole thing, and essentially accuses them of being
jealous, because he’s putting on a Siegfried and Roy costume to go meet
up with Beata, who is "a woman, and an attractive one."

Oh, brother. Can we get a tiger sent down to Angel One?

. . . what? Too soon?

Back on the Enterprise, Picard is crankier than usual, and Dr. Crusher says he’s just too sick to stay in command of the Enterprise. As she escorts him to his quarters, he gives command to Geordi, who is all too happy to get away from Worf, who is about to shower Geordi and everyone in the first ten rows of the arena with a Klingon Sneeze. Turns out that those forehead ridges are just extra sinuses. Ouch.

Geordi approaches the captain’s chair, and a ray of awesome breaks through the clouds of crap that have obscured most of this episode: As he sits into command, we can feel how much Geordi respects the responsibility he’s been given, and just how cool it is to sit in the big chair. Worf starts his scan and quickly locates the Odin survivors.

(Personal aside:  LeVar and I were the only two original cast members on TNG who were self-proclaimed Star Trek fans. I never asked him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this moment meant a lot to LeVar, personally. I know that when I got to sit in the captain’s chair in Farpoint, even though it was kind of silly and lame, it still meant a lot to me. Fun fact: when we weren’t rolling, nobody ever sat in the captain’s chair except Patrick. Sure, we’d get visitors who would want to have their picture taken in the chair, and it was a popular stop for studio executives who wanted to impress people, but for all of us in the cast and crew, there was a very real reverence for the captain’s chair.)

Okay, that wasn’t as little as I thought it’d be.

That’s what she said!

Oh boy. It’s going to be one of those days . . .

on a routine expedition

Did you know that Walter Koenig (who, by the way, told me Happiest Days was "delightful," Squee!) created the character of Enik on Land of the Lost? Did you know that Harlan Ellison wrote a story for the show that was never produced? Oh! Oh! Oh! Did you know that David Gerrold came up with a whole backstory for the eponymous land that makes sense?!

I didn’t know any of this until I read the Land of the Lost Triviagasm at io9 last night.

When they announced it, I though io9 was going to be snotty, too cool for the room, and hideous (like most Gawker blogs, which seem to have have an attitude I outgrew in my twenties.)

They’re proving me wrong (like my opinion counts, right?) with content that’s consistently interesting and cool, and commentary that doesn’t seem to fit into the smug, condescending, dismissive tone that seems to be the Gawker model. It’s almost like they realized who their target audience is, and — gasp — actually respect and speak to that audience.

Speaking of Land of the Lost: did it scare the living daylights out of anyone else? I remember being scared by most of the Krofft shows, because they all seemed to feature kids who get separated from their parents and sent into a weird world from which they can never return, but Land of the Lost terrified me, even though the kids had their dad with them. Maybe it was because I was a young geek with an overactive imagination, but when I was nine or ten, it seemed to be the most plausible of all the Krofft shows.

Oh, and if you’re a fan of the Krofft shows, you should track down a copy of Pufnstuf & Other Stuff. It’s awesome.

The Return of MST3K

I was twenty years-old the first time I saw MST3K. I was sitting on the couch with a friend of mine, looking for something to watch on a Sunday morning, when she stopped on some crappy old horror movie.

"What’s this?" I said.

"You’ve never seen this before?"

"No," I said, "That’s why I asked ‘what’s this.’"

"It’s a show about this guy who is trapped in space with robots, and is forced to watch horrible movies. So he and the robots talk back to the screen."

It reminded me of this show I first watched on KDOC here in Los Angeles when I was a freshman in high school, called Mad Movies. I became a fan for life in a matter of minutes, and developed a list of favorites just as fast: Manos, the Hands of Fate, Rocketship XM and Lost Continent are a few that come instantly to mind.

MST3K’s Joel Hodgson once said, "We don’t ask ourselves, ‘will anyone get this?’ We tell each other, ‘the right people will get this.’" I was inspired by that philosophy, and when I wrote sketch comedy or did improv (both pursuits inspired by MST3K and the British Whose Line?) I used it, and I still use it today, even when I’m not writing comedy.

So now that there’s some context for how much I love MST3K, you’ll understand how excited I was when I saw that most of the original crew has reunited for Cinematic Titanic, which I believe can be safely called The Return of MST3K:

Cinematic Titanic is a feature length movie riffing show and is an
artist owned and operated venture created by Joel Hodgson, the creator
of the Peabody award-winning Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Cinematic
Titanic features the original cast and writers of MST3K, which is
Hodgson (Joel Robinson), Trace Beaulieu (Crow), and J. Elvis Weinstein
(Tom Servo). Filling out the ensemble is Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester)
and Frank Conniff (TV’s Frank).

While this is exciting to me as a fan, it’s also inspiring and validating to me as a creative person who lives on the Long Tail. Instead of waiting for a network to give them the opportunity to bring their show to viewers, they’re distributing the show on DVD themselves. Between this and Riff Trax, we Misties have a lot to celebrate these days.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some rock climbing to do.

announcing announcements

I have three announcements, ranging from cool to awesome, coming over the next 24 hours or so. They’re all interconnected, so I could make them all at once, but where’s the fun in that?

I’m heading out to a meeting right now that’s related to one of the announcements, so feel free to speculate in comments if you’re looking for a way to kill time today.

Two things before I go:

  1. Watching American Gladiators on its own is mildly entertaining, but watching American Gladiators with Nolan is awesome. If they can stay focused on the events and stay away from any reality TV bullshit, this could be a hell of lot of fun to watch. I’ve already devised a drinking game: Whenever Hulk Hogan says “brother” you have to drink. Good luck making it to the first commercial break.
  2. Tron is coming to Xbox Live Arcade this week, and this week’s Rock Band DLC includes Number of the Beast and Interstate Love Song. Boy am I glad I got one of my two deadlines behind me already.

Oh, I guess that would be four announcements, I’ve just realized. The fourth, though, isn’t really related to the other three. Still, it’s pretty awesome.

So how’s your day going? Mine totally doesn’t suck.

genesis of the daleks

I should have finished my script yesterday, but the goddamn sinusitis completely knocked me out. Luckily, used a winning combination of Sudafed, Mucinex, Advil, and sitting on the couch next to a humidifier to prevent this thing from developing into something really nasty, like a Moose Bite.

The best thing about being a geek who makes a living writing about geek stuff is that I get to do the things I love and not feel like I’m goofing off. So even though I was sitting on the couch watching Genesis of the Daleks for the entire afternoon, I felt like I was being productive.

I am aware that it’s a gaping hole in my geek cred, and I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never watched much Dr. Who. I mean, I’d seen a little bit here and there, but certainly not enough to tell you which Doctor I liked the most, or why the Timelords are cool — in fact, I still can’t — but when I got about halfway through this DVD, I said, out loud, “Where have you been all my life?”

While I don’t think I would have liked Dr. Who as much as I liked The Prisoner when I was a teen (the time I was most likely to have discovered it, because my friend Guy had a knack for introducing me to awesome British television) I’m thrilled that I chose to seriously begin my travels with the Doctor at this time and in this way. Once I get these writing deadlines behind me, I think I’ll go back to Robot, which is the first appearance of Tom Baker as the Doctor, and make my way forward a bit.

Questions for Dr. Who fans:

  • What do you call yourselves? Whosiers? Timsies? Time-ers?
  • I’m sure a series that ran for decades has uneven stories, but did I serendipitously fall into Dr. Who’s Best of Both Worlds? Because I loved just about every single frame of Genesis of the Daleks.
  • Does Dr. Who — which appears to me on one viewing to be awesome in the 70s — suffer the same fate in the 80s as so many things that were awesome in the 70s? (Boston, Grateful Dead, Aerosmith, Rolling Stones, Jefferson Starship — oh, I’m sorry, I mean Starship — I’m looking in your direction.)
  • Do Dr. Who fans have blood feuds about their favorite Doctors the way Trekkies do about their favorite captains? I imagine they must, because if there’s one thing all geeks have in common it’s our ability to take something we love and turn it into something to argue about with other people who love it, right?

I’m about 85% of normal today, and not cranky at all, which is quite nice. I’m looking forward to finishing my script, because there’s a bottle of 14 year Oban in it for me when I do.

“You are still half savage . . . but there is hope”

I watched a couple episodes of the original Star Trek with Nolan last night, including Court Martial.

He’s not a big Star Trek fan. He prefers Battlestar Galactica — he calls it "gangster," which is teenager for "good" — and Firefly, but he watched it with me anyway.

Though he’s thankfully grown up in a world where it’s not out of the
ordinary for a woman to be a prosecutor, or a non-white man to be a
judge, I explained to him that it was a very big deal in 1967, and that allowed him appreciate the show on a new level.

Something we both noticed, though, that made us laugh and reaffirmed Nolan’s opinion that the original Star Trek "just looks kind of silly": according to Court Martial, the three buttons a captain always needs to have easily accessible when he’s sitting in command are: Yellow Alert, Red Alert, and Eject Pod.

We saw some other things that made us laugh and cringe, but people who fall over white barriers and crush plants shouldn’t cast stones at white paper labels on the captain’s chair, so that’s all I’m going to say about that.

After he went to sleep, I watched Arena. Though it was one of my favorites when I was a kid, I haven’t watched the entire episode for such a long time — I think it must be at least 15 years — that I’d completely forgotten about the entire first half of the episode, when they’re getting shelled by the Gorn at Cestus III, which was surprisingly violent and exciting. All I remembered was Kirk running around Vasquez Rocks while he fought the scary guy in the rubber suit, which was awesome and awesomer.

I’d also forgotten about Spock’s suggestion that maybe the Gorn were protecting themselves when they attacked the human outpost on Cestus III, and Kirk’s initial refusal to consider it. It was pretty brave to put the idea out that someone you automatically assume has evil intentions may have a very good reason — from their perspective — to think the same thing about you. A big part of American mythology is that we’re always the Good Guys who are incapable of doing anything evil or wrong, and I thought it was daring to suggest — on network television in 1967, no less — that maybe it’s not that simple.

Even though Star Trek frequently looks silly and cheesy, I think it says a lot about the writing and the stories that audiences have not just overlooked that, but embraced it, for the last 40 years. I’ve seen movies that spent more on special effects for one shot than Star Trek
spent in an entire season’s worth, but I didn’t care about the
characters, and the story didn’t stay with me for one minute after it
was over. We know it’s just a guy in a silly rubber suit, but when Kirk empathizes with him and doesn’t kill him, it’s still a powerful moment, and the message it sends about compassion and empathy is a powerful one that’s just as relevant now as it was then.

TNG Review: Datalore

Happy Monday! (You’re twisting my melon, man . . .)

My Datalore review is at TV Squad:

After a bit of exploring, they find themselves in the lab of Data’s
creator, Dr. Noonian Soong. Riker, Geordi, and Tasha all join forces to
be sort of an Exposition Voltron, informing the audience that Noonian
Soong was the Earth’s foremost neuroscientist, until he tried to build
Asimov’s positronic brain and failed. Everyone thought he did the walk
of shame off the planet, but it turns out he just moved to Omicron
Theta to continue his work until he got it right. (Coincidentally, on
Omicron Gamma, there’s a group of former Microsoft employees still
working on an MP3 player).

As I mentioned on Friday, this episode was a massive disappointment to me, because I had such fond memories of it as a child. I said, "I liked this episode a lot when it first aired, but watching it now,
all I can see are gigantic plot holes and inconsistencies that never
should have made it past the first draft."
Well, I re-read the original script over the weekend, and it doesn’t suck nearly as much as the final episode does, and I honestly can’t figure out how they screwed it up so badly.

Well, actually, I have an idea: we shot several episodes in the first two years where the producers and writers were rewriting the script while we filmed it, and on some of those episodes we’d get new pages in the morning for a scene we were filming that afternoon, and then we’d get pages to replace those pages right after lunch. It’s incredibly hard to keep any sense of continuity when we don’t know what’s going to happen before and after the scene we’re working on, and it’s equally difficult to turn in nuanced and well-prepared performances when we’ve only had a few hours with the material (that we haven’t had much time to look at because we’re shooting other scenes.)  Despite this, I think the performances in Datalore are fine. In fact, Picard and Data’s scene in Picard’s ready room, where Data asks Picard to stop calling Lore "it" is a fantastic one, and shows depth from both actors that we hadn’t really seen, yet. So the problem with Datalore isn’t the acting. I’m biased, of course, but I believe now (and remember) that everyone did the very best they could with what they were given.

Maybe someone who was working on the show in a production capacity at the time — Diane Duane, I’m looking in your direction — can confirm or deny this, but it seems like there was fighting among the producers, and this episode got caught in the power struggle. I said this in fewer words in my bottom line:

The pitch was awesome: "We find Data’s evil twin brother, who he never
knew he had." Sure, there’s nothing original about the evil twin story,
but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be told again in an interesting
way, especially with a cool character like Data, played by a great
character actor like Brent Spiner supported by a brilliant dramatic
actor like Patrick Stewart. How could they screw up this story this

I think it comes down to lazy writing that has things
happen because they’re supposed to happen, rather than having them
happen organically. The characters are credulous when they should be
skeptical, the audience isn’t surprised by anything after the second
act, and there are story problems that should have never gotten past
the first draft.

When you’re getting lots of conflicting orders from different producers, and the big, ultimate boss (in this case, Gene) wants one particular thing to happen, I think you must end up writing like that, having things happen because they’re supposed to happen, which is why this episode has so many holes in it.

I have a deadline chasing me like a pissed off Big Daddy in Rapture,
but I’d love to hear your memories of this episode, or any comments you
have on this review. I’ll be checking in at TV Squad throughout the day, or until readers get bored and stop commenting.

Propel it!

i am from space and the future

I’m putting the finishing touches on my long-overdue Datalore story for TV Squad. It’s taken so long, because it just wasn’t coming together the way I wanted it to, and I couldn’t figure out why until this morning. I’d written some really funny raps for Picard, but they just didn’t fit in with the rest of the story. It’s funny, but it wasn’t serving the larger piece, so it had to go.

Talk about killing your precious babies! This is part of what I sent upstate to live on a farm with other words:

I’m Jean-Luc Picard, I’m chillin’ in my yard
Underneath my chrome dome in the ship I call my home
Kickin’ it with Data, my homeboy, my brotha
I wanna get freaky with Wesley Crusher’s motha!

It’s hilarious to me, but that’s probably because I can hear the music in my head (and other voices that want me to do bad things, but I won’t! I’ll show them! I’ll show them all! HAHAHAHAHAAAAaa!!11)

Cutting out all the rapping let me write stuff that’s far more amusing to me, like:

Riker looks around the bridge, sees all the commissioned officers he has available to him, does a quick scan of the ship’s manifest to see who’s on duty . . .  and decides to send Wesley Freakin’ Crusher to "discreetly" sneak a peek at Data. Worf says, "Uh, excuse me, Commander, but since I’m kind of in the security department and all, and I’m a big old Klingon, shouldn’t maybe I go check this out?"

Riker replies, "I’m not going to lie to you, Worf: we all know that if there’s anything funky going on down there, you’re just going to get your ass kicked. So I’m sending the Boy Wonder and his giant brain instead."

Wesley jumps up from his console and shouts, "Wheee! I’m in Starfleet!" as he runs like a pixie to the turbolift.

Worf growls, but inside he’s secretly grateful that he’s staying safely on the bridge.

Lore, disguised as Data, is contacting the crystalline entity when Wesley shows up, and discreetly checks up on him thusly:

Wesley: Hi Data! Look at how totally in Starfleet I am!
Lore: Hello, Wesley! I am not Lore, I am Data! Look at Lore who is on the floor while I, Data, am standing here doing nothing suspicious!
Wesley: Wow, that sure does look like Lore! Neat! I’d better not call security or anything since nothing suspicious is going on here. Oh, before I leave, here are all the reasons I, and everyone else on the ship would suspect that you were actually Lore, disguised as Data, contacting the crystalline entity so it could come and eat our brains.
Lore: Hey, it’s not unreasonable, I mean, it’s not going to eat your eyes.
Wesley: Hey, did you know that I’m in Starfleet? I talk to the captain! I think I’ll go talk to him now! Wheeee!
Lore: Thanks for dropping in and observing that there’s nothing suspicious going on here. Run along now, you little scamp!
Wesley: Wheeee!

I also realized that my memory of Datalore is as divorced from reality as George W. Bush. I liked this episode a lot when it first aired, but watching it now, all I can see are gigantic plot holes and inconsistencies that never should have made it past the first draft. Gene is credited as the writer on this one, but it was done at a time when his health was rapidly failing, and I see Maurice Hurley’s hacky fingerprints all over it.

I’m turning it in to my editor at TV Squad later today, and I’ll link it when he pushes it live.