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Tag: Science Fiction

“For All Mankind” Needs these Course Corrections

Here is my review for the first 3 seasons of this alternate reality TV series that chronicles the space race from the 1960s to the 1990s.

I originally checked out “For All Mankind” when it premiered on Apple TV+ back in 2019. And while I understood the premise that this was an alternate reality where the Russians landed on the Moon first, I expected some type of explanation as to how this reality evolved or was created. That never comes. (Yes, I admit I’m heavily influenced by the whole MCU multiverse.)

And while it’s interesting to watch how this timeline continues to branch out, it’s really just background.

And as I watched the first episode, I couldn’t help but feel how slowly it moved. The plot kept focusing on the family lives of the characters instead of the space program.

And then it finally hit me. Oh, that’s what this show is really about. It’s a character-driven drama about the astronauts and ground support engineers who work for NASA… in an alternate timeline.

It’s fiction. But not really science fiction as we might traditionally expect.

This Alternate Timeline Moves Slowly
“For All Mankind” is created by Ronald D. Moore, who is royalty in science fiction television. He executive produced the reimagined “Battlestar Galactica” and was a writer and significant influence on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

The premise of an ongoing space race opens up so much possibility. It’s a great idea. But it’s not the engine that fuels much of the drama in this series.

The show takes its time, and you’ve got to be willing to go along for the ride with a whole host of characters, some more interesting than others.

The payoff wasn’t there for me. So, I quickly gave up on “For All Mankind” after the first couple of episodes.

A Second Chance
Fast forward a few years (as the show likes to do between its seasons). Some friends told me how much they enjoy “For All Mankind.” When I told them how I couldn’t reach orbit with the show, they told me that it gets better after season 1, and that season 3 was really good.

So I tried again.

Yes, season 1 was a slog with so much emotion to get through, but the series does get better. So I decided to strap myself in and get through all three seasons that have been released to date. And I’m happy to report that I’ve accomplished my mission.

And I’ve got a few thoughts to share (with some minor spoilers)…

A Rerun of our Past
“For All Mankind” is really ambitious, especially as it jumps from decade to decade. And in doing so, it leaves inevitable holes in its storytelling.

It tackles many of the major societal social struggles of the past half century. You’ve got to give it credit for its reach. But at the same time, this narratively forces the show to focus backwards on our actual past instead of forwards towards an alternate future from our past. (Got that?)

Science fiction stories often bake big social themes of the day into the storytelling. It’s simply more front and center here. But while the series does rewrite some pieces of history and has fun with an alternate set of presidents, the world is still fundamentally the same. This reality hasn’t branched out that much.

At its core, “For All Mankind” is simply a drama. Or maybe a historical narrative from an alternate timeline. Again, it’s not science fiction as you might expect.

That said, I do appreciate it when the writers throw a few bones to sci-fi fans with references to “Star Trek” and “Space: 1999.”

Lots of Secrets
The storytelling structure is unusual in that there really aren’t any ‘bad guys’… just a lot of grays in many of the characters. Yes, there are a few episodes on the moon when the Russians aren’t at their finest, but they have reason to be upset at the Americans.

It’s often difficult to create narrative tension where you don’t have a villain. And the writers do a pretty good job working around that by making sure just about all of the characters we care about have a secret that has the potential to destroy their lives.

Houston, We Have a Problem
While the heart of “For All Mankind” is focused on relationships at home on planet Earth, the best parts are indeed off planet and where the show comes closest to an action/adventure series. In many ways, the series finds a better balance as it sets its sights on the mission to Mars in season 3.

But as much as the show finally finds its groove in the 1990s, the writers continue to inject instability by (spoiler alert) killing off major characters across the seasons.

Is that supposed to make me feel that anything is possible in this show? I suppose. But I don’t feel all warm and fuzzy about a series that keeps killing my favorite characters.

And some of the ways our astronauts act are a little far-fetched. (Do they really disobey orders as a norm in this reality?) Then, I have to remind myself that this is not real… it’s still fiction. But does that make it okay?

And (spoiler alert) after the explosive ending to season 3, what’s really left that I might want to care about? A problem for the writers… to be sure.

Don’t Exhaust the Viewers
So yes, I’ve now watched all three seasons. And clearly I’ve got some issues with “For All Mankind.” Is there a reason to keep watching into season 4 when it comes out?

Well, that final reveal into 2003 at the end of the last episode that previews season 4 is certainly enough to peak anyone’s interest.

Here’s one suggestion for the writers…

Reality is tough. I know every story doesn’t get a happy ending. And this alternate reality seems intent on maintaining a healthy dose of this cruel truth. But that can feel exhausting.

I think it’s time for a little more healing, thank you very much.

Find the Right Balance in this Timeline
“For All Mankind” is bold. There’s nothing else like it as it jumps from decade to decade with many of the same characters. And each season improves on the last. But it takes a commitment get through.

The show has teased going to Jupiter after Mars. I’d like to still be there if that happens. But I’d appreciate a few more thrills and a few less tears along the way.

Mr. Moore, I’d prefer this journey across space and time to just be a little more fun.

Make it so?

Why Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is So Good

Another “Star Trek” series? Yep! And this is the one we’ve been waiting for. Here’s my review…

I’ve been a “Star Trek” fan since I was a kid, when I watched reruns of the original series. (My mom would often organize dinner with my dad around me watching Kirk, Spock and Bones at 6pm on WPIX.)

I’ve stuck with the entire Trek universe across all of these decades, and I’ve generally enjoyed every iteration.

Born from “Discovery”
“Star Trek: Discovery” has been the main “Trek” property over the past few years. It’s felt heavy at times and has gone through narrative course corrections in each of its seasons.

Honestly, it’s been a bit too dark and stiff for me. Universal destruction is always just around the corner. Yes, the writers keep adding lines about how the crew is family and how much they love each other. Yes, there’s a lot of hugging and tears. But, I just don’t feel it. Not really.

When a younger Starship Enterprise showed up in season 2 with Captain Christopher Pike, played by Anson Mount, the positive change in energy was dramatic. Sure, it was a gamble giving us another Spock, played by Ethan Peck, but it worked. Plus, we saw Pike’s bold Number One, played by Rebecca Romijn. And instantly, I wanted the storytelling to stay with this younger pre-Kirk Enterprise.

And clearly, I was not alone.

Hit It
Now, we’ve got “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” a new series on Paramount+, which follows the voyages of the Enterprise in the decade before Kirk took over. If you’re a Trekkie, you know that Captain Pike and his crew were introduced in “The Cage,” the first pilot for “Star Trek” way back in 1965. (That footage was eventually repurposed in the two-part “Star Trek” episode “The Menagerie.”)

After watching the first two episodes of “Strange New Worlds,” I’m happy to say that this series perfectly captures the energy and fun of the original show.

Yes, fun.
Saving the galaxy used to be fun, right?

There are lots of complementary elements that are helping this new series to hum at warp.

The Strong Cast
Though Pike is now (minor spoiler alert) burdened by knowing his future, Anson Mount continues to give us a compelling Starfleet captain who’s collaborative, funny and also a tad irreverent.

The writers are quickly focusing on exploring the supporting cast. We’ve already got a nice sense of Nurse Chapel played by Jess Bush, and the second episode focuses on Cadet Uhura played by Celia Rose Gooding.

The producers have taken some creative license to update these younger versions of these famous characters, and it’s all for the better. I’m not going to hold the producers to perfectly reflect every detail of the original “Star Trek.”

Better Special Effects
The same goes for the Enterprise. Yes, it’s the same ship, but there are subtle differences on the outside and major enhancements on the bridge. And thanks to modern CGI effects, this ship can really fly. And I cannot tell you (Geek alert!) how much fun it is to watch the Enterprise in action.

The more advanced special effects are a welcome improvement.

Back to the Future
“Strange New Worlds” also benefits from a healthy dose of nostalgia. Sure, there’s a lot of runway for the missions of this previously unexplored crew, but everything feels so familiar and immediately comfortable. The communicators, the tricorders, the transporter beams, and all of those techie sounds… you know all of them!

“Star Trek” series have spent decades trying to differentiate themselves from the original show. “Strange New Worlds” doesn’t need to. These are actually the first chapters of the same Enterprise story.

It’s refreshing that we again get to see the Federation during its peak years, when everything seemed possible.

No More F-Bombs
And I am so happy that this is again TV-PG Star Trek, void of all that unnecessary bad language and occasional F-bombs that have plagued “Discovery” and “Picard.”

“Star Trek” doesn’t need to be so dark and “edgy” to connect with it’s 2022 audience. I think especially these days, we need a reminder that being bright and optimistic is achievable.

I’m looking forward to inviting my 12-year-old son to watch “Strange New Worlds” with me. (He’s not yet connected with “Star Trek” the way he has with Marvel and “Star Wars.”)

Time to Enjoy
No, it’s not groundbreaking “Trek,” but it’s not trying to be. “Strange New Worlds” still succeeds on many levels. It firmly represents “Star Trek’s” core, gives us a great Captain Pike (Thank you, Anson Mount), and most of all… it’s simply refreshing.

And fun.

It’s exactly what we need.

Feeling Burned by Star Trek: Discovery’s Season 3?

After watching the season finale, this Trekkie’s got some thoughts to share about the latest season of “Discovery.” Here’s my review:

You can’t blame “Star Trek: Discovery” for not trying. Season 3 attempted to envision a universe 930 years into the future, tackled big social themes and finally decided to give a little more screen time to its supporting cast of regulars.

This CBS All Access series originally insisted that is was not your parent’s “Star Trek.” It tried to be darker, edgier and bolder. Characters used four letter words, though not very convincingly (and far more awkwardly than in “Star Trek: Picard”).

The writers spent much of season 3 trying to return into the fold. There were multiple references and story devices from the old “Star Trek” manual. And in the end, we found ourselves right back where we started, with the same closing music as the original series.

This return continues a long overdue course correction. It was so obvious that there was no real need to separate itself from its heritage when we saw how the best episodes from season 2 focused on Captain Pike from the original Enterprise.

And you can’t say “Discovery’s” season 3 wasn’t earnest. No way. There was so much hugging and crying. Crying and hugging. I lost track how many times “I love you” was in the script. The writers were clearly working hard to finally evolve this crew into a “Star Trek” family.

And “Star Trek” at its core has always been about family. I just don’t know that I needed the “Discovery” writers constantly telling me that.

Warning Signs
As the credits rolled at the end of season 3’s finale, I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t pumped. But I didn’t feel burned either. Season 3 was… fine. For me, “Star Trek” is always better than no “Star Trek.” But I can’t deny I’m still a wee disappointed.

It’s not that season 3 was bad. It just couldn’t quite elevate itself beyond its own unremarkable storytelling.

The writers put a huge effort into building a diverse and inclusive set of relationships. In fact, in many ways, that’s really what season 3 was about. The Burn and (minor spoiler) rebuilding the Federation was just something for this group of Trek characters to focus on. And that’s all great.

But then, the writers ran out of steam (Dilithium?) when it came time to come up with some cutting-edge science fiction storytelling worthy of the “Star Trek” universe.

Why So Far?
Moving the story 930 years forward is a huge leap. Unfortunately, this future doesn’t look all that different. Sure, personal transporters are cool and organic tech is nice, but I would expect something more dramatic a millennia out. And that requires more writing muscle… not special effects.

Yes, I understand that the writers needed to warp Discovery into a new era that was not burdened by existing Trek canon where the Discovery doesn’t exist. (A downside of creating a prequel series.) But a hundred years forward past Picard is all they really needed to do.

Back to the Future
And it’s ironic that the writers ultimately created a new “Star Trek” future that in many ways had gone back in time.

They were pulling on the same storytelling threads as the creators of “Star Trek: Enterprise” when space was truly the final frontier… again.

Missed Opportunities
I’m happy to allow a series some leeway in plot development as long as the writers stick their landing by the end. Over the course of 13 episodes, I feel that season 3 was not entirely successful. (Spoilers ahead.)

“Discovery” has painfully stuck with this character and promised some future payoff. I understand that Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is evolving, but after three seasons, it’s not fast enough. When Tilly finally got her big chance and sat in the captain’s chair, she essentially blew it. Later, her moment of redemption wasn’t all that satisfying.

The Mirror Universe
You know there’s a problem when “Discovery’s” best episodes focus around the linked alternate universe. But by now, this Trek storytelling device is feeling a bit tired. Even though it was the main reason that Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) had anything to do in season 3, watching the alternate versions of our other characters as two-dimensional opposites grew boring. Sure, Georgiou evolved, but her own universe wasn’t able to.

The Source of the Burn
Really? I expect we’ll see some therapy sessions in season 4 for someone.

The Discovery’s Big Brain
Remember when Discovery’s computer acquired 100,000 years of data from the alien sphere in season 2? The only influence from that upgrade was when the computer pointed Discovery to meet up with Carl. There’s a lot of untapped plot potential that the writers ignored.

Again… Really? You can’t recycle a classic Trek plot device like that and simply rewrite it as Carl. A ‘Q’ character would have been better.

The Bad Guys
A 1960’s biker gang with a really big ship. Is that what capitalism eventually evolved into? Osyraa (Janet Kidder) needed more screen time to develop beyond her two-dimensional antagonist.

Captain Saru (Doug Jones) sits at the center of the heart of “Star Trek: Discovery.” His humanity, even in Kelpien form, shines bright. He’s the perfect Federation captain on paper.

But his evolved and balanced perspective isn’t ultimately suited for this future frontier. Not as captain of the Discovery. It’s a bittersweet conclusion.

The Good News
So, I wouldn’t be a Trekkie if I didn’t prove how geeky I am by nitpicking. Sure, season 3 could have been better, but it still had a lot going for it. The special effects were great, although I would have appreciated a few more closeups of the new starships.

It benefited from a generally strong cast. (I really liked the addition of Book’s character played by David Ajala.)

Of course, Sonequa Martin-Green is the star of the ensemble. Her Michael Burnham has often created more problems than she’s solved, but her passion and sense of purpose and drive to do what’s right has continued to power this entire series forward. Martin-Green provides almost limitless emotional and physical energy in this regard.

As it turns out, breaking the rules in the 31st century is seemingly okay as our new Prime Directive. It’s an odd conclusion that doesn’t quite fit with what the writers have otherwise been trying to accomplish. But it continues to fuel Burnham’s success. So, in what has become a season-ending Discovery ritual, it’s time to switch up the captain’s chair again.

Let’s Fly?
I’m happy that “Discovery” is embracing his own heritage.

And I’m always pleased to be watching more “Star Trek” after all of these decades. It hasn’t gotten old. In fact, its familiarity is more comforting than ever, especially in today’s unstable reality.

There’s also something to be said for watching science fiction and not feeling depressed as a result. You can count on “Star Trek: Discovery” for maintaining its sense of Trek-infused optimism.

I don’t think season 3 is the best of the series. (I prefer season 2.) It’s certainly not the boldest. But “Discovery’s” imperfections ultimately didn’t prevent me from still enjoying the ride.

Oh… and that last line in the season finale…
“Let’s fly.”

(Just go with it.)

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