THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS – TWELVE FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2019!
Bit late with this one, but following on from my twelve favourite films of 2019, here are the twelve favourite television shows I watched. I must admit I am still way behind on many AMAZON shows and don’t have APPLE TV+ or DISNEY +, so there’s probably loads of good TV stuff I have missed. For comparison I include last year’s favourites here:
FAVOURITE TWELVE TV SHOWS OF 2018
Atlanta (2018) – Season 2 – Fox
Billions (2018) – Season 4 – Showtime / Sky Atlantic
Black Mirror (2017) – Season 4 – Netflix
Bodyguard (2018) – BBC
The Deuce (2018) – Season 2 – HBO – Sky Atlantic
The Handmaid’s Tale (2018) – Season 2 – Hulu / Channel 4
Inside No. 9 (2018) – Season 4 – BBC
Killing Eve (2018) – Season 1 – BBC
Patrick Melrose (2018) – Showtime / Sky Atlantic
Vanity Fair (2018) – ITV
A Very English Scandal (2018) – BBC
FAVOURITE TWELVE TV SHOWS OF 2019
Now, this was TOUGH! Television productions just got better and better! I cannot believe I had to leave the following off the list. Yet, here are the honourable mentions: Afterlife (Season 1), Billions (Season 4), Black Mirror (Season 5), Euphoria (2019), Ghosts (2019), The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 3), Line of Duty (Season 5), The Loudest Voice (2019), My Brilliant Friend (2018), Ozark (Season 2), Stranger Things (Season 3); and the baffling genius of Watchmen (2019). But I decided to limit myself to twelve favourite shows and here they are:
CHERNOBYL (2019) – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC
“… an incredible TV drama. This tragic event teaches us to never take anything for granted. We have built our own gallows.”
DARK (2019) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
“… confused in a good way and totally immersed in the Tenebrae. You will be lost — searching for the light — yet you will be astounded too .”
ESCAPE AT DANNEMORA (2018) – SHOWTIME / SKY ATLANTIC
“… These are not likeable characters, but the Showtime production delivers as compelling a character drama as you’re likely to see all year.”
FLEABAG (2019) – SEASON 2 – BBC
“… Waller-Bridge takes familiar themes and situations and spins comedic and dramatic gold from them. Deserves all the praise and awards going.”
FOSSE / VERDON (2019) – FX / BBC
“… If you’re interested in the life and work of Fosse and Verdon then you will absolutely love this warts and all biopic. Rockwell and Williams are incredible.”
GAME OF THRONES (2019) – SEASON 8 – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC
“… despite the incredibly disappointing final episode, it was all about the journey rather the final destination. Winter has come and winter has gone and it’s one I will never forget!”
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2019) – SEASON 13 – FX / NETFLIX
“… The season takes joy in referencing the #MeToo and Time’s Up and Inception. The latter becoming a hilarious meta-textual delight. By the thirteenth episode,I had thoroughly enjoyed the scatter-gun chaos!”
MINDHUNTER (2019) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
“… with gripping narratives, great direction, memorable performances and the production team’s accurate eye for period detail in mind, I just did not want the latest season ofto end.”
SUCCESSION (2019) – SEASON 2 – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC
“… Ultimately, this is Shakespearean television of the highest quality. Succession (2019), is what we would get if Billy Wilder did TV.”
UNBELIEVABLE (2019) – NETFLIX
“… thoughtful, suspenseful and, at times, heartfelt drama. It highlights the shocking nature of sexual crimes against women and the very different ways police departments handle such situations.”
THE VIRTUES (2019) – CHANNEL 4
“… a more individual focused, personal and painful character study. Stephen Graham is absolutely amazing as the character of Joseph.”
WHEN THEY SEE US (2019) – NETFLIX
“… Beautifully written, acted and directed, this is an incredible work of television. It combines both a fascinating style and a brutal vision of the struggle of these characters experience.”
Having briefly explored what makes up film character personas in this article here, I thought it would be fun to start a new feature which looks at memorable film characters. So, with Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) in the cinema, I wanted to look at one of the greatest character narrative arcs ever in my opinion. When I say character arc, I am talking of the transformation of a character throughout a film or films. Because for me, the arc of Sarah Connor is absolutely brilliant.
I haven’t seen Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), as for me, the Terminator franchise is a spent force narratively speaking. I’m sure it’s a great spectacle, but I am more interested in speaking about James Cameron’s first two genre masterpieces. I am specifically intrigued by Sarah Connor movement from timid waitress to hardcore rebel fighter. Thus, Lena Headey and Emilia Clarke’s turns as the character are ignored here.
The genius of James Cameron’s original filmThe Terminator (1984) is how it is both simple and complex at the same time. It takes time travel tropes, which while very familiar today, were extremely fresh and exciting back in the 1980s. Mashing up ideas from literary science fiction, Star Trek , The Twilight Zoneand films likeWestworld (1973), Cameron gave us one of the greatest bad guys and heroines ever committed to film. Plus, he did it all on a $7 million budget!!
At the heart of the sci-fi, war and thriller genres is an intriguing character study and even a love story. The Terminator (1984) introduces Sarah Connor as a waitress who is having a bad day. It’s about to get worse. She has been murdered and it’s on TV. Well, it’s not her, but someone with the same name as her. Very quickly she is confronted by a man from the future, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), claiming she is the mother of the person who will be a future saviour. How do you process THAT?!? Mind blown!!
Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor then find themselves pursued by a futuristic cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger), hell bent on her destruction. Here she learns more and more about the future and how machines will take control, but her son, John, will lead the resistance. Thus, over the course of the film, as Sarah learns about her fate, the audience learns too. Sarah begins as a conduit and passive, before transforming slowly into an aggressive and battle-hardened fighter.
When the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), come around we meet a whole different kind of Sarah Connor. She has transformed into a muscular and angry revolutionary. Not surprisingly, her narratives about future robots and the apocalypse find her sectioned. But, we know she is telling the truth. Moreover, due to her toughness, guile and resourcefulness, she is now very capable. No four walls will hold Sarah Connor.
Finally, Linda Hamilton’s performance must be praised too. In the first film she is a small character, quiet, likeable and lacking confidence. Over the course of the two films her physical, mental and emotional transformation is very impressively rendered. Cameron’s writing and Hamilton’s commitment to the role make Sarah Connor a highly memorable film character for me.
I am still perplexed how the Netflix business model works, however, the amount of viewing I get for my subscription fee is quite incredible. In the last month or so I have squeezed even more value out of it too.
Having caught up with some Amazon, Netflix and Sky television shows of late, I realised I had missed a number of film releases on Netflix. I have since rectified that by watching loads of them in an unofficial Netflix Film Festival.
So, here are some quick-fire reviews of newer film releases, ones I missed on initial cinema release and some re-watches too. All are marked out of eleven and organised in order of enjoyment.
BLACK 47 (2018)
Excellent chase thriller set in Ireland during the famine of the 1840s. Like Rambo meets Irish historical drama, it was both gritty and compelling throughout. Mark: 8 out of 11
This excellent urban comedy-drama impresses with humour, poetry and adroit social commentary. Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal excel as friends trying to steer clear of the law – Mark: 8 out of 11
This quarter-life crisis drama meets monster movie is tonally uneven, but full of fantastic ideas. Anne Hathaway is great as the party person trying to get her shit together! Mark: 9 out of 11
EL CAMINO (2019)
Did you ever wonder what happened to Jesse Pinkmon (Aaron Paul) after Breaking Bad finished? I didn’t. But this neo-Western fills in the gaps in an entertaining and solid fashion. Mark: 8 out of 11
THE GUILTY (2018)
Danish thriller findsan emergency call handler (Jacob Cedergren), striving to save a woman’s life. Tense, claustrophobic and full of twists, it’s low budget but high in suspense. Mark: 9 out of 11
Starring the affable Mark Duplass and the brilliant Ray Romano, this low-key story of friendship is both funny and moving in equal measures. Mark: 8.5 out of 11
AT ETERNITY’S GATE (2018)
Pretentious, elegant and beautifully told story of the last days of Vincent Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) Mark: 7 out of 11
BETWEEN TWO FERNS: THE MOVIE (2019)
Sporadically hilarious talk show parody, with Zach Galifianakis asking dumb questions to a host of celebrities. Mark: 7.5 out of 11
I AM MOTHER (2019)
Almost brilliant science fiction film, full of great concepts and visuals. It’s let down by a very confusing ending. Mark: 7 out of 11
IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (2019)
Very effective mixture of sci-fi and B-movie thriller genres, finds Boyd Holbrook’s cop chasing a serial killer. Mark: 7.5 out of 11
Interesting portrait of a dysfunctional 1960s U.S. family. The acting is great but the story rarely catches fire. Mark: 7 out of 11
NOT TOO BAD!
Love, disaster and survival set on a yacht – Mark: 6 out of 11
A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE (2018)
Amusing look at the history of satirical magazine, National Lampoon – Mark: 6.5 out of 11
CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (2007)
Hit and miss historical satire about the war in Afghanistan. Mark: 6 out of 11
HUNTER KILLER (2018)
Efficient Cold War B-movie with dodgy plotting, but decent action set-pieces – Mark: 6 out of 11
KILL THE MESSENGER (2014)
Interesting but undramatic profile of a journalist who uncovers a US Government conspiracy. Mark: 6 out of 11
MURDER MYSTERY (2019)
The cast get a luxury holiday as the audience get a frothy and silly Agatha Christie knock-off! Mark: 6 out of 11
Entertaining and tense, race-against-time thriller which finds a mother with an unenviable dilemma. Mark: 6.5 out of 11
THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN BIGFOOT (2018)
Sam Elliott excels in this weird, slow-moving drama, which in no way lives up to the fantastic title. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT (2019)
Great cast and worthy narrative cannot save this political thriller from falling short by the end. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
Samuel L. Jackson acting talent cannot quite save another reboot of the classic 1970’s private investigator. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
HAPPYTIME MURDERS (2018)
Gross out puppet comedy which is horrific in every way! Mark: 2 out of 11
IN THE TALL GRASS (2019)
Decent horror story, ultimately gets lost in the weeds! Mark: 4 out of 11
Two narratives fail to gel in this 1950’s set misfire! Mark: 4 out of 11
TO BOLDLY REVIEW #7 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 2
Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry
Season 2 writers (selected): Richard Manning, David Assael, Melinda Snodgrass, Scott Rubenstein, Leonard Mlodinow, Maurice Hurley, Burton Armus, Robert Iscove, Kathryn Powers, Gene Roddenberry, Joseph Stefano, Terry Devereaux etc.
Season 2 directors (selected): Winrich Kolbe, Rob Bowman, Robert Becker, Les Landau, Robert Scheerer, Joseph L. Scanlan, Cliff Bole etc.
Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg, Colm Meaney, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Diane Muldaur, John De Lancie, Lycia Naff etc.
Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway
Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television
**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**
Thus, my ongoing viewing project of watching ALL the Star Trek series and films in order of release date continues. I have already covered the pro-genesis of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATIONhere. So, I won’t cover the same ground again.
While the first season did a good job establishing the characters, action, plots, gadgets, themes and general formula, it was still finding its space feet, as it were. While we lost a couple of major characters, the second season transitioned into a very satisfying series of episodes.
Dr Pulaski (Diane Muldaur) replaced Beverley Crusher (Gates McFadden) for a season and she provided some stern opposition to Picard in certain narratives. But, the casting of Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan was a masterstroke. Goldberg is such an intuitive and classy actor, she added cinematic quality to some fine episodes.
I have to admit I am not so sure HOW they managed to produce so many good episodes. My understanding is shooting a twenty-plus episode season of television is an incredible feat of creativity. The rewards were certainly earned. The show would garner great viewing figures and also many Emmy nominations come TV awards season. Here are six of my favourite episodes from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION– SEASON 2.
ELEMENTARY MY DEAR DATA – EPISODE 3
Data and Chief Engineer La Forge take on the roles of Holmes and Watson in another “holodeck-adventure-gone-wrong” narrative. I love Sherlock Holmes so this episode is fantastic to me. I also felt that the sentient Moriarty (Daniel Davis) brought much humanity to the classic nemesis. The La Forge and Data character dynamic is really fun too as La Forge attempts to outwit and challenge his android friend with dangerous results.
THE SCHIZOID MAN – EPISODE 6
Reminiscent of a classic Star Trek episode from the original series, and also a tribute to The Prisoner, this story contains the often used revered scientist gone rogue. More interestingly though, it explores themes of immortality and transference of human intelligence into a computer. Of course, it’s Data who finds his character split and battling an interloper seeking everlasting existence.
MEASURE OF A MAN – EPISODE 9
Sorry, another Data led episode. Data finds himself at a tug-of-war dispute over whether he can be determined as human or a mere piece of technology to be dismantled for science. A court case follows with Picard defending Data and Riker “prosecuting”. Spiner is superb as Data and Jonathan Frakes is especially good, having to carry out a duty he comes to hate. This episode has genuinely high class writing, acting, direction themes and narrative. Not to say most of the other episodes aren’t good, but this one is particularly great.
TIME SQUARED – EPISODE 13
I love doppelganger and time travel plots. This episode has both, as Picard must face a future version of himself and some incredibly difficult decisions to save the destruction of the Enterprise. Often time travel narratives will involve years or even decades difference, but this time it’s around six hours. This creates much drama and brings to life that always fascinating theme of the self having to face the self in a time of crisis.
Q-WHO – EPISODE 16
The irritating super-being Q (John De Lancie), rears his annoying head again. Although, he actually isn’t the most threatening enemy in this brilliant episode. That “honour” is bestowed upon the formidable Borg. Picard and the Enterprise crew find themselves challenged by these relentless machines and almost perish. The Borg remind me of Doctor Who‘s vicious rivals, the Cybermen, and make for impressive adversaries. The episode is also notable for the further development of Guinan’s character. Indeed, more of Whoopi Goldberg is always welcome.
THE EMISSARY – EPISODE 20
Promoting Worf (Michael Dorn) to Chief Security Office was a masterstroke of character development for the second season. The Klingon race is famed for its’ head-on approach to the fight and Worf would often find his inner Klingon battling Starfleet regulations. Here Worf is further conflicted with romantic feelings for a half-human-half-Klingon emissary, K’Ehleyr (Susie Plakson). She is sent to resolve a fascinating “Hell in the Pacific” side-plot; where a Klingon crew do not yet know the war is over. Dorn and Plakson share fantastic chemistry and it was compelling to find love and war themes combine so effectively.
Producer(s): Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, James Gray, Anthony Katagas, Rodrigo Teixeira, Arnon Milchan
Written by: James Gray, Ethan Gross
Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, Jamie Kennedy and more.
UK Release: 20th September 2019
5 REASONS AD ASTRA (2019) COULD BE GOOD
I haven’t done one of these for a while so thought I’d reignite my movie preview section. The main reason is the trailer for science-fiction epic, Ad Astra (2019) looked absolutely brilliant, so I’m very excited to see it at the cinema when released. Here are five reasons it could be good.
1) THE STORY
I love the science fiction genre and space especially is a great place to create mystery and drama. The narrative to Ad Astra (2019) finds Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) travelling to the depths of the galaxy to find his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones). While it appears to be an original script, the story owes much to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.Thus, if we get anywhere near as incredible as Apocalypse Now (1979), but set in space, this could be really great.
2) THE DIRECTOR
Director James Gray has steadily built up a very impressive film C.V. of character and crime dramas. His last film, The Lost City of Z (2016). a jungle epic was a box office loser, but a really compelling drama about exploration and obsession in the Victorian era. Ad Astra (2019) is his biggest budgeted film so far, but given his filmmaking skills and experience, it could be his best yet.
3) THE STAR
Flying high from starring in Tarantino’s twisted movie fairytale, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019), Brad Pitt is proving his star quality still burns brightly. Pitt is always a commanding lead actor and he has played: Nazi Hunters, bare-knuckled fighters, disaffected thirty-something alter-egos, baseball coaches, infamous cowboys, romantic heroes, stoners, vampires, cops, psychopathic drifters, hit-men and many more characters. Here he plays an astronaut and I think it is only his second sci-fi film after the superb Twelve Monkeys (1995). Thus, Brad Pitt’s appearance is another reason to get excited.
4) SPECIAL EFFECTS
While I’m a screenwriter myself and more drawn to story rather than effects driven films, The Moving Picture Company are leading special effects experts. They have worked with Method Studios, Mr X, Weta, Brainstorm Digital etc. on this film and so the work on this space opera looks like it could be incredible. Indeed, The Moving Picture Company alone have provided effects for: Blade Runner 2049 (2018), The Jungle Book (2017), Sully (2017), The Martian (2016), The Guardians of the Galaxy (2015) and many more!
5) THE TRAILER
Because I am so experienced and probably jaded where trailers are concerned, it takes a lot to get my attention when at the cinema. But, the trailer for Ad Astra (2019) absolutely rocked. It did not give ALL the story away and made me want to watch the film. Don’t take my word for it – here it is:
Writer(s): William Bridges, Kate Trefey, Paul Dichter, Curtis Gwinn
Cast: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Maya Hawke, Cara Buono, Joe Keery, Cary Elwes and many, many more.
Number of episodes: 8
Original Network: Netflix
**CONTAIN MASSIVE SPOILERS**
When Season 1 was released, Netflix’s phenomenally popular sci-fi-rites-of-passage-comedy-adventure-drama proved an excellent nostalgia-fest. Indeed, it evoked the 1980’s perfectly in design, sound and look, wearing Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, John Carpenter and George Lucas influences, not so much on its sleeve, but as a whole darned fashion show.
Written and directed by the Duffer Brothers, it centred on the search for a missing child in (where else) Indiana, an ultra-dimensional netherworld and a telekinetic kid called Eleven, who’s on the run from a nefarious US Government facility. Archetypal characters such as embittered drunken cop (David Harbour), distraught nutty mother (Winona Ryder), Gooniesque geeky teens all try and track down their missing friend during eight episodes containing weird and monstrous moments throughout.
I thought Season 1, while full of great design, style, suspense and mystery, was over-rated. It was still a fine work of entertainment but I found the story seriously padded out and stretched. While Season 2 is more generic it was a marked improvement as we got more pace and action. Season 3, though, is even better in terms of story-lines, pace and humour. Some may lament the move away from the mystery and darkness of Season 1, but Season 3’s humour, action and romantic sub-plots are turned right up to Eleven (pun intended).
Furthermore, amidst all the teenage romance crap, there is some fantastic gore and visceral monster goo on show. The Mind Flayer nemesis is an absolutely fearsome creature creation and way more convincing than the cartoon Russians. So, overall, I think this was my favourite season as it didn’t take itself too seriously. It just went for pure adrenaline and mind-bending chases and fights throughout. I didn’t even mind the John Hughes-style soppy romances.
Lastly, Season 3 isn’t perfect as it often verged on parody. This is notable in Episode 8, where we get a viral-bait version of The Never Ending Story (1984) theme song. Quite frankly, it was tonally inappropriate given the kids were being hunted down by Russian soldiers and an inter-dimensional monster at the time. Aside from this crime against genre occurring Season 3 is great because it featured a cavalcade of film references and homages. Well, let’s be honest, they basically stole a load of ideas from other movies.
So, rather than do a traditional review I will mark Stranger Things (2019) – Season 3, and then pick a TOP TEN movie homages or steals that featured prominently as a fun meta-bingo review. Obviously, I’ve probably missed loads out, so, if you care, let me know which ones.
Mark: 9 out of 11
TOP TEN META-REFERENCES IN STRANGER THINGS (2019)
RUSSIAN BADDIE — THE TERMINATOR (1984)
BILLY AND TOWNSFOLK ‘DOUBLES’ — INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956 / 1978)
THE MIND FLAYER – THE BLOB (1958) / ALIEN (1979) / THE THING (1982) / TREMORS (1990)
STEVE AND ROBIN’S “WILL THEY, WON’T THEY ROMANCE?” — ANY JOHN HUGHES FILM!
THE BLACK WATER VOID – UNDER THE SKIN (2013)
USA VERSUS RUSSIA — RED DAWN (1984), RAMBO 2 (1985) & ANY COLD WAR FILM!
BILLY’S DREAMS — DREAMSCAPE (1984) / NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
ELEVEN’S TELEKINETIC POWERS — CARRIE (1976), THE FURY (1978) & SCANNERS (1981) ETC. . .
KIDS ON A MISSION TO SAVE THE TOWN/WORLD (AGAIN) — THE GOONIES (1985)
FANTASY OLDER WOMEN DYNAMIC — RISKY BUSINESS (1983) / WEIRD SCIENCE (1985)
TO BOLDLY REVIEW #6 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 1
Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry
Season 1 writers (selected): John F. Black, Diane Duane, D.C. Fontana, Maurice Hurley, Robert Lewin, Richard Manning, Kathryn Powers, Gene Roddenberry, Joseph Stefano, Tracy Torme etc.
Season 1 directors (selected): Colin Bucksey, Rob Bowman, Cliff Bole, Les Landau, Kim Manners, Win Phelps, Mike Vejar etc.
Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton etc.
Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway
Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television
**THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS**
“MAKE IT SO. . .”
So, my cultural journey beyond the stars continues with a review of the first season of Star Trek: Next Generation. It took some serious time for what was originally known as Phase II to take off. Indeed, they finally hit warp speed during the late 1980’s. Roddenberry, the original Enterprise crew, plus swarms of Paramount employees had kept themselves busy with the ‘Original Series’ cinema releases, but, in 1986, a new TV series was announced.
Then, almost a year later in September 1987, Star Trek: Next Generation was released. TNG featured: a new crew, a more advanced class of Enterprise, and a variety of new aliens, planets and galaxies to boldly explore. While there was an initial decree to avoid all the old enemies from the original series, the Klingons, Romulans and more, slowly bled into the show as it was further developed.
Much has been written about Star Trek in general and the internet is brimming with articles, features, interviews, podcasts, fan films and documentaries which would take an immortal’s lifetime to read. So, my approach to this piece is to concentrate on the characters, narratives, themes and concepts which leapt out while watching it.
Overall, I really enjoyed most of Star Trek: Next Generation – Season 1. I have read that die-hard fans were resistant to the idea their favourite show from the 1960’s was getting a makeover. However, Paramount/CBS Studios chucked $1.3 million at each episode and shot on 35MM film, thus demonstrating a commitment to a quality product.
Even watching it now I am impressed by the production values, cast, direction and science fiction concepts. Obviously some of the effects are a bit dated compared to what we experience today but I always prefer in-camera effects and prosthesis, anyway. Having said that Star Trek has always been about strong ideas and themes for me.
In terms of story and character there are some very strong episodes and some pretty weak ones. Gene Roddenberry, his producers and raft of writers were, reported to be consistently at loggerheads throughout the production. So much so very few of the original TNG writing team remained by the end. It’s a testament to the rock-solid formula of the show that such issues did not hinder the ultimate consistency of entertainment while I was watching.
My main criticism is that some episodes felt like first drafts. Plus, there was, on occasions, a few episodes which were top heavy in set-up and rushed toward the end. Nonetheless, Roddenberry’s original format is always fascinating and you could certainly feel that when they successfully married: the science fiction concepts, characters, tone and dialogue you got many great episodes.
THE FAMILY UNIT
Holding the narratives and show together was an exceptionally brilliant set of actors. I mean, in the cold light of space, Star Trek: Next Generation could be deemed just men, women and aliens in silly outfits. Of course, we know it’s much more intelligent than that. So with acting heavyweight Patrick Stewart leading the way, all the cast were committed to their roles formidably. They had to be for it to work so well.
To me TNG was structured around a quasi-family unit, as opposed to the naval/military hierarchy of the ‘Original Series’. Captain Jean-Luc Picard majestically leads from the front with authority and a keen sense of fair play. Dr Beverly Crusher is the pseudo-matriarch, both professional and caring. Further, the other main members of the crew are, very loosely speaking, the children.
Riker I’d suggest is the first son and heir apparent, closely followed in the hierarchy by Geordi. The likes of data and Wesley are the younger, gifted children, full of intelligence and enquiry. The sensitive, Troi and tougher Yasha represent the older daughters, while I’m not quite sure how the Klingon, Worf, fits in. Perhaps, he’s a bastard son or long lost cousin seeking affirmation of the family unit. Thus, these characters as a ‘family’ support the spine of the show, all combining with varying strength and characteristics to form a whole that propels both drama and emotion.
THE REST IS HISTORY. . .
Star Trek: Next Generation consisted of TWENTY-SIX episodes!! While no doubt well paid, this remains an incredible workload for the cast and crew. Initially, the season got off to a difficult start in terms of ratings and reviews. Nonetheless, by the end of the season , the class of the production and format shone through. Furthermore, it would be nominated for seven Emmy TV awards. Ratings would also improve and it became the highest rated syndication series by the end of the run. To conclude, I would like to look at six episodes from season 1 which I felt stood out while I watched them.
THE BIG GOODBYE – EPISODE 12
The ‘Holodeck‘ plays a huge part in the series as a whole. It’s a fantastic way to marry the past and future together. In this clever episode Picard attempts to escape into one of his favourite film noir simulations but gets more than he bargained for. Then when the holodeck malfunctions, Picard and his crew find themselves in the midst of a simulated “real-life” and perilous gangster mystery.
DATALORE – EPISODE 13
I love a good Jekyll and Hyde story and this one explores the origin of much respected android, Data. Brett Spiner is such a good television actor and he nails both roles as Data and his “brother” Lore, who, as genre conventions require, is basically bad Data and hell-bent on taking control of the Enterprise.
HEART OF GLORY – EPISODE 20
Obviously the stories involving the Federation are always interesting but often I really enjoy the more personal narratives. In this episode Michael Dorn as Worf finds his allegiances between the Enterprise and fellow Klingons tested. It’s a fine character exploration as we get to see Worf’s warrior persona versus the more reasoned Starfleet side.
THE ARSENAL OF FREEDOM – EPISODE 21
War, or threat of war has always been at the heart of many great episodes. The concept that a planet of arms dealers who are killed by their own hi-tech product was a great idea. It also gave the crew and Enterprise major threats on the planet they visit and in space. The action, character development and suspense make this a very thrilling episode all-round.
SYMBIOSIS – EPISODE 22
Social commentary was a key component of the ‘Original Series’. Many episodes tapped into the zeitgeist of the 1960’s issues relating to war, race, religion and gender etc. TNG continued this tradition with Symbiosis which expertly explores the nature of narcotic addiction and how it can be exploited to negative effect by an alien race. I especially enjoyed the grey ending where the ‘Prime Directive‘ comes into play.
CONSPIRACY – EPISODE 25
A major rule throughout Star Trek is that the Federation is not to be shown as corrupt. There have been exceptions to this in certain feature films and they get around this in Conspiracy with the Federation top brass invaded by parasitic aliens. The narrative was very strong and felt like a feature film story in scale. I also loved the David Cronenberg-style monsters appearance in the gory finale.