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Josh Reviews the Star Trek: Discovery Mid-Season Finale: “Into The Forest I Go”

The first batch of Star Trek: Discovery episodes came to a close with the mid-season finale, episode nine, “Into the Forest I Go.”  The Klingon “Ship of the Dead” arrives at Pahvo, and Burnham and Tyler sneak aboard in an attempt to locate critical information required to allow Federation starships to penetrate the Klingon cloaking device.  As part of the plan, Stamets is pushed to the breaking point, utilizing the Discovery’s Spore Drive to execute 130 jumps in short succession.

As has been consistently the case with Discovery so far, there is a lot to like in this episode and also a lot that is incredibly frustrating.

Let’s start with the good.  The character stuff between Burnham and Tyler is terrific.  The tender scene between the two of them on the couch in Tyler’s quarters, in which he haltingly finds his way to admit the way he was tortured and sexually abused by the Klingons, is touching and tender.  It’s interesting to see the show embrace this aspect of Tyler’s back-story that had been suggested but not explicitly stated unto this point.

(Of course, that tender scene — which tells us everything we needed to know without getting too explicit with the details — is soon after followed by Tyler’s nightmare-flashback which gives us the Klingon nudity that no one was asking for.  So much for subtlety.  Also, as I have been writing for several weeks now, it’s hard to engage in the Tyler-Burnham relationship when it’s been clear that Tyler is the Klingon Loq in disguise, so none of this was genuine.  This episode suggests that Tyler/Loq is a sleeper agent who doesn’t remember being Loq.  I wish the show had laid its cards in the table and allowed us to follow Loq/Tyler’s story as it unfolded, rather than trying to keep all this as a surprise.  Had I known all along that Tyler really did believe himself to be a human prisoner of war, I would have engaged more deeply with that tragic story, as opposed to doubting every scene that the character was in because I believed him to be Loq telling lies.)

It’s nice to see the Klingon-Discovery stories intersect for the first time since the two-part premiere, and we get some nice Discovery-Klingon combat (both of the outer space and Mekleth variety).  The production values of this show continue to be extraordinary.  It’s great to see Star Trek looking so well-produced on TV!!  The sets are fantastic, and the visual effects are terrific.  There are some particularly gorgeous visual effects shots this week.  My favorite is the scene when you see Kol and the other Klingons on their bridge, while through the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Star Trek: Discovery Episode 8: “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”

In Star Trek: Discovery episode eight, “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,” Burnham, Saru, and Tyler investigate an alien planet with a unique rock formation that Starfleet believes can be turned into a giant antenna to detect cloaked Klingon ships and help Starfleet win the war.  But the planet turns out to be not quite as uninhabited as the Discovery crew had initially thought…

“Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” is a solid episode.  Discovery seems to have settled into a nice groove.  This is not the show I wanted it to be, and each episode continues to be weighed down by narrative inconsistencies that I wish weren’t there, but the characters are interesting, the show is visually gorgeous, and these episodes are entertaining.

It’s nice to see the Discovery crew get to leave the ship and investigate a strange new alien world.  Coming after last week’s time travel episode, I’m pleased to see the show embrace these classic sorts of sci-fi stories.

(On the other hand, part of me wishes that Discovery would lean more in the other direction and forget about these standard types of Star Trek stories.  If this is truly intended to be a different sort of Star Trek series, then maybe they should more strongly resist the urge to give us these familiar time-travel and away-team-investigates-a-mysterious-new-planet types of stories.  For a show that was advertised as being about seeing the Federation at war, we have seen shockingly little of the Klingon-Federation conflict in the series following the two-part premiere.)

But that being said, there was a thrill in getting to see Brunham, Saru, and Tyler investigate a new alien planet, which was gorgeously realized by the show’s visual effects team.  We’ve never gotten to see televised Star Trek executed on this scale before, and I loved the way the show brought to life this beautiful alien planet (and its inhabitants).

It was clear from the first episode that Saru was going to be a standout character on Discovery.  He’s been in the background for the past few episodes, so I was delighted to see him step back into focus in this episode.  The way the events on the planet explore the nature of his character, and how he has lived his whole life in constant fear, was lovely.  It was also fun to learn more about his physicality.  In this episode we see that Saru is super-strong (look how he crushed those communicators in his hands!) and super-fast (we hadn’t ever really seen his feet before!).  It’s interesting to give this fear-filled character such super-human abilities.  I hope this duality is explored further in future episodes.

It was nice to get to see a glimpse of Klingon-versus-Federation … [continued]

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Futurama Lives Again in Podcast Form!

November 13th, 2017
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Good news, everyone!  Futurama, the unkillable show, has returned from the dead yet again, this time in podcast form!  I just listened to the 40-minute Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow Presents Radiorama, available on nerdist.com, and it was amazing, exactly like an audio-play version of a classic Futurama episode.  It was glorious.

Futurama is the often-ignored stepchild of Matt Groening’s The Simpsons.  While I am an ENORMOUS Simpsons fan, and that show is clearly the greater television achievement, I love Futurama so deeply. That show always spoke directly to everything I loved (particularly sci-fi and animation) and found funny.  I also grew to love its sprawling cast of characters so much, to an even greater degree than my love for the inhabitants of Springfield.

Time and again, Futurama has seemed to be dead and gone.  The series premiered on Fox in 1999 and was cancelled in 2003.  I was heartbroken.  Back in 2003, when a show was cancelled, that was pretty much it.  But after the reruns on Comedy Central proved unexpectedly popular, the series was miraculously brought back to life in the form of four feature-length direct-to-DVD films that were released between 2007-2009.  I was over the moon, even more so when that too proved not to be the end, when Comedy Central picked up the show, leading to the production of four additional seasons which aired from 2010-2013. That for sure seemed like the end of the road, but the series has now returned in the form of a mobile game called Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow.  I am not a gamer, so of even more excitement to me was the announcement that, to promote the game, they would release Radiorama on the Nerdist Podcast.

I love Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist Podcast!  It’s a series of wonderful in-depth interviews with a variety of fascinating and funny people from across the film, TV, and comedy world.  But I wasn’t sure what a podcast version of Futurama would look like.

To my delight, it’s a perfect recreation of the show, just in audio-only form!  The podcast was written by Futurama co-creator and show-runner David X. Cohen along with Futurama writers Ken Keeler and Patric Verrone.  It stars the entire regular Futurama cast, including Billy West, John DiMaggio, Katey Sagal, Phil LaMarr, Tress MacNeille, Maurice LaMarche, Lauren Tom, and David Herman.

In this double-length episode, the Planet Express crew unwittingly release Klaxxon, a monster comprised of millions of unlistened-to podcasts that have achieved sentience. Meanwhile, Fry and Leela hit a rough patch, while Bender seeks to reconcile with his mother–who is just a robotic arm — while being given the opportunity to once again costar with the robotic thespian Calculon on the … [continued]

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Star Trek Continues Draws to a Close with the Fantastic “To Boldly Go” Part One!

November 8th, 2017
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I can’t believe it’s already been five years since Vic Mignogna’s Star Trek Continues fan-film project began!  After releasing three short vignettes, the first of which explored what happened in the moments following the final shot of the final episode of the Original Series, “Turnabout Intruder,” Mr. Mignogna and his team have produced an incredible TEN full-length Star Trek episodes, a whole new season of classic Star Trek.  From the beginning, these Star Trek Continues episodes have been hugely impressive, spectacularly professional-looking creations that are astonishing recreations of the look and feel of classic Star Trek, while telling entirely new stories featuring Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise (no bloody A, B, C, or D).  Not every episode has been perfect, but the skill and professionalism on display in this fan-film effort is extraordinary, and the whole eproject has been drenched in a true love for Star Trek that I have found to be continually inspiring.  Now (likely caused by Paramount/CBS’ ridiculous and draconian efforts to extinguish all Star Trek fan films), Mr. Mignogna and his team are drawing their wonderful series to a close with the first of their two-part finale, “To Boldly Go” part one.

In “To Boldly Go,” Captain Kirk and co. have been sent to investigate Starfleet’s recent loss of several of the Enterprise’s fellow Constitution class starships.  They discover that Starfleet has been attempting to recreate the accident that befell Gary Mitchell and Elizabeth Dehner in the (second) pilot episode of the Original Series, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”  That accident gave Mitchell and Dehner extraordinary psychic powers; an attempt to weaponize these abilities could have catastrophic results.  Discovering that Romulans have kidnapped the experiment’s subjects, the Enterprise takes off in hot pursuit, desperate to prevent these potentially super-powered beings from being used against them.

“To Boldly Go” part one is a superb episode; I think it is my favorite episode of Star Trek Continues so far.  I love that the episode is designed not just as a finale for Star Trek Continues, but for the Original Series as a whole.  As such, it does what most great series finales do: connects all the way back to the series’ first episode.  The idea of picking up the thread of “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” and establishing the idea of someone attempting to use that accident in order to create a cadre of super-humans, is extremely clever.  It’s one of those “I can’t believe no one has done this idea before now!” sort of brilliant ideas.

This is one of the most exciting, suspenseful episodes of Star Trek Continues so far.  One complaint I … [continued]

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Marvel Triumphs Again With Thor: Ragnarok!

November 6th, 2017
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Thor: Ragnarok is the third Thor film, but more importantly it is the incredible seventeenth film in the continuing and expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Looking back over these seventeen films, it is astounding to consider the incredibly high quality that Marvel has been able to deliver film after film after film.  There hasn’t been a single truly bad film in the mix!  Even the weaker films (Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World, The Incredible Hulk) are all perfectly fine and entertaining.  And the recent run of films has been amazing; just this year we have gotten Guardians of the Galaxy vol.2, The Amazing Spider-Man, and now the terrific, hilarious Thor: Ragnarok.

As this film opens, Hela the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) returns, eager to wreak havoc on Asgard and the family of Odin who, she feels, wronged her millennia ago.  Thor’s initial attempt to confront her ends disastrously, as Hela destroys his hammer Mjolnir and banishes Thor to the far corners of the universe.  Thor finds himself on a trash-filled planet ruled by The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who oversees brutal gladiatorial-like competitions between captured aliens.  Thor will need to defeat incredible odds to triumph in the gladiatorial games, then somehow find his way back to Asgard to defeat the unbeatable Hela before she slaughters every last man, woman and child living there.

That all sounds like a very serious, dour story for the film.  But Thor: Ragnarok, directed by Taika Waititi, is a marvelously loopy, silly, joy-filled concoction.  It has been widely praised as the funniest Marvel film, and it is definitely in the run for that title.  (I am not sure it is funnier than James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films or Joss Whedon’s Avengers, but it is defintely in the top five.).

I was a little worried, when I started hearing about the light, comedic touch that Mr. Waititi had brought to this film, that it would turn into a farce that wouldn’t have any emotional weight.  But those fears proved unfounded.  Thor: Ragnarok is an exciting action-adventure film that fits smoothly into the continuing story of the Marvel cinematic universe, while also being nearly non-stop hilariously funny.

In some respects, the movie completely reinvents the character of Thor, turning the somewhat pompous warrior we have met before into a complete goofball.  It has been clear before now that Chris Hemsworth had strong comedic chops — see his work in the rebooted Ghostbusters as well as the shorts revealing what Thor was up to during Captain America: Civil War.  What Taika Waititi has done is allow Chris Hemsworth to basically play Chris Hemsworth here, rather than the Thor … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Star Trek: Discovery Episode 7: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”

In Star Trek: Discovery episode seven, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” (I always appreciate alliteration), Harry Mudd, having escaped from the Klingons, is out for revenge on Captain Lorca.  So Mudd sneaks on board the Discovery, determined to learn the secret of the ship and sell it to the Klingons.  While one man might ordinarily have no hope of sneaking on board a starship, Mudd has access to a device that allows him to repeat the same 30 minutes over and over again, thus giving him opportunity after opportunity to achieve his goal (and also to repeatedly murder Captain Lorca and other members of the Discovery crew).  The Discovery’s only hope of stopping Mudd is Lt. Stamets, whose experimentation with the Spore Drive (which is a silly-sounding thing that everyone on Discovery says very seriously) have left him with an awareness of these alterations to the time-stream.

I was worried when I heard that Discovery was doing a time-travel episode so early in its run.  On the one hand, many of the very best Star Trek episodes (and movies) involve time travel, and this is a classic type of Star Trek story.  On the other hand, I felt that by the end of Enterprise, all of the post-Next Gen Star Trek spin-offs had dramatically overused time travel, to the point that it had started to become cliche and boring.  I wasn’t eager to see Discovery go back to that well.

However, my fears were thankfully not realized, as “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” was a compelling, fun episode (making that two strong Discovery episodes in a row, after last week’s “Lethe”).  This episode gave a different spin to the familiar type of Star Trek time-travel story.  (We’d seen a lot of “temporal anomalies” and that sort of thing, but this was a story of a villain purposefully manipulating time.  Voyager’s “Year of Hell” two-parter had a similar framework, but that story went in a different direction.  This episode was far more reminiscent of Next Gen’s “Cause and Effect,” but with Mudd as a more dangerous, immediate threat.)  Although this episode presented dramatic, life-or-death stakes for our heroes on the Discovery, I enjoyed how playful the episode was at times, leaving plenty of time for some humorous, enjoyable character interactions, and the entire episode was edited in a wonderfully propulsive, fast-paced style that gave this episode a very different feel than most previous Trek time travel tales.

The Harry Mudd we have met in these two Discovery episodes bares little to no resemblance to the somewhat humorous con-man character we knew from the Original Series.  (I was shocked to see … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season Four

I was late to the party on Silicon Valley.  But once I watched season one earlier this year, I quickly fell in love and zoomed through season two (click here for my review) and season three (click here for my review).  This show is such a wonderful skewering of this very specific sub-culture, the tech start-up world in Silicon Valley, and it is so funny with such a magnificent ensemble of actors.

Season four started off just about as funny as the show has ever been.  I LOVED the idea of Dinesh stumbling his way into the position of C.E.O. of Pied Piper.  What a wonderful way to showcase the great Kumail Nanjiani!  The only thing funnier than watching Dinesh achieve power and success was watching him lose it all.  That scene in which Dinesh realizes the magnitude of the trouble he’s in, all the while we keep hearing the sound-effect in the background of new (under-age) people signing onto the app was a highlight of the series for me.

But something went awry in the season’s back half, and in the end I found that season four was the least satisfying season of the show for me.  My main complaint was the dark turn that Richard’s character took.  I understand that in a TV show they need to find new and interesting things for characters to do.  I am OK with characters changing, and I am OK with characters making bad decisions.  But Richard is supposed to be the main “every-man” character on the show who we are rooting for.  Watching him turn nasty and unpleasant, willing to lie and to push away his friends in order to succeed, was unpleasant.  I think it was an unfortunate misstep for the show to take.  It curdled the comedy for me; I couldn’t believe there was a stretch in which I didn’t find Silicon Valley to be all that funny!

I commented in my review of season three that Silicon Valley was keeping its characters in the status quo, but was doing so in so entertaining a way that I didn’t mind.  Well, a few episodes into season four, I found I was starting to mind.  Four seasons into the show, it started to seem silly to me that the Pied Piper gang couldn’t seem to succeed at anything, that they were all still living and working in Ehrlich’s house, etc.  There were lots of great new ideas in season four that I loved, such as Dinesh as C.E.O., or Richard and Gavin working together on a new project, but the show seemed to toss away those new ideas way too quickly.  I’d have preferred had … [continued]