Category: Television Reviews

Not So Bold

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Forty years ago, Paramount Television attempted to set itself up as a fourth US network, with Star Trek as its ace card. William Shatner would return as James Kirk, although Leonard Nimoy had declined the studio’s entreaties to bring Spock back aboard the USS Enterprise bridge (and was, in any case, locked in a legal row over unauthorised exploitation of his image). Star Trek: Phase II began as a tv movie, stretched into a full series and eventually shifted onto the big screen as Star Trek: The Motion Picture, whilst plans for the putative fourth network were quietly shelved.

Well, here we go again: CBS (successor to Paramount’s tv assets) wants to slice itself a piece of the pay-per-view pie which has proven so profitable for HBO and Netflix, beginning with its own Star Trek spin-off, Discovery. Set a full decade before the Enterprise embarked upon its five-year mission and allegedly firmly locked into that original timeline (as opposed to the ‘Kelvin’ timeline created for the three recent movies featuring Christoper Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock), Discovery was initially announced for January, rescheduled for May and finally made its debut last month; worrying warning signs, you might think, but CBS clearly have their minds focused on higher things, such as profit forecasts.

Much has been made of the fact that the new lead is a “woman of colour”, but Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-99) already featured an African-American actor in the commander’s chair and Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) a female captain, so that’s hardly noteworthy. In fact, one early rumour I heard was that Discovery would continue the adventures of the female first officer played by Majel Barrett fifty-two years ago in the unaired Star Trek pilot “The Cage”. Instead, Sonequa Martin-Green stars as Lt. Cmdr. Michael Burnham, a human raised on Vulcan following her parents’ deaths during a Klingon raid. Of course, the makers can’t resist some half-arsed fanwankery, so her adoptive father is none other than Sarek, although there’s curiously no sign of his current wife Amanda Grayson (better known as Spock’s equally human mother).

So far, so so-so, but it gets worse. The opening two episodes are located aboard the USS Shenzou, described by its captain as a veteran of the fleet yet just as absurdly huge and tech-encrusted as any of the shiny starships seen in JJ Abrams’ ‘Kelvin’ reboot. Its sister vessels have been similarly upgraded, zipping out of warp drive like the dark wizards in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Pixels. In contrast, the Federation’s Klingon adversaries have shaved off the beards, reupholstered their foreheads and now resemble a gang of Orcs with the social skills of Big Brother contestants.

Much of this could be overlooked, were the entire enterprise (ahem) not so dreadfully dull. With the possible exception of Saru, an alien science officer with an amusing bias towards self-preservation (Doug Jones), none of the characters engaged me in the least, leaving their dramatic tribulations of negligible interest. Phaser beams fly, starships fry, crewmen die, uncaring I.

Matters reportedly improve with the third episode (the reverse is difficult to conceive), but by then CBS will be expecting US fans to subscribe to Discovery via its “All Access” platform, and I strongly suspect many will already have walked. In this latest quest to monetise Gene Roddenberry’s creation, CBS may well have guaranteed this wobbly spin-off neither prospers, nor lives long.

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Tv review: Payne (1999)

PaynePayne (1999)

[Published on IMDb, 2005)

The US has a history of lifting successful comedy formats from the UK, some of which have proved as successful – and occasional more so – than the original templates. Steptoe and Son became Sanford and Son, Till Death Us Do Part begat All in the Family, Man About the House mutated into Three’s Company. Payne is not one of those shows.

Much as the US version of Coupling appears to have surgically sliced out the sex and sarcasm which made the original so funny, the team behind Payne seems unable to grasp that none of the characters in Fawlty Towers are meant to be likable, with the possible exception of Polly. Basil acts superior but has deep insecurities, Sybil is a self-centred bitch, Manuel is an idiot, even the guests are barely coherent.

But that’s what makes them human. And funny. And whilst we bemoan the fact that Cleese & Booth produced only a dozen episodes of Fawlty Towers, we can sit agog that Payne made it as far as nine.

DVD review: Dark Matter, Season One (2015)

Dark Matter, Season One (2015)Dark Matter

[First aired on Syfy, the opening season of Dark Matter is currently available from Acorn DVD. This review appeared in The Dark Side #171, December 2015.]

 

A dysfunctional ragtag band of interplanetary mercenaries and political exiles, forced to scratch a shadowy existence on the fringes of known space, continually facing conflict both within and outside their no-frills starship… No, Joss Whedon hasn’t quit the Marvel sausage factory in order to reboot the Firefly franchise, despite that show’s clear similarities with the Syfy Channel’s homegrown thriller Dark Matter, which has just been renewed for a second season and is now available on DVD for those who missed its inaugural 13-episode run.

Co-created by Stargate writers Joseph Mallozi and Paul Mullie, who adapted their unsuccessful initial tv pitch into a well-received Dark Horse graphic miniseries before Syfy greenlit a weekly show, Dark Matter adds to its air of mystery by opening with its half-dozen human characters awakening from stasis aboard the freighter Raza to discover their memories have been wiped (the ship’s title is a homophonic in-joke, ‘tabula rasa’ being Latin for ‘blank slate’). Nor has the Raza’s resident android (Zoie Palmer, Bo’s lesbian lover Lauren in Lost Girl) escaped the saboteur’s interference, leaving all but one crew member in the dark as to his or her true identity and motivations.

For convenience, codenames are allocated in the order they left stasis: One (Marc Bendavid) seems to be the nearest to a reluctant hero among them; the feisty Two (Melissa O’Neil) swiftly becomes his second-in-command, taking the teenage Five (Jodelle Ferland, Mary Jensen in Kingdom Hospital) under her wing; Three (Anthony Lemke, another Lost Girl alumni) is the ship’s muscle, a role reminiscent of Firefly’s Jayne; Four (Alex Mallari Jr) and Six (Roger R Cross, Reggie Fitzwilliam in The Strain) are soon unmasked as killers on the run, but nothing in this series is quite as it seems.

Filmed, like Lost Girl and the Stargate conveyor belt, in Canada, Dark Matter has much to recommend it, not least the central story arc which underpins the first season and builds to a terrific reveal in the closing moments (none of the actors was tipped off ahead of the scene being shot). True, certain elements are less than wholly original, but there are plenty of twists along the route, buoyed by excellent performances from the regular cast, and I for one look forward to stepping back aboard the Raza when it relaunches next summer.

 

Extras: In addition to a photo gallery, each of the episodes has its own short featurette, focussing upon the individual characters, clues to their backgrounds and elements of the Dark Matter universe.