“You had me at ‘unsanctioned mission.’”
Couple days ago, award-winning Star Trek expert John Price made a comment to me in his usually wry but insightful tone that he forgets to watch Discovery until I mention I’m working on my Thursday column. I really liked that, that even with all this nonsense going on in the world that I can help somebody check in with something they used to like, and, even if they’re not getting the same thing out of it they used to, maybe now, especially, even painfully average pop culture is better than no pop culture at all.
And of course what I mean by “especially now” is the global pandemic, and the fact this isn’t just still going on but exponentially getting worse in the States because half the country thinks simple preventative measures is some kind of encroachment on basic freedom or whatever. We have to wear N95s in Northern California for fire season, so what’s wearing it over to the Post Office? I don’t get the problem. But, sure, throw a bandana on when you go to rob the bank, but not to go buy groceries? The human race deserves what it gets.
But I used to watch two or three hours of pop culture entertainment between the time my wife went to work and I had to pick up my kid from school, around the other stuff I used to do. I loved it; a quiet time to see what works in storytelling, keep up to date with my fellow writers and audience, give attaboys to my friends working in the biz. But responsibilities change when everyone is working from home, and I sort of lost the habit. Easy to do, because everybody else is working from home, too, and there’s no new stuff coming out and I’ve seen all the old stuff I care about. Throwing in Star Wars or Fletch or Ghostbusters wasn’t doing it, either, so I’d wait for The Mandalorian or some other four-quadrant thing and watch a little TV at night with the fam. But I started missing out on stuff I wanted to watch but they didn’t, so I got into the habit of getting up early and watching something first thing in the morning. An hour long show, having some coffee in the quiet house before things get going was just the thing.
So I’d watch Space Force or Curb Your Enthusiasm or Avenue 5 or The Mandalorian, again, because that first season is tight. The way Johnny Favs moves the narrative tracks around is amazing and does what a first season should do. Anyway. I’m crazy for space stuff and I love alt-history but we don’t need another streaming service so I was going to wait until the disks of For All Mankind came out, but I was dying to watch The Morning Show and when Ted Lasso dropped, all of a sudden Apple TV seemed worth it. So I’m cracking through For All Mankind because of course I’m in the cryo-tank for an astronauts-in-trouble show, and boy, are those astronauts in trouble. The last couple days, I’ve been getting up not at six but 4:30 am or so, so I can watch two episodes and I love it. Love it, love it, love it. There’s drama and tension and the tone is just perfect. Exploring space is hard. You need arrogance and a single-minded vision and a JFK-got-two-terms level of confidence to tell that story. You know, like Star Trek used to have.
I went to bed last night thinking I gotta charge up the Bose headphones because I am watching the shit out of the next two eps of For All Mankind in the morning and I slept the sleep of the just and I woke up at 4:30 exactly without an alarm clock because who uses alarm clocks now and I’m thrilled because this one’s about Jamestown Base and they kill Gene Kranz in a pad explosion and they reveal the Russkies have their own moonbase and Gordo gets the SPACE MADNESS and Danielle breaks her arm on purpose and Ed will not leave Jamestown until he is properly relieved and and and
…and I hear my wife get up and she just laughs at me when I go to kiss her good morning because she knows what I’ve been doing and I’ve had three cups of coffee already and I tell her Ed’s punk son is brain dead and Nate Corddry is gay and Sonya Walger better show up again soon and she says… she says…
“What? Why aren’t you watching Discovery?”
And I was stunned, because I had just forgotten it was on.
I forgot Star Trek was on.
So I watched it, and they have magic new badges that are comms and tricorders and personal transporters all-in-one, and new bridge interfaces that are all so CGI-neat but you can’t help but think about the actors waving their hands around nothing on set and emoting about how just very cool it all is when there’s nothing there and don’t see it as a metaphor for all the press for Discovery for the last three seasons. So many promises that everything is awesome yet no follow-through. The actors and the PTB can all say how just how very cool everything is, but there’s no emotion behind any of it. It’s just not as cool as they are tying to trick us into thinking it is.
Take space, the final frontier, and put it a thousand years in the future while taking out the exploring and the strange, new worlds and the new life and the new civilizations, removing the danger and sacrifice by having a magic mushroom drive than can put you anywhere instantly and have small badges that can deus any machina and all audience engagement goes out the window. Who cares, when there’s no tension whatsoever? Nobody gets entertained by a manufactured complication.
But, what’s those blinking red lights on the other side of that crater? Those are Russkies, Johnny Spaceman, and I hope we have enough air to get back to the base to warn Uncle Sam. Dang if people we love are dying back home on Earth and we can’t do anything about it but make sure their sacrifices aren’t in vain up here on the high ground. Gender equality, civil rights, interpersonal relationships of all kinds are here and being dealt with but under the circus tent of space exploration.
Sounds like old Star Trek, doesn’t it?
Which is why I forgot to watch new Star Trek, this morning. For All Mankind is where that next big score is coming from.