Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

I’ve only seen the first episode. I loved it. I’m really excited for more.

It’s hard for me to see this show without immediately comparing it to Star Trek: Discovery. Obviously, the two shows are connected by their events and characters. And, very mild but necessary spoilers, if you watch the first episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds you will be spoiled for the end of Discovery’s second season. Given the continuity of experience for several main characters (and especially Captain Pike), that’s inevitable.

Most of the details of Discovery aren’t brought up because they’re classified in-setting and there’s little reason for anyone to actually divulge anything. But the vital bits come out in a few conversations, or are heavily hinted at and shown in characters’ internal struggles. This means that you don’t need to have seen Discovery in order to enjoy this show, and all the plot-relevant emotional strife that grew out of the previous show’s events is made accessible to new viewers.

That’s all for the best. I have mixed feelings about Discovery, and I think Strange New Worlds made the right choice by making itself more accessible to new viewers. Moreover, I think Discovery’s emotional and narrative tone felt more like a grim Star Trek movie… and Strange New Worlds feels like a marvelous return to the tone of Star Trek as a TV show.

I’ve written about this here before. Discovery had piles of narrative tension, and character development, and drama… and it felt like watching a high production-value miniseries set in the Star Trek universe, with all the bubbling idealism stripped out. When I watched it, I did not feel hope. I was engaged by the story, and I appreciated the growth seen throughout each season. But Discovery was fundamentally about season-spanning dramatic narrative arcs. 

Star Trek benefits from dramatic narrative arcs. Yet for all my love of a good narrative, Star Trek has long been more focused on exploration, and on ethical, moral, and intellectual engagement with difficult subjects. Sometimes it does that well, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it leavens itself with exciting narrative interludes. But it’s a series anchored in idealism, hope, and a willingness to engage critically with its setting (with varying levels of success).

Strange New Worlds delivers that. Watching Strange New Worlds felt like watching the next iteration of the old Star Trek shows, in the best possible way. I loved it.

I know there are some people who have seen it and don’t like it. I understand that a number of people are upset about the bridge crew being both mostly non-white and/or women. Fuck ‘em. If that’s seriously their gripe with the show, they haven’t paid enough attention to the whole rest of the show’s history—and they’re apparently unsatisfied with the fact that the captain is still a white dude.

I haven’t yet heard other people’s critiques of the show, and I’d be more curious to hear those. This meme applies, to be sure:

But not only does this new Trek feel hopeful, I once again trust that the show will continue in the optimistic and idealistic traditions of older Star Trek shows rather than chase ”serious drama” at the expense of its emotional and philosophical tone. I am so excited for more.

Ted Lasso S2, 2 episodes in

It’s… not as good yet.

I’ve been struggling to figure this out. I’m not surprised that it doesn’t feel as incredibly good, because the experience of that first season is hard to replicate. But I’d hoped that it wouldn’t feel like such a come-down. And I couldn’t understand why it did until I’d talked it over with my partner.

Actually, we talked about it, then saw an interview with two of the writers, then talked about it some more. The interview helped things click, talking it over again settled them.

Season two is still more like what I want from television right now than most other shows are. It’s still a show that (mostly) feels pretty good, and I still enjoy it. I still recommend it, to those who liked the first season.

But the rhythm is off.

Season one of Ted Lasso had a spectacular rhythm to its delivery of plot development. It built arcs and finished them neatly in places during an episode that left me feeling secure, which is strange for most TV shows I’ve seen recently. And even when arcs were left hanging between episodes, I didn’t feel like the show was toying with me and my feelings. Nor did I feel like the show was hooking me and dragging me along to the next episode, even as the appeal of the show and its story *absolutely* hooked me and pulled me along. In many ways it felt like Ted Lasso’s first season was confident enough in where it was going with its story, and willing enough to trust that I would want to stay with it, that it didn’t do the “grab the viewer by the hanging plot threads and unresolved emotions, and only offer resolution NEXT TIME” thing. I liked the writers not doing that.

Season two, two episodes in, doesn’t feel as self-assured to me. It doesn’t feel like it really trusts itself in the same way. It’s far more concerned with grabbing and holding on with its unresolved threads, less willing to trust that the audience will want to keep watching.

The way this shows most, for me, is in how unresolved things feel at the end of an episode. What really brought this home for me was the interview with the writers, in which they admitted that they didn’t have the whole season written before they started filming. I don’t envy them going from “we have everything written out beforehand” to “nope now we have to improvise and hope we’re at least one episode ahead.” And I think (just guessing here, wild speculation) that they’re leaving elements unresolved in the way they have so far *because* they need to leave themselves openings for the next step. Without the whole season planned and written already, they feel the (understandable) need to give themselves a clear and easy way forward.

This also means that it feels like they’ve had less time to edit their work. Season two, so far, doesn’t feel quite as slick as season one. It doesn’t feel as clearly like they’re moving from best-possible-scene to best-possible-scene. I’ve even wondered—maybe one or three times—whether there was a better scene they skipped or didn’t think of that they would have included if they’d had more time to think things over.

It doesn’t help that I also want them to do a different thing with a particular character (it’s Nate, folks, I want Nate to be not-an-ass). I fully expect that to be resolved at some point, probably this season, but god it’s grating.

Now, counter-argument: maybe the writers have a good idea of what they’re doing (even if they don’t have things already planned and finished). Maybe they’re leaving these plot threads open because they have plans for them later in the season and they know everything needs to be lined up long beforehand. I can absolutely see this being the case; I actually suspect they *do* know where they’re taking things even if they aren’t quite sure how they’ll get there. And maybe they simply decided to make the second season feel less episodic and more like a binge-show where each episode bleeds into the next, complete with tension and unresolved issues.

Honestly, my trust in these writers being competent is a big reason for why I’m still watching the show. I’m watching because I believe that counter-argument, and because I enjoyed the first season so much and want to see where these characters go. But regardless of how much I believe they know what they’re doing I’m still sad that some of that feel, the tidiness and rhythm of season one, feels like its gone.

Ted Lasso

I’ve been recommending Ted Lasso to friends recently, and now it’s your turn.

Ted Lasso is hard for me to pin down. The closest genre-bucket it fits into is “dramatic comedy,” but that feels misleading; this show doesn’t feel like many other dramatic comedies I’ve seen recently—or maybe ever. It feels absurdly kind, in a wonderful way.

Ted Lasso is most certainly a comedy. And it has dramatic elements, not shying away from the personal struggles facing the characters or the (mostly social) challenges they’re up against. But the only comparable shows I know are… more cruel? They don’t build my trust in them. The other shows I’ve watched in this genre don’t feel like they really honestly love their main characters, or like they’re written with empathy for the characters and their struggles.

In my experience, when most other dramedies explore tough emotional situations, they feel like misery-porn. At best, they’re wry and a little removed from the action. At worst, they draw out the pathos and angst and awkward personal struggles, and then they stew in those feelings until they finally make their audience feel better several (long) episodes later by offering relief… after they’ve created another suffering magnet for another character in the show. But the audience’s resting state is discomfort, leavened by brief flashes of humor at someone’s expense, and the characters rarely feel lovable or leave me cackling in delighted glee.

I guess, when it comes down to it, I usually don’t feel like those other shows care about whether they make me happy. They’d much rather be serious and funny, or just painful and funny. It’s as though they’re fine with being depressing as long as they get a chuckle out of me.

That’s not Ted Lasso.

I trust the writers of Ted Lasso in ways that I don’t trust other show’s writers. They’ve proven to me that they can take an absurd premise (American football coach is hired to coach a British Premier League Football [soccer] team), weigh it down with some serious personal and interpersonal issues for dramatic ballast, and then plot a steady course that leaves me smiling in happy admiration.

They do it in 30 minute chunks. They make fast and robust characterization look effortless. And then they make rewarding character development look easy too. And the editing! Whoever’s behind the way this show skips directly to the important parts, whether that happened in the cutting room or in the writers’ room or wherever, they deserve a prize.

Oh, and the show brings up those painful and serious issues that I mentioned above and then handles them gracefully. Things don’t always turn out perfectly, but they feel good in a way that I’d forgotten was possible in a TV show. It doesn’t feel dishonest, it just feels… hopeful.

And I love that.

Honestly, some people probably won’t like that. Not everyone will be as happy with Ted’s incredible positivity as I am. And perhaps some people might dislike how the show sometimes leans into its goofy bits, or pushes for the happier and healthier resolution. It might not always deliver the feeling of “reality” that those people want.

But I’m sad and scared and anxious more of the time than I’d like. So much TV that I see only embraces that, like a deeply critical cynic insisting that they’re a realist… and then laughing at me and calling me foolish to hope for anything.

Ted Lasso doesn’t do that.  It does the opposite.

In some strange way this show and its hopefulness are reminiscent of what I love about Star Trek. It’s idealistic. Not blindly so, and not in the same way that Star Trek is, but… that uplifting feeling is still there.

Ted Lasso feels refreshing, and brave, and honest in ways that both feel healthy and are damn funny. I don’t know that I want every show to be like this one, but I could really use a few more like it.

Star Trek, Discovery, Idealism

Star Trek has been a part of my life since I was tiny. I grew up on The Next Generation, watching it curled up on the couch with my older sibs. While I remember the death of Tasha Yar, I don’t remember Riker without a beard (I see the impossibility there, presumably my brain edits out most of the worse stuff).

I was, arguably, too young for the show. I know it wasn’t geared towards toddlers. Some of my earliest nightmares grew out of Star Trek episodes. Those did not stop me from watching.

Of course, the same can be said for watching my sibs play Doom. Maybe toddler-Henry’s judgement just wasn’t that good. Toddler-Henry almost certainly valued spending time with sibs more than not having nightmares. That’s still true.

All of which is to say, Star Trek has a special place in my heart. Moreover, at a formative age Star Trek fed me an underlying idealism that serves as the keystone for good Star Trek stories. If you’ve watched enough older Trek you know what I’m talking about. When it isn’t there, the Star Trek-ness of the story just falls apart.

That idealism isn’t always well-written. But I admire it all the same. With it, generations of Star Trek have tried to do something that much of the rest of its contemporary narrative milieu dismissed as naive, or uninteresting, or hopelessly unrealistic. Unlike those other stories, well-written Star Trek refuels me.

All of which brings me around to Star Trek: Discovery. I’m working my way through it, bit by bit, but as much as I’m having fun seeing science fiction in the Star Trek universe it still doesn’t feel quite like Trek. This won’t surprise anyone who’s familiar with both Discovery and older Trek. Discovery’s first (and second, so far) season are dramatic and often exciting, and they have more character growth and development than I remember from TOS or TNG, but… they don’t hold the Trek idealism that I love. There are glimpses of it, moments when that idealism comes through, but it’s mostly hidden behind their larger threatening story arcs.

The most Star Trek thing I’ve seen in them so far have been Captain Pike and Number One, part of why I’m so excited for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

I have heard good things about Discovery’s third season, however. I’ve heard that it feels more full of the old idealism. I could really use that right now. So I’m still plugging away, doing my best to appreciate the science fiction show wearing Star Trek’s skin, and looking forward to it growing into something more hopeful and idealistic.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I just watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier for the second time last night.  I loved it both times.  I liked the first  Cap movie as well, but The Winter Soldier leaves that first one in the dust.  They found an excellent balance between action, comedy, and serious trouble, striking a note that felt remarkably similar to the delivery of the first Iron Man movie, less the odd bit where I felt a little underwhelmed by the final fight between Obadiah and Tony.  Which is to say that it’s pretty frickin’ spectacular.  I’d say that it’s worth watching the first Captain America movie in order to better understand what’s going on in Winter Soldier, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

Almost all of the rest of this article is going to be spoiler-rich, so if you haven’t yet seen the movie I suggest that you stop reading before the break.  Take my word for it and go watch the movie; I’m almost certain you’ll enjoy its pulpy action-intrigue comic book goodness.

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