The Idiot Box
Thoughts on TV shows and my current viewing habits.
Broadly speaking I think season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery has been an improvement on season1, and I didn’t think that was a dog’s dinner. There were some very good ideas in the first series but it did stray a little too far canonically speaking in both some major and minor aspects of the production. The second season seems to be reining some of these issues in and I love the continuity the writers have shown with Captain Christopher Pike’s back story. There are times when the need to expedite the narrative comes at the expense of character development. For example it would have it would have been nice to have had an extra episode of two to get to know Airiam (Hannah Cheesman) a little better. It would have heightened the emotional impact of her death a little more. But this propensity to rush is hardly unique to Star Trek: Discovery. I am curious to see where the story is going as I like many other viewers suspect this may be an origin story for a major Federation nemesis. We shall have to see. I’m always cautious about plot devices that explain away an “enigma”. There is the risk that you rob it of its narrative potency.
I recently had the opportunity to see the first two episodes in the latest revival of The Twilight Zone. The first instalment, The Comedian, was an interesting and well-intentioned exploration of the disposable nature of modern comedy and celebrity culture. Humour is a powerful tool and writer Alex Rubens (Rick and Morty, Key & Peele) focuses on the perennial choice of whether a successful exponent should punch up or down. However, this episode was 55 minutes long and couldn’t adequately fill that running time. With some judicious editing it could have achieved a lot more powerful. However the second story, Nightmare at 30,000 Feet, totally hit the mark, containing all the beats you’d expect from the show. This clever, contemporary re-working of the classic 1963-episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet starring Bill Shatner, was tense, well written and had a double sting in the tail. There were also some very subtle visual homages to the original show. Overall, I think this is going to be a very modern interpretation of The Twilight Zone and show runner Jordan Peele is certainly not going to shy away from hot topics. For those already decrying this, I suggest they revisit the original five seasons of the show. Rod Serling was no stranger to taking on the big social issues of his time.
Here’s a summary of what else I’ve been watching:
It would be remiss of me not to mention After Life, which I said I was going to watch in the previous instalment of The Idiot Box. This was an extremely well observed, moving exploration of bereavement and grief from Ricky Gervais. As ever the humour was stark and pushed a few boundaries but the laughs were genuine as was the sentiment. The supporting cast was outstanding as they always are in his productions. Hopefully the success of this show will contribute to a wider, more candid public discourse about death.
The ever dependable NCIS reaches the final three episodes of season 16. As ever there have been some weekly instalments that have been just “filler” but there’s also been some quite strong stories. Will we get a resolution to the potential “will they, won’t they” romance between agents Torres and Bishop? Is Ziva David really alive or is it some sort of ruse? Will Doctor Mallard please just retire! (Nope he’s now the NCIS Historian). Unlike other shows, NCIS weathers cast changes well. It certainly has a high mortality rate among its lead characters. I wonder if anyone is going to die this season?
Finally, series 57 of the popular BBC satirical comedy panel show, Have I Got News for You, has just started in the UK. Although still an amusing diversion, HIGNFY has lost its impact and has in many ways simply become part of the “establishment” landscape. The show that started off being merciless to its political guests now seems to indirectly facilitate them. Even TV viewing has now become a partisan activity, so the shows message is very much a case of “preaching to the choir”.