Television

The geek community has a preternatural ability to delude itself. To suspend not only disbelief, but actual awareness, effectively enough to cut anything even remotely genre-related all the slack it could ever possibly want. There are people out there who still explain the greatness of Lucas’ Star Wars prequels. Who defend Zack Snyder stealing virtually every shot in BvS from another, better film as homage rather than a total lack of imagination. Who tell me, when I criticize Next Generation, “Oh, that was just the first two seasons. It takes a while for a series to find it’s feet.” (THAT’S TWO GODDAMNED YEARS, PEOPLE!?!)

For a while, I was one of them. I tried hard to tell myself that Return of the Jedi was awesome (it wasn’t). That Temple of Doom was a worth sequel to Raiders (it isn’t). That Logan’s Run isn’t covered in cheese (it is; it’s still an awesome movie, but best when grilled, and served hot with tomato soup).

Unfortunately, as I was becoming a film-addled teen, I was also watching movies like The GodfatherLawrence of ArabiaFrench Connection. Films from the height of epic cinema and the depths of the anti-hero 70s that are powerful and visceral and unapologetically brilliant, and I realized we geeks were getting the short end of the stick.

We were gifted with occasional moments of true filmmaking brilliance – Raiders, which is a perfect film, or Empire Strikes Back – but mostly, we were ranting and raving about mediocrity. Movies that, viewed objectively, would get a 5 or 6 at best on a scale of 10. I kept thinking back to something William Windom said in his Starlog interview about his turn as Matt Decker in the TOS episode, Doomsday Machine. Windom reflected his own version of what’s known elsewhere in the geek world as “Sturgeon’s Law.”

That Star Trek episode was a piece of crap,” he said.

“whether it’s bagels you eat, clothes you wear, adults you meet when you’re little, plays you go to or are in, 90 percent is horsecrap. Five percent is just godawful and you wish you could forget it, five percent is memorable, so you better en­joy the horsecrap, because nine out of 10 hours in your life are gonna be spent in horsecrap. So fine, but don’t go around giv­ing it first prizes! The first prizes are too valuable — they’re really only for that five percent — of people, food, clothing, time, weather, age, whatever you want to name in your life.”

He was right. It took a while to sink in, but I slowly realized that not calling out the films, shows, books, comics, in the 90th percentile for being what they are — fine — is actually a disservice to the films, shows, books & comics that truly are excellent. It fucks up the bell curve.

Because I haven’t ceded my critical faculty, I often get called a hater. This drives me crazy for two reasons; 1 – it’s not a fucking word. 2 – it isn’t true in any respect. I simply refuse to love everything. I had a guy tell me, “I just choose to like things, and I think I’m happier.” My response was that I chose what I like, and therefore, I enjoy the things I enjoy much more passionately.

I have a friend I frequently tell that he needs a superlative filter. Whenever a piece of expensive marketing hits for the Next Big Thing, he is on social media exclaiming that this is THE GREATEST THING EVER! since the last GREATEST THING EVER! and I try to tell him that, no, it is mathematically unlikely that it is. Since this man prides himself as a film lover, I once explained that claiming Fast & Furious 4 is the GREATEST MOVIE HE’S EVER SEEN is pretty fucking insulting to, say, The Godfather, Part II. Right?

“Why can’t you just enjoy stuff?”

Because that “stuff” is the result of hundreds of millions of dollars, tens of thousands of hours of work, and is sold under the pretense of art, and I have too much respect for the labor, the money, the medium and myself to not hold that shit up to the highest possible standards. There’s no crying in baseball.

Also, there’s the obvious point that, by supporting the shit with our dollars, we tell the horse dropping it that we would please like more of it, and as soon as possible. This same friend loathes JJTrek as vehemently as I do, and yet he has seen every single film in the theater (some more than once), and owns all of them on blu-ray. It absolutely mystifies me.

I’m not a hater. I just care more than you do. Very few films will ever rise to the level of No Country For Old Men or fall to the depths of Watchmen. Most of them hover in between; like Derek Smalls, they are lukewarm water. Let them be.

We define the good by defining the bad. You cannot have one without the other. Shadows are only visible in the light; absent one, the other disappears. You might choose to swim in a flat artistic sea rendered in smooth shades of grey. I like my art with more swells, currents, riptides, eddies and vibrance. Suck it up.

Let’s talk about this atrocity exhibition called Star Trek: Discovery. Shepherded by two of the most talentless hacks the Hollywood system has ever rewarded for their hubris, STD is everything Star Trek was meant as a weapon against; it is dark, hateful, filled with utterly unlikable characters and a complete lack of hope. It’s almost as if Kurtzman and Goldsman decided to do a series set in the Mirror Universe without telling anyone.

Discovery is, in every sense of the world, awful. After 50 years, Trek has become dystopian. How the fuck did that happen?

Full disclosure; Star Trek ended for me in 1991.

Undiscovered Country was far from a great film; it had much of the forced humor that has led to Voyage Home aging so badly, a forgettable plot, and a cast that mostly seemed tired rather than excited for one last run. Still, it was a welcome relief after suffering through Final Frontier, and when the original cast “autographed” the film at the beginning of the end credits, that was good enough for me. I’d achieved closure. Star Trek, as far as I was concerned, was over.

Y’see, I gave up on Next Generation at the end of the second season in ’89. I tried, I swear I did. I wanted to love TNG. As my friend Ken will attest, I sat through episode after episode hoping that this time, the plot wouldn’t fall apart in the last act; the script would make sense; the dialogue wouldn’t be terrible; Wesley would die a horrible, painful death. Finally, I just got tired of throwing pillows at the TV in anger and frustration. The mess I was watching had aspirations of being Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but it was much closer to Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

I know all the things you’re going to say. The point of this isn’t my dislike of TNG. (Maybe later this year I’ll put up a rant about the reasons why.) For now, you aren’t going to convince me, and I’m not going to convince you. Let’s move on.

Each successive Trek series lowered the bar. I’ve seen 2 1/2 episode of DS9, and that was enough to realize I hated it. Voyager was inexplicably much worse, and Enterprise said, “Hold my tranya.”

But as bad as all those shows were, they were still obviously Star Trek. Despite the thick layers of Berman/Braga cheese, they had their hearts in the right place.

Then came JJTrek. I’ve never bothered to post a real review of everything that’s wrong with NuTrek because, frankly, if you can’t see for yourself what a pile of shit it is, I can’t be bothered to talk to you. Not only was JJTrek (and its two retarded spawn) just a terrible movie, it’s also deeply offensive. JJTrek is rooted in a profound contempt for original Trek, its characters and concepts. It’s not an attempt to reboot, it’s an attempt to obliterate.

Now we have Discovery, and the cycle has breathlessly continued. Star Trek was intended as a fictional guide to what humanity could be. The best self Gene Roddenberry believed the human race could become. Now Starfleet are just another band of hi-tech thugs.

It’s true that the first tendrils of this rot are rooted in Trek VI, with the admiralty trying to start a war and finish the Klingons. But they were outliers. The Starfleet of STD seems to be composed entirely of different versions of Commander Styles from Balance of Terror.

The reasons are obvious. Just look at the news. Hope requires more suspension of disbelief than an audience can muster.

If art is the mirror held up to nature, then what else can we expect? Sure, TOS aired during a time of political strife and upheaval, but those people still hoped they could effect change. We all know we’re completely fucked. Think about Starfleet as portrayed in TOS and ask yourself if we’ll ever get there?

Art, in the form of Discovery, says no.

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The nice thing about being a celebrity is that when you bore people, they think it’s their fault. — Henry Kissinger