Review of “Star Trek Picard” Season 1

For the full audio review and discussion with the Besotted Geek Podcast, click HERE.

Engage! Captain Jean Luc Picard is back in CBS All Access Star Trek Picard! The premiere season wrapped up this past week, and I absolutely loved every minute of it. And it’s not just getting to see the definitive captain of the Enterprise or a handful of familiar, beloved characters from Next Generation and Voyager; this show has the warp core of TNG whilst delivering a fresh story, perfect for 2020. What separates Star Trek from Star Wars is the former’s character-driven exploration of humanity at the core of every episode. While there may be action and adventure in most episodes, the action elements are serving as a conduit through which the characters explore what it means to be human–whether organic or synth. When the show was formerly announced by Sir Patrick Stewart, he made a point that Jean Luc Picard would not be the captain that you remember from TNG, that the events of Star Trek Nemesis greatly impacted Picard. And he was right. At least, in part. However, he is still very much Captain Picard, just a version whom has been disillusioned by Starfleet that has lost its way and carrying the burden of losing a close friend due to self-sacrifice.

We sometimes remark that we may have the weight of the world on our shoulders, but Picard quite literally has the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders. Throughout the TNG series, Captain Picard gave his officers and crew, and by extension the audience, the impression that he was consistently as strong as a mountain, even though we still got glimpses into his softer side on occasion. The Picard we follow in Star Trek Picard is a relatable, believable Picard that that has withstood decades of psycho-social trauma, but in his heart, he remains the Picard we have known and loved since his first took command of the Enterprise D. This first season of Picard follows our title character as he is on his journey to rediscover the self that made him great.

Without getting into spoilers, retired Admiral Picard finds himself caught in the middle of a war between synthetic humanoids and the vile, calculating Romulan Empire after encountering a young lady he believes to the the daughter of Data whom is later assassinated by Romulan covert operatives. When a Starfleet synth researcher at the Daystrom Institute informs Picard that Data’s daughter may have a twin, Picard sets out to find her and stop the Romulan covert operation. When Starfleet refuses to temporarily reinstate Picard, he takes matters into his own hands, and finds a crew and ship for one last mission. Along his mission to find out why the Romulans are attacking Synths and to find Data’s other daughter, he encounters Star Trek Voyager’s Seven of Nine (who later becomes a regular on the show), Will Riker and Deanna Troy, and other familiar characters. While the series is incredibly thrilling, it manages to still drive home the philosophical ideas that have always been at the foundation of Star Trek.

When developing a series based upon a beloved one that is so incredibly engrained in popular and geek culture, there is a risk that it may either pay too much fan service in order to appease lifelong fans, sacrificing a truly original story; or it may do the opposite and sacrifice what fans love in exchange for taking a familiar IP in new directions to attract new fans. Thankfully, Star Trek Picard falls somewhere in the middle, skewing a little towards the former more so than the latter. But ultimately, it is on brand with TNG (and a little STV). In the beginning, I didn’t particularly like Picard because I was looking for the captain that I remember; but therein lies what makes this series deep. Audiences are rediscovering Captain Picard as he is doing very much the same. It took most of this season for him to remember who he truly is. And little by little, I began to get glimpses of the captain that we all respect and love. Just as time, in real life, changes, so does time in a TV series. Starfleet is not the same as we remember, but that is to be expected after nearly 20 years since we last saw it. Some of the moments that may make longtime friends have tears in their eyes is when we see the Enterprise D and Picard in his TNG uniform. Won’t lie, there are moments that this series did bring tears to my eyes.

I can only imagine that in the series’ development, the writers and producers thought of which past characters to include in this new series as regulars or one-offs. And it’s of no surprise that Voyager’s Seven of Nine was likely at the top of their lists. She is inarguably the most popular fan favorite out of Star Trek Voyager. In many ways, she was STV’s answer to Data and Spock, and truly brought the former series into its own after she was introduced in Season 3. Like Picard, she too has changed over the nearly 20 years since we last saw her. But she is, at her core, still the Seven we respected and loved from Voyager. I can liken Picard to Voyager in that the introduction of Seven was the missing element from the cast and plot in order for it to feel fully fleshed out. She still challenges authority when the logic doesn’t compute but seeks to understand what it means to be human and a team player throughout her return to the Star Trek universe. Something that I don’t particularly care for with the return of Seven, she is much more of an action hero than engineering genius or intellectual as she was on Voyager. I miss her oddly precise moral compass and inquisitive nature from Voyager; but, it’s not a big deal. I will chalk it up to one of those stubborn fan ideals. Even as much as I appreciate and enjoyed Star Trek Picard, even I have things that I miss about the old series and would have liked to have seen.

I am excited for the second season of the series! I approached this new series with cautious optimism, and it mostly met, and even exceeding my expectations a few times. Yeah, there are elements with which I am disappointed, but that is naturally the case whenever an older series is reimagined more than twi decades since the TV series ended to make way for the movies. All in all, I am not disappointed in anything that keeps me from enjoying season one and looking forward to season two. After an interview with Sir Patrick Steward on The View, we learn that Whoopie Goldberg will be reprising her role as Guinnan in season two. I hope we also get John de Lancie back as Q! Outside of my favorite TNG character of Picard, Q is right up there! Every episode of TNG and even the 2-3 STV episodes he was on were crowd favorites because his chemistry with Picard (and to a lesser extent Janeway) was priceless. At the heart of this series is what has long since given Star Trek greater depth than Star Wars, and that is the blending of social commentary with what it means to be human. Those same philosophical questions are alive and well in Star Trek Picard, and if you’re a fan of TNG and STV, I’ve a feeling that you will mostly likely enjoy this new series as much as I did.

Don’t miss the two-part discussion on the season finale and a recap of the whole series on the Besotted Geek Podcast, where I sit down with Stork and Peacock.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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Netflix “YOU” Season 2 Review

Wow! That was bonkers good! I don’t know about you, but I binged the entire series in two nights. Simply couldn’t put it down, a fitting bibliophile metaphor as it were. Your favorite book-loving serial killer is back–and he’s moved. Now living in LA, a city he repeatedly detests, Joe (now Will) has his eyes set on a new object of his undying affection, appropriately named Love. He fled Brooklyn to LA to reinvent himself and find a new life–as so many people so when they movie to Los Angeles. But his eyes are not on the silver screen, they are on a hipster organic grocery store and book shoppe. Once he begins his job there, the hijinx are in high gear! After the critical success and highly positive audience reception of Season One, I honestly didn’t expect Season Two to hit the bar that the first one did–I was wrong. After being informed on the Bingeables Podcast during our recording of Don’t Trust the B in Apt 23 that Season Two was even better than Season One, I was intrigued! While it was already on my list of shows to watch, I quickly moved it to the front of the queue. In order to talk about how and why this season works as well, if not better, than the first, it will be necessary for me to go into spoilers. So consider this your spoiler warning. If you plan to see it, and have not, stop here, go binge the show, then come back. Believe me, you’ll want to binge it because it is just that good!

One of the main characteristics of the experience watching YOU that was such a staple in season one was just how much we rooted for our antihero Joe Goldberg, despite him being a sadistic, book thumping, stalker. Perhaps it’s his good looks, oddly loving heart (and I do mean odd), and authenticity. While we may find his behaviors detestable, contemptible, and reprehensible, there is a refreshing since of authenticity that we seldom witness anymore in an age of social media facades and social pretenses. It’s this fascinating dichotomy that we love about Joe/Will. For purposes of this article, I will refer to him as Will, as that is his name for most of this season. Whereas in Season One, Will was lacking an equally intelligent and cunning character of opposition, he has met his match in Candace–yes–that Candace. You can’t outrun murder, or in this case, attempted murder. Candice is back, and she is pissed.

We pickup at the tail end of Season One when Candace surprises Joe at the bookstore. Only this time, she is in control of the situation. But does she turn him into the police? No, that would be too easy. Her goal is to ruin him and make him as scared as she was. She prefers executing a slow, painful defeat. He decides to flee to the one city that he hates more than any other: Los Angeles. Where else do you go to reinvent yourself and hide from the world? Once Will relocates to LA, the hijinks and prolific number of crimes ensue!

All those thrills and chills from season one are back with vengeance in season two. Furthermore, the series continues positing the questions and making observations about masculinity, femininity, friendships, romantic relationships, and social media. One of the biggest differences between this season and the last is that we now have the stalker becoming the stalked. So there is the stalking between Love and Will, but then Will is being stocked by Candice. And even Candice is being stalked during the season. So many layers! Don’t worry, all these layers are not confusing. There is plenty of exposition laying pipeline along the way to understand the various dynamics. While Will goes even darker than in the previous season, you will undoubtedly still root for this antihero. The added complexity of Candace gives way to a more intriguing plot that will have you on the edge of your seat. In addition to the present story, you also get to learn more details about how the relationship between Candace and Joe ended. And you will be blown away! No wonder why Joe was so shocked to see her at the end of Season One.

At first, Will recognizes his psychological problems and refuses to engage in romantic thoughts or behaviors with Love, but soon he falls into his old ways but approached them differently. There is far more rationalization than before, and that makes everything so much more frightening. It doesn’t take long for Will to give up on keeping Love at arm’s length, he’s soon back into his old ways as she is now the object of his affection. More so than in the first season in which Will targeted people that came between him and Beck, this time, he targets those who seek to blow the cover on his darker side that could end his friendship turned relationship with Love. Unlike Beck, Love genuinely returns Will’s affections, which actually complicates things. In addition to his romantic affections, Will also quasi adopts a teenage girl in his apartment complex because he feels that she needs someone to talk to and look after her since her sister (her guardian) is off chasing stories a lot of the time. This friendship adds in another relationship that Will has to protect at all costs. Not only must he not disappoint Love (and her brother, with whom she has a co-dependent relationship) but he must not disappoint his neighbor.

Although I saw the big twist coming shortly before it was revealed, it was still a pleasant surprise! It was the perfect way to end this absolutely bonkers season. While Will thought he was alone in his personal struggles, he now knows that others share his same penchant for stalking and “protecting” loved ones. But therein lies the conflict and a newfound fear for Will, he now knows that he may become someone whom needs You’s special blend of stalking and protecting. He goes from apex predator, if you will, to being knocked down a rung on the food chain.

I appreciate You‘s commentary on modern relationships, masculinity, and femininity. A lot has changed in dating over the last 10-20 years, and You has a way of creatively exploring all the added complexities that social media and the re-defining of traditional gender roles in relationships. You also depicts different kinds of relationships. We have the warped-yet-traditional romantic relationship between Will and Love, the bro-mantic friendship between Forty and Will, the lesbian relationship between Love’s best friends, and the quasi-parent-child relationship between Will and Ellie (his neighbor’s kid sister). Each of the aforementioned relationships contain their own respective set of unique dynamics that Will must navigate in order to keep his dark secret hidden from those whom he legitimately loves. Of course, with a devoted love like his, you may be better off with enemies. Beyond friendship and romantic relationships, You also provides commentary on sexuality and the expression of it. This season plays around with the various ways people express their sexuality and personalities. Characters that you first think are heterosexual are, in fact, homosexual, and those whom you first think are homosexual are, in fact, heterosexual. It’s fascinating to see characters refusing to comply with the de facto rules society has for both groups of people, and express themselves however they like regardless of sexual orientation.

We witness much more of the Dexter side to Will. And, the wildly popular show gets referenced in this season. Like Dexter, Will has a quality about him that we just cannot seem to help but root for. Not in the same way as Dexter, because he primarily only killed those whom were criminals in some form or fashion. Although Will demonstrates some of the same habits, he also regularly kills innocent people that find out his secret, and that’s the different between the two anti-heroes. But not all the killing is due to Will’s penchant for forcibly creating relationships. Love joins in on the action when she realizes that Will is not unlike herself. Interestingly, it is not Will whom has the highest body count, it’s Love. The one kill that Will does have is technically accidental, whereas Love’s are completely intentional crimes of passion. Simply stated, Love and Will are made for one another.

What a fantastic season! And a third season has been greenlit, so we may get to see what Will makes of his new next door neighbor.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” Netflix Review

Since I will be at Halloween Horror Nights Orlando all weekend, my review of It: Chapter 2 will be delayed. So while you wait, checkout this review of Netflix’ The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance that I did with the Netflix ‘n Swill podcast. Dan and Caleb were so much fun to talk with, and if you like Netflix shows or movies in general, then you should give them a follow.

Netflix newest epic fantasy series is a hit! If Netflix was searching for its Game of Thrones, it may have found it in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. While we haven’t been given word if a second season has been greenlit, it would not surprise me if we learn that news in the near future. From the outstanding production design to the spectacular puppets and sweeping score, this is one to watch if you love fantasies. I love it when I can see the hand of the artist in the motion picture, and this show is overflowing with the art of storytelling. To be honest, the first episode is a little convoluted with world building, and was difficult to follow at points, but the episodes thereafter successfully develop the central characters and the lore of the crystal. For longtime fans of the original, you may notice some of the lore doesn’t quite match up, but it’s not completely off either. I imagine some of it is modified in order to write a whole TV series as opposed to a feature film. None of the differences take me out of the story, but it is something for which to look. You’ll find that the writing is gripping and points to the events of the cult classic while delivering a new story in a familiar world. This new series is completely connected to the original, and feels that it is truly doing the original justice in this age that predated the “age of wonder” that the original film takes place in.

Click HERE for the podcast.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa and teaches high school TV/Film production. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com!

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Twitter: RLTerry1

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Jordan Peele’s “The Twilight Zone” Season 1 Review

You’re about to enter a dimension, not only of sight and sound, but of mind. That’s the signpost up ahead. Next stop, Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone. Debuting on April 1st, the revival of the classic anthology series The Twilight Zone, created by Rod Sterling, hit CBS All Access. For many resisters to paying for a “broadcast” channel’s streaming app (whereas most apps are free or included with a cable/satellite subscription), CBS finally figured out how to force wallets. Between TZ and the new Star Trek featuring the highly anticipated return of Patrick Stewart as his most famous character of all time Captain Picard, CBS knows precisely how to get you to subscribe to its service. I’d love to see difference in subscribers before Peele’s Twilight Zone and after. Have you seen the new series?

Although TZ has been revived before, it never quite took off the way the original did, and still commands an audience. Regularly ranked as one of the best written shows of all time by the WGA, IMDb, and other respected organizations and sites, this show left an indelible mark on television. Furthermore, it has even influenced recent cinema and television as evident in shows/movies such as Black MirrorUsAre You Afraid of the DarkEx Machina, and more. Rod Sterling’s groundbreaking show creatively tackled complex issues such as conformity, the uncanny, human frailty, fear of the unknown, self-destruction, faith and lack thereof, paranormal/supernatural, and more. Specifically, it was a welcoming place for all kinds of people to explore these topics. No matter how the central character’s tragic flaw affected him/her, whether for the positive or negative, you could always count on the episode’s moral compass pointing north and a closing monologue from Sterling to tie everything up.

Right out the gate, I feel that the series premiere was on the weak side, but it made up for the sluggish start in episode 1 with episode 2 (released with E1), an adaptation of one of the most popular episodes in the original series Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. I thought it would be fun to analyze and review each episode in the seasons of this show. The challenge of this new series is to deliver the same powerful, memorable stories as the original. Since this is an anthology series, and therefore each episode is a complete story in and of itself, it is not fair, at this early stage, to generalize a review of the show–not yet anyway. So, you’ll find reviews of each episode in this blog. For the sake of readability, I’ve limited each episode to one paragraph. Simply click an episode to jump to that part of this running review.

Season One Evaluation

In short, this premiere season fell flat until Episode 10. It’s thanks to that single episode that we have hope that Peele’s series can perhaps overcome the plethora of struggles it has demonstrated it has in the future seasons. Pacing is a big issue, not to mention largely missing that Twilight Zone magic in most of the episodes. With the exception of Episode 10, the rest of the episodes do not justify their “hour long” runtimes. The plots that we have witnessed are better suited for a half-hour runtime. Striving to not be so on-the-nose or polarizing is something else that I would like to see moving forward. Some of the episodes this season depict unfair representations of groups of people that do not help facilitate progressive and beneficial discussions. Instead of being concerned with perpetuating ill-informed or prejudicial representations of types of characters, this episodes need to place focus on the root cause not the symptoms. Moreover, the future episodes should place more value in allowing the audience to make up their minds on how they view a conflict, allegory, or situation more than the episode telling you how to think, feel, or behave. Episode 10 gives us reason to look forward to season 2.

Episodes

  1. The Comedian
  2. Nightmare at 30,000 Feet
  3. Replay
  4. A Traveler
  5. The Wunderkind
  6. Six Degrees of Freedom
  7. Not All Men
  8. Point of Origin
  9. The Blue Scorpion
  10. Blurryman

The Comedian

If you haven’t watched either E1 or E2 yet, I recommend starting with E2 because this first episode drags as it searches for its dimension. At its core, this episode is about the perils of fame, treating people as disposable commodities, and be careful what you wish for. Solid themes around which to build a show. Despite Peele having a shared writing credit on this first episode, the Sterling-esque monologue/narration and plot do not appear to have a singular unifying voice. Much like his recent Us struggles to tell a singular, coherent story. It’s an ambitious interpretation of Faust, but the episode isn’t capable of following up the ambition with effective delivery. If you recall, the majority of the original TZ episodes were half-hour shows. The original series wasn’t produced simply to entertain, but was written to tackle socio-political, religious, and psycho-social topics. This was accomplished through thought-provoking stories with am emphasis on the writing more so than the visual design. Now that I have the negative out of the way, I would be remiss to not highlight what it did well. The performances by lead Kumail Nanjiani and supporting cast Diarra Kilpatrick, and Tracy Morgan were fantastic! Additionally, the cinematography and editing were on point. One of the key differences between the original series and Peele’s new one is the production quality. Even though I have no issues with the production value and design of the OG, I do greatly appreciate this new one for the cinematic quality to the story. Had The Comedian been a 30min episode, I think that it would have been better executed.

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Nightmare at 30,000 Feet

Parks and Rec‘s Adam Scott figuratively steps into the shoes and sits in the airline seat of William Shatner in an adaptation of one of the most popular, recognizable and oft parodied episodes of the original Twilight Zone. Completely grounded in the premise of the original, but writers find a way to provide us with a new interpretation that brings the iconic plot into the 21st century. If you’re wondering if it’s an unnecessary, pretentious remake in the vein of Psycho (1998) or The Lion King (2019), then you can exercise relief as this episode will have you on the edge of your airline seat. Without going into spoilers, you’ll likely not think of podcasts or aircrafts in the same way next time you travel. Unlike the previous episode, this one is much stronger. I wish the series had launched with this as the premiere instead of The Comedian. When you think of the bizarre, uncanny nature of many of the original series episodes, you think of that intersection of shadow and substance a which these stories occur. And this reimagination of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet holds moderately strong to the pacing, tone, and structure of the original. Although the writing of episode 2 is tighter than episode 1, it still falls a little shy of the exemplary writing of the source material. For example, the original at 22mins delivers a more powerful punch with all the character and plot development therein than this new one does in nearly 1hr. That’s not to say that episode 2 is not effective and enjoyable–it is. But just not AS effective or memorable as the original. At the core, this story is about the worldview of having people think you’re crazy is almost worse than actually being crazy; furthermore, it also touches on the fear of terrorism. The windup is a little slow, but then as soon as he sits in his seat, you are in for the flight of your life. That is, until the final scene and closing words from Peele confuse instead of clarify (much like Us).

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Replay

After the fantastic second episode in Jordan Peele’s revival of The Twilight Zone, the third episode gets bogged down in politics instead of focussing on the moral or thought-provoking message. The science-fiction element of the now-retro camcorder that rewinds time gets overshadowed by the message of remembering one’s roots, but that theme gets lost when the plot chooses to divert attention to the relationship between white law enforcement and the black community. Taking its inspiration from another classic original episode, this one perpetuates and reinforces a real division that exists in some areas of the country between two groups of people. Although this episode could have been used as an allegory that could be applied to many different issues of prejudice and unfair treatment, it chooses to focus on one particular socio-political issue that runs the risk of further alienating audiences than unifying them. At its core, it is not about any particular theme but instead highlights the issue of white law enforcement brutality against black individuals. Replay could have been a powerful episode that inspires productive, positive change; but in lieu of a call-to-action, it reinforces the idea that most white law enforcement officers treat black individuals grossly unfairly. Statistically speaking, that is simply not true. But due to media attention and high profile cases that do show mistreatment that needs to be condemned, there is a growing idea that this is the state of affairs in general. Yes, this is a real issue that has been highlighted in the news for years now, but I am afraid an episode like this seeks to divide instead of mend or evoke constructive change. In terms of the plot, the episode executes its setup quite well, but feels stretched to fill the “hour” much like the previous two episodes. Our lead characters are developed effectively and we even get a backstory that is strategically revealed as we work our way through the story. Like with the first two episodes, we also witness excellent performances by the three lead characters in this episode. I appreciate Peele’s desire and ambition to approach this series like Sterling did; but it needs to deliver episodes that can be applied more generally to present-day audiences that can stand the test of time instead of focussing on message delivery that makes it a time capsule.

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A Traveler

It’s Christmastime in the Twilight Zone. More so than any of the previous three episodes of Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone, this episode sets up its characters and plot more effectively than any other. The beginning truly feels like a Sterling-inspired episode. Whereas the previous stories in this new anthology series struggle to find their respective places within the library of Twilight Zone episodes, this one starts out as close to the pacing, tone, and feel of the original series as we have seen so far. The setup is so effective, that we don’t even need the opening commentary by Peele in his brilliant Sterling-fashion. Although this episode, like all previous ones, feels stretched for time, it attempts to follow the “joke” structure of the original series closely. I don’t mean joke as in funny-haha, I mean joke in that the OG episodes quite regularly setup the plot/characters in Act I, reinforced the plot/characters in Act II, then disrupts that pattern with a twist in Act III. If this were a typical joke, then that twist would be the punchline (“I’ll have 3 chili dogs, salt & vinegar french fries, and a diet soda”). In the case of A Traveler, Acts I and II are outstanding, but then the twist in Act III is a let down. The payoff does not equal the windup. Instead of adapting or reimagining any single classic episode for the new series, this episode channels several classic episodes in order to repackage into a new story. Like with the previous three episodes, this one takes a classic approach and attempts to comment on ethnocentrism, appropriation of property, and forcing a native people out of its land if it doesn’t conform to the “superior” group, but this analogy never quite solidifies. Without spoiling the twist, it is a twist that would have worked very well during the run of the original series, but doesn’t work as well in 2019. I appreciate the reason for the mysterious traveler’s sudden appearance, but just doesn’t do it for me. One of the best parts of the original series is that the end often prompts the audience to vicariously interact with the story by deciding what they would do. But that power is withheld by the audience by allowing a character to voice what should come from the audience. Moving forward, I hope to see future episodes that stick close to the pacing and tone of the original, but still provide the audience with the ability to interact with the story.

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The Wunderkind

Aside from episode two which was a direct adaptation from the OG, this is the episode that feels more like Sterling’s Twilight Zone than any of the others in terms of tone and substance. Parts of the plot of this episode feel like they are inspired by the famous It’s a Good Life episode about the boy whom wishes you out into the cornfield or kills you in front of him if you disagree with anything he says or feels. It’s his way or the highway. Clearly, this episode is a commentary on a child-like spoiled president, so it doesn’t take a political analyst to pinpoint the inspiration for the character of Oliver. Although many, if not most, of the most memorable TZ episodes contain a strong science-fiction or supernatural element, this one is a political satire. Unfortunately, that means that it may not sit as well with many TZ fans; however, I am a lifelong fan of the OG (the jury is still out on this one) and I enjoyed it. Albeit foreshadowed, the twist at the end is still very Twilight Zoney. Where this episode shows weakness is in the writing (again). I know that I mention the writing often, but it does seem to be this iteration’s Achilles heal. Like with previous episodes in Peele’s TZ, this one is also stretched to fill the nearly hour run time. Had this been a half-hour episode, then I feel that it would have exhibited better pacing. It starts out quite well, but get’s incredibly sluggish in the middle, then finishes strong enough. What I find particularly interesting about this episode is the commentary, not only on the president, but on the American public that despite knowing presidential politicians are manipulative, still readily believe whomever the newest or perhaps most unique candidate is. The takeaway from this episode is to be ever vigilant of the nature of those whom seek your vote or approval because it is likely that there is a significant self-serving angle to serving the public.

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Six Degrees of Freedom

Heavily inspired by classic Twilight Zone stories, this episode never truly leaves the launchpad. Six Degrees of Freedom features a six-man spacecraft crew on a mission to lay the groundwork for a colonization of Mars since Earth is nearly destroyed. After a reported impending nuclear attack, the crew decides to launch instead of a more conventional evacuation. With Mars nearly 300 days away and a presumed destroyed Earth behind them, they embark on the mission. The crew has a lot of time to ponder the tragic events they narrowly escaped and the overwhelming responsibility of what to do on Mars. The setup in this episode is classic Sterling, and works incredibly well. In fact, I was excited that this episode was going to feel like a 21st century interpretation of previous plot–the soul of the plot remaining in tact, but with an updated setting and more diverse characters. Abort. This episode does not deliver what it promises in the opening. We may have a more diverse cast, but all of the characters are flat, lacking in any substantive dimension. Unlike the crew of the Nostromo, this crew comes off as lacking in training and preparation for this mission. I get that the pressure of a doomed mission, lengthy periods in space, and the trauma of the alleged destroyed Earth are brilliant plot tools to wear down the rational, disciplined mindsets of the crew; and the breakdown, manifest itself in an undesirable human trait that contributes to the psycho-social breakdown of the crew, but these crew don’t seem like they are qualified for their respective jobs to begin with. Perhaps the goal of the teleplay was to showcase this crew of six (interestingly, six is the Biblical number of man) as a microcosm for out present society, but that analogy is lost in the vapid dialogue and lack of context for the interpersonal conflict. This launch never truly reaches the orbit of Sterling’s Twilight Zone.

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Not All Men

Loosely based on the classic Twilight Zone episode A Good Man is Hard to Find, this episode of Peele’s show is built around the idea of personal choice. Unfortunately, it lacks the power it could have had by only focussing on the idea of toxic masculinity. Whereas the show could have packed a more powerful punch by showing both men and women grappling with a refusal to give in to primal behaviors and violence, it just shows one group effected by the meteor. I know why; toxic masculinity is constantly in the news and on social media; but the truth is that both men and women can exhibit toxic behaviors that have a negative impact upon society. The twist of the meteor acting as a kind of placebo was a nice TZ touch that I appreciated immensely, but wish the episode truly drove home the point that we ALL have toxic behaviors and thoughts that could significantly impact our outward actions unless we make the intentional choice not to act upon them. Case and point: revenge. Revenge can become an all-consuming monster unless it’s checked. We have to weigh our selfish or self-centered tendencies against the greater good of society and more personal relationships. I love the idea of the plot of this episode, but wish the execution had been more effective. As has been the pattern established so far, this episode boasts excellent acting, cinematography, and direction.

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Point of Origin

An apt title for an episode that truly feels grounded in the original Sterling series. Instead of feeling like a sermon, the original series often depicted a story that didn’t answer some posited philosophical or sociological question but ended just before a directed action was requested of the audience. The main idea of most of the episodes (much in the same way Black Mirror does) was to confront the audience with a thought-provoking question and leave it at that. Allow the audience to decide what they are going to do with the story and commentary therein. Although this episode is clearly on immigration, it moves the conversation from the familiar to the unfamiliar–to another dimension altogether. Although the character of eve is completely unlikable (problematic in my mind), she is the vessel though which we experience what it would be like if you were accused of being an illegal immigrant, brought here as a child with no memory of life before. While we are never given a full explanation WHY the interdimensional beings fled their home to make a new life in ours, it is ultimately unimportant. The stark contrast from the life Eve built for herself to the soul crushing surroundings she finds herself in, works well to depict what it must feel like to be forcibly extracted from all you’ve ever truly known and thrown into a frightening situation. Elements of this episode are incredibly terrifying.

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The Blue Scorpion

Probably the least enjoyable of all the Season 1 episodes. The Blue Scorpion wants so much to comment on gun control–and not in a subtextual way. It is way too obvious. When providing social commentary, Rod Sterling’s original Twilight Zone was seldom on the nose. From the opening scene, this episode is up front and center with its topic. All that’s missing is a Powerpoint presentation to accompany this episode. Not to mention it struggles with the same pacing problems that all the episodes have–taking what might work well in 30mins, and stretching it to fill the “hour long” runtime. Had the episode taken a more creative approach to the obsession with and lack of legislation regarding firearm access and use in the United States, then perhaps this episode would have played out much stronger. As it is, the sledgehammer approach is not only polarizing but shows a lack of understanding of why the original series worked so well. While it is common knowledge–also demonstrably evident in this series itself–that Peele displays a great admiration for the legendary show, he seems to have missed the whole point of why it worked and still works so well. Thankfully there are comedic elements in the episode in order for it not to be entirely depressing.

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Blurryman

While most of the season has been lackluster and continues to provide evidence that Netflix’ Black Mirror is the more thoughtful “new” Twilight Zone, episode 10 of Peele’s series is the most Twilight Zone of the first season; furthermore, this single episode provides hope for the otherwise forgettable series. Until Ep10, if I was to attribute an over all title to Season 1, I would have called it “Twilight Zone: Failure to Launch,” but thanks to this single episode, the series leaves us with a glimmer of hope for the subsequent seasons. If you select just one episode of this series to watch, make sure it is this one. Not only does it provide excellent technical elements and a fantastic cast, the writing is exemplary. Even though from an editing perspective the final scene is wonky, a bit clunky if you will, this teleplay is the best of the season. It nearly overcomes the pacing problem as well. More than any other episode, this one almost justifies its “hour long” runtime. Of all the twists that we have encountered this season, Blurryman has the best one. With meta horror and meta science-fiction being popular storytelling methods nowadays, I was waiting for this season to deliver a meta episode. And sure enough, this is it! All the way down to Jordan Peele playing himself and the writer of some of the episodes visiting the sets of her episodes (i.e. the bar from The Comedian). Zazie Beetz plays a teleplay writer for The Twilight Zone and she begins to see and get stalked by a blurryman on the set of the show. The episode follows her on her descent into madness as the entity, primarily visible to her except at the very beginning, pushes her to question her reality. Unlike the previous episodes, wherein there is no need to worry about talking about spoiler content, this is one that needs to be experienced without any knowledge of the twists and turns after the first act. The only negative critique I really have of the episode is failing to achieve what the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios was able to accomplish when the iconic attraction opened in 1994. Once you watch this episode, you will know precisely what I am talking about.

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You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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OutFoxed: Exploring the Effects of the Disney-Fox Acquisition

The Simpsons predicted it nearly twenty years ago, but it’s now a reality. Last week Comcast (parent company to NBC Universal) conceded victory to The Walt Disney Company for the acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox. This bidding war has been closely followed over the months, however, the war has ended and to the victor go the spoils. Today, shareholders approved the acquisition. While the broadcast channel, news, and sports will be absorbed by NewsCorp, most of the Cable/TV, Hulu, and cinema IPs will now be owned by Mickey Mouse including American Horror StoryX-MenFamily Guy, Alien, Halloween, and Deadpool, several cable/satellite channels, and more. While Disney theme park enthusiasts and MCU fanboys and girls out there are, by in large, celebrating this news, there is a lot more at stake that may alter the landscape of cinema and theme parks. Furthermore, the recent AT&T-TimeWarner and Disney-Fox deals may affect the rate at which independent filmmakers can secure distribution for their films or sell/option screenplays to producers. The world of media and entertainment is rapidly changing, but all these changes may not be for the betterment of society.

It’s not everyday that a major news story falls within my niche area of expertise on media conglomerates with major investments in themed entertainment and cinema, but this is definitely one that does. During graduate school at the preeminent University of South Florida, I studied the convergence of cinema and theme parks. This empirical study (available on Amazon) analyzed the relationship between motion pictures and theme parks/attractions as it pertained to the media holdings companies that make decisions that affect both their theme park and cinema divisions. A predictable model for creative design was produced for companies that have investments in both, are the licenser, or the licensee. Although my areas of expertise on theme park and cinema studies can be pulled on often when talking about one and/or the other, this story gets to the heart of my thesis because we are dealing with not only two, but three companies. Three? Yes. Disney and Fox are obvious, but NBC Universal may also be effected since it licenses Marvel (X-Men and Fantastic 4) and Fox (American Horror Story, Simpsons, and more) IPs for its parks. Spiderman belongs to Sony, but we won’t get that deep into this issue. With lots of IPs moving ownership and with a mostly vertically integrated company absorbing a more horizontally integrated company, there are positive and negative effects that concern producers, screenwriters, attraction designers, and others in motion picture, “television,” live entertainment, and theme parks. And not only those of us who work in showbusiness (live themed/family entertainment, here), but the fans too.

Corporate monopoly is the enemy of creativity and variety. This deal, which is one of the biggest film/media deals ever, has far reaching effects upon the industry. Some may even argue that it has danger written all over it. If there wasn’t already a rigid oligopoly amongst the studio/distribution companies, there will be now. The lion’s share of the cinematic marketplace is now controlled by Disney, TimeWarner (Warner Bros.), and Comcast (Universal), with Sony (Columbia) and Viacom (Paramount) bringing up the rear. Five. That’s right. Five companies essentially determine the future of the industry, and control the majority of the motion pictures released in theaters and the content on cable television (and the streaming services that access it). It’s a mirror image of the 1940s. Instead of The Big Five and The Little Three, we have The BIG Three and the Little Two. In the mid-20th century when the U.S. government cited anti-trust issues with the vertically structured Hollywood entertainment business model, the forced the studios to divest themselves of movie theatres, longterm talent contracts, and more in order to level the playing field for competition and creativity to thrive. The decision to end the process of being vertically integrated is known as The Paramount Decision (U.S. vs Paramount Pictures, 1948). From the big screen to the small screen, from screen to theme park, you will notice the effects of this merger. When one company controls the majority of any marketplace, it usually spells disaster for the consumer; furthermore, it means that there will be a primary gatekeeper in future artists getting his or her work out there.

Let’s explore The Paramount Decision [(U.S. V. PARAMOUNT PICTURES, INC., 334 U.S. 131 (1948)] a little more. Firstly, prior to the Paramount Decision, the motion picture industry was controlled by a few companies. Secondly, the studio owned the facilities, production companies, staff (under long-term contracts), the films themselves, distribution channels, and the movie theaters. When the studios were growing so large that they began infringing upon the free marketplace, the US Government forced the (then) eight major/minor studio players to end the practice of block booking (meaning, films would now be sold on an individual basis), divest themselves of their respective theatre chains (sell them off), and modify the practice of long-term employee contracts (though, this would continue until the 1960s). This marked the beginning of the end of the Studio System, AKA Hollywood’s decentralization. There are many similarities between the situation in the late 1940s and today. In fact, it’s a little worse today because the industry is mostly controlled by five (instead of eight) companies, and these companies have heavy investments in streaming and television programming.

Essentially, the number of gatekeepers is shrinking. The streaming service landscape is also changing because Disney’s acquisition of Fox means that Disney now has the controlling share of the streaming giant Hulu. It’s entirely probable that independent production companies and filmmakers will find it more difficult to get their content out to the public on a well-known platform. Fortunately, Amazon still allows for self-publication but Disney’s control of Hulu will probably see fewer indie films added in the future. The media conglomerates are growing so large that if you’re not in their circle, it will be increasingly difficult to secure a distribution deal for theatrical or streaming. For many, it will feel like there are only 2-3 primary companies controlling the majority of programming on TV and a few more companies controlling a large portion of the movies that get released in movie theaters. Independent filmmakers will have to hustle and work exponentially smarter to navigate the film marketplace. It may get to the point that theatrical releases are no longer realistic or viable for small to medium sized companies because of the stiff competition for the few massive media giants pumping out blockbuster after blockbuster. Conventions like the American Film Market and companies like Distribber will become even more important for indie filmmakers.

The problem with the current state of capitalism in the United States isn’t worries of monopolies but oligopolies (monopolistic practices between a few firms that essentially control a market). Certainly the state of the film industry already lends itself to an oligopoly because of the few companies; but the buyout of 21st Century Fox by The Walt Disney Company greatly increases this issue of a blatant oligopoly. If a monopolist (in many other industries) did what Disney has done, neither the public nor the government would stand for it; but because it’s Disney, and because it’s the film industry, most of the general public is unaware of the negative consequences of such a buyout and therefore only focus on the X-Men being added to the MCU and the trademark trumpet fanfare preceding the opening title sequence of the Star Wars movies once again. Technically speaking, oligopolies are not illegal nor is monopolistic competition; however, this can be a slippery slope towards stifling creativity or making it increasingly difficult to break into any given industry as a newly emerging competitor. Incidentally, monopolistic competition causes the variety or level of differentiation of similar products (i.e. moves and TV shows) to become less heterogeneous and nearly come across as homogenous.

When a strong oligopoly exists within a specialized industry (for our purposes, media & entertainment), one of the side effects is a concept known as parallel exclusion. This concept can be described as the collective efforts of the few industry leaders who essentially act as the main gatekeepers to prevent or make it difficult for would-be newcomers to enter the arena. Parallel exclusion is nothing new, and has been in the news as recently as the last 2-3 decades within the airline and credit card industries. Throughout the eighties and nineties, Visa and MasterCard essentially blacklisted any bank that set out to do business with AmEx. Thankfully, the U.S. Justice Department stepped in when the manner in which the exclusionary rules were written crossed legal, fair trade boundaries. There were similar issues within the airline industry as well. When a few companies control the content or services in the marketplace, antitrust issues are raised

Although we are not technically facing a monopoly with the Disney-Fox acquisition, we are looking at an abuse of power that may lead to anticompetitive conduct. If nothing else, the consumer should be worried about having fewer options for programming. Not that the number of programs or movies will shrink, but there will be little difference between what is released under the Disney banner and the Fox name (if it’s still even called that). In a deal like this, it’s the consumer who gets the short end of the stick. Examples of this may be found in future Simpsons and Family Guy episodes. One of the consistently running lines of jokes are at the expense of The Walt Disney Company. Jabs at Disney can also be found in Deadpool. It will not surprise me that the humor of Simpsons, Family Guy, and Deadpool will change to no longer include jokes at the expense of the hand that now feeds them. If, through contract negotiations, shows and movies like these moved to a different company, then the humor that we have come to know and love may largely be unaffected. As it stands, we will likely see fewer (if any at all) Disney jokes in the aforementioned. These are just examples of the larger problem a few companies controlling the majority of media and entertainment content. The consumer would be wise to the possibility of a lack of competition between brands thus mitigating innovation, variety, and creativity. Innovation is often the product of healthy competition in a free marketplace just as necessity is the mother of invention.

Because the Walt Disney Company is primarily focussed on producing the biggest movies possible (after all, they made the majority of the highest grossing films last year and this), the mid-budget dramas and comedies that used to thrive in Hollywood–you know, the ones that cause you to cry and laugh–could dwindle in number–there now may be little room for them to make their respective ways into theaters with Disney controlling a significant percentage of the industry. Of course, Disney is not alone. With the recent acquisition of TimeWarner by AT&T, both Disney and AT&T are now at the top of the food chain, followed closely by Comcast and then the rest of the media companies who are small in comparison. What we are essentially talking about here are entertainment corporate monoliths, the likes of which, have never been seen before. There is one key difference in the Disney-Fox and AT&T-TimeWarner deals, and one that gives AT&T a slight advantage over Disney and deeper pockets. Disney does not own the hardware in the ground that serves as the conduit for your internet service provider (or ISP) but AT&T does. Not only does AT&T control a huge share of the media/entertainment marketplace, but it also owns a significant share of the technology that brings entertainment content to your home and mobile devices including cable, satellite services, and wireless services. Issues of net neutrality are more important now than ever because the pool of competition is shrinking in number but growing in sheer size.

Cinema and TV are not the only arms of the media and entertainment industry that will feel the effects. Major theme parks, the cash cows of media conglomerates, will change as well. How exactly is this deal going to effect the theme park industry? The short answer is, it is too early to tell; however, we can explore this topic nevertheless. If you’ve been to Universal Orlando resort, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that Marvel and the X-Men have an entire island AND the Simpsons is a land in and of itself. While I am not aware of the license agreement details with both IPs, I can tell you that typically if the ownership of an IP changes hands during the lifetime of license agreement, the agreement is grandfathered in for the length of time that is left in the contract. There are sometimes caveats to that. Often a company that holds the license (for purposes of our example)–a license that belongs to someone different than the original licenser–for a theme park attraction, the licensee cannot make any significant modifications to the look, add to the established attractions, or allow the image to fall into disrepair. If significant changes are made to the look or if the attraction falls into disrepair or if additions are made under the old agreement without consent from the new licenser, the agreement could be nullified. There is a lot more to copyright and IP law than what I’ve outlined, but I wanted to hit some main points on this issue but keep it as simplified as possible. Universal Parks may have to rebrand existing Marvel and Fox attractions as another IP within its library or license an IP from Paramount, MGM, Sony, or another media conglomerate. Presently, the licensing agreement between Universal and now Disney-Fox (Marvel, etc), should stand for now. Regarding the addition of new IPs as replacements, fortunately, DreamWorks and Nintendo give NBC-Universal plenty of latitude for creativity.

Suffice it to say, it is reasonable to conclude that Universal Parks will have to eventually remove the Marvel and Fox properties from the parks because not being able to significantly modify or add to the offerings will become too burdensome. Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights will likely also see some changes in the future because it may become more difficult to license Fox properties for houses and scare zones as Universal and Disney are direct competitors in themed entertainment. This includes American Horror Story, Alien, Predator, and Halloween. In terms of how Disney parks will benefit after this deal, the theme park division will save money on Pandora: the World of Avatar because it will no longer need to be licensed from Fox because Disney now owns the Avatar movies. Eventually, a significant Marvel presence will be felt at Disney World and any loose ends in the ownership of Star Wars will be nullified because Disney now owns the original trilogy, and not just the distribution rights. The ability to enjoy shadow casts of the iconic cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show may also be effected because it is not unrealistic to think that Disney may crack down on RHPS troops around the country or make the licensing fees so high that many troops may not be able to afford to continue with the live performances. These weekly or monthly performances of troops around the country are an important part of the visual and performing arts. Speaking of which, if you’re in the Orlando area, checkout the Rich Weirdos at Universal Studios CityWalk and if you’re in Tampa, checkout Hell on Heels at the Villagio Cinema and Bar.

While the full effects of the recent mega media deals won’t be felt for a while, it is important to be aware of how acquisitions can effect cinema, TV, theme parks, and independent filmmakers. Corporate oligopoly is a slippery slope that can lead to anticompetitive conduct, fewer options, and become the enemy of creativity and variety.