Star Trek Saturdays #5

It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #5!

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This week’s episode is “The Man Trap” and actually, this is the first episode that aired on NBC on Sep. 8, 1966. And this leads me to another point: some of you are probably confused as to why these posts have been the episodes they are. Well, I’m going off of Memory Alpha’s list of episodes, which lists them in production order. I like this order because it makes things interesting.  Having seen a few episodes before this one, I feel that now I understand the relationship between the characters and their personalities a bit more.

If I had to judge the world of the show based on this episode alone, I would feel as if I came off knowing very little, especially if I was someone in 1966 who had never heard of this show before.

All that aside, “The Man Trap” is still a good episode, but it has its problems. Like I said, not too much happens character-wise, other than some wonderful insights into the pasts of McCoy and Uhura. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

“The Man Trap” opens with Kirk, McCoy and a crewman beaming down to planet M-113 to perform a required medical examination on archeologists Robert Crater (Albert Ryder) & his wife Nancy (Jeanne Bal). This is a bit of an odd situation for McCoy as Nancy was his girlfriend over a decade ago. The landing party meets Nancy in the couple’s house, but each sees a different woman.

McCoy sees Nancy like this…

while Kirk sees her like this

and the crewman sees this woman.

Obviously, something’s not right. And that, plus Robert Crater’s insistence that they don’t need anything except salt tablets sets up some suspicions. But when the crewman turns up dead with strange marks on his face, that’s when the crew realizes something is afoot. And what is it turns out to be weirder than they could have ever expected…

Besides the many glimpses we get of the past between McCoy and Nancy, we also get an unexpected look into Uhura’s past.

The shape-shifter who’s the main villain of the episode, of course, gets aboard the ship and impersonates various crew members by reading their minds and turning into someone they trust. It finds Uhura walking down a corridor. The creature then turns into a man and comes up to Uhura, with both of them speaking tenderly to each other in Swahili. It’s a nice little scene, but unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any pictures of it. Darn shame, but take my word for it, this is a powerful scene.

I can’t say the same for the rest of this episode, though. Maybe it’s because I’ve been kind of sick this week, maybe it’s because I’m still blown away by the greatness of last week’s episode, but I just couldn’t get into it. The Memory Alpha page for this episode lists an anecdote about the cast & crew saying this was their least favorite episode of what they had already shot, and I kinda see that.

The guest stars are fine, particularly Ryder, but the tension & suspense that should accompany a story like this just isn’t there unfortunately. Other than that, though, the fact that we learn a bit more about two key crew members is fascinating. Oh, and Spock says at one point that Planet Vulcan has no moon. So, there’s that.

One final note: I had to watch this episode on cbs.com rather than on Amazon Instant. For some reason, I couldn’t find this episode on there, so I had to go to the official Star Trek page by CBS to watch it. Hence, I watched the original version with the model Enterprise and all; kinda neat, that. But CBS still has the worst online video player out there, unfortunately, which may have impacted my view of this episode.

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as CBS.com for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.

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Muppets and stuff

OK, not much to talk about today because I’m feeling under the weather and my brain’s been fuzz for a couple of days.

So yeah, not too much fun being sick. But I found out before I got sick that apparently an episode of Muppet Babies exists where they play “Pretendo” and it’s chock full of video game references.

So yeah. Go watch that here. Bye!

Star Trek Saturdays #4

It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #4!

This week’s episode, “The Enemy Within,” is an episode of glorious firsts. It’s the first episode to not open with a shot of the crew aboard the ship, it’s the first time we see George Takei’s Lt. Hikaru Sulu actually have some action and some good lines, the first use of the phrase “He’s dead, Jim” by Doctor McCoy, the first use of the Vulcan nerve pinch, and most importantly, this is the first of the series’ iconic episodes and the first one written by a major writer, Richard Matheson.

If that name sounds familiar to you, then yes, it’s that Richard Matheson.

File:Richard Matheson.jpg

(Credit: Wikipedia)

Matheson has written a variety of things in his long and storied career, but is probably best known for I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man and the Twilight Zone episode  “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” AKA that one where William Shatner sees a gremlin on the wing of an airplane and no one believes him, as well as a variety of short stories. He’s an icon of genre fiction and his script here shows why.

The plot begins with the Enterprise in orbit around the planet Alfa 117 and a landing party down on the surface, including Kirk & Sulu, cataloging animals and so forth. When Fisher (Ed Madden), a geological technician, injures himself, he’s beamed back up onto the ship. But his uniform is covered in a strange yellow magnetic ore which messes with the transporter after he is beamed aboard. Kirk beams up a few minutes later, but right after everyone’s left the room, another Kirk materializes, but this one is EVIL.

Strictly speaking, he’s the manifestation of Kirk’s aggressive, decisive side, but for all intents and purposes, he’s evil. The real Kirk, meanwhile, is left a weak shadow of his former self. Evil Kirk takes some brandy from sickbay, gets drunk, then hides in Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney)’s quarters and when she enters, assaults her, nearly raping her before she drives him off. That whole scene, courtesy of both highly charged performances and some bravura directing by Leo Penn, is highly uncomfortable and I suspect that’s the point. It’s a gripping, chilling moment, and I’m confident it won’t be the last Trek throws at me.

Rand accuses the real Kirk of this and it’s then that Spock deduces that there is an imposter aboard.  What follows is a race against time as the crew struggles to contain Evil Kirk, somehow remerge him with Good Kirk, who has lost his confidence and decision-making abilities, repair the transporter and save Sulu and the rest of the landing party, who are trapped as the planet’s temperature drops to 120 degrees below zero.

This is, somehow, more tense than “The Corbomite Maneuver.” But this is far more terrifying because, at heart, it comes down to Kirk vs. himself. Shatner is straight up terrific here and the primitive split-screen technology and use of doubles underscores it really well. He really brings out the best in both Kirks and he brings the key question of Matheson’s script–how does a man reconcile his intelligence against his basest, most natural impulses–to vivid life. Truly a wonderful outing.

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.

 

In which I flagrantly abuse a website add-on

I’ve mentioned before how much I love Spotify, but this made me love it all the more.

So, there’s this Play button feature, see, and I just found out about it.

So, here is a playlist of all the songs I’ve starred so far. It’s not very much, but hey, I think it’s cool.

Anybody else have any music suggestions, leave them in the comments!

Welcome to Gravity Falls

Friday night, I got caught up on what has turned out to be my favorite new TV show of the year so far, and believe it or not, it’s something from…GASP…the Disney Channel!

By and large, I don’t consider myself a “Disney kid.” Oh sure, I’ve seen the majority of their animated films, but as far as their TV output (shows like Recess, Fillmore!, TaleSpin, Chip ‘nDale Rescue Rangers, etc.), I just haven’t seen that much of it. See, where most people only had ABC–and thus the Disney shows on it–for cartoons in the ’90s, I had cable, so I had Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon for entertainment. But the current animated output on Disney Channel has been, well, kind of great.

I mean, the legend-in-its-own-time Phineas & Ferb is a wonderful show in its own right and is a reminder that you, in fact, can make quality entertainment for both kids and adults. But the show I’d like to talk about is decidedly a bit more skewed. I speak of course of Gravity Falls.

(Credit: Know Your Meme)

Created by Alex Hirsch (former staff writer on The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack and Fish Hooks), the show revolves around 2 12-year old twins, Dipper & Mabel Pines (Jason Ritter & Kristen Schaal) who get shipped off for the summer to their great uncle–“Grunkle”–Stan (Hirsch) and the tourist trap he runs, the Mystery Shack, in Gravity Falls, Oregon. They quickly discover that the town is, well, basically a hybrid of Springfield and Twin Peaks. The townspeople are insanely weird and hilarious and the town itself has all sorts of weird secrets to hide. Gnomes, lake monsters, ghosts; this town has everything.

What makes this show stand out is that, even only 10 episodes in, it’s building an ongoing story. All the signs and monsters point to some sort of underlying sinister conspiracy, but each episode–one 22-minute story, rather than 2 11-minute episodes–still stands on its own. Mention must also be made of the many celebrities that have shown up so far, from Alfred Molina to Larry King (as an evil, wax Larry King), all of whom have turned in remarkably game, fun performances.

But the real stars of the show are Ritter & Schaal. Their chemistry together & their dual impeccable sense of comic timing makes these twins feel like real twins and is a huge part of what makes the show so fun to watch. Schaal in particular (who also rules on shows like Bob’s Burgers and 30 Rock) is particularly brilliant; she makes Mabel–who’s basically what would happen if you took Fry from Futurama and turned him into a zany 12-year old girl–not only uproariously funny but very easy to root for.

I know the Disney Channel has a bit of a garbage reputation these days and much of it is deserved. But this show is a true gem; go check it out.

Also, it must be said that it has the BEST theme song on TV right now.

 

 

 

Star Trek Saturdays #3

And now, it’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #3!!!

This week, the episode is “Mudd’s Women.” This is the first example of the other side of the Trek story coin: small-scale human drama as opposed to big alien conflicts. Personally, I think it pulls it off rather well.

The plot starts out in media res, with the Enterprise pursuing an unregistered ship right into an asteroid belt. Even though it strains their power supply to the breaking point, leaving them with only one lithium crystal to run the entire ship on, they put their deflector shields around the ship and beam the crew off. Well, not crew exactly. It’s just one man and three women, who he says are “not so much crew as…cargo.

That man’s the guy in the picture and his name, he says, is Leo Francis Walsh, but it’s actually Mudd. Harry Mudd. Mudd is one creepy scuzzball and it’s evident from his first line. Kirk & everyone else immediately distrust him, but they–well, all except Spock– find himself enchanted by his “cargo,” three beautiful women named Eve, Magda & Ruth who he’s taking to be wives for settlers on the frontier planet of Ophiucus III.

(L to R: Eve, Ruth & Magda)

Interrogating him, the crew learns of his real name and his police record for things like counterfeiting and smuggling. After his interrogation, Kirk orders Mudd to be put under guard and confined to quarters, but when Mudd overhears him telling the navigator to set a course for the lithium mining planet of Rigel XII to obtain lithium crystals, he secretly obtains a communicator and tricks the miners there into agreeing to barter the crystals for the women as well as getting him set free and all his charges dropped.  But Eve (Karen Steele) isn’t 100% down with the plan and all three of the women aren’t what they seem…

With this episode, you can tell it was made in the ’60s and it stands up as both an interesting small-scale drama–albeit one with the entire Enterprise in the balance–and an interesting portrayal of femininity at the time. It’s also an incredibly sensual episode. The hypnotic effect the women all simultaneously have on the crewmen can come off as a bit silly at times, but it makes a bit of sense. Most of these men are, no doubt, rather young and without any attachment and, given that this Enterprise is only on a 5-year mission, probably aren’t trying to become too close to anyone. So when these beautiful women appear out of nowhere and stroll around like goddesses, it makes sense for them to be enraptured.

This episode has been called one of the most prominent examples of sexism in the show and yeah, it’s hard to argue that. This episode fails the Bechdel test, for sure, seeing as how all 3 women fail to reveal anything about themselves aside from how they feel/what they want in a man. But an interesting thing happens towards the end: we’re treated for about 10 minutes or so to a few domestic scenes between Eve and Ben Childress (Gene Dynarski) down on Rigel XII. The way Steele and Dynarski interact, and the way writer Stephen Kendel crafts their dialogue, it feels like you’ve just changed the channel from Trek to a powerful drama. It’s a neat little microcosm and it probably can be analyzed in all sorts of ways to say things about feminism, gender relations and so forth.

What largely drives this episode is the guest star/main antagonist, Harry Mudd, played by Roger C. Carmel. If the name Roger C. Carmel sounds familiar to you, it’s no surprise. Carmel, who died in 1986, popped up in everything during his career from All in the Family to as a voice actor on the original Transformers series as, among other characters, Cyclonus. This is, according to the Internet, his most famous live-action role and frankly, I’m not surprised. As Mudd, he’s just flat-out creepy and sleazy; he’s the sort of person you don’t know whether to laugh at or be repulsed by. Mostly, it’s both. He’s a fantastic villain and I’m excited that he pops up again in the second season.

At the end, Spock refers to the events of this story as “an annoying, emotional episode.” I can see where people would make that argument as there’s no big fight scenes. But all the same, this is both a fascinating story in its own right and an interesting time capsule of how television worked during the proto-women’s lib era. Also, quick side note: look at Ruth’s outfit up there. How the heck did something like that make it on network TV at the time?

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.

My Neighbor Totoro-Film Review

It should surprise no one that I’m a big fan of Japan’s Walt Disney, Hayao Miyazaki. A singular visionary, he excels at creating anime films that aren’t just excellent examples of anime and the medium of animation, but are just wonderful films in their own right.

In a bizarre parallel, most of Miyazaki’s films–those he’s written and/or directed, as well as other films released by his company Studio Ghibli–have been dubbed into English and released here in America by Disney themselves. These dubs, at least the ones of the films I’ve watched, have been rather excellent. The main reason for this is that John Lasseter, one of the principal founders of Pixar Animation and now chief creative officer for Pixar and Disney, is a HUGE Miyazaki fan and strives to make the dub scripts accurate to the original and casts the best actors possible to bring it to life.

This has always paid off remarkably, and My Neighbor Totoro is no exception.

(Credit Wikipedia)

This enchanting little fable of a film, released in 1988 and dubbed by Disney (the version I watched) in 2005, is pure magic. All of Miyazaki’s work is of course, but this in particular is magical because of the way it goes about its business, never shying away from realism or fantasy, instead depicting a wonderful place between the two.

The plot has two sisters, Satsuki & Mei (Dakota & Elle Fanning, respectively) and their father Tatsuo (Tim Daly) move into an old country house in rural Japan in 1958 while their mother is recuperating from some sort of long-term illness. The two girls, both of them imaginative and adorable (particularly Mei) encounter soot sprites–basically asterisks with eyes–first thing. Then Mei finds two little Totoro and eventually the big one pictured up there (voiced by Frank Welker). It’s left up to us whether these creatures, and the adventures they take the girls on, are real or not, but I didn’t doubt it for a second.

Like all of Miyazaki’s work, this is an enchanting work and you owe it to yourself to see it. I’m glad I caught up with it. If you’re still not convinced, Roger Ebert, the majordomo of American film critics, inducted the film in his Great Movies series. Read that here. Enjoy!