CBS All Access’ New ‘Star Trek’ Series Fails In Its First Season

Courtesy: CBS Television Studios/Paramount

In a little more than a month, CBS All Access’ latest entry into the Star Trek universe – Star Trek: Discovery — returns for its second season.  While audiences count the days until the fledgling series returns, they have its debut season to take in on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of CBS Television Studios and Paramount Home Entertainment.  Released in stores Nov. 13 on separate DVD and Blu-ray sets, Season One’s home release offers both pros and cons to note, beginning with the series’ very writing.  It will be discussed shortly.  The set’s bonus content is its own positive, and will be discussed a little later.  The set’s average price point is also important to discuss, and will be addressed later.  Each item noted here is important in its own right to the whole of the season’s presentation.  All things considered, the debut season of Star Trek: Discovery proves to be a new start for the Star Trek universe that is worth at least one watch, but sadly not much more.

The debut season of CBS All Access’ new Star Trek offering, Star Trek: Discovery is a rough new start for the Star Trek universe’s latest offering.  It is not the franchise’s worst entry, but definitely is not the franchise’s best entry, either.  That is due in part to the writing, which like Paramount’s 2009 big screen Star Trek reboot, is little more than just another revisiting of the Star Trek universe’s past.  It takes audiences into the past, attempting to show what led to the never-ending tensions between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.  The result is a presentation that conjures thoughts more of SyFy Channel’s most recent Battlestar Galactica reboot than any Star Trek entry, either on the big or small screen.  This is just the beginning of the problems with the writing, because the set-off is actually somewhat ambiguous.  Were the Klingons already planning to rise up before the incident with Michael Bernham and the Klingon warrior, or did it only happen after that incident?  Audiences know that said incident played at least in part to the conflict, but because of the dialogue featured throughout the early episodes of Season One, audiences will be left scratching their heads to a point as to that setup.

As season one progresses, it resurrects some ST story elements that are all too familiar to longtime ST fans.  One of those elements is a time loop arc. Another is the alternate universe story arc.  The time loop has been done already in Star Trek: The Next Generation while the alternate universe arc was used in Star Trek: TOS.  This series’ writers try to freshen up the time loop arc by setting it off through a character that fans of TOS will recognize, and while it does work to a point, the story starts to plod along after a while, getting lost in itself along the way.  The alternate universe arc proves even more problematic not only because it’s already been done, but also because it creates its own share of plot holes.  Not to give away too much for the sake of those who haven’t yet seen Season One, but if the alternate universe has the evil twins of the Discovery “prime” universe – the term “prime” is actually used by Berham in this arc – then where is the “good” twin of Capt. Lorca and the “evil” twin of Bernham?  Bernham’s doppelganger is mentioned by the “evil” Phillipa, but the writers never address where she is in a bigger sense.  Nor is it mentioned where the “good” Capt. Lorca is or if there even is a “good Capt. Lorca.  The writers try to explain it away in an early scene in the arc between Discovery’s Bernham and Lorca, but it is still ultimately left up in the air.  Even Paul Stamets’ double is introduced as he sits in a coma.  This is its own problem as one can’t help but make comparison to so many soap operas, as every major soap opera has done the coma “dream sequence” way too many times.  Getting back on track, even as Discovery gets back to its own universe, the whereabouts of the “evil” Discovery ship is not addressed, either.  Where is it?  Did it go back to its universe when Discovery jumped back to its universe?  Again, here audiences have a plot hole that is left wide open even as the writers struggle to address the situation in the story arc’s finale.

Another plot hole that is left wide open involves Bernham’s adoptive father, (who also proves to be the father of another even more well-known Star Trek character) Sarek.  Again, not to give away too much, but Sarek is rescued after his ship is sabotaged (in a moment that makes one think of something from Iron Man 3), but after his rescue, his character is ignored until the season’s final two episodes.  Audiences don’t hear from him after Bernham leaves him laying in sick bay, recovering from his wounds.  Next time he’s seen, he’s in full health.  This is problematic as it doesn’t take long after that instance for the problems to start again for Discovery.  Was Sarek still on the ship at that point?  When did he leave the ship?  Again, this is a plot hole that simply cannot be ignored.  It proves the writing that much more problematic.  This still is not the last of the issues raised through an examination of the writing.  The introduction of Lt. Tyler creates its own issue.

The introduction of Lt. Tyler is a direct comparison to Battlestar Galactica.  This critic will attempt to not give away too much information here, but the revelation about who and what Tyler is makes that comparison far too easy.  The recent reboot of Battlestar Galactica saw the Cylons infiltrate the humans’ ranks by making them look like the humans.  This in itself was a lifting from Terminator 2 (if not other previous movies and TV shows).  What the writers did here with Tyler is very similar, but instead of making him a robot, they made him something else.  Audiences who have yet to see this season will be left to make that discovery themselves, but it goes without saying that it has been done before.  In this case, it is the same thing, just altered slightly and in more gory fashion.

As if the general story elements, the plot holes and that they create, and the rehashing of another element are not enough, the smaller items of the writing prove just as problematic for this presentation.  There is lots of overt bloodshed, gore, sexual content and foul language.  Given, maybe her and there, there has been some mildly suggestive material in previous Star Trek incarnations, but never was it to the point that it is here.  There are flashes of a sex scene between one of the lead Klingon characters and another character late in the season’s run.  There is also enough bloodshed and overt violence to appease the most bloodthirsty person.  It’s a disappointment because none of the Star Trek universe’s other series’ needed any of that in order to be even mildly entertaining.  So, why did the writers think it was needed here?  Have audiences really become that dependent on violence and sexuality?  If so, then that is in itself is a troubling statement.

While the writing exhibited in the debut season of Star Trek: Discovery does a lot to detract from its presentation, the set is not a total loss.  That is thanks to the bonus content featured throughout the set.  Throughout the set, audiences are treated to featurettes, which focus on the series’ sets, costumes, makeup and even the philosophical aspects of the storylines as well as other items.  The discussions on the stories’ deeper ruminations are interesting, and do create at least a little bit of appreciation for the work that the writers put in.  After all, this is not the only Star Trek entry that has striverd to use its stories to create dialogues on certain deep topics.  However, it sadly is not enough to make up for the bigger problems posed through the writing.  The discussions on the sets and costumes make for fun glances behind the cameras,  Audiences will be interested to see how the costume and makeup departments used modern 3D printing technology alongside more traditional methodology to create the look of the Klingons.  In the same vein, the thought and effort put into the sets is just as interesting.  This feature will appeal just as much to theater production specialists as it will to general audiences.

As the season comes to an end, audiences are treated to another, different type of feature in the season retrospective, “The Journey of Season 1.”  This roughly 20-minute featurette features discussions from the show’s cast and creative heads about their favorite episodes and the importance of those episodes to the season’s overall presentation.  This brings everything full circle in regards to the bonuses.  It brings back those discussions on the season’s philosophical elements while also letting more people offer their own perspective on those themes.  Of course it is just one more of the bonus features worth watching.  The bonuses, including deleted scenes (at least one of which gives a hint about Season 2), are spread throughout the season’s discs.  This is important in that it shows Paramount and CBS Television Studios did not try to just cram a bunch of random featuerettes onto the last disc, unlike what so many other studios do.  It shows the companies wanted to give audiences the biggest bang for their buck.  They succeeded at that, too.

Speaking of bang for the buck, the set’s average price point is respectable.  The average price point for the season’s Blu-ray presentation – using prices listed at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million – comes to $39.86.  In other words it comes in at just under $40.  The DVD set’s average price – using those same outlets – comes to $32.14.  Both sets feature the same bonus content and the same episodes.  There is no real difference between the two platforms in terms of content.  Considering this, the pricing here is on part with other DVD and Blu-ray sets for other TV series, so there is that to appreciate.  Considering the entertainment that the bonus material (and to a slightly lesser degree, the primary content) offers, that makes both platforms’ average pricing respectable.  When this is considered alongside the noted bonus and primary content, the whole of Discovery: Season One proves worth at least one watch, but sadly, no more.

CBS All Access’ latest journey into the Star Trek universe, Star Trek: DiscoverySeason 1 is a presentation that is nothing like its predecessors.  More akin to Syfy’s most recent Battlestar Galactica reboot and Disney’s most recent Star Wars movies, this latest revisiting of the Star Trek universe history’s past (it has already been done in 2009 with Paramount’s big screen Star Trek reboot) suffers severely from writing problems, such as lagging story arcs that are often times overflowing with plot holes and general lack of creativity.  Additionally, the overall cinematic nature of the season, and the knowledge that the series is a serial (unlike its predecessors) makes this season feel more like one big movie than a general TV series.  Some people will like it, but others – like this critic – will very much dislike these aspects.  The bonus content spread across the set’s discs does at least a little bit to make up for the problems posed by the writing.  The average price point for the set’s separate DVD and Blu-ray platforms lets audiences know that their money spent was not entirely wasted.  Despite that affordable price point and the positives in the bonus material, the problems posed by the writing are just too much to overcome.  In general, the positives of the pricing and secondary content makes this set worth at least one watch, but sadly no more than that.  Star Trek: DiscoverySeason 1 is available now in stores and online.  More information on Star Trek: Discovery is available online now at:

 

 

 

Website: http://www.cbs.com/shows/star-trek-discovery

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/StarTrekCBS

Twitter: http://twitter.com/cbs

 

 

 

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Starz, Anchor Bay Reveal Release Date, Info For Spartacus: The Complete Series

Courtesy: Starz

Courtesy: Starz

Officials with Starz and Anchor Bay Entertainment announced this week that the companies will release Spartacus: The Complete Series this fall.

Courtesy:  Starz/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Courtesy: Starz/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Spartacus: The Complete

Series will be released on DVD and Blu-ray +Digital HD with Ultraviolet on Tuesday, September 16th. The Blu-ray+Digital HD with

Ultraviolet edition of the box set will come in two formats. The first format will include three new audio commentaries for the series’ first season. The other will include a Spartacus collector’s figurine. All three of the box sets include a handful of bonus material. That bonus material is listed below.

New Bonus Features:           

  • SPARTACUS Fan Favorites With Liam McIntyre                     
  • Scoring A Hit: Composer Joseph LoDuca             
  • An Eye Full: Roger Murray                       
  • SPARTACUS: Paul Grinder                     
  • The Last Word: John Hannah       
Spartacus Special Edition BD Box Set

Courtesy: Starz/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Series creator and executive producer Steven S. DeKnight commented on the series in a recent interview promoting the upcoming box set. He explained just how important the series remains to all that worked on it even today and added a note for audiences. “The gods finally bless us with the complete collection,” he said. “Spartacus was a true labor of love for everyone who worked on it and I’m incredibly proud to present all 39 episodes in stunning High-def for the fans to enjoy at their leisure, but make sure you watch them in the order they first aired to revel in the experience as originally intended.”

Spartacus originally starred Andy Whitfield in the series’ leading role. Whitfield would then be replaced in Seasons Two and Three by Liam Mcintyre. Also featured throughout the series are: John Hannah (The Mummy, Four Weddings and a Funeral), Peter Mensah (300, The Incredible Hulk), Manu Bennett (30 Days of Night), Nick E. Tarabay (Crash), Dustin Clare (Underbelly), Dan Feuerrigel (Home and Away), Simon Werrells (The Wolfman) Todd Lasance (Cloudstreet), Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Flashforward), and Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess, Battlestar Galactica, Parks and Recreation).

The standard definition box set of Spartacus: The Complete Series retail for SRP of $119.98. Blu-ray+Digital HD with Ultraviolet set will retail for $149.99. The Blu-ray+Digital HD with Ultraviolet and bonus Spartacus collector’s figurine will retail for SRP of $199.99. More information on the upcoming release is available online at http://www.facebook.com/spartacus.starz, http://www.starz.com/spartacus, and http://twitter.com/spartacus_starz. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Haven A Rare Serial Worth Watching In Its Third Season

Courtesy: Entertainment One/Syfy

Courtesy: Entertainment One/Syfy

Syfy used to be one of the greatest networks on cable at one point.  It lived up completely to its name, airing primarily science fiction.  But somewhere along the line, this one great powerhouse of a network fell off and did a total 180, opting instead for really bad modern day B-movies and the like.  But in the last couple of years or so, it has looked like there might be tiny glimmers of hope with the Battlestar Galactica special, “Blood & Chrome” and the introduction of Defiance.  And then, the network took a couple more daring steps, picking up Sanctuary and Haven.  While the prior only lasted four seasons, it was a great mix of fantasy and sci-fi and was a perfect fit for the network.  Haven on the other hand, is more of a sci-fi/supernatural hybrid.  This aside, the show is still a good fit for Syfy.  And currently being in the midst of its fourth season, it will be interesting to see if it can outlast Sanctuary.  While fans take in Season Four, they can now take in every episode from the show’s third season on DVD and Blu-ray.

Things get quite interesting for both Audrey (Emily Rose) and the residents of Haven.  Secrets are finally revealed about Audrey’s past that will change her future forever.  She finds out just who the Colorado Kid is and how he is supposedly connected to her.  That won’t be revealed here for the sake of those trying to catch up with the series.  There is also an evil twin plot with a twist in the two-part episode, “Magic Hour.”  The evil twin plot is a staple of any science fiction program.  And while its execution in this two-part episode has been done before, it’s rarely been done in the format used here.  As Season Three winds down, even more revelations are made in “Last Goodbyes.”  Again, the show’s writers keep the surprises coming; so much so that audiences can’t help but keep watching.  That is the sign of solid writing.  So congratulations are in order for the show’s writers, obviously. 

Writing is key to any television show’s success, regardless of genre.  And if Haven’s third season is any indication, the show’s writing is just as solid as ever, even as a serial.  In the case of a science fiction show, the writing is especially important.  But it’s not the sole factor in the show’s success.  The shooting and special effects are just as key to the show as its writing.  And both were just as expertly pulled off as the writing.  Considering Syfy’s recent track record with a majority of its programming, it would have been so easy for the people behind the cameras to go the cheesy angle.  Rather, the special effects and shooting tied in to the show are just as good as those in NBC’s sci-fi drama, Revolution and even AMC’s The Walking Dead.  That’s some pretty good company in which to sit.  And those that work tirelessly to make the show’s special effects and shooting something special.  Along with its writing, these two factors help to show why exactly why Haven is one of the best dramas on television today.

The writing, special effects, and shooting are all key components to the success of Haven in its third season.  And now that it has been released to DVD and Blu-ray box set, audiences have even more reason to be happy about their favorite show.  That reason is the included bonus features.  Season Three’s box set includes both audio commentary and more than enough bonus features to make any Haven fan squeal with glee.  Fans are treated to the full series of Haven webisodes, and all the standard behind-the-scenes footage and cast interviews.  The full making of featurette is there, too in “The Haunting Truth About Haven:  A Documentary.”    Fans will also appreciate the bonus New York ComicCon Haven panel.  This feature is the real bright spot among the bonus features.  That’s because fans really get to see the cast as themselves, rather than as characters.  The cast and writers discuss what could be expected from the showing in coming episodes and the now fourth season.  Rather than taking questions from the audience, the panel is run by a moderator.  And her questions for the cast are both serious at times and at others worthy of more than their share of riotous laughter.  The responses from the cast members are a just as serious and laugh out loud funny.  It’s one more positive to a box set that any true sci-fi fan will appreciate.  And it is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.  It can be ordered online via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Haven-Complete-Third-Season-Blu-ray/dp/B00DPJEWCK/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1379621678&sr=1-2-fkmr0&keywords=haven+the+comple+third+season.  More information on this and other releases from SyFy is available online at http://www.syfy.com and http://www.facebook.com/Syfy

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TV Renewals and Cancellations Start For 2013

The television industry is in one of its key moments right now.  As the calendar turns from Winter and closer to Spring, network execs at the “Big 4” (and CW) are starting to do some early planning for each network’s Fall schedule.  Typically the Fall schedules are released in Spring; May to be exact.  And if the latest numbers are any sign, things could be very interesting for television this coming Fall as the Winter/Spring season nears its end and we move into the annual filler season.  While things are still uncertain for many shows, the picture for all of the “Big 4” (and CW) has become increasingly clear already.  While there are still a lot of uncertain, it looks like when the dust settles, NBC will have the most to lose, while CBS will end up the big winner with FOX and ABC battling it out for second place.  Of course, let’s not forget the massive slate of pilots set to air very soon across the networks.  Considering the way the schedules look for the “Big 4” (and CW), CBS may still end up the big winner, even with networks such as Syfy and A&E having two of the most anticipated shows of the year.  Let’s take a look at everything.

So far, it looks like NBC has the most to lose.  The network proves to be the biggest loser (yes, that pun is intended) with no fewer than ten of the shows in its schedule being on the chopping block.  This means that at the time of this posting, their fate is up in the air.  Those shows include the likes of Community, Parks & Rec, and 1600 Penn just to name a few.  The network has officially renewed five of its shows at the time of this posting and brought four to an end.  In NBC’s defense, two of those shows ending (The Office and 30 Rock) simply came to the end of their run whereas Animal Practice and Do No Harm were cancelled due to poor ratings.  CBS on the other hand looks to have come out the big winner in everything, and likely will even after the summer filler season ends.  As of this time, CBS’ schedule looks to be largely intact with at least fifteen shows from its schedule set to return, one cancelled, and six still on the hook. 

Perhaps the most interesting trend to note of all the announcements released so far is that audiences seem to be drawing more towards dramas than anything else.  This includes reality television.  Considering the glut of reality TV shows out there on the majors, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW have combined so far for a total of ten total reality shows officially confirmed as being safe so far.  Dramas from the five networks on the other hand, combined for a total of twenty-one shows that have been confirmed as being back so far.  Comedies accounted for only fourteen total shows that will definitely be back as of yet.  On the other side of the coin, comedies topped the list of shows that have been cancelled during the Winter/Spring schedule.  ABC lost the most dramas, with five total.  None of the 5 majors reported cancellation of their reality TV programming.  It really makes for an interesting trend to note.

In terms of the most anticipated shows coming this year are A&E’s Bates Motel, ABC’s much talked about small screen take from the Marvel Comics universe in S.H.I.E.L.D. and Syfy’s long awaited return to actual science fiction programming in Defiance.    Syfy has had at least some science fiction based shows in the likes of the previous Battlestar Galactica re-incarnation as well as Eureka and the now short lived Alphas.  So there’s a lot of talk around this one, especially after the leap of faith that was Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome.  After the much maligned Caprica ended, there was a lot of speculation around the fate of this property.  And considering that Alphas has ended so abruptly and that Eureka only lasted four seasons, one can only wonder if Defiance will be able to revive science fiction programming on Syfy.  Should it survive, sci-fi fans could finally see the network finally return to its roots.  One can only hope.  Supernatural shows seem to have been all the rage on that network in recent memory.  Though it too, has added its own slate of reality shows just like so many of the cable networks.  One thing fans can cheer about is that USA has brought back Psych.  The show’s new episodes started airing this week.  This little show that could has really proven to be a surprise hit for the network and a great replacement for the equally entertaining Monk.  For fans of other cable shows, FX has renewed Archer and American Horror Story.  AMC is said to be bringing back its hit Western saga, Hell on Wheels.  Simply put, this year is going to be another interesting one for television as it competes for eyes over theaters.  That’s a whole other story in itself for another time.

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Portlandia Season Two Another Laugh Riot

Courtesy: Independent Film Channel/Video Services Corporation

It’s time for another trip up the road to the one and only Portlandia.  The second season of this twisted, bizarre and completely outlandish sketch comedy show is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.  One part Saturday Night Live and one part The Kids in The Hall, this little show that could is obviously a niche show.  It’s not for everybody.  But for those who are open minded enough, this oddity of a show is a good escape from everything else currently cluttering the airwaves.

Portlandia’s second season offers more than its share of laughs.  Those who are not entirely enthused over this season are likely missing its whole point.  As with Season One, this second season continues to completely poke fun at the standard holier-than-thou too hip for the hip 90’s crowd who are stuck in that age to this day, as well as other groups.  For instance, audiences are introduced to Spyke and Iris as they plan their wedding in the episode, “Cool Wedding.”  Both Spyke and Iris fit that stereotype.  And seeing them trying to go against the grain in planning the wedding will leave anyone laughing.  It’s complete absurdity.  But there’s also a certain amount of truth to their characters as there are people still like them out there today.

Courtesy: Independent Film Channel/Video Services Corporation

Another great example from Season Two of its success comes in the form of “One More Episode.”  This episode pokes fun not just at the world of science fiction and its sometimes overly devoted fan base.  Audiences get to see what happens when Carrie and Fred start watching the recent Battlestar galactic series on DVD.  They keep saying they’ll only watch one more episode.  They become so wrapped up in the series that they lose sight of everything else.  They even become so obsessed that they go off in search of a man they think helped write for the show (but obviously didn’t).  Again, there actually is a certain amount of truth to this as there really are people like that.  The addition of guest stars Edward James Olmos and James Callis as themselves make this one even funnier.

Fans will also laugh out loud as a young man with the Surfrider Foundation tries to get a woman to sign his petition to ban plastic bags.  When she declines, his parents and even his grandparents get involved.  There’s even a great politically incorrect bit during the season’s first episode, “Mixology” that will no doubt stir up some debate among audiences.  It all comes together with the season’s other bits to make for plenty of laughs and a great escape from the current river of mindless reality television that currently pollutes the airwaves today.  Portlandia is now available on DVD and blu-ray. 

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