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IR TV Review: STAR TREK – SHORT TREKS (“The Girl Who Made The Stars” & “Ephraim & Dot”) [CBS All Access]

The aspect of animation has started to become an interesting progression in terms of mythology creation. While a certain other space franchise has been expanding its structure for years in this regard, “Star Trek” has not ventured into that realm since 1973 in the still infinitely watchable and relatable “Original Animated Series”. While a new fully animated series “Below Decks” is happening, there is the texture of where balance in tone will be. “Star Trek” has always been about relating life lessons. The two upcoming animated shorts “The Girl Who Made The Stars” & “Ephraim & Dot” couldn’t be more different.

“The Girl Who Made The Stars” is a metaphorical story that follows Michael Burnham before she came to be with her Vulcan family. She is still full of emotion and on the edge of star, afraid of the dark. Her father offers her calm while relaying what is more of a parable that is a mix say of “The Lion King” and “First Contact” where a young curious girl in Africa doesn’t take superstitions at face value but still wants to understand the world. She is pursued by a large snake which is more a perspective of fear in her mind than reality. When an alien craft crash lands on the planet (which might or might not be Earth), it changes her fear to strength. The animation gives a good corrolation to the scenario but we don’t sense the darkness of space versus the light that family brings. While it has a good core, it doesn’t bring the intensity or heart it could have.

“Ephraim & Dot” is a slightly different animal, specifically a tardigrade. This short has the frenetic energy of a Road Runner cartoon but using different gifts. It takes place over the life span of the first Enterprise 1701. Using only audio from the original series and a robot that never existed, it finds the said “heart” but in a blur of mania. While extremely musical in context which seems apt
since the short was directed by composer extraordinaire Michael Giacchino, the sense of it even with the tradigrade moving through the micro network that fuels the original spore drive is weak at best. That doesn’t really abate any of the great nostagic elements including a different perspective from original series episodes “Space Seed,” Naked Time,”  and “Doomsday Machine” as well as “Star Trek II & III”. Granted it doesn’t get into real detail, but just enough to give a sense, and the fluidity of the progression is never in doubt. Ultimately though, there is a sense of “Wall E” in that the universe rights itself just enough to show that everything is fine.

Stars: C

Ephraim: B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: ANOTHER LIFE [Netflix-S1]

The texture of “Another Life” as a series revels in a structure of both existentialism but also a progression of what life or the essence of what it means to an individual person really is. Katee Sackhoff, in the most dynamic and essential character she has played since Starbuck in “Battlestar Galactica” is a commander who is brought in to lead a mission with a crew who undeniably is stacked against her. The dynamic and the subsequent ideal of perhaps a one way trip is personified in the intentions and perceptions of the crew. The one aspect that truly comes through, whether by design or organically, is the diversity of the characters and the personal interrelations. Some seem forced while others seem very fluid in the very sense of the word. The most interesting of the secondary cast is Blu Hunt as August and Jessica Camacho as Michelle simply because of their dynamic opposite personalities which shows the extremes of what space travel can do because of psychological resilience or as a coping mechanism.

The motivation of the first season (as seen in full but not revealing spoilers) involves finding the source of an alien probe which has made it’s way to Earth. Sackhoff as Captain Niko goes on the voyage as a modulation of protecting her daughter while her husband stays on Earth as a analyst trying to decode what the alien is about. The backdrop is perhaps similar to “Annihilation” which is vastly superior in terms of its texture and philosophy but more esoteric in terms of its character development. Reflexivity and what we think of ourselves play a big part as well as the hierarchy of command but also the curiosity of exploring the unknown.

The interesting structure that some episodes take on is the aspects of say a “Star Trek” episode with angles of the unknown (with a slightly darker tinge) while others can have the dread of say “Alien” or “Event Horizon” with differing levels of success.

Returning to the character work, the writers are not afraid of showing the different facets of human fallibility but also sexuality and insecurity. Some of these interactions and relationships work organically while others require a little more angling in the narrative to work. The most interesting by far but also the one that reflects Niko’s psychology even more is her interaction with William, the onboard AI who controls the ship. Like a variation of The Doctor on “Star Trek: Voyager” melding with that of Bishop in “Aliens” the context of what dictates emotions or the simulation of emotions comes to bare along with elements of the unconscious. This culminates in certain ways as the season progresses.

Back on Earth, the different paradigms reflect in the people on earth reacting to certain stimuli of the alien presence. Selma Blair as a would-be social media maven seems a little too specifically geared to the modern sensibility but her delivery especially in context of what can be perceived actually works in the long run while Tyler Hoechlin as Niko’s left behind husband reacts in understandable ways. The Earthbound story is not as engaging as the one taking place on the ship but, by extension, the stakes seem much higher up in space.

The special effects are effectively done with a certain veracity (much like the recent “Lost In Space”) and take into account some of the ideas that “Interstellar” played into with but sans the elite grandeur vying for the more practical. The design inside Niko’s ship balances between the claustrophobic but the technical much like a blend between The Nostromo in “Alien” and The Sulaco in “Aliens”. There is a dank humid element to the technology inside the ship like a submarine but with the idea that pressure or the lack of it lurks just beyond the walls.

“Another Life” is an interesting perspective into the sci-fi genre with a character worthy of Katee Sackhoff whose career choices will always be compared to her groundbreaking Starbuck on “Battlestar Galactica”. The assemblage of the crew and their dynamic plus a hidden foe which will not be named in various forms keeps the tension in play while exploring different ideas of psychology, sociology and space travel.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: “Light And Shadows” (STAR TREK: DISCOVERY) [CBS All Access – S2]

The essence of “Light And Shadows” reflects in the ideas of who we are and who we are to be perceived to be. In the most recent episode, Doug Jones’ Saru discovered that his instincts were really part of an awakening which allowed him to come to his unseen potential. The inference comes to a head as he is drawn back home to face demons, literally and metaphorically that have changed the idea of what it means to exist. This balances in Michael Burnham’s continuing search for Spock and the reasoning of this point. We finally see the first glimpses of Ethan Peck as Spock but what is really interesting is the diametric of the family as Michael herself returns home and like Saru must understand the difference between knowing her path and walking the path. The Red Angel continues to be a presiding influence but in true serialized storytelling structure it is starting to take on a different meaning in terms of its resonance. Connection is a big driving force but tolerance and understanding even more so despite differing socio, political, even world views. The ideal that ends the episodes again points to another piece in the puzzle which slowly but surely continues to unfold while telling very universal stories which “Star Trek” has always been known for.

By Tim Wassberg

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