Let’s (not) talk about CBS All Access

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So one of the new TV shows that I was all set to talk about was the new Star Trek show that will be debuting in the Fall.  New Star Trek show, you say?  Wait, why haven’t I heard of this new show?  Because, instead of being rational and putting this show on CBS or a traditional streaming service such as Netflix or Hulu, CBS is going to leverage this show and only put it out in the US and Canada on its new fledgling streaming service, CBS All Access for $5.99 a month. 😦

That’s right, instead of going the traditional route and having commercials pay for the program, or a distributor (such as Hulu or Netflix) pick up the show and pay for it, they are going use it as the backbone leverage consumers to pay for yet another online streaming service in order to get access to their programs.  Not only do they want advertisers to pay them (for the programs on CBS), but they also want consumers to pay them as well.  Just like HBO Go, CBS executives see consumers as a pot of gold that they want “access” to, but unlike HBO Go, CBS isn’t a premium service.  The only way you can get HBO is to be a cable subscriber–HBO Go was designed for “cord cutters” like me who wanted just the content they want and nothing extra, which is something cable companies still in 2017 won’t let you do.  CBS has no legitimate reason to withhold content except profit, or in this case greed as they have a channel on “free” TV as one of the big 3 networks–ABC, NBC, CBS.

Why is it greedy, you might ask?  They’re a company and they are in business to make a profit, right?  Then I ask you, why, oh why, are they allowing Netflix to show the new Star Trek show a day after it premieres on CBS All Access all over the world EXCEPT in the US and Canada?  Two words, “online piracy.”  CBS knows full well that pirates all over the world are not going to stand for “locking down of content” in this way.  So this it their bet, give everyone else an opportunity to get it legitimately, but force consumers in the US and Canada not to have an option to get it anywhere but though our All Access service.  There is no reason why CBS could not have included the US and Canada in their negotiations with Netflix other than the desire to use the show to launch their own streaming service.  Netflix would love to be the premiere player in the streaming world as is in a two-way dogfight with Hulu and Amazon.com Prime streaming.  You know that a new Star Trek show on their network would be a feather in their cap (esp. since Amazon won the rights to the Grand Tour with the former hosts of Top Gear).

Much like the AMC foolishness with Spider-Man Homecoming, companies continue to shoot themselves in the foot through outlandish schemes to increase their revenue streams.  Here’s an idea (one that I’m ardently trying to follow myself as a writer): put out a high quality product that is so good that it gets people excited and talking about it and makes them want more in that universe and makes them look forward to the next project that you’re working on and the next after that and so on and so on and so on . . .

That (in my opinion) is a truly sustainable business model.

Star Trek Enterprise Redux

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Image Source: Memory Alpha

On Friday, I finished the entire 4 season run on Netflix of Star Trek Enterprise.  I have to say that once I got into it, I really enjoyed it.  My overall impression is that it is a good Sci-Fi show that probably ended too soon, Here are some general impressions of the show (with as few spoilers as possible as I will not be discussing specific plot developments, but rather general impressions).

Seasons 1 and Season 2: “Exploration” was the theme of the first two seasons and I seem to be in the minority as I actually liked season 1 and season 2.  Most of the critical reception notes season 1 and 2 as “uneven.”  Yes, there were several episodes that I didn’t like (they tended to be the ones that focused on social issues) in the first two seasons, but they considered themselves as “explorers” and there was an enthusiasm for the “wonder” of it all.  Time travel and time manipulation was a key ingredient in these two seasons.

Season 3: “Conflict” was the theme of season 3.  Apparently ratings, which had started strong from the pilot episode, dropped steadily as the episodes of the first two seasons ran their course.  The writers.producers tried to course-correct and this leads to a season long conflict.  To go into anymore detail is to approach spoiler territory, but season 3 is much more action focused.  While I generally liked the action episodes more in seasons 1 and 2, here I found it made the crew (the captain, in particular) as one note.  They are all driven by the ideals of war and conflict and that leaves little time for wonder.  I liked this  season about the same as season 1 and 2.  There was more action, so it was always tense, but the loss of the shows wonder balanced out the increased tension.

Season 4: “Alternate History” was the theme for season 4.  While not the primary focus of the whole season, 4 of the episodes were given over to alternate history tales with both of the plots being two-part episodes.  I did notice some new names as writers in this season, but after that season long “epic” of the Enterprise’s crew searching the Expanse in Season 3, I don’t think that devoting such a large number of Alternate History stories back into the series was a wise move and towards the end, we also see real-world parallels with the rise of an “Earth-First” movement.  It seemed a little to convenient a set-up to try to get to the idea of the “Federation.”  The Season Finale (which turned out to also be the Series Finale) was also not great.  I like the idea of it (in theory), but for this episode to have worked, the show would have had to have continued.  To end the way it did, seemed forced and anti-climatic.  I know the producers knew that the show had been cancelled and wanted to give resolution, but it was done in such a way that it seemed to demphasize the hard work of the crew of the Enterprise.  I liked this season least of all.

Final Grade for the Series: B- (Good acting, special effects, and characterization let down by questionable story and plot choices, especially in the last season).  While Enterprise may not have had a seven year run like the other major ST series did except the first (to my knowledge), had ratings not declined and/or had the network had more faith, I think we could have gotten to see the Federation “born” more concretely in this series and ST fans would have been the better for it.

A Few Thoughts on Time Travel (in general) and the Star Trek Universe (in specific)

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Image Source: Topgentlemen.com

Time Travel is a favorite concept of Sci-Fi writers as it allows us to explore the possibilities of “What If . . .” and to mull about changes in the time line that did not occur vs. the reality that we see around us.  Popular culture is replete with television shows, movies, and other media that delve into the notion of what might happen if you could go back and change time (in effect, mulligan a decision or choice) to see what effect it would have on the timeline (if any).

I guess the reason that I’m thinking about this is two-fold: 1) Star Trek Enterprise has quite a few instances of Time Travel (in fact, most of the show’s 3rd Season is built around the idea) and 2) as a PhD student, I’m supposed to pick two areas of concentration.  As Creative Writing was off the table, I chose Composition and Rhetoric and Popular Culture.  There was a Call For Papers (CFPs) on the topic of Time Travel and how it affects/manifests itself in popular culture.  I didn’t get a chance to write a paper for it during the last semester (too busy trying to stay afloat!), but now I’d like to write at least a rough draft of some of the things that I’ve noticed in recent Sci-Fi shows/movies/media that I’ve watched recently (Doctor Who, Star Trek Enterprise, Dark Matter, and Mass Effect Andromeda to name a few) about how time travel is used (what effects does it have on the characters’ lives), and what pop. culture currently thinks about it.

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Image Source: Cellcli.com

One thing that I’ve notice that popular culture seems to use time travel for is the idea of Erasure, or righting a wrong and then resetting the timeline (so as to start again–from scratch as it were).  Now, the movie Back to the Future used a “literal” erasure from the timeline itself–and that’s not what I’m talking about.  This erasure is more of a “mulligan,” a do-over, a way to say hey, no that’s not the outcome I desired, let’s start again and try for a better outcome.

I think writers like this technique because it allows them to go into some wildly divergent territory with characters, but it doesn’t mean that they have to commit to changes to the characters (as the characters can be “reset” back to their pre-time travel/time incursion selves or entities).  It means that writers (and actors and directors) can stretch themselves creatively without destroying the likability of the characters.  In other words, characters can act and grow in ways contrary to their original characterization and then be reset.  I think audiences don’t find the this element of time travel as appealing because many times it seems like a “cheat” (much like the “and it was all a dream” cliche’).  Audiences want to characters change and interact in new and novel ways to conflict, but they (we) are fickle . . . change too much and we might lose what we like about a character.

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Image Source: Den of Geek

Star Trek (in general) and Star Trek Enterprise (in specific) seems to be a perfect test-bed for the idea of erasure.  While many of the elements and changes to the characters have “stuck,” most have not and most of the characterizations that have not stuck, or been “erased” through time travel are more radical characterizations/plot lines.  While I won’t know for sure until I finish STE, I’ve noticed that, unlike Doctor Who, for instance where there are often “cusp” events that are fixed and where time is more malleable (“Timey-Whimey, Wibbly-Wobbly”), events in ST’s universe, specifically STE tends to be more recursive (circular, or fractal–like the beginning image above.)

While this is a deeper dive than I normally do in a blog post, I wanted to just get a few thoughts down on the nature of time travel (esp. recent developments in media) down on paper.  I’ve done another post on time travel, Where You End is Not Where You Begin: Time Travel in Movies, and I will probably combine these two posts before the summer is over and develop this idea into a longer academic paper over next school year.  I don’t think that I can use this as my dissertation (I think that has to be Rhetoric or Composition based), but it is an interesting paper idea–and more importantly, seems to be something that I can be VERY LONG-WINDED about! 🙂

Star Trek Enterprise

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I am currently “binging” Star Trek Enterprise.  I am almost finished with Season 1 and I have to say that I’m enjoying it.  I tried to watch it during its first run, but not having many of the series staples such as shields, photon torpedoes, and limited Transporter use really dampened my engagement for the show, not to mention the overt antagonism between humans and Vulcans during the first season, so I ultimately stopped watching it.  I tried a second time while I was a Library Assistant at the Chattanooga Public Library as it was in syndication (re-runs) on one of the channels that I watched on my off day (on Wednesdays).  It was either on USA Network or TNT Network (or something similar) where they ran 3–4 episodes back-to-back of a show, so I’ve seen most of the first season already, but because TV was starting to go serial in nature (nothing like it is now for TV series, but there are fun little callbacks to previous episodes if you know what to look for), I wasn’t able to keep up.  When you miss large chunks of the narrative between off-days, its hard to stay invested in the characters/plots.

So far, I have to say that I’m enjoying it more than I had previously.  I still wouldn’t term it as my favorite Star Trek show, but it is no longer my least favorite Star Trek series.  I think this might have worked better as a movie.  Hear me out!  I think that this concept would have made a nice “filler” movie between moving from the original Star Trek cast with Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country and the Next Generation crew on Star Trek Generations.  I’ve always felt that Generations wasn’t a strong enough film to follow The Undiscovered Country and that Generations’ should have been more “epic” rather than the “tepid” movie than it was.  I think that a more exciting movie than Generations would have really cemented the Next Generation crew into the minds of fans and movie-goers.

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Had Enterprise been a movie instead of a TV series (let’s call it “Star Trek: Enterprise”) and set it in-between The Undiscovered Country and Generations, and had this allowed the producers of the Star Trek brand to craft a stronger story for the Generations movie, then I think Star Trek brand would have benefitted and may have not needed a “reboot” as soon as it did.

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Still, digressions aside, I’m enjoying the show so far as it is a nice diversion until the new season of Dark Matter (my current favorite “starship” show) returns.  I will probably return to Babylon 5 after I finish watching Enterprise and Dark Matter this summer, but here’s hoping that I actually am able to finally see Enterprise in its entirety as it has (finally) gotten its hooks into me and I’m now invested in the show and the characters.

Star Trek Beyond: Mini-Review (No Spoilers) & Implications

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Star Trek Beyond International Movie Poster from Shockya.com

Fun

So I saw the 3D Imax showing of Star Trek Beyond yesterday and I was really impressed by it.  Not to mince words: I loved it!  It was a fun movie and harkened back to the things that made Star Trek such a global phenomenon in the first place.  There are no spoilers in this mini-review as this is really more of “impressions” than a true review.  Currently, this is sitting at an 84% (critics) and 86% (audience) score on Rotten Tomatoes  and it is deserved.  On a quick side note: see how closely critics & audiences scores are when one side or the other doesn’t have an ax to grind (i.e., Batman v. Superman or Ghostbusters).

Good Plot, Action, & Characterization

Why are both critics and audiences liking this movie?  In short, it has a good plot, lots of action, and strong characterization.  Again, with no spoilers, the plot is strong.  It has a very well defined beginning, middle, and end.  The beginning reacquaints us with the characters and starts the problem.  The middle is tense and the end ratchets up the stakes in a totally believable way.  It follows “Fryetag’s Pyramid” perfectly–in a way I haven’t seen in a while.  The action is very well done, in fact, it is second only to Captain America: Civil War this year (so far).  I was very impressed with several of the set pieces in the movie.  If you can see this in IMAX 3D, do so!  It is well worth the extra cost for the action set pieces.  Finally, the characterization in the movie is also very well done.  One of the most fun things about both Star Wars and Star Trek is the interaction between the characters.  The script separates characters in a unique interesting way–it doesn’t stick with the “expected” pairings of characters and this allows us “fresh” perspectives on the various characters through their dialogue and actions.  I really like the way the dialogue especially was written and this is the first Star Trek where I feel all of the characterizations “match” completely with those of the original cast.

Rating

I give this one a solid A (a 95-98 if I was grading it academically).  Why so much higher than Rotten Tomatoes?  Remember, I’m a Sci-Fi/Fantasy reader and writer.  This movie was made for me–I’m its target audience.  Does it have problems–a few small ones, yes.  Some characters don’t get enough screen-time in my opinion, for one, but on the whole, this is a very enjoyable movie that has great action and great heart.  It is everything that I aspire to when I write (or what I’m looking for when I’m reading/watching genre works).

Implication for my Writing

So this is a new section that I thought I’d add to (most) every review/mini-review of works as I learn things that I can try to add into my (creative/writing) life.  One of the things that I noticed that I liked about this movie was the idea of inner conflict for the main characters. I’m currently stuck on “Project Storm.”  I’ve written the first scene and have an idea where to go for scene 3, but scene 2 just won’t come out right–and now I know why.  It’s the same reason that many of my characters are “ciphers.”  The protagonist for Project Storm has no inner conflict.  He has an outer conflict–to save his ship–but there is nothing inside him that he is struggling with.  Several of the characters in Star Trek Beyond have a clearly inner struggle that they are struggling with and must find their answers through course of the plot.

I think that I start drafting too soon.  I often know the plot (or most of it for short works).  I usually have a good grasp of the setting.  I don’t think that I often know what my main characters are struggling with when I begin the story.  I know what they want or what their problem is (sometimes), but I often can’t say why it matters to them.  I’m missing their internal motivations–why is escaping so important to my protagonist of Project Storm?  “To stay alive,” would be my answer to that question, but that’s not really an answer.  To be alive or to be free AND alive?  Those are two entirely different motivations and they change the entire story.  Scene 2 will play out much differently if the protagonist just wants to be ALIVE, or if he’s willing to die to stay FREE.  And I don’t know yet which one my protagonist would choose.  So, to my mind, I’ve started drafting without giving enough consideration to my character (& that to my mind is why I’m stuck!)

So, I’ve gone back and I’m trying to figure out what is the inner conflict that my characters are struggling with before I begin drafting to make the drafting process easier.