Tuesday, September 29, 2015

To watch or remember, that is the question...

Continuing my thoughts from yesterday, when I write a review, it's not on an episode I've just watched.  If anything, a fresh viewing can have a distorting effect.  If you have a good memory, an episode falls into all the right contexts, and that's what I want my focus to be, the context.

I take for granted that if you're watching Star Trek at all, and if you care what I think, you're not a hate-watcher.  I don't like hate-watchers.  I mean, I've been that kind of viewer myself.  Not of Star Trek.  But other things.  It's just not fun.  So I've tried to not express hate-watching thoughts.  I don't see the point.

If you're watching Star Trek, chances are you know what other fans think about the franchise.  You know what's popular and what isn't.  The distinction I try to make is, just because something is popular, or isn't, doesn't mean it's good (or not).  Granted, I tend to make that distinction change course with episodes that aren't.  If it's popular, there's probably a good reason.  Star Trek fans, especially with the older shows, are good for acknowledging what needs acknowledging, what's generally good in the franchise.

The problem is, the newer material usually gets left behind.  That's where I see my greatest contribution to the discussion.  Since every Star Trek episode at this point is at least a decade old (Enterprise ended in 2005), that's a lot of material an existing fan has to consider.  Watching an episode all over again, whether previously loved or otherwise, opens room for a new evaluation.  That's what I'm trying to do, but I'm also attempting to see what has truly stood the test of time.  Which means, for all the older fans who lived for years with episodes that have long been considered classics, it's time to admit new ones into the fold.  Star Trek fans can be surprisingly reluctant to do so.  Over time, as the franchise grew less and less popular, it grew virtually impossible.

And so, it's no longer about popularity, but rather quality, about adding something of genuine value.  Sometimes, again, all this can be one and the same.  But sometimes it just isn't.  For someone watching, piecemeal, the franchise whether for the first or a multiple time, they get caught up, in the same way fans did when these episodes originally aired.  They lose perspective.  When you have a franchise with hundreds of episodes, it becomes a dialogue.  One experience resonates with another, across series, across decades.

What else is there to say?  Watch Star Trek however you like, but a broad appreciation is what you're after, hopefully I can help.

Monday, September 28, 2015

How to read a review...

Recently I've been rewatching Next Generation's first season.  I've already reviewed, episode by episode, it here.  When I left off, I was in the midst of reviewing the show's fourth season.  Slowly, I've been making my way through every episode of the franchise.

Now, I've sort of rediscovered the first season.  Traditionally, it's been considered one of the worst seasons of Star Trek ever, a bad start to an otherwise excellent series.  It had a lot to accomplish, not the least being to prove that the franchise could be viable on television again, twenty years later, and with an entirely new cast.  After a somewhat equally shaky second season, Next Generation came into its own and officially entered the books with the landmark "Best of Both Worlds."

I've got two ways to read my reviews.  I've got the star system, and I've also got the franchise/series/character/essential designations I award as I deem warranted.  The start system should be easy enough to interpret.  Movies have been using them for decades.  The designations, which I've attempted to explain in the past, are always trickier, but in their way what I believe to be the best way to interpret Star Trek for new fans, and even open-minded existing ones (in this Internet age, very few people are open-minded, alas).  People tend to coalesce around existing opinions, which tend to the extreme.  You either love it or hate it.

At some point I found myself drifting toward "hate it" for Next Generation's first season.  In the rather brief way I talk about most episodes, you will know pretty quickly whether I recommend it or, well, hate it.  I don't bog myself down with in-depth analysis.  The whole point of what I've doing is to provide helpful shorthand, so you can decide for yourself everything else.

When it comes to judging an episode, the first thing I consider is whether it's worth remembering in the grand scheme of the franchise, if it evokes another episode, whether fairly or poorly.  Since most viewers can't be expected to watch the whole franchise and like it, the next designation is for the series itself.  If it's a particularly good episode, it can earn an "essential" distinction.  Because I've found Star Trek to explore its characters profitably, this is the fourth designation.  In case an episode doesn't stand out any other way, if you like a particular character (and they've all got a standout story or two), I figure that's another way in.

To speak of the story, its execution, that's implied in whether or not it's a good representation of the series.  A good episode reflects well on the series.  Very rarely have I given episodes no stars at all, no designations.  And even among those I have, cases could be made for one or other designation.  The point of omitting a designation is that the story is so run-of-the-mill, there are plenty of other episodes worth considering well before, if you must, you consider taking that particular one seriously.

Next Generation's first season is emblematic of the complaints fans have had against the least popular episodes of the franchise.  It tends to feature a lot of bad decision-making, not by the characters but in the storytelling itself.  And yet, even an episode like "Justice," which has always been one of my least favorite, the story seems perfectly self-aware of this fact.  The season knew it had a lot of work ahead of it, and that's worth remembering, too.

Reviews are hardly ever as cut-and-dry as they seem.  They're always laced with personal bias.  I like to remind any readers I might have of my Star Trek reviews exactly how I'm approaching them, in case it doesn't come through in the reviews themselves.  The truth is, the series has plenty of episodes deep into its run that are less than fully-inspired, and much of the love Next Generation has experienced over the years is as protective as hate-watchers love to follow something just to join in the hate.

Make sense?  Here's a handy guide to how people watch stuff like Star Trek (which is to say, anything, which is to say, how they read or listen, generally experience life):

  • Pleasure-watcher (These guys will like anything.)
  • Critical-watcher (These guys are the nuanced fans.)
  • Fan-watcher (These guys are usually the ones who don't have strong opinions of their own.)
  • Hate-watcher (These guys think they're nuanced, but they're really just piling on after someone else said how much they hated it.)
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