31 May 2020

US Upfronts 2020-2021

Normally I'd be writing an annual review of the US television renewal and cancellation decisions, as well as views on the new shows, but this isn't a normal time.

The Covid-19 pandemic struck right in the middle of pilot season, with only one of them actually being finished before the stay-at-home orders put production on hold. Production on a lot of shows will not fully resume for a while and the summer season is likely to be pretty dead this year. This saved a number of shows that probably would have been cancelled.

Also, with the closure of TV by the Numbers, I'd lost a major source of TV news and ratings analysis. I've now added The Futon Critic and TV Grim Reaper to my subscriptions.

Anyway, some thoughts:
  • Madam Secretary's shortened final season on CBS was the best way to end it; it was clear that ratings were falling and the best thing a show can get is warning that the end is coming.
  • Legends of Tomorrow, having cycled out more cast members and brought new ones in, is proving to still be a lot of fun. It's the only one of the Arrowverse shows I watch and so whenever the crossovers come about, I have to look up various things.
  • Ruby Rose walking out on Batwoman suggests something was seriously wrong on production there. The recast will be interesting; I wasn't keen on the character when I saw her in a crossover.
  • The Blacklist is still going strong. I've said it before and I'll say it again; I don't know where they get their ideas from, but they must be some seriously disturbing places.
  • Have finally caught on Stranger Things and it is brilliant. I will most definitely be watching Season 4.
  • Time will tell if we start losing networks or streaming services due to the recession that this pandemic has caused.
I'd add some more here, but the pandemic has been massively distracting for me to the point I'm not following TV as much as I have.

28 May 2020

I'd like to speak to the manager (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.14, "Wolf in the Fold")

It's been a massive while since I last did one of these - been preoccupied with the Picard series for one thing. But I now plan to try to do one every fortnight, other things depending and complete the whole lot by sometime in 2021 or 2022...

So, here we resume... and to be honest, it's not a good one.

On the planet Argelis II, Kirk, McCoy and Scotty are in a nightclub watching a belly dancer do her thing with grins on their faces more akin to teenage boys. Basically McCoy has decided that the best treatment for Scotty after a recent head injury is for him to get some action. Scotty goes off for a late night walk for the belly dancer, there's a scream... and she's found murdered with Scotty holding the knife...

So, Scotty at a strip club looking for a casual hookup. Now, there's something that definitely needs some eyebleach. I can imagine Kirk doing it, or Sulu. Chekov at a pinch. Scotty, though... that just seems wrong.

After Scotty is accused of murder and doesn't remember anything about what happens, Kirk has a Lieutenant Karen Tracy brought down to conduct a memory analysis on him. She doesn't even get a line before she gets murdered.

It's pretty obvious whodunnit from the get-go; the actual revelation of the full circumstances of the murders then leads to a rather preposterous denouement where Kirk decides that the best idea to deal with a dangerous situation is to tranquilise the whole crew at a time when they should be pretty sharp. Also, a piece of technology introduced here for one episode never gets mentioned again, because it's too much of a 'game-breaker' in any plot.

Star Trek isn't exactly the most feminist show out there - the successors are much better - but this is particularly bad and critics have noted it as such over the years. After opening with an egregious example of the male gaze, the female characters generally just serve to be victims, with little real agency at all. Spock also gets an offensive line about women being more easily terrified.

The guest cast are pretty dire with some major overacting, there's a fight scene that's ridiculous even by Kirk Fu standards and the 'laugh at the end' seems very forced.

Finally, there's some awful handling of crime scene evidence.


A frank waste of 50 minutes; this episode is pretty bad all around and I can't think of much that can save it.


17 May 2020

Coronavirus #9: Back to school?

The primary debate about the moment in the UK's 'recovery' from this pandemic is about returning to school, with teachers' unions particularly concerned about how safe it is.

I'm of the personal opinion that this return should initially be voluntary, at least in June and with careful monitoring of any cases that arise in schools. Giving school children access to testing will be vital for that.

I also don't think that secondary schools should go back until September. Those pupils are too vulnerable to the disease and at a phase in their development where they are less willing to comply with social distancing because they believe that they are invincible at that age. While teenagers are far less likely to die from this disease than most, no age group is completely immune - and they could easily spread it to their parents.

10 May 2020

Coronavirus #8: A failure of imagination

In the final outcome of this pandemic, we are likely to have the worst outcome in terms of lives lost in Western Europe, with 40,000 dead overall a reasonable estimate.

There seems to have been major failings in preparation for this pandemic going back over a decade. A public inquiry is needed to answer some key questions.

It is tempting to blame Boris Johnson solely for this. He has a degree of responsibility, but the issues go back deeper to before his premiership and beyond elected politicians.

There seems to have been a general acceptance that when a pandemic did occur, a lot of people were going to die. The leaked Exercise Cygnus report suggests that lockdown was an idea that did not arise in people's minds.

PPE seems to have fallen off the radar - we should have had a bigger stockpile before this crisis. Why this wasn't done needs to be investigated. Also, those who have engaged in profiteering need to be named, shamed and if possible prosecuted.

Border closures, which a lot of countries were slow in implementing, would have definitely helped back in February/March. Now, it looks like action for action's sake. I would support a quarantine period, but there needs to be testing available to let people out of it and exemptions for low-risk countries, or you will finish off much of our tourist industry.

But the issues are wider than that. We have the most obese population in Western Europe and that is largely down to poverty; where junk food is cheaper than the healthier stuff. Tory underfunding of the NHS and misallocation of resources has meant that we are the 'sick man of Europe'. 'Austerity' has led to major issues of social deprivation, especially in the BAME community.

Major disasters tend to be multi-level failures; Chernobyl, Hurricane Katrina and the Great Leap Forward come to mind.

Ministers are not psychic; they cannot be expected to see everything that goes in vast departments. However, they dropped the ball and it may well very much be due to Brexit.

Moving forward, we need to ease up as fast as the science says - no faster and no slower as this situation is damaging health in other ways - then put in adequate measures for the next pandemic.

In a way, we were lucky this wasn't the 'Swan Flu' of Cygnus or something worse, otherwise we'd be digging plague pits now.

08 May 2020

VE Day 75 - in the shadow of Covid-19

The grand plans for marking the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe have of course ended up in tatters; with the pandemic forcing nearly all the major events to be cancelled and other stuff having moved online.

It's very difficult therefore to think of VE Day without thinking about our current situation. We're in the midst of the biggest public health crisis in my lifetime at any rate. There are signs that we are at least at the end of the beginning, with some loosening up of lockdown restrictions likely from Monday, although any timeline is not firm and should be based on the science.

The "Blitz Spirit" is somewhat of a historical myth. Many people were likely terrified of the bombs, sick of the deprivation and anxious for their loved ones. We might not have got a cheery reaction to the war, but instead we got a dogged perseverance. It would have been easy for us to accept Hitler's peace offer and escape the Blitz, allowing Nazi Germany and the USSR to slug it out.

But we didn't take that poisoned chalice. People sacrificed their personal wants for the greater good and Europe as a whole is better off.

This crisis will pass; we have lived through worse and survived as a nation. There are of course questions about the response and the preparation. That will be discussed in other posts.

Today, I want to give thanks to the wartime generation.

We will remember them.