Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Star Trek: The Counter-Clock Incident

My friends and I have completed our journey, watching all 22 episodes of Star Trek's animated series. 

Episode: "The Counter-Clock Incident"
Series: Star Trek: The Animated Series
Season 2, Episode 6
Original Air Date: October 12, 1974
via Memory Alpha
Star Trek's animated series wraps up with a mind bender.   The Enterprise is unwillingly pulled into a negative universe: black stars against white space, movement, language and aging all running in reverse.  In a further time bending I don't entirely understand, the crew all revert to their childhood selves and very rapidly at that on their way back to their own dimension.  While the suspenseful tension was genuine, it's just the sort of Trek episode that drives me nuts.  The negative universe elements are fun to ponder but they stretch the narrative integrity to troubling limits.  I get anxious for all the wrong reasons.

That said, as a series finale, it has some nice elements.  The moral of the story pertains to the usefulness of the aged, a theme Trek has explored before in TOS's "The Deadly Years."  It provides a metaphor for the show itself essentially being put out to pasture.  "The Counter-Clock Incident" is certainly stronger than the finale for the original series, "Turnabout Intruder."


Thoughts on Season 2

General Impressions

I expected a drop in quality for the second season.  After all, the original series started strong and finished weak.  It seemed reasonable to expect the same with the animated series.  But if there was a decline, it was negligible.  As I wrote regarding the first season, the best episodes don't measure up to the best of TOS but the worst are nowhere near as poor as the weakest originals, either.

Favorite Episode: "Albatross"

Six episodes don't leave much for picking.  "Albatross," I'm certain, would not be the choice of most critics but I liked it.  In any Trek series, I enjoy the episodes in which I am amazed by the complex problems the crew can solve in the last ten minutes.  "Albatross" resides comfortably in that fine tradition with two brutal crises pressing in on our heroes simultaneously: a plague aboard the ship and Dr. McCoy facing what is sure to be an unfair trial on an alien planet.  Plus, one of the characters looks like a six-foot-three Yoda.

Least Favorite Episode: "The Practical Joker"

I'm not opposed to a goofy episode.  We need one from time to time.  In fact, I want a "KIRK IS A JERK" shirt like the one the captain wears at one point.  The story also introduces the predecessor to TNG's holodeck.  But there is a scene with everyone on the bridge giggling for far too long.  It feels like an uncomfortable dinner party.  Again, as clunkers go, it's not bad.  But for the sake of the exercise, I had to pick one.

Favorite New Character: Bem

Bem is the cause of great mischief in the episode that bears his name.  He is a colony creature, meaning he is a cooperative organism composed of multiple composite organisms.  As such, he is able to separate parts of his body from one another.  He also has a most amusing way of referring to himself as "this one."  For example, he might say "this one has a hankering for some Saurian brandy" or "this one must excuse himself to use the loo."


At some point, I may tackle more Trek, likely the movies, TNG or perhaps both.  But for now, it's back to regularly scheduled programming.  I'll have one more wrap-up post for the entire series next week.  Family adventure posts shall return, now on Fridays, beginning August 21st.

Please visit the other participants on the list below.  Next week: Series Wrap-Up.

Maurice Mitchell

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Clone Wars: Cloak of Darkness

My friends and I are embarking on an exploration of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008 (as opposed to the one that started in 2003).  All are welcome to join us for all or parts of the fun.

Episode: "Cloak of Darkness"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 9
Original Air Date: December 5, 2008
via Wookieepedia
Okay, I have had my fill of prison break stories.  I realize it's bread-and-butter for the Star Wars franchise but variety in narrative structure is always appreciated in a TV series.  This time, it's Grievous's minions breaking Viceroy Gunray - captured in the last episode - out of the Republic's ship, Tranquility.  There is nice development for Ahsoka in this one and excellent swordplay between Jedi Luminara Unduli (with Ahsoka assisting) and Grievous's agent, Asajj Ventress.  A few plot twists along the way are gratifying, too.  Even so, I'm ready for something other than a prison break.  Maybe next week?


via Wookieepedia
The character of Luminara Unduli first appeared in the novel Cloak of Deception by James Luceno, published in 2001.  She is a Mirialan.  Apparently, her headdress conceals extra-sensory organs.
via Wookieepedia
Luminara is voiced by Olivia d'Abo.  D'Abo was born in London, January 22, 1969.  Hers was a show biz family.  Mother Maggie London was a model and actress, father Mike d'Abo, for a time the lead singer of Manfred Mann.  She went to junior high and high school in the Los Angeles area.  She made her film debut in Conan the Destroyer when she was 15.

D'Abo is most familiar to television audiences as Karen Arnold, Kevin's much troubled, hippie older sister in The Wonder Years.   Her geek cred was secured in her memorable guest star appearance in Star Trek TNG's "True Q."  Full disclosure, I have long considered her to be one of the most beautiful women in the business.  Sadly, she has spent way too much on plastic surgery in recent years.

The voice work has been steady.  She has had roles in Batman Beyond, The Legend of Tarzan and Justice League.  She was married to music producer Patrick Leonard for ten years.  She has one son, Oliver, born in 1995.

If you would care to join us for all or part of our travels, sign on to the list below.  Please visit the other participants today.  Next week: "Lair of Grievous."

Monday, July 27, 2015

On the Coffee Table: Daniel James Brown

Title: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Author: Daniel James Brown
via Goodreads
In the 1930s, rowing was one of the most popular sports in the United States, the major races being broadcast on radio nationwide.  The annual Harvard-Yale regatta, inaugurated in 1852, was the first intercollegiate sporting event.  By the '30s, UC-Berkeley and the University of Washington had overtaken the eastern schools as the major powers in the sport.  The Washington Huskies, though, were still playing second-fiddle to their rivals in California.  The Boys in the Boat tells the tale of the crewmen who changed all of that, nine young men of humble origins in troubled times in what was still a remote part of the country.

For the most part, the story is told from the point of view of Joe Rantz, one of the oarsmen.  Essentially abandoned by his own family in his teens, he learned to survive on his own and put himself through college.  Crew provided a sense of purpose and belonging.  It also gave him a fantastic tale to tell for the rest of his life.  Through him, we get a sense not only of the group's extraordinary achievements but of the devastating impact the Great Depression had on the lives of families all over the country.

The most endearing characters of the book, however, are George Pocock, the boat builder at Washington, and Bobby Moch, the crew's coxswain.  Pocock overcame his own humble London origins to become a giant in the rowing world.  He supplied boats for Washington as well as most of the other major programs in the United States.  He also provided sage, invaluable mentoring for the coaches and rowers who came through the Washington program.

As for Moch, a crew's coxswain is inevitably the object of curiosity.  The little man or woman in a sport of giants, the cox steers the boat and manages the stroke rate for the oarsmen.  He (or she) is the only one facing forward and therefore the one with the best sense of the boat's position in relation to the competition, not to mention the finish line.  Moch, in particular, is quite the fearless smart ass.  His downright ballsy decision-making leads the team to greatness.  His personal history also provides an astonishing wrinkle towards the end of the book.

Of course, there's another essential backstory to all of this.  The Boys in the Boat also covers the Third Reich's preparations for the 1936 Olympics.  I visited Berlin's Olympic Stadium when I was eleven.  My knowledge of the event was limited to that of an average sports fan - i.e., I knew about Jesse Owens and not much else.  Jesse Owens, by any measure, was one of the most extraordinary athletes of his era and his four gold medals, heralded as the symbolic victory of a black man over the Nazis, is one of the great sports stories of the 20th century.  But the sad fact of the matter - for Owens, for the Washington crew, for the whole Olympic movement - is that the USA and its allies probably should have stayed away completely.  The Olympics were a triumphant, public relations bonanza for Hitler and his cronies.  They successfully deceived the world into believing that the horrifying rumors surrounding their regime were exaggerated.  If ever there were an Olympics to boycott, it was the '36 Games in Berlin.  But the world chose to look the other way, a decision made all the easier here by the plague of anti-Semitism in the United States.  And before we all wear out our arms patting ourselves on the back over Jesse Owens, it's worth remembering that it would still be another 28 years before the Civil Rights Act passed.  Brown's book pulls few punches, providing a sobering picture indeed.

The Boys in the Boat is an emotional experience.  As a sports fan, I was grateful for the insight into a sport I know nothing about.  As a student of history, I am humbled by those who overcame the considerable challenges of the era.  I recommend the book highly to anyone with an interest in the time period, whether they know anything about rowing or not.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

On the Coffee Table: Best of Enemies, Part Two

Title: Best of Enemies: A History of US and Middle East Relations, Part Two: 1953-1984
Writers: Jean-Pierre and David B.
Artist: David B.
via Amazon
This is the second book in a two-part (so far) series.  My review of Part One is here.

We all know the contentious issues in US/Middle East relations these days: oil, Israel/Palestine, Sunni/Shia, economic disparity, radical Islam, despotism, human rights, etc.  It's easy to forget, however, that a lot of the battle lines were drawn during the global dynamics of the Cold War era.  For most of the time period covered in the book, Israel, Saudi Arabia and, interestingly, Iran were allied with the United States. Meanwhile, the other major powers of the region - most importantly, Egypt - were under the influence/protection of the USSR, though not technically Communist per se. 

Part Two covers a lot of ground: two wars between Israel and Egypt (plus Arab allies), the formation of the PLO, the Camp David Accords, the Iranian Revolution (which abruptly slammed the door on the alliance with the US), the Soviet-Afghan War and the Lebanese Civil War among other conflicts and maneuvers.  Just as in Part One, the authors maintain an impressive neutrality.  None of the parties involved is portrayed as virtuous.  They're all bad guys with lots of blood on every hand.  The lasting impression is the overwhelming complexity of the issues and the astonishing web that connects them. 

One event I remember from the time which is left out is the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981.  Maybe they're planning to include that in another book.  Speaking of another book, I certainly hope they write one.  At the moment, this is all there is, even in the original French.  Obviously, there's plenty of material to explore post-1984 so I hope they'll continue.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Star Trek: How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth

My friends and I are embarking on a new journey to watch all 22 episodes of Star Trek's animated series.  We'll be posting on Wednesdays.  All are welcome to join us for all or parts of our adventure.

Episode: "How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth"
Series: Star Trek: The Animated Series
Season 2, Episode 5
Original Air Date: October 5, 1974
via Memory Alpha
In this week's episode, the Enterprise encounters a being claiming to be Kukulkan, god of the ancient Mayans and Aztecs.   The story was co-written by Russell Bates, a Native American of Kiowa descent.  Dorothy Fontana, associate producer for the show, encouraged Bates to draw upon his heritage and "How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth" was the result.

This was the episode that won the Outstanding Children's Series Emmy for Trek.  For me, it's not quite all that.  Our friends have encountered gods in their travels before, notably Apollo in TOS's "Who Mourns for Adonis?"  The lesson, though, is different this time.  Whereas Apollo was happy just to be worshipped, Kukulkan sought to teach humankind to be peaceful and was clearly disappointed in the result.  Once again, the moral judgment of superior beings is an important theme.

While the story is a bit of a rehash, the artwork is beautiful, even by TAS standards.  There were some extra hands on deck for the animation.  A crew of Japanese artists contributed to the work, finishing out their contract from another Filmation project: Journey Back to Oz.

via Wikipedia
Kukulkan originated with the Mayan culture though the serpent god, in various forms, appears in the imagery of other Mesoamerican traditions, notably as Quetzalcoatl of the Aztecs.  Throughout the episode, Kirk repeatedly mispronounces the name as "Kuklukan."  Neither Bates nor his co-writer David Wise was on hand during Shatner's recording session to correct the mistake.  Kukulkan is voiced by James Doohan.

I have closed the list due to spam but if you'd like to join us for our last couple posts, let me know.  Please visit the other participants.  Next week: "The Counter-Clock Incident."

Maurice Mitchell

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Clone Wars: Bombad Jedi

My friends and I are embarking on an exploration of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008 (as opposed to the one that started in 2003).  All are welcome to join us for all or parts of the fun.

Episode: "Bombad Jedi"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 8
Original Air Date: November 21, 2008
via Yodapedia
Diplomacy is an important aspect of the Clone Wars story.  The Republic had to work hard to prevent worlds from throwing their lots in with the Separatists.  In "Bombad Jedi," Padmé, C-3PO and Jar Jar travel to Rodia in order to maintain relations.  Unfortunately, Senator Onacanda Farr, an old family friend of the Amidalas, has already cut a deal with Viceroy Gunray.  Even worse, taking Padmé prisoner is one of the terms of said deal.  Jar Jar and a reluctant Threepio set out to free her - not exactly a Dream Team rescue party but they are highly amusing.

There are a few little treats for the devoted fan in this episode.  Rodia is the home planet of Greedo, the bounty hunter whom Han Solo shot first at the cantina in A New Hope.  It's fun to meet his more respectable compatriots.  The story also reminds us that Padmé is a capable badass in her own right.  For me, I'm pretty sure this is the last episode I ever watched so everything from this point on will be new for me.

via Wookieepedia
C-3PO, human-cyborg relations, had the first ever spoken line in a Star Wars movie.  The character, along with R2-D2, was inspired by Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress.  The golden droid's appearance was based on the robot in 1927's Metropolis.  The metallic duo have been an essential constant in the history of the franchise.
via Wookieepedia
In nearly every appearance of the character in any medium ever, Clone Wars included, C-3PO has been voiced by Anthony Daniels.  Daniels was born February 21, 1946 in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England.  He studied law for two years at university before he dropped out to pursue acting.  While he was initially reluctant to audition for the part, the role of C-3PO has essentially been his career ever since.  He and Kenny Baker (R2-D2) are the only actors to appear in all six - soon to be seven - Star Wars feature films.  Between cartoons, video games, radio dramas and audiobooks, there has been a fairly constant stream of voice work, too. 

Daniel's is an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon.  He has been married to Christine Savage for just over a year.  He has one son from a previous relationship.

If you would care to join us for all or part of our travels, sign on to the list below.  Please visit the other participants today.  Next week: "Cloak of Darkness."

Friday, July 17, 2015

On the Coffee Table: Old Man's Cave

Title: Bone, Volume 6: Old Man's Cave
Writer and Artist: Jeff Smith
via Bone Wiki
The adventures of the Bone cousins continue in this sixth collection, comprising issues 35-39 of the excellent Bone comic book series.   My previous posts on the opus can be found here, here and here.

As the story opens, Fone and Smiley are trying to find their way back to Thorn as she, in turn, sets off in search of them.  Meanwhile, the villagers of Barrelhaven struggle to recover from the recent, devastating attack by the Rat Creatures.  We learn more about the enemies in Old Man's Cave: the Hooded One and the Lord of the Locusts, both of whom are plotting against the Bones, Thorn and Gran'ma Ben.  Trust is the overarching theme in this book.  Can Thorn trust Gran'ma?  Can the villagers trust Phoney Bone?  True to the nature - and the genius - of the series, Volume 6 ends with as many questions as answers.  Needless to say, I'm definitely up for more.