Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for Phineas and Ferb.
I called it, didn’t I? When Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against The Universe premiered on Disney+ a couple of years ago, I said I wondered whether it might lead to a renewal of the show… and here we are! Almost eight years after the series ended its run on the Disney Channel/Disney XD, co-creator Dan Povenmire announced on social media that Phineas and Ferb will be returning – not just for a one-off special or TV movie, not even for a single season, but for two whole seasons and a whopping 40 episodes!
I’m actually really pleased to hear this news. Phineas and Ferb is a fun series, and one I return to on days when I’m struggling with my mental health. I guess you could call it one of my “comfort shows,” so to know that there will be more episodes to get stuck into in the months and years ahead… it’s good news from my point of view!
I first encountered Phineas and Ferb shortly after its premiere. Back then I had a cable TV subscription (remember those?) and I can’t remember how it came about exactly, but somehow I saw a promo or advertisement for Phineas and Ferb and thought that it looked like fun. I wouldn’t have normally given most things on the Disney Channel a second glance, but even in that short promo something must’ve leapt out at me, convincing me that this was a show I needed to see. And I’m very glad I did, clearly!
Even though I was already an adult when I first watched Phineas and Ferb, it was obvious that the show had a lot to offer beyond its young target audience. The best shows made for kids have something to offer to adults, too – and no, I don’t just mean a way to keep kids distracted and quiet so we can do other things! Phineas and Ferb had subtle jokes and references aplenty that were genuinely hilarious, and the way it told two stories that often (but not always) intersected was something original in the animated space.
There was a sense, though, that Phineas and Ferb had started to run out of steam by the time of its fourth season, and I’m not alone in thinking that. Season 4 tried out several different concepts in the form of special episodes, stories that featured new characters, different premises, and tie-ins with the likes of Marvel and Star Wars. The original formula of the show – with the boys’ inventions and the conflict between Perry and Doofenshmirtz – took a back seat.
Most of those special episodes are great fun, don’t get me wrong, but there was definitely a reason why they were made – there were fewer ideas on the table and arguably, as the show had developed and fleshed out its main characters, fewer places to take them in a way that felt interesting. This is a hurdle that the renewed Phineas and Ferb will have to overcome – and it may not become apparent at first.
When the show returns, I expect that most fans will welcome it back with open arms. Those first few episodes will re-establish Phineas and Ferb and its format, reintroducing its characters, and if the show basically does what it did from Seasons 1-3, a lot of folks will be thrilled. The question, though, is really whether that format can sustain another forty episodes without something happening to shake things up.
I’m not particularly concerned about questions of “canon” in a show like Phineas and Ferb. It is worth noting, though, that the show has an internal timeline of sorts, and not only that, but Season 4 provided two episodes that come together to give its story a pretty definitive finale: Act Your Age and The Last Day of Summer. There have also been main character crossovers in the series Milo Murphy’s Law – but as far fewer people watched that show, I don’t think it matters in the same way, and there’s definitely enough creative freedom to overwrite some of these things.
Having said that, the questions of timing and setting crop up. Will these new episodes take place in the same endless summer as last time, or would they be set further along the timeline – perhaps during the school year or even in the next summer? With Doofenshmirtz supposedly converted to the “good” side by summer’s end, how would that work for his character?
I don’t think that Phineas and Ferb could realistically get away with making Doofenshmirtz a “good guy.” The original format worked so well specifically because his story and his evil schemes stood in contrast to the boys’ shenanigans, so somehow that has to be retained. But it has to be done in a way that doesn’t undo all of the development Doofenshmirtz got over the course of the show’s run; it’s not unfair to call him the breakout character, and a big part of that is because his character arc, such as it is, portrayed him sympathetically, despite his self-described “evil” nature.
It’s a challenge to walk that line: to bring the show back and retain its signature formula, all the while avoiding taking key characters backwards and regressing their development. The most important one to get right in this regard is Doofenshmirtz, though Buford’s status as a semi-reformed yet still self-described “bully” is also of note.
Speaking of characters, it hasn’t been confirmed at this stage whether all – or even any – of the original voice cast will be back. With one notable exception, they all returned for Candace Against The Universe in 2020, though, so I would hope that negotiations are at an advanced stage and the voice cast will all reprise their roles. One or two absences can be worked around – this isn’t a Rick & Morty type of situation, where that series has just lost (for totally understandable reasons) its main voice actor and the person who voiced both of the titular characters. It would still be unfortunate, though, if Phineas and Ferb had to make significant changes to its cast.
Someone else who doesn’t seem to have signed onto the project yet is co-creator Jeff “Swampy” Marsh. Marsh and Povenmire created Phineas and Ferb together, and it’s noteworthy that Marsh has yet to comment publicly on the series being revived. He also provided the voice of Major Monogram, directed a handful of episodes, and was credited with writing more than a dozen – including some of the show’s most popular and best-remembered stories. I’m sure that Disney (and Dan Povenmire) will be working in private to get him back, but his loss would be significant for the show if those efforts fall through.
Without Marsh, and with the main voice actors also not being signed up, I can’t help but wonder if this announcement may have been a little premature. If things don’t go to plan and major voice actors aren’t able to rejoin the project, that would be a real shame – and would put a downer on things as Phineas and Ferb returns, so I really hope that Disney will pull out all the stops to make it happen.
Although Disney Channel shows have tended to be one-and-done things, it’s hardly something new in the animated space for a series to be continued. Look at the likes of Tom and Jerry, the Looney Tunes, or Scooby-Doo – the latter of which has just been reworked on HBO Max as Velma… actually, maybe the less said about that last example the better!
But the point stands: some animated shows become classics, and have a lifespan far beyond what may have been intended – or even hoped for – at the time they were created. If you’d told William Hanna and Joseph Barbera that new incarnations of their characters and stories would still be being created and enjoyed in the 2020s, I doubt they’d have believed it! So there’s plenty of scope for Phineas and Ferb to come back, and perhaps even to iterate and modernise some of its stories for a new decade and a new audience – some of whom will literally be the children of the kids and teens who watched the show when it first debuted.
So I’m thrilled to welcome back Phineas and Ferb, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the first batch of new episodes when they’re ready. I’m not expecting to see anything imminently – animation takes time, and although the announcement has been made, it’s clear that the revived Phineas and Ferb is still at a very early stage in its pre-production. In addition to the obvious voice cast, producers, directors, writers, and animators all need to be signed up before work can begin. We’re probably a year or two away from the first episodes being ready… but I’m happy to wait.
This was a bit of a surprise announcement – albeit one that I felt Candace Against The Universe paved the way for – and although it may have been a little early or even premature, it’s certainly succeeded at getting fans hyped up and talking on social media. I’m genuinely excited to have more adventures in the tri-state area with Phineas, Ferb, Candace, Perry, Doofenshmirtz, and the whole gang when the series is ready!
Phineas and Ferb Seasons 1-4 are available to stream now on Disney+. Seasons 5 and 6 are currently in pre-production and have no premiere date scheduled. Phineas and Ferb is the copyright of The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-2 as well as the trailers, teasers, and announcements for Season 3.
For the first time ever (at least that I can remember) we got a trailer for a trailer. A full week ago, Paramount teased us with a couple of brief clips from the final Star Trek: Picard Season 3 trailer, as well as a broadcast date. I’m not sure how well this approach will have worked; it certainly got some Trekkies talking, but I’m not sure it will have built up a great deal of anticipation beyond the confines of the existing fan community.
In the United States, advertising slots halfway through major American football games are pretty big business, and in a way it’s positive that Paramount would sacrifice one of the most valuable of these on its CBS network to promote Picard. Perhaps for some casual viewers who weren’t aware that the cast from The Next Generation will be reprising their roles, showing the trailer at such a big, heavily-viewed event will generate some interest. As a non-American, however, it’s hard not to see Paramount debuting this trailer in the middle of an American football game as just another “America First” move from a corporation that doesn’t care about its international audience. Paramount has, to its credit, put the trailer on several of its social media pages (not on its YouTube channel, though, weirdly) so at least fans who follow those pages will have been able to see it.
The trailer itself showed off two new characters, and there were explosions and battles aplenty. But I don’t think it was actually as exciting as I’d expected, and it didn’t have any big tease or reveal to really punch through and sell me on the notion that this is going to be an unmissable season of Star Trek. There were also several moments in the trailer that seemed to be recycled from past teasers and trailers, which I wasn’t wild about.
At New York Comic-Con last year, the trailer that was shown off introduced Captain Vadic and also dropped the surprise returns of Lore and Professor Moriarty as characters on the villainous side of the season. In hindsight, I wonder if at least one of these characters should have been saved for this trailer, which showed us two brand-new characters but didn’t really have anything quite at that same level in terms of stunning or surprising moments.
Of course, it’s true that Picard can’t blow all of its big surprises in pre-season marketing material! If that were to happen there’d be nothing left to shock and excite viewers when the show gets underway – and I certainly hope that there’ll be some wonderfully surprising moments in the new season. But as we said last year, the way in which Paramount schedules and reveals these things could have been better. Instead of revealing Lore and Moriarty last time, why not have revealed one character in each trailer? That would have been a bit more interesting, at least from the point of view of fans who follow Star Trek more closely.
But that’s enough about what wasn’t there or what we didn’t see! The new season’s story is taking shape, little by little, and we caught glimpses of potentially-interesting story beats that could have a major impact on Picard’s final outing.
First of all, let’s talk about Captain Vadic. In the new trailer, she was shown alongside a handful of masked characters – and they gave me a bit of a “comic book villain” feel. Their bird-like masks were intimidating – but not quite at the same level as the masked Borg Queen at the beginning of Season 2. As happened on that occasion, I wonder if there’s a reason why Vadic’s crew are masked – could some of them be familiar characters?
I’ve theorised that Vadic may have put together a kind of “rogues’ gallery” of past Star Trek villains for her mission of vengeance, and if that’s the case, the masks could serve a narrative function – keeping the identities of her crew secret until the time is right. I’m by no means certain of that, and it could simply be a design choice, but it’s interesting that, in the final trailer, we saw this glimpse of Vadic’s crew but all of their faces were concealed. Vadic also seems to have a second-in-command, a tall, burly individual who stood behind her at one point.
Sticking with villains, I’m less convinced right now that Lore and Moriarty will be allied with Vadic – or at least, less convinced that she will be the one to re-awaken them. Both characters had been deactivated the last time we saw them, and the question of who may have reactivated them is now a pertinent one! For both Lore and Moriarty, the trailer was cut together in such a way that seemed to imply that Picard and his crew may be responsible for reawakening them.
If that’s true, it raises the obvious question: why? What could Lore and Moriarty possibly have to offer to Picard’s crew as part of a mission to stop Captain Vadic and prevent what was described as “some kind of attack” for which the target could be Starfleet? I think the fact that both Lore and Moriarty are artificial life-forms must be relevant – and we should also keep in mind that Picard himself is now in a synthetic body. Could there be something going on that only affects organics?
Dr Crusher’s line, which seems to come from the first episode of the season, warning Picard to “trust no one” was very interesting, and could also tie into the same theme. Dr Crusher seems to be hinting at some kind of conspiracy, possibly within Starfleet itself, and that could lead to Picard not only having to turn to his old crew – the people he’s known the longest and trusts the most – but also to these malevolent artificial life-forms who may be immune to whatever is going on.
Two storylines from Star Trek’s past leapt to mind when I put those two things together. First we have the parasite-aliens from The Next Generation Season 1 episode Conspiracy. That story was never concluded, and it was implied that the parasite-aliens may have successfully contacted their homeworld before being defeated. It would be a bold choice to return to that story… and I’m not sure how it would connect with Captain Vadic, but I suppose she could be the new “mother creature?” Maybe this one is a bit of a stretch!
Secondly, we have the Dominion from Deep Space Nine, and specifically the shape-shifting Founders. Although later seasons focused on the Dominion War, prior to the conflict’s outbreak several episodes dealt with the idea of changeling infiltrators replacing key individuals and wreaking havoc in the Alpha Quadrant. Notable characters who were replaced by changelings included the Tal Shiar’s Colonel Lovok, Klingon General Martok, and DS9’s own Dr Bashir.
If this were to pan out, perhaps Vadic is a changeling seeking revenge for the Federation’s victory in the Dominion War. It might be impossible to know who within Starfleet is who they say they are and who might be a changeling – forcing Picard to rely on his old crew, who he knows very well, and synthetic life-forms who couldn’t be easily replaced? Maybe we’ll have to put some flesh on the bones of these ideas in the days ahead.
The two new characters that the trailer introduced are both unnamed right now, but one is a somewhat snarky Starfleet captain – presumably the commanding officer of the Titan and Seven of Nine’s boss – played by Todd Stashwick. I remember seeing Stashwick in a show called Twelve Monkeys a few years ago, and he’s a decent actor who should bring a lot to a role like this one. I’m not sure he’s long for this world, though – he’s giving me strong redshirt vibes!
The second new character is someone who may work with Dr Crusher in some capacity. I’m not familiar with actor Ed Speleers, but I like the idea of Dr Crusher having an ally of some kind who may be mistrustful of Picard and the crew at first. Could this character turn out to have a deeper connection with Dr Crusher, though? Perhaps he could be a relative – or even her son?
The addition of new characters is something that, if I’m being honest, I’m having majorly conflicted feelings about. On the one hand, the story has to have the freedom to introduce new characters, particularly if they serve a narrative function. But on the other, I’m still reeling from the loss of all but one of the new characters who had been introduced in Picard’s first season. Those characters were dumped in order to make room for the returning crew of the Enterprise-D… but now we’re seeing that there will be at least two other newbies to go along with Captain Vadic, the two La Forge sisters, and the returning villains from The Next Generation. Perhaps it’s because I’m already put out by the way the casting situation was handled, but it stings a little. I can’t help but wonder whether these characters’ roles couldn’t have been filled by the likes of Rios, Elnor, or Soji.
Last time, I commented on how Vadic’s quest for vengeance seemed to be reminiscent of Khan’s, and in this trailer, I felt Picard was really drawing quite heavily on The Wrath of Khan for inspiration. Visually we had things like the boatswain’s whistle and the battle inside a nebula, thematically of course we have the themes of age and revenge, and narratively it even seems that part of the story will see Picard and Riker given a tour of the Titan – much like Kirk was given a tour of the Enterprise at the beginning of The Wrath of Khan.
The trailer did well to juxtapose the new Starfleet captain’s lines about a boring, unexciting mission with images of explosions, phaser fire, battles, and even a starship collision at one point. The only thing I’d say about this is that the line itself felt very much like it was there for the explicit purpose of being used in pre-season marketing material… and sometimes lines of dialogue that were created for that purpose can feel out-of-place, clunky, or even just plain wrong in the context of the story itself. So while it was a great moment in the trailer, and a clever one at that, I hope when that scene rolls around in the actual show it will make sense in context for the captain to say those words!
We caught glimpses of all of the main characters in the trailer, and I hope that they’ll all play a significant role in the story of the season. “Significant” doesn’t have to mean that they’re on screen at every moment, but it really means that I hope everyone will feel as though they’ve joined the mission and come out of retirement (in some cases) for a reason that feels genuine. There’s always a danger when a series or franchise digs up old characters that they could feel superfluous; as if they’re only there because a room full of TV writers wanted them to be. So far we’ve seen Dr Crusher seemingly on an important mission… but the others I’m less clear about at this early stage.
When I previewed the season a few days ago, I wrote that I feel less “excitement” for Picard than I did in the run-up to Season 1 in 2020 and more a sense of restrained optimism. And to be blunt about it, this trailer didn’t change how I feel. There are definitely areas that seem to have potential, and a “Picard does The Wrath of Khan” narrative could be an engaging one if done well, but there are still lingering concerns and questions.
The trailer was, once again, action-packed and designed to generate plenty of excitement as Paramount enters the most crucial phase of the show’s marketing campaign, and I hope that it succeeded at drawing attention to Picard, at any rate. While the trailer may not have allayed my fears that Season 3 will blitz past and ignore the characters and storylines from Seasons 1 and 2, it didn’t really add any new points of concern, so that’s good. I guess.
To tell the truth, I want to be more excited about Picard – and about this latest trailer – than I actually am. I don’t like feeling cynical about these characters and themes, and with Picard being set in precisely the era that I’d love Star Trek to spend more time exploring, I genuinely hope that this final season will succeed, and will, as promised, finally hand the torch to some new characters who may one day star in a spin-off project also set in this time period. We might’ve seen the first glimpses of who those characters could be, but I’m not sold on that idea just yet.
If there’s one thing to take away from the final trailer it’s this: it’s probably time to give The Wrath of Khan a re-watch! This story seems to be picking up on themes, narrative beats, and character types that were present in that film – and as it’s one of the best things Star Trek has ever done, that could be a great plan. Or it could feel disappointingly regressive and repetitive.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Picard can pull out a decent final season to end on a high note, and while even a fantastic story won’t wash away the disappointment of two muddled, mismanaged seasons, if the show goes out with a bang at least we can be satisfied that we got a fun final adventure with the crew of the Enterprise-D. This trailer hasn’t fully sold me on that concept, and it was missing the kind of big surprise or unexpected character that might’ve generated a bit more excitement. But it didn’t ruin anything, either, and I came away from the trailer no more and no less excited for Picard’s final season than I was before I pressed play.
Star Trek: Picard Season 3 will premiere on Paramount+ in the United States on the 16th of February 2023, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world on the 17th of February 2023. Seasons 1 and 2 are already available to stream or buy on DVD/Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-2 and the trailers, teasers, and announcements for Season 3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Next Generation, Nemesis, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.
Is everyone going to survive the upcoming season of Star Trek: Picard? I think there are reasons to doubt that! So today I’m going to take a look at the show’s main and secondary characters and speculate about who may or may not be killed off before the curtain falls. Is that a bit macabre?
Picard hasn’t been shy when it comes to killing off legacy characters. In Season 1 we lost Hugh the Borg, Icheb, Bruce Maddox, and if you want to get technical about it, Picard himself – or at least his original body! We also saw the villainous Rizzo killed off in the season finale. And in Season 2, we said goodbye to Q most notably, but also saw Tallinn killed off as the story reached its conclusion.
In addition, several comments from showrunner Terry Matalas and others involved in the production of Season 3 have seemed to hint at the possibility of character deaths. So I think we have reason enough to speculate about who may or may not make it to the end of the story!
A well-timed character death can do wonders for a story, raising the stakes significantly. In the aftermath of television shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones – pioneers of what I call the “disposable cast” model, where no main character can reasonably be assumed to be safe – audience expectations have shifted, and throwing characters into life-or-death situations definitely feels more dangerous than it ever used to!
A character death can also be the right move for a story. If a character has completed their arc or storyline, it can feel right – at least in some cases – if the way their story ends is with their death. So for all of those reasons, I think it’s at least a possibility that Star Trek: Picard will go down this route in Season 3.
When we’re dealing with legacy characters, this does get a bit more complicated. The main characters from The Next Generation are iconic and beloved, and need to be handled with care! But it could still feel right for the story, the character themselves, or both, if one or more were killed off. This season is being billed as the “final” adventure for this crew – and I can’t help but feel that “final” could really mean “final” for at least one of them!
Before we get started, a couple of caveats. First of all, I’m not necessarily advocating for any of these characters to be killed off. I adore The Next Generation and its characters, and while I could accept the loss of one or more of them if it came at the right moment and was handled well, I don’t really want to have to say goodbye to anyone!
This is also just the subjective opinion of one person. I’m going to look at each of the characters in turn and share my thoughts – but if you think I’m completely wrong or if I miss something you consider obvious, just keep in mind that it’s only my opinion… and although this is a dark subject in some ways, it’s supposed to be a bit of fun!
Finally, I have no “insider information.” I’m not even certain that all of the characters we’re going to look at will appear or even be mentioned in Season 3, let alone that they’ll have fully-fledged arcs, so please remember to take all of this in that spirit.
With all of that out of the way, let’s get started!
Character #1: Jean-Luc Picard
Star Trek: Picard has, as mentioned, already “killed” Jean-Luc Picard – and it would feel very strange if the show were to do so again! I know that a lot of folks speculated that Picard would be permanently killed off in this series, especially in the run-up to Season 1 when it wasn’t clear if the series would be renewed, but having already done a fake-out death, it would be difficult, I feel, for the show to kill off Picard for a second time.
It’s primarily for that reason that I consider Picard to be safe. If we hadn’t gone through that death-and-rebirth narrative at the end of Season 1, I’d almost certainly feel that he was in danger. And I could be wrong about that – if the series is the final chapter of his story, it makes a lot of sense for it to end with his death. But I really feel that it would be a struggle to kill off Picard for the second time in a way that would be impactful, emotional, and that would carry the necessary weight to say a permanent goodbye to such an iconic character who has been such an important part of the Star Trek franchise.
Character #2: Laris
Status: Killed Off-Screen?
Laris was central to Picard’s story in Season 2 – serving as the “love interest” that he struggled to begin a relationship with. Picard’s inability to settle into a romantic relationship was what caused Q to set the entire season’s story in motion, and by the time Picard returned to his vineyard at the end of the season, he finally seemed ready to embrace a potential new relationship with Laris, something Guinan called his “one final frontier still to come.”
But unfortunately, Laris actress Orla Brady is one of the main cast members who won’t be returning for Season 3, something she confirmed shortly after the Season 2 finale had aired. Although Picard and Laris seemed to be on the verge of becoming a couple, Brady’s absence from the new season seems to suggest that it won’t happen. One reason for that could be Laris’ death – and after Zhaban was killed off-screen in between Seasons 1 and 2, I wouldn’t be stunned to see the series treat her the same way. Either way, given Laris’ importance last season her absence will have to be addressed somehow.
Character #3: William Riker
Status: In Danger
When considering potential character deaths, one factor to consider is the impact a particular loss would have on the people around them. While all of the main characters are friends, the bond that Riker had with both Picard and Troi – his wife – would make his potential death incredibly significant for those characters in particular.
Riker has also reached a point where we could at least make the case that his story feels somewhat complete. Having served as Picard’s loyal “number one” for fifteen years, he finally accepted his own command, got married to the person he loves, had a family, and retired. If Season 3 is to be an epilogue of sorts for Riker… maybe it won’t end well for him!
Character #4: Elnor
Status: Killed Off-Screen?
I genuinely do not understand the decision to grant Elnor a last-second stay of execution at the end of Season 2. His death, while tragic in more ways than one, served a narrative function, and was of particular importance to Raffi. After a deeply emotional sequence in the penultimate episode of the season, I felt certain that Elnor was truly gone – until Q resurrected him.
Why, then, do I suspect that Elnor may have been killed off-screen? It isn’t just the confirmed absence of actor Evan Evagora, though that is a part of it, but that we seemed to see Raffi looking angry and distraught in the trailer. It would arguably be repetitive if Raffi were forced to deal with Elnor’s death for the second season in a row… but then again, it worked well as the driving force for her arc last time. Elnor’s absence will have to be explained somehow, and unless he’s being secretly tapped for a role in the long-rumoured Starfleet Academy series, he might end up dead for the second time.
Character #5: Captain Vadic
Status: Deader than dead. 101% dead.
If anyone is going to die this season, surely it will be the villain of the piece! Somehow, some way, by the time the credits roll on the season finale, Captain Vadic will have been killed – I am practically certain of that. Her defeat and death may end up costing Picard and the crew dearly, but these kinds of villains really only end one way.
I just hope that, along the way, we truly come to learn who Vadic is and what’s driving her. Seasons 1 and 2 both left a lot on the table in terms of unexplained or unclear narrative threads, and whilst we’re having fun reuniting with the crew of the Enterprise-D, I truly want to spend time with Vadic to figure out what’s going on with her.
Character #6: Dr Beverly Crusher
Status: In Danger
Because of the nature of her close relationship with Picard – regardless of whether they ever “crossed that line” and became more than just friends – Dr Crusher’s death would hit him especially hard. For that reason alone, in a show called Star Trek: Picard, Dr Crusher is absolutely in danger!
Not only that, but based on what little we know so far, Dr Crusher is going to have a significant role to play in jump-starting the story, sending a distress signal of some kind to Picard while on an assignment in deep space. We’ve already seen clips in the trailers that confirm she will be reunited with Picard, so that mission won’t prove fatal. But Dr Crusher seems to be connected to whatever’s going on – perhaps in a big way. She could be one of Captain Vadic’s targets.
Character #7: Lore
I could see Lore’s story going one of two ways. Either he really leans into the “evil twin” angle from The Next Generation, allowing Brent Spiner to put in yet another delicious villainous performance, or there’s some kind of pathway to redemption for him – perhaps even one that might lead to a resurrection or restoration of Data.
So I’m calling this one 50/50. If there’s more to Lore’s story this season than just pure villainy, I think he’s in with a chance of survival. If he remains true to his mission and is loyal to Vadic, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him meet his end – maybe at the hands of Geordi!
Character #8: Soji
Status: Killed Off-Screen?
Soji made scarcely more than a cameo appearance in Season 2, and didn’t even join the others for a drink at Guinan’s bar at the end of the story. If the story of Season 3 will involve some kind of attack or invasion, such as by the Season 1 super-synths as I’ve previously theorised, we could learn that Soji has been killed. However, after being absent last time, her death wouldn’t have as big an impact on either the characters on the show or on us as the audience – so that could be a reason not to do it.
Either way, I hope some reference is made to Soji to explain her absence from the season’s story. She was such a big part of Season 1 that it would be a shame to hear absolutely nothing about her in the show’s final season.
Character #9: Worf
Status: In Danger
Of all The Next Generation characters, it seems from the trailers that Worf may be the one who’s changed the most from when we last saw him. Worf seemed to suggest that he has become a “pacifist,” something that could really shake up his characterisation. After a long arc across not only The Next Generation, but the back half of Deep Space Nine too, maybe Worf’s story is finally at an end. He might even be at peace with that idea!
Worf is the character that we’ve spent the most time with in all of Star Trek, so his exit – if indeed there is to be one – will have to be handled with care. But for Worf, dying in battle to save his friends (and maybe the Federation, too) would actually be a good way to go. So maybe it will finally be a good day to die for our favourite Klingon!
Character #10: Seven of Nine
I’m calling Seven “safe” because I’m not convinced that the Star Trek franchise is done with her just yet! I know I wasn’t the only one in the aftermath of Season 2 to suggest that some kind of “Captain Seven” series could be an interesting direction to take for the next Star Trek production, but even if that doesn’t happen, the development that Seven’s character has gone through in Picard so far has set the stage for further appearances in some form.
While we’re still waiting to hear what (if anything) is coming up next for Star Trek, any future 25th Century series would do well to include Seven of Nine either as a main or recurring character. Her arc in Picard has been utterly transformative, taking one of my least-favourite characters from Voyager and getting her to a point where I could legitimately see her as the lead in her own spin-off.
Character #11: Deanna Troi
Status: In Danger
As above with Riker, Troi has to be considered in danger because of the emotional weight her death would carry. This would pack a punch for Riker in particular, as they’re married, but Troi was also close with Dr Crusher and Worf too. Like Riker, Troi has also arguably come to the end of her story: serving in Starfleet, retiring, and becoming a parent.
The loss of Troi would also deprive the crew of a particularly useful talent: her empathic abilities. As an empath, Troi has been able to get a sense of all kinds of adversaries – and in one of the trailers we saw her become deeply alarmed at what she sensed from Vadic. Losing Troi would weaken Picard’s crew in a potentially significant way – and that could provide a narrative reason for killing her off.
Character #12: Raffi Musiker
Status: In Danger
If there’s going to be any kind of “Seven of Nine show,” surely Raffi would be a part of that? But even with that caveat in mind, I can’t shake the feeling that Raffi could be in danger. If Picard’s writers and producers want the impact of killing off a main character – but don’t want the controversy of killing a legacy character – then Raffi is really their only option.
With the rest of the new characters already gone, it would be a great shame to lose Raffi as well. One of the things I hoped that Picard would do was serve as a kind of launchpad for new stories set in this time period – and for that to happen, at least some new characters need to be introduced, developed, and stick around. Raffi is the last new character standing, so if there is to be any kind of “passing of the torch,” as the show’s producers have suggested, she needs to survive!
Character #13: Geordi La Forge
Status: In Danger
One of the few things we know at this stage about Geordi in Season 3 is that he has two daughters – both of whom are set to appear in the show. As above with Troi and Riker, Geordi’s story could feel complete or close to complete in some ways, which could mean he’s in danger. His death would not only hit the main characters, but also these two new characters – and if it’s played well, the emotional impact of that could be huge.
Although I don’t think this is canon, at least one tie-in novel for Season 1 stated that Geordi had worked with Picard on the Romulan rescue plan prior to the attack on Mars. Dialogue in Season 1 confirmed the two are still friends, but I wonder if there could be unfinished business there. If so, that could give Geordi a reason to stick around – or it could set the stage for an arc that ends with his death.
Characters #14 and #15: Sidney and Alandra La Forge
Status: In Danger
Geordi’s daughters – who seem to have been given the names Sidney and Alandra – will be joining the mission, but despite their connection to him, at this point in the story they’re little more than redshirts… and we all know what can happen to characters like that!
If Picard’s writers and producers wanted to kill off a character in a way that would pack an emotional punch, Sidney and/or Alandra could be in the firing line. Their deaths would have a huge impact on Geordi, which could become a big part of his arc and characterisation across the season. It would be especially cruel to kill off both of these characters… but plenty of television shows have done exactly that kind of thing!
Character #16: Professor Moriarty
Status: In Danger
At this stage, I genuinely don’t know whether Professor Moriarty will have a significant role or if his appearance will be more of a cameo. Regardless, I think he’s in danger – and he could be one of the first villains on the chopping block, with Lore and Vadic keeping up the fight after his defeat/destruction.
Although Moriarty was programmed to be “evil” because of the source material upon which his characterisation was based, he’s a surprisingly sympathetic character – or at least he feels that way to me. His existence isn’t his fault, and the fact that he was trapped by the limitations of his technology feels strangely relatable. Could there be a redemption arc for Moriarty?
Character #17: The Borg Queen-Dr Jurati hybrid
Status: Killed Off-Screen?
The Borg Queen-Dr Jurati hybrid didn’t get a “goodbye” at all in Season 2, promising to stand watch over the mysterious anomaly that was part of that season’s story. I really hope that Season 3 will address this somehow – and I have a theory as to how the mysterious anomaly could connect not only to Season 3, but to the events of Season 1 as well!
Regardless of whether that pans out, though, we know that Alison Pill won’t be reprising her role in Season 3, which leads to the question of the Borg Queen’s survival. If the mysterious anomaly were to erupt again, could it have destroyed her ship? Or might her Borg faction have been one of Vadic’s targets?
Character #18: Sela (or Tasha Yar?)
At time of writing, we don’t know whether Denise Crosby’s rumoured appearance in Season 3 is for real. Some outlets have reported it as if it were fact, but I can’t find anything official on that! But let’s assume she is coming back for a moment. If her character of Sela is involved, somehow, I think she’s in serious danger. If there’s some kind of attempt to bring back Tasha Yar, then all bets are off!
Sela tangled with Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D on two occasions, being defeated both times. If someone like Vadic were putting together a revenge mission, I can absolutely see Sela jumping at the chance to be part of it. Her story could also connect in some way to the Romulan storylines in Season 1. But if she’s coming back as a villain and part of Vadic’s team, I definitely think that puts her in the firing line.
Character #19: Another familiar face
Status: In Danger
One of the most shocking sequences in the trailer was the apparent destruction of Starfleet HQ (or some other major Federation building). If this is real, and isn’t some kind of vision or dream sequence, it stands to reason that a lot of Starfleet folks might be killed. Among them could easily be a familiar face or two from Star Trek’s past – either a recurring character or perhaps even a major character from The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, or Voyager.
As we saw in Season 1, Picard hasn’t been shy when it comes to reintroducing a legacy character only to kill them off. Icheb’s death is perhaps the most noteworthy example, and it could be significant if a familiar character or two were to be killed by Vadic or someone working with her. If this happens, though, I hope we’re reintroduced to the character in some way, and that their death isn’t merely included as a line of dialogue.
So that’s it!
Those are all of the characters we know of at this stage, and I’ve made some wild guesses and perhaps even a couple of logical, educated guesses about who may or may not make it to the end of the season.
At the end of the day, when you throw characters into a high-stakes, high-tension, high-danger story, it stands to reason that they won’t all make it out alive. As television storytelling has progressed, the risk to even beloved main characters has become greater than it ever was, and although we have seen some pretty heavy plot armour in some parts of the Star Trek franchise (looking at you, Discovery) I can’t shake the feeling that someone significant is going to be killed before Season 3 is done.
But hey, maybe I’m wrong about that! In any case, we don’t have long left to wait before we’ll find out! As I said last time, I’m planning to write individual episode reviews as Season 3 is broadcast, and I’ll also craft a few theories if the series lends itself to that – so be sure to stop by when Season 3 arrives!
Star Trek: Picard Season 3 will premiere on Paramount+ in the United States on the 16th of February 2023, and in the United Kingdom and around the world on the 17th of February 2023. Seasons 1 and 2 are already available to stream or buy on DVD/Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-2 and the trailers, teasers, and announcements for Season 3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Wrath of Khan, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Nemesis, and Lower Decks.
Last year, shortly before Picard’s second season premiered, I put together a list of twelve Star Trek stories that I felt would make for good background viewing – and I was pleasantly surprised that most of the episodes and films that I selected actually did have some bearing on the story of the season, or at least would’ve given viewers some additional information as the story unfolded. Given my usual track record with theories and predictions, that was a bit of a surprise! But you know what they say: “even a broken clock is right twice a day!”
With Season 3 now less than three weeks away, I wanted to once again compile a few stories from Star Trek’s extensive back catalogue that I think could make for useful background viewing ahead of its premiere. At this stage last time around I felt we had a pretty good idea of the main narrative elements that would be present in Season 2: Q, the Borg Queen, and time travel had all been teased ahead of time, and comprised a big portion of the season’s story. This time, though, it feels like we don’t have as much information to go on!
As always, a couple of important caveats before we get started. First of all, I have no “insider information.” I’m not trying to claim that I know or have somehow clairvoyantly predicted the plot of Star Trek: Picard Season 3, and it’s quite possible that none of the stories we’re going to talk about will have any bearing whatsoever on the new season. Paramount is keeping a relatively tight lid on things this time around, and while we know which characters will be included, there’s still plenty that we don’t know! I’ve made a few guesses and assumptions – but I could be completely wide of the mark.
I’m calling the entries on this list “stories,” as several of these arcs play out across more than one episode. And I’ll be listing the stories in broadcast order – not in order of importance! It also goes without saying that Picard Seasons 1 and 2 are necessary viewing – so I’m not going to put them on this list.
Finally, all of this is the subjective opinion of one person. If I include episodes and films that you hate or think will be irrelevant, or I exclude something that seems blindingly obvious, please just keep in mind that this is only the opinion of one Trekkie – and that it’s meant to be a bit of fun!
With all of that out of the way, let’s take a look at a few Star Trek stories!
Story #1: The Wrath of Khan
Although we’re unlikely to see any characters cross over from The Wrath of Khan – which is set more than a century before the events of Picard – ever since we got our first glimpse of the new season’s villain a few months ago, I’ve been wondering if we might see some of the same themes crop up. Captain Vadic is still shrouded in mystery right now, but she gives me a very strong Khan vibe, and her potential obsession with Picard and desire to seek revenge against him could take the story down a somewhat familiar path.
Ricardo Montalbán’s take on Khan is one of the most iconic villain performances not only in the Star Trek franchise, but in all of cinema. So if Season 3 is going to try to emulate that in some way, there are some very big shoes to fill! If Star Trek is going to return to this idea of a powerful villain on a quest for vengeance, it will definitely be worth stepping back to see the franchise’s first take on that concept. And maybe, just maybe, there could be something in the story about genetic engineering and augmentation, too!
Story #2: The Battle The Next Generation Season 1
This one is a bit of a stab in the dark and it could go absolutely nowhere! But The Battle introduces us to DaiMon Bok, a Ferengi captain who holds a grudge against Picard. Years earlier, the USS Stargazer had come under attack by an unknown vessel, and Picard was able to defeat it before the ship was lost. Aboard that ship was Bok’s son, and the Ferengi has never forgiven Picard for causing his death.
Aside from the fact that this is another story that deals with the theme of revenge (and specifically, revenge against Picard), I can’t help but wonder whether Bok might make a surprise appearance in Picard Season 3. We’ve already seen that Captain Vadic has brought two of Picard’s old adversaries – Lore and Moriarty – onto her team, and I have no doubt that Bok would jump at the chance to join another mission against his old foe. If Captain Vadic has put together a “rogues’ gallery” of Star Trek villains, perhaps we’ll see Bok among them.
Story #3: Datalore, Brothers, and Descent Parts I-II The Next Generation
Lore only appeared in four episodes of The Next Generation, and I’m grouping them all together for this entry! Given that Brent Spiner is listed as a main character, I think it’s a safe assumption that Lore will play a significant role in the story of Season 3, so I think it will be absolutely worthwhile to see where he came from and what he went through prior to being shut down by Data.
Lore is Data’s “evil twin,” a malicious android who betrayed his creator and has caused a lot of harm. But especially by the time we got to the two-part episode Descent, I felt there was much more to the character than just a one-dimensional anti-Data or a foil for the crew of the Enterprise-D. Lore has a degree of complexity, and I’ll be curious to see what’s become of him when the new story gets underway.
I also have a theory about how Lore’s backstory could be connected to the events of Season 1, and you can find it by clicking or tapping here.
Story #4: Elementary, Dear Data and Ship in a Bottle The Next Generation
Sticking with villainous characters, a huge surprise last year was that Daniel Davis will be reprising his role as the malevolent hologram Professor Moriarty. Moriarty was created by a computer error in Elementary, Dear Data and went on to kidnap Dr Pulaski. In Ship in a Bottle, Moriarty returned and tried to escape the confines of the holodeck. Both episodes are fascinating, and Davis’ portrayal of the iconic Sherlock Holmes character has a menacing calmness that’s absolutely riveting to watch!
Given what we know of holographic technology, and advances like the Doctor’s mobile emitter that was seen in Voyager, I wonder what kind of role Moriarty might play? He’s a genius, that much is certain, and he could cause Picard all kinds of trouble – as indeed he did in his earlier appearances!
Considering that both Professor Moriarty and Lore are both artificial life-forms, I have a theory that could connect the story of Season 3 with that of Seasons 1 and 2. Check it out by clicking or tapping here.
Story #5: Redemption Parts I-II and Unification Parts I-II The Next Generation
There have been rumours flitting about for months that Denise Crosby will appear in Picard Season 3, and while we have yet to get any official confirmation of this, if it’s true and she will return, it seems logical to assume that it will be in the role of Sela. Sela was the daughter of an alternate timeline’s version of Tasha Yar, and tangled with Picard on two occasions – trying to interfere in the Klingon Empire’s civil war and later attempting to conquer Vulcan.
As discussed above, if Captain Vadic is looking for allies in her campaign against Picard and/or the Federation, Sela would surely jump at the chance to be involved. Her failures were almost certainly very costly for her politically, and I can absolutely see her wanting to get her own revenge on Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D. There’s also the possibility that Sela’s involvement in the story could connect with the Zhat Vash plot and other Romulan storylines from Season 1.
Story #6: Disaster The Next Generation Season 5
Disaster is a fantastic episode that throws the whole crew of the Enterprise-D into a chaotic situation. When the ship strikes a quantum filament in space and is left damaged and without power, everyone has to step out of their familiar roles in order to save the day. Disaster is an ensemble piece that gives practically everyone something to do.
Disaster is one of the strongest episodes from Season 5 – which is perhaps my personal favourite season of The Next Generation, so that’s saying a lot! For our purposes today, I like that it’s an episode that throws everyone far out of their comfort zones, that it groups together characters who didn’t often interact with one another, and that it gives all of the main characters something to do to contribute to the story.
Story #7: Attached The Next Generation Season 7
There are several episodes that look at Picard and Dr Crusher’s relationship, but few are as detailed or emotional as Attached. What sounds like a silly sci-fi premise of being connected to one another by telepathic implants actually leads to a great story about the two characters and their emotional bond – a bond that has skirted friendship and something romantic.
One open question that fans have had really since Picard premiered three years ago is what may have happened between Picard and Dr Crusher over the past twenty years or more. It certainly seems as if they’re still friends based on what we’ve seen… but did they ever “cross that line” and become something more? Picard’s arc just last season ultimately turned out to be about his lack of romantic attachments, but you never know!
Story #8: All Good Things… The Next Generation Season 7
In some ways, All Good Things doesn’t really feel like a finale – and that makes sense given that Generations would release in cinemas only a few months after it was broadcast! But The Next Generation’s final episode is an interesting one, and when looking ahead to Picard Season 3, what’s perhaps its biggest draw is that parts of the episode are set in the same time period.
Q sets Picard the challenge of solving an “anti-time” mystery, and to facilitate that, Picard moves through three different time periods – including an alternate future in which we get a look at the show’s main characters. Events in Picard and other Star Trek projects have already undone much of the anti-time timeline, but some elements may make their way into this new story.
Story #9: The Way of the Warrior Deep Space Nine Season 4
Worf is about to make a big return to Star Trek – but unlike his crewmates, we’ve already seen the chapter of his life after he left the Enterprise! In Deep Space Nine’s fourth season, Worf transferred to the station, and the two-part episode The Way of the Warrior not only brought him on board, but did so in spectacular fashion.
The episode focuses on Worf’s inner conflict between his Klingon heritage and duties to Starfleet, as the Klingons plan a mission into the Gamma Quadrant. With Worf set to return, and promises of some kind of connection or tie-in with Deep Space Nine on the cards, I think seeing how he came to join the crew could be worthwhile.
Story #10: In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light Deep Space Nine Season 5
This pair of episodes wrapped up the Klingon-Federation war that started in The Way of the Warrior, and set the stage for the Dominion War that would break out at the end of the season. It was also a strong Worf story that saw him held prisoner at a Dominion internment camp along with Martok, Garak, and Dr Bashir.
Since Star Trek returned to the small screen in 2017, we’ve only gotten the barest of mentions of the Dominion War – but there’s so much potential in a return to Cardassia, the Dominion, and to look at the aftermath of the conflict. As someone who was heavily involved in the war and who did so much to keep the Federation and Klingon Empire united, Worf is the perfect character to use to explore some of these points. We may learn nothing new about the aftermath of the Dominion War in Season 3… but I kind of hope that we will.
Story #11: Insurrection
I know that Insurrection isn’t everyone’s favourite film, but I actually see several parallels with its story based on what we know of Season 3. Picard and his crew undertaking a “Starfleet-adjacent” mission, which may or may not have official approval, sounds an awful lot like what the crew got up to in Insurrection!
Furthermore, I noted in the Season 3 trailer a little while ago that one of the nebulae that Picard and the crew will seemingly visit looks an awful lot like Insurrection’s “Briar Patch” – the region of space in which the Ba’ku homeworld was located. Could there be a deeper connection there? Maybe Captain Vadic is a Son’a, one of the defeated adversaries from Insurrection. That would be a bold move in more ways than one!
Story #12: Author, Author Voyager Season 7
With the return of Professor Moriarty, a sentient hologram, I think it could be worth taking a look at Voyager’s seventh season episode Author, Author. The story focuses on the Doctor, who has written a holo-novel based very loosely on his experiences aboard Voyager – but when he wants to make changes to it, his publisher tries to deny him that right, claiming that a hologram cannot “own” the copyright to his work.
Author, Author may turn out to be ahead of its time given that right now, here in the real world, the question of AI authorship is being discussed! In light of AI art, AI essays, and the like, we’re going to have to take a serious look at this issue in the years ahead! But for our purposes, Author, Author could be an interesting starting point to consider the state of holographic rights and synthetic rights in a general sense in the late 24th and early 25th Centuries. Maybe none of it will matter for Professor Moriarty’s story, but given that Season 1 looked at a ban on synthetic life, there’s a chance some of the themes in the episode will turn out to be relevant.
Story #13: Nemesis
Nemesis was the last time that Picard and his old crew were all together – at least as far as we know! It was certainly the last time that we as the audience got to see them working together, even if they may have reunited off-screen in the years before Season 1. So Nemesis, while arguably not the best Star Trek film, is going to be an important one to watch.
This is also Data’s final mission, as he was killed while stopping the Reman plot. A big part of Season 1 involved giving Data the send-off that he didn’t get in Nemesis, and his influence loomed large over the story in more ways than one. There are also mentions of Lore in the story, though nothing significant I suspect, and we’re introduced to B-4, an early precursor to Data. For all of those reasons and more, Nemesis is a story worth checking out.
Story #14: Kayshon, His Eyes Open Lower Decks Season 2
This might seem a bit of an odd choice, but Lower Decks actually showed us a bit of a look at Captain Riker’s tenure aboard the USS Titan – and the Titan, or at least a ship bearing the same name, is going to be seen in Season 3. In this episode, Lower Decks main character Boimler is serving aboard the Titan under Riker’s command, and takes part in an away mission to a dangerous planet.
When Kayshon, His Eyes Open premiered, I was thrilled to get a look at Riker, the Titan, and the crew he served with. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Season 3 make some kind of reference to Riker’s time in command, and there could even be name-drops of one or more of the characters in this episode. Season 1 already made reference to Star Trek’s animated adventures, and with this episode including Riker in such a large role, it would be a shame in a way if Season 3 just ignored it completely.
I have a full episode review of Kayshon, His Eyes Open – click or tap here to check it out!
So that’s it!
Those are fourteen Star Trek stories that I feel could make for interesting or useful viewing before Picard Season 3 kicks off.
If nothing else, all of the stories above are good fun, and worth re-watching for any Trekkie who may not have seen them in a while! With the story of Season 3 being kept under wraps, some of these picks are admittedly guesses – but I think that all of them have the possibility, at least, to connect with the story that lies ahead.
I’m cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season, despite Picard as a whole not having been as enjoyable as I’d hoped nor having accomplished what I’d wanted it to. There are reasons to be concerned – such as the disappointing decision to jettison all but one of the new characters that the series had introduced – but I’d be lying if I said that one more adventure with the crew of the Enterprise-D wasn’t a tantalising, enticing prospect.
When Picard Season 3 arrives next month, I’ll do my best to keep up with weekly episode reviews, and if the series lends itself to theory-crafting, I daresay I’ll put together some of my patented (and usually wrong) theories as well! So I hope you’ll stay tuned for that!
Star Trek: Picard Season 3 will premiere on Paramount+ in the United States on the 16th of February 2023, and in the United Kingdom and around the world on the 17th of February 2023. Seasons 1 and 2 are already available to stream or buy on DVD/Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for The Last Of Us, both the TV series and the video game.
The Last Of Us is finally here! One of the television shows that I’ve been most keen to see over the past couple of years made its debut last week, and with two episodes under its belt, I think it’s a good time to share my first impressions of the show.
First of all, the narrative of The Last Of Us is just perfect for an adaptation like this. Video games have been notoriously difficult to successfully bring to the screen – but in my view, that’s because most previous attempts have been feature films, not television shows. A modern, serialised TV show is a far better option for almost all video game stories for one simple reason: length.
The Last Of Us was released on the PlayStation 3 back in 2013, and its main storyline took players anywhere from 16-20 hours, on average, to complete. There’s no way to condense a story like that into a film; even the longest works of cinema clock in around the three-hour mark. By choosing the small screen instead, Sony and developers Naughty Dog have played a masterstroke.
So before the show had even got started, it felt like there was a strong chance for success. If I’d have heard that The Last Of Us was going to be adapted as a film, I’d have been far less interested – because its complex, dark, and deeply emotional story needs more time to play out. And based on the first two episodes, it seems as though we’re in for a solid adaptation that doesn’t rush past or skip over key story points.
I was worried that I’d find Pedro Pascal miscast as Joel, if I’m being honest. Although Pascal was solid in Game of Thrones, and I’ve enjoyed his performances in other titles, like last year’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent – which you should really check out, by the way, as it’s a solid action-comedy – I wasn’t convinced that he was the right fit for this part. Pascal underwhelms me in The Mandalorian, his other big made-for-streaming series, but that’s more to do with the writing rather than the performance; The Mandalorian doesn’t give Pascal a chance to show his emotional range (nor any range at all, come to that) which is where he shines in The Last Of Us.
So I’m glad to have been proven wrong about that! The central pairing of Joel and Ellie is both the driving force of the plot of The Last Of Us and also its emotional core, and I think we’ve seen the beginnings of that in the show’s first couple of episodes. Again, this is something that builds up slowly, and the initial part of the story – the part that we’ve seen so far – put Ellie with other characters at first. But there’s a hint of good things to come in the pairing of Pedro Pascal and fellow Game of Thrones alum Bella Ramsey.
It’s not a stretch to say that The Last Of Us is one of the best video games I’ve ever played. Mechanically the game is solid, and its stealth-action gameplay is decent – but that was hardly innovative in 2013. What made the game special was its narrative; the game’s story was one I’d long felt was worthy of an adaptation like this. Bringing it to a new audience, as well as providing fans of the game with an adaptation worthy of such a remarkable story, was the challenge that befell HBO – and so far, it seems that they’ve risen to meet it.
Bringing the post-apocalyptic world of The Last Of Us to screen successfully required a huge financial investment – not only to secure big-name stars like Pedro Pascal, but to create intricate sets that reflect twenty years’ worth of decay, and to craft animation work that provides a sense of scale. HBO backed up the show’s creators with a decent budget, and as a result The Last Of Us recreates the game’s hauntingly beautiful world – with a few changes along the way!
I don’t know whether there will be a reason for the decision to change the time period in which the story is set other than perhaps an attempt to play on some kind of hidden early 2000s nostalgia… but maybe there will be more to it than that, we’ll have to see. In the original game, the infection broke out circa 2013 (the year the game was released) with the main story taking place in 2033-34. Perhaps the creators of the show hoped to use a kind of “look at what life could be like right now in an alternate timeline” thing, but if that’s all there is to it I don’t think it adds anything.
In a way, the show might be more relatable, not less, if it were set in the 2030s or 2040s, amidst the decaying remnants of today’s culture, rather than reflecting the way things were twenty years ago. There were what I interpreted as subtle digs at the George W Bush administration and the general post-9/11 culture of the United States in some of The Last Of Us’ scenes and dialogue, but this is something that, to be honest, has been explored in far more depth – and far better – in numerous other works, and again I don’t think it added anything of substance. However, I’m content to wait and see if the time period and other setting changes are going to be paid off later.
One thing that the show absolutely nails is its post-apocalyptic look. The faces of the characters are grimy and dirty from years of living in difficult conditions, the sets all show attention to detail with moss and mould, and every last element has been carefully crafted to simulate a world that is, for the most part, abandoned. CGI and animation work combine with practical effects and some very gruesome makeup to really sell the effect.
Two episodes in and I’ve already noticed multiple locations that look incredibly similar to the video game upon which the show was based. The flooded hotel in particular felt eerily familiar, and doubtless it would to anyone who played through The Last Of Us. There must be a temptation with an adaptation like this to shake things up and put the characters into different-looking spaces, but so far I’ve been struck by just how similar the locations have all felt.
The series has made some changes, though, and one of the biggest ones that’s become apparent so far is the relationship between Tommy and Joel. In the video game, Joel was estranged from Tommy by the time of the main story, with Tommy having left to join the Fireflies – an anti-government group whose objective is to both end the military government and find a cure for the cordyceps infection. In the show, however, a big part of Joel’s motivation is to reunite with Tommy, who seems to be a resident of the Boston quarantine zone along with Joel and Tess. It remains to be seen how this change will impact the story, and whether there’s a deeper reason for it.
Another notable change came toward the end of the second episode, with the events that unfolded at the State Capitol also being quite different when compared to the video game – though this one was less impactful as it took the main characters to more or less the same place.
I’m not any kind of “purist” opposed to changes like this, and if they serve the story well and create an engaging narrative, it should be fine. But I do think it’s noteworthy in any kind of adaptation – be that of a book, film, or video game – when narrative beats and characterisations are altered. The Last Of Us worked so well because it’s such a strong character-driven story… and I guess all I can say is that I hope that making changes to that story and its characters won’t have any ill effects or unintended consequences!
There are advantages to changing things up, though. While fans of the game should be confident that they’re familiar with the broad strokes of the plot, smaller changes and additions keep The Last Of Us fresh even for folks who may have played through its story multiple times. That’s a net positive, in my view, and never being quite sure what will happen next is almost always a good thing for a television show like this as it seeks to keep the tension and excitement levels high!
The addition of a sequence set at the very beginning of the outbreak, following a scientist and military officers in Indonesia, was interesting, and the show seems to be making a bit more of an attempt than the game did to explain the origin of its cordyceps infection. Even if that sequence is all we’re going to see, I still think it was a good idea to include it. Changing the disease’s origin from “South America” to Indonesia is certainly an interesting choice, though, and again I wonder if this is something that will be paid off down the line.
The Last Of Us has a beautiful and understated piece of music as its main theme. The Americana-inspired tune is pitch-perfect for the series, and the short, modern title sequence is in line with a lot of other shows in the serialised space; shows from Star Trek: Picard to Game of Thrones have all used CGI sequences like this. I don’t think that The Last Of Us’ theme will become quite so recognisable and iconic as some others, but it’s a great piece in its own right.
So let’s wrap things up! The Last Of Us is off to a great start. There are a couple of open questions; elements unique to the series or that have been changed from the source material, and I’m curious to see how that will play out as the story progresses. But overall, the show feels like a great adaptation. It’s easily one of the best video game adaptations that have been created so far, and certainly gives the Halo series on Paramount+ a run for its money!
For someone who isn’t a big horror fan, there were jumpscares and tense moments in The Last Of Us that were definitely pushing me out of my comfort zone as a viewer, but they were relatively few and far between in a complex, nuanced story that has plenty of other things to focus on. At no point did I feel I needed to switch off or skip ahead to get past a difficult or frightening sequence, and I think that’s to the show’s credit.
Above all, The Last Of Us is one of the most incredible and emotional stories that I’ve ever played through in a video game. Bringing that story to a wider audience and making it more accessible is a fantastic thing, and I hope that this series will succeed, bring in huge numbers of viewers, and introduce this wonderful story to a whole new group of folks – while still finding ways to keep it exciting and engaging for people who’ve already experienced it. Based on the first couple of episodes, there are plenty of reasons to think it’s up to the task!
The Last Of Us is broadcast on HBO and streams on HBO Max in the United States and is broadcast on Sky Atlantic in the United Kingdom. The Last Of Us is the copyright of Naughty Dog, Sony Interactive Entertainment, and HBO. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
This article deals with the sensitive subject of transphobia and may be uncomfortable for some readers.
When the Harry Potter books emerged in the late 1990s, I missed out on the craze at first. It was only around the time of the third book in the series that I was convinced to check them out; it had become an unavoidable phenomenon by then, and even though I was outside of the nominal target age range and had long since moved beyond kids’ stories, I felt that the Harry Potter stories were good fun and had a lot to offer. I even went as far as to pre-order a couple of the remaining titles, reading them as soon as they were available.
Although I was never “in” the Harry Potter fan community, I definitely held the books in high regard, and when the films came along I enjoyed those as well. Harry Potter became a point of pride, in a way, as a British person; in an entertainment landscape so utterly dominated by the United States, Hollywood, and American films and television shows, here was a distinctly British entertainment property that was taking the world by storm.
When the Harry Potter film series came to an end at the beginning of the last decade, so too did my involvement with the franchise. I found the first Fantastic Beasts film to be poor, I wasn’t in a position to be able to see the Cursed Child stage play, and although I’d still have said that the films and books were decent, I was in no rush to go back and re-read or re-watch any of them. Harry Potter had come and gone for me – as indeed it had for most of its audience outside of the hard-core fandom.
The recent conversations around JK Rowling, prompted in large part by the upcoming video game Hogwarts Legacy, have dragged up the Harry Potter series for me, though, and it’s fair to say that my feelings have changed a lot since I first sat down to read the books more than twenty years ago. JK Rowling has leveraged the fame and money that Harry Potter brought her to go to some pretty dark places, and as a result I’m one of a growing number of people who can’t support, enjoy, or take part in the Harry Potter series, Hogwarts Legacy, or anything else related to it any longer. In this piece I want to explain, as best I can, why I feel that way.
First of all, I believe that each of us has an inalienable right not to be compelled, forced, or shamed into supporting a company, product, or public figure when what they say and do conflicts with our values and beliefs. This applies to conservatives who say they won’t support “woke” corporations and it applies equally to anyone who doesn’t want to lend their support to companies and individuals who express homophobic, transphobic, and other kinds of bigoted views. Whether we agree or disagree with someone about the importance of an issue, the fact remains that we all have the right to determine what’s important to us, where our values lie, and to try – insofar as possible in a corporate capitalist system – to avoid companies and entities that don’t share those beliefs and values.
This is the very definition of “voting with your wallet.”
It doesn’t have to be explained in such lofty philosophical terms, but this is basically what it boils down to. For some folks, JK Rowling’s transphobic public statements, her continued financial support for transphobic organisations, campaigns, and causes, as well as other decisions she’s taken and statements she’s made mean we don’t want to support Harry Potter, Hogwarts Legacy, or anything else in the franchise.
Now I’d like to get into some of the reasons why I came to the decision to undertake what essentially amounts to a boycott of Hogwarts Legacy and Harry Potter.
I first started to feel uncomfortable with the way JK Rowling was treating the franchise when she began going back to the books and clumsily tried to insert characterisations and narrative elements that were simply not present – nor even implied to be present – in the original work. She seemed to be doing this for “internet points;” for the clout of being able to claim that she had actually created a series that was more progressive than it truly was.
What Rowling was attempting to accomplish with an unsubstantiated claim that, for instance, the character of Dumbledore was gay, was to award the Harry Potter series – and herself as its author – further prestige and recognition that was unearned. At a time when Rowling’s other endeavours were failing to come anywhere close to recapturing the magic (no pun intended) of Harry Potter, making very public statements about her only genuinely successful work was a way for her to retain a level of attention and relevance – and by keeping a spotlight on Harry Potter at a time when many of the series’ more casual readers and viewers were drifting away, it was a way to try to keep the cash flowing.
Long before JK Rowling started down a path that would lead to overt transphobia, I think it was pretty obvious that she was someone who was struggling to let go of Harry Potter. By returning to the series to put out a sequel in the form of a stage play, signing another deal with Warner Bros. to make films based on the book Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, and having the online forum/community Pottermore created, Rowling signalled both a desperation to stay in the spotlight and a cold-hearted greed as she sought to keep the money coming in.
But during this period, Rowling was more a figure of fun than anything harmful. Sure, it wasn’t great to see her trying to almost arbitrarily assign new sexualities and other traits to characters in the Harry Potter books, but it came across more as pathetic attention-seeking than anything malicious. Rowling saw that the LGBT+ movement was advancing, felt that the lack of open or even implicit LGBT+ characters in Harry Potter was hampering its ongoing success, and tried to remedy that in a pretty shameless way. It was sad, almost pitiable… but something I felt was, at most, worthy of being joked about.
JK Rowling’s very first public step down what we now know to be a transphobic path seemed pretty innocuous at first. I actually interpreted her Twitter post – in which she responded to an article by Devex that used the phrase “people who menstruate” – to be harmless wordplay. People who write a lot often like to play with words, as I can attest, and by sarcastically responding to the post it seemed, for a moment at least, that what she was doing wasn’t anything serious.
But over the following months and years, Rowling has clearly become increasingly transphobic.
Let’s define what we mean by “transphobia” so there are no misunderstandings. Someone who is transphobic has an irrational hatred toward transgender and gender non-conforming people. In this context we aren’t using “phobia” to refer to a fear, but to refer to dislike, disapproval, prejudice, discrimination, and/or hatred. And to be especially clear: if someone says they believe that transgender people, and trans women in particular, should be “treated with dignity,” but then refuse to even accept that transitioning is possible or oppose laws that would affirm someone’s true identity, they are transphobic. Saying they believe in treating people with “dignity” has become a buzzword in some right-wing circles, but if they can’t back up that word with any meaningful action, then it’s nothing but cover for something overtly harmful.
One half-serious Twitter post that may have been tone-deaf does not constitute transphobia, although it clearly hinted at a deeper dislike or disapproval of transgender and gender non-conforming people. But if that had been Rowling’s sole contribution to the debate, or if she had walked it back, apologised, or even simply ignored transgender issues thereafter, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But she didn’t – when faced with pushback, she doubled-down.
Although JK Rowling had begun to lose her status as the Harry Potter series slipped out of the mainstream cultural conversation, she was still someone who was held in high regard. She’d become far less important as Harry Potter began to be eclipsed by other, newer franchises, but if you had asked almost anyone throughout the 2010s about JK Rowling, chances are you’d have heard them say something positive about her – or at least about the Harry Potter series. This pushback that she got for her initial transphobic post was the first time since becoming a household name that she’d gotten any kind of major criticism in public – and it clearly had a huge psychological impact on her.
Rowling’s initial beliefs about sex, gender, and gender identity may be understandable, to an extent, because of the era in which she was born and the society in which she was raised. Even when I was at school in the ’90s, “sex education” lessons entirely excluded any mention of homosexuality, and the idea that someone could transition from one gender to another was never even discussed in any health or even biology lesson. If transgender people were mentioned at all, it was for the sake of mockery; “trannies” were the butts of jokes and figures of fun, and nothing more.
Some people of my generation still cling to those beliefs even as science and society have moved on in leaps and bounds – but thankfully, better education, increased awareness, and more scientific and sociological research into sex, gender, and gender identity have already changed minds. Unfortunately, though, people are using JK Rowling’s public and vocal transphobia to try to push back against the societal acceptance of trans people – and even to attack legislation that protects trans rights.
Rowling herself has become the figurehead of this movement, and the current Conservative government in the UK has been able to turn the question of trans rights into what is insultingly termed the “trans debate,” in part using Rowling and others like her as cover for some seriously harmful legislation that either seeks to block the advance of trans rights in the UK, or in some cases, actively rolls back pre-existing trans rights.
This is the real crux of the JK Rowling problem: her status and wealth have allowed her free rein to spearhead one of the worst and most aggressive anti-trans campaigns anywhere in the western world, lending undue legitimacy and standing to a point of view that is mostly shared by a bizarre coalition of religious fundamentalists, paleoconservative reactionaries, and internet trolls. At a time when LGBT+ rights were advancing across the board, Rowling stepped in and has actively worked to push back against those rights, scoring some successes as the current Conservative government and its allies use her and the people who support her as a shield.
This is why I can’t “separate the art from the artist,” as some folks have suggested. Because what JK Rowling is doing is still happening and is continuing to actively cause harm to trans people, I find myself in a position where I can’t support the Harry Potter franchise. Moreover, with Rowling retaining ownership of the franchise, any purchase of books, films, video games, and other merchandise gets her a cut of the proceeds – and as we’ve just been discussing, Rowling uses some of her money to provide financial support to transphobic campaigns, causes, and organisations. I feel that making any new purchase of Harry Potter merchandise, at this time, is akin to donating to such causes myself – something I would categorically never do.
Last time we talked about JK Rowling we touched on this concept, which is referred to in some academic circles as “the death of the author.” Taken from the title of an essay by French critic Roland Barthes, “death of the author” is primarily about discovering one’s own interpretation of a published work independent from the original intent of the author and who they are or were – but I would very strongly argue that it doesn’t apply in this case, and that separating JK Rowling from Harry Potter is impossible as long as she remains in control of the franchise and continues to monetise it.
There are plenty of authors and other creators whose work I would also choose not to support under similar circumstances – but they’re either long dead, no longer actively involved in their franchise, or their franchise has been taken over and moved on. This is the key difference, and while there are many, many creative people who were unpleasant or even harmful during their careers and lifetimes, JK Rowling is continuing to cause harm to her targets right now.
I also found some of JK Rowling’s recent attacks on the Harry Potter fan community to be pretty distasteful, showing how little respect or appreciation she has for the people who quite literally gave her the position and power that she’s wielding. In her recent book The Ink Black Heart, Rowling clumsily inserts a character as a stand-in for herself, then makes that character the target of an angry and murderous mob stemming from an online fan community. The book, much like everything else Rowling has tried outside of Harry Potter, got mixed reviews and didn’t sell especially well. But the intent was there – and Rowling has shown her true colours, sneering at and judging the very people who made her who she is.
One interesting thing that has come out of this whole unfortunate mess that is to the overall good, I feel, is a reevaluation of JK Rowling’s work and the Harry Potter series in particular. While the setting of Harry Potter captured the attention of a worldwide audience, there’s a reason why it’s always still referred to as “Harry Potter” instead of its official title: “the Wizarding World.” The world of Harry Potter doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and without its titular characters and the admittedly engaging story that they were part of, it doesn’t feel as though there’s anything else of substance there.
Look at franchises like Star Trek or Star Wars – deep world-building created rich, lived-in settings in which characters could get lost, where their skills and talents mattered and could be applied to any number of roles in those universes. Harry Potter, in contrast, is both shallow and inconsistent; a cobbled-together mix of English folklore, tropes of the fantasy setting, and even elements and narrative beats directly plagiarised from other literary works. It invented practically nothing new, and its few original elements are actually its weakest points. As a setting and a fictional world, it doesn’t survive more than a cursory glance.
And that’s totally fine. Not every author can be brilliant, not every fictional setting can be wonderfully rich and deep, and for its intended purpose and target audience, there’s nothing wrong at all with the setting of the Harry Potter books. But it does raise a wry smile when I hear people leaping to its defence, claiming it’s a unique and brilliant fictional setting comparable with the likes of Tolkien’s Middle-earth. It isn’t… and it was never meant to be. JK Rowling simply doesn’t possess the talent to create something anywhere close to that level.
There are some deeply troubling and problematic depictions within the Harry Potter books, too. Goblins who run the Wizarding World’s banks – and who are set to be a major villainous faction in Hogwarts Legacy – clearly and obviously draw on anti-semitic tropes and stereotypes. The Wizarding World practices slavery, enslaving “inferior” house elves to do the bidding of witches and wizards. And when, in the books, a character tries to point this out and campaign against it, she’s ridiculed not only by her friends, but really by the narrative itself. Harry even takes ownership of a house elf at one point, sending him to complete tasks for him; his own personal slave.
JK Rowling also seems to delight in making fun of people with different body types, using “ugliness” and fatness as indicators of maliciousness and evil. And, of course, Harry Potter falls into the trap of racial stereotyping, with its tiny number of minority characters being deeply problematic.
It’s actually been good to see more and more folks taking a critical eye to the Harry Potter series in light of the issues surrounding JK Rowling. Some criticisms of the books at the time of their publication and in the years since had been written off or just ignored – and for folks who always felt uncomfortable with certain aspects of the stories or the ways in which they treated marginalised and minority groups, it must be cathartic to find more support.
I won’t ask anyone to boycott or refuse to purchase Harry Potter merchandise or Hogwarts Legacy, because I don’t think it’s my place to do that. This piece wasn’t intended to change minds or convince people on the fence to adopt a certain point of view. It was more a way for me to get my thoughts in order and share why, as someone who talks a fair amount about the video games industry here on the website, I won’t be covering Hogwarts Legacy this year. Hogwarts Legacy could end up being a bust, at the end of the day – an overhyped, mediocre video game not worth all of this fuss and bother.
As I said at the beginning, we all have the right to decide for ourselves which products, companies, and public figures we want to support – and which ones we don’t or can’t support. For me, Hogwarts Legacy and the entire Harry Potter series now fall firmly into the latter category, and unless there’s a massively compelling reason to discuss the franchise in future, I hope that this will be the last time I have to comment on it.
I would love to see greater acceptance of transgender and gender non-conforming people. I myself am non-binary, and it isn’t always easy in the UK in 2023 to be open about that. People like JK Rowling have caused and are continuing to cause harm to trans women in particular, and unfortunately her very public attacks on trans folks have been seized upon by people and organisations with pre-existing anti-trans views and agendas to halt and reverse trans rights.
Hogwarts Legacy and the Harry Potter series may not be openly transphobic in terms of narrative, but because a cut of the proceeds go to someone who is, and who uses the wealth, fame, and status she has to contribute to these causes, I’m now in a position where I can’t support them. As a consumer in a capitalist marketplace, all I can do is vote with my wallet – so that’s what I’m choosing to do.
This is not an easy subject, and for people who are much greater fans of Harry Potter than I ever was, all I can really say is that I empathise with you. I keep thinking how I might feel if this kind of controversy were engulfing something I deeply care about, like Star Trek, and whether I could realistically cut off the entire Star Trek franchise as a point of principle. I genuinely don’t know what I’d do in that situation – so I sympathise with any Harry Potter fan who feels that way.
I also don’t think that many of the “hot takes” floating around on social media on this subject are doing anyone any favours. Viral videos proclaiming that anyone who purchases Hogwarts Legacy must be transphobic and is automatically a “bad person” don’t help the discourse around this complex and sensitive subject, and such polarising language arguably pushes away just as many people as it converts to this cause. So I feel that, while passions are understandably high, we need to try to approach these conversations, and our interlocutors on the other side of the debate, with as much calmness as possible.
So that’s it. I hope you now have a better understanding of why I can’t support Hogwarts Legacy and the Harry Potter series.
This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
I recently saw a video on TikTok of all places where a player was talking about their list of games that, for one reason or another, they had tried but didn’t like or couldn’t get the hang of. I’ve lost the video now and can’t find it to credit the person, unfortunately – so if you somehow see this please don’t think I’m stealing your idea! But I liked the concept, so today I wanted to talk for a few minutes about five highly-rated games that I just couldn’t get into.
A note before we start: these games are, according to most reviews, thoroughly enjoyable. The fact that I’m personally not interested in them, or couldn’t get to grips with them, is not meant as an attack. Chances are you’ll find some or all of these games to be great – and that’s okay! All of this is just the subjective opinion of one person. While I will try to explain what it was that put me off or what I didn’t like about each of these titles, I recognise that all of them are held in high regard. The fact that I didn’t enjoy them or couldn’t get stuck into them is a personal thing and nothing more!
The first games console I owned in the early 1990s was a Super Nintendo, and even back then I remember struggling with some particularly challenging titles. Gaming has not always been accessible to everyone – and I’m not the most skilled player in the world by any stretch. There were also games on the SNES that I tried out but didn’t like or wasn’t interested in, as there were on every subsequent console I owned, too! At least in those days it was easier to re-sell or trade in a game that I didn’t like!
As gaming has evolved, it’s become easier than ever to get started with playing games – and there are more titles more easily accessible on more platforms than ever before. But despite the ubiquity of gaming today, and the myriad titles in every imaginable genre, not every game is going to be right for every player!
So without further ado, let’s jump into my list.
Number 1: Star Trek Online 2010
I’m a huge Star Trek fan and have been for more than thirty years. At a time when the Star Trek franchise had stepped out of its prime timeline to make the reboot film trilogy, Star Trek Online came along and promised to return to that setting and take a look at events after The Next Generation era, around the turn of the 25th Century.
This is exactly the time period that I was (and still am) most interested to see explored, so Star Trek Online should have been perfect for me! The game has also brought on board many Star Trek actors, both series regulars and guest-stars, to voice versions of their beloved characters. Storylines would take players to different eras of Star Trek’s history thanks to missions that travelled through time, and almost every Star Trek race was present – with several major factions being fully playable, too.
I tried Star Trek Online shortly after it launched, and I even paid for some of its in-game currency and cosmetic items like uniforms. But despite sinking somewhere in the region of 35 hours into the game, I just couldn’t find a way to enjoy it, and I quickly felt that I was playing it more out of obligation and hope rather than for any real sense of fun.
I just can’t get on with online multiplayer games for the most part. In titles like Fall Guys I can have fun, and I’ve played some racing games online too, but in a game with a story where I want to get immersed in a fictional world and enjoy interacting with characters, seeing hundreds of other players cutting about just rips me right out of it. There can’t be 16,000 “one and only heroes” who are all the best hope for saving the galaxy… that just doesn’t make sense. So for me, Star Trek Online’s genuinely interesting stories and missions clashed in a fundamental, irreconcilable way with its gameplay.
Number 2: Kingdom Come: Deliverance 2018
I followed the development of Kingdom Come: Deliverance for a while, and in 2018 it was definitely one of the titles I was most interested to try out. I’m a history buff (it was the subject I read at university) and the idea of stepping into a realistic recreation of the high medieval period was genuinely exciting. Kingdom Come: Deliverance seemed to be offering a unique experience; an action/role-playing game but without the fantasy elements that are often present in the genre.
I like to think that I gave Kingdom Come: Deliverance a fair shake when I was able to eventually get the game for myself. But to my disappointment, I found it punishingly difficult to the point that it was basically unplayable. One day we’ll need to have a longer conversation about difficulty in games, because this is a big topic, but for now suffice to say that Kingdom Come: Deliverance didn’t respect me or my time.
By denying players the option to freely save their game, Kingdom Come: Deliverance forced me to replay long sections with no good reason. And with no way to turn down the difficulty, I found myself dying over and over even in what was supposed to be the introductory area. Combine those two things together and I was already having an incredibly frustrating time. I put Kingdom Come: Deliverance down and simply never went back to it.
Difficulty settings are accessibility features, opening up games to disabled players and players with different abilities. Moreover, they’re commonplace and not that hard to implement – there’s no technical reason why a modern game can’t offer a way to change the difficulty for players who want or need an easier experience. I don’t have the time or energy to spend hours and hours practising one aspect of one game, and I don’t really have the ability or skillset, either. Kingdom Come: Deliverance was basically denied to me as a result – and that’s unfortunate, because I genuinely wanted to play it.
Number 3: Marvel’s Spider-Man 2018
Although I’m not the world’s biggest fan of comic books and their cinematic adaptations, Marvel has been unavoidable over the past few years. I wouldn’t have normally sought out a superhero title, but Spider-Man is widely considered a masterpiece; one of the best open-world adventures certainly of the last generation. So I thought I’d give it a shot.
Perhaps it’s because I have no real investment in the world of Marvel or its characters, but I found that I just couldn’t get into Spider-Man’s story. Several hours into my playthrough I’d done a handful of story missions and spent a bit of time enjoying the scenery – the game’s recreation of New York City really is a sight to see, and one of the most interesting and vertical cityscapes ever brought into the gaming realm. But despite a great setting, the game’s version of New York seemed to be filled with bog-standard open-world busywork and little else; most encounters consisted of beating up a handful of nondescript thugs and bad guys.
At first I thought I was going to have a hard time with the web-swinging mechanic that’s a big part of how Spider-Man traverses the open world, but after a little while – and more than a few false starts and mistakes – I think I more or less got the hang of it. Swinging is pretty forgiving, and at least in the denser parts of the city, there’s no shortage of things to grab hold of. It’s certainly an unusual way to navigate a game world!
The game’s story included a number of Marvel villains and characters whose names were familiar to me, but I feel that without that investment in either the films or comic books, I just wasn’t particularly interested to see where the story and its characters went. I didn’t actively choose to stop playing Spider-Man – the game is actually still installed on my PC at time of writing – but I put it down one day and just… didn’t pick it back up. I found other things to watch and play instead, and I feel no pressing need to return to Spider-Man and see its story continue.
Number 4: Elden Ring 2022
Many publications picked Elden Ring as their game of the year, and it’s considered by a lot of folks to be one of the best open-world games and one of the best “Souls-like” games of all-time. But as I said above when discussing Kingdom Come: Deliverance, it’s that punishing difficulty that I found to be offputting.
FromSoftware – developers of both Elden Ring and the Dark Souls series – use this kind of excessive, punishing difficulty as a selling point in their games and have for years, but I’m not on board with it at all. Granted I’m not the world’s best gamer, and that’s probably part of it, but I also see this style of gameplay being used to cover up game mechanics and design elements that aren’t great, and especially to pad out the runtime of a game that would ordinarily be a lot shorter. Think about it: the combination of very difficult combat encounters and a checkpoint system that can mean having to replay entire chunks of the game over and over clearly adds to the runtime of titles like Elden Ring.
This is much more of a subjective thing, but I felt that, despite having decent graphics, Elden Ring actually looked pretty bland. A colour palette that was swamped by brown, khaki, green, and grey tones just didn’t impress me, and the game had a pretty drab and even depressing look to it as a result. Maybe there was a reason for that, but it didn’t exactly leave a good impression.
At the end of the day, I’d have given Elden Ring a shot if the game offered difficulty and accessibility options. There’s absolutely no technical reason why every game in 2023 shouldn’t be able to do this – and while it’s a choice the developers made, and will presumably continue to make in future titles, it’s one that is intentionally cutting off millions of potential players. I knew from the second it was announced that Elden Ring wouldn’t be for me because I knew that the company developing it would ensure it would be a game I would find inaccessible. And that’s kind of sad, especially if it really is as good and as immersive as people have said.
Number 5: Grand Theft Auto V (Online) 2013
I played through Grand Theft Auto V’s single-player campaign and I had a decent enough time with it. The open world is great – or at least it was by the standards of games a decade ago; it’s definitely showing its age by now! But the game’s online mode was, for the same kinds of reasons that we’ve already discussed, just something I couldn’t get into.
Grand Theft Auto V also feels remarkably pay-to-win for a game that costs money up-front, and probably deserves more blame than it gets for normalising in-game microtransactions and pay-to-win elements in online multiplayer games that we’ve seen explode in the decade since it was released. Other titles such as Fortnite and Overwatch definitely contributed to this as well, and the less said about the FIFA series or Battlefront II the better… but Grand Theft Auto V was doing the pay-to-win thing before any of them.
By 2023 I had expected to see the Grand Theft Auto series move on, releasing a new game. And no, the awful “remaster” of the Grand Theft Auto III trilogy doesn’t count! Obviously this wasn’t an issue in 2013 or 2014, but as Grand Theft Auto V was ported to more and more platforms, including the latest generation of home consoles, there’s a growing sense that Rockstar is milking it dry, and is unwilling to let it go. Development time and resources than could – and I would argue should – have been allocated to the next game in the series have been taken up by creating new missions and microtransactions for Grand Theft Auto V. That’s great for folks who are still playing – but some of us are ready for a new game!
At the end of the day, when Grand Theft Auto V became the highest-grossing entertainment product of all-time, I guess it’s understandable that Rockstar would struggle to let it go. But on the other hand, with all the money it’s made them, there’s more than enough to spend on developing a new game! We know that Grand Theft Auto VI is being worked on, at least, but it’s taking an awfully long time.
So that’s it!
Those are five highly-rated games that, for the reasons discussed above, I just couldn’t get into. If one or more of your favourites made the list, well… just keep in mind it’s only the opinion of one person! We’re all allowed our own preferences, and while I tried to explain what it was that made these titles unappealing or offputting to me, it’s all subjective. I recognise that these games are all bestsellers and held in high esteem by many players… they just weren’t right for me.
We’re lucky that gaming has grown to such a point where there are so many different choices available to players. These games aren’t my cup of tea… but there are many that I’ve enjoyed over the years – and many more coming up that I hope to enjoy in the months and years ahead! Whether you want to play a quiet, casual game for a spot of relaxation or punish yourself with an impossibly difficult title, there really is something for everyone. And I think that’s fantastic!
So I hope this was a bit of fun – and please try not to take it too seriously, especially if I made criticisms of one of your favourite titles!
All titles discussed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1 and 2 as well as trailers, teasers, and announcements for Season 3. Spoilers are also present for The Next Generation, Nemesis, and Discovery.
With Star Trek: Picard’s upcoming third season now barely a month away, it seems like a good time to look ahead. Thanks to trailers, teasers, and interviews with the cast and crew, we know a little about how the season is shaping up, and from my point of view, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Picard Season 3 has a lot of work to do to salvage a troubled, muddled production that hasn’t hit the high notes that I’ve been hoping for.
Let’s take a step back. My “first contact” with the Star Trek franchise came in the early 1990s. The first episode I can solidly remember watching was The Royale, from The Next Generation’s second season – though I’m fairly sure I’d seen others, or at least parts of others, prior to that. The Royale aired here in the UK in June 1991, so I’ve been a Trekkie for more than thirty years at this point! Moreover, I have an incredible fondness for The Next Generation in particular, as it was Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D that first made me into a Star Trek fan.
In short, I’m about as close as it’s possible to get to the ideal target audience for Picard Season 3; a season of television that promises to bring back the main cast of The Next Generation. But before so much as a single frame has aired, I find myself having mixed feelings. I genuinely want to see Picard Season 3 succeed – and if I dare to hope, maybe even find a way to tie up loose ends and unresolved narrative threads that were left on the table as Seasons 1 and 2 faltered. But at the same time, I have concerns.
Seasons 1 and 2 both had some incredible highlights: episodes and moments within episodes that were as good as Star Trek has ever been, that hit all of the right notes, and that left me on the edge of my seat or jumping for joy. But step back and look at the bigger picture, and I’m afraid that both seasons also had some pretty major issues that hampered my enjoyment. Both seasons told long, serialised stories… and both plodded along in places, stumbled in others, and failed to resolve key storylines and character arcs by the time it was over.
One of my biggest pre-season questions is this: will Picard simply ignore what came before as it races to tell a new story? Or might there be time to step back, even if just for a moment through a line or two of exposition-laden dialogue, and try to tie up some of these loose ends? If – as I suspect will be the case – Season 3 is going to tell a new story unrelated to the events of Seasons 1 and 2, there could still be time to acknowledge, in the most barebones of ways, what became of the Coppelius synths, the Zhat Vash, Narek, the new Borg faction, the mysterious anomaly, and other unexplained or unresolved story points.
In fact, that would be my single biggest request!
There are ways in which Picard Season 3 could tie everything together, transforming the disjointed series into something more closely resembling a single, ongoing story – and I have a theory as to how that could pan out that involves the faction of super-synths from Season 1. But even if none of that comes to pass, it would still be worthwhile, in my view, to find some way to acknowledge the events of the past twenty episodes and do something to try to tie up those loose ends. If Season 3 is to be Picard’s last, as we’ve been repeatedly told, and no other early 25th Century projects are coming up in the short term at least, this will be the last opportunity to do so for several years – possibly ever.
I think it’s worth reiterating just how disappointing it is that all but one of the new characters introduced in Picard have been dumped. Although a couple of them got what we could generously call “narrative arcs” in Season 2 that felt somewhat conclusive, I still felt that, twenty episodes in, we hadn’t really had much of a chance to get to know most of them. Soji and Elnor, who were both sidelined for practically all of Season 2, had a lot of potential as young, new characters – but that potential was squandered by a production that didn’t seem to know what to do with either of them, and then completely wasted by the decision to cut them both from Season 3.
As I said at the time, if Star Trek is to survive long-term, it will be new characters, not old ones, who will have to pick up the baton and drive the franchise forward. Just as Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D did when The Next Generation premiered, it will fall to new characters in the years ahead to keep Star Trek fresh and relevant. By removing almost all of them from the show in favour of what could turn out to be nothing more than a desperate attempt to play the nostalgia card, I truly fear that Picard’s producers have done serious harm to the Star Trek franchise’s longer-term prospects.
Before Picard Season 1 had premiered back in 2020, I said here on the website that it was my genuine hope that legions of new, younger Star Trek fans would be just as excited in another thirty years’ time to see Star Trek: Elnor or The Dr Jurati Show as I was to see Jean-Luc Picard’s return. That moment felt like it had the potential to be on par with the premiere of The Next Generation – a handing of the torch from one generation of characters to another. But it hasn’t happened, and I feel we’re seeing the Star Trek franchise as a whole struggling with its identity, not really knowing how to move beyond its legacy characters.
There’s no way in which I can fully get on board with Picard Season 3 and the return of The Next Generation characters because of this. Although I’m interested and perhaps even a little optimistic as this new adventure approaches, their return feels tainted because of who had to be unceremoniously kicked off stage in order to make it happen. I think I’d still feel that way even if all of the departing characters had been given enjoyable arcs that felt complete, but when at least two (Soji and Elnor) didn’t even get the barest of goodbyes, and Dr Jurati got more of a “see you later” rather than a definitive ending to her story, this disappointment feels all the more egregious.
That would be bad enough in isolation, but unfortunately it isn’t the first time that Picard has lost a character without giving them a proper send-off – or even a conclusion of any kind to their storyline. Narek simply vanished at the end of Season 1, midway through the second half of the finale, and was never seen nor heard from again. Despite having plenty of time to process the reaction to Season 1 and plan for ways to avoid making the same mistakes, it feels as if the producers and creative team didn’t learn any of the lessons from the rushed and disappointing Season 1 finale.
Narek’s disappearance is a big part of why I don’t have much confidence that Season 3 will do anything at all to tackle some of these unresolved narrative threads. How difficult would it have been for someone in Season 2 to comment on Narek, confirming that he had been incarcerated? It would’ve taken a line or two of dialogue at most – and in a plodding story that really slowed down and dragged in places, it’s not like there wasn’t time to fit it in!
But all of that is looking backwards when we should really be looking ahead. Despite feeling disappointed in cast departures, reminiscing about “what might have been,” and worrying about what it could all mean in the future, I’d be lying if I said that the return of the Enterprise-D’s crew isn’t something that I feel has huge potential to be entertaining and enjoyable. Seeing what these characters could do in a modern television environment that wouldn’t have been possible thirty-five years ago is genuinely appealing, and getting what should feel like a “ten-hour movie” with all of the visual effects and other trappings of a thoroughly modern production is a prospect that I daresay many fans of The Next Generation will be thrilled about.
Star Trek: Picard has already taken us back to some of these characters and showed us how much we’d missed them. I noted in Season 1 that seeing Picard give Data a proper goodbye and laying him to rest was something that I didn’t even know I wanted, but in retrospect I can see how it was a glaring omission from Nemesis. And for all the talk of characters being left in the lurch with incomplete stories and arcs, Nemesis didn’t really provide a conclusive or definitive endpoint for anyone – so this season will be an opportunity to do that; the first such opportunity that these characters have gotten.
When all of this talk about “endings” started coming out, and when executive producer and showrunner Terry Matalas talked about Picard Season 3 as giving the characters the “send-off” that they never got in 2002, I can’t be the only one who started to think about character deaths, can I? We just talked about Picard bringing the crew of The Next Generation into a modern, serialised television framework – and if there’s one thing more than any other that has defined television over the past decade or so it’s main characters being killed, often at shocking moments or in particularly gory ways.
Picard has done this too. Season 1 saw three Star Trek legacy characters killed off: Dr Bruce Maddox, Hugh the Borg, and Icheb. And although Data was already “dead,” that season also saw the last parts of his consciousness shut down as well. Season 2 then saw Q meet his final end… so I don’t think any of the characters feel safe at all as we go into this new story!
And that could be okay. A character death, if handled well, can set up the stakes for a story, or it can even feel right for the character if they’ve gone through a satisfying arc or come to the end of their place in the story. After thirty-five years, 176 episodes of The Next Generation, four films, and further involvement with Star Trek for at least some of these characters, though, it would be a pretty bold decision to kill off even one of them! But it absolutely could be the right thing to do if it fits with the story, accomplishes a narrative goal, and/or brings someone’s decades-long arc to a satisfying end.
There was speculation when Picard premiered in 2020 that the show would end with his death – but having already seen Picard die once (only to be immediately brought back to life thanks to technobabble) he actually feels pretty safe – or at least safer than the others. It would be a strange series indeed that ran to only thirty episodes in total and killed off the same character on two separate occasions!
I’ve criticised Discovery for providing its main and even its secondary characters with some borderline-ridiculous plot armour in certain episodes and sequences, and it’s been to that show’s detriment in some respects that we haven’t seen any main character deaths for two whole seasons at this point. Picard has already demonstrated a willingness to swing the proverbial axe – though the question of who may end up on the executioner’s block is still an open one. It could be no one, of course, but I can’t help but feel that the “end” to these characters’ stories that has been discussed may prove fatal and permanent for at least one of them.
The main villain of the season, Captain Vadic, feels like an interesting new element for the series. In her brief appearance in the trailer, she gives me a “Khan” kind of vibe; the obsessive, maniacal, revenge-obsessed villain archetype that Ricardo Montalbán brought to screen so perfectly in The Wrath of Khan. I don’t want to pin my hopes too much on Vadic being “the new Khan” or anything like that, because that kind of character could easily stray into a one-dimensional villain caricature, but from what we’ve seen so far, there’s potential.
I talked about this back in November, but I’d really love to see some kind of connection to the events of The Next Generation through Vadic. Bringing back the old crew for a wholly new adventure could still be fun, don’t get me wrong, but if it tied into a past Star Trek story in some way, that could be absolutely fantastic. I’ve already come up with a few ideas about how Vadic could be connected to The Next Generation, and who she could bring along for the ride if she puts together a “rogues’ gallery” of Star Trek baddies – and at this stage, none of that seems to have been ruled out!
Given that Picard has introduced new narrative elements for its main storylines so far, I stand by what I said last time we looked at Captain Vadic: if I had to place a bet right now, I’d still have to put my money on her being someone new. That would mean her driving force, the reason for her revenge obsession, is also likely to be new and unconnected to Star Trek’s past, too.
If we assume that Captain Vadic is someone new and her reason for hating Picard and/or the Federation is also new, that leaves open the question of why Picard would choose to reunite his old crew to take her on. Although Captain Rios is gone, he could still have called on Soji, Elnor, Laris, and the Borg-Jurati hybrid to help if he needed it – and I wonder how (and whether) the absences of these characters will be addressed. Could they even have been killed off-screen to both explain away their absences and to give motivation to Picard, Seven, and Raffi?
Away from narrative decisions, on the technical side of things I expect Picard Season 3 to be polished and to look great. The teasers and trailers that we’ve seen so far had no shortage of beautiful starships, vessels which continue the design philosophy of The Next Generation era but move it along into the early 25th Century. We already saw this – a little too briefly, unfortunately – with the USS Stargazer in Season 2, but with a big return to space supposedly on the agenda this time around, there’s scope to finally spend some more time with Starfleet.
Picard Season 1 was probably the low point for modern Star Trek in terms of visual effects. We’ve talked before about the copy-and-paste fleets seen in the season finale, but there was also a CGI sequence copied from Discovery’s second season, a pretty obvious redress of Discovery’s bridge, and more besides. Although none of these moments were atrocious, they didn’t hit the highs that Star Trek can reach in its modern incarnation – and when compared to what the Star Wars franchise and others have been doing, they were downright poor.
But all of that has changed! Not only did Season 2 build whole new sets for the USS Stargazer, including a bridge, ready-room, and hallway, it also showed off a beautiful and diverse Starfleet armada that more than made up for the lacklustre one we saw in Season 1! Just from what we’ve seen so far in the trailers and teasers, I have high hopes for the visual effects that we’ll be able to enjoy in Season 3.
Picard has struggled to get enough diversity in its filming locations, something that was incredibly obvious as Season 1 wore on and took us to places on Earth, including Japan and France, and then half a dozen planets – all of which were filmed in the “thirty-mile zone” around Los Angeles. Season 2, because it stepped back in time to a particular time and place, largely avoided that feeling, but I’m not sure how Season 3 will fare. If more time is going to be spent in space on starships, that’s probably a net positive for the series in more ways than one. Because Picard is filmed in California, the show doesn’t have easy access to Paramount’s AR wall in Toronto, so the choice the producers have is to either build sets on sound stages or film on location in the all-too-familiar California area. I hope they’ve chosen the former!
Nostalgia is a big deal in today’s entertainment landscape, and when done right, a show that harkens back to the past and successfully plucks the right chords can be wonderful. I’m not opposed to any and all forms of nostalgia in entertainment, and despite my disappointment in the casting situation that we discussed above, there’s a big part of me that wants to see the crew of the Enterprise-D back in action. But nostalgia is something that needs to be handled with care. Crucially, it mustn’t be overdone or overplayed.
It’s all too easy for a production to assume that digging up fan-favourite characters or returning to familiar settings will cover up all manner of storytelling sins – but there are dozens or perhaps even hundreds of examples by now that prove that isn’t the case. And there are productions that go completely overboard with attempts to play the nostalgia card, something that can come across as just plain desperate. The Star Wars franchise has fallen victim to this in more ways than one in recent years, and it’s a trap that I truly hope Picard Season 3 can avoid.
A story that goes all-in on nostalgia can end up feeling gratuitous or tacked-on; an unnecessary epilogue for characters whose stories were, for better or worse, already over. While it’s true that Nemesis didn’t exactly end in conclusive fashion, that doesn’t absolve Picard Season 3 of responsibility to these characters. Just because their stories didn’t end definitively twenty years ago, that doesn’t give the new season free rein to do anything. What comes now – especially if it’s being designed from the ground up to be a send-off or finale – has to be decent in its own right, not simply “more.”
Unlike in 2020 when Season 1 was approaching, I feel less out-and-out excitement for Star Trek: Picard and more a sense of restricted optimism. I have hope that the new season will look great, that it will be fun to welcome back fan-favourite characters after a twenty-year absence, and that we’ll get at least some enjoyable moments and perhaps a dash of that elusive sense of “Star Trek” that hasn’t always been front-and-centre in the franchise’s modern era. But I also have reservations about a season that may very well race past or just outright ignore key story points that were left on the table last time around.
Maybe I should give up hope of seeing much of anything from Season 1; those stories had the chance to be addressed in some way in Season 2, but it didn’t happen. But things like Season 2’s mysterious anomaly – that felt like an attack on the Federation or Alpha Quadrant – just being ignored as the story rushes to bring back legacy characters and set up a new mystery… I will be disappointed, I fear, if the season ends without so much as mentioning what happened last time.
I’m trying to reconcile my disappointment in the way the new cast was handled with my interest and excitement in seeing old favourites coming back for another adventure, and I’m keenly aware that I need to at least try to judge Season 3 on its own merit – for the story it aims to tell – rather than wondering what might have been or being upset at a situation that I can’t change. That’s a challenge that I will have to face – and if you stick around, you can judge for yourself how well I do when you read my episode reviews!
After two mismanaged, difficult seasons that had some great episodes and moments but ultimately failed to deliver, this is Picard’s last chance. As someone who’s a huge fan of The Next Generation and the other Star Trek shows of that era, it also feels like a last chance for the Star Trek franchise as a whole to demonstrate that there’s potential in this 25th Century setting, and that telling stories that at least tangentially connect with the themes, settings, and characters of Star Trek’s “golden age” is a concept worth pursuing. It’s definitely noteworthy to me that, at time of writing, no new Star Trek projects have been announced, despite several concepts supposedly being worked on behind the scenes. Is Picard Season 3 an opportunity not only for these characters but for this setting and this time period? Will Paramount be watching to see whether there’s still potential here? I can’t help but wonder.
I see genuine potential in the new season’s villain, Captain Vadic. A character who feels as though she’s drawing inspiration from Khan, one of the best villains not only in Star Trek but in all of cinema, could be absolutely delicious to watch, and Amanda Plummer is an actress who has the ability to pull it off. While the story remains shrouded in mystery, the teases and glimpses we’ve seen have been genuinely fascinating to this old Trekkie, and have inspired me to craft a few of my patented (and usually totally wrong) Star Trek theories!
At the end of the day, all any of us really want is for Picard to be entertaining. It doesn’t have to be high art, it doesn’t have to be the best thing Star Trek has ever done… but it does have to keep my attention and interest, not annoy me, and be basically consistent with what the show and the franchise have done before. Everything else is just fluff, and I can overlook retcons, inconsistencies, and everything else as long as the show is basically fun.
And hey, if it doesn’t go well, there’s always Strange New Worlds Season 2 to look forward to!
Star Trek: Picard Season 3 will premiere on Paramount+ in the United States on the 16th of February 2023, and in the United Kingdom and around the world on the 17th of February 2023. Seasons 1 and 2 are already available to stream or buy on DVD/Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. Some images used above courtesy of StarTrek.com. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: Though there are no major plot spoilers, minor spoilers are still present for The Rig.
The title of this piece was originally going to be “Miniseries review: The Rig,” because all of the marketing that I’d seen for this six-episode Amazon production led me to believe that it would be a one-and-done miniseries or limited series. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have tuned in if I’d have known it would end on a pretty substantial cliffhanger – especially when a continuation of the story hasn’t yet been greenlit. Even going into The Rig’s final moments, I was still anticipating a climax and resolution to its ethereal enviro-mystery. When the series ended I actually wondered if I’d missed an episode, or if there was more to come – but at time of writing, the six episodes currently available on Amazon Prime Video are all there is.
I hope that The Rig will get a second season or at least some kind of conclusion, because there was promise in its story and characters that I’d certainly be happy to pick up and see resolved. But for now, I guess the biggest takeaway from The Rig for me is this: do just a little bit more research before committing to watching something!
I’d seen advertisements for The Rig on Amazon’s homepage and plastered across social media, so at least here in the UK, it seems as though the show has had a decent marketing budget attached to it. The main splash banner on Amazon’s homepage has previously been reserved for Star Trek: Picard (in its first season, at least) and Amazon’s big productions like The Wheel of Time and The Rings of Power, so it certainly felt that the company was pushing its latest endeavour with all it could muster.
If only a few dollars from that marketing budget had been redirected to The Rig’s CGI and visual effects, though, because there were some pretty serious misfires in those departments, especially for a series that seems to be trying to compete at such a high level. Some of the CGI felt decidedly “last-gen,” as if it were something we’d have seen circa 2008. This was noticeable from literally the first second, as The Rig’s opening sequence was entirely animated, and not animated to anywhere near the high standards I’d expect from a corporation with the resources of Amazon.
The opening CGI sequence left a poor first impression, and across the first couple of episodes especially, The Rig was having to work hard to overcome some low-budget visual effects. This extended beyond CGI into the physical space, too. The show’s signature “fog” effect looked decent enough when animated – nothing spectacular, but a step up from some of the other animation work, especially in those first couple of episodes. But when real actors were supposedly walking through the “fog,” I’m afraid the effect looked rather similar to what you’d get from those cheap smoke machines that became popular in discos a few years back. It looked poor – and for such an important part of the series, getting this wrong was, again, something that gave a poor impression.
However, while some CGI sequences remained poor across the entire six episodes, the animation work for the “spore” phenomenon that the crew encountered fared a lot better, and as this element was of particular importance to the story, getting it to look right was important.
The “spores” reminded me more than a little of The Expanse’s protomolecule, if you’re familiar with that sci-fi series (and if you aren’t, you should really check it out as its fantastic!) And this ties into a broader point about The Rig – the series brought to the table a number of elements that we’ve seen in other sci-fi films and franchises. There wasn’t too much originality in the production – which isn’t to say that it was bad by any means, but as the show progressed I definitely found myself noting more and more of these inclusions.
James Cameron’s The Abyss, released in 1989, was definitely a film that I felt The Rig was drawing inspiration from, not only thematically but visually, too. There was also the introduction of a corporate officer who knows more about the phenomenon than he lets on that felt like it had been lifted straight from Alien. And the “it was only trying to communicate” trope that clearly took inspiration from Star Trek. We also have the aforementioned visual effect that was similar to The Expanse… the list goes on! The way in which The Rig pieced these elements together was decent, and the fact that a story, visuals, or other elements of a production aren’t wholly original isn’t to say it’s awful – but it is worth noting how many narrative and design choices echoed other productions in the same mystery/sci-fi/thriller space.
Despite being commissioned by Amazon and made by Amazon Studios for Amazon Prime Video, The Rig felt remarkably similar to dozens or perhaps even hundreds of British television shows that I’ve seen over the years. The cinematography, acting (and some actors, too), the musical score, the aforementioned low-budget VFX… all of it came together to feel very familiar. If I hadn’t known that I was watching The Rig on Amazon Prime Video you could’ve told me this was a show made by the BBC, Sky, or ITV and I’d have believed it, no question!
Part of The Rig’s marketing stated that it’s the first Amazon show to be wholly produced in Scotland – and I guess that explains why it feels so familiar to a British viewer! The director/executive producer, John Strickland, has worked on episodes of popular British shows like Poirot and Line of Duty, and I swear I’ve seen at least half of the cast before – in bit-part roles on shows like Holby City or Doctor Who.
Speaking of the cast, everyone involved did a good job at selling what was an increasingly sci-fi story. The characters all felt grounded and real, and even moments of exposition were delivered in ways that felt natural, informing us about certain characters’ histories and backstories without being too obtrusive. There’s some excellent scriptwriting and characterisation there, and the cast all did well to bring it to screen convincingly. I wouldn’t single out anyone for giving a disappointing performance; everyone on The Rig did a standout job.
There were some great moments involving practical makeup – particularly in one gory moment after a character suffered a fall. The way bruises, broken bones, and gaping wounds were constructed felt visceral and realistic, and at a moment where the story was only just beginning to take off, the shock value these simple practical effects had shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Rig didn’t take long to get going – and in a series that only has six episodes, I guess that’s fair enough. My only point of criticism on this side of things would be that it felt as if at least some of the characters went from normal life to “panic mode” in a heartbeat – instead of a degradation in the crew’s mood from happy to irritable to angry and depressed taking a slower course. It felt as if The Rig got started, introduced us to its big storyline, and then the members of the crew who were going to get angry just snapped immediately, largely remaining in that state for the rest of the series. There was scope, I felt, to show how the effect of a disaster and being isolated with no field of vision or communications could slowly wear people down – and while The Rig tried to pay lip service to that at a couple of points, it didn’t really work convincingly.
That being said, there were some great character moments in all of the episodes that really showed off the tension and stresses that the worsening situation was putting people under. While I would have liked this to have been built up a bit more slowly, at the same time it’s worth saying that this wasn’t really what The Rig was all about, and considering the main thrust of the narrative was elsewhere, I guess it’s fair to say that this side of things was handled about as well as it could’ve been within the show’s time constraints.
The Rig had a clear environmentalist message – one about climate change, the dangers of unchecked oil exploration, and the responsibility humankind has en masse for the damage to the atmosphere and natural world. But rather than allowing its sci-fi, rather ethereal story about ancient microorganisms to stand on its own as a metaphor, someone involved in The Rig’s production clearly insisted on inserting some rather clumsy dialogue to make this environmental message incredibly obvious and in-your-face.
For me, as someone who’s a huge fan of the Star Trek franchise, I think sci-fi like this works best when subtlety is the order of the day; when the analogy is given space to speak for itself without the script punching viewers in the face with the same message over and over. The Rig comes across, in these moments, as a show that doesn’t trust the intelligence of its own audience; its producers and writers want to make their environmentalist message clear, so they keep repeating it. Rather than trusting what was a well-constructed metaphor to make that point, The Rig drops these clumsy, awkward exchanges of dialogue in a desperate attempt to make things obvious. And I just found that to be unnecessary and a little disappointing.
Don’t get me wrong: I love a series with a moral and a message, and The Rig clearly has one. Climate change and the environment are causes that we definitely need to care about, pay attention to, and find solutions to out here in the real world, and although The Rig was never going to be high-brow “art” or a series that would change opinions and sway huge numbers of folks to its cause, it had a point to make and its metaphor about “the earth fighting back” against humanity’s destructiveness was a good one. Not a wholly original point, perhaps, but a decent one nevertheless.
But what the series didn’t need to do was constantly hammer that message home by other means – the metaphor at its heart was strong enough on its own to get that message across. We didn’t need half the cast to spout anti-oil, anti-fossil fuels, or pro-climate lines – especially pretty clunky, hammy ones – in order to get the message. The Rig had a point – but the way in which it went overboard ended up rather detracting from it.
One thing I admired about The Rig’s story is the way in which it blended some very ancient-feeling legends of the sea with modern science and technology to create its core mystery. For as long as humans have been sailing, there have been legends of strange phenomena out at sea, and The Rig seemed to take some of these as a starting point, combined with our lack of knowledge of the ocean floor in general, and weave them into its sci-fi mystery. The way in which it was done was clever, and it came to screen well.
There was a strong anti-corporate message in The Rig, particularly one that went after big oil corporations. Though Pictor, the corporation in the show, is fictional, it’s clearly based on real-world corporations like Shell, BP, and others, and The Rig doesn’t hold back when it comes to criticising the way in which these massive corporations are managed and their impact on the environment. As we got into the final couple of episodes, the inclusion of a secretive character from “head office,” the fact that they were unwilling to share what they knew – and how long they’d known about some of the problems affecting the Kinloch Bravo rig – really leant into this “corporate dystopia” angle, and I think that worked pretty well.
So let’s wrap things up and I’ll share my thoughts on The Rig as a whole.
Overall, I felt that The Rig was an interesting series. Its core mystery certainly captured and held my attention, and even as its story descended from something semi-plausible into outright sci-fi, I was content to go along for the ride. I wouldn’t have climbed on board, however, if I’d realised that it was going to end on such an abrupt cliffhanger – and with no second season having been greenlit at time of writing, I fear the ending to this interesting story may never be told. All we can do is watch this space and hope that Amazon decides to go ahead with the next chapter!
On the technical side of things, though, I felt The Rig was let down by some pretty poor visual effects, both animated and practical, especially in its first couple of episodes. For a series that relies heavily on these things to set up its mysteries and narratives, the way in which some of them came across on screen wasn’t spectacular, and I’ve come to expect better from Amazon Prime Video in that respect.
So that was The Rig. An interesting series that I hope gets a continuation. If a second season, a film, or some other conclusion is in the offing, I daresay I’ll check it out. The Rig hadn’t been on my radar at all until I saw advertising for it on social media and Amazon’s homepage, but I was pleasantly surprised to find an enjoyable enough six-hour series with a good cast.
The Rig is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video. The Rig is the copyright of Amazon Studios and Amazon Prime Video. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Star Trek: Picard, and Star Trek: Prodigy.
In 2017, Star Trek returned to the small screen after a twelve-year break. Star Trek: Discovery picked up the baton for the long-running franchise, and thanks in part to a deal with Netflix, scored a decently high budget for its first season. Bryan Fuller, who had written and produced a number of episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager, initially spearheaded the project, and it was on his stories and ideas that the show’s characters, story arcs, and settings were based – even though he stopped working on the show while it was still in early production.
Discovery proved controversial in some corners of the Star Trek fan community right from the start, and today I want to consider one of the reasons why that was the case. In addition, I want to ask a deceptively simple set of questions: should Star Trek: Discovery have left the 23rd Century alone? Would the show have been better-received by fans, and won more support, if it had been set after the events of Nemesis instead of a decade before The Original Series? Would fans have found things to pick on and argue about anyway? Was Discovery’s setting in its first two seasons a net positive, negative, or something mixed for the show? And did sending the ship and crew into the far future at the end of Season 2 come as a tacit admission from the producers and showrunners that Discovery should never have been set in the 23rd Century to begin with?
Before we go any further, a few important caveats. This is a controversial topic; Discovery elicits strong opinions from fans on both sides of the debate. The fact that we’re considering, hypothetically, whether Discovery might’ve been a better show – or might’ve been received with less hostility by fans – had it employed a different setting doesn’t mean it’s a perfect idea that would’ve massively improved its first two seasons. Regular readers will know that I’m a Discovery fan not a hater; while there are areas where the show could improve, generally I like and support it and I’m glad to have it as part of the broader Star Trek franchise.
Secondly, these are just the subjective thoughts of one person. I’m not trying to claim that I’m right and that’s the end of the affair! Other folks can and will have different opinions – and that’s okay! There’s room enough within the Star Trek fan community for polite discussion and disagreement.
Finally, I’m not trying to attack Discovery, nor any of the creative team, actors, or those involved in its production. This is a thought experiment; a hypothetical question to consider what Discovery – and the wider Star Trek franchise – might have looked like if different decisions had been taken at a very early stage.
First of all, let’s consider some of the arguments and points of contention. By deliberately choosing a setting ten years before the events of The Original Series, Discovery ran into some issues with Star Trek’s internal canon. Some of these points matter far more than others, and I tend to take a somewhat nuanced approach to canon. I’m not a “purist,” claiming that the tiniest minutiae of canon must be “respected” at all costs – but at the same time, I believe that the world of Star Trek needs to be basically internally consistent. Internal consistency is the foundation of suspension of disbelief, and messing too much with established canon can, in some circumstances, be to the detriment of a story.
Is that what happened with Discovery, though?
We can set aside arguments about aesthetic elements like uniforms, starship designs, and even special effects. To me, none of those things are relevant, and all that’s necessary to overcome those hurdles is to say that, much like out here in the real world, things like design, fashion, etc. are always changing. Who’s to say that the look of the 2260s wouldn’t be radically different from the 2250s? Considering that there have been leaps and bounds in visual effects, CGI, and cinematography since The Original Series aired, it would be profoundly odd for Discovery to have tried to emulate that 1960s style.
So I’m content to put visual style to one side. But there are other elements of canon that the show arguably stumbled over in its first two seasons. The biggest issue that I can see is the USS Discovery’s spore drive – a brand-new piece of technology that had never been seen or heard of in Star Trek before.
The spore drive effectively made warp drive obsolete, and considering that the show was set a decade before Captain Kirk’s five-year mission – and more than a century before The Next Generation era – that obviously didn’t make a lot of sense. Sure, the spore drive was a classified piece of kit, and across Season 1 we came to see some pretty serious drawbacks, but such a phenomenally useful technology isn’t something Starfleet would simply abandon – or so fans believed. Even if the spore drive had issues, it was such a game-changing piece of technology that persevering and working through those problems would almost certainly be worthwhile.
As Season 1 demonstrated, the spore drive’s military applications were incredible. The USS Discovery could jump around a Klingon vessel with ease, basically becoming invulnerable, and the spore drive could be used for rapid hit-and-run attacks, destroying enemy ships before they even had a chance to register what was happening. And for an exploration-focused organisation, the spore drive opened up the entire galaxy, allowing distant worlds to be visited at a moment’s notice. Planets that were decades away from Federation space by warp drive could be hopped to in an instant, and then the USS Discovery and her crew could be back home in time for tea! We saw this in Season 2, with planets like Terralysium able to be visited easily with a single spore jump – instead of the decades of warp travel that would have normally been required.
To the show’s credit, Discovery found uses for the spore drive in this period – but I confess that I found the spore drive to be a gimmick, one that had been clearly and pretty obviously designed to allow the ship to travel to the Mirror Universe in Season 1. In fact, it’s the Mirror Universe – and more specifically, the idea of having an impostor from that parallel world who was trying to blend in and find a way home – that I would argue led to many of the decisions in Discovery’s early production.
Choosing a Mirror Universe character in Captain Lorca arguably determined when Discovery would need to be set. In order for Lorca to be a soldier of the Terran Empire, Discovery would have to be set in an era where the Terran Empire existed – and as Mirror Universe stories in Deep Space Nine categorically established that the Terran Empire had long since fallen by the 24th Century, in order to return to that setting, stepping back to the 23rd Century was required. If having a Terran impostor was one of the first narrative beats written for the season – and I believe it was – then many other elements of the show had to be built around that, including its 23rd Century setting.
As an aside, I would say that the Mirror Universe really isn’t worth all this fuss and bother! It’s a bit of fun for occasional, one-off stories in longer, more episodic seasons, but building an entire story around the Mirror Universe and Terran characters was probably Discovery’s first mistake. This is a setting that easily falls into overacting and pantomime, with one-dimensional villains who love murder, torture, and murderous torture all for their own sake. There’s very little room for manoeuvre in the Mirror Universe, and as we’ve seen in Discovery – and in past iterations of Star Trek too, to be fair – it can trick even competent actors into putting out incredibly over-the-top, hammy performances.
But that’s my own personal lack of interest in the Mirror Universe showing through, I suppose!
When Star Trek: Picard’s second season premiered, I think it brought to the table something incredibly interesting that’s relevant to this conversation: the Confederation timeline. The Confederation wasn’t the Terran Empire, and its setting wasn’t the Mirror Universe, yet it borrowed a lot from that setting both thematically and stylistically. An authoritarian, fascist dystopia was on full display – and it was in the late 24th/early 25th Century, and managed to be there without treading on the toes of anything that had been previously set up in past iterations of the franchise.
Although the Confederation timeline story was a bit of a misfire in Picard, I think it stands as testament to what’s possible with a little creative thinking. Star Trek doesn’t have to keep going back to the same previously-established time periods and settings, and even in those that are superficially similar, new and different creations can be brought to the screen. Very few things in Discovery would have needed to change had the show’s first season adopted a setting inspired by the Mirror Universe instead of lifting it directly from The Original Series.
And that statement could apply to other elements of the show’s production as well. The idea of a protagonist who was human but raised by Vulcans is a fun and interesting one, a character type that was new to Star Trek – if we don’t count the PC game Hidden Evil, that is! What would have changed about Michael Burnham had her adoptive parents not been Sarek and Amanda but two new Vulcan characters?
Spock’s family is something that Star Trek has messed about with more than once! We could even argue that, as far back as Journey to Babel, it was nonsensical to suggest that Spock’s connection to Sarek would be something that Captain Kirk would have been unaware of. But setting that aside, the film The Final Frontier gave Spock a half-brother who had never been mentioned. Adding Michael Burnham to his family felt, to some fans at least, like yet another retcon; an addition that certainly came very close to treading on the toes of Star Trek’s past because of how closely it involved a very familiar character.
It was clear that Discovery’s writers and creators wanted to tie the show to past iterations of Star Trek, but rather than coming across as respectful homage, some of these decisions felt nakedly commercial – it was as if CBS didn’t trust the Star Trek brand to stand on its own without myriad references and close connections to its earlier iterations. This didn’t sit well with a lot of fans, and when Spock had already had a missing half-brother, giving him an adopted sister who he’d also never mentioned began to feel gratuitous.
And for a lot of folks, it came back to that same argument: what would change about this new character if her parents were inspired by Sarek and Spock’s family? The introduction of Spock in Season 2 definitely shook things up in that regard, but by then a lot of the damage had been done and some fans had already decided not to tune in.
Going all the way back to The Next Generation’s creation in 1987, Star Trek had struck out in bold new directions and tried to do things differently. Every Star Trek show prior to Discovery had cameo appearances, name-checks, and even character crossovers in some episodes, but by and large, the franchise’s different shows stood up by themselves. Would The Next Generation have been improved if the captain of the Enterprise-D had been Kirk’s grandson, for instance? I don’t think anyone would make that case – the show needed the freedom to do its own thing away from those familiar characters. And while Deep Space Nine’s premiere, Emissary, brought Captain Picard on board, thereafter the new series also struck out on its own – as did Voyager and Enterprise when they came along.
For some fans, Discovery crossed a line between finding a connection to what had come before and using it as a crutch, and where past iterations of the Star Trek franchise had been connected to one another through common themes, locales, and even characters, none had ever gone back to retroactively change so many different things as Discovery. Coming off the back of the three Kelvin timeline films – which were also controversial in some quarters because they had re-cast the characters from The Original Series – that felt like a bridge too far for some folks.
Retcons can happen in any franchise, but it’s not unfair to say that some work better than others. Prequels almost always end up bringing more retcons to the table than sequels do, and when we’re talking about a universe that was over fifty years old and had more than 700 stories under its belt at the time Discovery premiered, for a lot of fans, those retcons to Star Trek’s past were too unpalatable.
The Star Trek franchise, much more so than Star Wars, has always felt like it was looking forwards and to the future rather than backwards at its own past. But by 2017, there hadn’t been any Star Trek stories that moved the overall timeline of the franchise forwards in fifteen years. Aside from a short sequence in 2009’s Star Trek reboot film (which told us of the destruction of Romulus), everything that the franchise had done since Nemesis and Voyager’s finale had been a prequel.
After Enterprise had underperformed and the franchise faced cancellation, the Kelvin timeline came along and rebooted things. But both projects proved to be controversial in some quarters – fans were clearly less keen on a prequel show, as Enterprise’s viewing figures demonstrated. And while the Kelvin films were successful with general audiences at the cinema, there were many Trekkies who were unimpressed with the new action-oriented approach and the decision to recast fan-favourite characters.
Along came Discovery – and it incorporated many of the same issues. Here was another prequel, another Star Trek project that was stepping back in time and not taking the opportunity to pick up the story of the Star Trek universe that had come to an abrupt halt with Nemesis. And not only that, but it then emerged that the show’s protagonist would be a hitherto-unknown relative of one of Star Trek’s most iconic characters – a character whose history and family had already been messed with on more than one occasion.
In 2016, I recall making the facetious point that Discovery seemed to be combining everything that Trekkies didn’t like: a plot point from The Final Frontier – which is widely regarded as one of the least-successful Star Trek films, a prequel setting like in Enterprise – which had demonstrably been the least-successful Star Trek series, and both an aesthetic and action focus that were borrowed from the Kelvin timeline films – films which weren’t popular with a lot of fans. That was a joke; some black humour as we looked ahead to the show and as news was trickling out. But I think that it encapsulates how many fans were feeling at the time.
More than anything, I wanted to see Star Trek move forwards again. Despite knowing a number of Trekkies who either hated or outright refused to watch the Kelvin timeline films, I felt that they were decent additions to the franchise. But if Star Trek was to return to both the small screen and the prime timeline, my preference in 2016-17 would have been for a new show to pick up the story in the years after Nemesis, not another prequel set before the events of The Original Series.
Discovery’s prequel setting quickly became a weight around its neck; a barrier that didn’t stop the excitement from building, but that certainly slowed it down. On the one hand, the show’s writers and creative team were constrained by more than 600 stories that were set after Discovery, and on the other, everything that they tried to do that was new or different was subject to intense scrutiny and criticism by fans. There was no way to win – either the show would have to tell less-interesting stories as a result of being cornered by canon, or it would be nitpicked to death by fans who felt it was overstepping its bounds and treading on the toes of stories that had already been told.
Had Discovery’s first season been set in the same time period as Star Trek: Picard later was – the late 24th Century or early 25th Century – a lot of those issues would have disappeared. The spore drive could be Starfleet’s new initiative, with its potential unlimited and the genuine possibility of this interesting piece of technology going on to become the Federation’s new way of getting around. We knew, even before a single minute of Discovery had aired, that the spore drive wouldn’t take off in the 23rd Century – because if it had, all of Star Trek wouldn’t be able to exist as depicted. A post-Nemesis setting would have completely negated that issue.
Then there was the question of character. Michael Burnham could have been exactly the same person – a human raised by Vulcans with Vulcan instincts. But instead of being the second addition to Spock’s increasingly soap opera-like family, her adoptive parents could have been new characters who were inspired by characters from Star Trek’s past, or even Vulcan characters from the 24th Century that we’d met before if an overt connection was deemed necessary. The war with the Klingons could have broken out in much the same way as we saw on screen – all it would have taken is a brief word of explanation saying that the Klingon-Federation alliance of the late 24th Century had broken down in the intervening years.
Star Trek had an opportunity to advance its timeline, and to take into account events like the Romulan supernova. With relatively few changes to how the story of Season 1 played out, it could be the Romulans, not the Klingons, who went to war with Starfleet. Or it could have been that the Klingons wanted to reassert themselves in the aftermath of the Romulan catastrophe, perhaps seizing former Romulan territory as their empire collapsed. And the idea of having an impostor as the ship’s captain – someone from an alternate reality – could have also been made to fit without returning to the Mirror Universe.
Discovery could, for example, have taken the idea of a more militaristic Starfleet that had been seen in the Kelvin timeline in Into Darkness as a starting point, and said that the Kelvin timeline would develop into the same kind of dystopian setting as the Mirror Universe. Captain Lorca could have originated from a late 24th Century Kelvin timeline, from a Federation that was much more authoritarian in nature. That would have tied together the two most recent parts of the Star Trek franchise while still leaving open the possibility of a fourth Kelvin film starring the reboot cast.
In short, there were plenty of ways that Bryan Fuller’s initial concepts and ideas could have been made to fit a post-Nemesis setting rather than a pre-The Original Series one. Some changes are bigger than others, and in hindsight we now know that we’d miss out on the recasting of Captain Pike and Spock that paved the way for Strange New Worlds… but at the time, without that foreknowledge, I really do believe that it would have been worth considering.
Season 2, which focused on the Control AI, could have also been a good fit for a late 24th/early 25th Century setting. In fact, I doubt I’d be the only one to suggest that the Control story might’ve been a better fit for that time period! This idea of essentially a rogue supercomputer is one that Star Trek has tackled before, with episodes like The Ultimate Computer and even some of the stories about Lore in The Next Generation. Control’s schemes could have absolutely worked in a post-Lore environment.
I’ve talked before about how the Control storyline in Season 2 felt like a potential Borg origin story – or at least a story with superficial Borg similarities. Because of Discovery’s place in the timeline, those references were only ever tiny little hints to us as the audience; no one within the show could say “hey, this looks an awful lot like Borg assimilation” because none of them knew who the Borg were at that point. But if the story had been set in that post-Nemesis era, the similarities between Control and the Borg could have been made more overt – even if a full “Starfleet accidentally created the Borg” story had been taken off the table.
At the end of the day, though, Discovery wasn’t only controversial because of its place in the Star Trek timeline, and while replacing its 23rd Century setting would have blunted some points of criticism, fans would have found others. Things like the redesign of the Klingons, the more action-heavy storyline, the show’s shorter serialised seasons and more would all remain, and a potential post-Nemesis setting would’ve probably thrown up a bunch of new things for people to pick on, too.
In hindsight, we now know that if Discovery had been set in the years after Nemesis, we’d have missed out onStrange New Worlds – a show that I’d argue is probably the high-water mark of modern Star Trek, at least at time of writing. That alone should make Discovery and its complicated relationship to canon and Star Trek’s internal timeline absolutely worthwhile!
But on the other hand, who knows what we’re missing out on? Potential crossovers with The Next Generation and other 24th Century shows would have been on the table, and while Discovery’s third and fourth seasons have tried to pay lip-service to that era, by shooting so far forward in time, it’s once again ruled out any significant crossovers and link-ups.
In addition to obvious characters like Jean-Luc Picard or Kathryn Janeway, dozens or even hundreds of secondary characters and guest stars from that era could have been incorporated into Discovery to tie Star Trek’s newest adventure to what came before – with fan-favourite characters (and the actors who played them) potentially returning. Picard, Lower Decks, and Prodigy have all shown just how much of an appetite there is within the Star Trek fan community to bring back characters as diverse as Q and Captain Jellico, just to give two examples.
When making those very early decisions about Discovery, one of the fundamental mistakes executives at CBS (now Paramount) and the creative team made is failing to recognise Star Trek’s real “golden age.” The Original Series in the 1960s may have gotten things started – and it’s remembered fondly, don’t get me wrong – but for many fans, especially fans in their thirties and forties, it’s The Next Generation and the other shows of the 1990s that are best-remembered. Discovery jumped back in time to draw inspiration from and connect up with The Original Series… but I’m not sure that’s where the majority of the fan community was in 2017 – or is in 2023, either.
Whatever we may think of the arguments surrounding canon and the so-called integrity of Star Trek’s internal timelines, a more basic question is this: what setting and what era would most Trekkies choose for a new series? There are some fans, of course, who want to see more of Enterprise’s 22nd Century, some who want to see a far future that shoots past the 24th and 25th Centuries, and certainly there are fans for whom the 23rd Century has its own unique appeal. But many, many Trekkies who first came to the franchise during The Next Generation era – myself included – wanted and still want to see Star Trek pick up where it left off after Nemesis and Endgame. That was doubly true in 2017, when the franchise hadn’t touched that time period in fifteen years.
When it became apparent that Discovery was going to be yet another prequel – the third in a row – it meant that there was still no chance of the timeline advancing. It meant that the return of fan-favourites from Benjamin Sisko to B’Elanna Torres was completely off the table. And it meant no explanation of the Romulan supernova that had been glimpsed in 2009’s Star Trek. We subsequently got to see some of those things in Picard – but it wasn’t obvious in 2016-17 that that series was going to be made, and there was, in some quarters at least, a sense of disappointment that Star Trek was once again doing this kind of navel-gazing at its own history and backstory instead of moving forward. That planted the seeds of unhappiness for some Trekkies – a seed that would grow as more details were revealed about the series, its setting, its technologies, and its characters.
And I feel that this is really the key point. On their own, many of the criticisms levelled at Discovery in its first season were overblown nitpicks. The spore drive was never considered by the crew of the USS Voyager as a way to get home quicker. Spock didn’t have an adopted sister in that one episode of The Animated Series that aired in 1973. Did the Klingons and the Federation really fight a war in this era? And so on. But those criticisms found fertile ground in the disappointment that fans were already feeling – and the “snowball” started to roll.
This “snowball effect” is something that I’ve talked about before here on the website. In brief, it refers to how a production can find itself subject to more and more points of criticism once a few big ones start to build up. The “snowball” starts rolling, picking up more and more nitpicks and amplifying them. Relatively minor things – like Discovery’s all-blue uniform designs, for example – end up being nitpicked to death in a way that they never would have been in a production that didn’t have those original, fundamental points of criticism to get the “snowball” rolling in the first place.
And that’s what happened with Discovery in 2016-17, in my opinion. Its place in the timeline became the initial source of disappointment for a fanbase that comprised more fans of The Next Generation era than higher-ups at CBS realised. Those fans would have preferred to see a series set after Endgame and Nemesis, and the disappointment they felt began to set the stage for many other points of criticism that, in a different production, would never have been mentioned.
There are, of course, some self-proclaimed “fans” of Star Trek for whom the race and gender of Discovery’s protagonist was the issue. Those people would never have been placated by changes in the show’s setting, and the hate, abuse, and toxicity spewed by that thankfully small section of the show’s audience would have remained regardless. I see no way to avoid that; just as there were viewers in the ’60s who objected to Uhura’s presence on the bridge of the Enterprise, there were some in 2017 who felt that women, people of colour, LGBT+ people, and others shouldn’t be part of “their” entertainment products.
Such folks would often try to cage their attacks in the language of media criticism, using expressions like “bad writing” to criticise Discovery. I think we’re all able to tell the difference, though, and I don’t really see much point in addressing this part of the attacks on the show. It isn’t relevant to what we’re talking about today, as the minority of viewers who objected to Michael Burnham because she was a black woman in a leading role would have felt the same way regardless of when the show was set. The only thing that would have changed would have been the way in which those folks would have tried to cover their tracks when attacking Discovery.
When Season 2 rolled around, it wasn’t apparent at first that Discovery’s creative team had taken on board much of the feedback and criticism that had been levelled at the show in its first season. In fact, they seemed to double- and even triple-down on making these overt connections to The Original Series by introducing Captain Pike and Spock.
I have to confess something at this point – something which, in light of how darn good Strange New Worlds was in its first season, I’m quite embarrassed about: I didn’t like the idea of Pike and Spock joining Discovery in 2018-19 when that news broke. I’d been a fan of The Cage since I first watched it, and there was something about Jeffrey Hunter’s portrayal of Pike, and the differences between him and Captain Kirk in particular, that occupied a unique place in Star Trek’s history. Here was an “alternate timeline,” and just like hearing a different version of a familiar song, all the pieces were there, but they were different. Pike stood as this kind of “what-if” for the Star Trek franchise; what might have been if history had taken a different course.
Furthermore, I found Bruce Greenwood’s take on the character in Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness to have been one of the highlights of the Kelvin timeline. Recasting the character so soon after this portrayal wasn’t something that I was wild about either, and I felt that the whole thing rather smacked of desperation on the part of CBS/Paramount; an attempt to bring more eyes to a show that had proven controversial and that probably hadn’t brought in the numbers of subscribers and viewers that they and Netflix had hoped to see.
I was wrong about that, of course – so very, very wrong!
But I wasn’t alone in feeling that way; that Discovery was reaching for a crutch as its second season dawned. Fans who had been left unimpressed by the show in its first season – and particularly at its perceived “violations” of Star Trek’s internal canon – were not looking forward to seeing what would become of Captain Pike, a character who had a certain reverence from at least some in the fan community as Star Trek’s “first” captain, but more importantly of Spock – one of the most important foundational characters in the entire franchise.
Whether we agree or not that Discovery’s second season shook up Spock’s characterisation for the better – which is something I absolutely believe it did, by the way – something very interesting happened at the end of that season: Michael Burnham and the USS Discovery left the 23rd Century altogether. Opening a time-wormhole, Burnham led the ship and crew into the far future, and the show has remained in that time period ever since. By the time Season 5 arrives later this year, Discovery will have spent longer in the 32nd Century than it did in the 23rd.
Does that decision stand as an admission from Discovery’s creatives and producers that the 23rd Century was never a good fit for the show? Is it more a case of exasperatedly saying to fans and critics “you wanted us to be set in the future? Well here ya go!” Or is it simply a creative narrative decision that would have been taken regardless of how Seasons 1 and 2 had been received?
Let’s rule out that latter point immediately! If Discovery’s place in the timeline was uncontroversial and hadn’t been commented on and criticised from the moment it was announced, we’d have seen Discovery remain in the 23rd Century – I am as certain of that as I can be. The decision to take the series out of the 23rd Century was, at least in some way, a response to these criticisms and/or a way to pre-empt or shut down further such nitpicks.
We’ll have to talk about this in more detail one day, but there’s a phenomenon that I call the “prequel problem” that affects a lot of prequel stories. In short, at the back of our minds as viewers, we know that certain storylines have to end in particular ways; tension, drama, and stakes are all lower in certain prequels – whether we’re conscious of that fact at the time or not. This goes double for a show like Discovery where galactic-scale apocalyptic disasters are the bread-and-butter of its stories.
When it seemed as if Control was going to wipe out all life in the galaxy, we knew that it wasn’t possible. The details of how Pike, Burnham, and the crew were going to prevent it were still to be revealed, but because we’d seen the galaxy in the 24th Century, we knew at the back of our minds that there was no real danger. Likewise with Season 1’s Klingon war – we knew that the Federation wouldn’t be defeated, because we’d seen Captain Kirk’s five-year mission taking place a mere decade after the events depicted in the show. Those “prequel problems” took at least some of the tension out of Discovery’s main narratives – and in a show that wants to turn the tension up to eleven, that’s not ideal to say the least!
If Discovery was the kind of show that told stories that were smaller in scale, we could disregard this point altogether. But for the kind of series Discovery aimed to be, a setting that was constrained by stories set decades and centuries later was problematic – and it had been since day one.
So let’s start to wrap things up.
The saving grace of Discovery’s 23rd Century beginning is, as I see it anyway, the existence of Strange New Worlds as a spin-off production. Bringing in Captain Pike and Spock proved to be an unexpected masterstroke, thanks in part to some inspired casting. Had Discovery always been set after Nemesis in the late 24th Century, we would never have seen Anson Mount and Ethan Peck take on those roles, and from there we’d never have gotten to see the masterpiece that was Strange New Worlds Season 1. That would have been a huge loss for Star Trek – and I feel that alone more than justifies Discovery’s first two seasons in the 23rd Century.
But it’s clear that being set in this time period caused the show a lot of issues, particularly because of the kind of storytelling it employed. Big, bold stories that focus on end-of-the-world type threats and a serialised framework in which only one or two main stories were told per season combined with a prequel setting to cause some major stumbling blocks. Some of these were bigger than others, and some minor points definitely saw their status overinflated by fans and viewers who were “snowballing” and picking on anything and everything to criticise a series that they already didn’t like. But some of those points of criticism were genuine, and the internal consistency of the Star Trek franchise and its timeline was challenged by some of the narrative decisions that Discovery took.
With Strange New Worlds serving as a huge caveat, I still believe that if I’d been in charge of things in 2016-17, I wouldn’t have created a series set in the 23rd Century. It remains my view that at least a plurality of fans, if not an outright majority, would have preferred to have seen the overall timeline of Star Trek move forwards, and that creating a series set sometime after Endgame and Nemesis would have been the best call. There’s a lot of leeway if all we say is “after Nemesis,” and I’d have entertained pitches and ideas for both the late 24th Century as well as for decades or centuries in the future, far beyond The Next Generation era.
Bearing that in mind, I’d say that practically everything that Discovery did in those first two seasons could and would have worked in a post-Nemesis setting. Some story beats would have had to change to accommodate being set further forwards in time, such as Captain Lorca’s universe of origin. But even if the brief required the creative team to use elements that the Star Trek franchise had already created, I think it would have been possible to tell those same stories in a very similar way.
The big twist in Discovery’s first season was Captain Lorca’s true identity – but I’m not really convinced that this story beat was worth all the fuss. It was certainly fun and unexpected to find out that the character had crossed over from another universe, and that he was responsible for stranding the ship there as he tried to get home – but after Lorca’s true origin was revealed, his characterisation took a turn for the worse, and he ceased to be the complex, nuanced, hardball Starfleet captain in favour of being a rather one-dimensional villain caricature. So maybe all of this hassle wasn’t even worth it after all!
Season 2 introduced us to Pike and Spock, and set the stage for Strange New Worlds – something which, in hindsight, we know now we’d have missed out on if Discovery didn’t take place in this time period.
Shooting forwards in time, well past the 24th and 25th Centuries, has allowed Discovery much more creative freedom, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the show’s best episodes have come in the last couple of years rather than in those first two seasons. Even in an established, long-running franchise, writers and creatives need to have the freedom to branch out, to add wholly new elements, and to tell stories that go to completely different thematic places. Some of that was possible in the 23rd Century – and we’ve seen Strange New Worlds succeed in that setting by taking on a more episodic approach – but for the kinds of large-scale, dramatic stories that Discovery wanted to tell, a setting unconstrained by having to fit in with 600+ episodes and films set after the events of the show has undoubtedly opened up a lot more possibilities.
So the question posed is a tough one. Discovery set the stage for Strange New Worlds, and that really is a huge point in favour of its initial 23rd Century setting. But Discovery also reinvigorated the Star Trek franchise for a post-Game of Thrones television landscape, one in which ongoing serialised stories with big, bold storylines was the order of the day. Without Discovery doing what it did in 2017, who knows whether the Star Trek franchise would have continued at all, and whether the likes of Picard, Lower Decks, and Prodigy would have been created as well.
Just like the Kelvin films kept a torch burning for Star Trek and proved that there was life in a franchise that had burned out by 2005, perhaps what we should say about Discovery’s first two seasons is that they led to bigger and (mostly) better things, both for the show itself and for the franchise as a whole. Messing with that too much, or trying to create something “better,” may not have had the desired result!
But all of that is with the benefit of hindsight. In 2016-17, I wasn’t alone in wishing that Star Trek would move forward instead of creating yet another prequel. And it wasn’t possible to know at that time where Discovery might lead or what kind of spin-offs might be created in the years ahead. Although I did enjoy what the show did in its first two seasons overall, for much of the time I couldn’t shake the feeling that these stories would still have worked – and in some ways at least, would have worked far better – if the show was set after Nemesis.
Furthermore, I feel that Discovery’s producers felt that way too, especially after Bryan Fuller left the project and after the show premiered to a rather divisive reaction in some quarters of the fan community. Some of the people in charge may have underestimated just how detail-oriented some Trekkies can be, and in an age of social media, online fan communities, and continuous discussion and debate, small nitpicks about the series and its relationship to past iterations of Star Trek became amplified, making some of these controversies grow larger.
Any time a franchise expands, it leaves some folks behind. There were always going to be Discovery-haters; folks who, for any one of a number of reasons, didn’t want to see Star Trek doing something new and different. But did the show itself provide ammunition to those critics and others by its 23rd Century setting? Absolutely. Leaving the 23rd Century behind was clearly the right decision, and in some ways we can argue that it came two seasons too late.
So there we have it. In my view, Discovery could and perhaps should have been created as a post-Nemesis series instead of one set before The Original Series. With relatively few tweaks to the stories of its first couple of seasons, the same cast of characters, the same starship designs, the same technologies, and the same narrative beats could have all been present, and perhaps interesting new connections could have been found that would have tied the series into the events and even characters of The Next Generation era.
I hope this was an interesting thought experiment! I’ve been wanting to talk about Discovery’s creation and its early seasons for some time now. Because I only created this website in late 2019 I missed the opportunity to write up my thoughts on Discovery as it was being teased and as those first two seasons were broadcast, so this was an opportunity to step back and begin to rectify that! I hope you won’t interpret this as me “hating” on Discovery. Although I wasn’t wild about every decision taken or every character and storyline, I feel that we got two decent seasons of Star Trek, and a show that certainly wasn’t afraid to try new things. This hypothetical question is really just an opportunity to talk about the series some more and highlight some of what I feel were the key decisions taken during its creation.
I’m glad that Discovery remains a part of a very broad, varied franchise. But I think I’m also glad that the show’s producers took it out of the 23rd Century – not because I’m desperately angry about “the purity of canon” or other such things – but because its new era, free from any such constraints, has allowed for the creation of some genuinely different stories.
Star Trek: Discovery is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries and territories where the platform is available. The series is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Trek franchise, including the most recent seasons of Discovery, Picard, and Strange New Worlds. There are also spoilers for upcoming and unreleased Star Trek projects.
By almost every conceivable measure, 2022 has been a fantastic year for the Star Trek franchise. We’ve seen new projects become successful, ongoing series really hitting their stride, and more seasons and individual episodes of Star Trek than at any time in the past. Barely a week has gone by without a brand-new episode to get stuck into – and with different shows targeting wildly different audiences, it really feels like Star Trek in 2022 has had something to offer to practically everyone.
But that isn’t the whole story, and unfortunately it feels as though 2022 has also been a pretty dark year for Star Trek – one in which major mistakes have been made that could very easily lead to serious consequences in the medium-to-long term, and perhaps even premature cancellations for some or all of the shows currently in production.
On this occasion, I want to look back at 2022 from the perspective of a Star Trek fan, and draw attention to both the highs and lows of a rollercoaster year for the franchise. And there’s quite a lot to say, so make sure you’re sitting comfortably!
My usual caveat applies: everything we’re going to talk about today is the subjective opinion of one person. There are a lot of reasons to think positively and optimistically about Star Trek, and the fact that I have some negative or uncomfortable points to raise shouldn’t be interpreted as me being some kind of “hater” of new Star Trek. I love the franchise, I want to see it succeed, and I raise these issues not out of spite but out of genuine concern. If you don’t agree with me, that’s okay. There’s room within the Star Trek fan community for polite discussions and civil disagreements!
Now that that’s out of the way, we can begin.
It seems only fair to allow the Star Trek franchise to put its best foot forward, so we’ll start with what went well in 2022. And there are several incredible highlights, any one of which alone would ordinarily mean we’d consider 2022 to have been a huge success for Star Trek.
Some of the best entertainment experiences that I had all year came from the Star Trek franchise, and those incredible episodes and stories weren’t limited to a single season or a single show. In fact, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that all five of 2022’s Star Trek productions had some fantastic high points; episodes or at least moments within episodes that had me on the edge of my seat, jumping for joy, or in tears.
Strange New Worlds Season 1 was fantastic:
The first season of Strange New Worlds was, without a doubt, the best that modern Star Trek has had to offer – and one of the finest seasons in the entire fifty-six-year history of the franchise. A triumphant return to an older, more episodic style of storytelling that still retained many modern serialised elements represents a model that I genuinely believe every other current and upcoming project in the franchise needs to seriously consider adopting. The diversity of stories on display in Strange New Worlds Season 1 was unprecedented in the franchise’s modern era.
Strange New Worlds’ premiere was also the culmination of a fan campaign to get Anson Mount and Ethan Peck to reprise their popular and incredibly successful roles from Discovery’s second season. The show’s very existence is testament to Paramount’s willingness to take on board feedback from Star Trek fans and a wider audience, and the fact that the corporation backed up this relative gamble by awarding the series a decently high budget should be acknowledged. Paramount didn’t have to make Strange New Worlds – plans were afoot for other Star Trek shows and spin-offs, but the corporation reacted positively to feedback from fans and viewers, and the result was an absolutely outstanding season of television that has hopefully laid the groundwork for one of the best Star Trek series of the current era – if not of all-time.
It really is hard to overstate just how incredible Strange New Worlds’ first season really was. In my spoiler-free review I talked about how the show enthusiastically tried out different genres, managing to thread the needle of staying close to Star Trek’s roots while still feeling like a thoroughly modern production. There were ten fantastic episodes – and while I had a few story nitpicks, overall the season has to be considered the best since Star Trek returned to the small screen in 2017.
So Strange New Worlds is definitely one of the highlights of 2022 – not just for the Star Trek franchise, but in the entertainment space in general. It’s a show that should be accessible to new and old fans alike, with the potential to expand the Star Trek fandom beyond its current niche.
The Strange New Worlds-Lower Decks crossover announcement:
This is something that I genuinely was not expecting – but it’s a fantastic idea! Star Trek did a fair few crossover episodes in its heyday, and while I guess we can consider parts of Discovery and Strange New Worlds to have crossed over with The Original Series, it isn’t the same as bringing together two shows that are currently in production. With five shows occupying five different time periods and regions of the galaxy, a proper crossover felt like a remote possibility – until this announcement came along at Comic-Con in July.
I mentioned the diversity of genres that Strange New Worlds dabbled in in its first season – well, one of those was comedy! We had two episodes that had overtly comedic premises, and many other moments of humour throughout much of the season. A crossover with Lower Decks – an animated comedy series – is thus not as far-fetched as we might think!
As always in Star Trek, technobabble can account for most things! The crew of the Cerritos could find themselves in the 23rd Century thanks to all manner of phenomena, so there’s no real barrier to bringing the two shows together. With some creative scriptwriting, a solid foundation should be able to bring Boimler, Mariner, and perhaps other members of the Cerritos’ crew aboard Captain Pike’s ship.
This announcement has got a lot of Trekkies very excited, and that’s a great thing. Paramount needs to make moves like these to keep the fan community engaged, and while a crossover may feel very much like fan-service, there’s also a huge potential benefit to bringing together two different parts of the Star Trek franchise. Fans of Lower Decks may check out Strange New Worlds for the first time – and vice-versa. Crossover stories have the potential to benefit both shows and increase viewership, potentially turning casual viewers into fans of the franchise as a whole. If Star Trek is to survive long-term, we need to see more moves like this.
Visual effects and CGI:
Although Discovery’s first season felt like it brought to the table some excellent visual effects, there were some definite disappointments thereafter. The Romulan and Federation fleets seen in the finale of Picard Season 1, for example, were pretty lacklustre; copy-and-paste starships that all looked the same and, in the case of the Starfleet vessels, didn’t even have names and NCC numbers. There were also some pretty sloppy CGI moments in Discovery’s third season – one example that comes to mind is a digital sword that supposedly stabbed a character, but just looked awful.
But in 2022, all that changed. We had a big, beautiful Starfleet armada in Picard’s season premiere and season finale. We had other CGI moments in the Confederation timeline that looked spectacular. Strange New Worlds did some incredible things with practical puppets in conjunction with CGI and visual effects to create some wonderful moments. And Discovery brought to screen one of the most “alien-looking” alien races ever seen in the franchise: Species 10-C.
Both Discovery and Strange New Worlds made excellent use of Paramount’s fancy new AR wall, too. When the AR wall first debuted, I felt there were definitely a few moments where its use was noticeable. But by the time we got to 2022’s Star Trek productions, the creative team and effects artists had clearly grown in both confidence and ability, taking advantage of the AR wall to craft some wonderful environments.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention the digital de-ageing of John de Lancie in his initial appearance as Q. That moment, which came at the end of the Picard Season 2 premiere, was absolutely fantastic!
Some of these technologies are very expensive, and Paramount doesn’t have the same resources as the likes of Disney or Netflix, so I can understand why they’re used sparingly in some cases. But overall, I’d give Star Trek’s visual effects and CGI work an A grade for 2022.
Discovery Season 4 ended on a spectacular high:
Although Discovery’s fourth season seemed to drag in places, there’s no denying that the way the season ended was pitch-perfect and went at least some way to making up for earlier narrative missteps. Coming Home (the season finale) was an incredible episode: deeply emotional, visually stunning, and tied up all of the season’s loose ends.
The way in which Season 4 ended showed off the Federation at its very best, racing in to help a planet that had left the organisation simply because they needed assistance and it was the right thing to do. I still get chills just thinking about it, and the way Admiral Vance led the charge, bringing Federation HQ to Earth in its hour of need… it’s one of the best story beats in the season.
After the drama with Unknown Species 10-C was resolved, an epilogue saw Earth coming back into the fold, rejoining the Federation, and this has set the stage for what promises to be a different kind of story in the show’s upcoming fifth season. I would challenge any Discovery-avoider to watch Coming Home and not feel that the show has grown spectacularly since its premiere almost six years ago.
By expanding its cast with some genuinely interesting secondary characters, Discovery is starting down the Deep Space Nine road, where characters outside of the main headliners could be just as important to stories. Although it’s still “the Burnham show” in some ways, there’s movement away from a laser-focus on one character, with others being given moments in the spotlight. That’s all to the good – and as Season 5 approaches, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
So that’s what Star Trek got right.
There are some really amazing highlights, and were it not for some of the things we’re about to discuss, they’d have meant that the year 2022 would’ve gone down in history as one of Star Trek’s finest; the beginning of a new “golden age” that would rival the franchise’s 1990s heyday. Strange New Worlds truly excelled, Discovery did some bold and interesting things, and Picard put together a Starfleet armada that was big, diverse, and beautiful. And that’s not even mentioning solid seasons from both Lower Decks and Prodigy that continue to branch out in very different directions.
But that isn’t all there is to say, and now I’m afraid we have to consider some of the ways in which Star Trek went wrong in 2022.
Paramount did serious, almost catastrophic harm to Star Trek in 2022, and I genuinely fear for the franchise’s longer-term prospects. I had felt all but certain that we’d make it to the 60th anniversary in 2026 with new seasons and perhaps even new films being created… but that goal feels pretty far away right now, even with the promise of unannounced projects being worked on behind the scenes.
The simple truth is this: I have no confidence in the leadership team at Paramount. It seems as if they don’t know what they’re doing; they leap from disaster to disaster, damaging trust and confidence in the Star Trek brand, harming the Star Trek fan community, and above all, it feels as if 20th Century thinking is trying – and desperately failing – to lead Paramount into the 21st Century. Without a major change in direction at the top and a serious rethink of the corporation’s attitude and approach, Star Trek will not succeed and will not survive.
The international rollout of Paramount+:
If you’ve been a regular reader here on the website, you may remember that I’ve had a lot to say on this subject. The fact that Paramount was unable to speed up the painfully constipated rollout of its streaming platform – and crucially, the corporation’s unwillingness to broadcast Star Trek on other channels or streaming platforms in countries and territories where Paramount+ isn’t available – has been a dead weight around the neck of the Star Trek franchise, pushing Trekkies away… or into the arms of piracy.
Paramount sits atop a global media empire, and owns television channels in dozens of countries around the world. If the rollout of Paramount+ was so slow, the corporation had months or years in which to make other arrangements to broadcast Star Trek. Prodigy, for instance, is produced in part under Paramount’s Nickelodeon brand – and there are Nickelodeon channels available in more than 100 countries around the world. Why was Prodigy not broadcast on any of them until months after its first season had gotten underway? And why was Strange New Worlds not made available here in the UK on one of the dozen or so channels that Paramount already owns?
These decisions hit the Star Trek fan community hard. But more than that, they greatly harmed Strange New Worlds and Prodigy in particular. In a 21st Century media landscape, word-of-mouth on social media makes all the difference – and Paramount has consistently failed to learn that cutting off a huge portion of the potential audience for its shows means that posts get fewer likes, hashtags don’t trend, and the resulting lack of online chatter harms these shows in the United States as well. The blinkered, short-sighted “America First” approach that the corporation has adopted may have worked fine in the 1980s… but it isn’t the ’80s any more. The internet is one single worldwide audience, and by denying a huge portion of that audience access to Paramount+ and the Star Trek franchise, Paramount has done immeasurable harm to Lower Decks, Strange New Worlds, Prodigy, and the entire franchise.
At time of writing, Paramount+ doesn’t even have the faintest idea about a launch in countries like Japan or South Korea, and even in western Europe, coverage is spotty. And you can forget about the hugely growing markets in places like China or Africa – Paramount doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. If there were plans afoot to get Star Trek shown on other networks in those regions – whether Paramount-owned or not – at least that would be something. But no such plans have been forthcoming, so the option Trekkies have in much of the world is to either pirate Star Trek or miss out. There’s no prospect of bringing on board new fans as long as this attitude persists.
Why did Discovery Season 4 overlap Picard Season 2 by three weeks in the spring of 2022? And why was the Picard finale shown the same day (the same minute, in fact) as Strange New Worlds’ premiere? Paramount’s scheduling decisions were pathetic in 2022, as there was simply no need for the shows to overlap like this.
Had Picard Season 2 been delayed and not run alongside Discovery, and Strange New Worlds also been delayed a mere four or five weeks so as not to overlap Picard, that would have lined up almost perfectly with Paramount+ launching here in the UK. There would have been the option for Trekkies in the UK to join in with fans in the USA, watching Strange New Worlds together. This bizarre rush saw several weeks with two different shows on at the same time, and while that did also happen during The Next Generation era, in an age of ten-episode seasons and on-demand streaming… it just shouldn’t be happening any more.
You don’t see Disney+ having The Mandalorian and Andor overlapping one another – Disney makes sure that the Star Wars shows have room to breathe. I genuinely don’t understand how a decision was taken to have these shows clash. At the very least it should have been possible to spread out the release of episodes so that they weren’t on the same day, but Paramount even failed to consider that possibility, apparently.
Were it not for the rushed scheduling meaning that Strange New Worlds debuted in the USA weeks before Paramount+ arrived in the UK, I’d still find the whole thing pretty stupid. But when a slightly more spread out schedule could have allowed Paramount+ to land in the UK the same week as Strange New Worlds premiered… I honestly can’t forgive it. Whichever idiot at Paramount (and there’s no shortage of those, clearly) signed off the scheduling decisions for 2022 needs to be fired.
A premature announcement:
One of the most basic, entry-level rules of the entertainment industry is this: you don’t officially announce anything until all of the pieces are in place. Paramount became a laughing stock in 2022 by announcing a sequel to 2016’s Star Trek Beyond… before trying to quietly un-announce it only a few weeks later.
Whatever you may think of the merits of a new Kelvin timeline film, it should be patently obvious that this was not the way to handle it. It seems as if no main cast members had been so much as offered a contract, let alone been in a position to sign one and start work on a film that had a very ambitious release date of July and then December 2023. Paramount’s failure in this regard was spectacular, and practically unheard of for a big corporation in the modern entertainment industry.
Whether a new Star Trek film gets underway in the months ahead or not, this total own-goal from Paramount’s team of corporate morons has already damaged the film – and arguably the wider franchise, too. To make an official announcement, put a film on the schedule with an expected release date, and then have to walk it all back and try to quietly brush it aside is a bad look. It makes Paramount and the Star Trek franchise look disorganised, unprofessional, and chaotic. Who’d want to go to work for a corporation like that the next time they’re hiring?
I can’t even believe we have to say this, but here we go: if you don’t have all the contracts signed, don’t announce your film. If the executives at Paramount don’t understand that, then they need to be removed immediately.
Star Trek Day:
Oh, I feel bad about putting this on the list – but I’m afraid we must. Star Trek Day was hyped up as a celebration of all things Trek… but it was a spectacular let-down. Despite promises of “announcements and reveals throughout,” nothing major was actually announced at Star Trek Day… unless we count a scripted podcast. Which we don’t.
The live broadcast was also pretty amateurish, with hosts who seemed unprepared, guests who couldn’t answer the most basic of questions about their shows, and panels that were either cut too short or that went totally off the rails and fell apart. There were a couple of teaser trailers, but even then, Paramount seems to have been saving the biggest and boldest of those for Comic-Con a couple of months later.
By some accounts, Star Trek Day didn’t bring in much of an audience, which is a shame in a way. But if Paramount isn’t going to make this kind of celebration of the franchise and its fans a big blow-out, perhaps it’s better just to skip it next year – or at least make sure that expectations are properly set in advance.
I hoped for better things from Star Trek Day, and while I don’t want to be too critical of the main figures involved, it was a pretty big disappointment.
Social media failures:
We’ve already touched on this in a couple of places, but Paramount and the Star Trek franchise really need to get a better handle on social media. The way in which they used social media in 2022 was poor, and we need to see Star Trek becoming much more engaging and interactive with fans and viewers. Social media isn’t merely a billboard on which to paste an advertisement or show off a teaser trailer; Paramount needs to start treating social media platforms as spaces to engage with fans.
To just give a couple of examples, Star Trek’s social media pages could showcase fan art, highlighting the real passion that many Trekkies have for the franchise. And they could run competitions, with giveaways of merchandise or Paramount+ subscriptions as rewards. Take a look around at other big corporations and see what they’re doing; social media is a gateway that Paramount could open, giving new, especially younger fans a first look at Star Trek.
At the very least, Paramount and Star Trek need to be more active on social media. They need to respond to genuine questions from fans as much as possible, especially concerning things like release dates and availability. Frankly they also ought to curate their social media posts better, deleting hateful comments about some of the new Star Trek shows and especially about some of the actors. LGBT+ actors and actors from ethnic minority backgrounds are particular targets, and it’s a bad look when a post has comments of that nature.
Look at television shows as diverse as Game of Thrones, Tiger King, and Squid Game. What helped them blow up and break out of their original niches to attract massive audiences? Social media! Well-timed promotions and social media teams that actively leaned into the discussion, the jokes, the memes, and everything else helped those shows – and many more. Star Trek could have that too – if only Paramount could get someone competent to manage its social media operation.
When a director with the undeniable talent of Quentin Tarantino says that he wants to make a film for you, serious consideration of the proposal is warranted. For whatever reason, higher-ups at Paramount decided not to go ahead with a film that had been pitched by the famed director of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill. No explanation has been given – and I really do fear that this could be a huge missed opportunity.
Here’s the short version: you may not like Tarantino personally or his filmmaking style. That’s okay. Maybe you’d hate his take on Star Trek. That’s okay too. Because what someone like Tarantino has that no one else who’s come anywhere close to Star Trek has is star power and pull. Tarantino’s films are on a different order of magnitude to anything else that Star Trek has ever done, and what that would have meant for the franchise is millions of new viewers turning up for the very first time. At least some of those folks would have stuck around, gone back to watch other Star Trek films and shows, and the fan community would have grown.
The very worst possible outcome for a collaboration with Tarantino would have been a mediocre film that made a decent profit. But beyond that, the potential for legions of viewers taking a first look at Star Trek – or a second look from folks who’ve not seen it in a while – is immense. To squander such an opportunity when it was seemingly presented on a silver platter may turn out to be an unforgivable mistake.
A standalone Tarantino film need not have impacted any ongoing series or project. It could have been a one-and-done thing occupying its own little piece of the Star Trek universe, inoffensively ignoring everything else in the franchise and doing no harm. Sure, there are potential pitfalls to working with someone like Tarantino… but the gains Star Trek could have made were massive.
Where are the Prodigy toys?
It’s been well over a year since Prodigy premiered, but there are still no toys, no dolls, no dress-up costumes, no replica phasers or combadges, no teddies… nothing. Prodigy must be the only kids’ show in the world to have zero tie-in products even after its entire first season has come and gone.
There’s more to merchandise than just raw sales and profit. The way children engage with a franchise like Star Trek, especially in the moments where they aren’t sitting down to watch the latest episode, is all about play. Seeing exciting toys on shelves will literally get kids to check out the show for the first time, and seeing their friends dressed up for Halloween or playing with Star Trek dolls has the potential to expand the show’s audience.
The Star Trek franchise may be new to making a kids’ show, but Paramount isn’t. Paramount owns Nickelodeon, and has made many other films and TV series for children in the past – and knows how to make toys and merch for them. Moreover, the Star Trek franchise used to be much better at this, even giving Star Wars a run for its money in the ’90s with figures of practically every guest character, costumes for dressing up, prop replicas, and much more.
I waited and waited for Paramount to address this as Prodigy’s first season went on, then took an extended break. I hoped that we’d have gotten something before the first season finale aired… but it didn’t happen.
Most of Picard Season 2:
Now we’re getting into narrative decisions, which I admit is something quite subjective – but I’m certainly not alone in considering most of Picard’s second season to have been a disappointment. After a truly spectacular premiere (that I gushed over in my review, calling it “one of the best episodes of live-action Star Trek that I’ve seen in a long time”) the second season took a nose-dive, spending eight-and-a-half episodes wandering aimlessly in a modern-day setting that didn’t feel inspiring, exciting, or even interesting much of the time.
There were some highlights, and by the time the action returned to the 25th Century in the second half of the finale, things did improve. But by then it was almost too late; the damage was done. This was an experimental season, and it’s to the Star Trek franchise’s credit that the creative team are given leeway to try out different ideas. But this one didn’t work, and considering it was one of only three seasons that Picard is going to get, its failure feels all the more egregious and disappointing.
Picard Season 2 felt muddled, bloated, and unnecessarily long. Yet by the time it ended, there were still huge unanswered questions about key storylines and characters, questions that I feel all but certain the series has no answers to and no plans to even pay lip-service to in Season 3. A meandering, confused batch of episodes gave way to a rushed finale that didn’t have time to bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion.
Some storylines in Season 2 just felt confused, as if there were two writers working against one another. Rios’ story, for example, saw him experience the worst of the 21st Century, being incarcerated and deported. But a couple of episodes later, Rios was raving about how much he loves the 21st Century for the cigars and the food on offer at a fancy party. There were clearly ideas on the table that, had they been executed better, were potentially interesting. But the way the season as a whole came to screen was poor – and it’s a concept that I hope won’t be repeated any time soon.
Prodigy isn’t gaining much traction:
Right now, Prodigy is being watched mostly by existing Trekkies and some of their kids. It doesn’t appear to be finding much of an audience of its own, and there are a few reasons why that may be the case. The situation with toys and merch that we just talked about is definitely harming the show’s prospects, preventing it from reaching out beyond existing Trekkies for the reasons laid out above. But there’s more to say.
Prodigy hasn’t been marketed particularly well, with relatively few ads for the show cropping up online. Kids shows need to advertise where kids are – on apps like TikTok, for instance. Also, the show remained a Paramount+ exclusive until very recently, when a belated broadcast on Nickelodeon was announced. While I understand that Prodigy was made as a Paramount+ show, the platform itself is mostly being marketed at an adult audience.
Unlike something like Disney+, which clearly has a lot of content made for kids, Paramount+ just doesn’t have that reputation yet. As a result, I doubt most kids even know that Prodigy exists a full year and a full season later.
The question is this: who is Prodigy really made for? Is it for Trekkies who want to see more Captain Janeway and Chakotay? Is it for children of Trekkies as a way for their parents to get them into the franchise? Or does it have the ambition to bring in completely new viewers? The answer should be “all of the above,” but the way the show has been handled from its marketing and scheduling to its place in the wider franchise, it feels like a show that won’t succeed at growing Star Trek’s audience much beyond its current fans and viewers.
The Picard cast being unceremoniously dumped:
It was profoundly disappointing to me to learn that all but one of the new characters who had been introduced in Picard would not be returning for the show’s third season. That disappointment was compounded because most of them didn’t even get an ending to their character arcs/stories in Season 2.
There were some really interesting characters in the mix when Picard debuted, and over the course of two full seasons I feel that we didn’t really get to know all of them very well; after twenty episodes we’d barely spent any time with Elnor, for example, and Soji was absent for all of Season 2 bar a tiny cameo in the premiere. There was vast potential in these characters – but it’s potential that the show has now thoroughly wasted.
If the Star Trek franchise is to survive long-term, fans and viewers need to be given the opportunity to fall in love with a new generation of characters, because it’s these people who will drive the franchise forward in the years ahead. As much fun as I hope it will be to go on one last adventure with the crew from The Next Generation, it will be their final mission. That show is now more than thirty-five years in the past, and while there’s definitely still ways to bring back legacy characters, it isn’t exactly indicative of a franchise trying to move forwards.
It was my hope when Picard premiered that a new generation of fans would be just as excited in thirty years’ time to see Elnor or Rios make a return to the Star Trek franchise as we had been to see Picard come back. These new characters could and should have picked up the torch, taking Star Trek into the 2020s and beyond. Although I adore The Next Generation and will be happy to see its main characters make a return, it’s a bittersweet moment because of who had to be booted off the show to make it happen. And it’s a decision to double-down on nostalgia that I fear could have long-term ramifications for the entire franchise.
Paramount+ lost the Star Trek films. Twice:
On two separate occasions in 2022, all or most of the Star Trek films disappeared from Paramount+. Let’s restate that: Paramount lost most of the Star Trek films from its own streaming platform, sending them to Hulu or Peacock or one of those other second-tier streaming services for a number of months. Then, after getting them back, it happened again!
From the point of view of a Trekkie, we’re told that Paramount+ is going to be the place to get all things Star Trek. But that’s demonstrably not true, as some of the best stories in the franchise – and the projects which had the highest production values – have arbitrarily disappeared. If I’d been a paying subscriber to Paramount+ at that time I’d have been livid.
But it’s not just about Star Trek. It’s about Paramount as a whole, and what these mistakes say about the corporation and the platform it hopes to convince folks to sign up for. Losing parts of Paramount’s own back catalogue is something that simply should not be allowed to happen. It makes Paramount+ look inconsistent, cheap, and like a bad deal. The lack of communication about this – the announcement of the recent loss of the Star Trek films was made with just days to spare – also makes Paramount look chaotic, and Paramount+ look like a very poor relation indeed to the likes of Disney+ and Netflix.
Can you imagine logging into Disney+ and seeing a message that Beauty and the Beast, The Aristocats, Snow White, and more would no longer be available? Can you imagine Disney leasing the exclusive rights to those films to any other streaming platform? Of course not, because it undermines the entire concept of owning a streaming platform. Paramount+ is already on very shaky ground as a second-tier streaming platform in a massively competitive market. Mistakes like this cannot be repeated.
Was it simply too much?
2022 was a bumper year for Star Trek. In fact, the franchise barely had so much as a week’s break all year long – and as already noted, some weeks had two episodes at once. There were ten episodes each of Lower Decks, Picard, and Strange New Worlds, six episodes of Discovery, and fifteen episodes of Prodigy taking the total number for 2022 to a whopping fifty-one episodes of Star Trek. Is that too much for one franchise in a single calendar year?
There’s a danger, I fear, of “franchise fatigue” beginning to set in. Even the most ardent Star Trek fan would struggle to keep up with all the different productions, and I think there’s a case to be made that Paramount needs to take a foot off the accelerator and slow things down. The last thing we need is for fans and viewers to get burned out on Star Trek – or for the franchise to begin to look too complicated and too difficult to keep up with.
There is a balance somewhere that Paramount needs to find. After years in the wilderness with no Star Trek at all it may seem odd to be complaining about there being too much, but it feels as though the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. It’s good and healthy for franchises to take breaks and not to be constantly on the air, and for both the creative teams and fans, I don’t think the level of Star Trek we saw in 2022 can be maintained.
And that’s a worry because if burnout sets in, it could prove fatal to the entire franchise. Take a deep breath, slow things down, and try to spread out some of these shows a little more. Taking breaks of a few weeks in between each series would be a good start – and this really ties in with what we said about scheduling. Paramount blitzed through fifty-one episodes of Star Trek in 2022… but there’s now nothing for at least six weeks. Had things been better spread out, we could have had short, consistent breaks in between each show that would have meant the entire franchise would be more balanced.
So that’s what went wrong.
In 2022, Star Trek premiered more episodes than at any other point in its history… but the franchise was massively harmed by decisions on the corporate side that prevented millions of fans from even being able to watch any of it. The glut of episodes was arguably too much, and poor scheduling decisions saw shows overlapping one another, and too many episodes arriving all at once.
Paramount’s failures behind the scenes have seen Strange New Worlds denied to most of the world, massively harming the show’s reputation and killing much of the online chatter. On social media, Star Trek not only ignored fans, but in some cases actively attacked them, using outdated copyright laws to get fan accounts suspended. The lack of toys for Star Trek’s first kids’ show more than a year after its launch and after its entire first season has finished its run is pretty pathetic – and is just another way that Paramount has harmed its prospects.
2022 was, as the title of this piece states, a great and terrible year for Star Trek.
I can’t overstate how much I enjoyed Strange New Worlds, and how that show’s first season has to be one of the strongest debuts in the entire history of the franchise. After three seasons that were of varying quality, Discovery finally seems to be hitting its stride, too. Season 4 wasn’t perfect, but it was the best the show has had to offer so far. Lower Decks continues to do its thing and do it well, though it isn’t really reaching out beyond the existing Star Trek fan community in a big way. Prodigy is also a fun series, continuing to build up its characters. Even in Picard Season 2 there were fun moments; highlights in practically every episode even if the overall story itself wasn’t stellar.
But I can’t shake the feeling that 2022 could be both the zenith and a turning point for modern Star Trek. The sheer number of episodes and the way in which they were scheduled was enough to start the process of burnout, and one of the key lessons for Paramount has to be to better schedule the Star Trek franchise and spread it out more.
Moreover, on the production side of things, Paramount had an absolutely atrocious year. Failing to bring Paramount+ to fans around the world is a weight around the neck of the Star Trek franchise and will continue to be for years to come. The lack of communication with fans, and Paramount’s piss-poor “America First” corporate attitude is also doing considerable harm to the Star Trek fan community and the wider brand.
In a difficult economic climate, it’s hard to see Paramount+ breaking into the top tier of streaming platforms, and on current form I would be surprised if it survives the decade. When Disney+ and Netflix – platforms with many more subscribers backed up by far bigger and more successful corporations – are struggling to turn a profit, one can only imagine how much money Paramount+ is losing and will continue to lose. If Paramount+ fails, will it drag Star Trek down with it?
Pull back the curtain and I’m afraid it was a tough year for Star Trek. I don’t see anything changing in the immediate term, either, as Paramount looks set to keep doing what it’s been doing for the past few years. No major changes seem to be coming on the horizon, and teases of unannounced projects came and went in 2022 with no major announcements for new shows. And of course the Beyond sequel had to be rapidly un-announced as it became clear that Paramount had completely screwed things up.
If you enjoyed having fifty-one Star Trek episodes in a single year, I guess what I’d say is this: don’t get used to it. For all manner of reasons, I doubt we’ll see another year quite like 2022. And maybe that’s for the best.
The Star Trek franchise – including all films and television series discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
I’ve written longer articles and columns about several of the subjects discussed above, and you can find links to them here:
Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the titles on this list.
As a new year gets underway, it’s a good opportunity to look ahead. There are some exciting-sounding films, television series, and video games that are currently on the schedule for 2023, and on this occasion I thought it could be fun to pick out a few that I find particularly interesting and preview them! I’ll share some of my preliminary, pre-release thoughts on ten of each.
On balance, I don’t think 2022 will be held in particularly high esteem in future in terms of its entertainment experiences. There were some good ones, but there were also plenty of delays and projects that just underwhelmed for one reason or another. Will 2023 fare any better? That’s still an open question… but there are certainly some big releases on the horizon that could potentially excel.
It’s time for a couple of caveats! First of all, delays can happen at any time in the creative process, especially in a war-torn, pandemic-disrupted world. As a result, any or even all of the films, shows, and games that we’re going to talk about today could miss their intended release dates or release windows – and there really isn’t anything we can do about that! I’m firmly in the camp that says delays are almost always a net positive; while never fun, I’d rather creatives spent longer working on a project to finish getting it ready rather than launching it too soon. We don’t need to look far for examples of how wrong that goes!
Finally, these projects seem interesting or exciting to me personally for one reason or another… in my subjective opinion! I’m not trying to say that these are or will be “objectively the best” releases of 2023, nor should the exclusion from the lists below be interpreted as any kind of snub. I’ve just picked out a few projects that I find to be of interest, and if you hate all of my picks or I’ve excluded some of your favourites, please just keep in mind that this is only the opinion of one person!
With all of that out of the way, let’s get started!
I confess that I didn’t see a lot of films in 2022. I can’t go to the cinema any more due to my declining health, and while practically every major title made its way to a streaming platform last year, there were some I just wasn’t interested in or found that I didn’t have the right mindset or headspace for. That’s just the way it goes sometimes! That being said, there are some interesting films on the schedule for this year, and I shall be keeping an eye out for these ten in particular!
Film #1: The Super Mario Bros. Movie
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the two trailers we’ve seen so far for The Super Mario Bros. Movie. The film looks like it’s going out of its way to stay as true as possible to its source material, while at the same time putting a twist on Mario’s adventures in the Mushroom Kingdom. The “hero who has to save a princess” trope has been rather overdone – and feels pretty outdated in 2023 in more ways than one – so seeing Luigi being held captive by the villainous Bowser and Mario working with Peach feels like it should be a great change of pace.
The inclusion of an all-star Hollywood cast has proven controversial in some quarters, but from what I’ve seen of the film so far, I will be surprised if most folks aren’t won over by the time the credits roll. There will be some die-hard haters – as there always are in any franchise any time something is changed – but overall, I have high hopes for this one. This film could easily be the best animated film of the year – and one of the best non-Disney animated films of the decade!
Film #2: Dune: Part Two
The first part of Dune was a surprisingly strong adaptation of a book that has proven to be notoriously difficult to adapt. I had a fantastic time with it when it was released at the end of 2021, and I’ve been meaning to go back and re-watch it for some time now. I was concerned that this sequel might not see the light of day if Warner Bros. didn’t feel the first part did as well as they’d hoped – but fortunately there was no denying the critical and commercial success of Dune in 2021!
The cast from the first film are all reprising their roles, and director Denis Villeneuve is returning to the big chair. Filming officially wrapped a couple of months ago, and Dune: Part Two is well into post-production at this stage. A November release is on the cards, and I’m really excited to see the story continue.
Film #3: Knock at the Cabin
Director M. Night Shyamalan has an inconsistent track record, and I suspect his career has been more harmed than helped by acquiring an early reputation as the “master of twists.” But regardless, he’s back with Knock at the Cabin in 2023, a psychological horror film about a family who are confronted by four people who claim to be trying to prevent the apocalypse.
The film’s premise sounds interesting to me, and a cast that features Jonathan Groff and Rupert Grint feels like it has potential. I wouldn’t say my expectations for Knock at the Cabin are sky-high, but we could certainly be in for one of the more interesting titles in the horror genre this year.
Film #4: The Little Mermaid
To be blunt, I wasn’t blown away by the visuals in the teaser trailer for The Little Mermaid. The CGI looks fantastic, but the fully live-action moments didn’t feel convincingly “underwater,” and actually looked pretty amateurish. Assuming that Disney can figure out a way to pull off those underwater sequences convincingly, though, The Little Mermaid should be a creditable adaptation of the 1989 animated film.
Visual criticisms aside, I feel hopeful that this new version of The Little Mermaid will introduce the story to a new generation. While the animated film is still perfectly watchable in its own right, there’s nothing wrong with updating things and recreating the film for a younger audience, and Disney has a pretty good track record at doing so by now.
Film #5: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Is it a great idea to bring back Indiana Jones for another adventure? As a child of the ’80s, I’d be lying if I said I don’t enjoy the Indiana Jones films… but Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was already a let-down. Dial of Destiny could redeem the series, ending Harrison Ford’s turn with the famous hat and whip on a high note – or it could double down on the disappointment!
This film is definitely one I’m placing in the “interested in” rather than “excited about” category. I don’t really have high hopes, but I’d love to be proven wrong. At the very least, I hope Dial of Destiny will be a passable popcorn adventure flick. Whether it will truly live up to its illustrious forebears… well, I’m less hopeful of that. If it succeeds at bringing in a wad of cash, though, I think we can expect to see reboots, prequels, and spin-offs in the years ahead!
Film #6: Asteroid City
There isn’t a lot to go on with this film, billed as a “romantic comedy-drama.” But the director, Wes Anderson, has pedigree, and has put together a diverse ensemble cast that rivals his previous pictures, such as The Grand Budapest Hotel. The full cast list is far too long to include, but some of the standout performers for me that I’m interested to see include Bryan Cranston, Tom Hanks, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, and Scarlett Johansson.
Though I’m not entirely sure what to expect from this one, it could be a lot of fun! The setting is the mid-1950s somewhere in the American Southwest, and some kind of “stargazer convention” will be part of the plot, too.
Film #7: Wish
To mark the company’s centenary, Disney is going to release Wish – a film all about the “wishing star;” the star upon which characters in other Disney films have made their wishes. The star itself is going to be a character of sorts, but the film will also introduce a new cast of characters, including Asha, voiced by Ariana DeBose of West Side Story fame.
Wish will also bring back a hand-drawn animation style, something Disney hasn’t used since The Princess and the Frog more than a decade ago. While we haven’t seen just how the film will look, some concept art has been released that looks absolutely beautiful. Disney’s big animated releases are almost always fantastic, and I have high hopes for Wish.
Film #8: The Haunted Mansion
The third Disney entry on this list, The Haunted Mansion is the company’s latest attempt to turn a theme park ride into a film! No one would deny that Pirates of the Caribbean set a high bar for that concept a few years ago, but other attempts haven’t always worked! An adaptation of The Haunted Mansion twenty years ago (that I’m fairly sure I’ve seen but can’t really remember much about) starred Eddie Murphy, but even he couldn’t salvage what critics regarded as a picture that was average at best.
Jungle Cruise may not have been 2021’s film of the year, but I enjoyed it for what it was, so there’s definitely room for another theme park adaptation. The Haunted Mansion could be great to watch around Halloween; a kind of lighter, child-friendly horror title that will be spooky… but not too spooky!
Film #9: 65
65 has an unusual premise – an astronaut accidentally travels back in time to the era of the dinosaurs, and must figure out a way to survive. Adam Driver will take the lead in this sci-fi action-adventure, and his presence alone should make it worth checking out. Driver’s performances as Kylo Ren in the Star Wars sequel trilogy were outstanding, and his turn as a divorcee in Marriage Story was Oscar-worthy in my opinion.
That being said, I can’t help but feel that 65 could go either way! Its premise could make for a different kind of sci-fi title in a genre overrun by sequels and comic book adaptations… or it could turn out to be an overblown B-movie that didn’t deserve a leading man of such quality! Time will tell… but I’m definitely interested to see how it shakes out.
Film #10: Napoleon
Ridley Scott will direct this historical epic that focuses on the rise to power of Napoleon Bonaparte. Scott has a great track record, with films like Alien and Thelma & Louise under his belt, but an earlier attempt at an historical epic – 1492: Conquest of Paradise – was not particularly well-received! Could this be a chance for redemption for the director in the genre?
The title role has gone to Joaquin Phoenix, and that feels like it could be an inspired choice. Backed up by a cast that features Ben Miles and Vanessa Kirby, I’ll be curious to see what Napoleon has to offer when it releases. The film will be an Apple TV+ exclusive, which is also a point of note.
2023 looks set to be another year where franchises, spin-offs, and continuations of ongoing stories dominate the television landscape. There are several big shows whose new seasons I’m eagerly anticipating, but it feels like there are fewer wholly original projects to look forward to. That being said, there were some great new stories in 2022 – so hopefully this year will bring along some surprises, too!
Television Series #1: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2
Strange New Worlds was truly outstanding in its first season, blending old-school episodic storytelling with modern serialised elements. As much as I like what Discovery and Picard have done with season-long story arcs, the approach used by Strange New Worlds should, in my view at least, serve as a model for the entire Star Trek franchise going forward.
The show’s second season wrapped months ago – and I will be positively stunned if we don’t get an announcement that a third season is being worked on sometime before Season 2 premieres this spring. I absolutely cannot wait to spend more time with Captain Pike, Spock, and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise!
Television Series #2: Hailey’s On It!
Hailey’s On It! is a Disney Channel animated series that will feature Moana’s Auli’i Cravalho in its leading role. The premise sounds interesting – a young woman must step outside of her comfort zone and confront her fears in order to “save the world.” And with Cravalho leading the charge, I think there’s the potential for the show to be something a little more than just a distraction that parents can use to get a few minutes’ peace!
The animation style shown off in concept art looks fantastic, and while I wouldn’t normally say that I’m excited for a new Disney Channel cartoon, I feel hopeful, at least, that Hailey’s On It! could be the kind of kids’ show that has something to offer to a grown-up audience as well.
Television Series #3: Star Trek: Picard Season 3
After a decidedly lacklustre second season, my disappointment was compounded by the announcement that all but one of the new characters introduced in Picard will not be returning for the show’s final outing. Season 3 has a lot of work to do, then, to pull out a satisfying ending to what has been a troubled production. If the trailers and teasers are anything to go by, it just might be up to the task after all!
The return of main characters from The Next Generation feels bittersweet because of who had to be unceremoniously kicked off stage to make room for them. This season could be a roaring return to form, or it could drown in failed attempts to play the nostalgia card. I’m absolutely hoping for the former… but trying to prepare myself for the latter.
Television Series #4: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Season 2
It isn’t entirely clear when The Rings of Power’s second season might be ready. Filming only started in October, and a series with such extensive post-production work may take a while. That’s not to mention that Season 2 is being filmed in new locations, and may even serve as somewhat of a soft reboot of a series that proved controversial in some quarters.
Despite that, however, I called The Rings of Power my favourite television series of 2022, so I’m incredibly excited to see what happens next. The first season ended with several massive cliffhangers for both individual characters and for the story as a whole, so it’ll be great to see the next chapter of this fantasy epic unfold.
Television Series #5: Star Trek: Discovery Season 5
Discovery’s fourth season ended on a high, with what is almost certainly one of the best episodes that the show has ever produced. I was concerned that the show would attempt yet another recycling of the old “the entire galaxy is in danger and only Burnham and the crew can save it!!!” narrative framework that has been used four times now… but thankfully, based on the first trailer and comments from the show’s producers, it seems as though Discovery will finally be bold enough to try something different!
As a result, my excitement for Season 5 grew immensely! Although Season 4 dragged in parts, on the whole I think it marks a turning point in the show’s run, and the addition of some wonderful secondary characters to the cast has given new life to a series that is rapidly approaching its sixth anniversary and sixty-fifth episode. Season 5 could build on what Season 4 did, taking these well-rounded characters to new thematic and storytelling places.
Television Series #6: Masters of the Air
Produced by the same team that created Band of Brothers and The Pacific, this new World War II drama will follow the stories of members of the United States Army Air Forces – the precursor to the Air Force. The miniseries seems to be following a similar format to its popular predecessors, with an expansive cast of characters, almost all of whom are based on real people. Masters of the Air is based on a biography of the unit that was published in 2007.
I’m expecting a tightly-focused story with plenty of character. CGI and visual effects have improved since Band of Brothers premiered, so I’d hope that the show will look fantastic and really succeed at bringing World War II to life on the small screen.
Television Series #7: Shōgun
The second adaptation of James Clavell’s 1975 novel has a lot to live up to! An earlier adaptation, made in 1980, was one of the most popular shows of the year, and with a troubled production that saw scripts scrapped and rewritten, new showrunners brought on board, and a shoot that overran by two months… let’s just say that Shōgun has work to do.
But the story, set in 17th Century Japan, is an interesting one, and there’s potential in this new adaptation to see it introduced to legions of new fans. A shipwreck sets up the story of a “fish-out-of-water” hero in an unfamiliar land, and the palace intrigue at the castle of the titular Shōgun could rival the very best drama series of the year.
Television Series #8: The Last Of Us
Video game adaptations are notoriously difficult, but The Last Of Us has an all-star cast, a sky-high budget, and crucially, it seems to have won over many fans of the video game. The Last Of Us is one of the best video game narratives that I’ve ever experienced, and it feels like a natural fit for a serialised drama series; the story would certainly be far too long to condense into a film. So I’m hopeful that – finally – a video game adaptation will get the accolades it deserves!
Moreover, I’m really excited to be able to show this fascinating and unique horror-drama story to friends and family members who have no interest in gaming. The story of The Last Of Us is fabulous and absolutely deserves to find a bigger audience. There’s reason to hope that this adaptation will be up to the task.
Television Series #9: Halo Season 2
I enjoyed what the Halo series did in its first season, all things considered. It succeeded at bringing the long-running video game franchise to the small screen, adapting its story to fit the new format and making a few changes along the way. Some of those changes proved controversial – as such things always do – and I can certainly entertain the argument that there was less action than fans were hoping for.
But Halo will press on, potentially taking on board some of those criticisms, and it’s my hope that Season 2 will build on the accomplishments of Season 1 to progress the story in an enjoyable way. The first season had some great performances, clever cinematography that incorporated a first-person perspective during key sequences, and a mysterious story that will have kept even fans of the games guessing. I’m interested, and dare I say even excited, to see more.
Television Series #10: Faraway Downs
I am joking. This is a joke. Nobody should ever be tortured into watching Faraway Downs. I can honestly think of nothing less appealing than watching an extended, reworked version of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia – quite possibly the worst film that I have ever had the misfortune to see. When I heard that Luhrmann was planning to use cut footage to expand Australia into a six-part miniseries I was flabbergasted. Who on earth would possibly want to see this? Was anyone asking for it to be made?
I’d rather trek to the bottom of the garden, heave the lid off the septic tank, and spend six hours staring unblinkingly at the festering sewage within.
Television Series #10: The Three-Body Problem
China can often feel like a world unto itself; western productions struggle to cross over, and Chinese productions seldom attract mainstream attention over here. The Three-Body Problem is an adaptation of a Chinese sci-fi novel (or rather, the first part of a trio of novels) and is helmed by Game of Thrones’ showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss.
I haven’t read The Three-Body Problem, but the premise sounds absolutely fascinating to me. Benioff and Weiss have proven themselves capable when it comes to adapting novels for the small screen – at least, completed novels – so there’s reason to hope that The Three-Body Problem will be interesting and entertaining in equal measure. This one could easily go toe-to-toe with the likes of Foundation in the sci-fi genre.
There are some massive releases on the schedule for 2023 – several of which were originally promised for last year! If even one of these big titles succeeds, 2023 will already be a great year for gaming. Single-player games are definitely holding the line in an industry where online multiplayer continues to bring in the big bucks, so there are plenty of reasons to think that 2023 could actually turn out to be a fantastic year for the medium.
Video Game #1: Tchia
I’ve been tracking the progress of this amazing-looking indie game for more than a year, and it looks like 2023 could be Tchia’s moment. Based on legends from the developers’ New Caledonia home, Tchia will see players take on the role of a young girl on a quest to rescue her father. In addition to platforming and action-adventure gameplay in an open-world archipelago based on the island of New Caledonia, the ambitious game promises to unleash players’ creativity – and even includes a playable ukulele!
There have been some fantastic debut games by indie studios in recent years. My game of the year in 2021 was Kena: Bridge of Spirits – and without wanting to raise expectations too high, at least part of me is hoping that Tchia might just reach that same high bar.
Video Game #2: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DLC: Booster Course Pass Waves 4, 5, and 6
You might think it a cheat to include a piece of downloadable content on this list, but it’s my list so that’s just tough! Although I was disappointed not to see a wholly new Mario Kart title in 2022, the Booster Course Pass for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has been a surprising amount of fun. Not only have racetracks from past games in the series been updated and made welcome returns, but wholly new tracks have been created, too.
The Booster Course Pass is only half-finished, and three more waves are planned for 2023. Specific dates aren’t known, nor is it certain which racetracks will be appearing, but I’m nevertheless excited to have more Mario Kart to get stuck into!
Video Game #3: Star Trek: Resurgence
A narrative adventure game with a branching storyline sounds like a perfect fit for the Star Trek franchise. After years in which no new Star Trek games had been licensed for PC or home consoles, two have come along within a few months of each other; Resurgence is hot on the heels of last year’s Star Trek: Prodigy – Supernova, which I really must get around to playing!
The game is being developed by folks who used to work for studio Telltale Games, a developer whose games were often praised for their narratives. I’m hopeful that, after a drought of games for Trekkies who aren’t interested in the online multiplayer scene, Resurgence will be a welcome return to the video game realm for the Star Trek franchise.
Video Game #4: Disney Speedstorm
Developers Gameloft worked with Disney and created my favourite gaming experience of 2022:Disney Dreamlight Valley. Having taken Nintendo’s Animal Crossing formula and massively improved upon it… could they be about to do the same thing by creating a Disney-based rival to the Mario Kart series? Maybe that’s expecting too much… but Disney Speedstorm looks like a ton of fun!
I like casual, arcade-style racing games, and I’m a pretty big Disney fan, too. Bring those two things together and I hope it’ll be a fun time.
Video Game #5: Starfield
One of the year’s biggest releases has to be Bethesda’s Starfield – the company’s first foray into a wholly new world in a quarter of a century. An epic sci-fi adventure has been promised, with all of the hallmarks of past Bethesda titles: joinable factions, a huge mix of varied side-quests, diverse non-player characters to interact with, customisation of every facet of your character, and much more besides.
Starfield will also give players the opportunity to design and upgrade their very own spaceship, before setting off to journey to one of a thousand different planets across dozens of star systems. Starfield is ambitious, and while there are certainly things that give me pause – such as Bethesda’s insistence on reusing its outdated game engine – I can already feel myself getting swept along by a growing hype train!
Video Game #6: The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria
I confess that I’m not entirely sure what to expect from this one. The game promises base-building and adventures in the Dwarven realm of Moria, set years after The Lord of the Rings as the Dwarves seek to reclaim their abandoned halls. It sounds as if the game will be set up for multiplayer – though the official blurb promises that it can be played solo, too.
There’s something about an underground setting that harkens back to the days of dungeon-crawler games, and the subterranean setting combined with the lore of Tolkien’s Middle-earth could make for a genuinely exciting title. I’m curious and perhaps a little hopeful of having some fun adventures deep underground!
Video Game #7: Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
The much-anticipated sequel to Jedi: Fallen Order is almost ready! The game – which I played through back in 2020 – is one of the best Star Wars experiences I’ve had in recent years, and it was left open-ended by the time the credits rolled. Finding out what happens next for Cal Kestis, the former Jedi padawan, is something I’m really interested in!
Jedi: Survivor seems to have taken the gameplay of Fallen Order and expanded upon it, giving Cal new weapons and abilities – and at least one new companion, too. I recently played through it for a second time, which seems to be perfect timing with the sequel coming up! I really can’t wait to join Cal and the crew of the Stinger Mantis for another adventure in a galaxy far, far away.
Video Game #8: Forspoken
Unlike many action-adventure titles, it seems as though Forspoken will focus much more on magic and spell-casting – something that could be absolutely fascinating. Set in an open-world, the game will follow the story of Frey, a young woman from our world who finds herself transported into a mysterious realm where magic exists and must find her way home.
Forspoken hadn’t really been on my radar until recently, but I’m now genuinely looking forward to it.
Video Game #9: Perfect Dark
Though unconfirmed at this stage, Xbox’s Perfect Dark remake/reimagining would be well-timed if it should be ready this year – because the original game on the Nintendo 64 was set in 2023! Perfect Dark was originally created by Rare, hot on the heels of their success with Goldeneye 007 on the same platform, and it was a ton of fun when it released in the year 2000.
I’m genuinely curious to see what a recreated Perfect Dark might look like. Could it kick off another first-person shooter series for Xbox… and, perhaps more importantly, for Microsoft’s Game Pass service? I think that’s a possibility – but my main hope is that the single-player campaign will be fun to play through!
Video Game #10: EA Sports FC
Bear with me on this one, okay? I know football (soccer) isn’t everyone’s favourite thing, and I know that sports games – and especially Electronic Arts’ sports games – have been particularly scummy with their in-game gambling and monetisation. But for the first time since EA published FIFA International Soccer in 1993, the corporation won’t have the official license or naming rights from world football’s governing body. That could mean we’re about to witness a sea change in the series… or it could lead to nothing of consequence at all!
Nevertheless, I’m curious to see what changes – if any – will come about as a result of EA and FIFA going their separate ways. Will EA Sports FC be noticeably different from recent entries in the FIFA series? We’ll find out later this year!
So that’s it!
We’ve picked out ten films, ten television shows, and ten video games to watch out for as 2023 gets underway. There will be many surprises along the way, I have no doubt, and it’s possible that some of the entertainment experiences that I’m excited in right now will either end up being disappointments or won’t even make it out of the door this year. But I’m hopeful that we’ll get some exciting, dramatic, and just plain fun stories to enjoy between now and Christmas!
There are definitely things to look forward to. I’ll try to cover at least some of these titles with reviews, first impressions, and general commentary here on the website over the next twelve months. I hope that you found this interesting, and that it was a fun, positive look ahead to some of what I hope will be the entertainment highlights of 2023.
Until next time!
All titles discussed above are the copyrights of their respective studio, developer, publisher, distributor, broadcaster, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Happy New Year! As 2023 gets underway, I think it’s fun to look back at the past year and see how the website performed. Thanks to my web host and Google Analytics, I have quite a lot of data to dive into for measuring such things.
My annual caveat applies: this whole thing is just for fun! Running this website is a hobby for me, not something I endeavour to take too seriously, and even if no one was tuning in I’d still be writing because it’s something that I enjoy doing. I’m not intending to turn this website into a full-time job, nor am I interested in chasing “internet points” or going viral. So everything we’re about to discuss should be considered with that in mind!
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s reflect on the progress Trekking with Dennis made in 2022. This past year has been much less consistent on my side, with long breaks in between posts and a general slowdown in my writing. I wrote far fewer pieces for the website this year than I did in both 2020 and 2021, and the second half of the year in particular was much more sparse in terms of new articles, lists, and other posts.
That isn’t something I plan on addressing, at least not intentionally. As I said back in November when I last talked about this: the point of Trekking with Dennis for me is to talk about the subjects I fancy or that pique my interest at my own pace. In 2020 and 2021 I obviously found more things to talk about than I have this past year… and I’m actually okay with that. That doesn’t mean I don’t have regrets – there are films, television shows, and at least a dozen Star Trek episodes that I wish I’d found or made time to review in 2022. But I’d rather pace myself, take breaks when I need to, and continue enjoying what I do here instead of forcing myself to write to arbitrary, self-imposed deadlines and end up feeling burned out – or worse, no longer enjoying the creative process.
In short: if I find more time and energy to write in 2023 than I did in 2022, that’s great! But if not, that’s okay too.
The website saw some significant milestones in 2022. The final post of the year – my annual “End-of-Year Awards” piece – was the 650th article that I’ve published here since I began the project in November 2019. That’s quite a lot of writing! The total number of visitors that the website received in 2022 was just over 67,000 – which is an absolutely incredible number! That makes 2022 the best year on record for Trekking with Dennis, beating 2021’s visitor numbers by a little over 6,000. That may not sound like much (especially considering the massive year-on-year improvement from 2020 to 2021) but it’s an increase of almost 10%, which is pretty darn good. I’m running at almost the same level as inflation!
Another big landmark came on April Fool’s Day, when the number of total hits ticked past the 100,000 mark for the first time. That means that, since November 2019 when Trekking with Dennis first went live, more than 100,000 people had visited the website. I marked the occasion with a banner at the top of the website for a few days!
Readers once again came from all over the globe – from Tanzania to Finland and from Japan to Peru!
All that being said, I feel that 2022 was rather “front-loaded” in terms of visitors! Thanks to a couple of big posts about Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season (which we’ll look at in more detail in a moment) the website did impressive numbers in January, February, March, and into April as well, before things started to tail off in the spring. Don’t get me wrong, even the quietest month of 2022 was still nice and busy, but we definitely saw the majority of visitors in those first few months.
In total, I wrote 471,500 words in 2022. That’s as many words as Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and James Joyce’s Ulysses combined! It is, however, significantly less than my word counts for 2020 and 2021, but again that’s because I wrote fewer pieces for the website this past year. It’s still a lot of words, though!
So let’s count down the top ten most-read articles that I wrote in 2022!
My piece about the truly awful Diablo Immortal takes the number ten spot, partly thanks to being published within a couple of weeks of the mobile game’s release. I detest not only Diablo Immortal itself, but what it represents: the worst excesses of an incredibly greedy video games industry. And I held no punches in my tear-down of the appalling little game, calling out publisher Activision Blizzard for one of the worst, scummiest mobile games of the year.
Significant line:“I was surprised when I began seeing ads for the game all over my social media pages, and even more surprised to learn that Activision Blizzard has only just finished pushing this absolute turd of a game out of its corporate anus.”
I had a ton of fun writing up this tongue-in-cheek clash between Star Trek’s first two captains – a debate that has persisted in the Trekkie community since The Next Generation premiered all the way back in 1987! I also had fun mocking up a poster for the article’s key image, basing it on the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match poster that I think a lot of folks would be familiar with. I end up sitting firmly on the fence at the end of the article after considering the cases for both Kirk and Picard – because I like them both too much to say that one is definitively “better!”
Significant line:“Most Star Trek captains who have followed embody elements of both Kirk and Picard’s styles of management and leadership while remaining distinct characters, but when it comes to the franchise’s first two captains, there seems to be a major clash of personalities.”
In 2022 I kicked off my “video game spotlight” series, in which I plan to take a look back at some of my favourite games of all time. The first title to get the full write-up treatment was Banished, an indie town-building game that makes regular appearances on other lists here on the website. Since I’m far too late to reasonably call a piece like this a “review,” I settled on “spotlight” as a name, and I had a lot of fun talking about why Banished is such good fun. Hopefully I’ll add to this series in the new year; there are at least a dozen games I plan to shine a spotlight on in future!
Significant line:“The fact that I’m still playing [Banished] almost eight years later should tell you how I feel about it!”
I wrote this piece at the end of February, just days after the war in Ukraine kicked off. I wanted to highlight a few Star Trek episodes from different parts of the franchise that, at least in my opinion, make for great escapism. The episodes I chose are almost all lighter in tone, with themes of humour, family, and coming together front-and-centre. If I were doing the list all over again there are certainly more episodes I could include, but overall I’m happy with my picks. And if the list helped even one single person find something to watch when they were feeling low, then it’s been a rousing success.
Significant line:“A future where humanity has succeeded at conquering not only the problems of today but also many of the baser, more primitive aspects of our own nature holds an appeal that can be difficult to put into words…”
As the title suggests, this list – which was also my most-read piece about gaming in 2022 – shows off ten games that I consider to be decent alternatives to Hogwarts Legacy for anyone who doesn’t want to play or support the game. I wanted to contribute something to the discussion around Hogwarts Legacy that was a little more positive and that didn’t just consist of saying “J.K. Rowling is a horrible bigot who hates the Harry Potter fan community.” She is, and she does… but that isn’t what this piece was primarily about. As above, if it helped even one person find something to play, I consider it a success.
Significant line: “Hogwarts Legacy, just like the rest of the fictional setting that J.K. Rowling created, is not irreplaceable.”
It’s hard to say what this piece is about without spoiling Season 1 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Suffice to say that I came up with several theories about Una Chin-Riley – a.k.a. “Number One” – and where her story may go when Season 2 rolls around. I had fun putting the list together, as well as stepping back to consider her role in The Cage, where she might be during the events of The Original Series, a connection to Star Trek: Enterprise… and much more besides.
Significant line:“I’m looking forward to welcoming back Captain Pike, Una, and the rest of the crew – and getting a satisfying end to this storyline, too!”
This theory – that I only wrote in November – has been racking up a lot of views! Without spoiling anything, a new character named Captain Vadic is being billed as a villain in Star Trek: Picard’s upcoming third season, and I took the opportunity of her appearance in a trailer shown off at Comic-Con to consider a few possibilities for her origin and what her mission might be. If my current track record with theories is anything to go by I’m going to be wide of the mark by miles… but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a ton of fun to speculate!
Significant line:“As much as I like the idea of Vadic having a major connection to an event in The Next Generation or one of the films, if you forced me to place a bet right now, in November 2022, I’d have to put my money on her being someone brand-new…”
This theory did huge numbers in the first quarter of the year – while Discovery’s fourth season was running. I was ultimately disappointed by the way this storyline ended, but it was still fun to delve pretty deeply into the history of Star Trek to consider some potentially interesting character possibilities. It isn’t possible to say too much more without getting into spoiler territory! I had fun making up a rather jokey key image for this piece, too!
Significant line:“With Discovery taking an unplanned six-week break, we’ve got a little time to settle in and collect our thoughts.”
Shortly before Star Trek: Picard Season 2 premiered, I put together this list of episodes that I felt might have a connection of some kind to the upcoming story. I focused on what we knew about the season from pre-release trailers and marketing material, and selected stories that focused on time travel, the Q Continuum, Guinan, and the Borg Queen. I like to think that basically all of the episodes that I put on the list did something to inform the story of the season, even if I’d probably make a few changes in hindsight!
Significant line:“I think we’ve hit most of the key subjects – at least, those that we’re aware of at this early stage – and got a good mix of stories…”
So we come to the most-read article that I wrote in all of 2022! Blowing all of the others out of the water by several thousand hits, this theory about Q that I wrote in the aftermath of Picard Season 2 is clearly of interest to Trekkies! Partly, I must say, that’s because of how poorly-explained parts of the story of Season 2 ultimately were (the season isn’t one of my favourites, if you didn’t know). But regardless, I found it interesting to take what feels like an incomplete, muddled story as the starting point for another of my Star Trek theories, and even if we’ll never know what really happened, I hope that my guesswork at least makes sense and feels consistent with what we know of Q and the Q Continuum. I can’t say more without seriously spoiling the story of Picard Season 2.
Significant line:“As Trekkies and as fans who’ve followed Q’s journey over the span of more than three decades, it definitely feels like there’s a missing piece of the puzzle.”
So those were the most-read pieces of 2022!
But wait, there’s more! There are posts on the website going all the way back to November 2019, and some of them had a pretty big year too! Before we wrap things up, let’s look at the top five most-read posts from previous years.
Although it seemed not to light up the board when I first published it in August 2020, this piece about the 1987 pop hit Star Trekkin’ has since become one of the most consistent performers here on the website! It was one of the most-read pieces in both 2021 and 2022, and I look forward to seeing if it will make the cut again this year! In the piece I talk about the history of the song and its composition, as well as my own thoughts and personal connection with it. The song is a fun one, and well worth a listen for any Star Trek fan.
Significant line:“The song was – perhaps understandably – rejected by several record labels…”
Another piece that didn’t seem to get a lot of attention at first, my theory about Discovery Season 2 gained a lot of traction in 2022. It’s hard to get into specifics without spoiling things, but suffice to say that one of the main storylines in Discovery’s second season felt like it was setting up an origin story for the Borg – one of the Star Trek franchise’s biggest and most iconic villainous factions. In this piece I consider why it felt that way and whether it’s possible such a story was attempted and then abandoned, leaving behind clues in its wake.
Significant line:“I know for a fact that I’m not alone in having speculated that Discovery Season 2 was setting up an origin story for the Borg…”
This piece kicked off 2022 with a bang – and saw the year end on a high note, too. In 2020, with practically every major New Year event both in person and on television being cancelled, I put together a short list of things to watch instead, as well as time-stamps for getting a specific scene or line on screen at the stroke of midnight. The post did exceptionally well at New Year in both 2020 and 2021, and the same thing happened again in 2022, even with many in-person and televised events returning. This is one of those pieces that gets practically no views all year long, but then sees one massive spike over a relatively short period of time!
Significant line:“I’ve never been particularly impressed by fireworks. A professional display can be fun to see if you’re there in person, but on television much of the impact is lost.”
I’m not surprised to see the most-read article of 2021 continuing to do well. But I stand by what I said last time: I think a lot of folks are clicking on this piece looking for a “how-to” guide or walkthrough to achieve a specific ending to Mass Effect 3 – and that’s not what it’s about! The article takes a look at the different endings of the Mass Effect trilogy from a narrative point of view, and I tried to consider which would be the “best” – subjectively speaking, of course.
Significant line:“Like it or hate it (and my god do some people hate it) Mass Effect: Legendary Edition retains the three-and-a-half possible endings present in the Mass Effect 3 Extended Edition DLC from 2012.”
Earlier I talked about how 2022 was kind of “front-loaded” in terms of hits… well, here’s one of the main culprits! My theories about Unknown Species 10-C – a faction from Discovery’s fourth season that was shrouded in mystery – did absolutely huge numbers while the season was running, as many Trekkies were clearly just as interested as I was to learn more! I put together a whopping list of some twenty-six possibilities from past iterations of Star Trek, and if nothing else it was a lot of fun to speculate about how any of them could potentially connect with the story of the season.
Significant line:“Right now, this is one of the biggest mysteries in Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season – and one of the most tantalising storylines that the series has ever teased us with.”
So that’s it!
Those were the most-read articles and columns of 2022 – and with that, I think that about wraps up our look back at the year. I tend not to go back and re-read things that I’ve written very often, but once a year it can be fun to take a step back. Taking a look at the pieces folks are most interested in doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to try to write more of that type, but it’s certainly interesting to see what people are most likely to click on!
As I said, 2022 was a year of ups and downs. The website broke records and passed milestones, but at the same time I definitely felt the need to take a break and to write less frequently. That doesn’t mean I’m not still having fun – but in order to preserve the enjoyment and not feel like I’m under pressure or in danger of getting burned out, I need to recognise my own limitations and take a step back when necessary. Perhaps that’s the lesson of 2022 – at least for what I do here on the website!
Stay tuned, because in the days ahead I’ll be looking forward to some of the entertainment experiences that lie before us in 2023 – some of which, all being well, will get the full review or write-up treatment here on the website when they’re ready! And if you missed it, you can take a look at my annual End-of-Year Awards, in which I dished out a few make-believe trophies and medals to some of my favourite films, games, and television shows of 2022.
I hope this was a bit of fun, or at least a mildly interesting look back!
– Dennis, Tuesday 3rd January 2023
All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, owner, corporation, distributor, broadcaster, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of these titles.
As we enter the final hours of 2022, it’s time to look back at the entertainment experiences that we’ve enjoyed – as well as a few that we didn’t enjoy all that much! I’ve cobbled together a few categories from the world of television, film, and video games, and today I’m going to hand out some highly-coveted Trekking with Dennis Awards to some of my favourites!
You’ll find a couple of titles from the tail end of 2021 on this list; I reckon anything released in December is fair game as those titles often get the short end of the stick when it comes to lists like these. Some outlets put together their “best of” lists way back at the start of December, which is far too early in my opinion! But we’re drifting off-topic already!
There are plenty of titles that, for one reason or another, I didn’t get around to this year – so for reasons that I hope are obvious they can’t be included. I’m only one person and I don’t have every minute of the day to devote to these pursuits, so the exclusion from this list of certain big titles shouldn’t be interpreted as any kind of deliberate snub!
And as always, a caveat before we begin: all of this is the subjective opinion of one person. I may give an award to a production you vehemently hate, or talk negatively about something you enjoyed, but at the end of the day this is supposed to be a bit of fun. Feel free to disagree with any or all of my picks – but there’s no need to take any of it too seriously!
With all of that out of the way, let’s get started!
Best Television Miniseries/Limited Series:
🥈 Runner-Up🥈 Five Days At Memorial
Five Days At Memorial had the challenging task of dramatising a real-world event – and a gruelling one at that. I remember the harrowing news reports in 2005 showing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and I could absolutely understand why some folks might feel it’s too soon to make a programme like this. But for my money, Five Days At Memorial did a good job at adapting the events at Memorial Hospital as delicately as possible, staying true to what happened while still making the story engrossing and understandable for viewers.
The fact that Five Days At Memorial shows what happened at Memorial Hospital from two very different angles felt a bit strange at first, but by doing so the series lends the events the challenging ambiguity that they continue to have. By refusing to come down on one side or another – to condemn as guilty or exonerate Dr Pou – Five Days At Memorial strikes the right balance. There was some choppy editing in some sequences that meant the miniseries didn’t feel as smooth as it could’ve, but other than that it was a very interesting look at a very difficult moment in the recent past.
🏆 Winner 🏆 1899
Netflix original 1899 is taking the crown in this category this year. The show goes on a wild and unpredictable ride, blending themes of mental health that resonated strongly with me with mystery and psychological horror. The multilingual series is, in my view, best enjoyed without being dubbed, as the different characters and the language barriers between them are key elements in the story at several crucial junctures.
I was first attracted to 1899 because of its setting – both in time, at the end of the 19th Century, and on a boat making a transatlantic voyage. But what I found when I got started was one of the most unique and different television productions that I’ve seen in a long time. 1899 may not be to everyone’s taste, but I found it absolutely riveting all the way through.
Worst Television Series:
🏆 “Winner” 🏆 Obi-Wan Kenobi
After I’d enjoyed what The Book of Boba Fett brought to the table, I felt a pang of hope that Obi-Wan Kenobi might at least be passable. But it wasn’t to be, and the series was a horrible slog through the absolute worst kind of tacked-on story that used increasingly desperate nostalgia plays to try to recreate some of the magic that, frankly, Star Wars hasn’t had since the ’80s.
Say it with me, folks: it’s time for Star Wars to move on! The vast sandbox that is the Star Wars galaxy has trillions of inhabitants, millions of star systems, thousands of planets, and hundreds of factions and organisations – and tens of thousands of years of history that could explore any of them. For more than forty years, Star Wars has been laser-focused on the same handful of characters and the same tiny sliver of this wonderful setting, but it’s over. If Star Wars is to survive, something’s gotta change. Obi-Wan Kenobi proved that.
Best Television Series:
🥈 Runner-Up🥈 Halo
Halo wasn’t spectacular, but as the first real attempt to bring the long-running video game franchise into a new medium, it got a lot right. The story it told was a riff on the familiar story that fans will remember from the games, but there were important differences which not only kept the mystery going, but also gave genuine characterisation to the Master Chief.
In terms of cinematography, I liked the way that Halo incorporated some first-person sequences into its action-heavy moments. This could have easily felt like a gimmick, but the way it was done – and crucially, not overdone – made it feel like a throwback to the series’ source material while also mixing things up in the television space. Halo used a fairly standard format that would be familiar to anyone who’s seen a made-for-streaming television show in the past few years, with a slowly unfolding mystery, multiple storylines, and characters who grow and change over the course of the series. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, and I certainly get the argument that it wasn’t as action-packed as some fans might’ve wanted. But it was, all in all, a decent bit of sci-fi.
🏆 Winner 🏆 The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
The Rings of Power had a lot of work to do to impress me. It had to live up to the legacy of the trilogy of films from a few years ago. It had to show that it could go toe-to-toe with the likes of Game of Thrones, The Witcher, and other big-budget productions in the fantasy space. And, to be blunt, it had to justify its billion-dollar price tag.
Whether The Rings of Power managed to accomplish all of those goals in its first season is still arguably an open question. But it certainly laid the groundwork for what should be a television spectacular, and it was, on balance, probably the best show I’ve seen this year. When I was at a low ebb in the autumn and didn’t have the energy or headspace for watching many new things, The Rings of Power was the one show that I made time for. Sure, there were big battles and other CGI spectaculars, but there were also some genuinely wonderful performances that brought to life some incredible character-focused storytelling. I can’t wait for Season 2!
Best Web Series:
🥈 Runner-Up🥈 How To Cake It
After a hiatus of more than a year, YouTube show How To Cake It made a welcome return this year. This time, there’s less of a focus on the kind of attention-grabbing, visually spectacular cakes that look like rocket ships or Princess Elsa or a completely different food, and I think that’s actually been a positive thing! Host Yolanda Gampp has branched out, doing much more of a variety when it comes to baking. Some highlights include flavoured cookies, baklava, and even popcorn.
As often happens when a web series takes an extended break, recent episodes of How To Cake It haven’t been doing the same numbers as the series used to get. But I hope that, as time goes by, it will pick up some of those wayward viewers – and perhaps bring on board a whole host of new ones, too. This new version of How To Cake It seems to be making more down-to-earth recipes that you or I might feel brave enough to attempt, rather than showing off impressive designs that only a master baker could create. For me at least, that’s a great thing, and I hope to see much more from Yolanda and the team in the new year.
🏆 Winner 🏆 Anti-Chef
If How To Cake It shows a master at work, Anti-Chef – as the name suggests – is the complete opposite! The show is a lot of fun, and Jamie, the host, isn’t shy about sharing his failures in the kitchen as he works his way through some very complicated recipes. Though he’s not a total newbie any more, many of the techniques in the recipes he challenges himself to try are very advanced, and the personal, relatable style makes me feel like I’m right there in the kitchen.
I love a good cooking show, and as much fun as it can be to see an experienced chef at work, it can be even more entertaining to see an inexperienced home cook tackling some of these recipes. Anti-Chef has given me a lot of laughs this year – but also some cooking tips and inspiration, too.
The Worst of Star Trek:
🏆 “Winner” 🏆 Most of Picard Season 2
I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to call out Picard Season 2, but I think it’s earned a place on this list. The first episode of Season 2 was absolutely fantastic, and if the rest of the season had been anywhere close to that level, we’d be talking about Picard as the best show of the year. But unfortunately things took a pretty sharp nose-dive after the second episode of the season, with Picard and his crew wandering aimlessly for much of the season in a present-day setting that didn’t feel inspiring or enjoyable in the least.
By the time the action returned to the 25th Century in the second half of the season finale, the damage had been done, and despite Farewell pulling out a decent ending, this disconnected, disjointed, overly-long story has to go down as one of Star Trek’s big misses – perhaps even one of the biggest missteps in the franchise’s history. There were individual elements in most episodes that I can honestly say that I enjoyed… but Picard Season 2 overall feels like a massive disappointment.
Star Trek’s Biggest Surprises:
🥈 Runner-Up🥈 Kobayashi Star Trek: Prodigy
We ought to talk more about Prodigy here on the website – and I hope we will next year! But for now, the episode Kobayashi came out of nowhere in January to be one of the biggest surprises in the show’s first season. The Kobayashi Maru training programme famously tests would-be captains in a “no-win scenario,” and you wouldn’t think that premise would lead to such a genuinely heartwarming and wholesome episode – but as a longstanding fan, I really appreciated what Kobayashi brought to the table.
Without giving too much away, the Kobayashi Maru scenario plays out on the holodeck, and a cast of fan-favourite Star Trek characters all join in on the action. It’s a nostalgic treat – but it doesn’t overplay its hand, keeping a tight focus on the new characters introduced in Prodigy.
🏆 Winner 🏆 All Those Who Wander Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Strange New Worlds had an incredible first season, showing off a varied, episodic approach in which it wasn’t shy about trying out many different genres. All Those Who Wander draws inspiration from the likes of The Thing and Alien to create a tense, claustrophobic sense of horror aboard a crashed starship.
It’s hard to say too much more without getting into spoiler territory – and of all the episodes in Season 1, All Those Who Wander has to be the most important to go into un-spoiled! Suffice to say that the episode takes the horror angle right up to the edge of my personal comfort zone, but never crosses that line. It’s an intense experience, and one that shows just how incredible Star Trek can be when it throws itself into another genre.
The Best of Star Trek:
🥈 Runner-Up🥈 Coming Home Star Trek: Discovery
Discovery’s fourth season plodded along, in places, and definitely teased us with mysterious factions and characters that ultimately turned out to be brand-new. But by the time the season finale rolled around, most of that was already settled. What we got was an incredibly emotional episode that saw Captain Burnham and the crew racing against time to reach an unknown, uncontacted alien race.
There were resolutions to disagreements between characters, several incredibly dramatic moments, and a storyline involving Admiral Vance at Federation HQ that showed off Starfleet and the Federation at their very best. Coming Home is, without a doubt, one of Discovery’s very best episodes.
🏆 Winner 🏆 A Quality of Mercy Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Captain Pike gets a visit from “the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come” in A Quality of Mercy – and the episode is incredible. In Discovery Season 2, when it became apparent that Captain Pike knew in advance that he was going to suffer a debilitating accident, an obvious question would be “why didn’t he try to prevent it?” And A Quality of Mercy takes that idea and runs with it.
In addition to a very emotional story involving Captain Pike – one that I, as a disabled person, found incredibly relatable – there’s also a wonderful callback to an episode of The Original Series, and moments for all of the main characters to get a chance to shine. Ethan Peck puts in a spectacular performance as Spock, and there was even time at the very end of the episode for one final twist as the curtain fell on one of the best seasons of Star Trek ever put to screen.
Best Animated Film:
🥈 Runner-Up🥈 Minions: The Rise of Gru
The Despicable Me franchise is usually good for some fun escapism, and so it proved again with The Rise of Gru. There isn’t anything completely groundbreaking here; you know how the titular Minions behave by now. But stepping back in time to a ’70s setting allowed for some fun jokes, and the over-the-top villains that Gru encountered were a ton of fun.
There was still heart and emotion in The Rise of Gru thanks to Gru’s relationship with the villainous Wild Knuckles, and that did enough to ground what was otherwise a pretty wacky adventure. There were plenty of references and callbacks to other franchises for nerds like us to enjoy, and on the whole, I had a good time with the film. I’m not in a desperate rush to re-watch it, but it was good fun for what it was.
🏆 Winner 🏆 Encanto
After several years in which Disney has focused on live-action adaptations and sequels, Encanto came along like a breath of fresh air! It’s one of the best Disney films of the current era without a doubt, with a deeply engrossing and frequently emotional story that has an uplifting message. And thanks to a wonderful soundtrack by the phenomenally talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, there are some incredible songs too!
A setting inspired by Colombia was also something different for a major Disney production, and the company has done well at diversifying the peoples and places it depicts in its major releases. But that would have been meaningless had Encanto not been such a wonderful, well-told story – and I’m so very pleased that it was.
Best Live-Action Film:
🥈 Runner-Up🥈 The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
With the caveat that I didn’t see that many films this year, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is definitely up there as one of the better ones! I genuinely couldn’t believe that this film existed when I first heard of its premise – Nicolas Cage playing a fictionalised version of himself and going on a wacky adventure. But you know what? I’m very glad that it does!
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent could have ended up as a bargain-bin B-movie – or worse, it could’ve tried to take itself far too seriously. But instead it leans into a kind of self-deprecating humour as well as tropes of the action genre, coming across as light-hearted and just plain fun. Nicolas Cage is a good sport for taking part, and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.
🏆 Winner 🏆 All Quiet on the Western Front
Netflix’s reimagining of this classic German war film is absolutely brutal. If any film has ever come close to accurately depicting the true horrors of the First World War, this is it. The story follows a young conscript from Germany as he joins the army and is dispatched to the front line, and then jumps ahead to the closing days of the war.
Every version of All Quiet on the Western Front – and there have now been three adaptations of the original novel – have shown just how senseless and meaningless war can be, taking a very individualist, human look at warfare. This version hammers that home, and can be uncomfortable viewing. But it’s an incredibly powerful film – one that absolutely deserves to be in contention for some of the top awards.
The “I-didn’t-play-this-game-but-you-probably-should” Award:
🏆 Winner 🏆 Elden Ring
I wish I could say I was interested in Elden Ring… but I’m just not. The “difficult for the sake of it” style of gameplay that has come to be known as the “Souls-like” genre just isn’t my cup of tea, but by all accounts Elden Ring is one of the best examples of this type of game, and one of the best games of the year – if not the generation.
Taking the Dark Souls format into an expansive open-world setting, Elden Ring has won almost universal acclaim from critics and players alike, becoming one of the most talked-about releases of the year. For a single-player title in a gaming landscape increasingly dominated by the online multiplayer scene, I think that’s a fantastic thing, and even though Elden Ring isn’t for me, I still think it’s worth noting it as one of the most important releases of the year.
Best Browser Game:
🏆 Winner 🏆 Wordle
I wouldn’t usually dedicate much time to browser games on a list like this, but since I first played Wordle back in February or March, I don’t think I’ve missed a single day. The format is fun, with a single word each day to guess and only six chances to get it right. Wordle was snapped up by the New York Times and has since spawned dozens or perhaps even hundreds of clones – including variants that have multiple words to guess, and variants based on specific topics or franchises. There’s even a Star Trek-themed one!
Wordle blew up to become an internet phenomenon in 2022, and for a while it seemed like you couldn’t move for people showing off their Wordle results on social media. It’s become part of my daily routine – and my current streak is 77 wins in a row, going all the way back to the middle of October!
The “buggy piece of crap” Award:
🏆 “Winner” 🏆 Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection (PC version)
The PC port of Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection is the worst I’ve come across in recent years. I’d thought that the days of amateurish PC ports were finally over, but PlayStation Studios, Naughty Dog, and Iron Galaxy Studios showed me that I was wrong about that. In short, Uncharted is incredibly poorly-optimised for PC, with a piss-poor frame rate and weird visual and texture bugs that were incredibly offputting. The screenshot above shows off one such glitch.
It’s such a shame because the Uncharted series has always been a blast. The Indiana Jones-inspired games still feel like something different in the action-adventure space, even with the likes of Tomb Raider being reimagined for a new generation. The stories present here are great – but if I have to spend as much time battling bugs as I do enemies, I’m going to have a bad time. Other PlayStation titles – like Spider-Man and God of War – don’t have these issues, so I don’t understand how Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection managed to launch on PC in such a bad state.
Best Expansion Pack/DLC:
🏆 Winner 🏆 Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass
The Booster Course Pass has given Mario Kart 8 Deluxe a new lease on life – even if it’s not as transformative as a new entry in the series would’ve been. I was disappointed as the year went by and it became clear that there would be no Mario Kart 9, but the Booster Course Pass has definitely convinced me to dust off my Nintendo Switch and pick up Mario Kart 8 Deluxe again.
The “wave” approach to the DLC has been fun, too, keeping the game feeling fresher for longer when compared to dumping all 48 new racetracks at once. Don’t get me wrong, the longevity of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is still an issue, and I now have the additional concern that there will be fewer racetracks left to adapt whenever Mario Kart 9 eventually comes along. But in the short-term, the Booster Course Pass is proving to be great fun.
Game of the Year:
🥈 Runner-Up🥈 Stray
Stray is absolutely adorable: a game in which you get to play as a kitty cat! I was sold on that premise alone, but what I found when I got stuck in was a genuinely enjoyable, well-paced, well-structured indie title. Stray has great graphics, with the movement of the main cat character in particular being incredibly realistic. There’s some wonderful art design in both the environments and the robotic non-player characters, too.
Stray is further proof that there’s plenty of life in the narrative, linear, single-player space, and that not every game needs to be forced into the open-world mould. But at the same time, it’s something very different. Not only is the idea of playing as an animal unique, but the game’s slow pace and focus on peaceful interaction with the environment instead of combat and quick-time events all make for a relaxing, yet deeply engrossing experience.
🏆 Winner 🏆 Disney Dreamlight Valley
If you’d told me a few months ago that my favourite game of 2022 would be an early access Disney title, I wouldn’t have believed it! But I’ve sunk well over 150 hours into Disney Dreamlight Valley since its launch at the end of August, and I’ve been having an incredible time. The game basically took all of my criticisms of Animal Crossing: New Horizons and fixed them, then threw in dozens of new features I didn’t even know I wanted – and some fun Disney-centric stories with a diverse cast of characters for good measure.
Disney Dreamlight Valley is so much fun and has so much to offer, even in this early access form, that it’s hard to know where to begin. There’s an interesting main quest, dozens of character-focused missions, the kind of home-building and design gameplay that players loved about titles like The Sims, and all of the fun of living another life in a fantasy land as you’d expect from an Animal Crossing game. There’s so much to love about Disney Dreamlight Valley, and I’m happy to crown it my favourite game of the year.
So that’s it!
We’ve dished out awards to some of my favourite entertainment experiences of the year. The countdown is on to 2023 – there are just hours left until the sun will rise on a whole new year! Stay tuned in the days ahead because I plan to take a look at some of the things I’m most looking forward to between now and Christmas. Is that the earliest you’ve seen someone mention Christmas 2023?
I hope that this was a bit of fun. There were plenty of enjoyable films, television shows, and video games this year – despite the delays that still hang over the entertainment industry. Though I wouldn’t say that 2022 is likely to go down in history as one of the best-ever years for entertainment, I think we still got a wide variety of experiences, many of which were enjoyable.
So I suppose all that’s left to say is this: Happy New Year! Whatever you plan to do, I hope you have a wonderful time!
See you next year!
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, studio, broadcaster, developer, distributor, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Check out reviews or articles featuring some of the films, games, and TV shows mentioned on this list by clicking or tapping the links below:
Important: All prices listed below were correct at time of publication. All of these holiday sales end around New Year; prices will no longer be accurate after that point. All prices listed below in GBP; prices and discounts may vary by region.
In 2019, one of the very first pieces that I put together for the website was a list of some of the best holiday sale deals for PC gamers – and with it being the most wonderful time of year once again, it’s time for a new list! All of these games are titles that I personally enjoyed – or that have excellent reviews and write-ups – and that I reckon are good value at their discounted price.
There are two absolutely amazing things about gaming on PC: firstly, it’s possible to pick up old and even out-of-print games from years past, and secondly, massive sales like these! There are usually two big sales times on PC – in the summer and around the holidays. Smaller sales come and go at different times of the year, too, so unless a new game is something you simply cannot wait for, it can absolutely be worth saving your pennies until one of the big sales rolls around! A PC may be more expensive to get started with (and take it from someone who built their own PC this year, some components can be very pricey!) but sales like these more than make up for it, in my view.
I’ll be looking mostly at Steam, Epic Games, and GOG on this occasion, though there are other digital shops on PC that may also be having holiday sales. Not every game is the same price on every digital shop, so it can absolutely be worth shopping around to get the best deals. Remember that these sales don’t last long – some deals will be gone before New Year. So be sure to act fast if you see something you’re interested in!
For less than the price of a coffee, XCOM 2 feels like an absolute steal! A turn-based strategy game about humanity’s attempt to fend off an alien invasion, XCOM 2 has an old-school feel in a gaming landscape dominated by fast-paced shooters and MMOs – and for a certain type of player, that’s just what the doctor ordered! I used to say that I prefer real-time strategy games to turn-based ones, but in recent years I’ve definitely come to appreciate titles like XCOM 2.
Deal #2: Elden Ring Steam: 30% discount, £34.99
For a game that was released earlier this year, and that recently won “game of the year” at The Game Awards, a 30% discount seems pretty good for Elden Ring! A “souls-like” game like this is absolutely not something I’m interested in, but I can appreciate the skill that went into crafting Elden Ring even if I have no plans to play it myself any time soon! Widely considered to be one of the best games of the year and one of the best open-world titles of the last few years, Elden Ring could be your thing – even if it isn’t mine!
Deal #3: Star Trek: Hidden Evil GOG: 25% discount, £6.29
Hidden Evil isn’t the best adventure game you’ll ever play, and it’s probably fair to say it isn’t the best Star Trek game ever created, either. But it’s a game I remember with a degree of fondness from the late 1990s, and its story is definitely strong, fun, and very Star Trek-y! Set shortly after the events of Insurrection, players take on the role of a human character who was raised by Vulcans (sound familiar?) as they serve aboard the Enterprise-E and unravel a mystery. Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner lend their voices to the roles of Picard and Data respectively.
Deal #4: Red Dead Redemption II Steam & Epic Games: 67% discount, £18.14
Red Dead Redemption II is a masterpiece, a game that shows just how incredible interactive entertainment can truly be. It is, without a doubt, one of the best games I’ve ever played, and its story is dark, bleak, and deeply emotional in places. Red Dead Redemption II is set in a wonderfully crafted open world that recreates the look and feel of the United States at the end of the 19th Century. Gameplay takes place from a third-person perspective, but the addition of the “dead-eye” slow-mo targeting mechanic makes its signature quick-draw shooting feel like something different. An incredibly easy game to recommend – especially at a steep discount.
Deal #5: Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga Steam & Epic Games: 50% discount, £19.99
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga doesn’t actually do anything new. If you’ve played a Lego game on any platform at any time in the past fifteen or so years, you know the formula by now: this is a light-hearted Lego take on a familiar story. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga polishes that familiar gameplay style, throws in plenty of humour, and makes the graphics look shinier than ever. Right now, this is the definitive Lego Star Wars experience!
Deal #6: The Saboteur GOG: 75% discount, £4.39
A stealth-action game set in World War II, The Saboteur’s unique selling point was its “black-and-white turns to colour” gameplay mechanic. In short, as players moved through the game and liberated different sections of Paris, the game’s monochrome aesthetic would give way to full colour. It was a gimmick, perhaps, but underneath that hides a genuinely fun stealth game and a decent recreation of World War II-era Paris.
Six years on from its release, Civilization VI has racked up a number of expansion packs and additions that take the total price of the game to well over £100. It’s a bit much to pay that all at once in my view, so picking up this turn-based strategy game while it’s on sale makes a lot of sense. Civilization VI was one of my most-played games of the last few years, with its digital board game style being incredibly engaging! I’ve had fun learning the ins and outs of the different expansions and rule changes as they’ve been released, and when no two matches are the same, it really is a blast.
Of all the Star Wars games released in the last few years, Squadrons is probably the most niche. But if you’ve ever wanted to really feel like you’re in the cockpit of a starfighter in a galaxy far, far away… there’s literally nothing quite like it. A solid single-player campaign is let down by a multiplayer scene that never really saw huge numbers of players, but there’s plenty of replayability in Squadrons nevertheless. This is the game we dreamed we were playing in the ’90s when we picked up the likes of TIE Fighter and Rogue Squadron!
I actually felt that Legendary Edition was a bit of a let-down; a remaster that didn’t do as much to the Mass Effect trilogy as I’d have liked to see. But for anyone who has never played this amazing trio of games, Legendary Edition is by far the best and easiest route into the Mass Effect universe. Forget my gripes with the way the remaster was handled – the Mass Effect trilogy is one of the best sci-fi stories I’ve ever experienced. At such a steep discount, there’s no excuse not to get started with this single-player adventure. I have a full review of Legendary Edition which you can find by clicking or tapping here.
Deal #10: Forza Horizon 4 Steam: 67% discount, £18.14
The Forza Horizon games are incredibly accessible and fun arcade-style racing games, and both Forza Horizon 4 and Forza Horizon 5 in particular are fantastic! With Forza Horizon 4 on offer with a bigger discount, that’s the title I’m picking for this list, and there’s so much to see and do in the game’s open-world racing festival – and more than 700 cars to race in – I’m pretty sure that you won’t get bored any time soon! Also the game’s open-world map is loosely based on the UK, which is neat!
Deal #11: Disney Dreamlight Valley Steam & Epic Games: 25% discount, £17.84
Disney Dreamlight Valley comes with the major caveat that the game is still in early access – and that it will be free-to-play at some point in the future. But for anyone who likes Disney or casual life-sim games like Animal Crossing, Disney Dreamlight Valley is a must-play. It’s my favourite game of 2022 and I’ve sunk over 100 hours into it since it launched. Two major updates have already dropped, adding new characters and quests, and there’s lots more to come before the game leaves early access. Check out my full early access review by clicking or tapping here!
Control is a tense and exciting single-player action game set in a seemingly-abandoned government facility. It’s full of twists and turns, and despite its seemingly simplistic “office block” environment, once you get stuck into the story things get pretty wild pretty quickly! Control has one of the best and most mind-bending sequences that I’ve played through in any game over the past few years as it reaches its climax, but all the while the story of a woman looking for her long-lost brother keeps the story emotionally grounded. I’ve been meaning to go back and re-play Control… so maybe I will in the new year!
Deal #13: Banished Steam: 66% discount, £5.09
Banished is an incredibly fun town-building game, and one that I’ve sunk literally hundreds of hours into since its 2014 release. It’s deceptively simple, as managing your town, resources, and population isn’t as easy as it looks! Balancing all of the different things that the townsfolk need to stay warm, fed, and healthy is a challenge – but a truly entertaining one. It’s still amazing to me to know that Banished was created by just one person! I have a more detailed write-up of the game that you can find by clicking or tapping here.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits was my pick for 2021’s game of the year. It’s visually stunning, with an adorable cast of characters and some fun, surprisingly old-school adventure and 3D platforming gameplay. The titular Kena has a handful of abilities thanks to her magical staff, and each new skill that she learns makes a massive impact on the next section of the game. For a new studio’s debut release, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is absolutely fantastic. Check out my full review of the game by clicking or tapping here.
Deal #15: Sonic Frontiers Steam: 30% discount, £34.99
Sonic Frontiers was released less than two months ago, so its 30% discount feels generous considering the game’s positive reception by Sonic fans. There’s always been a question-mark for me over how well Sonic’s signature ability of incredibly fast movement can work in a fully 3D setting. In 2D platformers this was fantastic, but 3D Sonic titles haven’t always figured out a way to make it work. By all accounts, Sonic Frontiers gets it right – and is chock-full of callbacks and references to the franchise’s past.
Deal #16: Two Point Hospital and Two Point Campus Steam: 46% discount, £32.52
Steam is offering both of these critically-acclaimed “tycoon” games as a package deal, and honestly it’s a pretty good offer! There seemed to be a time when the tycoon genre was disappearing, but games like Two Point Hospital came along and revitalised it! Two Point Hospital feels like a spiritual successor to the much-loved Theme Hospital from the 1990s, and Two Point Campus is in a similar vein but, unsurprisingly, with a university instead of a hospital!
The Mafia trilogy was remade from the ground up over the past couple of years, and the entire trilogy is now available for purchase. Open-world crime games inspired by the likes of the Grand Theft Auto series, Mafia puts a new spin on the concept by focusing heavily on the mob and by stepping back in time. Some great storytelling, fun characters, and enjoyable action gameplay awaits!
With Skyrim having long since worn out its welcome and The Elder Scrolls VI still years away, going back to re-play Oblivion might just scratch that fantasy role-playing itch for some of you! And there’s a whole generation of players who’ve grown up since Oblivion made its debut back in 2006 and who missed out on playing it first time around. Many of the elements that players love about Skyrim are on full display here – though some are a little less refined. But Oblivion has some wonderful stories and side-quests, and is well worth picking up at such a steep discount.
Deal #19: Shenmue I & II Steam: 80% discount, £4.99
I can never quite manage to properly explain just how utterly revolutionary Shenmue felt when I played it on the Dreamcast in the year 2000. A realistic modern-day setting, an intense murder mystery, fascinating characters… Shenmue was the first game I ever played that felt truly cinematic, as if its story could play out on the big screen. It’s a slow-paced game in some ways, with long periods of exploration and dialogue in between fast-paced quick-time events and combat encounters. But it’s one of my favourite titles of all-time!
Deal #20: Call of Duty: WWII Steam: 67% discount, £14.84
I’m not much of a multiplayer gamer, so I’m looking at Call of Duty: WWII for its single-player campaign. A relatively short but well-crafted affair, I think it’s worth it when the game goes on sale. Unfortunately the Call of Duty franchise has largely abandoned single-player in favour of multiplayer deathmatches, but WWII’s campaign shows that the developers can still create fun and engaging stories. Modern and near-future settings are currently in vogue for first-person shooters, so WWII feels like something a little different for players burnt out on those kinds of titles.
So that’s it!
I tried to pick a range of different titles, some of which may be more popular than others. I also tried to branch out a little beyond my usual games and genres to cast a wider net. There are plenty of fantastic games out there that, for one reason or another, just aren’t “my thing,” but I can still appreciate the work that went into them and that, for folks who like those styles of games, they’ll be great fun!
But at the same time, it’s nice to pull out some old and new favourites and show them off! When these sales roll around, it’s absolutely wonderful to think that someone is going to pick up one of these games and experience a fantastic story for the very first time. PC as a platform and its digital shops like Steam, Epic Games, and especially GOG are doing a great job at keeping older games alive – and that’s a wonderfully positive thing.
If money’s a bit tight right now, don’t panic! There will almost certainly be more big sales in the summer – if not before! I hope I’ve given you some inspiration for games to pick up, or at least that you had fun geeking out about some of these titles with me!
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
It’s official: I’ve given up on seeing Mario Kart 9 any time soon. That game most likely won’t arrive until the Nintendo Switch’s successor console is released, which is a shame if you ask me! 2022 has been the Mario Kart series’ thirtieth anniversary, and with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe being just an extended port of a Wii U game released back in 2014, I felt that the time was right for a brand-new entry in the series. But Nintendo disagreed, and instead what we’ve had this year has been the Booster Course Pass – downloadable content for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe that’s slowly adding extra tracks to the game in “waves” of eight at a time.
Let’s set Mario Kart 9 and its associated disappointment to one side for now and focus on the Booster Course Pass. For the money, I reckon the Booster Course Pass is pretty good value – or at least it will be when all of the tracks are ready! Only half of the new racetracks have been released at time of writing, so your mileage may vary on how much value for money you think you’re getting!
As I said when I reviewed the Booster Course Pass, several of my favourites from past editions of the series have already been added. Racetracks like Kalimari Desert, from the Nintendo 64, and Coconut Mall, from the Wii, have been included in the Booster Course Pass already, and would likely have made a list like this if I’d made it a few months ago! But there are still plenty of racetracks from past iterations of Mario Kart that I’d love to see updated – so that’s what we’re going to look at today!
I’ve tried to pick tracks from different entries in the series, some of which I’m more familiar with than others. I haven’t invented any brand-new racetracks this time around; these are all tracks that have appeared in one or more Mario Kart titles. For obvious reasons, I haven’t picked any tracks that are already part of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or the Booster Course Pass! And as always, my usual caveats apply: I have no “insider information,” and I’m not trying to claim that any of these racetracks will be part of the Booster Course Pass in future. Finally, all of this is just the subjective take of one person! If I don’t include your favourite racetrack, or include a track you absolutely hate, that’s just the way it goes!
With all of that out of the way, let’s begin!
Racetrack #1: SNES Bowser Castle 2
We’ll start by going all the way back to the Super Nintendo! Super Mario Kart may seem rather basic by today’s standards, but it’s where the series began – and it was one of my most-played games of the mid-90s! There were three Bowser Castle tracks, all of which used the same basic aesthetic, and on this occasion we’re going to pick Bowser Castle 2, from the Flower Cup.
Bowser Castle 2 has the infamous “STOP” sign if players take a wrong turn, and that could be something fun as relatively few Mario Kart tracks have anything quite like it; a dead-end path that leads to nothing but lava! The track also splits into two roughly equal paths at one point, and has several hops over the lava. As we’ve seen with other older racetracks, Bowser Castle 2 could be adapted to incorporate anti-gravity or gliding sections.
Racetrack #2: Tour Singapore Speedway
One of the surprise hits for me from the first three waves of the Booster Course Pass has been the inclusion of real-world cities. I talked extensively about New York Minute in my review of the Booster Course Pass as I think it’s one of the best racetracks in the game, but I’ve also really enjoyed what Mario Kart has done with Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, Sydney, and London. At time of writing there aren’t many more Tour-exclusive tracks that could be added to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, so I’m picking Singapore Speedway this time.
Singapore would join Tokyo and Sydney to represent another non-European city, and while I’d love to see many more real-world cities represented as I feel it’s a fun concept, of the cities that Nintendo has chosen to adapt so far, Singapore feels the most interesting. As the world’s only real city-state, Singapore is a unique place – and I’m sure it’ll be fun to race through!
Racetrack #3: N64 Frappe Snowland
I like the music that accompanies this winter-themed track, and I think it would be fun to see it updated. Out of 72 racetracks in the game (at time of writing) only five are winter- or ice-themed (six if you include the winter variant of the Animal Crossing track). So there’s definitely room for another snowy, wintertime track in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
As happened with Kalimari Desert when it was added to the Booster Course Pass, there’s scope to reimagine parts of Frappe Snowland, updating them for the Switch. The jump could be replaced by a glider ramp, an anti-gravity hill could be added, and the final part of the lap, with towering walls of snow, could become narrower or even change shape with each lap.
Racetrack #4: Wii Moonview Highway
One of the few Wii tracks not to have been ported to another game, Moonview Highway is notorious for its difficulty. Some fans consider Moonview Highway to be one of the hardest tracks in the entire Mario Kart series – so perhaps some adaptations would need to be made to mitigate this before it could join Mario Kart 8 Deluxe!
Moving traffic is always a difficult obstacle in a racetrack, and has proven tricky going all the way back to Toad’s Turnpike on the Nintendo 64. But as annoying as they can be, moving vehicles keep players on their toes and ensure that every lap – and indeed every race – feels different. I also really like the theming of Moonview Highway; the night time setting, the rising moon, and the combination of city and forest sections make it a visually interesting and distinct racetrack.
Racetrack #1: 3DS Shy Guy Bazaar
There are plenty of desert levels in the Mario Kart series (and several already in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe) but for me, Shy Guy Bazaar has always been a little different. It picks up a vaguely Arabian-inspired theme, with some of the buildings and the main marketplace using that aesthetic. Most other desert tracks in the Mario Kart series take place across dunes or ruins, so having one set in the marketplace of a living town definitely makes Shy Guy Bazaar unique.
I have very fond memories of Mario Kart 7. When the game was released, I was working in a large office in a big city, and I had several colleagues with whom I’d play the game using the 3DS’ download play feature. It was great fun to take part in some very competitive races! Shy Guy Bazaar may not be Mario Kart 7′s best-remembered racetrack – but that’s just another reason to bring it back!
Racetrack #2: Arcade GP Diamond City
Now we’re heading into some real uncharted territory! Beginning in 2005, Nintendo created a series of arcade machines based on the Mario Kart series, each of which featured a handful of new and unique racetracks. At time of writing, none of these tracks have made it to a home console, remaining arcade exclusives. That means relatively few players have had the chance to try any of these racetracks – and I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s high time to change that!
Diamond City has a fun look – at least based on what I’ve seen of it. A Wario-themed near-future city with some Japanese elements, the racetrack is at least superficially different from others set in big cities. The layout is more than just a simplistic oval, with a tight turn at the beginning, and there are plenty of places where anti-gravity, gliding, or even underwater sections could be included.
Racetrack #3: N64 Unfinished Town
If you thought we were getting into some weird territory with the arcade version of Mario Kart, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! This racetrack was seemingly abandoned during development on Mario Kart 64, never making it into the final game. However, thanks to the tireless work of modders and data-miners, the track’s existence was confirmed, and a playable version has even been recreated from files that were uncovered.
The racetrack known simply as “Town” is actually pretty basic from what I can tell, following a fairly straightforward route through a generic town setting. Had work on the track continued, perhaps more theming would have been added! The concept remains interesting, though, and as a slice of Mario Kart history, I think it would be incredible to finally allow this unfinished track to see the light of day in an official release.
Racetrack #4: GCN Rainbow Road
In true Mario Kart style, we finish with Rainbow Road! The version from Mario Kart: Double Dash has yet to be remade, and I think it would be great to bring it back here. Like other Rainbow Roads it’s a difficult racetrack, but one whose verticality could lead to a truly excellent reworking that would really showcase Mario Kart 8′s anti-gravity feature in particular.
There are already four Rainbow Roads in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – so what’s one more? The tracks are all different enough from one another to be distinct, so there’s no harm in including this version of Rainbow Road. With only four tracks from Double Dash in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe at time of writing, bringing back another from the GameCube era would be no bad thing, too.
So that’s it!
I think we’ve picked some different racetracks that would make for fun and exciting additions to the Booster Course Pass – although I’d be happier, in many ways, if they’d be part of a brand-new game instead! But in lieu of Mario Kart 9, the Booster Course Pass is definitely filling a gap, and has convinced me to pick up Mario Kart 8 Deluxe all over again. I suppose in that sense it’s achieved its aim!
This time, I tried to pick racetracks that haven’t gotten as much attention, or that haven’t been remastered or made many appearances outside of the games in which they originally appeared. I’d be happy to see any of these tracks return to the Mario Kart series – and if none of them make it into the Booster Course Pass then maybe they’ll crop up in a future title!
I’ve been having a good time with Wave 3 of the Booster Course Pass. The track Merry Mountain in particular is just what I want to see at this time of year, and it’s been a blast racing through that Christmassy village! London – the place where I was born! – also features in Wave 3 as one of the more interesting (and longest) city tracks shown off so far, and it’s been a blast to replay racetracks like Maple Treeway too.
So I hope this was a bit of fun; some fantasy racetrack additions from a long-time Mario Kart fan. I certainly had a good time going back to replay some of these tracks or just looking at gameplay videos. What better way to celebrate Mario Kart’s thirtieth anniversary?
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and the Booster Course Pass are out now for Nintendo Switch. The Booster Course Pass will add more racetracks in three “waves” across 2023. The Mario Kart series – including all titles discussed above – is the copyright of Nintendo. Some screenshots courtesy of the Super Mario Wiki. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: Although there are no major plot spoilers for Cyberpunk 2077, minor spoilers may be present for some of the game’s missions.
Thanks to a combination of a sale and a rather generous £10 voucher courtesy of the Epic Games Store, I was able to buy Cyberpunk 2077 for just £15 – that’s about $17 or $18 for my friends in the United States. For that price, it’s actually pretty easy to recommend CD Projekt Red’s role-playing shooter, despite the game’s reputation and its shockingly bad launch two years ago.
By the time I got around to fully playing through Cyberpunk 2077 earlier this year, most of the game’s most egregious bugs, graphical issues, and other glitches had been fixed, at least on PC (which is the platform I played on). So from that point of view, I think I got the best possible Cyberpunk 2077 experience – and certainly a far, far better experience than the poor souls who picked up the game on launch day for PlayStation 4 or Xbox One consoles! Although I did encounter a handful of bugs during my 60-hour playthrough, none were what I’d call game-breaking, and as of late 2022, the PC version of Cyberpunk 2077 is probably comparable with the likes of the launch versions of Skyrim or Fallout 4 in terms of bugs and glitches – a low bar, perhaps, but one the game is finally on the cusp of clearing.