How Sega and the Dreamcast offer a valuable lesson for streaming platforms

In 2001 I was bitterly disappointed by the failure of the Dreamcast – a console I’d only owned for about a year and had hoped would carry me through to the next generation of home consoles. For a variety of reasons that essentially boil down to mismanagement, worse-than-expected sales, and some pretty tough competition, Sega found itself on the verge of bankruptcy. The company responded not only by ending development on the Dreamcast, but by closing its hardware division altogether.

At the time, Sega seemed to be at the pinnacle of the games industry. For much of the 1990s, the company had been a dominant force in home video game consoles alongside Nintendo, and as the new millennium approached there were few outward signs of that changing. It was a massive shock to see Sega collapse in such spectacular fashion in 2001, not only to me but to millions of players and games industry watchers around the world.

The Sega Dreamcast failed in 2001.

Thinking about what happened from a business perspective, a demise like this was inevitable in the early 2000s. Both Sony and Microsoft were arriving in the home console market with powerful machines offering features like the ability to play DVDs – something that the Dreamcast couldn’t do – but at a fundamental level the market was simply overcrowded. There just wasn’t room for four competing home consoles. At least one was destined for the chopping block – and unfortunately for Sega, it was their machine that wouldn’t survive.

But the rapid demise of the Dreamcast wasn’t the end of Sega – not by a long shot. The company switched its focus from making hardware to simply making games, and over the next few years re-established itself with a new identity as a developer and publisher. In the twenty years since the Dreamcast failed, Sega has published a number of successful titles, snapped up several successful development studios – such as Creative Assembly, Relic Entertainment, and Amplitude Studios – and has even teamed up with old rival Nintendo on a number of occasions!

The end of the Dreamcast was not the end of Sega.

I can’t properly express how profoundly odd it was to first see Super Mario and Sega’s mascot Sonic the Hedgehog together in the same game! The old rivalry from the ’90s would’ve made something like that impossible – yet it became possible because Sega recognised its limitations and changed its way of doing business. The board abandoned a longstanding business model because it was leading the company to ruin, and even though it does feel strange to see fan-favourite Sega characters crop up on the Nintendo Switch or even in PlayStation games, Sega’s willingness to change quite literally saved the company.

From a creative point of view, Sega’s move away from hardware opened up the company to many new possibilities. The company has been able to broaden its horizons, publishing different games on different systems, no longer bound to a single piece of hardware. Strategy games have been published for PC, party games on the Nintendo Wii and Switch, and a whole range of other titles on Xbox, PlayStation, handheld consoles, and even mobile. The company has been involved in the creation of a far broader range of titles than it ever had been before.

Sega’s mascot Sonic now regularly appears alongside old foe Super Mario.

So how does all of this relate to streaming?

We’re very much in the grip of the “streaming wars” right now. Big platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ are battling for subscribers’ cash, but there’s a whole second tier of streaming platforms fighting amongst themselves for a chance to break into the upper echelons of the market. The likes of HBO Max, Paramount+, Apple TV+, Peacock, BritBox, and even YouTube Premium are all engaged in this scrap.

But the streaming market in 2021 is very much like the video game console market was in 2001: overcrowded. Not all of these second-tier platforms will survive – indeed, it’s possible that none of them will. Many of the companies who own and manage these lower-level streaming platforms are unwilling to share too many details about them, but we can make some reasonable estimates based on what data is available, and it isn’t good news. Some of these streaming platforms have simply never been profitable, and their owners are being propped up by other sources of income, pumping money into a loss-making streaming platform in the hopes that it’ll become profitable at some nebulous future date.

There are a lot of streaming platforms in 2021.

To continue the analogy, the likes of Paramount+ are modern-day Dreamcasts in a market where Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+ are already the Nintendo, Xbox, and PlayStation. Breaking into the top tier of the streaming market realistically means one of the big three needs to be dethroned, and while that isn’t impossible, it doesn’t seem likely in the short-to-medium term at least.

Why did streaming appeal to viewers in the first place? That question is fundamental to understanding why launching a new platform is so incredibly difficult, and it’s one that too many corporate executives seem not to have considered. They make the incredibly basic mistake of assuming that streaming is a question of convenience; that folks wanted to watch shows on their own schedule rather than at a set time on a set channel. That isn’t what attracted most people to streaming.

Too many corporate leaders fundamentally misunderstand streaming.

Convenience has been available to viewers since the late 1970s. Betamax and VHS allowed folks to record television programmes and watch them later more than forty years ago, as well as to purchase films and even whole seasons of television shows to watch “on demand.” DVD box sets kicked this into a higher gear in the early-mid 2000s. Speaking for myself, I owned a number of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation on VHS in the 1990s, and later bought the entire series on DVD. I had more than enough DVDs by the mid-2000s that I’d never need to sign up for any streaming platform ever – I could watch a DVD every day of the year and never run out of different things to watch!

To get back on topic, what attracted people to streaming was the low cost. A cable or satellite subscription is easily four or five times the price of Netflix, so cutting the cord and going digital was a new way for many people to save money in the early 2010s. As more broadcasters and film studios began licensing their content to Netflix, the value of the deal got better and better, and the value of cable or satellite seemed ever worse in comparison.

Streaming isn’t about convenience – that’s been available for decades.
(Pictured: a 1975 Sony Betamax cabinet)

But in 2021, in order to watch even just a handful of the most popular television shows, people are once again being forced to spend cable or satellite-scale money. Just sticking to sci-fi and fantasy, three of the biggest shows in recent years have been The Mandalorian, The Expanse, and The Witcher. To watch all three shows, folks would need to sign up for three different streaming platforms – which would cost a total of £25.97 per month in the UK; approximately $36 in the United States.

The overabundance of streaming platforms is actually eroding the streaming platform model, making it unaffordable for far too many people. We have a great recent example of this: the mess last week which embroiled Star Trek: Discovery. When ViacomCBS cancelled their contract with Netflix, Discovery’s fourth season was to be unavailable outside of North America. Star Trek fans revolted, promising to boycott Paramount+ if and when the streaming platform arrived in their region. The damage done by the Discovery Season 4 debacle pushed many viewers back into the waiting arms of the only real competitor and the biggest danger to all streaming platforms: piracy.

Calls to boycott Paramount+ abounded in the wake of the Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 mess.

The streaming market does not exist in a vacuum, with platforms jostling for position solely against one another. It exists in a much bigger digital environment, one which includes piracy. It’s incredibly easy to either stream or download any television episode or any film, even with incredibly limited technological know-how, and that has always represented a major threat to the viability of streaming platforms. Though there are ethical concerns, such as the need for artists and creators to get paid for their creations, that isn’t the issue. You can shout at me until you’re blue in the face that people shouldn’t pirate a film or television show – and in the vast majority of cases I’ll agree wholeheartedly. The issue isn’t that people should or shouldn’t engage in piracy – the issue is that people are engaged in piracy, and there really isn’t a practical or viable method of stopping them – at least, no such method has been invented thus far.

As more and more streaming platforms try to make a go of it in an already-overcrowded market, more and more viewers are drifting back to piracy. 2020 was a bit of an outlier in some respects due to lockdowns, but it was also the biggest year on record for film and television piracy. 2021 may well eclipse 2020’s stats and prove to have been bigger still.

The overcrowded streaming market makes piracy look ever more appealing to many viewers.

Part of the driving force is that people are simply unwilling to sign up to a streaming platform to watch one or two shows. One of the original appeals of a service like Netflix was that there was a huge range of content all in one place – whether you wanted a documentary, an Oscar-winning film, or an obscure television show from the 1980s, Netflix had you covered. Now, more and more companies are pulling their content and trying to build their own platforms around that content – and many viewers either can’t or won’t pay for it.

Some companies are trying to push streaming platforms that aren’t commercially viable and will never be commercially viable. Those companies need to take a look at Sega and the Dreamcast, and instead of trying to chase the Netflix model ten years too late and with far too little original content, follow the Sega model instead. Drop the hardware and focus on the software – or in this case, drop the platform and focus on making shows.

Some streaming platforms will not survive – and their corporate owners would be well-advised to realise that sooner rather than later.

The Star Trek franchise offers an interesting example of how this can work. Star Trek: Discovery was originally available on Netflix outside of the United States. But Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Lower Decks went to Amazon Prime Video instead – showing how this model of creating a television show and selling it either to the highest bidder or to whichever platform seems like the best fit for the genre can and does work.

Moves like this feel inevitable for several of these second-tier streaming platforms. There’s a hard ceiling on the amount of money folks are willing to spend, so unless streaming platforms can find a way to cut costs and become more competitively priced, the only possible outcome by the end of the “streaming wars” will be the permanent closure of several of these platforms. Companies running these platforms should consider other options, because blindly chasing the streaming model will lead to financial ruin. Sega had the foresight in 2001 to jump out of an overcrowded market and abandon a failing business model. In the two decades since the company has refocused its efforts and found renewed success. This represents a great model for streaming platforms to follow.

All films, television series, and video games mentioned above are the copyright of their respective owner, studio, developer, broadcaster, publisher, distributor, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What will the Discovery decision mean for Picard, Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks, and the rest of Star Trek?

The fallout from the atrocious and unfair Star Trek: Discovery decision rumbles on. The ViacomCBS share price continues to tumble in the wake of their truly awful decision to piss off most of the fans of their biggest franchise, the rollout of Paramount+ continues at a snail’s pace with no specific launch dates even entering the conversation, and unfortunately we’re now seeing some divisions in the fandom itself, with North American Trekkies pitted against those of us in the rest of the world as arguments break out over the series. What a stinking mess.

At time of writing, both Star Trek: Prodigy and Star Trek: Discovery are “Paramount+ exclusives” all across the world – meaning the shows are locked behind a paywall that fans can’t actually pay for because the incompetently-managed streaming service hasn’t launched in the vast majority of countries and territories. I feel even worse for Trekkies in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia in some ways, though, because although Paramount+ has already arrived there, Discovery Season 4 still hasn’t been made available. If you needed any more evidence that ViacomCBS is one of the worst-run corporations in the entire entertainment industry, look no further than that arbitrary nonsense.

The logo of the mediocre streaming service at the heart of all these problems.

But Prodigy and Discovery aren’t the only Star Trek shows in production at the moment. In 2022 Trekkies have been promised Star Trek: Picard Season 2, Strange New Worlds Season 1, and Lower Decks Season 3 at a minimum. In the wake of the truly selfish and awful Discovery decision, however, I can’t help but feel very nervous about each of those shows. Will Trekkies around the world be able to enjoy any new Star Trek in the months ahead? Or will we see repeat after repeat of the Discovery mess?

Strange New Worlds seems all but certain to be denied any kind of international streaming deal. If you’re hoping to see the series hit Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, you might as well forget it – it’ll be a Paramount+ exclusive for sure. What that means in effect is that anywhere in the world without Paramount+ will miss out on Strange New Worlds. That feels like such a sure thing right now that I’d put money on it.

Don’t bet on seeing Captain Pike on your screens next year. At least not through the usual channels…

Currently, Picard Season 2 is scheduled for a February premiere. If the season runs for ten episodes, as Season 1 did in 2020, it’ll conclude sometime in late April or early May, meaning that Strange New Worlds could debut anytime around then – and certainly well before the middle of the year. At present, the UK and parts of Europe are promised Paramount+ in “early 2022” – which could be before the Strange New Worlds premiere, but it could also be long after the show has kicked off in the United States. And unfortunately, many countries and territories in Asia, Africa, and the rest of the world have no planned launch for Paramount+ at all, which means it could be 2023 or later before the service launches there. If it survives that long.

I simply don’t believe the promises ViacomCBS has made of an “early 2022” launch. Paramount+ has been so poorly managed and so incompetently handled by the corporation that a delay to these plans feels inevitable, so I’m not betting on the service launching here before the end of 2022. But even if, by some miracle, ViacomCBS actually manages to launch Paramount+ on time in Europe, that could still mean Strange New Worlds and Picard Season 2 won’t be broadcast simultaneously with North America.

Picard could well be pulled from Amazon Prime Video before Season 2.

As mentioned, Paramount+ has already arrived in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia – and it isn’t exactly brand-new, they’ve had it since March. But despite that, Discovery Season 4 isn’t being shown there at the same time as it’s being shown in North America… so even being very generous to ViacomCBS and assuming that the incompetent morons manage to get Paramount+ to the UK and Europe in “early 2022,” that still doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be able to watch any of the new shows on the damn thing.

As I discussed the other day, ViacomCBS paid Netflix a large sum of money to ensure that Discovery Season 4 wouldn’t be available around the world. If they had done nothing, the show would’ve come to Netflix under existing contracts and licenses – but the corporation chose to intervene, hoping to boost sign-ups to Paramount+ (though the backlash may have actually cost the platform subscribers thanks to a fan-led boycott campaign). What’s to stop ViacomCBS from doing the same thing with Amazon Prime Video, the current home of Lower Decks and Picard?

Will Amazon Prime Video lose its Star Trek shows, just like Netflix?

One of the stupidest and most offensive things about the Discovery decision is that Paramount+ is unavailable across most of the world. If ViacomCBS had pulled Discovery from Netflix because Paramount+ had already launched and they wanted to keep their own shows on their own platform, it would still be frustrating, and the timing would still be awful, but at least there’d be a vague logic to it. But because Paramount+ isn’t even available, the decision has locked the show behind a paywall that no one is able to pay for. Which, as I’ve argued on more than one occasion, means you have the absolute moral justification to pirate the series.

But this kind of decision could well be repeated. I doubt very much that Paramount+ will be available here in the UK by February, in time for Season 2 of Picard. And on current form, there’s nothing to stop ViacomCBS from doing to Amazon Prime Video what they’ve just done to Netflix – pulling the series from broadcast with days to spare. I don’t think it’s safe to assume we’ll be watching Picard Season 2 on Amazon Prime Video… let alone Lower Decks Season 3, which likely won’t be broadcast until later in the year.

Lower Decks Season 3 could also be going exclusively to Paramount+.

Rather than the Discovery mess being a one-time thing, I think as international fans we need to get used to the idea that, at least for the next year or so, watching Star Trek along with our North American friends may not be possible – or at least may not be possible via conventional methods. Picard Season 2 and Strange New Worlds Season 1 feel the most vulnerable, but realistically we’ll soon see the entire franchise disappear behind Paramount+’s paywall – regardless of whether Paramount+ is actually available.

I’d like to be proven wrong, of course, but I fear that this is the direction of travel for Star Trek as we move into 2022. This will not be a move free of long-term consequences for ViacomCBS. The corporation’s share price continues its fall, many Trekkies have pledged never to subscribe to Paramount+, and one of the biggest single pushes toward piracy since the advent of streaming will lead many fans and viewers to realise just how easy it is to pirate the latest episodes – making it even harder for Paramount+ to tempt them back in future.

A decision intended to push fans toward Paramount+ has actually led to piracy – and threats to boycott the platform.

As self-defeating as these plans may be, don’t expect to see ViacomCBS move away from them. And if you’re especially unlucky, living in a region of the world that ViacomCBS has apparently forgotten even exists, it may be the case that Paramount+ never arrives – or if it does it won’t be till 2023, 2024, or beyond. Star Trek has always told stories of people coming together – of a United Earth free from borders and division. But the ViacomCBS board haven’t even watched their own shows, or if they did the message went far over their shrivelled little profiteering heads.

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but as I see it, the Discovery decision is just the first of many. Strange New Worlds, which has never had an international broadcaster announced, will certainly be a Paramount+ exclusive. Picard Season 2 and Lower Decks Season 3 could very easily follow the Discovery model and be pulled from Amazon Prime Video. And the rest of the Star Trek franchise? Currently the older shows are on Netflix, but the films aren’t. However, I wouldn’t bet on being able to watch any Star Trek series next year unless you have the DVD or are prepared to sign up for Paramount+.

The Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Should we #BoycottParamountPlus?

The Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 catastrophe isn’t going away anytime soon for ViacomCBS. In the days since they dropped a clumsily-worded statement that simultaneously broke the bad news to Trekkies around the world and tried to push sign-ups to Paramount+, the anger in the fandom has not abated. At time of writing, ViacomCBS shares are worth more than $2 less than they were before the announcement – a drop of more than 6%.

That brings us to the #BoycottParamountPlus discussion that has been doing the rounds in some quarters of the Star Trek fan community. In light of the decision by ViacomCBS to pull the show from Netflix internationally, some Trekkies have responded by saying they’re either boycotting Paramount+, cancelling their subscription to the service, or that they will refuse to sign up for it whenever ViacomCBS can be bothered to make it available in their part of the world. Today I wanted to consider the discussion around boycotting Paramount+, boycotts in general, and how fans can and should register their anger, upset, and frustration with a corporation like ViacomCBS.

Some fans are advocating a boycott of Paramount+ in response to the Discovery fiasco.

There are many reasons why folks – even big Trekkies like yours truly – might be wary of signing up for a service like Paramount+. The platform has not been particularly well-received in markets where it has been available, with complaints ranging from technical issues and video quality to a lack of content. At one point, all of the Star Trek films disappeared from Paramount+ with only a few days’ notice due to licensing conflicts with a different streaming platform – despite the fact that ViacomCBS owns the rights to the Star Trek films.

There’s also the cost involved. The “basic” plan, which currently costs $4.99 per month in the USA, comes with advertising. The “premium” plan ditches the commercials, but clocks in at double the price – $9.99 per month in the USA. That makes Paramount+ actually more expensive than Netflix for a comparable service, as Netflix’s cheapest plan in the USA doesn’t run any adverts and costs $8.99 per month.

Paramount+ ain’t cheap.

Paramount+ is not competitively priced, then. It’s more expensive than the big three streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+) and though it does offer some content that the others don’t – such as live sports – its content as a whole is lagging behind. So even being as generous as we can, Paramount+ feels like poor value for what is clearly a second-tier platform.

But all of this talk of costs is rather beside the point. People who can’t afford Paramount+ won’t pick it up, and folks who can perhaps afford one or two streaming subscriptions may have to choose whether to pick up Paramount+ or an alternative. It’s all moot right now here in the UK anyway, because Paramount+ is unavailable, but I wanted to at least acknowledge that the streaming service isn’t particularly competitive with its pricing.

Paramount+ is more expensive than Netflix… and worse.

On an individual level, I can fully understand the response fans have had to ViacomCBS and to Paramount+. The anger and frustration I’ve seen expressed on social media resonates because it’s exactly how I feel, too. The decision the corporation made was horrible, and to cap it off it was announced in the most offensive and callous way possible. No apology has been forthcoming, and ViacomCBS’ marketing and social media teams are apparently burying their heads in the sand, trying to ignore the pushback.

The lack of communication from the corporation is something that I find deeply offensive. Their original message was not contrite or apologetic, and seemed designed to present what they knew would be an upsetting, anger-inducing move as some kind of net positive for international Trekkies. Combined with the marketing doublespeak and the pushing of Captain Burnham’s “Let’s Fly” catchphrase to sign off, the way they chose to communicate this decision was awful.

And as we covered the other day, the timing of this move almost seems to have been designed to inflict maximum hurt on Trekkies, coming 48 hours before Discovery Season 4 was due to premiere. They did this, it seems, for two reasons: so that a major Star Trek convention in London earlier in November wouldn’t be overshadowed by this news (particularly with several Discovery cast members in attendance), and also, if I put on my cynical hat for a moment, ViacomCBS knew that dropping this news with mere hours to go before the season premiered would prevent fans from having time to organise any kind of pushback.

The #BoycottParamountPlus hashtag and movement emerged from the Discovery debacle, but it’s in no way an organised thing right now. And with Season 4 already underway in the United States, practically all of the big Star Trek fansites and social media channels have begun their coverage of the show. Even if fans were able to organise a protest of some kind in the next few days, from the corporation’s perspective things have gone about as well as possible. They succeeded at pulling the show from Netflix, they’re forcing people to pay for Paramount+ with no alternative options, and the fan reaction has been significant, but disorganised.

Star Trek fans are disorganised right now.

I used to work in marketing, and unfortunately, the way corporations see these kinds of social media campaigns is very dismissive and negative. ViacomCBS will have expected a degree of pushback, but they also knew that by making the announcement at the last possible moment, any pushback would be disorganised during the crucial first few days after the season debuted. They’re also counting on fans having short memories, so that by the time Paramount+ rolls out in 2022 (or later, because let’s be honest they aren’t exactly competent so we can’t rely on their planned schedule) the controversy will have died down and even the most ardent critics will still sign up.

And if history is much of a guide, they’re probably right about the latter point. Look at past examples of fans pushing back against corporate decisions. Over in the Star Wars franchise, for example, The Last Jedi was so utterly detested by some fans that they swore they’d never watch anything from the franchise ever again. A heck of a lot of those folks are currently loving The Mandalorian and are excited for other upcoming projects. Even when dealing with topics more important than entertainment, like political issues, it’s increasingly true that all someone has to do is survive and keep their head down for a few days and wait for the source of controversy and its resultant outrage to blow over. Here in the UK we can point to politicians who were caught breaking coronavirus lockdowns who are still gainfully employed, and that’s just one example.

The response to The Last Jedi was negative for Disney at first, but many fans have since returned to the franchise.

One of the main counter-arguments people have been putting forward in response to suggestions of an organised boycott of Paramount+ is that they want to support the series and the hard work the creative team put into making it. I can understand that point of view too, especially coming from those fans who have a creative background themselves. Many of these folks are also ardently opposed to any form of piracy.

But I do want to ask a question: how else are fans supposed to express themselves? If a corporation misbehaves, as ViacomCBS has to put it mildly, how are fans supposed to respond to show their disgust? We can write all the tweets and articles we like, of course, but that has a very minor impact on the corporation overall. Hitting them in their finances is where we can actually hurt them, and if fans make it clear that the reason Paramount+ is losing subscribers or not signing up new ones is because of the Discovery fiasco, then perhaps they’ll sit up and take notice.

A visual metaphor.

However, there is, as the saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat. I mentioned ViacomCBS’ share price at the beginning of the piece because it’s relevant to this conversation. The short-term impact of the Discovery controversy has knocked the value of shares down by a significant amount, and that could continue in the days and weeks ahead. Whether we boycott Paramount+ or not, the corporation is already being kicked in the wallet for this decision. I hope that brings a smile to your face – it certainly did for me.

What I would have liked to see, had there been more time in the wake of the announcement to organise such a thing, would have been a blackout from all of the big fansites and social media channels: a promise not to cover Discovery Season 4 at all until it became available worldwide. Even shutting down discussion of the show for a single week would have a huge impact and would be symbolic of the fandom coming together.

A total communications blackout would send a powerful message.

In my own small way here on my minor slice of the internet, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I could write reviews of the Season 4 episodes – I’ve already seen the premiere. And I could continue to write up my theories because I’ve got dozens swimming around in my head. If I threaten to boycott Paramount+, ViacomCBS knows I’m just one person and they’ve only lost one potential customer. But by refusing to talk about the show at all, the hype bubble around Discovery is ever so slightly deflated. Fewer people talking about the show has an impact – and if we could expand that and get a proper blackout going, then I think ViacomCBS would realise how badly they’ve screwed this up.

It will never happen though, unfortunately. Many of the big Trekkie websites and social media channels work hand-in-glove with ViacomCBS, getting advance screenings, press kits, and even freebies from the corporation. Very few outlets would be willing to lose their access and their privileges, which is why we’ve seen some messages from these folks sound rather tokenistic, I’m sorry to say. I don’t want to cast doubt on anyone’s sincerity, but it kind of smarts when they’ll express their upset in one tweet and then promote their latest review or show off their exclusive pass to the virtual premiere in the next.

I can’t see a big shutdown like this ever happening.

To get back on topic, I can’t tell you what to do. If you want to boycott Paramount+, cancel your subscription, or tell ViacomCBS you’re never paying for Star Trek again, go for it my friend. It’s as good a way as any of getting “revenge” for the offensive way we as international Trekkies have been treated. But if the thought of boycotting upsets you or you want to support the cast and crew, know that the outrage that has been expressed over the past few days has already had a noticeable financial impact on ViacomCBS.

Speaking for myself, if Paramount+ were available to pre-order here in the UK, I wouldn’t. Not right now. And in my own way I’m registering my protest. Refusing to discuss the series, even if only on my own small slice of the internet, is my way of telling ViacomCBS how I feel about the decision they made and the callous way they went about announcing it. But I don’t think we need to get at each other’s throats about this boycott idea. Some fans are up for boycotting, others aren’t. Both points of view have merits and demerits, but the one thing we need to try to do as a fandom right now is come together. Fighting amongst ourselves over what to do about the situation won’t resolve anything – it’s already happened and it won’t be undone. We have to try to move forward together.

For my part, I won’t be posting any spoilers about Discovery Season 4 here on the website – beyond what I’ve already discussed prior to the season premiere, which was only based on teasers and trailers. So you can consider this website a safe space between now and February. I wish I had better news or a better idea of how to fix things, but the reality is that Discovery is ViacomCBS’ product and as consumers, we’re stuck. All we can do is register our protests in whatever way we can. It’s up to you how you protest this decision.

This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Lower Decks review – Season 2, Episode 4: Mugato, Gumato

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Minor spoilers are also present for The Original Series and The Next Generation.

Mugato, Gumato was a fun episode with some good jokes and perhaps more meta-humour than any other episode so far this season. It consisted of a main A-story and two much smaller B-plots, which in turn focused on Tendi, Dr T’Ana, and Captain Freeman. This week, however, the stars were Boimler and Rutherford, with Mariner playing a significant but smaller role.

Though we’ve seen them interact on a number of occasions already, it was a pleasant surprise how well the central Rutherford-Boimler pairing worked. Season 2 of Lower Decks has shaken things up from the usual first-season story pairings of putting Boimler with Mariner and Tendi with Rutherford, and the result overall has been that the four ensigns feel more like a group of friends who all like one another and work well together than ever before. There was less of a commentary on Rutherford and Boimler’s friendship than there had been with Mariner and Tendi in We’ll Always Have Tom Paris last week, but the duo arguably had a stronger foundation to build on as they’d been seen working together on several prior occasions. There’s also far less of a personality clash than with Tendi and Mariner!

The main story this week starred Rutherford and Boimler.

I’m not much of a “shipper,” but is it too late to start shipping Boimler and Rutherford as a couple? Some of their scenes together in Mugato, Gumato were just too cute, and though Rutherford and Tendi also make a great pair, I felt there was real chemistry between the two – and between actors Eugene Cordero and Jack Quaid. Maybe that’s one I’ll just have to settle for fantasising about… but if you ask me, it could work exceptionally well!

The episode’s opening scene didn’t feel great at first; I didn’t really like seeing the ensigns fighting one another to the point of drawing blood. There was a “girl power” vibe to it as Mariner was able to easily defeat Rutherford and Boimler – despite the fact that we’d seen that Rutherford has great martial skills in Season 1’s Envoys, but perhaps we can overlook that little inconsistency! As the title sequence kicked in I felt that the anbo-jyutsu match was going to be a let-down, but it actually set up the main thrust of the episode’s story well, and on reflection it was a solid way to open the story. It established that Rutherford and Boimler have been on the receiving end of Mariner’s fighting skills, so when they were confronted with the notion that she might be a super-spy it didn’t come from nowhere. While I didn’t like it in the moment – though seeing Shaxs calmly sit down and wait his turn was funny – overall I have to give it credit for setting up the plot quite well.

The opening act of the episode saw an anbo-jyutsu match.

I believe that Mugato, Gumato marks the first time that we’ve seen Denobulans outside of Star Trek: Enterprise – where main character Dr Phlox belonged to that race. It’s interesting to note that they seem to be Federation allies – or perhaps even Federation members – as of the late 24th Century, and perhaps that’s an indication that we might see more Denobulans in future. One of the anachronisms created by Enterprise being a prequel was that some races – like the Denobulans, but also including the Suliban and the Xindi – appear to have been known to the Federation in the mid-22nd Century but made no appearances in the 23rd or 24th Centuries. The question of why that might be (from an in-universe point of view, of course) is potentially interesting, and I wonder if we’ll see more from the Denobulans or other Enterprise races and factions in future.

The Denobulan couple were only on screen for a few seconds, but set up the main story. They encountered a mugato – an ape-like creature originally seen in The Original Series second season episode A Private Little War – and because the mugato are not native to that world the USS Cerritos was called in to investigate. This setup was neat, and combined elements from different eras of Star Trek, which was great to see.

A titular mugato. Or should that be “gumato?”

The name of the mugato – or “mugatu,” as Captain Kirk repeatedly called it – has long been confused, and this episode’s title made note of that. “Gumato” was the name of the animal in the script for A Private Little War, but this was changed during filming. Officially the animal is called the mugato, but as noted it has been pronounced several different ways on screen. Boimler voicing aloud that this is “inconsistent” was just one of several meta-jokes he made this time, including using the title of The Next Generation first season episode The Last Outpost to refer to the band of Ferengi that the away team encountered.

The use of the Ferengi as this week’s antagonists worked surprisingly well. The Ferengi were originally created for The Next Generation with a view to having them fill a role vacated by the newly-friendly Klingons as a recurring antagonist for Picard and the crew, but their appearance in The Last Outpost – in which future Quark actor Armin Shimerman played one of the Ferengi leaders – didn’t work as well as any of the writers and producers had hoped. The Ferengi would return in this capacity in episodes like The Battle, but the general feeling was that they didn’t work as well as intended in the antagonist role, and were subsequently shaken up to be more money-oriented, capitalistic, and arguably comedic by the time of Deep Space Nine. Lower Decks, however, very deliberately chose to play up the early depictions of the Ferengi on this occasion – and I have to say that I feel it worked exceptionally well.

The Ferengi were this week’s antagonists.

The Ferengi’s lightning-whip weapons made a return for the first time since Season 1 of The Next Generation, and while the special effects of 1980s live-action struggled to have them work as intended, in animation they actually come across as genuinely threatening weapons. The Ferengi’s motivation, while arguably basic, was very much in line with all of their prior depictions: their desire to capture and slaughter the mugato (or should that be mugatoes?) was entirely driven by a lust for gold-pressed latinum. Even the likes of Quark wouldn’t be above a scheme like this – though if this were a Deep Space Nine episode we’d have seen the Ferengi take on a more bumbling, slapstick look rather than the over-the-top villains ultimately portrayed!

There was also an ecological message buried in this side of the story, as the Ferengi’s treatment of the mugato was very much comparable to modern-day poachers hunting for rhino horn in Africa. At one point the Ferengi leader even made reference to mugato horn potentially being an aphrodisiac, which is one of the key factors encouraging real-world poaching. This was perhaps more of a minor point than it could’ve been; background to establish a related plot rather than being the driving force. But it came back into play at the story’s resolution, which was nice.

Shaxs confronts the Ferengi poachers. Note the energy whip weapons.

Speaking of which, unfortunately I felt that the way in which Boimler and Rutherford were able to convince the Ferengi to shut down their poaching operation in favour of a mugato conservation area was rushed. This is a consequence of the episode trying to jam three stories into its short runtime, and the result was that the resolution to the main story came and went in what felt like the blink of an eye. Nothing was wrong with the concept itself, and I like the idea of this eco-friendly solution, as well as Boimler and Rutherford using their brains and their mathematical and diplomatic skills rather than trying to attack the Ferengi head-on or use brute force. But it would’ve benefitted greatly from just an extra couple of minutes to play out.

If I had to choose one of the B-plots to cut it would’ve been the one involving Captain Freeman. Not for the first time this season Lower Decks has wanted to spend time with the captain and the bridge crew, but has simply lacked the runtime to successfully include everything needed to make much of their stories. Captain Freeman being the victim of a scammer was kind of funny – it definitely had its moments – but overall it feels more like a sub-plot that took away from the others without really giving much back. In an episode that already had Tendi and Dr T’Ana, Shaxs leading an away team, the Mariner super-spy story, Boimler’s team-up with Rutherford, and the Ferengi poaching mugato (or mugatoes?) there just wasn’t time for this bit with the Captain. It didn’t accomplish much of anything, and as much as I enjoy Captain Freeman as a character – and the performance by Dawnn Lewis – not for the first time in Season 2 I’m left feeling that perhaps Lower Decks needs to be a little less ambitious when it comes to the number of stories and the number of characters it tries to cram into a twenty-minute episode.

Captain Freeman got a story this week, but it arguably came at the expense of a better resolution to the main A-plot.

Though Ensign Mariner took a back seat for much of the story, her wonderful character arc was furthered in a big way by a significant moment in Mugato, Gumato. The revelation that she started a rumour about herself basically because she’s lonely and isn’t used to having friends really tugged at the heartstrings. As someone who’s also experienced loneliness and has few friends, I can empathise with Mariner. Likewise, Boimler and Rutherford’s willingness to believe the rumour because they’re not used to having a cool friend like Mariner is something that’s also very relatable.

What we seem to have learned here is that Boimler, Rutherford, and Tendi may be the first real friends that Mariner has made in a long time. In Season 1 we saw that she’s drifted far apart from some of her Starfleet Academy friends – like Captain Ramsey – and it seems as though Mariner’s desire to avoid certain types of people has caused her to feel quite isolated and lonely at times. She felt genuinely hurt at the notion that Boimler and Rutherford would believe the rumour she started – and I have to credit both the animators and a beautifully emotional voice performance by Tawny Newsome here for bringing that across in a pitch-perfect manner. As I’ve said before, Mariner’s character arc across Season 1 was wonderful to watch, and this moment follows on from her team-up with Tendi to continue that arc through Season 2 as well.

A dejected Ensign Mariner.

Mariner set up Boimler and Rutherford for their big moment, saving the day by convincing the Ferengi to give up poaching. Though I felt this moment was rushed, as mentioned, the fact that Rutherford and Boimler came up with a solution on their terms was great to see. After a story that had been partly about fighting and that started with an intro where the duo had tried to go toe-to-toe with Mariner in the anbo-jyutsu ring, the ultimate resolution was peaceful. This kind of story tells us that there are different ways to win – and not all of them have to involve violence. It’s okay not to be the strongest, because everyone has their own skills. I like that kind of message.

The mugato (or mugatoes) themselves were portrayed in basically the same way as they had been in The Original Series. Lower Decks kept the same design, and while it perhaps played up some of their more monkey- or ape-like qualities, for the most part I think what we got was a portrayal of the critters that was very much in line with their first appearance. They were present to serve as the background for a character-centric story rather than being the focal point, so that makes sense.

The Ferengi were convinced to give up poaching – in a moment that was, sadly, a little rushed.

The only story left to talk about is the B-plot which featured Tendi and Dr T’Ana. After her big outing last week it was fair enough for Tendi to drop back this time, but despite having a smaller story it was great to see that her characterisation is becoming more settled. This time we saw her go from being timid to assertive, not only with her colleagues and patients but also with Dr T’Ana herself. Though I don’t necessarily think we’re going to see her become the dominant force in her friend group any time soon, the lesson she learned this week about asserting herself may yet come into play in a future story.

Was it silly for Dr T’Ana to be so reluctant to have a basic medical scan? Absolutely. Do I care? Absolutely not, because it set up a truly hilarious sequence in which Dr T’Ana – already one of my favourite characters on the show – got to show off her most cat-like tendencies, which is a joke I swear I will never get tired of! Seeing her meowing and hissing as she ran through the Jeffries tubes was so funny, and poor Ensign Tendi struggled to keep up. Tendi’s broken arm was perhaps as close as Lower Decks has come to out-and-out goriness this season, but it worked well and allowed her to complete her mission. Tendi is nothing if not dedicated!

Ensign Tendi finally gives Dr T’Ana her medical scan.

Dr T’Ana also seems to be on the verge of renewing her relationship with Shaxs following his unexpected return, and their dynamic actually works really well. As the two gruff, short-tempered characters on the Cerritos, they work so well together. I hope a future episode can pair them up for more than just a few moments at a time – even if they don’t progress their relationship in a romantic way, I think they’d play off one another exceptionally well in any story.

There were plenty of fun moments in Mugato, Gumato, and two out of three stories worked really well. Other smaller things I liked seeing were the bartender with a strong New England accent – he seemed like a character right out of a Stephen King novel! The character of Patingi seemed like a less competent Steve Irwin, and that was fun too. Tendi’s montage of scanning different characters was clever, and saw her use a wide range of skills, including on the holodeck. But what I’ll remember the episode for most of all is how it progressed Ensign Mariner’s characterisation in such a relatable and downright emotional way. That, to me, is the real success of this week’s outing.

So I think that’s about all I have to say about Mugato, Gumato. As we approach the halfway point, Lower Decks’ second season has delivered plenty of entertainment and enjoyment. There’s a lot to love about the series, and I hope that Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike are finding their way to Lower Decks by now. I’m certainly encouraging everyone I know to give it a try!

Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The Stand – miniseries review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Stand.

I’ve been to Stephen King’s house. Not for any function, of course – nor indeed was I invited. But in his hometown of Bangor, Maine, King’s house is a local landmark with ornate gates befitting the preeminent author of pop-horror. I’m categorically not a fan of horror on screen, either television shows or films. Modern horror tends to veer very strongly into jump-scares – which always unnerve me – or just gore for the sake of gore, which I really have little interest in. But Stephen King straddles the line between out-and-out horror with a creepy weirdness that can, under the right circumstances, be absolutely riveting.

The Stand has already been adapted for television, with a miniseries in 1994 starring Gary Sinise. I put that adaptation on a tongue-in-cheek list that I wrote last year, before I became aware of this latest adaptation. Like my last miniseries review – which was for Marvel show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – this review is also late to the party! The Stand was broadcast on CBS All Access – since rebranded as Paramount+ – late last year. Though I’ve been meaning to watch it ever since – and it even made my list last June of things I was looking forward to in the second half of 2020 – it’s taken me until now to get around to it.

Promotional poster for The Stand.

I feel more than a little sorry for this adaptation of The Stand, which languished in development hell for years before being commissioned in early 2019. The miniseries was filmed in late 2019 and early 2020, before the extend of the coronavirus pandemic became evident, and I think the mere premise of the series was more than enough to put people off given what’s happening in the world. Having invested in the project, it wasn’t practical for ViacomCBS to just sit on it or dump it – so it ended up being broadcast to a world that, quite frankly, was not in the mood for a show about a viral pandemic that killed everyone. That might undersell what The Stand is – or what it aims to be. But it nevertheless goes some way toward explaining its muted reception.

There were some inspired casting choices. James Marsden channels his inner Gary Sinise to put on a performance that lived up to – and in some respects mirrored – Sinise’s own in the 1994 adaptation. Alexander Skarsgård was fantastic as the villainous Dark Man/Randall Flagg. And Owen Teague – who I confess I wasn’t familiar with prior to The Stand – put in a truly inspired performance as the creepy Harold Lauder.

Owen Teague as Harold Lauder.

Stephen King’s novel Rage, about a shooting at a high school, hit a little too close to home even for the author and has been out of print since the early 2000s. In the characterisation of Harold Lauder, one of The Stand’s villains, I note some familiar themes. Lauder is an outcast, an obsessive, a true-to-type “incel” who blames society and the world around him for his own lack of success. Lauder is an interesting villain in some respects – though he has no real nuance, I think a lot of people are familiar with someone like this; someone who’s generally unsuccessful in life and who’s become bitter, jaded, and even creepy. The Stand throws such a person into the apocalypse, and Lauder’s newfound freedom allows him to follow his own destructive course.

The Stand mixes supernatural horror with post-apocalyptic storytelling, which make a natural pair at certain points, yet tug against each other and fail to gel at others. The miniseries contains some genuinely amazing moments and scenes that rival anything else in the entire post-apocalyptic genre. There’s a sweeping shot of New York City in the second episode, showing smoke from numerous small fires drifting over the city and Central Park, and it was incredibly atmospheric. This kind of silent storytelling, using the camera and some minimal visual effects work, did an amazing job at setting up the world that The Stand wanted to transport us to, and there were numerous examples of this across the nine-episode series.

The very atmospheric shot of New York City burning.

One thing I’ve always been interested in when it comes to post-apocalyptic fiction are the character stories – who survives whatever the event is and why? And what sort of person do we find in the aftermath of such events? The Stand gives us plenty of examples of thoroughly unpleasant people: criminals, liars, thieves, and worse. It also shows us examples of better people: heroes and those willing to do what’s right. Unfortunately that comes at the expense of nuance; The Stand basically splits its characters into goodies and baddies with very little going on in between.

We’ve already talked about Lauder and his characterisation as creepy, bitter, and ultimately murderous. But other villains fall into even more obvious stereotypes: Lloyd is a wannabe-gangster, the Trashcan Man is a pyromaniac, Nadine is the girl who made a deal with the “devil.” And speaking of the devil, the Dark Man himself, Randall Flagg, is a Stephen King mainstay and stand-in for the devil.

Randall Flagg – a.k.a. the Dark Man.

In that sense, nothing about The Stand is subtle. Its narrative centres around the battle of “good versus evil,” and that naturally divides its characters into two camps. Those on the side of good are selfless exemplars of virtue, those on the bad side are basically Satanic stereotypes who revel in every sin imaginable. The Stand setting its villain’s headquarters in Las Vegas – Sin City itself – is likewise about as subtle as a brick to the face.

Not every story has to have complexity and nuance; there’s room for a classic “heroes and villains” narrative even in 2021. But something about the way The Stand leaps headfirst into so many patently obvious plotlines and character arcs makes it less than it could’ve been. There are definitely narrative elements that are unpredictable, but most of the mainstays of both the overarching storyline and the individual stories of the characters felt telegraphed in advance, and that robbed the series of a good portion of its impact and drama.

The choice of Las Vegas as the setting for a story about the demerits of sin was… obvious.

In terms of the soundtrack and music, I have to credit The Stand as being truly fantastic. Practically every one of the nine episodes contains moments of extreme tension, and these moments were elevated significantly by some excellent, understated musical scoring. Music sets the stage for many significant scenes and moments, and the difference in tone it sets between the heroes’ home base in Boulder and the devil’s nest in Las Vegas is huge – and a big part of why the contrast between the two settings works so well. Each episode also features at least one popular song, and the choices here were generally good as well. I particularly liked the use of Melanie’s Brand New Key – it’s a great song in its own right, but the way it was used at the end of one of the episodes gave it a strangely creepy, almost otherworldly feel.

Cinematography was likewise pretty good across the board. There were some really excellent artistic shots – I mentioned the New York City one above, but also a shot of Frannie and Harold split through a wall was fascinating, as well as numerous silent (or practically silent) moments featuring Nick, the deaf character, which really added to the sense of immersion. Nick’s scene with the piano, in which we could see the inner workings of the piano but not hear the notes, was inspired, and something I would’ve expected to see in a series like Hannibal – another horror series with a strong artistic slant to its cinematography.

One of the very artistic moments involving Nick and the piano.

The way The Stand uses light was interesting. At first, I felt that the way several different characters seemed to leave lights on and candles burning was just typical post-apocalyptic/horror fare – a cheap way for villains to track or find them. But there’s something more to it than that, and the way the series as a whole used light, and particularly uncovered, obvious light, feels like a metaphor. The Stand is a series flooded with religious imagery, and there’s something almost poetic about seeing many of the heroic characters as representatives of “the light” against the forces of the Dark Man.

There was only one real miss in terms of visual effects, and it came in the final episode. In a sequence that was basically fully-animated, the camera panned over the ruins of Las Vegas to focus on Flagg’s trademark badge, and the whole thing fell into the so-called “uncanny valley,” where the CGI work just wasn’t quite believable enough. It wasn’t awful by any means, and would compare favourably to anything from ten years ago, even in cinema, but in a series that otherwise did its visual effects well, it has to go down as the weakest moment.

The CGI sequence that I felt didn’t quite stick the landing.

I’m not a religious person, and perhaps someone who is would get something more out of The Stand, which relies heavily on Christian apocalypticism for the theme underpinning its main story. At the same time, some of these religious themes work against the narrative – or at least the setting. The Stand wants to be bleaker than it manages to be; a post-apocalyptic tale of desperate people driven to do evil things and kill themselves. Yet the use of Christian imagery, which ramps up to near-continuous after about the halfway point, tugs The Stand in the other direction, softening some of those dark edges. What results is a series that’s confused.

The Stand wants to be two things at once: post-apocalyptic horror and supernatural horror with strong religious themes. As noted above, these two can make a natural pair, but The Stand doesn’t nail the pairing on every occasion, and there are times when the religious themes work against the bleaker, character-centric story about the world after an apocalyptic event. The theme of hope, which is so often present in post-apocalyptic fiction, is undermined by the sense that many of the protagonists have that their quest is anointed by an all-powerful interventionist god.

Mother Abigail’s role as the prophet of a very active and involved god gave hope to many of the characters – and led to a less satisfying narrative as a result.

Hope in post-apocalyptic stories works when it seems like characters have little to no reason to cling to it, yet through sheer force of will and strength of character, they find ways to do so. Some characters may revel in small victories – like the character of Tallahassee in Zombieland who finally gets a Twinkie (a kind of small cake) after craving one for the whole film. Others find meaning in their companions, fellow survivors, or family members – like Viggo Mortensen’s character in The Road, for example. The Stand drops all of its protagonists into a setting where they never genuinely question their status as “god’s chosen” and their hope for a better future stems from that. But that foundation, while somewhat novel, loses something significant as a result – and that something unfortunately happens to be what I personally find one of the most interesting and appealing things about post-apocalyptic stories.

Frannie’s snap decision at the beginning of the final episode to return to Maine felt like it came out of nowhere; an arbitrary character move to give the story a “shock” as it entered its endgame. Though the characters were, as I explained above, pretty standard heroes and villains, they were generally consistent in the way they were written and in their motivations. Frannie left Maine with Harold initially in search of others, and having found them, made friends, and begun to build a new civilisation in Boulder, seems far too quick to throw it away for the sake of what? Homesickness? If she’d mentioned Maine even once or twice in previous episodes it would at least feel like there’d been hints she was feeling this way. Sometimes when a story knows the endgame it wants to reach, some character choices necessary to get there can feel completely arbitrary, and Frannie’s desire to return to Maine – without even really providing a reason why – definitely falls into that category.

I wasn’t sold on Frannie’s out-of-nowhere decision in the final episode.

Though not really overt, there was one significant political theme that I picked up in The Stand. In the character of Flagg we have a dictator – someone who rules through fear, as characters like Glen note. The way Flagg draws his supernatural powers, embodied by his ability to levitate, from the worship and fear of his subjects could be read as a commentary on the way any dictator’s power relies on the people around them continuing to “feed” them with that fear. Or to put it another way: people have the power, even when it seems like a truly evil tyrant is in charge. We see this as Larry, Glen, and Ray’s challenge to his authority quickly inspires others and leaves him significantly weakened.

I’m a big fan of the Star Trek franchise, as you may know if you’re a regular around here. Star Trek: The Next Generation in particular is a favourite series of mine, and Whoopi Goldberg’s role as Mother Abigail had more than a little of her Star Trek character of Guinan in it. Guinan serves as a friend and guide to Captain Picard, and in particular her role in episodes like Q Who and Time’s Arrow, as well as the film Generations lines up perfectly with Mother Abigail’s place in The Stand. Though this isn’t intentional, of course, as a Trekkie I just find it interesting to note when former Star Trek stars take on new roles that are somewhat similar! Goldberg’s performance was excellent, and she brought a real weight or gravitas to the role of Mother Abigail that was much-needed.

Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abigail.

The Stand attracted some controversy in the months before its broadcast for casting a non-deaf actor in the role of deaf character Nick. Nick’s role in the show does involve some scenes where he can hear and speak, and for that reason creator Josh Boone defended the decision. While I would say that I generally don’t subscribe to the camp that says actors can only play roles if they meet certain criteria, in this case it would have been relatively easy to cut the couple of scenes in which Nick speaks, or to replace them with signed scenes. It would take away a tiny bit of the supernatural aspect of Mother Abigail’s abilities, but there was more than enough of that through the rest of the show that I don’t think it would’ve made a significant difference. With that being the case, a deaf actor could have certainly taken on this role.

As someone who is disabled, I would be quite happy with an able-bodied actor playing a disabled role – so long as it was done tastefully and it doesn’t feel as though anyone has been excluded. Likewise with characters who are asexual or who are in between male and female on the gender spectrum; I think so long as it doesn’t stray into voyeuristic territory, actors can take on a wider variety of roles. There are great actors who are deaf, disabled, and in other categories, and I hope they find opportunities to play characters as well. I don’t want to see anyone’s career options limited, and as mentioned in this case I think the couple of scenes where Nick spoke could have been cut or changed to accommodate a deaf actor. As a general point, though, I’m okay with actors from many different backgrounds being able to take on a variety of roles. Perhaps this is something we should go into more detail in on another occasion, as I feel it could be an entire essay in itself, and I don’t want to spend too much time on just this one point on this occasion.

Another promotional poster for The Stand.

So I think we’re about at the end of my review. The Stand was interesting, and had some genuinely great moments. It was also a flawed production that didn’t get everything right and could feel, at certain moments, that it was trying to be two very different things at the same time. In part that fault lies with the source material – Stephen King’s novel. But it also lies with the adaptation and the way in which the novel was put to screen.

Despite nominally falling into the horror genre, The Stand won’t be giving me nightmares any time soon! It was tense at points, and there was some distinctive Stephen King supernatural weirdness, but nothing that I felt was terrifying or frightening. There was some gory violence and some gratuitous sex scenes that really didn’t add much to the story. But there was also some fantastic musical scoring and cinematography, as well as some great acting performances that elevated the series, making it better than it could’ve been.

I’m in no hurry to re-watch The Stand now that I’ve seen it. And with so many interesting film and television projects on the horizon between now and Christmas, I daresay it will go back on the shelf (or rather, Amazon Video’s shelf) for quite some time. But I’m glad to have finally got around to seeing it more than six months after its debut! Now, what should I watch next?

The Stand is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Video (for a fee) in other countries and territories. The Stand is the copyright of ViacomCBS and/or Vertigo Entertainment. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

After years in development hell, will the Halo series deliver?

Plans for a television series based on the Halo video game franchise have been kicked around for well over a decade at this point. One incarnation of the project, which languished in development hell for much of that time, even included famed director Steven Spielberg, and appeared to have a decent budget set by franchise owner Microsoft. That version of Halo never made it to screen, and despite some still images and a web miniseries in 2012, Halo remains firmly a video game franchise.

But according to Paramount+ – which is also the home of Star Trek – all that will change in 2022. As part of the advertising campaign for Paramount+ earlier this year, it was announced that the Halo series, which was originally planned to debut on American television network Showtime, will join the streaming service’s lineup. With a lot of sci-fi already on Paramount+ this seems like a good fit – at least in theory. However, after so long in development, and with production clearly suffering from some setbacks, can Halo live up to the hype that fans of the series have? And perhaps more importantly, will Halo be successful at bringing in a wider audience of viewers who are less familiar with the games?

Halo is based on an acclaimed video game series.

On the first point, production on Halo has not gone smoothly. The series was picked up for a ten-episode order, after years in pre-production, over three years ago. Filming began in 2019 in Canada, and while the pandemic has been a disruptive factor, it doesn’t seem to be the only factor in why Halo is still being worked on today. There have been behind-the-scenes changes including major script rewrites and a mid-production switch to a new showrunner, and while neither of those things necessarily spell disaster for Halo, they are hardly encouraging signs.

Sometimes when a series makes these kinds of changes, what results is better than the original version would’ve been. And we have to hope that will be the case with Halo! Still, talk of reshoots, script revisions, and so on doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, and while I’m hopeful that the series will eventually present a fun and exciting story, at least some of the information coming out of the project is ringing alarm bells.

Teaser image for Halo.

As to Halo’s broader appeal, that’s still an open question. The Halo video games are best-sellers on Xbox consoles, but until last year, when Halo: The Master Chief Collection was ported to PC, that was the only place to play the main series. Though the franchise is well-known to gamers even on other platforms, a lot of folks simply don’t have much experience with Halo, and might not be as interested in the series as a result. That being said, having any kind of pre-built following is generally a net positive for any new film or television series, as at least Paramount+ can be sure that some Halo fans will show up to give the series a try!

Sci-fi is doing well at the moment, though, with shows like The Expanse, The Mandalorian, and the reinvigorated Star Trek franchise all bringing in viewers by the millions – so there’s hope that non-fans and those interested in sci-fi in a more general sense might be tempted to check out a new, high-budget sci-fi series. With a decent marketing push, I’m sure there’ll be some interest beyond Halo’s pre-existing audience.

Halo should be able to bring in a wider audience beyond fans of the video game series.

The story of the series remains unknown beyond a simple tease of its premise, and the question of whether it will be a direct adaptation of the first game – or any other title in the series – remains open. The casting of Natascha McElhone as Dr Halsey – the creator of the Spartan project in Halo: Reach – could imply that the show plans to revisit the events of Reach. This could be a prologue, as Reach was a prequel, or it could be a significant adaptation lasting a full season.

Unlike a lot of shooters, which prioritise action and gameplay over story, the Halo games always managed to strike a good mix and had single-player campaigns that were fun, engaging, and suitably long. I’ve always felt that the Halo series – at least, the first couple of games and Reach – were far better as single-player or co-op experiences than multiplayer ones – but then that could just be my general preference for single-player gaming showing through! Regardless, Halo clearly has a lot of story and material from the games that could be adapted, and I would suggest that there are several seasons’ worth of television if the show plans to follow the story of the mainline games.

Will the new series include parts of the storyline of Halo: Reach?

One thing that will be interesting is how Halo deals with the franchise’s two enemy factions – the Covenant and the Flood. Not because the factions will be difficult to adapt from game to screen from any story point of view, but because video games (or animation in general) are able to make use of far more “alien-looking” aliens. None of Halo’s aliens are humans with a forehead or nose prosthetic – like we see often in Star Trek! They’re different shapes and sizes, and practically all of them are very inhuman. Adapting grunts, brutes, hunters, and the Flood for the screen will be a challenge, particularly if the series doesn’t have a wildly-high CGI budget!

Special effects and CGI are improving all the time, and television shows today can easily be more visually impressive than even films from fifteen or twenty years ago, especially on the CGI front. But if we’re talking about animating several major characters, as well as enemy aliens that could be present in practically every episode… well that would eat up a CGI budget pretty quickly!

The Halo games have some very unusual-looking aliens (pictured: a Grunt)
Picture Credit: Halo Wiki

Though Halo never quite broke into the top tier of sci-fi franchises along with Star Trek, Star Wars, and the like, it’s still a richly detailed setting for any television show, film, or game to explore. The idea of humanity fighting a major war against a superior alien force has been done before in many different ways on screen – the Borg in Star Trek, the alien invasion in Falling Skies, and even aspects of the Marvel cinematic universe all put different spins on the same basic concept. Though Halo doesn’t do anything radically different, it will still be a chance for the franchise to put its own stamp on the “evil aliens” narrative.

Though I do have some concerns based on what I’ve heard about Halo’s rocky development and production, I’m cautiously optimistic for what the series could bring to the table. There’s a lot of lore and story to adapt, and even if the show doesn’t intend to be a direct adaptation of any of the stories seen in the Halo games, the universe that those games created is a potentially very interesting setting for the new show to play with. Hopefully, when it debuts on Paramount+ next year, we’ll be in for at the very least an interesting, engaging, and action-packed show.

A promotional screenshot for 2004’s Halo 2.

Adaptations of video games have generally been poorly-received, but the late 2010s seemed to see an explosion of video game spin-offs. There’s the Uncharted film, a television series based on The Last Of Us, a show based on the Fallout games, and even Minecraft: The Movie. Hopefully some or all of these will be better than the likes of Doom and Super Mario Bros. – though the latter film is one of those “so bad it’s actually good” titles that’s fun to watch for a laugh!

So Halo is in good company at the moment! I’m looking forward to it, and at the very least it’ll be interesting to see the various factions and settings brought out of the video game realm into wholly new territory. Whether it’ll be as enjoyable to watch Halo as it is to play the games… well that’s an open question. But I’m curious to find out.

Halo will be broadcast on Paramount+ in 2022 in the United States, Australia, and other countries and territories where the platform is available. Further international distribution has not yet been announced. The Halo franchise is the copyright of Microsoft and 343 Industries, and Halo (the series) is further the copyright of Amblin Television, Showtime, and ViacomCBS. Some screenshots used above courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.