Ten shows to watch instead of Star Trek: Discovery Season 4

Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers for some of the shows on this list.

The person who coined the phrase “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” evidently never met the marketing team at ViacomCBS. The Star Trek: Discovery clusterfuck continues to damage the company, the Star Trek brand, Paramount+, and everything else it touches, with Discovery’s fourth season now being soiled, stinking of shit even for those fans in North America who’ve been able to sit down and watch it.

Whether you’re pirating Discovery Season 4 or not – and honestly, you’re 100% morally justified in doing so if you choose to – I thought that today we should consider some alternatives. Maybe you’ve decided not to pirate the series, or to wait and see how things go. Or maybe you’re still so darn mad at Discovery that watching it wouldn’t feel appropriate right now. So let’s take a brief look at ten television shows that you could watch instead. I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum!

Oh, and if you’ve tuned in looking for my weekly Discovery Season 4 reviews or theories, I’ve made the reluctant decision to put those on hold for the time being due to what’s happened.

Number 1: The Wheel of Time

Promotional image for The Wheel of Time.

The Wheel of Time premieres today, so I can’t claim to have watched it for myself at time of writing! But Amazon has invested heavily in this fantasy epic, one which is based on a long-running series of novels by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. It’s been a long time since I read any of the books (and I didn’t come close to finishing the set) but from what I remember, The Wheel of Time has a complex story full of magic, wonder, and nuanced characters.

Several big-budget fantasy shows were commissioned in the aftermath of the success of Game of Thrones, and initial reviews of The Wheel of Time sound promising. I’ve been looking forward to watching the show all year, and it’s finally here! The first three episodes are being made available at the same time as a kind of extended premiere, with the remainder of Season 1 following on a weekly basis. This could be a great replacement for Discovery between now and Christmas.

Number 2: Foundation

Jared Harris and Lou Llobel star in Foundation.

One of Apple TV+’s first big-budget shows, Foundation has been interesting to follow across its first season. Is it perfect? No, but for an adaptation of a very dense series of books that I would’ve considered borderline unfilmable, I think the series makes a creditable effort to bring the story to screen.

Foundation stars Jared Harris in a key role, and he’s an absolutely fantastic actor who brings a lot to the series. At time of writing there’s one episode left in Season 1, and a second season has already been confirmed for next year.

Number 3: The Expanse

Several of The Expanse’s main cast aboard the Rocinante.

The Expanse is one of the finest science fiction TV shows I’ve ever seen outside of the Star Trek franchise. Its world-building is absolutely fantastic, showing us a look at a near-future where Mars and parts of the asteroid belt have been colonised, but where faster-than-light travel and many other common sci-fi technologies don’t yet exist.

Originally debuting on the SyFy network, The Expanse was later picked up by Amazon following a fan campaign. There are five seasons already, with a sixth and final season scheduled to premiere next month – so you’ve got time to binge the show and get caught up!

Number 4: Firefly (and Serenity)

The main cast of Firefly.

The big caveat with Firefly has to be that the show was never given a chance to live up to its full potential, being cancelled after just one season. But the feature film Serenity brought the cast back and provided the story with closure (of a sort) so it’s absolutely worth watching if you haven’t seen it already.

Firefly brought to screen a uniquely western-themed sci-fi universe that felt truly real and lived-in in a way few franchises manage to do. It’s positively criminal that one season and one film are all we ever got – but what a fantastic season it was!

Number 5: Fortitude

Several members of the Fortitude Season 1 cast.

We’re returning to Earth for this entry on the list! I thought I knew what to expect from Fortitude when I sat down to watch the show. It’s set in a small town in the Norwegian arctic, and I was expecting it to be a fairly standard crime drama. But the show took a series of turns, going from crime to mystery to thriller and even touching on horror and science fiction.

It’s hard to explain Fortitude without spoiling it – and I would say that some of its storylines go a bit wild toward the end. But if you get stuck into it, as I did, you’ll have an amazing time.

Number 6: Star Trek: Picard

Sir Patrick Stewart reprised his famous role last year.

Chances are if you’re reading this you’re a Trekkie and you’ve already seen Picard Season 1. And I would absolutely understand if the Discovery debacle has soured you on Star Trek at the moment. But whether you missed Season 1 or just haven’t seen it since it was broadcast in early 2020, it’s a fine drama series worth going back to.

Remembrance, the season premiere, is one of the finest episodes of Star Trek – and one of the finest episodes of television in general – that I’ve ever seen. The season’s story builds slowly to a conclusion that was, unfortunately, more than a little rushed, but if you can look past the imperfections present at the story’s end, Picard Season 1 is a fun Star Trek adventure.

Number 7: The Mandalorian

Mandy the Mandalorian.

I have to confess that I’m not wild about The Mandalorian. It’s okay – and it contains some great action set-pieces and moments of drama. But my disappointment stems from the fact that the show’s promised “different look” at the Star Wars galaxy kind of fell by the wayside due to the inclusion of too many elements from the films.

Despite that, The Mandalorian has some great moments, and is well worth watching for any Star Wars fan. Two seasons have been put to screen thus far, though I’d argue that their short runtime and serialised story means you only really get one full season’s worth of content. Two spin-offs and a third season are coming next year, so if you’re not caught up on Star Wars yet, now could be a good moment!

Number 8: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

The titular duo.

I’m not the world’s biggest Marvel fan, but this miniseries on Disney+ was less about superheroes and was more of an action-adventure romp with the titular characters. There were callbacks to a lot of previous entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but even as someone who doesn’t follow the MCU religiously I found the series approachable.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier tells a largely self-contained story, and it was one that aimed to be uplifting as well as entertaining. I published a review of the miniseries a few months ago, and you can find it by clicking or tapping here – but beware of spoilers!

Number 9: Chernobyl

“Not great, not terrible” would be a bad way to describe 2019’s Chernobyl.

Chernobyl was a sensation when it was first broadcast in 2019, and for good reason. The miniseries, which documents the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, is one of the finest ever put to screen. This is a story you’re probably at least vaguely familiar with, but Chernobyl goes into detail, looking at the disaster from all angles.

I find it hard to say anything negative about Chernobyl at all; as both a work of drama and a serious historical piece it’s perfect. It even contains a great scene explaining the basics of how a nuclear reactor works!

Number 10: The Center Seat

Logo for The Center Seat.

The History Channel is currently a couple of episodes into its documentary all about the Star Trek franchise. There will be eight more episodes over the coming weeks, documenting the history of Star Trek from the production side going all the way back to Gene Roddenberry’s initial pitch for the series in the early 1960s.

I love a good documentary, and as the Star Trek franchise celebrates its fifty-fifth year, why not take a look back? As Trekkies we should aim to be knowledgeable about the production of the franchise we love, and The Center Seat aims to present its history in an easily understood form.

So that’s it. Ten shows to watch instead of Star Trek: Discovery Season 4.

I think a lot of Trekkies feel the way Book’s feeling right now.

Those are words that I never thought I’d have to write. Discovery’s fourth season had been my most-anticipated television show of 2021, and even now that we’re a couple of days out from the news that we wouldn’t be getting the series, the sense of disappointment and anger with the corporate morons in charge of ViacomCBS remains. But I hope, after a couple of days of outright negativity, this list has been a bit of a break.

Each of the shows above are absolutely fantastic in their own ways, and while it’s true that nothing can fully replace Star Trek: Discovery for a big fan of the series, hopefully you’ve found a few ideas to at least take your mind off things. Social media has been reflecting the outrage directed at ViacomCBS over the past couple of days, and while there’s nothing wrong at all with registering your disgust with the way that the corporation has behaved, please keep in mind that the actors, directors, and other behind-the-camera crew had nothing to do with this decision. In many ways, it harms them too because it’s tainted their hard work and left even North American Trekkies feeling upset and angry. Negativity and division within the Star Trek fandom is never a good thing. It’s such a shame ViacomCBS chose to inflict it upon us on this occasion.

All television series mentioned above are the copyright of their respective owner, network, broadcaster, streaming platform, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Rick and Morty Season 5 review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Rick and Morty Seasons 1-5.

Rick and Morty recently wrapped up its fifth season, and unfortunately it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable affair when compared to past seasons. I didn’t get into Rick and Morty until Season 2, so I was a bit late to the party in that sense. But the show hooked me in with its incredibly funny, utterly random, and frequently dark sense of humour, as well as a compelling main character in Rick Sanchez. I’ve stuck with the series since, and generally I’ve enjoyed most of the episodes that the series has put forward.

Season 5 almost certainly had fewer laugh-out-loud moments for me than any prior season of the show. Several episodes barely won so much as a smile, and while animation can be about more than just jokes and gags, the truth is that I come to a series like Rick and Morty to have a fun time. In that sense, Season 5 was a let-down when compared to what came before.

The titular characters didn’t have a particularly memorable or fun season this time around.

When I watch something like Star Trek: Lower Decks, and to an extent shows like The Simpsons as well, dramatic moments can absolutely be as enjoyable and entertaining as the jokes and moments of humour. I don’t want – or expect – shows like those to have me rolling around on the floor all of the time. And to a degree that applies to Rick and Morty as well – when the show gets its character moments right, there can be some genuinely emotional story threads that contribute to the series and elevate it. In short, my expectations weren’t for pure comedy all the time; if I wanted that I’d watch a sketch show or something.

But even with that caveat, Season 5 feels disappointing. To have endured several episodes that were neither funny nor particularly dramatic or emotional either left me feeling, on more than one occasion, with a sense of “what’s the point in watching this?” I felt that I wasn’t getting anything from Season 5 much of the time: not jokes, not characterisation, just animated content that retained the show’s trademark colourful sci-fi aesthetic but with nothing to back it up.

The “sperm episode” has to be the season’s worst by far.

Season 5 was also an incredibly meta season of Rick and Morty, one which abandoned the show’s earlier episodic format in favour of, as Rick derisively put it in the season finale, “serialised drama” and self-referential storylines. Being self-aware can be funny, and Rick and Morty has skirted the fourth wall on multiple occasions going all the way back to its inception. This time, though, the overreliance on meta-jokes, in-jokes, and self-reflection came across as self-congratulatory navel-gazing at best, and just plain boring and forgettable at worst.

While in the process of writing up this review I actually had to go back and read up on what happened in at least half of the episodes, as I’d literally forgotten entire stories and plotlines. Some story elements and moments from Rick and Morty have become absolutely iconic: the Mr Meeseeks from Meeseeks and Destroy, the “show me what you got” aliens from Get Schwifty, and even the stupid szechuan sauce from The Rickshank Rickdemption that kicked off a run on McDonald’s restaurants. All of these moments – and others, too – stick in the mind and have become emblematic of the series as a whole, showing how every aspect from concept to writing to vocal performances and animation all came together to create moments of amazing comedy or drama. Season 5 had no such moments, and will remain a forgettable season.

This episode with the demon-creatures? Totally forgettable.

As I’ve said before, practically every television series has a natural lifespan, and after seeing the lacklustre Season 5 I can’t help but feel that Rick and Morty may have peaked somewhere around Season 3. It’s not impossible for the series to recapture the magic, and I’m rooting for Season 6 to do so. But when a show becomes aware of its own success and its own reputation – which Rick and Morty surely did around the time of the szechuan sauce affair, if not earlier – it can be impossible for writers and producers to get back to making the show the way they used to.

There are myriad examples of this. In live-action we can point to Game of Thrones, specifically how in later seasons the writers and showrunners wanted to keep the unpredictability alive, leading to many disappointing out-of-character moments and storylines that felt random because of how they hadn’t been set up. In animation we can point to how The Simpsons lost its way sometime around the millennium and has limped on ever since, impotently trying to recapture its glory years.

Is that where we’re at? Has Season 5 marked the beginning of “zombie Rick and Morty” where the series mindlessly shuffles onward, not really funny any more but with enough of a pop culture following as to be uncancellable? I certainly hope not.

Has Rick and Morty peaked?

The season finale strikes me as particularly odd. The “evil Morty” storyline from Season 1 was brought to an end, but it was handled in such a way as to at least tease that Rick and Morty might go through a soft reboot of sorts; the destruction of the “central finite curve” potentially opens up new parallel universes for the titular heroes to explore. But the series never struck me as one that was running out of ideas in that sense – the multiverse the series has depicted since Season 1 feels so vast that we can barely have scratched the surface even after five full seasons.

Perhaps the best episode came late in the season, with Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort. Birdperson – one of the few characters we could describe as being a true friend to Rick – had been killed off, then resurrected as a villain, before being killed off again in earlier seasons. Giving this character a better send-off was as close to an emotional moment as Season 5 managed to get. Despite not being an especially funny episode, the interplay between Rick and Birdperson as they traversed the latter’s dying mind was dramatic enough to carry the story.

Rick and Birdperson in Season 5.

It’s difficult to know what else to say about a season of television that was so bland, uninspired, and just plain forgettable. Rick and Morty Season 5 marks a low point for a series that has previously delivered some incredible sci-fi humour. I’d considered Rick and Morty a worthy follow-up to Futurama, which was another great animated sci-fi series, but perhaps the reality is that the show needs a break.

It’s profoundly odd to think that a series like Rick and Morty – with potentially an entire multiverse at its disposal – could have come to the end of its run so quickly, but a series of poor decisions on the part of its creative team left this most recent outing feel incredibly shallow and disappointing. Perhaps the pressure of writing for an increasingly-popular series is to blame. Perhaps it’s the decision to go down an incredibly meta route. Regardless, what resulted was a season that failed to recapture the magic of earlier episodes, and one which came up short in practically every respect other than the quality of its animation.

Rick and Morty Season 5 is broadcast on Adult Swim in the United States and on Channel 4 in the UK. Rick and Morty is the copyright of Adult Swim, Warner Bros. Television, and/or Williams Street Productions. 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.

We’re halfway through 2021!

It’s the last day of June, and as we bid goodbye to the month we also mark the halfway point of 2021. I think that makes it a good opportunity to take stock and look ahead to the entertainment experiences that lie before us between now and Christmas.

Pandemic-related disruptions continue across the entertainment industry, but after more than a year of evolving working practices due to coronavirus, I think it’s not unfair to say that many more projects have managed to enter or remain in production over the last few months than were able to at this point last year. This bodes well for upcoming titles across film, television, and video games, and today I’m going to pick out a small selection of each that I’m looking forward to before the end of the year.

Television:

It’s probably television that has the most to offer – at least for me personally – in the second half of 2021. There are several big shows coming up that I can’t wait to get stuck into, and I’m sure you can probably guess what some of them are!

Number 1: Star Trek: Discovery Season 4

Discovery’s third season was an entertaining ride, and succeeded at establishing the 32nd Century and the Federation’s place in it. In the aftermath of the Burn – the galaxy-wide catastrophe which devastated known space – and the shortage of dilithium, Season 4 will hopefully see the crew beginning to pick up the pieces.

The trailer for Season 4, which was shown off in April as part of Star Trek’s First Contact Day digital event, also showed Captain Burnham and the crew facing off against a “gravitational anomaly” which seemed to be wreaking havoc with the ship and the Federation at large. What is the “gravitational anomaly?” I don’t know – though I have a few theories! We’ll find out more when Discovery Season 4 premieres on Paramount+ (and on Netflix internationally) in the autumn.

Number 2: Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2

After a hilarious first season, Lower Decks is returning to our screens in August – and this time Star Trek fans the world over should be able to watch the show together. Season 1 had the difficult task of taking Star Trek into the realm of animated comedy for the first time. Having proven to be a success with that concept, Season 2 can let its hair down and really double down on what fans loved last year.

There are a couple of lingering storylines left over from the Season 1 finale that I’m genuinely interested in seeing resolved. But beyond that, I can’t wait for more wacky Star Trek-themed hijinks with Mariner, Boimler, Rutherford, and Tendi! Luckily we won’t have to wait too long for this one; Lower Decks Season 2 will debut on Paramount+ (and on Amazon Prime Video internationally) on the 12th of August – barely six weeks away!

Number 3: Star Trek: Prodigy

This one has to be tentative. Upcoming children’s show Star Trek: Prodigy has been suggested for a 2021 broadcast, but with no date confirmed as of yet, and with the aforementioned Lower Decks and Discovery taking up the Star Trek broadcast slots for much of the rest of the year, I don’t know where ViacomCBS plans to fit Prodigy in.

Despite that, as we continue to learn more details about the series, it sounds genuinely interesting and looks set to be a lot of fun. The best kids’ shows manage to have something to offer adults as well, and I hope Prodigy can manage to do that while retaining an atmosphere that’s fun for children. Out of all the recent Star Trek projects, Prodigy feels like it has the most potential to introduce the franchise to a new generation of fans. There’s currently no date on the calendar, so watch this space.

Number 4: Rick & Morty Season 5

We’ve already had two episodes of the fifth season of Rick & Morty, but there are eight more to come over the next few weeks! The trademark brand of wacky, non-sequitur humour that the show is known for is still present, and it continues to be a barrel of laughs! Rick & Morty paved the way in some respects for Star Trek: Lower Decks, and there are similarities between the two shows in terms of sense of humour and animation style.

Rick & Morty’s largely episodic nature keeps the show fresh, and while there are some jokes and storylines that perhaps take things too far, on the whole the show has largely avoided the trap of going over-the-top or falling into being offensive for the sake of it. You know the formula and main characters by now, and Season 5 seems like it’s shaping up to offer more of the same – and that’s a compliment. Rick & Morty Season 5 is ongoing on Adult Swim in the United States (and on E4 in the UK).

Number 5: Foundation

Isaac Asimov’s genre-defining epic is being adapted for the small screen by Apple, and it will star Jared Harris. Harris was fantastic in Chernobyl and also put in a stellar performance in The Terror, so I can’t wait to see what he’ll bring to the role of Hari Seldon. Foundation is an incredibly ambitious project; the seven-book series spans hundreds of years of galactic history and deals with some very deep and complex themes.

Apple TV+ is very much a second-tier streaming service. This is its first big push to change that; Apple’s first real foray into big-budget scripted television. I hope the company can use its phenomenal financial resources to do justice to one of the seminal works of science fiction.

Number 6: Dexter

I watched several seasons of Dexter in the mid/late-2000s, but eventually the series started to feel repetitive so I switched off. I’m curious, however, to see what the passage of time will do for the show and its titular anti-hero when it returns in what has been variously billed as both a “reboot” and a “continuation” depending on who you ask! The concept of Dexter was interesting when it kicked off in 2006, and hopefully the new season can recapture the magic of those early years of the show.

The idea of a show about a serial killer where the killer is known to us as the audience, and not only that but is the protagonist was genuinely different. Dexter’s work with the forensic team was a big part of what gave the show its unique mix of police/detective series along with gritty, violent drama, and I’ll be curious to see where the new season has taken the character – as that will be the key to its success.

Number 7: The Dropout

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, it’s one that’s simultaneously riveting and frightening. Holmes and her startup Theranos promised to revolutionise the way blood testing works, enabling people to take blood tests without needing to visit a doctor and in a less-painful way. But it was a fraud: the technology didn’t work and Holmes and her team covered it up.

There have been several great documentaries and news broadcasts going into detail on the Theranos case, and with Holmes and others still awaiting trial it remains unresolved. This adaptation of an ABC News podcast will be the first dramatisation of the events of the Theranos scam, and despite some production setbacks it looks like it has the potential to be truly interesting when its broadcast on Hulu (and on Disney+ internationally) before the end of the year.

Number 8: Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series (full title unknown)

I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll see the first season of this incredibly expensive television show this year. With half the year gone, there hasn’t been much news about Amazon’s Game of Thrones-killer. That aside, a return to Middle-earth sounds incredible, and by taking the action away from most of the characters we’re familiar with from the films, hopefully what will result will be a genuinely different experience that doesn’t try to mimic the films too heavily.

Amazon has thrown cinema-level money at its Lord of the Rings adaptation, so I’m expecting to see something incredibly impressive for that investment.

Number 9: The Witcher Season 2

I’ve never played The Witcher 3 or any of the other games in the series. But the first season of Netflix’s adaptation of the original novels was great, and it’s always nice to see a high-budget fantasy project make it to screen! The first season debuted in late 2019, and I had half-hoped to see Season 2 before now. It’s still possible it won’t happen before the end of the year, but a recent teaser from Netflix suggests that Season 2 is in post-production and progressing nicely.

After such a long break, I feel like I should probably re-watch Season 1 before sitting down to see any new episodes! Henry Cavill will reprise his role as Geralt, and all being well Season 2 will be just as good as Season 1.

Number 10: Tokyo Vice

This true-crime series is based on the memoir of an American journalist, Jake Adelstein, who spent several years in Tokyo. In short, he documented a lot of police corruption during his tenure as a newspaper reporter in the 1990s, and given HBO’s pedigree at making high-budget series, I think there’s a lot of potential here.

Speaking as a westerner, Japan can be somewhat of a mystery. Romanticised by some, ignored by others, the truth is that many folks who’ve never set foot in Japan don’t know the first thing about Japanese life – and Tokyo Vice may just blow the lid off the seedier underbelly of Japan’s capital city in a big way. I’m calling it right now: this show could be 2021’s Chernobyl.

Film:

An increasing number of films are coming straight to streaming platforms – or being released digitally at the same time as heading to the box office. This is great news for me personally, as I’m not able to go to the cinema in person. There are some interesting titles coming up in the second half of the year.

Number 1: Jungle Cruise

In 2003 I felt that making a film based on the Disneyland/Disney World ride Pirates of the Caribbean was a stupid idea. Shows what I know, eh? Pirates of the Caribbean was great fun, so I’m hopeful that Disney’s latest ride adaptation will be as well. The Jungle Cruise ride takes theme park guests on a riverboat through – you guessed it – a jungle!

Hopefully the excitement that the ride offers will translate well to the screen. Parts of the trailer looked very CGI-heavy, and I hope that won’t be too offputting or problematic. Otherwise all I can really say is I’m looking forward to seeing what the film has to offer.

Number 2: Free Guy

Ryan Reynolds stars as a video game character who becomes sentient. I don’t know what else to say other than that sounds like a hilarious premise, one well-suited to Reynolds’ comedic style.

Video games have been the subject of many different films over the years, both as plot points and as direct video game adaptations. But no film so far has taken this approach; Free Guy looks set to be a unique experience when it arrives on the 13th of August.

Number 3: No Time To Die

This is the third or fourth time I’ve put No Time To Die on a list of “upcoming” titles. But this time it really is going to be released! Right?! Delayed by almost two years at this point, Daniel Craig’s final outing as 007 looks set to be an explosive and action-packed experience, and hopefully will bring down the curtain on his tenure in the role in suitable fashion.

The film will feature Academy Award-winner Rami Malek as its main villain, and I’m very interested to see what he’ll bring to the table. All being well, No Time To Die will be released at the end of September – and I’m curious to see whether it’ll be released on Amazon Prime Video as well, following Amazon’s acquisition of MGM.

Number 4: Encanto

We don’t know too much right now about Disney’s next big animated film. It’s set in Colombia, so there’ll be a Latin/South American feel. The film will focus on a girl who’s the only one in her family unable to use magic. I think we can expect an uplifting story of someone learning to be themselves and discover their own talents!

Lin-Manuel Miranda, who composed the soundtrack to 2016’s Moana (as well as Hamilton, In The Heights, and many others) is collaborating with Disney for a second time on the soundtrack to Encanto. That alone makes the film very exciting and worth checking out. Currently Disney aims to release Encanto in cinemas with no word on a Disney+ premiere.

Number 5: The Green Knight

I’ve long had an interest in the legends of King Arthur, and this film adaptation of one of the lesser-known Arthurian works looks set to be interesting at the very least. I got almost a horror or supernatural vibe from the trailer for The Green Knight, and while I’m not a big horror fan personally, I think the film has potential.

I’m not familiar with the director or most of the cast, so I can’t comment on the film’s pedigree. But with a decent budget and solid source material, this could be an interesting one to watch when it arrives at the end of July.

Number 6: Space Jam: A New Legacy

I don’t think I’ve re-watched the original Space Jam since it was released in 1996. But despite that, the idea of a sequel to the fun basketball-meets-Looney Tunes flick seems like it’ll be a lot of fun! Starring Star Trek: Discovery’s Sonequa Martin-Green alongside basketball legend LeBron James, the film looks set to follow a similar formula to its famous ’90s predecessor.

Nostalgia is a big deal in entertainment at the moment, so I’m not surprised to see ’90s hits like Space Jam being brought back. Hopefully A New Legacy can live up to the original film when it’s released in just a couple of weeks’ time.

Number 7: Dune

As with Foundation above, Dune is an adaptation of an absolutely iconic work of science-fiction. Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel has been notoriously difficult to bring to the screen, and while this version is the first part of a duology, in many respects the complicated story might be better served as a television series than in the cinema.

Despite that, however, I’m looking forward to Dune’s November premiere. A huge budget, visual effects that look outstanding, and a star-studded cast will hopefully all come together to make this latest adaptation a success.

Number 8: Top Gun: Maverick

It’s been a long time since I saw Top Gun, the film which propelled Tom Cruise to superstardom. To produce a sequel 35 years after the original film is, in some respects, a risk. But as already mentioned, nostalgia is a huge driving force in the modern entertainment industry, and with Cruise stepping back into the shoes of fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, there’s already been a huge amount of interest.

Top Gun: Maverick will come to Paramount+ shortly after its theatrical release, which will hopefully give the streaming platform – Star Trek’s digital home – a nice boost.

Number 9: The Matrix 4

Although The Matrix 4 remains on the schedule for 2021, with so little information about the production – not even a name – I think we have to call this one tentative. 2003’s Reloaded and Revolutions seemed to bring the story to a pretty definitive end, so I’ll be interested to see where a new instalment takes the sci-fi/action series.

Most of the original cast are reprising their roles, and Lana Wachowski is set to direct. After the Wachowskis came out as transgender and completed their transitions, many critics have re-evaluated The Matrix and its “red pill, blue pill” analogy through the lens of trans experiences. As someone who’s recently been exploring my own gender identity, I’ll be very curious to see what the fourth film in the series has to say about the subject.

Number 10: Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

The Resident Evil film series, which ran from 2002 to 2016, is a rare example of a successful video game adaptation on the big screen. Following 2016’s The Final Chapter, Welcome to Raccoon City aims to reboot the film franchise, and bring it closer in line with the video games that originally inspired it.

The video game Resident Evil 2 was recently remade, and that game’s success may have inspired some of the choices made for the film, including the decision to incorporate several major characters from the video game series. Even though horror isn’t really my thing, the Resident Evil films always managed to be the right mix of frightening and action-packed, and I’m hopeful for something similar from this reboot.

Video Games:

Some folks felt that this year’s E3 was a disappointment because of how many games have been pushed back to 2022. That’s another consequence of the pandemic, unfortunately! But there are still a number of exciting games coming before the end of the year.

Number 1: Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Kena: Bridge of Spirits has been on my radar for a while. Its Disney-inspired art style looks utterly adorable, and I can’t wait to give the game a try. There’s always room for this kind of single-player action-adventure title, and the premise of being a “spirit guide” who helps the newly-deceased sounds unique and fun.

I’m hopeful that developers Ember Lab, working on their first game after transitioning from digital animation, will succeed at creating an enjoyable, perhaps somewhat different experience.

Number 2: Bear and Breakfast

One of the indie highlights of E3 in my opinion, the adorable-looking, vaguely Stardew Valley-esque Bear and Breakfast is scheduled to launch before the end of the year. The premise, in case you didn’t get it, is that you run a bed & breakfast in a forest, and you’re a bear. What’s not to love about that?!

The game’s cartoony visual style looks cute, the premise sounds unique and just the right kind of silly, and I’m just really looking forward to giving Bear and Breakfast a shot.

Number 3: The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

This one has to be tentative, as there’s been very little movement on the game all year. Its absence at E3 was noticeable, and we may learn that it’s going to be delayed until next year. However, Gollum is a very interesting project. What could a game where this vile, villainous character is the star possibly have to offer? There have been antiheroes in gaming before, but few characters are as repulsive as Gollum!

And I think that’s what’s so fascinating about this title. Taking on the role of Gollum, and experiencing an adventure in Middle-earth from his perspective is almost certainly going to make for a game that’s one-of-a-kind.

Number 4: Mario Party: Superstars

Though its price seems rather steep, Mario Party: Superstars is bringing back classic boards and mini-games from the original Nintendo 64 Mario Party games. I had great fun with the first Mario Party in particular, and being able to play remastered versions sounds like a blast of nostalgia and potentially a lot of fun.

I can’t escape the feeling that Superstars might’ve been better value were it half the price, or an expansion pack for Super Mario Party instead of being a full-price standalone title. But despite that, it sounds like fun.

Number 5: Halo Infinite

After a disappointing trailer last year, Halo Infinite was delayed and reworked, ultimately meaning it didn’t launch alongside the Xbox Series X last November. Following a year-long delay, the game is now set to launch in time for Christmas, alongside a free multiplayer mode.

Since Halo Infinite will be coming to Game Pass I daresay I’ll give it a go when it comes out. After a six-year gap – the longest in the history of the series – fans will be clamouring for more from the Master Chief, as well as looking to see whether 343 Industries have finally managed to get the elusive Halo formula right. With a television series also in the works, Microsoft is investing heavily in the Halo brand.

Number 6: Age of Empires IV

Sticking with Microsoft, the next big brand they’re bringing back is Age of Empires! After the first three games were successfully remade over the last few years, the launch of Age of Empires IV is the series’ real test. Can Xbox Game Studios craft a title that successfully brings the classic real-time strategy series firmly into the modern day?

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition in particular has built up a solid fanbase, with plenty of folks playing the game competitively online. A lot of them will be interested to try Age of Empires IV, so the game has the potential to be a success. The original Age of Empires was my first real introduction to the world of real-time strategy, so I’m rooting for the success of the latest entry in the series.

Number 7: Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga

This is another one we’ll have to call tentative. There’s been radio silence from Traveller’s Tales and Warner Bros. since the game was delayed back in April – having already been delayed twice previously. However, I’m still hopeful that we’ll see it before the end of the year – it would be a great stocking stuffer were it to launch in time for Christmas!

2006’s Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga was absolutely brilliant; a comedic, light-hearted take on Star Wars. I’m hoping this new game can live up to that legacy and bring a dose of fun to Star Wars. Maybe it’ll even make the dire Rise of Skywalker bearable!

Number 8: Road 96

I can’t actually remember where I first saw indie title Road 96. But the idea sounds great: a procedurally-generated game in which your character has to escape from a dangerous country. Some of the landscapes shown off in the trailer looked similar to the American Southwest, and I love the visual style.

Road 96 promises “thousands” of routes and non-player characters to interact with, and it sounds like this could be a game with a huge amount of replay value. I’m looking forward to trying it out for myself.

Number 9: Shredders

There have been some classic snowboarding games in years past: 1080° Snowboarding on the Nintendo 64 and SSX Tricky on the Xbox/PlayStation 2, just to give two examples. Shredders, which was announced at E3, looks like it’ll pick up the baton and offer a fun snowboarding experience.

Any game set in a wintry environment has to get its snow texture just right, and it looks as though Shredders has – at least based on pre-release trailers. I’m hopeful for a fun time when this lands on Game Pass in the run-up to Christmas.

Number 10: Forza Horizon 5

Forza Horizon 4 was great fun, and I’m hoping for more of the same from its sequel. The semi-arcade racing hops across the Atlantic to Mexico for this iteration, with promises of more cars, a bigger map, and diverse environments to race through. All of that sounds great!

Racing games often manage to look visually stunning, and Forza Horizon 5 is no exception. The game looks fantastic, and if it plays well too it could be a huge time-sink heading into the autumn!

So that’s it!

We’ve looked at ten television shows, films, and video games that I think will be fun as we cross into the second half of 2021. Summer is always my least-favourite season, with early sunrises making it harder to sleep than usual, annoying insects buzzing around, and heatwaves that make me wish I could afford air conditioning! But there are plenty of things to look forward to even as we roll through my least-favourite part of the year.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 has to be my highlight; if I could only choose one thing to be excited about it would be that! But Tokyo Vice is incredibly interesting too, a series which I think could blow up and become the next Chernobyl. Film-wise, Encanto looks great; any project with a soundtrack by Lin-Manuel Miranda is worth paying attention to! Dune I’m hopeful for, and The Green Knight could sneak in and become something more than I’m expecting. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is such an interesting and cute-looking video game, and a rare new IP in an entertainment landscape where sequels and franchises dominate.

2021 still has a lot left to offer, even though we’re already halfway through! I hope you found something here to get excited about – or maybe something you hadn’t heard of that you can add to your list.

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, studio, developer, broadcaster, distributor, publisher, etc. Some promotional video game screenshots courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five underappreciated television series

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries on this list.

As many television shows approach their summer break, perhaps you’re looking for something to watch while you wait for new series and seasons to debut later in the year. Late spring and summer have historically been the “off season” for prime-time television series, with the main television season running from September/October through to April/May. The rise of streaming services has gone some way to breaking that up, which is good news, but there are probably still fewer big television productions on the air at this time of year.

With that in mind, I thought it could be fun to take a look at five television series that you might’ve missed – or just not seen for a while! All five are, in my opinion, underappreciated today, even if they were big hits at the time they were originally broadcast. Some series end up living long lives even after they go off the air – these ones, despite picking up some attention, aren’t quite at that level.

We’ve got a mix of different genres today, from action and drama to horror and even a documentary. So hopefully you’ll find something worthy of your time this summer!

Number 1: Jericho (2006-2008)

Protagonist Jake Green.

Between the mid-2000s and the mid-2010s there seemed to be a lot of interest in the post-apocalyptic genre. We’d see The Walking Dead premiere in 2010, as well as Survivors, Battlestar Galactica, and films like Children of Men and Contagion. Arriving on our screens in 2006 was Jericho, a post-apocalyptic drama series about the inhabitants of small-town America as they endure the aftermath of a nuclear attack on the country.

Jericho featured some wonderful characters, including the hot-headed Jake, his level-headed brother Eric (played by Star Trek: Discovery’s Kenneth Mitchell) and father Johnston, and the enigmatic Robert. The interactions between the residents of the town – and other characters they met along the way – was really the core of the show, and Jericho dived headfirst into exploring how ordinary, everyday people would confront such a major, nationwide calamity.

One of the nuclear bombs exploding.

As always in post-apocalyptic works, some people respond better than others! Characters like protagonist Jake and mayor Johnston rose to the occasion, demonstrating the kind of selflessness and leadership necessary to help their community through the difficult times that lay ahead. Other characters descended into villainy, trying to shake down or scam the town, or violently attack people. This dichotomy, while hardly unique to Jericho, was put to screen exceptionally well.

While there was a storyline which focused on the bombings themselves – something that was explored further in the show’s short second season – for me the main draw of Jericho was its character-driven post-apocalyptic narrative, spending time with these folks as they tried to process what had happened.

Number 2: The Terror (2018-2019)

Promo image for The Terror Season 1.

The Terror could be a great show to watch in October to mark Halloween – if you can wait that long! This anthology series so far only consists of two seasons, but both were interesting in their own ways. Season 1 is definitely the better of the two, focusing on the ill-fated Franklin Expedition to the Arctic in the mid-19th Century.

Sometimes I’m a little uncomfortable with shows that take real-life people – even historical figures – and fictionalise them, and I think that will have to be the subject of a future essay! But despite that, The Terror Season 1 was an incredibly well-done piece of character-centric drama. The horror elements came into play over the course of the story, but like with classics of the monster horror genre like Jaws, the creature stalking the surviving members of Franklin’s arctic expedition was better for being largely unseen. The tension and stress that was built up over the course of ten episodes was truly riveting to watch.

George Takei in Season 2.

The second season picked up a completely different story, taking place in a Japanese internment camp during the Second World War. This story focused on a vengeful spirit, and likewise did a good job of building tension, though overall it was a more horror-centric season compared to the first. Star Trek: The Original Series star George Takei, who was himself interned during the war, had a co-starring role.

There was scope to continue The Terror as an anthology series, with new stories produced under the same banner. However, the lacklustre reception to Season 2 appears to have put the show on ice – pun intended – at least for now. Even though horror is far from my favourite genre, I had a good time with both seasons, and it feels like a lot of folks missed this one when it was first broadcast.

Number 3: Star Trek: Voyager (1994-2001)

The Voyager Season 2 cast.

It wouldn’t be a Crazy Uncle Dennis list without at least some Star Trek, right? I feel that Voyager tends to be overlooked by at least some in the Star Trek fandom. The Original Series kicked things off and is a classic, The Next Generation is, for many folks of my generation at least, the high-water mark of the franchise, and Deep Space Nine has a fandom of its own. Modern Star Trek has picked up a following of new and old Trekkies alike, but Voyager can feel underappreciated.

I think a big part of the reason why is that Voyager struggled to find its own identity at the height of Star Trek’s ’90s “Golden Age.” The Next Generation introduced fans to the 24th Century, and during Voyager’s run its cast were starring in feature films. Deep Space Nine was something altogether different: set on a space station with a big cast of secondary characters, and dealing with darker themes. Voyager could feel, at times, a little too close to copying The Next Generation’s formula, and thus “just another Star Trek show.”

The USS Voyager during the show’s title sequence.

That sells it short, in my view, and there’s a lot to love about Voyager. It’s certainly true that not every element worked as intended – the “one ship, two crews” idea being the biggest, but even the overall story of a journey home could feel overlooked at points. But Voyager had a wonderful cast led by a fantastic captain.

Perhaps we could entertain the argument that Voyager could have done more to stand out. But re-watching it now, more than twenty years after its finale, it’s still a wonderful series. It’s just such a shame that it hasn’t been remastered yet!

Number 4: The World At War (1973)

Title card for The World At War.

There are a huge number of World War II documentaries floating around out there, with outlets like the History Channel making more all the time. Many modern documentaries make use of fully-acted dramatic recreations and use CGI and special effects to bring history to life. By those standards, The World At War might feel out-of-date and rather stuffy. But for my money there’s no documentary as interesting.

The World At War was produced at just the right moment, and I’ll explain what I mean by that! It’s difficult – if not impossible – to make a fair and balanced documentary during or immediately after the events it covers; feelings are too raw, some of those involved have careers to consider, and for all manner of reasons, getting to the raw unvarnished truth can be impossible if done too quickly. But on the other hand, waiting too long can mean that too many of the main people involved in an event have died or become too unwell to share their recollections. The World At War was produced almost 30 years after the end of World War II – long enough for passions to have faded and for people to share their opinions honestly, but also not too long after the event.

Albert Speer, former German armaments minister and one of the documentary’s interviewees.

As such, The World At War was able to interview many significant people from World War II, including British foreign secretary (and future Prime Minister) Anthony Eden, British RAF leader Arthur Harris, German Admiral (and Hitler’s designated successor) Karl Dönitz, German armaments minister Albert Speer, and a number of others. Getting these individuals on record to share their views, and to be able to see and hear them, is absolutely priceless from an historical perspective.

Beyond that, though, The World At War was incredibly well-made. With narration provided by Lawrence Olivier, plenty of footage from the era, and the aforementioned interviewees providing a direct eyewitness account to the war, it’s a unique production that aimed to be comprehensive, and a must-watch for any history buff.

Number 5: The Last Ship (2014-2018)

The USS Nathan James – the titular “last ship.”

It’s possible that, with the pandemic raging, now isn’t the best time to watch a series about the world being brought to its knees by a virus! But The Last Ship is a fun, action-packed show and something truly different in a post-apocalyptic genre that was being milked dry in the 2010s.

Some post-apocalyptic fiction uses military characters and settings, and that can be fun. But very few have a strictly naval focus, and the addition of that setting is really what makes The Last Ship so different from the likes of The Walking Dead and others. The USS Nathan James is a home base for most of the main characters, and a safe space away from the chaos engulfing the world around them. Some Star Trek fans say that the starship is like an additional character, and the Nathan James definitely fills that role in The Last Ship.

Captain Tom Chandler.

There are some fantastic character moments in what is a very tense and dramatic series. All of the main cast put in fantastic performances, and there are some villains who genuinely inspire hatred! Writing a truly nasty character whose motivations are still believable is no mean feat, yet The Last Ship managed it on more than one occasion.

Despite the dire straits the world finds itself in in The Last Ship, the series tells a positive, uplifting, and hopeful story, showing off humanity at its best as well as at its worst. This is one aspect of post-apocalyptic fiction that I really like, and The Last Ship uses the backdrop of the virus to reach for something good instead of merely revelling in showing us the bad.

So that’s it!

Did I give you any inspiration for what to watch?

We took a short look at five television shows that I think are underappreciated right now. Some failed to make much of an impact when they were first broadcast and simply fizzled out, others have been eclipsed by other productions made in the years since they went off the air. But all five are absolutely worth a watch – or a re-watch – in 2021.

I had fun putting this list together, and I hope you’ll stay tuned for more lists and other articles coming up soon! We’re almost halfway through the year, so check back at the end of the month for my look ahead to the entertainment experiences that we’ll be enjoying before 2021 is over. Until next time!

All shows mentioned above are the copyright of their respective broadcaster, studio, distributor, production company, owner, etc. Availability to stream or purchase on Blu-ray or DVD may vary by region. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Does Q age?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Trek: Picard Season 2 trailer, as well as for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager.

Following Q’s appearance in the second Star Trek: Picard Season 2 trailer, I’ve seen some discussion online about Q’s age and appearance. I don’t think this is necessarily a huge topic worth dedicating a lot of time to, but it’s also one that’s potentially interesting, and it gives us an excuse to talk about Picard Season 2, the Q Continuum, and jump into a bit of Star Trek lore, so I thought I’d chime in.

Star Trek: Picard Season 2 is being produced in 2021. John de Lancie first appeared as Q right at the beginning of Season 1 of The Next Generation in the episode Encounter at Farpoint, which was filmed in mid-1987. Over the span of 34 years… he’s got older. Mystery solved!

Q’s new look has attracted attention!

Obviously there’s more to say than that. From an in-universe point of view, Q “shouldn’t” age – or to put it more accurately, Q doesn’t need to age. The Q as a species are noncorporeal and immortal, meaning that Q doesn’t age in any manner that humans can comprehend. The Q do, however, experience the flow of time, as we learned in the Voyager Season 2 episode Death Wish. That story centred around a member of the Q Continuum who was bored of living having effectively experienced everything in existence. But we’re off-topic.

Though the Q Continuum have a different understanding of time, they do experience the passage of time and thus can, in some way, age, or at least accumulate new memories and gain more knowledge. Part of the reason Q liked to tangle with humans like Picard and Janeway was because he wanted something to do, and presumably hadn’t been able to have those experiences already. Thus the Q don’t exist outside of time or in a non-linear way like the Bajoran Prophets.

The Bajoran Prophets were said to experience time in a non-linear fashion.

All of this isn’t really relevant, though. What matters for this discussion is that Q can assume any form he chooses. He could presumably turn himself into Picard’s doppelganger, a big fat housecat, or a cloud of hot pink gas – he isn’t limited to a single form. He appears “older” in Picard Season 2 because he has chosen to appear older, either to mock Picard, empathise with him, or perhaps even to experience what it’s like to be an older humanoid if that’s an experience he hasn’t yet had.

So case closed, right? From an in-universe point of view, yes. There’s no plot hole nor problem with Q’s story simply because of John de Lancie’s appearance, and anyone trying to make that claim needs a refresher course in how the Q Continuum works! But that isn’t necessarily the end of the affair. There is one point to consider from the production side, and I find it to be an interesting one as it’s something we’re going to see more of in future as technology continues to improve. I’m talking about digital de-ageing and CGI.

John de Lancie first appeared as Q in 1987’s Encounter at Farpoint.

The 2019 Netflix film The Irishman won praise (and numerous awards) for the way it made use of digital de-ageing techniques on Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Robert De Niro, transforming them into younger versions of their characters. The use of this technology is not limited to cinema, as it was recently used in Season 2 of The Mandalorian – and no, I won’t spoil it and tell you why if you haven’t seen it yet! This technology, along with other photorealistic CGI technologies that are continually being improved, has the potential to really transform film and television productions, and it’s already possible to see a brand-new film featuring the likeness of a long-dead actor brought back with CGI – like happened with Peter Cushing’s character of Grand Moff Tarkin in the film Rogue One. It’s only a matter of time before the leading role in a new film is a CGI recreation of someone who’s passed away.

It isn’t beyond the realm of technical possibility to de-age John de Lancie for Picard Season 2. It would be an expensive investment, certainly, and one which ViacomCBS may not want to make or may not have the budget for, but technically it would have been possible. And I think this is why we’re seeing this conversation. Fans look to shows like The Mandalorian, which while not a direct competitor certainly exists in a similar space to Picard, and wonder why Star Wars gets to use fancy new technologies while Star Trek doesn’t!

Digital de-ageing was used to great effect in 2019’s The Irishman.

Star Trek has, in the past, pioneered some interesting technologies and filmmaking techniques. The Deep Space Nine Season 5 episode Trials and Tribble-ations brought to television the complicated technique of inserting actors into existing footage – something which had been seen in Forrest Gump only a couple of years earlier. I even noted in my look at Discovery’s Season 1 premiere the way the CGI artists seemed to have incorporated elements from the film Interstellar – which premiered a couple of years earlier – in their portrayal of the binary star system. So Star Trek has a track record at taking cutting-edge filmmaking techniques and bringing them to the franchise.

Perhaps digital de-ageing is still too new and thus too expensive to incorporate into the Star Trek franchise right now, and that’s absolutely fair enough. I don’t want Picard Season 2 to blow its whole special effects budget on a few scenes with Q, not if doing so comes at the expense of other set-pieces later in the story. The Irishman had a budget of over $150 million. Rogue One had a budget of around $200 million – and the CGI Grand Moff Tarkin still wasn’t quite perfect! The Mandalorian was reportedly working with a budget of around $15 million per episode, or $120 million for the second season’s eight episodes. In short, digital de-ageing is expensive and can inflate the budget of any production.

Q and Picard in Q Who from Season 2 of The Next Generation.

While The Irishman won a lot of praise, and so did The Mandalorian Season 2, in both cases critical opinion wasn’t unanimous on the de-ageing technology, with some arguing that it was a waste of money. Under those circumstances, I can understand why ViacomCBS wouldn’t want to go down the route of blowing literally millions of dollars on this technique for a secondary character. The return on investment simply may not be present.

How many people aren’t going to watch Picard Season 2 because of the way Q looks? I reckon close to zero. And how many additional viewers would the season pick up if it used the de-ageing technology and that became a talking point? That’s also got to be close to zero! People who are excited for Picard Season 2 are going to watch regardless, and those who don’t want to watch, or who dislike modern Star Trek, were always going to stay away. In that sense, these kinds of technologies are expensive luxuries for any production.

Q with Picard in the Season 2 trailer.

Some of the people who’ve been discussing this online are firmly in the anti-Trek camp, and they were never going to watch Picard Season 2 anyway. It’s sad, but some anti-Trek folks will pick up on any small detail and use it to justify their continuous criticism of the franchise. And that’s up to them, I guess. For my two cents, though, I don’t think there was much to be gained by spending a ton of money on de-ageing Q. It would’ve been interesting to see, and it could’ve become a minor talking point for the second season of the show. But other than that, there was a lot of expense for not much reward, and while it may work in other productions with higher budgets, I’d rather ViacomCBS spent their money cautiously so that we can continue to enjoy more Star Trek, rather than less Star Trek laced with expensive trappings.

There’s no in-universe reason why Q shouldn’t appear differently more than twenty years after he was last seen. He can change his appearance at will, and whether it was to make a joke of Picard having gotten older or to, in Q’s twisted way, express empathy with his old friend, the way he looks even makes sense. It could even be a minor story point in the episode in which he first appears. I don’t have a problem with it at all, and I suspect that some of those claiming it’s a “big deal” would have found other things to criticise and other reasons to dislike Picard Season 2 and modern Star Trek. As far as I’m concerned it’s case closed!

Star Trek: Picard Season 2 will be broadcast on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video internationally in 2022. Season 1 is available to stream now. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard 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 Falcon and the Winter Soldier – miniseries review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, as well as for other titles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Avengers Endgame.

I’m a little late to the party on this one; The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiered back in late March. But it’s taken me till now to get around to watching it, so this review is just going to have to be “better late than never!” Superheroes and comics aren’t really my thing, and thus it takes something a little more down-to-earth to really pique my interest in the genre. Some Marvel stuff has been okay – I liked the first couple of seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for example.

2019’s Avengers Endgame had a big impact on the Marvel cinematic universe, killing off major characters and shaking up the superheroes’ world in a significant way. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was my first point of contact with this post-Endgame environment, and going in I was at least a little curious to see how the miniseries would respond to those major changes.

Sam Wilson – a.k.a. the Falcon.

Having decided to skip the very weird-looking WandaVision earlier in the year, and not being 100% caught up on every Marvel film or television project, I have no doubt that I missed some in-jokes and references that bigger fans would have understood. But a show like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier appealed to me for precisely the reasons something like WandaVision didn’t – it looked to be a fairly straight-laced action series.

So that was my mindset going in, and you know what? It was perfectly entertaining action fare. A little over-the-top at points, but nothing too immersion-breaking. The miniseries format definitely suited The Falcon and the Winter Soldier; six episodes was great, and watchable over the course of a couple of evenings, but I wouldn’t have wanted a full fifteen- or twenty-episode season. That might’ve been too much!

James “Bucky” Barnes – a.k.a. the Winter Soldier.

Though there were plenty of superhero and comic elements in the miniseries, for the most part it stayed true to its action-oriented premise, with leads Sam and Bucky getting into scrapes as they teamed up to take on a group of terrorists. Though there were mentions of some of the wackier elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for the most part the main story of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier could have worked without any of the superhero trappings. Simply swapping out superheroes for generic action heroes wouldn’t have ruined the story – and perhaps it’s for that reason that I enjoyed it!

The interplay between the two leads was one of the main draws of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. And in that sense it was a risk – both of these characters were very much secondary supporting players in their earlier appearances. Giving them a centre-stage moment could’ve backfired on one or both of them, yet they managed to share the limelight without one overshadowing the other. Both characters bonded over their past relationships with Captain America, but each brought something different to the table as well. The unexpected chemistry between Anthony Mackie’s Sam and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky went a long way to making the show a success.

The interaction between the two main characters was the highlight of the series.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier attempted to raise the stakes by crossing over into dramatic territory, focusing on the personal and family lives of its principal characters. Though some of this could feel a little forced at times, what it succeeded in doing was showing the post-Endgame world outside of the limited environment of superheroes. Many smaller interactions – from Bucky’s attempt at dating to Sam and his sister’s visit to a bank – were changed and defined by Thanos’ snap and its aftermath.

Since its inception more than a decade ago, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has strived to create a persistent world. The monumental events of one story aren’t forgotten in another, and the setting doesn’t simply reset itself in between iterations. This is a double-edged sword in some ways, as it can feel like keeping up with Marvel is almost a full-time job given how many productions there have been. But The Falcon and the Winter Soldier made a creditable effort to strike the right balance between being part of that broader ongoing story while being understandable to more casual viewers. There were elements from past Marvel outings that played into the story, and fans more familiar with those films than I am almost certainly got more out of it. But the series does try to be self-contained, and many of the character introductions and story elements don’t require background knowledge as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier does its best to tee them up. It’s not perfect, but that’s part and parcel of jumping into a series which is one part of a broader story.

There were plenty of callbacks and references to past Marvel outings.

The introduction of a “new” Captain America was interesting. In the second episode, both Sam and Bucky have to contend with this notion, and the way they both react is genuinely interesting, and the series explored it well given its limited timeframe. Though I have to say I felt Captain America’s burgeoning villainy was obvious even from the moment he was introduced, setting that moment aside, the way Sam and Bucky reacted to someone taking on a role pioneered by their friend was emotional – and at the same time an interesting look at the way mantles like Captain America are passed from individual to individual in comic books.

I’m not much of a comic fan, as already mentioned. But in comic books, especially those which have been running for a long time, it’s not unusual for superhero roles to be passed down to new characters. In Marvel, for example, there are multiple individuals who have been Spider-Man, with these roles occasionally being recast or reworked as new comic books, series, and storylines are developed. To fans who’ve become attached to the original incarnation, sometimes these changes are met with controversy, and though The Falcon and the Winter Soldier doesn’t dive into this kind of fandom critique in depth, elements of the Captain America storyline seemed to give that notion more than a passing glance. Marvel has come in for criticism in recent years from fans unhappy with new or evolving superheroes, and it felt like this was perhaps a nod to that controversy.

Sebastian Stan as Bucky.

Laying atop that layer of subtext, though, were the stories of two very different men who were both emotionally invested in Steve Rogers and Captain America. Seeing someone new step into those shoes was hard for both Sam and Bucky – and laid the groundwork for their unlikely bond, both in terms of the way the narrative played out and in terms of their personal connection.

In the story of Captain America himself – John Walker – we see a man struggling to live up to an inherited legacy. This is something many folks have some experience with – being unjustly compared to someone older, more experienced, or even just a more successful family member. The feeling of a responsibility being overwhelming – and not knowing how to deal with that – as well as a degree of so-called “imposter syndrome” were present in the character as well. Walker embodies the worst aspects of how to respond to such a situation, but the way in which it manifests and slowly builds over a couple of episodes, beginning with smaller insecurities before escalating, is strangely relatable. Credit must go to actor Wyatt Russell, who put in a stellar performance in the role.

Wyatt Russell’s Captain America was a different and interesting take.

Art and entertainment reflect the times in which they were created, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier had distinct racial themes that mirror events in the United States over the past few years. I’m not the right person to comment on such narrative elements, but I would say that they didn’t overshadow the series. Considering the way race relations in the United States have progressed (or should that be “regressed?”) over the last few years, it’s not surprising to see racial themes making their way into entertainment and popular culture.

Race relations and America’s chequered past wasn’t the only political theme, as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier also looked at issues of immigration and particularly the way refugees are welcomed – or ignored. Indeed, the show as a whole was more politically charged than I expected going in. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and the way The Falcon and the Winter Soldier set up its refugee theme was very much fictionalised – these are people who “returned” following the events of Endgame. As I often say when it comes to the Star Trek franchise, using a fictional lens to look at real-world issues can be both powerful and effective, and it was both here. The moral ambiguity in Karli’s fight, and the way even the protagonists could empathise with her goals, was handled impressively.

Falcon actor Anthony Mackie and Sarah Wilson actress Adepero Oduye on set with director Kari Skogland (centre).
Photo Credit: Chuck Zlotnick for Marvel Studios

There were certainly some very contrived moments as the narrative rumbled on – the trio’s lives being saved in Madripoor by utter chance being just one example – but not so many that I felt the integrity of the overall story was too badly damaged. Such things are par for the course when dealing with both comics and action flicks, after all!

The moment in the fifth episode where Sam cashes in family favours felt like a storyline lifted almost directly from 1946 Christmas film It’s A Wonderful Life – an homage I never thought I’d find in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. It was certainly a contrivance, but as above it wasn’t an especially heinous one. Some contrivances are more easily shrugged off than others, but suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite when setting foot in a fictional world. As long as a story isn’t overflowing with such things, I’m content to let them slide.

The Falcon in flight.

Filming locations and sets used in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier were impressively diverse. I was concerned upon seeing the opening mission to “Tunisia” that we were going to see an over-reliance on one or two environments being recycled, but for a series that took its protagonists to different parts of the United States and the world, the series did a solid job with most of its settings; there were genuine differences between the locales visited – the kind of thing one might expect to see from a blockbuster action film. Last year I had criticised Star Trek: Picard for its samey filming locations, so it was great to see what Marvel and Disney can do when they throw their money around!

Erin Kellyman, who took on the challenging role of budding revolutionary Karli, put in a solid performance. I wasn’t especially impressed with her when I’d seen her in Solo: A Star Wars Story a couple of years ago, but when given a broader role, one with greater range, she did a perfectly creditable job. I’m not sure that the whole “the villain is a young girl” revelation still works as a twist or storytelling shock, though – just as it didn’t when Kellyman had a similar moment in Solo. That aside, Karli made for an interesting adversary – someone whose methods may be extreme, but whose overall philosophy is difficult to condemn. Comic books often deal in black-and-white: virtuous superheroes who want to save the world and flat-out evil supervillains who have dastardly ambitions. Karli was, in that sense, a breath of fresh air, even when compared to the likes of Thanos.

Karli was the main adversary for the duo to tackle.

One storyline that I felt didn’t work very well was the decision to bring back the random villain’s henchman from the opening act of the first episode to be a kind of supervillain with a grudge against Sam in the final part of the last episode. This nameless character had no impact on the entire narrative aside from being a goon to outsmart to set up Sam’s character, and his return just didn’t feel like it mattered in any meaningful way – most significantly for Sam, but also for the character himself. Revenge is a motivation of sorts, but as a mercenary who seems to have only been in it for the money, and a one-dimensional mercenary at that, I just didn’t buy it. It was a contrivance, really, and a way to bring in another hurdle and a villain to be dispatched.

So to wrap things up, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was an enjoyable romp. I’d certainly rank it as one of the better Marvel projects that I’ve seen, and while I won’t be diving into every new film and show that the comic powerhouse churns out, I’m sure I’ll keep an eye out for other similar projects in future – including a second season, which may or may not be coming next year.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is available to stream now on Disney+. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – along with other films, series, and properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Marvel Studios and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Have we seen an unstoppable shift away from the cinema?

One of the consequences of the pandemic has been the long-term closure of many cinemas (movie theaters for my American readers). Aside from a short respite last July and August, most cinemas here in the UK have been shut since March 2020 – for well over a year now. Some, like a local independent cinema near me, have had no choice but to close permanently, even with the end of lockdown seemingly in sight. Even when cinemas are able to reopen, limits on capacity due to social distancing, the general unease among many people about sitting in a room with dozens of strangers with the pandemic still ongoing, and most significantly, the lack of major film releases in the near term will – in my opinion, at least – most likely mean it will be a long time before things are able to get back to normal.

But will things ever get back to normal? That’s the question I want to ask today.

Will empty cinemas be full again one day?

In the early days of the pandemic, most films scheduled for release in spring or summer 2020 were simply postponed; their release dates pushed back by a few months so that they could be released to full crowds when lockdowns were lifted in their key markets. But as the pandemic has dragged on and on, film studios have begun to switch the way they release many big titles – opting to send them to streaming platforms rather than wait.

Without Remorse was originally supposed to get a theatrical release, but premiered on Amazon Prime Video instead. Raya and the Last Dragon went directly to Disney+. Then there are titles like Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Mulan, The Little Things, Godzilla vs. Kong, Bill & Ted Face The Music, News of the World, and Tom & Jerry. Upcoming titles such as Jungle Cruise, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Black Widow, Malignant, and A Quiet Place II are all going to either be released directly on streaming or with a limited theatrical run at the same time as going straight to streaming.

Animated film Raya and the Last Dragon went straight to Disney+ earlier in the year.

Is this a one-time thing, purely caused by the pandemic? And if it is, will audiences be happy to return to cinemas once the pandemic has cleared and they can fully reopen? If you’d asked me in March or April last year, I’d have said yes to both questions without hesitation. But now I’m not so sure.

There are a lot of advantages to streaming compared to going to the cinema, and as more and more people come to see those advantages, the cinema becomes a less-attractive option in contrast. This trend is not new – cinema attendance has declined a lot from where it was a few decades ago, and with the rise of high-quality television series which can rival and even surpass films in many cases, this is a reckoning that cinemas have had coming for a while. The pandemic has accelerated that to light-speed, but the trend has been going in this direction for a while.

Paramount+ is one of many competing streaming platforms that have arguably benefited from the forced closure of cinemas during the pandemic.

So what are the supposed advantages of at-home streaming? The first has to be convenience. Viewers can watch what they want on their own schedule, with the ability to pause a film to take a phone call or go to the bathroom, watching before or after work, or even late at night. It’s possible to watch with subtitles, audio description, director commentaries, and even watch in other languages. Most folks are more comfortable in their own homes than they are in a cinema chair – even the nicest cinema seats aren’t as pleasant as a comfy armchair or couch. There are no distractions from (other people’s) noisy kids, people munching popcorn, or idiots on their phones. You don’t have to sit through half an hour of adverts and trailers to get to the film. If you’re using a phone or tablet it’s possible to watch on the go, or literally anywhere. And some of the things we might’ve considered to be disadvantages a few years ago – such as screen size, resolution, and audio quality – are all easily surmountable even for folks on a limited budget.

Obviously not all of these points apply in every single case, but as a general rule, as screens get bigger and better, the need to watch something in the cinema is dropping. The old adage that a particular film was “better in the cinema” or “made for cinemas” no longer applies in many cases.

Amazon Prime Video have snapped up a number of films that couldn’t get a theatrical release this year – including Without Remorse.

I have a relatively inexpensive 4K television that doesn’t have OLED or HDR or any of those higher-end features, just a bog-standard LED set. But this model, even when I was buying it a few years ago, only started at a 40-inch screen size, with sizes going all the way up to 60″ or 65″. Nowadays, 85″ and 90″ sets are on the market and within reach of many consumers. Sound bars and speakers that put out fantastic quality audio are equally affordable, with prices dropping massively from where they had been when 4K and large screens were new. Even on my cheap and cheerful set, films look great. And if you sit reasonably close, it really does feel akin to being in the cinema – in the comfort of my own home.

It’s difficult, in my opinion, for cinemas to compete on price or quality. Even the more expensive streaming platforms, like Netflix, cost around £10-12 per month. It’s been a while since I was able to go to the cinema – health issues prevent me from doing so – but the last time I was able to go, £10 wouldn’t even stretch to two tickets. For that money you get one month’s worth of access to a massive library of titles – including many brand-new ones and Netflix originals made specially for the platform.

Large, good-quality television screens are increasingly affordable and offer a cinema-like experience at home.

In the late ’40s and ’50s, when my parents were young, going to the cinema was a frequent outing. You’d see an A- and B-movie, as well as perhaps a newsreel or something else, and it would feel like good value. Since the early 20th Century, going to the cinema on at least a weekly basis was a big part of many peoples’ lives – but things have been changing, slowly, for quite a while.

For at least the last couple of decades, going to the cinema is something most folks have viewed as an occasional treat rather than a regular outing. The price and value of a cinema ticket – and the additional extras like drinks and snacks – have shot up in relation to earnings, while at the same time the number of advertisements and trailers have also increased. Though the cinema still has a place in many folks’ lives, that place had been slipping long before the pandemic arrived. In the ’90s and 2000s, the blame for that lay with cable and satellite television channels, including many dedicated film channels. Nowadays, the blame has shifted to streaming.

Netflix has picked up a lot of subscribers in the past year.

Many film studios are keen to play their part in this trend, too. Sharing a big chunk of their profits with cinema chains and operators was never something they were wild about, which is why we’re seeing more and more studios and production companies either partnering with big streaming platforms or else trying to launch their own. Paramount+ exists for this reason, as do Disney+, HBO Max, and many others. These companies don’t care in the slightest about the fate of cinemas – except insofar as they can use them to turn a profit. When the pandemic meant that wasn’t possible, many companies happily jumped ship and released their films digitally instead.

Though I know a lot of people who have told me they’re keen to get back to the cinema as soon as possible, when I probed most of them further and asked how often they would go to the cinema pre-pandemic, or what films they were most excited to see at the cinema next, all of the answers I got back up everything I’ve been saying. Most folks go to the cinema infrequently at best, and while they’ve missed some of the social aspects of the “cinema experience,” they certainly haven’t missed the adverts, loud seat neighbours, and hassle. Streaming, while not as glamorous or exciting in some ways, is a more enjoyable experience in others.

Some people have missed every aspect of being at the cinema… but many haven’t!

I know I have to acknowledge my own bias here. As someone whose disability prevents them going to the cinema, I’d be quite happy if every film I want to watch from now on comes directly to streaming! On a purely selfish level, that’s something I’m fine with. And while I stand by the fact that the trend away from the cinema in a general sense is real and demonstrable, the pandemic probably hasn’t killed the entire concept of the cinema stone-dead. Nor would that be a good thing. Many cinemas offer more than just the latest blockbusters, with classic films, recorded theatre plays and ballet performances, and other such events. In the rural area where I live, the idea of being able to see something like the Royal Ballet is beyond a lot of people due to the distances involved. But local cinemas occasionally show things like ballets, operas, and Shakespeare plays, bringing a different kind of culture and entertainment to the region. Cinemas are also big local employers, and it’s nothing to celebrate when a local business is forced to close.

So most cinemas will eventually re-open. But the question I asked is still pertinent, because I don’t know whether they’ll see pre-pandemic numbers of visitors for a very long time – if at all. The pandemic has forced the hand of film studios and distributors, and the result has been an uptick in the number of subscribers to streaming platforms. Many folks have tried streaming for the first time, and while there will always be holdouts, people who proclaim that it really is “better in the cinema,” I think a lot of people have been surprised at how enjoyable streaming a film at home can be, and how favourably it can compare to the cinema experience.

Many people haven’t missed the “cinema experience” as much as they expected.

A big home theatre setup is no longer necessary. With a relatively inexpensive – but still large – television set and maybe a sound bar or pair of satellite speakers, many people can have a truly cinema-like experience in their own living rooms. And a lot of people who’ve tried it for the first time, prompted by lockdown, may have no plans to return to the cinema any time soon – or if they do, they’ll be making fewer trips.

In my opinion, this is something that has the potential to continue to build over time. As screens continue to improve, and as more people eschew the cinema in favour of staying in, more films will go direct to streaming because companies will see more success and more money in it. Fewer films will end up in cinemas exclusively, so fewer people will go. And the cycle will continue!

Even if I’m wrong on that final point, I do believe that we’ve already seen a slow move away from cinemas in the pre-pandemic years. The pandemic came along and blew the lid off that, and while there will be a return once things settle down, at-home streaming is here to stay. It benefits viewers and companies – the only folks who are going to lose out are the cinema chains themselves. I’m not saying it’s a positive thing necessarily, although it does stand to benefit me in some respects, nor am I advocating for it. But when I look at the way things have been going over the past few years, and add the pandemic’s disruption into the mix, I really do feel that we’re seeing a big move away from the cinema in favour of at-home streaming.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, production company, etc. 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.

Amazon’s Wheel of Time series – will it work?

A few months ago I took a brief look at Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings series, and that show has been getting a lot of attention, both for its Middle-earth setting and due to inescapable comparisons to Game of Thrones. But Amazon has another high fantasy series in the pipeline, and this second series hasn’t been getting quite as much interest – at least, not yet.

The Wheel of Time is a fifteen-novel epic; a magnum opus totalling almost four-and-a-half million words. It was written by Robert Jordan, with the final three novels completed by Brandon Sanderson following Jordan’s death in 2007, and is now complete. There has been a previous attempt to adapt the series for television, with a pilot being filmed in 2014-15, but it was generally regarded as a badly-made piece of TV so the series was not picked up.

Rosamund Pike as Moiraine in a short teaser.

It seems as though Amazon – and former CEO Jeff Bezos in particular – have been chasing their own version of Game of Thrones almost since that show premiered in 2011. Greenlighting two major television projects simultaneously is both a bold, expensive move, as well as one that could spell doom for one of the shows if there’s a clear preference from viewers.

Lord of the Rings on Prime – or whatever its final title will be – was a massively expensive commitment from Amazon, with the rights alone reportedly setting the company back $250 million. That’s before even a single frame had been shot, a single prop created, or an individual actor hired. The rights to The Wheel of Time were positively cheap in comparison!

A blade of some kind seen in a separate teaser.

Game of Thrones proved hands-down that a television show in the high fantasy genre based on a series of books that, let’s face it, most people will never read can be a resounding success, and I would assume that The Wheel of Time is about as well-known today as A Song of Ice and Fire was circa 2010-11. In short, there’s no reason I can see why Amazon’s adaptation of The Wheel of Time should fail to find an audience, particularly if the series is well-marketed.

Amazon Prime Video, which will be the series’ home when it’s ready to be broadcast, exists in an unusual space for a streaming platform. It’s tied to Amazon Prime, which offers a range of other benefits alongside the video streaming platform, notably free next-day or two-day delivery on many items Amazon sells on their main website. Unlike Netflix and Disney+, Amazon’s diverse business model is less reliant on streaming, and thus the success of any individual series is less important than it would be for a traditional broadcaster. At least in theory!

The Wheel of Time will be available to stream via Amazon Prime Video… when it’s ready!

I’ve read the first couple of novels in The Wheel of Time series, but it was at least twenty years ago and I honestly can’t remember much about the specifics of the story. I do recall the disappointment at not being able to afford the next book in the series after finishing the second, though, but for some reason I just never got around to finishing the series even when I subsequently had the means to do so.

In recent years I’ve debated going back to The Wheel of Time, but in some ways a very long series like this feels like a huge commitment, and spending the money on a fifteen-book set is something that, as someone on a low income, I have never been able to justify to myself. I enjoyed the first couple of books when I read them, though, and from my personal perspective, Amazon’s adaptation provides an opportunity to revisit the world of The Wheel of Time.

Fifteen novels comprise The Wheel of Time.

Comparisons to Game of Thrones keep cropping up, and not only is that inevitable given the nature of the project, I think it’s what Amazon really wants audiences to keep in mind. But Game of Thrones had an ending that was, according to most of the show’s fans, disappointing, and as The Wheel of TIme is now in production, I admit to feeling a slight sense of trepidation or caution at the prospect of history repeating itself.

While Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season had a number of issues with its narrative, pacing, and even production goofs, the fundamental problem – in my opinion – was that it was cut short. There was the potential for Seasons 7 and 8 to be spun out into at least twice as many episodes across twice as many seasons, with writer George R R Martin on record saying he was hoping to see the show run until at least its tenth season. And this is where my concern with The Wheel of Time comes into play.

Game of Thrones is a natural comparison for a series like The Wheel of Time.

Fifteen books means there’s a lot of story to adapt, and even if clever cuts are made to characters and whole narrative arcs, the show will still have an awful lot going on – and the potential to run for as many seasons as there are books: fifteen. But will Amazon let the show run that long? At time of writing, only a single season is confirmed, adapting the first novel in the series. If I recall correctly, the first book – The Eye of the World – was by no means conclusive; there will be many storylines unresolved by just the end of Season 1.

As we’ve recently been discussing, some television shows can outstay their welcomes and run too long. Fifteen seasons would mean that Amazon’s adaptation of The Wheel of Time would run longer than 99% of all television shows, catching up to the likes of ER, for example. At one season per year, the series would not conclude until at least 2036 – and I’m just not convinced yet that there’s that much of an appetite for The Wheel of Time.

The Wheel of Time could run for a long time if each book is adapted to one season of television!

So here’s where we are, as I see it: this is an incredibly ambitious project. It’s far more ambitious than Game of Thrones, which only had five books (of a planned six) and some 1.5 million words to adapt, and certainly it’s more ambitious than its sister project, Lord of the Rings on Prime. Amazon’s Lord of the Rings adaptation is based in part on Tolkien’s works – The Silmarillion in particular. But the nature of that book means there’s a lot of leeway for the show’s producers and writers. They could choose to construct a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end, and run it over the (allegedly) planned five seasons in a way that would feel natural.

In contrast, The Wheel of Time either has to run for fifteen seasons, or condense multiple books into a handful of episodes, as Game of Thrones essentially did in its latter seasons. Both of those options have potential drawbacks.

As we’ve also recently talked about, shows that are cancelled before concluding their stories are incredibly disappointing! And I would hate to see The Wheel of Time end up in that situation. The story of the series – at least, based on my recollection – is engaging and entertaining, with the potential for a television adaptation with a sufficient budget to even eclipse Game of Thrones. That’s what I’d dearly love to see – a fantastic piece of fantasy television. I’m optimistic for The Wheel of Time, but still only cautiously so.

The Wheel of Time on Prime (working title) is currently in production and will premiere on Amazon Prime Video in the future. The Wheel of Time on Prime is the copyright of Amazon Studios. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five television shows that ended too soon

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.

A few days ago I put together a list of five television shows that ran too long. This is the counterpoint to that list, because today we’re going to look at five television shows that ended too soon! As I said last time, I’d always rather be in a position of lamenting a show cancelled before its time rather than feeling a series dragged on too long and ran out of fun material. As we’ve recently seen with Game of Thrones, a bad ending can sour audiences on the entire show, and even shows that started off great can be a chore to go back and re-watch if they got worse as time went on.

So speaking for myself, I find it better for a show to end too soon, while it’s still good, rather than run and run until storylines are exhausted and the show becomes a shadow of its former self. But that doesn’t mean seeing a favourite series unceremoniously cancelled is a nice feeling! All of the shows we’re going to look at today had potential to be so much more than they were, if only they’d been able to run for at least one more season apiece.

Game of Thrones didn’t drag on too long, but its disappointing ending means going back to re-watch it isn’t something I’m keen on at the moment.

There can be different reasons why it feels like a show ended before its time. In some cases it’s obvious – a major storyline unresolved, mysteries still unexplained, and a narrative unfinished. Some of the shows on this list fall into exactly this category. But other shows conclude having generally wrapped up most of their narrative elements and after resolving character arcs and points of drama, yet still the feeling of wanting more can persist.

As always, this is just one person’s opinion. If you disagree, or if you think these shows ended at just the right time, that’s great! We’re all entitled to our opinions about entertainment and media, and if my opinion doesn’t align with yours this time, that’s okay! So without further ado, let’s take a look at my picks.

Number 1: Terra Nova (2011)

Promo poster for Terra Nova.

Terra Nova began with a very interesting premise – the discovery of a wormhole-like singularity that allowed humans to travel to the distant past and establish a colony. The 22nd Century, when part of the series is set, was nightmarish and dystopian due to overpopulation and pollution, which is what drove protagonist Jim and his family to make the dangerous journey back in time.

I mentioned Terra Nova last time, and it was only when I thought about the show again – ten years after its cancellation – that I considered putting together this list! As with other entries on the list, lower than expected viewing figures almost certainly explains the show’s premature cancellation. Perhaps we can blame that on the shift in viewing platforms in the early 2010s away from broadcast television toward streaming, but even so perhaps Terra Nova’s premise was just too niche for mainstream audiences.

Stephen Lang as Nathaniel Taylor in Terra Nova.

What I liked about Terra Nova is the creativity in its premise. Not only was there some kind of conspiracy tied to the faction operating the time-wormhole, but events at the colony were unpredictable as well, with a renegade faction battling the established leadership. In addition, Terra Nova introduced new fictional species of dinosaurs to its prehistoric setting, something that the Jurassic Park franchise wouldn’t do for another four years!

Terra Nova ended on a very strange and tantalising cliffhanger, but with its cancellation, that story was never resolved on screen. In a half-hearted effort to reach out to fans of the series, the DVD box set came with a “make your own motion comic” feature, allowing fans to download some artwork to make up their own continuations – but by all accounts, the motion comic was pretty limited in its options. Thus the Terra Nova story ended in disappointing fashion, despite showing promise. It’s worth a watch if you’re interested in sci-fi and dinosaurs, but if you do sit down to watch the only season of the show, just be aware that its story was never finished.

Number 2: Space Precinct (1994-95)

The opening title of Space Precinct.

Gerry Anderson is renowned among a certain subset of sci-fi fans – most of whom are probably British – for creating shows like Space: 1999, as well as “supermarionation” (i.e. filmed with puppets) kids shows Thunderbirds, Stingray, and Captain Scarlet – all of which were mainstays of my childhood television viewing! In the mid-1980s, Anderson began working on the concept that would eventually become Space Precinct – a police procedural show set in space.

Space Precinct is set in the year 2040 – which means, in 2021, that we’re closer to when it was set than when it was made! Just in case you didn’t feel old enough already! Main protagonist Patrick Brogan transfers from the New York City police force to a role in the Demeter City police on the planet Altor – a kind of “space ’90s New York” complete with rampant crime and corruption!

Captain Podly – a Creon. The design of both the aliens and costumes in Space Precinct were unique and fun, and while arguably “of their time” I think they still look pretty good today!

What I appreciated about Space Precinct when I watched it in the mid-1990s was the blend of sci-fi and policing. Almost every episode could have been, with a few tweaks and a few less aliens, part of a modern-day police procedural, and that gave it a unique selling point. The show had some wonderful alien designs, realised with physical prosthetics for the most part, and the way aliens like the Creons and Tarns were created could have become iconic.

Sadly, Space Precinct only got a single season before it was cancelled – allegedly due to poor viewing figures in the United States. Sky and the BBC, who broadcast the show here in the UK, invested a decent amount of money in the project, and I remember collecting a number of action figures based on the main characters – though goodness only knows where they are now! It’s still possible to pick up the series on DVD, and if you can find it it’s well worth a watch, and easily holds up when compared to other early/mid-90s sci-fi fare. Oh, and it has a great theme tune!

Number 3: Firefly (2002)

Promo photo showing the cast of Firefly.

No list of prematurely cancelled shows would be complete without Firefly. A truly bizarre decision on the part of schedulers and executives at American broadcaster Fox saw Firefly’s first few episodes aired out of order. Though the show does have episodic elements, some storylines work far better when viewed in the correct order, and that may be one reason why the show failed to connect with audiences first time around. Rather than give it time or make another attempt, Fox cancelled the series before the first season had even concluded.

Firefly was a fascinating mix of sci-fi and western, with a far greater western emphasis than the likes of Star Trek and Star Wars. It had a fun cast of characters and the excellent writing was backed up by some beautiful world-building, leading to the world of Firefly feeling genuinely real in a way few franchises ever manage to pull off. It was such a shame that it didn’t get a fair shake from its broadcaster and original audience.

Nathan Fillion as Mal in Firefly.

I only encountered the series a couple of years after it went off the air, when a colleague recommended it to me. Like many folks, I discovered Firefly thanks to the DVD box set, and even though I knew going in that the series had no ending, it was still disappointing to reach the final episode and have to leave Mal and his crew with no conclusion.

As you may know, however, a fan campaign succeeded in reviving Firefly for a one-off film. 2005’s Serenity wrapped up the story in a bittersweet way. Considering the original plan was for a seven-season run, one season plus a feature film still leaves me feeling short-changed, even if the film was a solid conclusion to the original characters’ stories. So far, the world of Firefly has never been revisited – but I truly feel there’s scope to do so. A spin-off or a show set in the same universe would make for a wonderful addition to Disney+ – and I believe that The Walt Disney Company will own the rights to the show following their acquisition of large parts of Fox. Will it ever happen? Doubtful, but a fan can dream!

Number 4: Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-05)

The Season 1 cast of Star Trek: Enterprise.

It wouldn’t be a Crazy Uncle Dennis list without at least some Star Trek, right? Unlike other entries on this list, Enterprise managed a decent run at four full seasons and just shy of 100 episodes. And also unlike the other shows we’ve talked about, I actually fully understand the decision to cancel it. By 2005, Star Trek had been in continuous production for almost twenty years – longer, if we trace production back to the films as well as television shows. And there was a sense that audiences were beginning to get burnt out after four television shows and six films.

Enterprise had been threatened with cancellation going back to at least its second season, but had managed to survive two prior cancellation scares. However, its fourth season would turn out to be its last. Because we’ve subsequently learned about potential storylines for the unproduced Season 5, I think Enterprise warrants a place on this list – because it sounds like a season of television I’d have loved to see!

The NX-01 Enterprise.

According to some of the production staff who have been interviewed in the years since Enterprise went off the air, Season 5 would have focused on the Earth-Romulan War, a conflict first mentioned in The Original Series. And if we look at some of the events in Season 4, notably the trio of episodes The Forge, Awakening, and Kir’Shara, we can see what could be argued to be the beginnings of a Romulan storyline in the show.

I’ve explained previously that I wasn’t a huge Enterprise fan during its original run, only tuning in sporadically. But despite that, Enterprise’s cancellation struck a raw nerve in 2005, and it seemed for a time that Star Trek was dead and never coming back. Ultimately, though, Enterprise being cancelled led to a reimagining of the franchise, culminating in Discovery, Picard, and the other shows and films we’re enjoying currently. So while I can say I regret not seeing this unproduced Earth-Romulan War story in Season 5 of Enterprise, things worked out alright for Star Trek in the end!

Number 5: FlashForward (2009-10)

Title card for FlashForward.

FlashForward had a unique premise, one which took sci-fi and time travel concepts but mixed them up in a way I had never really seen before. The basic premise was that practically everyone on Earth lost consciousness at the same moment and experienced the titular “flash forward” – with everyone seeing what appeared to be a vision of their lives around six months in the future. The show follows a team of FBI agents as they try to unravel the mysterious event.

I’d really never seen anything quite like FlashForward, which I watched at the behest of my partner at the time. We got very into the series when it was running, and we were both disappointed to learn it had been cancelled. The first and only season of the show ended on a cliffhanger, with a second “flash forward” event taking place.

Peyton List in FlashForward.

FlashForward had a great cast, including John Cho (Sulu in the Kelvin films) and Peyton List (Rizzo in Picard Season 1). It was a well-financed production with great special effects and set designs to compliment its exciting premise, and felt like a show that was headed for success. At the time, around the turn of the last decade, shows like Fringe and Lost were showing that sci-fi shows with different and unique settings could be a success – but sadly, FlashForward was only given a single season.

Initially a ratings hit for network ABC, FlashForward saw a big drop in viewership as its season rolled on, and its this decline that led to it being axed. Unfortunately the story was already set and the final episodes had already been filmed, meaning there was no way to conclude the story.

So that’s it. Five shows that ended too soon to stand in contrast to the other list of five shows that outstayed their welcome!

Season 33 of The Simpsons is coming up later this year, while most of the shows listed above only managed one season. Life is so unfair sometimes!

Though it’s always better for a series to end on a high note leaving fans clamouring for more, rather than running too long and seeing a decline, the entries on this list were cancelled prematurely. Television executives always seem very quick to pull the plug on an underperforming series, even when there seems to be genuine potential for a revival.

Most television shows take at least a full season to establish themselves. It takes time for actors to get to know their co-stars, for audiences to familiarise themselves with aspects of the story and setting, and thus it’s often not until a show hits its second or even third season before everything falls into place. Some executives don’t allow that to happen, which is a shame. And sadly we’ve begun to see this attitude spill over to streaming services, with Netflix in particular killing off several of its own shows while they were still very popular with fans. Hopefully it’s a trend that will decline as audiences find new ways to access entertainment and media – but I’m not holding my breath!

I enjoyed all of the shows on this list, but sadly that enjoyment is tinged with at least a little disappointment at the stories we never got to see, or the mysteries left unresolved. While I can heartily recommend all five, that recommendation has to come with a caveat as a result of their being cut short.

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective network, broadcaster, studio, and/or distributor. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five television shows that ran too long

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.

When writers and producers sit down to craft a new television series, usually they can’t plan for anything beyond a single season. Most television shows are greenlit for one season at a time, and renewed for one additional season at a time. Forward planning for events that may take place in Season 6 of a show are usually not at the forefront of creators’ minds when sketching out the storyline of Season 1.

And this approach makes a lot of sense. A series like Terra Nova clearly had a multi-season story planned, as Season 1 ended on a cliffhanger, but cancellation meant that the remaining story was never put to screen. That’s frustrating as a viewer – and yes, even though it’s been ten years I’m still sore about Terra Nova!

Terra Nova had the opposite problem to the titles on this list!

But one drawback to this season-by-season approach to writing and storytelling comes when a show is renewed. If writers have managed to successfully wrap up a season-long storyline and character arcs, what comes next? This is something I’ve termed “the Disney sequel problem,” because it’s comparable to a situation many sequels to successful Disney films find themselves in. What comes next after “happily ever after?” Or in this case, what comes next after a finished story?

Some shows just run and run and run, continuing long after they’ve completely exhausted their potential stories and original purpose. These shows tend to morph into something different – even unrecognisable – from their original incarnation. Even though the characters may remain the same, storylines change and often get wilder and more bizarre. Though some shows retain a large following even as they change, in many cases fans of the first couple of seasons realise that the changes have been for the worse.

The Simpsons is now approaching its 33rd Season…

Television, like any entertainment or artistic medium, has its limits. No single story can run and run forever, and no set of characters can endure season upon season of increasingly outlandish storylines. Most television shows, like most stories across other forms of media, have natural lifespans. In some cases that could be a single season, in others it could be ten seasons. It varies a lot and depends on the show. But practically every show eventually hits that wall – and some try to sidestep it and keep going.

Today we’re going to look at five examples of television shows that should’ve ended far sooner than they did. As I always say, this is just the opinion of one person. If you like a show on this list and enjoyed its later seasons, that’s okay. I’m not trying to claim these shows or their latter episodes are somehow objectively bad. Simply put, I feel they outstayed their welcome.

Number 1: The Simpsons (1989-present)

The Simpson family.

Given The Simpsons’ place in popular culture and the show’s enormous influence over satire and comedy, this one is painful to admit. But The Simpsons, which will begin broadcasting its 33rd season later this year, has clearly and demonstrably gone on too long. Its original premise – satirising family-oriented 1980s sitcoms and taking a comedic yet biting look at America as the 1990s dawned – has entirely evaporated, and while there have been creditable attempts in recent seasons to recapture parts of that, the show has largely forgotten its roots.

A few weeks ago I picked out twelve of my favourite episodes – and as I was composing that article I came to realise pretty quickly that all of my favourites were within the first eight or nine seasons. That was when The Simpsons was at its peak, and while the show is still running and clearly has an audience, even Simpsons fans admit that it’s gone downhill.

The Simpsons’ decline set in sometime around the year 2000.

One of the most-cited differences between The Simpsons in its ’90s heyday and the series today is the characterisation of Homer. Originally he was presented as a hard-working everyman, down on his luck and with undeniable flaws, but nevertheless someone viewers could root for. In his first standalone appearance in the Season 1 premiere Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, Homer’s financial problem and desire to do right by his family as Christmas approaches elicits genuine sympathy; an oddly timeless story. But by later seasons, spurred on by a desire or need to continue a trend of increasingly outrageous storylines, Homer has been turned into a character that’s half-clown, half-jerk, exaggerating his worst traits and becoming a parody of himself.

Unlike some other entries on this list, The Simpsons is episodic in nature. It didn’t have a single overarching story to tell that was exhausted at some point in its run. Instead it had an underlying premise, and a desire to show Americans a satirical mirror of their society. But since the show itself became part of American popular culture, and inspired not only a whole genre of adult-oriented animation but also a whole style of comedy, its ability to effectively do that waned. And as writers exhausted plausible storylines to put a comedic spin on, all that remained was to take the show to extremes – pushing the boat out ever further to try to keep it funny.

Number 2: Supernatural (2005-2020)

Brothers Sam and Dean Winchester in Season 15 of Supernatural.

Supernatural is the show that originally inspired this article! If you’re a regular around here you might remember it from last year’s Crazy Uncle Dennis awards – where it “won” the award for worst television series of the year. I stand by what I said then: Supernatural had become the king of running too long.

When Supernatural premiered in 2005 it had a wonderfully innovative premise. It was a great blend of episodic, monster-of-the-week television with season-long character arcs and stories that rumbled away in the background, particularly the disappearance of the boys’ father and their quest to hunt the Yellow-Eyed Demon. As Sam and Dean travelled the United States hunting an array of new and old monsters and horror movie villains, there was a lot to love.

Sam and Dean Winchester in the pilot episode.

But Supernatural exhausted its original storylines sometime before 2010, certainly by the fifth season or so. Not only that, but having faced down examples of most horror staples – ghosts, demons, werewolves, and the like – the writers and producers were running out of material. The show moved away from its original semi-episodic format toward a more serialised approach, and while there’s nothing wrong with serialised storytelling, combined with the satisfying conclusion of Supernatural’s original storylines and the exhausting of most monster-of-the-week stereotypes, there was nothing left for the show to explore.

For me, one episode more than any other cements Supernatural’s decline: Season 6’s The French Mistake. It was at this moment that the show lost all semblance of seriousness and descended into the fan-servicey mess that became the hallmark of its latter seasons. The transformation of main characters Sam and Dean from two relatively ordinary guys thrust into a world of demon-hunting into invincible Biblical warriors anointed by God and the angels was catastrophic, but that episode was the icing on the cake.

Number 3: Lost (2004-2010)

Title card for Lost.

Lost is absolutely one of the best shows of the 2000s, and unlike other entries on this list which ran for a decade or longer, its six seasons actually seem rather modest in comparison. But Lost nevertheless exhibits many of the same issues, including exhausting its original premise and storylines, and putting its characters in increasingly weird and wacky situations to try to keep the magic going.

I mentioned at the beginning that many television shows are written season by season, without much thought for how or when they will end. Lost is a case in point. JJ Abrams, who created the show, has become notorious for writing half a story – a beginning without any idea of how it will end. In fact, the so-called “mystery box” has become a hallmark of the way Abrams creates his stories. In the case of Lost – as with the Star Wars sequel trilogy that Abrams also helmed parts of – the weaknesses of this approach become apparent.

Lost started strongly and encouraged fans to theorise and speculate – but the writers and producers hadn’t planned any answers to the questions they set up.

There were mysteries in Season 1 of Lost. What caused the plane to crash? How were they so far off-course? What’s with the weird smoke monster? What’s inside the hatch? Who is Kate, and what did she do? But fundamentally it was a character-driven story with a strong focus on the need for survival. The characters found themselves in a hostile environment with no immediate hope of escape, and much of the drama came from that premise.

Lost had become unrecognisable by Season 6, with a narrative that involved worldwide conspiracies, time travel, an island that could literally move, and so on. For fans who had become engrossed in its world, perhaps some of these answers were satisfying. For many, though, they were not, and what started as a fun and mysterious show lost its way when the creative team found themselves boxed in narratively, unable to find a satisfying way to conclude various story elements.

Number 4: 12 Monkeys (2015-2018)

12 Monkeys protagonist James Cole in Season 1.

As with Lost above, 12 Monkeys doesn’t seem to have enough seasons to fit the bill as a show that outstayed its welcome. But it absolutely did! The series began with a similar premise to the 1995 film of the same name – a man from the future must travel back in time to the modern day in order to prevent the release of a biological weapon that would decimate humankind.

That premise sounds amazing, and more than a little timely given the year we’ve just had! Though time travel stories are seldom my favourite for a number of reasons, 12 Monkeys Season 1 absolutely nailed it. But then they ran out of story, and what was chosen to replace it simply did not work. Things went downhill fast.

12 Monkeys did time travel very well… in its first season.

The plot became overly complicated when the original premise – stopping the release of the virus – was played out. What replaced it was a convoluted and frankly just plain dumb story about an international conspiracy to “stop time itself.” Yeah. I know.

Though the characters remained the same, the lines they were spewing now made no sense, and the show had to create increasingly stupid reasons for both using the time machine – its central piece of tech – and for including characters from the modern day. With the focus having switched to battling this weird army of time-hating people, the entire concept of the series was lost.

Number 5: The Walking Dead (2010-present)

An iconic image from Season 1 of The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead’s main problem is that the entire show is built around a very simple premise: zombies. When the zombies stop being frightening, and when the show’s original cast has been decimated by season after season of “shocking” deaths, there’s nothing left to do. That should be game over – and The Walking Dead managed about three seasons before that feeling set in.

Unfortunately, despite hitting the wall, The Walking Dead kept going. The zombies stopped being the show’s focus and were relegated to a background role, with the impetus switching to new groups of characters who, for no other reason than “because plot,” would turn out to have a burning hatred of protagonist Rick Grimes and his group.

Sonequa Martin-Green (Star Trek: Discovery’s Michael Burnham) appeared in The Walking Dead.

After the show found success with the Governor as its main human antagonist in Season 3, the writers evidently became desperate to recapture that feeling, throwing villain after villain at Rick. That’s all the Terminus cannibals were, that’s all Negan was, and now this new villain Alpha is in the same mould.

The Walking Dead, along with Game of Thrones which was around at the same time in the early 2010s, helped to pioneer the idea of a “disposable” main cast – where viewers were kept on the edge of their seats not sure if all of their favourites would survive to the end. The problem is that the end should’ve come far sooner. Spin-offs like Fear the Walking Dead and World Beyond can pick up the baton for the franchise, telling new stories with new characters. But the main series should’ve ended a long time ago.

So that’s it. Five shows that ran too long – or are still running too long!

Usually this happens for “business reasons” – namely money. Investing in the creation of a new television series is expensive, and when a show is a hit, executives and producers naturally want to keep going, bringing in more money and making use of existing sets, props, and characters. However, this can come at the expense of artistic integrity and good storytelling, with shows forced to make major changes to compensate for either concluding their original story or simply running out of ideas.

We didn’t even mention The Big Bang Theory…

None of the shows on the list above were bad. I actively enjoyed all five in their early days. But somewhere along the way their original intentions got lost, and the transformed series that resulted became less enjoyable. In some cases this can happen within a season or two, especially if the original creative team tell what is essentially a one-and-done story across one season of television. But other shows have a slower, more gradual decline over the course of several years, with concepts that were interesting and exciting in Season 1 decaying and becoming clichéd tropes by Season 5. There are different ways this decline can manifest, just as there are different lifespans for different shows.

As a fan, in every single case I’d rather be writing an article saying “this show was cancelled too soon!” instead of “this show should’ve been cancelled already.” I’d rather lament what we could’ve seen had a show ran for just one more season than feel it declined because it went on too long. Perhaps that seems paradoxical, but sometimes, as the saying goes, “less is more.”

Regardless of what I may think, this phenomenon isn’t going away any time soon. Television producers will always look to continue successful projects where they can and cancel those that don’t bring in enough viewers and enough money. That’s just the way the industry works!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective network, broadcaster, studio, and/or distributor. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

My encounter with a royal broadcast, and how Prince Philip’s funeral will be very different

In 2011 I found myself in London working with a client. It just so happened that, during the month I was in the capital, the wedding of Prince William was set to take place. Royal events like weddings and funerals are broadcast live in the UK and around the world, and doing so is an incredible logistical feat that takes a huge amount of planning. In this current coronavirus moment, with restrictions and limitations in place, the upcoming funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh will be quite different to the royal event I – in a very minor way – attended a decade ago.

Although my health was in decline by 2011, at that point I was still working full-time and was still able to travel in relative comfort, so when a client I’d worked with for several years asked me to spend some time in their office with their marketing team I happily agreed and travelled to London. All expenses paid, I thought, so why not? I stayed in a small room in a shared apartment in King’s Cross, from where my client’s office was a short commute. It was, for someone who grew up in a small rural community, a change of scene! Though I’d lived in cities before, I never really got used to the dense crowds of places like London – but if I thought my commute or my lunch break were busy, that was nothing compared to the royal wedding!

Crowds at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011.

After several years of dating, Prince William and Kate Middleton – now Kate, Duchess of Cambridge – announced their engagement in November 2010, and planning for the wedding kicked into high gear not only for the royal family, but for media companies as well. Though Prince Charles’ second wedding to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall in 2005 had attracted a modest television audience of around 7 million in the UK, his first wedding to Diana, Princess of Wales in 1981 picked up an audience of over 28 million in the UK – and some 750 million worldwide. Broadcasters certainly expected William and Kate to manage something similar!

A huge event was planned, and the royal family were accommodating of the media, despite decades of mistrust between them, setting up cameras and microphones to capture every single moment of the day. Screens were set up in public parks in London – where I watched the ceremony – and all around the UK, and people lined the routes waving flags and joining in. After sitting to watch the wedding in Green Park – a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace – I found myself on the Mall in time for the newlyweds’ appearance on the palace balcony, as well as to see a flyover by the Royal Air Force.

My view of Buckingham Palace from the Mall in 2011.

There were an estimated one million people on the Mall along with me, and scenes of the event were broadcast to an audience of some 30+ million in the UK, and well over 160 million worldwide. It’s always been a source of interest to be able to tell people that “I was there” – even though I’m no royalist and wouldn’t have attended on purpose, it’s certainly something interesting to have participated in while I was able. An event.

Royal funerals, too, tend to draw significant audiences, and in light of the death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh last week, it’s these events we should really be looking to for points of comparison.

The funerals of both the Queen Mother in 2002 and Princess Diana in 1997 are the largest royal funerals of note in the last few years, and the best comparisons to what we could expect to see on Saturday. The Queen Mother’s 2002 funeral picked up an audience of over 10 million in the UK – but this is barely a third of the 32 million who tuned in to see the funeral of Princess Diana.

The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales was a massive television event in 1997.

Royal weddings, like the one mentioned above, are meticulously planned months ahead of time, with every detail ironed out. With eight days between the announcement of Prince Philip’s death and the funeral, you’d think that putting together an event like this, with plans to televise it worldwide, would be impossible. But that’s far from the truth.

The reality is that the royal family and broadcasters have been working on funeral plans for Prince Philip and other senior royals for decades. Prince Philip himself is said to have worked on his own funeral arrangements, crafting an event that would cause, in his words, “minimal fuss,” and even designing his own Land Rover-based hearse! Perhaps he would have appreciated the scaled-back nature of this event, caused by the pandemic, which means a maximum of thirty people can be in attendance!

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021)
Picture Credit: Allan warren, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A lot has changed since even the wedding of William and Kate ten years ago in terms of the way audiences consume media, and I will be genuinely interested to see whether the viewing figures for Prince Philip’s funeral come close to matching other comparable royal events. The move away from broadcast television to on-demand streaming has changed the way many people, especially younger people, interact with what they watch.

In a growing number of cases, people are opting not to watch any broadcast television, replacing it with subscriptions to streaming platforms, and even eschewing the traditional television set in favour of smaller, portable screens like phones and tablets. While that wouldn’t be my preference for how to watch, well, anything, I can’t deny that it’s a trend that doesn’t seem to be slowing down. How many of these people will step away from Netflix, YouTube, or Paramount+ to tune into a royal funeral, I wonder, and how many will simply opt to watch highlights later?

How many people will watch the funeral live, and how many will simply stream the highlights afterwards?

Royal events have been huge draws for television audiences going back to at least the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953. My father can vividly remember crowding around a brand-new television to watch the queen’s coronation, and while in 2021 we shouldn’t be crowding around anything, there is still power in royalty for television broadcasters. One need only look to the success of Netflix’s The Crown as evidence.

So it will be a point of interest to learn how many viewers turn up for Prince Philip on Saturday. Broadcasters will have had a number of plans in place for different events, different crowd sizes, and even different weather conditions. April weather in the UK can be unpredictable – in the last couple of days it snowed, coming after several days of unseasonably warm weather! So you never know what you might be up against, something broadcasters will have to work around.

The Crown on Netflix shows how big of a draw anything involving the royal family can be.

In 2011, to get back to my own experience, while exploring the Mall in the days before the wedding, and on the day itself, I came upon a temporary structure that had been built opposite Buckingham Palace especially to house a number of different domestic and international broadcasters. It was an odd shade of green and appeared to have been built largely from wood and scaffolding! Regardless, it did its job and quite a few broadcasters – including big ones like the BBC – appear to have made use of it.

Whether such a structure will be able to be built in time for the funeral is not clear, nor are whether restrictions in place because of coronavirus would even allow for so many people to work in such close proximity. The pandemic has disrupted so many events and plans, and Prince Philip’s funeral is no exception.

The temporary media structure in 2011.

It’s a huge logistical effort to televise an event of this nature, and given the pandemic and associated restrictions, it will be a herculean task to get everything ready in time so that the funeral and its broadcast go smoothly. But plans have been in place for a long time – just as there are plans for other big funerals and events – so all the broadcasters have to do at this point is put them into place efficiently.

On a personal note, as someone who grew up in the UK with family members who were generally pro-monarchy, the passing of Prince Philip is a noteworthy event. We shouldn’t taint that nor sidestep it with criticisms of the man or the institution; there will be time in future to discuss both monarchy as a concept and the present royal family, but now is not the right moment. Suffice to say it will be a significant event for the country, despite the unusual backdrop of pandemic-related restrictions. And I daresay I will tune in on Saturday to watch at least part of the service.

The funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021) is due to take place on Saturday, the 17th of April 2021. The event will be televised in the UK and around the world. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

This Sceptred Isle – is it in poor taste?

Well that didn’t take long! The first major television drama about the coronavirus pandemic was announced recently, and is currently scheduled to debut on Sky here in the UK next year. But surely, with coronavirus still raging as the series is being filmed, it’s far too soon for this kind of show. Isn’t it?

This Sceptred Isle is billed as an examination of the UK government’s response to the “first few months” of the pandemic. And in many ways, such a story is worth telling. The UK government did not handle the pandemic’s arrival particularly well, being slow to put measures into place that were already being taken by other countries, in particular Italy. As a result, the UK’s per capita death toll has been higher than many comparable western nations, and despite the success of the vaccine rollout – I got my first dose of the vaccine last month – that remains a stain on the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Promo picture of Kenneth Branagh as Boris Johnson in This Sceptred Isle.
Picture Credit: Sky TV.

But something about This Sceptred Isle just rubs me the wrong way. It feels like it’s in incredibly poor taste to create a fictionalised drama series based on something so significant and that has cost so many lives while it’s quite literally still raging on. Not to mention that planning for the series, writing scripts, hiring producers, and so on must’ve been going on for months already – pre-production on any show takes time, and for This Sceptred Isle to have begun filming at the end of February it must’ve been conceived at the latest by last summer, with plots and storylines already prepared.

What I fear will be the case is that the series will have an axe to grind, and rather than making any real attempt to faithfully retell the events of the early weeks and months of the UK’s pandemic response, it will instead descend into a farcical and utterly fictitious portrayal of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government. I’m not a political person, and the electoral fortunes of Mr Johnson are not my concern. But a series like this presents itself as factual, or at least fact-based, and I seriously question how it can be.

This Sceptred Isle is being produced by British satellite broadcaster Sky TV.

No major government figure has broken ranks since the pandemic began to tell “their side of the story.” Actual verifiable information of what went on behind closed doors in Downing Street in the first half of 2020 doesn’t exist; at best This Sceptred Isle will be based on hearsay. When a series is trying to bill itself as having at least a basis in fact, that’s not acceptable.

One of my favourite miniseries of the last few years was HBO’s Chernobyl. Like This Sceptred Isle, Chernobyl took a factual event – the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster – and dramatised it for television. As I noted once, some pretty significant changes were made, including the creation of a fictional “composite” character. However, the events surrounding the Chernobyl disaster were well-established by 2019, with books written about the subject, involved persons having given frank first-hand accounts of what took place, and decades of historical analysis of the precise details of the disaster and its consequences for the creative team at HBO to draw on. The result was one of the best pieces of television made in the last few years, and something which is as accurate as can be for a dramatic work.

HBO’s Chernobyl earned widespread acclaim… but was produced years after the events it depicted.

All of that was possible because of the series’ distance from the events it depicted. Almost a quarter of a century had passed since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and the passage of time allowed for more information to be available, making the show more accurate. This Sceptred Isle is filming now, right in the middle of the pandemic. Despite some signs of progress in some parts of the world, the pandemic is not dying down nor going away, and we can’t say what the state of affairs will be in six weeks or six months from now, let alone by the second half of next year. That context is crucial to a series like This Sceptred Isle, and will be entirely absent from the production.

How we reflect on the pandemic’s early days will depend entirely on what course it takes over the remainder of this year and into next year. Will it die down with the rollout of vaccination programmes across the world? Or will it adapt, flare up, and continue to wreak havoc? Without knowing the answer to that question, This Sceptred Isle may very well end up on the wrong side of the argument, either being overly-critical of a government that did its best, or by being too lenient in retrospect. It’s an impossible line to walk without knowing what happens next.

This Sceptred Isle aims to look at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the pandemic – but the pandemic (and his handling of it) are still ongoing.

In short, This Sceptred Isle is trying to produce a television series based on an unfinished story. We don’t yet know how or when the coronavirus pandemic will end, nor what all of the consequences will be. There will be political fallout from it, that’s all but certain. But without knowing which way to lean, without crucial information that won’t be heard in public for several years at least, the show will be little more than straight-faced pantomime, stabbing in the dark trying to tell a compelling story without the necessary facts or information to do so.

If its objective is to criticise the government and convince people not to support them, maybe the creative team will consider This Sceptred Isle a success. If they don’t care about creating a fact-based depiction of events to begin with, they naturally won’t be bothered by such criticism. But blindly attacking the government at a dangerous moment is not a good thing, and I’m concerned that if This Sceptred Isle is nothing more than a teardown of everything the government has done, it will have implications for the country. If we’re in a position when the series is broadcast where more vaccinations are needed, or where there are still some rules or restrictions in place, a savage attack on every aspect of the government’s handling of the crisis could lead to people ceasing to abide by the rules or become unwilling to get vaccinated.

Could there be unintended consequences if This Sceptred Isle goes too far in its attacks on the UK government?

I’m positive that there was a mad rush on the part of television producers to be the first to make a major drama series based on the pandemic, and Sky jumped the gun and managed to get in ahead of everyone else. But in this case, patience may be a virtue. If This Sceptred Isle is shown to contain scenes which are demonstrably false, that will harm its reputation and damage Sky’s brand.

A series like This Sceptred Isle is important and necessary – but not yet. Right now it’s too soon, and with people still sick and dying both in the UK and around the world, it seems aggressive and downright ghoulish to try to dramatise the pandemic for money. Not only that, but because of the lack of clear and verifiable information about what’s going on in the real world, the series will be inaccurate at best – and completely and utterly wrong at worst. Maybe that’s what it’s designed to be; Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party are not well-supported in the entertainment industry as a whole, and this could simply be a way to attack them. But when the entire offering is based around telling a story grounded in the truth, that’s not good enough.

Art and entertainment will dine out on the pandemic in the years ahead. There are so many different kinds of stories that can be told about it, from the exciting and tense to the wholesome and sweet. Some projects can be timely, considering the effects of things like refusal to wear a mask or vaccine hesitancy. But a project like This Sceptred Isle, with its inclusion of characters based on real people and claiming to depict real events, comes at the wrong moment. It’s too soon – and that makes it feel as though it’s in very poor taste.

This Sceptred Isle will be broadcast on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV in the UK in “Autumn 2022.” International distribution has not been announced at time of writing. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Twelve great episodes of The Simpsons

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the episodes on this list.

At time of writing, the 700th episode of The Simpsons is imminent. Aside from soap operas, which are usually broadcast daily, very few shows come close to reaching that mark. The Simpsons is the longest-running scripted television series in US history, having made its debut in 1989 – 32 years ago! So there must be at least twelve decent episodes, right?

I first encountered The Simpsons in the mid-1990s. The first episodes to be broadcast on terrestrial television here in the UK were in 1996 or 1997, and I recall that it used to occupy the 6pm slot on the BBC. In the late 1990s this would mean it was on right before Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, providing a nice little extra as I sat down to my favourite shows!

The Simpsons in its heyday was funny, clever, and a satirical take on the idealistic sitcom families of the 1970s and 1980s. It took television tropes of that era and turned them on its head. It showed a “darker” side of American family life than other shows of its era, with a dysfunctional family at the centre. That edginess held a particular appeal, as did The Simpsons’ style of humour. Some of its nuance and specific America-centric jokes went way over my head in my youth, but I came to enjoy what the fun cartoon had to offer. The fact that The Simpsons was detested by my parents and others of their generation was another great point in its favour! In that sense, perhaps I associate earlier seasons of The Simpsons – which we got in the UK several years after their US premiere – with my burgeoning adolescence. The show came along when I was at that age – having outgrown kids’ cartoons and looking for something edgier and more serious.

It will come as no surprise, then, that the earlier seasons of The Simpsons hold most of my favourite episodes. Despite that, I have watched every season of the show at least once, and while I agree with the general consensus that the quality declined somewhere after Season 9 or 10, most seasons have had decent episodes, and most episodes manage to win a chuckle for the odd good joke, even if the premise or story itself is less fun overall.

Looking at a series that has endured for more than 30 years offers some unique challenges. Is it fair to assess The Simpsons’ overall output; all 700 episodes? If so, the show is undoubtedly mediocre, with far more sub-par episodes than good ones. But if we break The Simpsons down into two distinct eras – its ’90s heyday and then the more recent seasons – we can perhaps be fairer in our assessment. Think of it as comparable to assessing the musical legacy of artists like Bob Dylan or The Rolling Stones. In their heydays, both put out incredible, genre-defining work. But as they kept going and going and going some more, the music they were making became stagnant and its quality dropped. Can we call the careers of either artist mediocre because of a back catalogue overflowing with uninspired work that doesn’t live up to their early successes? I would argue no, both Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones should be considered musical greats – that their early work defines them, not their mediocre decades. The same should be true of The Simpsons when we come to write its eulogy. It was a great show once. It isn’t any more, but it was once – and it was such a great show that it redefined American humour for an entire generation and spawned a whole genre: adult animation. Without The Simpsons we wouldn’t have Family Guy, South Park, Rick and Morty, or even Star Trek: Lower Decks. It’s an influential series; a landmark in both the history of television and ’90s popular culture.

So without any further ado, let’s take a look at my twelve episodes. For the record, because I know people like to throw tantrums and get upset: I’m not saying that these episodes are objectively the best, nor that they represent the absolute pinnacle of The Simpsons. These are simply twelve episodes from the show that I consider to be great and well worth a watch – especially if you’re looking for something to watch on Disney+!

Number 1: Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire (Season 1, 1989)

Where better to start than at the beginning? Airing just before Christmas 1989, Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire launched the series. The characters were not new – they had been part of The Tracey Ullman Show going back to 1987 – but this Christmas episode marked their solo debut. As I wrote the last time I looked at this episode on one of my Christmas lists, it represents a series finding its feet. Not all of the characters or other elements of the show that we would come to know are present yet, but the feel of The Simpsons was firmly established.

Even as Homer spirals downward, it’s impossible not to sympathise with him. The down-on-his luck dad genuinely trying to save his family’s Christmas is an oddly timeless story, one that works just as well in 2021 as it did in 1989. In my opinion, any fan of The Simpsons needs to watch this episode – if for no other reason than to see where it all began!

Number 2: Krusty Gets Busted (Season 1, 1990)

Kelsey Grammar became the first household name to guest-star in an episode of The Simpsons in this episode. He plays the role of Sideshow Bob – a character who recurs occasionally to this day! Bob attempts to frame Springfield legend – and Bart’s hero – Krusty the Clown for armed robbery, and what transpires is an astonishingly good piece of television that incorporates elements of action, mystery, and courtroom drama.

The Simpsons had already proved across its first season that it was more than just dumb jokes and simple comedy, but for me, no other Season 1 episode epitomises this better than Krusty Gets Busted. It managed to be witty and clever, taking the audience on a wild ride as Bart and Lisa attempt to prove Krusty’s innocence in spite of seemingly overwhelming evidence.

Number 3: One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish (Season 2, 1991)

Guest-starring Star Trek’s George Takei, this episode was surprisingly sombre for an animated comedy. After Lisa prompts the Simpson family to try sushi, Homer accidentally consumes the poisonous fish fugu, and is given 24 hours to live. He begins to prepare for death, and though the episode contains a number of jokes and gags, it really showed that both the series and Homer himself can be serious.

Homer makes a bucket list of things he wants and needs to do, the most touching of which were making amends with Grandpa and recording a video for Maggie. More recent episodes focusing on Homer have either shown him to be rude and selfish or a complete clown, so this goes down as a story that shows how Homer used to be – a regular guy trying his best. He has heart in this story, and his impending death doesn’t just mean he wants to do things for himself, but rather for others – for his father, his daughter, and his friends.

Number 4: Flaming Moe’s (Season 3, 1991)

There are a few episodes of The Simpsons that are absolutely iconic, and Flaming Moe’s has to be one of them. Focusing on the relationships between Homer and Moe and Homer and Bart, it’s a surprisingly dramatic story with a truly silly premise! That concept is something that the show did especially well in its early years. Homer accidentally invents an amazing drink – the “Flaming Homer” – but Moe steals his recipe and uses it to drive business to his bar.

Moe is a strangely relatable character, at least for me. He does a lot of bad things across the show’s run, and is by no means sympathetic, but he’s driven by depression and loneliness. While that doesn’t excuse his actions in Flaming Moe’s, the desire to be successful and lauded, especially for someone who feels so low much of the time, is at least understandable, and the episode manages to be more than the sum of its parts because of the nuance in both Moe and Homer’s characters.

Number 5: Homer at the Bat (Season 3, 1992)

We don’t have baseball or softball in the UK, so some of the gags in Homer at the Bat went over my head on first viewing! But it’s a truly funny story, as Mr Burns tries to cheat at softball by hiring professional players to work at his power plant – a commentary both on the way some countries run their Olympic teams and on the concept of college sports.

In true ’90s sports movie style, Homer ends up winning the important game by accident! It’s a fun romp, one which shows Mr Burns at both his most devious and eccentric, as well as looking at the sport of baseball in some detail.

Number 6: Mr. Plow (Season 4, 1992)

Another of The Simpsons’ most iconic episodes, Mr. Plow shows Homer stepping away from his usual job at the nuclear plant to start his own snowplow business. I like winter time and winter-themed episodes, so this premise was a lot of fun. But in true Simpsons style, things don’t go to plan for Homer. After initially becoming successful as the town’s snowplow of choice, Homer loses it all when Barney (of all people) jumps into the business as his competitor.

The “Mr. Plow jingle” became an early meme, and it’s a great example of the show’s early humour and depictions of Homer. By creating the silly five-second jingle, Homer imitates other commercials of the era in his own way. The whole Mr. Plow commercial perfectly captures low-quality local television commercials of the 1990s and was absolutely hilarious.

Number 7: Homer’s Barbershop Quartet (Season 5, 1993)

There have been some great flashback episodes across the show’s run, providing elaborate backstories to many of the characters. In Homer’s Barbershop Quartet, we learn that Homer – along with Apu, Barney, and Principal Skinner – used to be famous. The plot parodies the rise and fall of The Beatles, from the band getting together, having a string of hits, and subsequently falling apart, but like many earlier episodes, it manages to be gentle in its treatment of the subject it tackles – it’s a send-up of The Beatles without being mean-spirited.

The reunion concert which closes the episode is of course a reference to The Beatles’ famous rooftop concert in 1969, and was a truly touching moment for the episode to end on. This is another episode that manages to have plenty of jokes, but still tells a story with emotion and heart. There are some great songs, too!

Number 8: Itchy & Scratchy Land (Season 6, 1994)

I’ve written before about how I greatly enjoy Disney World and other Disney theme parks, and Itchy & Scratchy Land is a perfect parody of them! Homer and Marge take the kids on holiday to the titular theme park, but things go wrong almost from the first moment they arrive. Seeing Bart and Lisa begging for the vacation was cute and funny, and Homer buying “Itchy & Scratchy money” only to find it isn’t accepted at any of the shops in the park was a hilarious gag.

The episode later turns into a send-up of Jurassic Park when the theme park’s animatronics come to life and begin attacking the family. Of course they manage to survive and escape, but it’s a surprisingly tense and action-filled second half to an episode that started out as a gentle family holiday parody.

Number 9: Lisa the Vegetarian (Season 7, 1995)

A show like The Simpsons typically “resets” after each story, with any growth or change the characters experience being largely ignored in subsequent adventures. A rare exception to this came in Lisa the Vegetarian, which added a new dimension to the character of Lisa. Lisa’s vegetarianism has gone on to be a defining feature of her character, a major part of making her the show’s liberal, left-leaning voice.

Paul and Linda McCartney, who guest-star, were already committed vegetarians by this point, and making Lisa a vegetarian was done in their honour. Linda McCartney sadly passed away less than three years after the episode was broadcast. A true gem that often flies under the radar when fans put together “best of” lists, Lisa the Vegetarian tackles some deep issues in The Simpsons’ typically fun way and deserves more recognition.

Number 10: The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson (Season 9, 1997)

New York City in the 1990s was experiencing somewhat of a renaissance, and this episode shows why. Homer had a bad experience in the crime-riddled city years previously and refuses to go back, but when Barney leaves his car parked at the World Trade Center, Homer and the family must go there to retrieve it.

I’ve only been to New York a couple of times, but the city is absolutely iconic. This episode does a fantastic job of capturing the look and feel of New York, and as we see part of it through Homer’s eyes, it isn’t quite the paradise it wants to be! The city can be confusing and difficult for tourists and newcomers, and The Simpsons’ gentle prodding shows why. We really see two sides of New York in the episode – Homer’s dark vision of the city and the rest of the family’s vision of a fun place to visit.

Number 11: Treehouse of Horror X (Season 11, 1999)

I wanted to put at least one Treehouse of Horror episode on the list, because The Simpsons Halloween specials have always been fun. It’s unusual for any series to regularly roll out “non-canon” episodes, but the annual Halloween specials are a perfect example of how The Simpsons doesn’t take itself too seriously.

In the tenth outing (the Treehouse of Horror specials first appeared in Season 2) the three mini-stories focus on the family running over Ned Flanders in a parody of the 1997 horror film I Know What You Did Last Summer, then Bart and Lisa gain superpowers in a gentle send-up of nerd culture and collecting, and finally Homer accidentally brings about the end of the world – courtesy of the millennium bug! Do you remember “Y2K” and how a lot of folks were in a panic about that? It was a big deal in 1999, and was the perfect way for that year’s Halloween special to end.

Number 12: Mypods and Boomsticks (Season 20, 2008)

I wanted to choose at least one recent episode for this list – though I suppose 2008 is stretching that definition a little – to prove that The Simpsons does still, at least on occasion, get it right. Mypods and Boomsticks partly focuses on Lisa as she overspends on music for her new MyPod – a not-so-subtle iPod parody. But the main reason it succeeds is in its depiction of Homer and his interactions with a new Muslim family.

The Simpsons in its early years tried to be a dark mirror of American society, showcasing and parodying the darker side of everyday American life. After the 9/11 attacks, anti-Muslim prejudice rose significantly in the United States, and Mypods and Boomsticks is the show’s attempt to look at the issue. Homer initially suspects his new neighbours are plotting a terrorist attack, but it’s later shown that he’s completely mistaken. The episode was praised by many Muslim groups in the United States for breaking down stereotypes and presenting a positive depiction of American Muslims.

So that’s it. Twelve great episodes of The Simpsons.

There are far, far more great episodes that I didn’t put on this list – so maybe this can be a topic to revisit one day! The Simpsons, especially in its early years, was a fantastic and very witty series, so there are dozens of truly outstanding episodes to choose from. It’s certainly true that recent years have seen a drop in quality, but perhaps that’s as much to do with the way entertainment and humour have moved on than it is to do with the series itself.

The Simpsons pioneered a new style of comedy and brought animation to the world of adult entertainment for the first time. A whole host of shows that are going strong today owe it their existence, and it will always have a place in the history of television. If you have Disney+ you have access to the show’s entire back catalogue, and while I’ve recommended twelve episodes here, there are so many more that are worth your time as well.

As a comedy series I first encountered in adolescence, The Simpsons holds a special place for me as a piece of my youth. In its heyday it was a slice of American counter-culture that definitely upset the crusty old grown-ups, and I wasn’t alone in appreciating that side of the show’s darker, edgier humour.

That’s about all I have to say. The Simpsons was a fantastic series, and I had fun choosing a small number of great episodes from its almost 700-strong back catalogue. I hope this was a bit of fun for you too!

The Simpsons is available to stream now on Disney+ and is also available on DVD. The Simpsons, and all episodes listed above, are 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.

The ad campaign for Paramount+ has been surprisingly strong

In early March, CBS All Access is being relaunched under the new name Paramount+. As a Trekkie, I’m invested in the future of Star Trek, and it’s my hope that Paramount+ will be a successful, stable home for the franchise in the 2020s and beyond. The rebranding of CBS All Access is in many ways a positive thing, especially as ViacomCBS will be taking Paramount+ international, beginning with launches in Australia and the Scandinavian countries.

At the same time, though, I can’t help but feel that, if CBS All Access had proved to be the runaway success ViacomCBS was hoping for, the rebranding would be unnecessary. ViacomCBS has never been totally up-front about subscriber numbers, viewership, or revenue, so it’s hard to tell how big of a success CBS All Access has really been. But we’re drifting off-topic.

The rebranding has led to an ad campaign in the run-up to next month’s launch of Paramount+, and I have to admit that I’m surprised at how fun the commercials have been.

Anson Mount during the Super Bowl ad.

As someone who doesn’t watch broadcast television any more, I don’t actually see a lot of ads. But because I follow Star Trek and Paramount+ on social media I’ve seen most of the adverts made for the new service, including one which was broadcast during the Super Bowl – the single biggest and most valuable day of the year in terms of television advertising in the United States. The fact that ViacomCBS paid millions of dollars for a Super Bowl commercial shows how seriously they’re taking the launch of Paramount+.

Star Trek has been front and centre of this ad campaign, with the stars of Discovery, Picard, and the upcoming Strange New Worlds all being featured prominently. There was also a separate Star Trek Universe ad that showed off the franchise. These ads have been clever and funny, and above all they’re memorable. After being shown prominently during the Super Bowl, and being discussed online, I don’t think there can be many folks in the United States who are unaware of the impending arrival of Paramount+ – and hopefully that has already begun to translate into pre-orders and subscribers to the service.

Sir Patrick Stewart during the Super Bowl ad.

Sonequa Martin-Green reprised her role as Michael Burnham – albeit in the “old” Discovery uniform – for the ads, and Anson Mount returned as Captain Pike too. We also saw Ethan Peck’s Spock, and of course Sir Patrick Stewart was heavily featured and narrated the commercials. The message was clear: Star Trek is back, and the best place to see it is on Paramount+.

A couple of years ago Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, passed away. There was a campaign online to have the song Sweet Victory from the cartoon incorporated into the Super Bowl halftime show, but fans were left disappointed when it was only given the barest of mentions. The Paramount+ Super Bowl ad featured the song – as SpongeBob SquarePants is a Nickelodeon show, and Nickelodeon is a ViacomCBS company. This alone has brought a huge amount of online attention to Paramount+ from fans who felt the 2019 Super Bowl didn’t go far enough, and whoever it was in ViacomCBS’ marketing department that came up with the idea deserves a raise!

Hopefully it will be a “sweet victory” for Paramount+!

There are still arguably too many streaming platforms, especially in the United States. And over the next few years we’ll see which survive and which end up either closing down or amalgamating in order to remain competitive. Paramount+ is not quite at the same level as Netflix or Disney+ – but ViacomCBS have a huge advantage over the likes of Apple TV+ in the sense that they can draw on a huge library of content that they already have. They’re not starting from scratch with original content nor having to pay expensive licensing rights to other people’s films and shows. In my opinion (as someone watching from the outside) that does give the service a boost.

As SpongeBob SquarePants showed during the Super Bowl, building up goodwill and using nostalgia to hook in fans – especially younger ones – is a step in the right direction as Paramount+ gets ready for its debut. I never used CBS All Access as someone who doesn’t live in the United States, but one of the criticisms levelled against it was that it didn’t have a lot going on. Besides Star Trek – which was the flagship franchise, especially when it launched – a lot of folks felt that CBS All Access was rather barebones, and I know of a lot of people who would subscribe during the run of a show they wanted to see – like Star Trek: Discovery – and promptly unsubscribe when the season was over. Hopefully Paramount+ will have enough new and legacy content to prevent that from happening.

Anson Mount, Stephen Colbert, and Sir Patrick Stewart dancing to Sweet Victory. Not sure who the animated guy is… maybe someone from Archer?

Paramount+ is also promising live sport – something relatively uncommon in the streaming world. Here in the UK, Amazon Prime Video have paid for the rights to some Premier League football (soccer) matches, but as far as I’m aware there aren’t many other platforms that do so regularly. If sport becomes a big part of Paramount+, that will certainly be another way to attract subscribers.

So the ad campaign has been fun, and it was especially cool to see Star Trek at the Super Bowl! I doubt that’s happened before! I’m rooting for the success of Paramount+, and I hope it will be a successful home for Star Trek – and its promised “mountain” of other content – going forward. Please bring it to the UK soon – I know of at least one person who’ll subscribe!

Paramount+ will launch in the United States on the 4th of March 2021. Launches in other countries and territories are already planned for early- and mid-2021. The service will be the new digital home of Star Trek. Paramount+, the Paramount logo, and all titles mentioned above are the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What difference will Paramount+ make to Star Trek?

We’ve known for a few months that CBS All Access is planning a major rebranding as Paramount+ this year, and more details have just emerged. The new service will launch – or should that be re-launch – in March, and will be the new digital home of Star Trek in the United States. Paramount+ is also going international, with launches planned for Latin America, Canada, Australia, and Scandinavian countries all before the summer of 2021.

Paramount+ was made possible by the coming together of the two halves of ViacomCBS in 2019, and in addition to content from American network CBS, the streaming platform will offer shows and films from Nickelodeon (where Star Trek: Prodigy will make its debut soon), MTV, Comedy Central, Paramount Network, and most significantly, films released under the Paramount Pictures brand.

Films from Paramount will be a big part of the new service.

Licensing rights are complicated, though, and with many shows and films contracted to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, etc. it seems likely that Paramount+ won’t have everything in its library immediately available in every country and territory. Star Trek: Discovery, for example, looks set to remain on Netflix outside of the United States – even in countries where Paramount+ will operate – at least in the short-to-medium term.

There was no mention of a UK launch for this new service, which from a personal point of view is a bit of a double-edged sword! On the one hand I’m disappointed that we aren’t being prioritised by ViacomCBS for this new service, but on the other hand I’m already subscribed to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video for my Star Trek shows (as well as Disney+) and I don’t exactly relish adding a new streaming platform to my monthly bills!

Hopefully a UK launch isn’t too far away.

And that encapsulates the challenge facing Paramount+. Since CBS All Access launched in the United States in 2017, most people I’ve spoken to or heard from either aren’t subscribed at all or only subscribe for a few weeks to see whichever show they’re interested in, then cancel their subscription when the season ends. Netflix offers a huge library of content such that many people are content to have a year-round subscription – will that be true of Paramount+?

The name Paramount carries a certain gravitas, far more so internationally than CBS, which as an American network is not particularly well-known overseas. The addition of shows from the likes of Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, MTV, etc. as well as Paramount’s extensive back catalogue of films does make it seem like an appealing package – but is that good enough?

One of the promises made by Paramount+.

There are a lot of streaming platforms competing for attention in the current market, so much so that we’re in an era dubbed the “streaming wars.” People who cut the cord and stopped paying for cable or satellite television did so to save money first and foremost, as well as to watch what they wanted on their own schedule. Expecting viewers to pick up half a dozen or more subscriptions pushes them back into cable television-scale costs, and for many it just won’t be worth it to pick up a second-tier service like Paramount+, especially if they already have Netflix or one of the bigger services.

However, ViacomCBS is clearly going all-in with Paramount+, and a wider international rollout looks likely, as well as taking back shows and films that are currently available elsewhere. As Paramount+ grows its library of content, both with new shows and films and by returning its older content to the platform when contracts and licenses lapse, it has the potential to be a pretty big and interesting service – certainly bigger than the likes of Apple TV+, which has to rely entirely on brand-new programming due to having no back catalogue.

SpongeBob SquarePants is one of the famous series that is coming to Paramount+.

Decades worth of films and television shows broadcast across multiple channels could be Paramount+’s ace in the hole. There’s a trend for nostalgia and returning to classics of the past – which is a big part of why Star Trek is back in the 2020s – so with that in mind, many people will be at least a little interested to see what else Paramount+ has to offer.

Paramount+ will need a well-designed user interface and a decent marketing push, but I feel the name, branding, and greater library of content are all appealing and will bring in an audience. It can take time for a streaming service to both establish itself and become profitable, so as long as ViacomCBS is willing to make the investment and give it time to pay off, hopefully the platform will at the very least become stable as time goes by.

The Paramount+ logo. Better get used to seeing it!

The rebranding is a risk in a way, and its international rollout may mean in the longer term that some Trekkies who had access to Star Trek elsewhere may lose that access as rights and licenses change. But anyone who wants to watch the various upcoming Star Trek productions will know that Paramount+ is the place to do so, and I guess that’s a good thing.

If Paramount+ were coming to the UK I would sign up, and although it will be an expense it’s one I’m happy to absorb if it means more Star Trek! The business people who own and operate the Star Trek brand decided years ago that pushing their own streaming service was the way to go, and while we can debate the merits of that versus the option of just producing shows and selling them to the likes of Netflix, it has resulted in the broadest and most varied lineup of Star Trek productions ever – something I do appreciate.

So I wish Paramount+ well. Hopefully it will be the home to Star Trek productions new and old for a long time to come, and the catalyst for continuing to expand the final frontier into new live-action shows, animated series, miniseries, and feature films. Please bring Paramount+ to the UK soon… and while you’re at it, this is a great excuse to finally remaster Deep Space Nine and Voyager – doing so would surely bring in viewers who loved those shows during their original runs.

Paramount+ will launch in the United States on the 4th of March 2021. Launches in other countries and territories are already planned for early- and mid-2021. The service will be the new digital home of Star Trek. Paramount+, the Paramount logo, and all titles mentioned above are the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Another new Doctor won’t fix Doctor Who…

It seems increasingly likely that Jodie Whittaker is in her final season as the titular Doctor in the BBC sci-fi series Doctor Who. The upcoming season will be the show’s thirteenth since it was recreated in 2005. The first few years of the show’s return were great – Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and even Matt Smith did very well in the role, but even by the end of Smith’s tenure the show’s decline had set in. Peter Capaldi, who took over the role after the 2013 Christmas special, endured a torrid time as the Doctor, with three seasons of stories that varied from underwhelming to just plain crap.

Jodie Whittaker, as the first woman to take over the role, came into the series at a time when it appeared to be in terminal decline. And although her arrival coincided with Doctor Who trying to put itself through a soft reboot, the decline continued. After thirteen seasons and more than fifteen years, the revived series has simply run its course. Practically every show has a natural lifespan, and though how long a series can run and remain exciting will vary, it seems clear that Doctor Who is long past that point.

Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor. She may be leaving the show imminently.

There were issues regarding Whittaker’s arrival in the role, not least the so-called “gender bending” of what has always been a male character, and some have argued that it may be a factor in why her tenure as the Doctor hasn’t been so well-received. But I would argue that, despite the strong feelings on both sides of that argument, it’s almost incidental. The way the character is written and the lack of good ideas for new and interesting stories has been much more of a hindrance to Doctor Who than its main character’s gender.

As an aside, I don’t buy the argument that fans somehow “don’t want women characters.” Look at the response to characters like Captain Janeway in Star Trek or Ahsoka in Star Wars – fans respond incredibly positively to strong women in sci-fi – but they have to be well-written characters first and foremost. If they aren’t, or if there are other issues with the stories they’re part of, fans won’t be interested – just as they aren’t interested in boring male characters or male characters involved in crap stories.

Star Trek’s Captain Janeway debunks the argument that sci-fi fans don’t want to see strong women.

Peter Capaldi is exactly how I would picture the Doctor if someone described the character to me. Compared to his two predecessors, David Tennant and Matt Smith, Capaldi had the gravitas required to truly embody the ancient time-travelling alien. But the storylines he got during his tenure were, as mentioned, uninteresting at best. As a result, viewership dropped, interest dropped, and while some fans may have been somewhat interested in what was billed as a second revival of the series when Jodie Whittaker took over, that interest soon dropped away when the underlying issues with Doctor Who were seen to remain.

Modern Doctor Who has suffered from an overuse of three key villains: the Weeping Angels, the Cybermen, and the Daleks. All three were fantastic in their initial appearances from 2005-2010, but by the turn of the last decade there was a sense that they were played out. Having seen the Doctor outsmart and defeat the Daleks in particular at least once a season for twelve seasons, they need a break.

The Daleks have to be one of the most overused villains in all of science fiction.

But the sad thing is that, when the writers in recent seasons have tried to step away from familiar adversaries, the new creations made for the series have just felt incredibly bland. Generic opponents invented for the Doctor and his or her companions have been so completely boring that I honestly couldn’t tell you the names or attributes of any off the top of my head. I’d have to go away and look up who the Doctor and co. have taken on in recent seasons, such is the boring, generic, bland nature of the factions and races created for this once-great sci-fi series.

When Doctor Who was revived in 2005, it was brought back by a team of people who had loved the original show and wanted to see it succeed again. I don’t want to question the dedication and commitment of the writers and producers behind recent seasons, but it doesn’t feel that they’re as interested in Doctor Who as Russell T Davies, Mark Gatiss, and even Steven Moffat had been in the first years after the show returned.

Another overused adversary: the Cybermen.

If making a big change to the Doctor when Whittaker was introduced didn’t reinvigorate the series, replacing her in the title role won’t help. Doctor Who needs a root-and-branch overhaul, but even then it’s hard to see where to take the series. Its iconic villains have become boring, cardboard cut-out opposition, and since the introduction of the Weeping Angels all the way back in 2007, no new villain has been anything other than a bland, generic sci-fi alien.

Realistically what Doctor Who needs is for the main series to go back on hiatus. The world-building in Doctor Who – at least in earlier seasons – was fantastic, and offers the opportunity to branch out into spin-offs that perhaps could look at the Time War or other key events in the series’ canon. But the main show needs a break. Maybe in another fifteen or twenty years, when another new team of writers have some genuinely good ideas, it can come back. But simply recasting the Doctor yet again won’t cut it.

Doctor Who Season 13 is due out later this year on the BBC. Doctor Who is the copyright of BBC Studios. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What might we watch and play in 2021?

Happy New Year! As we put the calamitous 2020 behind us, let’s look ahead to some of the entertainment experiences we might enjoy between now and Christmas. There’s only 51 weeks till the big day, you know. Better start your Christmas shopping!

The effects of 2020’s disruption are still being felt, and while we should hopefully see a return to normalcy slowly building over the next few months, there will undoubtedly be changes to come. From my point of view as a Trekkie, the big question is this: how much Star Trek will we get this year? After 2020 saw the release of three different Star Trek projects, it’s not inconceivable that the only episode we’ll see in 2021 will be next week’s finale of Star Trek: Discovery Season 3!

We do know, at least, that some big projects still intend to release this year. Let’s look at a few – in no particular order.

Cinema

The pandemic has not magically gone away with the arrival of the new year, and many cinemas look set to remain closed in the weeks ahead. The distribution of vaccines will be key to their re-opening, and thus to the release of at least some big films. However, there have been plans announced to bring some of 2021’s big releases to streaming platforms – either instead of or in addition to a theatrical release. How well this will work, and whether many of these plans go ahead if the pandemic is brought under control is up in the air right now – but it remains a possibility.

Number 1:
Dune

The latest adaptation of Dune is the first part of a duology, and was originally supposed to be released in 2020. Of course that couldn’t happen, and Dune is now set for a December release, and will supposedly come to HBO Max at the same time. Though the story has been notoriously difficult to adapt, this version has a huge budget, a stellar cast, and what look like wonderful visual effects based on the trailer. It feels like a film with great potential, and I’m eagerly awaiting its release.

Number 2:
No Time To Die

The latest Bond film – which is set to be Daniel Craig’s final outing as 007 – has been delayed by over a year. It was originally scheduled for an April 2020 release, but that has been pushed back to April 2021. There are no current plans to bring the film to streaming, and as it’s supposedly the most expensive Bond film of all time, perhaps that makes sense. April feels optimistic, but we’ll see how things go! Regardless, I’ve always enjoyed the Bond franchise, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens as this chapter of the 007 cinematic saga draws to a close.

Number 3:
Jungle Cruise

I love Disney World and the other Disney theme parks! When I heard that the House of Mouse was planning to make a film based on their Pirates of the Caribbean ride in the early 2000s I thought it sounded like a terrible idea – yet Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was an incredibly fun film with heart. Jungle Cruise is likewise based on a Disney World/Disneyland ride, one which, if memory serves, is cute and action-packed! The film adaptation will have to try hard to retain at least some elements of what makes the ride enjoyable, but if it can succeed it could grow to become an ongoing series like Pirates of the Caribbean.

Number 4:
The Matrix 4

As I said last time, I really don’t know where The Matrix 4 could possibly take the story of the series. However, I’m still fascinated to find out! This will be our first time back in this setting since 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions, and I’m sure a lot of fans are excited and nervous in equal measure. The idea of the world being artificial was somewhat of a novelty for the big screen when The Matrix did it in 1999, but we’ve since seen other takes on the concept. Will it stick to the late-90s/early-00s aesthetic for scenes set in the simulated world? Will there even be a simulated world if humanity broke free? We’ll soon find out.

Number 5:
Raya and the Last Dragon

After Disney saw success with the Polynesian-themed Moana, they have turned to Southeast Asia for inspiration for Raya and the Last Dragon. Kelly Marie Tran will voice the titular Raya, and Disney animated films have always been worth watching so I’m expecting an enjoyable film. Disney appears to be going through somewhat of a second renaissance in the aftermath of Frozen’s huge success in 2013, and hopefully this will be a continuation of that. I’m also rooting for Kelly Marie Tran after the awful treatment she had to endure at the hands of some so-called “fans” of Star Wars. Raya and the Last Dragon will take the approach pioneered by Mulan and be released on Disney+ for a fee.

Number 6:
The Suicide Squad

2016’s Suicide Squad won an Academy Award. Just in case you forgot! Was it an outstanding cinematic triumph that I’m happy to rewatch time and again? Not exactly, but it was a decent action-packed blockbuster that was an okay way to kill a couple of hours. And that’s what I expect from this direct sequel – nothing groundbreaking, but a solid film with some cute comic book elements.

Number 7:
The King’s Man

Kingsman was a surprisingly fun film when it was released in 2014, and the third entry in the series is a prequel. The King’s Man looks set to examine the outlandish spy organisation’s past and possibly its origins, as well as throw together another action-comedy that takes inspiration from the likes of James Bond. I think that sounds like fun! The King’s Man will feature some pretty big names, including Ralph Finnes, Charles Dance, and Rhys Ifans.

Number 8:
Uncharted

Films based on video games have not often performed well. Though some have become cult classics in their own right, most films adapted from video games have not been successful. Will Uncharted be any different? The project has been in development for a long time and seen many behind-the-scenes changes, but having settled on a script and director, Tom Holland was cast in the role of Nathan Drake. At the very least there’s potential for a summer popcorn flick; a blockbuster adventure film. Whether it will succeed at becoming “the new Indiana Jones” is up for debate – but maybe!

Number 9:
Death on the Nile

2017’s Murder on the Orient Express was great fun, and Death on the Nile is a sequel of sorts. Adapted from a 1937 novel by famed murder-mystery author Agatha Christie, Kenneth Branagh both directs and stars in the picture as detective Hercule Poirot. The cast list reads like a who’s who of British and international stars, including Jennifer Saunders, Rose Leslie, Russell Brand, and Gal Gadot. If you’re familiar with the book or one of the two earlier adaptations the ending will no doubt be known – but that doesn’t mean the journey there won’t be mysterious and thrilling!

Number 10:
Free Guy

Free Guy is about a non-player character in an open world video game who becomes sentient and tries to escape the game. And he’s played by Ryan Reynolds. Are you sold yet? Because that premise (and casting choice) was all it took to hook me in and decide that Free Guy would be worth a look! It sounds like fun, and Reynolds has great comedic timing as we’ve seen with titles like Deadpool. At the very least it’s a unique premise for a film, and one that seems like it could be really funny.

Gaming

With two new consoles barely a month old, both Sony and Microsoft will surely make moves to shore up their player bases this year. There are some titles on the schedule that look absolutely fantastic, and while the release of many of these on what is now last generation’s hardware will mean we won’t see the full power of the next-gen machines just yet, we should begin to see some improvements in what games are capable of. I better get on with upgrading my PC!

Number 1:
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

Rumours swirled for much of last year of an impending Mass Effect trilogy remaster, and the project was finally announced a few weeks ago. Despite its controversial ending, the three games tell a deep and engaging story in a unique sci-fi setting, and were great fun during the Xbox 360 era. Has enough time passed to make updating the trilogy worthwhile? Mass Effect 3 was only released eight years ago, after all. And will the remaster do everything needed to bring these games up-to-date? With Mass Effect 4 on the distant horizon, it will have to! I’m cautiously interested in this one – it could be wonderful to replay these games, but as we’ve seen with some recent remasters, not every company manages to hit a home run when it comes to updating a beloved title.

Number 2:
Hogwarts Legacy

I wrote about this game when it was first announced, but suffice to say I’m truly interested to see what Hogwarts Legacy delivers. It promises to be an “action role-playing game set in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the 1800s,” meaning it’s set decades before any of the Harry Potter books. That basic premise worked well for games like Knights of the Old Republic over in the Star Wars franchise, and should allow Hogwarts Legacy to tell a standalone story. The only games set in Harry Potter’s world so far have been straight adaptations of the films, so this is something genuinely different. Hopefully it can tell a fun story!

Number 3:
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga

Though I didn’t have time to review it before Christmas, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special was great fun over on Disney+. I had hoped to see Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga last year, but it got pushed back and is currently due for release in “early 2021” – whatever that may mean! The first couple of Lego Star Wars games, which were released in the mid-2000s, were really great fun, and I’ve been looking forward to the latest bricky reimagining of the Star Wars saga since it was announced. Lego games have never tried to take themselves seriously, and the end result has always been titles which are just a lot of fun.

Number 4:
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

What could a game starring Gollum possibly bring to the table? I have absolutely no idea! But games – and stories in general – focusing on an antihero can be wonderful, so I’m very curious to find out. It’s also great to see another big single-player title given the glut of live services and always-online multiplayer games. I’m a fan of Middle-earth and the world Tolkien built, so hopefully this game will be a fun return to that setting. Taking on the role of Gollum will offer a different look at Middle-earth, and whether it focuses on the main story from the books or not, has the potential to be fascinating.

Number 5:
Skull & Bones

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag demonstrated that there’s still a lot of appeal in pirate-themed titles. Skull & Bones wasn’t something I was especially interested in at first, but upon learning it will feature a single-player campaign I was happy to add it to the list. It seems to be a game that will deal with the naval combat side of things, and as long as it can really nail ship-to-ship combat within its game engine it should at least be a solid title. Naval games are relatively rare in the combat/strategy/action genres, so perhaps Skull & Bones will offer something a little different.

Number 6:
Outriders

Outriders was one of the first next-gen games that reviewers really had a chance to get to grips with before the launch of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. The consensus was that it seems like a fun third-person shooter, even if it wasn’t quite as “next-gen feeling” as some had hoped. Regardless, Outriders has continued its development and will be released this year. The basic premise feels like a mix of sci-fi and superhero comics, and at the very least it’s a brand-new setting at a time when a lot of studios are focused on sequels and franchises.

Number 7:
GhostWire: Tokyo

I honestly don’t know what to expect from GhostWire: Tokyo. It’s a game shrouded in mystery! One thing we know for sure is that it will feature a supernatural storyline, and that alone sounds like it has potential. A teaser trailer released last year didn’t show much, but we know that the game will draw on Japanese mythology and will be a first-person action-adventure game with some supernatural horror elements. It might be wonderful… or it might not be my thing! We’ll have to wait and see.

Number 8:
Diablo IV

After disappointing fans with Diablo Immortal, and then messing up with the controversy around their decision to censor a professional player who supported the protests in Hong Kong, it’s not unfair to say that there’s a lot riding on Diablo IV for Blizzard’s reputation. Early indications are that the dungeon-crawler looks good, and could be a return to form. Diablo III had issues at launch, so this is very much one to take a “wait-and-see” approach with, but if the studio can recreate the magic of older titles then Diablo IV should offer a fun experience.

Number 9:
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury

My most recent foray into Mario’s 3D adventures was underwhelming, as Super Mario 3D All-Stars was not actually all that great. However, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury might be! The base game was released on the Wii U, but Bowser’s Fury is something altogether new. How substantial it will be remains to be seen, but taken as a whole the package seems to offer good value. I love the cat suits introduced in Super Mario 3D World, they’re cute and add a different element to Mario and the gang’s 3D adventures.

Number 10:
Humankind

Humankind initially attracted me because of how similar it looks to Civilization VI – one of my most-played games of the 2010s. But there’s more to it than that, and the concept of creating a unique civilisation by combining different historical empires and cultures is, at the very least, innovative. I love a good strategy game, and Humankind could be a big time-sink for me this year – if it can deliver on some pretty big ambitions!

Television

After 2020 saw major disruption to cinema, 2021 could be television’s turn. Though shielded from the brunt of the pandemic, a number of television shows planned for 2021 have seen major delays to production. Despite that, there are still plenty of options on the horizon, including some that look absolutely phenomenal.

Number 1:
Zack Snyder’s Justice League

I can’t actually remember if Justice League is one of the DC films I’ve seen or not. If you’re a regular around here, you’ll know I’m not a big comic book fan generally speaking. And it’s not unfair to say that DC is the lesser of the two comic book powerhouses right now! I honestly did not expect the so-called “Snyder cut” of Justice League to ever see the light of day, but after a campaign by fans the film will be released – as a four-part miniseries on HBO Max. I’m at least somewhat interested to see what all the fuss is about!

Number 2:
Star Trek: Prodigy

After Lower Decks took the Star Trek franchise in a different – and very funny – direction in 2020, I’m curious to see what Prodigy will bring to the table. Some shows made for kids can actually tell very meaningful and interesting stories, and it’s my hope that Prodigy will manage to offer at least something to Trekkies beyond its target audience. The addition of Kate Mulgrew to the cast – reprising her role as Captain/Admiral Janeway – is tantalising too, and although that’s about all we know at this stage, the series aims to have a 2021 release. That could be pushed back, but fingers crossed we’ll see Prodigy some time soon.

Number 3:
Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series

Despite not having so much as a title, Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series has been targeting a 2021 release. It seems certain that, if this is to happen, it will have to be later in the year; filming is still ongoing at time of writing. However, a return to the land of Middle-earth is truly an exciting prospect, as is a look at the setting away from most of the characters we remember. The series will take place thousands of years before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, so there’s the potential to tell some very different fantasy stories in Tolkien’s world.

Number 4:
Station Eleven

Based on a 2014 novel of the same name, Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic drama set after the world has been devastated by a pandemic. Timely, right? Though filming began in early 2020 the series is still being worked on, but could finally see the light of day on HBO Max at some point this year. It feels like a project that, simply due to bad timing, may be controversial – but that could simply increase its appeal! Regardless, I’ll be keeping an eye out for it.

Number 5:
Foundation

Isaac Asimov is one of the grandfathers of science fiction. Whether his work will translate well from page to screen is an open question… but one I’m very curious to see answered. This adaptation of Asimov’s Foundation series will star Jared Harris, an absolutely incredible actor you might recall from 2019’s Chernobyl. It’s being produced for Apple TV+ as one of their first big-budget productions – or at least, the first one I’ve come to care about. 2021 looks set to be a big year for some of these second-tier streaming services!

Number 6:
Star Trek: Lower Decks

Lower Decks has finally secured an international broadcast agreement, more than five months after its first season premiered for viewers in North America. That’s good news, because a second season is already in development and will be able to be shared by fans around the world when it’s ready. Season 1 ended with some surprising twists for an animated comedy, and it remains to be seen what the end result of those storylines will be for our young ensigns aboard the USS Cerritos. Lower Decks took a few episodes to really hit its stride – and there were some missteps along the way – but for my money it’s up there with the best animated comedies of recent years, and I hope that the combination of its international debut and second season will see the show get the admiration it warrants.

Number 7:
The Expanse

I haven’t yet sat down to watch Season 5 of The Expanse, which premiered last month on Amazon Prime Video. However, the first four seasons were outstanding, and Season 6 is set to be the show’s last. Hopefully it will go out on a high! The Expanse is a wonderful science fiction series, one which has tried to take a more realistic look at the dangers of space travel and alien life. Many sci-fi stories treat these elements almost as mundane, yet The Expanse approached them with wide-eyed wonder, making things like accelerating a spacecraft integral parts of its story. It’s a wonderful series, and its final season should be explosive, entertaining, and ever so slightly sad as we bid it a fond farewell.

Number 8:
The Witcher

I half-expected to see the second season of Netflix’s The Witcher last year, but for whatever reason the streaming powerhouse is taking its time. Henry Cavill was great in the title role in Season 1, and hopefully the second season will keep up the high quality. I always appreciate a new fantasy series, and while the show owes its existence to the popular video games, it’s distinct from them at the same time, drawing more on the original book series for inspiration. Its return to our screens – which may not be until later in the year – is highly anticipated!

Number 9:
Star Wars: Andor

I wasn’t exactly wild about the recent announcements of upcoming Star Wars projects. As I wrote at the time: “spin-offs to spin-offs and the increasingly minor characters given starring roles is indicative of a franchise out of ideas.” Part of that criticism was aimed at Andor, the series which will focus on Rogue One’s Cassian Andor. However, on its own merit the show – which bills itself as a “spy thriller” – may very well be decent, and I’m cautiously interested to see what Disney and Lucasfilm bring to the table. Rogue One was certainly one of the better offerings since Disney began producing Star Wars projects, so maybe Andor will surprise me and tell some genuinely different stories in the Star Wars galaxy.

Number 10:
Clarice

Alex Kurtzman’s latest project for ViacomCBS will focus on Clarice Starling – the FBI agent introduced in Silence of the Lambs. How well will a show about Clarice work without Hannibal Lecter? Well that’s an open question, quite frankly, because as far as we know, complicated licensing and rights agreements mean Dr Lecter can’t appear. The show is being pitched as horror, though, following Agent Starling as she investigates sexual crimes in the aftermath of the events of Silence of the Lambs. It certainly has potential!

So that’s it.

You may have noticed some exclusions – notably Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Discovery, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. While all three are in pre-production for their upcoming seasons, none have been confirmed for 2021 at this juncture. Given the state of the world and how badly production has been impacted, while I remain hopeful that at least one live-action Star Trek show will make it to air, it’s entirely plausible that none will. That’s why they didn’t feature on the list.

If all goes well, 2021 should be a good year for entertainment. I see a lot of projects in film, gaming, and television that have the potential to tell wonderful, engaging stories. If lockdowns and quarantines remain in place – where I live in the UK restrictions just got a lot tougher – then we’ll need all the distractions we can get!

Mark your diary for some upcoming releases!

The year ahead is unpredictable, and it’s possible that some of the projects I’m excited for won’t make it to release – or will end up being less enjoyable than expected. But on the flip side, there are undoubtedly films, games, and television shows waiting in the wings to surprise me; titles that didn’t make this list that I will come to greatly enjoy as the year rolls on. There were several wonderful surprises in 2020 that, had you asked me in January of last year, were not even on my radar. The same will perhaps happen this year too!

With everything going on in the world, having something to look forward to is important. Even if all you can think of that excites or interests you is a television show or video game, that’s okay. It gives you something to hang on to; light at the end of the tunnel. I wish you a very Happy New Year, and all the best for 2021.

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective company, studio, developer, publisher, broadcaster, distributor, etc. Some promotional artwork and images courtesy of IGDB. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Crazy Uncle Dennis Awards 2020

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for some of the films, games, and television shows listed below.

Welcome to the first annual Crazy Uncle Dennis Awards! These are the best (and worst) entertainment events of the year – in my subjective opinion! Rather than writing a top ten list (like I did last year to mark the end of the decade) I’m instead choosing a few categories and awarding my picks for the best entertainment experiences of the year.

I’m including a few titles from the tail end of 2019 on this list simply because many people will have only got around to watching or playing them this year. These decisions are always difficult and I often feel that – because people put these lists together weeks or months before the end of the year – titles released in December tend to miss out. As such you’ll find a few titles from the final few weeks of 2019 being given an award – and perhaps next year there may be a title or two from the end of 2020 featured!

Most categories will have a runner-up and a winner; a few only have one, and in those cases that title wins by default.

A note about exclusions: if I haven’t seen or played a title for myself, for reasons that I hope are obvious it can’t be included. I’m only one person, and I don’t have every moment of the day to dedicate to entertainment. As such, some titles others may consider to be “massive releases” for 2020 aren’t going to be given an award. In the gaming realm, this also applies to titles that I haven’t completed. The exclusion from these awards of titles like Ghost of Tsushima and Tenet isn’t to say they aren’t good; they may be – but I have no experience with them so I’m unable to comment at this time.

With all of that out of the way let’s jump into the awards! If you like, you can try to imagine a fancy stage and some celebrity presenter handing out statuettes. That may or may not be what I’m doing as I write!

Web Series:

Nowadays many of us get at least a portion of our entertainment away from big-budget productions on websites and apps like YouTube. There are a number of top-tier YouTube shows that may have started off as typical amateur productions, but have since become far more professional. As better cameras and microphones become readily available, even low-budget YouTube productions can offer impressive audio and visuals.

Personally I watch a video or two on YouTube most days, and there are a number of channels which have produced top-quality entertainment this year. When the pandemic hit, many YouTube shows were able to keep going despite the chaos engulfing the wider entertainment industry. They had the means and the technology to do so, and that’s fantastic.

🥈Runner-up🥈
Linus Tech Tips

Linus Tech Tips is one of the first YouTube channels I began watching regularly, having stumbled upon it when looking for PC building tips a few years ago. Though some of what they do is complete overkill (what YouTube channel needs $20,000 cameras?) they have a lot of fun while doing it. Linus Tech Tips explores the high-end and cutting-edge of computers, cameras, and other technologies, and the presenters manage to make it entertaining.

The channel has continued its steady growth and now boasts a number of regular presenters in addition to the titular Linus, most of whom specialise in particular topics. There are also several other channels produced by the same team, including TechQuickie, Short Circuit, and TechLinked. The combined output of the main channel plus its subsidiaries means there’s at least one new video per day, which is great. Even less-interesting topics can be made fun when presented well, and the team at Linus Tech Tips manage to be interesting and entertaining every time.

🏆Winner🏆
SORTEDfood

I love a good cooking show. Not only can they be entertaining but also very relaxing. SORTEDfood has a usual output of two videos per week, and while in recent years they’ve stepped away from purely doing recipes and into things like kitchen gadget reviews, everything is food-themed and the enthusiasm that the five presenters have is infectious. During the coronavirus pandemic, London (where the show is recorded) was in lockdown. Despite that, the team found creative ways to get around it, and even incorporated it into their videos. In addition to recipes there were helpful things like reviews of food delivery services, which at the height of lockdown here in the UK was actually really useful. I was able to use a couple of the services they recommended to send gifts to people I couldn’t see in person; gift ideas I would never have had were it not for SORTEDfood.

Their pandemic programming was good, but when lockdown was lifted it was nice for the team to come back together and get back to their regular output. I’m a huge fan of their “ultimate battles” in particular, which pit the presenters head-to-head to create the best dish. The “pass it on” series, where all five take turns to create a single dish, is also fantastic – and often very funny. SORTEDfood manages to be both informative and entertaining, and their output during lockdown was phenomenal and undoubtedly helped many viewers during a difficult time. For all of those reaons, I’m crowing SORTEDfood the best web series of the year.

Documentaries:

I’m setting aside a whole category for documentaries because I’m a big fan. There have been some great ones in 2020, both standalone films and series. Netflix has surprised me over the last few years by growing to become a huge player in the documentary genre, funding many productions – including some Academy Award nominees. Disney+ joined the streaming wars late last year – or in March this year if you’re in the UK – and has also brought some fascinating pieces of documentary content to the small screen. It’s a great time for documentaries at the moment!

🥈Runner-up🥈
We Need To Talk About A.I.

This documentary was fascinating, if perhaps somewhat alarmist. Looking at the possible creation of general artificial intelligence, and the potential for such an AI to surpass humanity, it was a truly interesting peek behind the curtain at what researchers are doing on the cutting-edge of AI research. The documentary was presented by Keir Dullea, famous for his role as Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey. That film saw his character go up against an out-of-control AI, and Dullea brings a gravitas to the role of narrator as a result.

The film made reference to a number of sci-fi films which look at rogue AI, most significantly Terminator 2: Judgement Day, whose director James Cameron was interviewed. From my perspective as a Trekkie, having just seen Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 and Star Trek: Picard Season 1, which both look at the potential for out-of-control AIs, the documentary brought the world of fiction uncomfortably close to the world we inhabit today. While most of the interviewees offered a fairly bleak look at future AI, particularly in the military realm, others did paint a more positive picture. The biggest thing I took away from it, though, it how little consensus there is among researchers and scientists not only on whether AI is a good idea, but whether it’s even truly possible, or how long it will take.

The film is a fascinating, slightly unnerving watch.

🏆Winner🏆
The Imagineering Story

Though it isn’t a subject I’ve talked about often here on the website, I have a great fondness for Disney’s theme parks. It’s doubtful given my health that I’ll be able to go any time soon, but I have fond memories of visits to several parks with both family and groups of friends. Combine that love of Disney with my aforementioned love of documentaries and I got what was one of the most underrated yet fascinating entertainment experiences of the year!

Prior to the launch of Disney+ in the UK in March, there was already a Disney-branded streaming platform here. I wasn’t sure what kind of an upgrade to expect when the new service arrived – except for The Mandalorian there didn’t seem to be much new. The Imagineering Story was one of the few documentaries on Disney+ at launch, but it’s absolutely fascinating, detailing the behind-the-scenes work that went into building Disney’s various parks and themed lands.

The addition of some National Geographic documentaries to Disney+ over the last year or so has made the platform into a good home for the format, though I would like to see more films and series either added from Disney’s extensive back catalogue or better yet, commissioned exclusively for Disney+.

But we’re off-topic! The Imagineering Story was beautifully narrated by Angela Bassett, and as a series made by Disney itself was able to get the perspectives of many senior people who worked at the parks and on many of the projects it covered.

Video Games:

Despite the all the chaos and pandemonium in the world in 2020, many new games – and two new consoles – managed to make it to release. While it’s true that some titles have suffered delays, by far the majority of planned and scheduled releases made it, and that’s no small accomplishment!

As a new console generation gets ready for its centre-stage moment, it’s often been the case that we get a quieter-than-average year as companies shift their focus. Despite that, though, we’ve seen some pretty big titles in 2020, including a couple that will likely be heralded as “game of the generation” or even “game of the decade!” If I’m still alive and kicking in 2029, by the way, check back as I may have a thing or two to say about that!

Though it’s far too early to say which of the two newly-launched consoles will do best in the years to come, 2020 has given all of us some great gaming experiences… and some crap ones.

Worst Game:

Let’s start by getting the worst games out of the way. 2020 has seen some stinkers, including big-budget titles from successful developers and publishers. They really ought to know better.

🥈Runner-up🥈
Marvel’s Avengers

Marvel’s Avengers is the Anthem of 2020. Or the Fallout 76 of 2020. Or the Destiny 1 of 2020. Or the The Culling II of 2020. Pick any of those live service, broken-at-launch disasters, and that’s what Marvel’s Avengers is. The “release now, fix later” business model has condemned what could have been a popular and successful title to failure. But Marvel’s Avengers hasn’t even failed spectacularly enough to be forever etched in the annals of gaming history alongside titles like 1982’s E.T. Instead it’s slowly fading away, and in six months or a year’s time, nobody will even remember it existed.

Disney and Square Enix looked at a long list of crappy video game business ideas, including paid battle-passes, console-exclusive characters, corporate tie-ins with unrelated brands like phone providers and chewing gum makers, in-game currencies, and microtransactions for each of the six main characters individually. They then decided to put all of these into the game, robbing it of any soul or heart it could have had and turning it into a bland corporate cash-grab. As soon as I heard the company planned the game as a “multi-year experience,” the writing was on the wall. If, underneath all of the corporate nonsense, there had been a halfway decent game with fun gameplay, perhaps more players would have stuck it out. But, as usual with these types of games, there wasn’t. I’m not the world’s biggest Marvel fan. So I’m not horribly offended by this game in the way some folks undoubtedly are. But I can sympathise with them, because fans deserve better than this steaming pile of crap to which Disney and Square Enix have attempted to affix the Marvel logo.

🏆Winner🏆
The Last of Us Part II

The Last Of Us Part II’s cover-based stealth/action gameplay is fine. Though better than the first game, I didn’t feel there was a colossal improvement in terms of gameplay – but that could be said about countless sequels over the last couple of console generations. Where The Last Of Us Part II fell down was its story. This was a game I was sceptical of from the beginning; the first title felt like lightning in a bottle, something that neither wanted nor required a follow-up. In 2020, though, practically every successful title ends up being spun out into a franchise.

With a theme of breaking the cycle of violence, The Last Of Us Part II considers itself “artistic” and clever. Unfortunately that theme led to a horribly unsatisfying narrative, with players not only forced to take on the role of the person who murdered Joel – the protagonist/anti-hero from the first title – but ends with Ellie letting her escape and refusing to take revenge. Had the same concept been part of a new game with new characters, it could have worked better. But crammed into this title it fell flat. I stuck with it out of stubbornness as a fan of the first title, but it was a profoundly unenjoyable ride, and that’s why The Last Of Us Part II is the worst game of 2020.

Best Casual Game:

How do we define a “casual” game? It’s a difficult one, and it’s one of those contentious topics where fans of a title who may have spent hundreds of hours in the game world will get upset at hearing their favourite game referred to as “casual.” When it came to choosing titles for this category, I looked at games that could be easily picked up for a short burst, then put down. Games that can be played for a few minutes and that have gameplay suited to that was one of the main criteria. Games in this category also had to be pick-up-and-play. Some casual games can indeed be hard to truly master, but for my money, any game to which we assign the “casual” title has to be accessible and easy to get started with.

So that was how I came to my shortlist. Now let’s look at the runner-up and winner… though if you’ve been a reader all year I doubt you’ll be too surprised!

🥈Runner-up🥈
Fall Guys

Fall Guys seemingly came out of nowhere in August. It wasn’t a title I’d heard of, let alone one I was looking forward to, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. Taking a format inspired by television game-shows like Gladiators or Total Wipeout, the basic gameplay consists of running a series of obstacle courses, looking to be the last one standing at the end to win a crown.

I’m not usually interested in online multiplayer titles, but Fall Guys was something so genuinely different that I was prepared to give it a go. And what I found was a game that was shockingly fun. Each round lasts barely a couple of minutes, meaning even if you don’t qualify it’s not a big deal. Just jump into the next game. Though there are microtransactions, at time of writing they aren’t intrusive and the game is quite generous with the in-game currency given out simply for playing. There are fun cosmetic items to dress up your adorable little jelly bean character in, and the whole game is cute and lots of fun. Though it did have a cheating problem for a while, the addition of anti-cheat software appears to have fixed things. I’m probably about done with Fall Guys as I move on to find new things to watch and play, but I had a wonderful time with it this summer and autumn.

🏆Winner🏆
Animal Crossing: New Horizons

With over 120 hours played, I’ve spent more time this year with Animal Crossing: New Horizons than with the next two games on my list put together. That’s no small accomplishment – even if my 120 hours seems paltry compared to the amount of time some players have put into this title. Time alone doesn’t make a title worthy of winning an award, though. Why Animal Crossing: New Horizons deserves the title is because practically all of those hours were enjoyable.

It’s true that the base game at launch was missing features from past entries in the series, notably 2013’s Animal Crossing: New Leaf. And I find that disappointing, even if updates have since improved the game. But despite the missing content, what the game did have was fantastic, and there really isn’t anything like New Horizons on the market. It’s cute wholesome fun, and the kind of game that can be played for even just a few minutes at a time. It doesn’t demand a huge commitment in the way some titles do – but if you get stuck into it, you’ll find yourself wanting to spend more and more time on your island.

Best Racing Game:

There’s only one game in this category this year, simply because the other racing games I’ve played in 2020 were released in previous years. I had a lot of fun with Forza Horizon 4 in particular, but as a 2018 title it can’t be included here for obvious reasons.

🏆Winner🏆
Hotshot Racing

Congratulations to Hotshot Racing for winning by default! Jokes aside, this game is a lot of fun. An unashamed arcade racer that makes no attempt at realism, it’s fast-paced, exciting, and ridiculous in equal measure! What attracted me to the game when it was released in September was its deliberately mid-90s aesthetic; a beautifully simple art style inspired by racing games of the Sega Saturn and PlayStation 1 era.

At a time when many games feel overpriced, the £15 I paid for Hotshot Racing actually feels cheap! For how much fun the game is, even when simply playing against the AI, it could arguably ask for a lot more money! Speaking of playing against the AI, that’s something Hotshot Racing encourages, and considering how many titles that supposedly offer a single-player mode still try to force players to go online, I appreciated that. In the mid-90s, some games could do four-player split-screen, but many titles were limited to just two players at the most, so racing against the AI was something all gamers had to do; that was just how those games were meant to be played!

As a visual throwback to games past, Hotshot Racing caught my eye. But there’s more to it than just the way it looks, and what’s under that cute retro skin is a genuinely fun arcade racer.

Best Star Wars Game:

It’s unusual for two games in a single franchise to release within a year of each other, but that’s what happened! There was even supposed to be a third Star Wars title this year – Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga – but it was delayed until 2021.

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Star Wars: Squadrons

Though Squadrons is less arcadey than classic starfighter titles like Rogue Squadron, it’s a remarkably fun game. If you’ve ever dreamed of being a pilot in a galaxy far, far away, this is about as close as you can get! Though I don’t play in VR, the option to use a VR headset – as well as to set up a proper HOTAS or other flight controller on PC – surely makes this the most immersive Star Wars experience out there. Even just with a control pad, though, Squadrons truly transports you to the cockpit of an X-Wing, TIE Fighter, or one of the game’s other starfighters.

The single-player campaign was fun, giving players the opportunity to fight on both sides of the war as the New Republic seeks to defeat the rump Empire – the game is set in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi. I’m not much of a multiplayer gamer, so the fact that there is an AI mode, allowing me to continue to have fun just playing against the computer, is fantastic. I had a truly enjoyable time with Star Wars: Squadrons, and I keep going back for more.

🏆Winner🏆
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Jedi: Fallen Order was released in November 2019, so including it on this list is a bit of a stretch, I admit. But I got to play it this year, and it was the first game where I fully documented my playthrough. Jedi: Fallen Order managed to feel like a cross between Knights of the Old Republic and the Uncharted series, with protagonist Cal taking on a quest to visit several ancient worlds in search of a Jedi Holocron.

There were twists and turns along the way, but the whole time I felt like I was taking part in a Star Was adventure all my own. After the disappointment of The Rise of Skywalker, playing through Jedi: Fallen Order convinced me that the Star Wars franchise was going to be okay, and that there were still new and original stories worth telling in this universe.

The gameplay was great too, with lots of exciting action and lightsabre-swinging as Cal took on the forces of the Empire. I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t played it for yourself, but Jedi: Fallen Order was a wild and incredible ride, and one I heartily recommend.

Best Action or Adventure Game:

This category ended up with two first-person shooters, but I’m keeping the name the same! There were many great action, adventure, and first-person shooter titles released this year, and I didn’t have time to play all of them. Here are the two I enjoyed most.

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Doom Eternal

The sequel to the wonderful 2016 reboot of Doom is just fantastic. Gone is the horror vibe that Doom 3 mistakenly introduced, and instead what you get is action and excitement – with some interesting platforming sections thrown in for good measure. There is a story, of course, but unlike many games I’m not really all that interested in it. I come to games like Doom Eternal to feel like a demon-killing badass, and that’s precisely what the game offers.

There was a lot of fun to be had in the days leading up to Doom Eternal’s launch, as it coincided with the launch of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I greatly enjoyed the memes and artwork created by folks on the internet, depicting Doom Guy and characters from the Animal Crossing series together! All in all, this is just a fast-paced, fun shooter that doesn’t try to be anything more. It isn’t a jack-of-all-trades; it does one thing and does it to perfection.

🏆Winner🏆
Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Throughout 2020, developers 343 Industries have brought the Halo series to PC. Halo: Reach arrived late last year, and in the months since we’ve gotten every other title in the series – except for Halo 5! It had been a long time since I played Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox, and I had a lot of fun rediscovering the series and enjoying it all over again. The updated graphics improved the experience in a lot of ways, but it was also fun (and innovative) to be able to switch between visual styles on the fly.

I hadn’t played either Halo 3: ODST or Halo 4, so I not only got to recreate my Halo experience from years past, but expand on it too. The setting the series uses is as unique and interesting as any sci-fi video game I’ve played, and I’m very curious to see what Halo Infinite can bring to the series when it’s eventually ready.

Television Shows:

There have been some wonderful television shows this year. While the pandemic led to the shutdown of cinemas and a delay in many films being released, a lot of television shows were able to press ahead – at least, those that had completed filming before the worst effects were felt. I hoped to include more categories, such as best miniseries, but time got away from me and I have a number of shows still on my list of things to watch!

Worst Television Series:

Luckily there’s only one in this category! If I’m not enjoying a television series I tend to just stop watching – unless there seems to be a real prospect of improvement. Likewise, if I feel something won’t be to my taste I’ll just skip it; life is too short, after all, for bad entertainment. That said, there are exceptions, and I found one in 2020.

🏆Winner🏆
Supernatural

Supernatural is the king of running too long – a crown it inherited from The Big Bang Theory! Fifteen years ago, when it debuted, there was a great premise as brothers Sam and Dean Winchester set out to hunt ghosts and monsters, all the while keeping an eye out for the demon that killed their mother and Sam’s girlfriend.

But by the time the show reached its third season, many of its ongoing storylines had concluded. The writers began reaching for new and different demons and creatures for Sam and Dean to tackle, and the quality dipped. By the time the show crossed over into the self-congratulatory fan-servicey mess it has been in recent seasons it had just become ridiculous; a parody of itself.

As the seasons dragged on, writers began pumping more and more Biblical themes into Supernatural, transforming its protagonists into invincible prophets anointed by God. An episode a few seasons back saw Sam and Dean cross over into a world where their adventures are a television show in what has to be one of the worst examples of fan-service I’ve ever seen.

Thankfully Supernatural has now wrapped up its final season. I tuned back in – against my better judgement – to see if the impending end of the series would make a difference to its quality. But it didn’t, and I stand by something I’ve been saying for years: many television shows have a natural lifespan. Supernatural had maybe three decent seasons, and should certainly have ended a long time ago.

Best Animated Series:

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Rick & Morty

We got five episodes of Rick & Morty in 2020; the back half of Season 4, which had premiered last year. The show’s entire premise is wacky, sometimes over-the-top humour, and that doesn’t always stick the landing, especially when the creative team have been working on it for seven years already. So with that in mind, I consider four episodes out of five being decent to be a pretty good run.

When the show stopped flying under the radar and really hit the mainstream in 2017, there was a fear perhaps that the newfound popularity would lead to changes. But I don’t really think that’s happened, and I wouldn’t say that this year’s episodes were substantially different to those in past seasons. They weren’t necessarily any better, but certainly no worse.

There were some great jokes, some hilarious moments, and some weird and wonderful aliens as Rick and Morty (along with Summer, Jerry, and Beth) took off on their interdimensional adventures.

🏆Winner🏆
Star Trek: Lower Decks

It could hardly be anything else, right? Building on the success of both the Star Trek franchise and animated comedies like Rick and Morty, Star Trek: Lower Decks represented the franchise’s biggest attempt to try something new – and arguably its biggest risk – in a very long time. Despite the controversy surrounding Lower Decks’ lack of an international broadcast, judging the series on merit it was a very enjoyable ride.

There were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in Lower Decks, but more than that, the show paid homage to my personal favourite era of Star Trek – the 24th Century. There were so many callbacks and references to events in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager and the series managed to feel like Star Trek while at the same time having an overtly comedic style.

While its sense of humour won’t be to everyone’s taste, there’s no denying that Lower Decks was made by fans for fans, and I’m really excited to see its second season whenever that may come – especially now that the show’s international broadcast has been settled meaning that fans everywhere can enjoy it together.

Best Live-Action Television Series:

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Cobra

Right at the beginning of the year I watched Cobra, a British thriller about a government dealing with the aftermath of a disaster. Such an interesting fictional concept, I thought. How innocent we were back then, eh?

Cobra wasn’t what I expected. Having read the pre-release marketing I was expecting a disaster series, something dealing with an apocalyptic event. Instead it’s much more of a thriller with elements of political drama. Even though that was completely not what I expected, I had an enjoyable time with the series.

Robert Carlyle – who plays the role of a British Prime Minister clearly inspired by Tony Blair – is an actor I’ve always felt was underrated. I saw him a few years ago in a miniseries called Hitler: The Rise of Evil, and ever since I’ve found him to be a decent actor who can take on a variety of roles. He was the star of Cobra – but didn’t overwhelm the series. It was an entertaining ride with some truly tense moments.

🏆Winner🏆
Star Trek: Picard

This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed my articles and columns this year! Star Trek: Picard did something I’d been desperately wanting the franchise to do for basically twenty years: move forward. Since Enterprise premiered shortly after the turn of the millennium, Star Trek has looked backwards, with all of its attention focused on prequels and reboots. Many of those stories were great, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted to know what came next, and Picard scratched that itch.

But its premise alone would not make it the best television series of the year! Star Trek: Picard told an engaging, mysterious story as the retired Admiral Picard set out on a new adventure. The story touched on contemporary themes of artificial intelligence, isolationism, and mental health, and was an enthralling watch. Though it stumbled as the first season drew to a close, the first eight episodes were outstanding, and have hopefully laid the groundwork not only for future seasons and more adventures with Picard and his new crew, but also for further Star Trek stories set at the dawn of the 25th Century.

It’s difficult to pick out one individual episode and say it was the best the season had to offer, because Star Trek: Picard is designed to be watched from beginning to end as one continuous story. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try!

Star Trek Episodes:

2020 was the first year since 1998 with three Star Trek productions, so there’s a lot of episodes to choose from! As Trekkies we’re spoilt for choice at the moment – long may that continue! This year I reviewed every single Star Trek episode that was broadcast. The year began with Picard in late January, then Lower Decks came along in August, and finally Discovery premiered in mid-October.

Worst Episode:

There weren’t a lot of options here, because the quality of modern Star Trek has been high. That said, every Star Trek show has misfires and duds from time to time, and this year was no exception.

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 (Star Trek: Picard)

After an incredibly strong start, Star Trek: Picard stumbled as its first season drew to a close. My primary complaint about Et in Arcadia Ego as a whole (aside from that godawful gold makeup they used for the synths) was that it introduced too many new characters and storylines, most of which didn’t get enough screen time to properly develop. The first part of a finale needs to bring together everything that’s already happened, not dump an awful lot of new things onto the audience, but that’s what Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 did.

The episode was also very poorly-paced, which is down to a combination of scripting and editing. The story jumped from point to point without sufficient time for the audience to digest what was going on. It also skipped over what should’ve been massive emotional moments, like Picard and Soji learning Hugh’s fate, or Elnor learning of Picard’s illness. Dr Soong and Sutra in particular needed more development and more screen time – though Isa Briones’ terrible, one-dimensional performance means that’s something I’m half-glad we didn’t get!

Overall, this was Picard’s worst episode by far. The aesthetic, editing, and pacing were all wrong, and if the story of Season 1 wanted to include all of these new characters, factions, and settings, we needed not only more episodes, but to have brought them in much earlier.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Envoys (Star Trek: Lower Decks)

Envoys’ opening sequence, in which Ensign Mariner kidnaps a sentient energy lifeform “for a laugh,” was the closest I came to switching off Star Trek’s second animated series and not going back. Where Lower Decks succeeded was in making the regular goings-on in Starfleet comical. Where it failed was in attempting to set up Ensign Mariner as Star Trek’s answer to Rick Sanchez (from Rick & Morty). This sequence encapsulated all of Mariner’s worst qualities, and was about as un-Star Trek as it’s possible to get.

It’s a shame, because the episode’s B-plot starred Ensign Rutherford in what was one of his better stories as he hopped from role to role aboard the ship, trying out different postings in different departments. The main story stuck with Mariner and Boimler, and derived much of its attempted humour from her mean-spirited selfishness. The ending of the episode did go some way to humanising Mariner, and arguably set the stage for her becoming a much more likeable character across the remainder of the season. But that opening sequence in particular is awful, and is the main reason why I’m crowing Envoys as the worst Star Trek episode of the year.

Best Episode:

This is a much more fun category than the one above! And there are plenty of candidates. All three shows managed to have some real gems, and picking just two was not an easy task.

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Far From Home (Star Trek: Discovery)

After Michael Burnham arrived in the 32nd Century in the season premiere, Far From Home saw Discovery and the rest of the crew arrive too. We were treated to an excellent crash landing sequence that was reminiscent of Voyager’s fourth season episode Timeless, and we got an interesting storyline which saw Saru and the crew forced to adapt to a very different and difficult future.

Saru and Tilly both stepped up, and the dynamic between these two characters has been continued through the rest of the season. As two main characters who hadn’t spent a huge amount of time together before this episode, their relationship was somewhat new and very interesting. Saru stepped up to become the captain we all hoped he could be in Far From Home, and Tilly showed us that there’s more to her than mere comic relief.

As the second half of the series premiere, Far From Home does a lot of world-building, establishing the violent, chaotic nature of the 32nd Century. It was also rare in that it was a Star Trek: Discovery episode with practically no input from Burnham – something which allowed many other crew members to shine in unexpected ways.

🏆Winner🏆
Remembrance (Star Trek: Picard)

I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a Star Trek episode than I was for Remembrance. This was the moment Star Trek returned to the 24th Century for the first time since 2002’s Nemesis – and it was the first time the overall story of the Star Trek galaxy had moved forward since we heard about the destruction of Romulus in 2009’s Star Trek.

Children of Mars – the Short Treks episode that served as a prologue to Picard – had been somewhat of a let-down, so there was a lot riding on Remembrance as far as I was concerned! And I’m so happy to report that it delivered. It was mysterious and exciting, with moments of tension and action, and although the now-retired Admiral Picard was not exactly the same as he was the last time we saw him, flickers of the man we knew were still there.

Remembrance set the stage beautifully for Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. It took things slow and didn’t overwhelm us with storylines and heavy plot all at once. By the end of the episode we’d only really met two of the season’s principal characters. Perhaps seen in the light of the rushed finale this could be argued to be a mistake, and that we needed to get a quicker start. But I don’t think I agree with that assessment; Remembrance is perfect the way it is, and probably the best single episode of television I saw all year.

Films:

Let’s be blunt for a moment: 2020 has been a catastrophic year for the film industry. So many titles that should have been released simply didn’t come out due to the pandemic, and as a result it’s been slim pickings. A few bigger titles managed to premiere in January or February before the worst effects hit, but since the end of February very few titles have come out. We’ve missed out on films like No Time To Die, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and Dune, all of which have been delayed to 2021. And there will be ramifications for years to come, as titles planned for 2021 are being pushed to 2022, and so on.

There have been some titles that managed to come out this year, and from my selfish point-of-view, I’m happy that more have come straight to streaming! My health is poor, and one thing that I sadly can’t do any more is get to the cinema (I haven’t been able to for several years). So in that sense I don’t feel that I personally have missed out in quite the same way! However, the massively-curtailed release schedule has had an effect, and as a result I don’t really have a lot of titles to choose from for this section of the awards. In another year I might’ve split up the films into several genres, but instead we just have three categories.

Worst Film:

Luckily there’s only one film in this category this year. If you recall my review of it from the spring, it perhaps won’t be a surprise!

🏆Winner🏆
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

The Rise of Skywalker is saved from being the worst Star Wars film solely by the existence of The Phantom Menace – and it’s not always clear which is worse. The clumsy insertion of Palpatine into a story that was clearly not supposed to have anything to do with him is perhaps the worst example of corporate-mandated fan service I’ve ever seen. Not only does Palpatine ruin The Rise of Skywalker, but the revelation that he’s been manipulating the entire story of Star Wars from behind the scenes undermines every other story that the cinematic franchise has tried to tell. It was a monumentally bad decision; the worst kind of deus ex machina. And his presence wasn’t even explained.

But while Palpatine stank up the plot, he wasn’t the only problem in The Rise of Skywalker. The ridiculously choppy editing meant no scene lasted more than a few seconds, leaving the audience no time to digest what was happening. There was some truly awful dialogue. General Hux’s story makes no sense at all and was totally out of character. Rose Tico was sidelined, despite her character being a huge part of the previous film. Palpatine’s plan – and his decision to announce it to the galaxy before enacting it – makes no sense. The stupid limitation to his fleet also makes no sense. Rey’s character arc across the trilogy was ruined by the decision to listen to bad fan theories. Poe and Finn basically did nothing of consequence. And the scenes with Leia – I’m sorry to say given Carrie Fisher’s untimely demise – were so obviously lifted from another film that it was painful.

JJ Abrams ran around undoing so many storylines from The Last Jedi that The Rise of Skywalker felt like two films haphazardly smashed together, but cut down to the runtime of a single picture. There was an occasional moment where either something funny happened or perhaps the nostalgia hit hard, but otherwise it was a total failure, and by far the worst film I’ve seen all year.

Best Animated Film:

🥈Runner-up🥈
Frozen II

Disney does not have a good track record when it comes to sequels. Most of the time their big animated features are one-offs, with any sequels being relegated to direct-to-video offerings. But Frozen had been such a cultural landmark after its 2013 release that a sequel was, perhaps, inevitable. And far from being an afterthought, Frozen II was a film that equalled – and occasionally surpassed – its illustrious predecessor.

There was some fantastic animation work in Frozen II, such as the effects used for the fog. There was less snow than in the first film, and the snow in Frozen was beautiful, so that’s a shame in a way! The soundtrack was fantastic too, with several catchy songs that are well worth listening to.

Frozen II’s story was engrossing and genuinely interesting, and unlike some Disney sequels managed to avoid feeling tacked-on. The parents of the two sisters at the heart of the story had been killed early in the first film – and Frozen II saw them learn more about what happened to them, as well as discovering the source of Elsa’s powers.

🏆Winner🏆
Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe

Phineas and Ferb went off the air in 2015, and as Disney Channel shows are usually one-and-done affairs I didn’t expect to see it return. But Candace Against the Universe premiered in August on Disney+ and was absolutely amazing.

After a five-year break the film brought back practically everything that made Phineas and Ferb great. There was a wacky but fun plot that brought together the kids and Dr Doofenshmirtz, there were some great musical numbers, and above all a deep story that had heart. Candace – the sister of the titular Phineas and Ferb – took centre-stage in a story that made depression accessible to even the film’s young target audience. It ended by telling a story that showed kids that they don’t have to be the centre of the universe to matter, and I think that’s an incredibly powerful message.

I’m a big advocate of sensitive depictions of mental health in entertainment. Not every story has to touch on the subject, of course, but Candace Against the Universe did – and it did so in a way that was relatable and understandable. But beyond that, it was a fun return to a series I thought was over. It’s possible the film could be the springboard for more Phineas and Ferb, but even if it isn’t I’m still glad we got to see it.

Best Live-Action Film:

Ordinarily I’d try to split up films by genre, and at least have sections for comedy, sci-fi, and maybe one or two others. But so few films have staggered out the door this year that there’s not really a lot of choice. As I’ve seen so few new films I just picked my top two. It wasn’t even all that difficult.

🥈Runner-up🥈
Sonic the Hedgehog

In any other year, Sonic the Hedgehog wouldn’t have got a look-in as one of the best releases. But this is 2020, and as we’ve already discussed, there aren’t a lot of options. After receiving backlash for its visual effects when the first trailer was released in 2019, the creative team behind Sonic the Hedgehog went back to the drawing board and redesigned the titular Sega mascot, bringing him closer to his video game appearance. The willingness of the studio to delay the project in response to fan criticism is appreciated, especially when many other studios have chosen to double-down in the face of such backlash.

The film itself is surprisingly fun, though as with 1993’s Super Mario Bros., features a storyline quite far-removed from the video game franchise it’s inspired by. Jim Carrey hasn’t exactly disappeared in recent years, but has been nowhere near as ubiquitous as he was in his late-90s heyday, so his performance here feels like a return to form. And that’s all I have to say, really. It was a fun film, and an enjoyable way to kill a couple of hours. Is Sonic the Hedgehog going to be hailed as a classic of modern cinema alongside Lincoln and Bohemian Rhapsody? Of course not. But out of the available titles this year, it’s one of the best.

🏆Winner🏆
1917

Now for a complete change of tone! 1917 was released in December last year, and is a truly epic war film that missed out on winning any of the top Academy Awards. However, despite the snub by the Oscars, it’s an outstanding piece of historical cinema, and though its novel “one-take” style of editing was perhaps less impressive than I expected it to be, it was nevertheless interesting.

I fully expect 1917 to be considered a classic of the war genre in decades to come, such is its quality. At its core is an emotional story of two young men thrown into a gut-wrenching situation. The First World War was one of the worst and bloodiest in history, yet few films have depicted that horror with such brutal accuracy as 1917.

Though it isn’t the kind of popcorn flick you’ll want to watch a dozen times in a row, 1917 is artistic and inspired in all the ways that matter. From the performances to the costuming to the camera work, every tiny detail has been honed and perfected. Director Sam Mendes deserves a lot of credit for putting together this masterpiece.

Announcements:

In this final section I’ll briefly cover a handful of announcements for upcoming productions that got me excited in 2020. There are so many interesting projects in the works, and while some of these may not see the light of day until 2022 or even later, they’re still genuinely appealing and I’m keeping my ear to the ground listening for news!

Video Games:

🥈Runner-up🥈
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

I’d been hoping for an announcement of the remastered Mass Effect trilogy ever since rumours of its existence began to swirl earlier in the year. Though EA and Bioware kept us waiting, the remaster was finally announced a short time ago and is due for release in 2021. Whether it will really tick all the boxes, and whether enough time has passed for a remaster to feel like a substantial improvement are both open questions… but I’m very interested to find out!

🏆Winner🏆
Hogwarts Legacy

It’s been a long time since a video game announcement got me so excited – and an even longer time since anything in set in the Wizarding World did! Hogwarts Legacy looks like a game with great potential – telling a new story set decades before the Harry Potter books. It also seems to be a game that offers a great degree of player choice. That combination worked very well for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and I think it could do wonderful things here.

Television Shows:

🥈Runner-up🥈
Alien

There’s a television show based on the 1979 classic Alien in development! Practically everything is being turned into a streaming television series right now, so perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I’m truly interested to see what the Alien franchise can do with more than a couple of hours. Television as a medium allows for longer and more complex stories than can fit in a two-hour film, so there’s a lot of potential here.

🏆Winner🏆
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Almost since the moment he beamed aboard Discovery at the beginning of the second season, fans had been clamouring for a Captain Pike series, and Alex Kurtzman and ViacomCBS listened! Strange New Worlds was announced in May, along with a short video from its three principal cast members. The show has already begun production, and while I doubt it’ll see the light of day before 2022, it’s one of the things keeping me going right now!

Films:

🥈Runner-up🥈
The Matrix 4

Though I have no idea where the story of The Matrix 4 could possibly take the series, I’m cautiously interested. Filming has already begun, but was disrupted by – what else – the pandemic. The two sequels to 1999’s The Matrix didn’t quite live up to the first part of the saga, but nevertheless were solid action-sci fi titles. I’m hoping that, after the series has taken a long break and with access to better CGI than was available in the early 2000s, The Matrix 4 will be just as good as the first. Could this be the beginning of a greatly expanded franchise?

🏆Winner🏆
Dune

The first part of this new Dune duology should have been released this month, but because most cinemas remain closed it’s been pushed all the way back to December next year. Dune has previously been difficult to adapt, with at least one attempted film version never making it to screen, but this adaptation has clearly been a labour of love. It seems to feature a great cast, and based on the trailer will have some stunning visual effects. Here’s hoping that it can get the cinematic release that the director and studio hope for.

So that’s it!

Those are my picks for the entertainment highlights of 2020. It’s been a very unusual year in terms of what all of us have been able to watch and listen to. A number of big titles weren’t able to make it to release, especially in the realm of cinema. We’re also going to be feeling the knock-on effects of this disruption well into 2021 and 2022, even if things get back to normal relatively quickly – which hopefully will be the case!

2020 brought Star Trek back to the small screen in a huge way. There literally has not been this much Star Trek to get stuck into for decades, and as a big fan of the franchise I think that’s just fantastic. It’s also been a year which has accelerated the move toward streaming as a main way of accessing content. I wouldn’t like to guess how many cable or satellite subscriptions have been cancelled in favour of Netflix, Disney+, CBS All Access, and the like!

I hope that you managed to find some fun things to watch and play this year – even as the outside world seemed to be falling apart. Entertainment is great escapism, and we all needed some of that in 2020. This may be my last post of the year, so all that remains to be said is this: see you in 2021!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective company, studio, broadcaster, publisher, distributor, etc. Some promotional images and artwork courtesy of IGDB. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

My favourite adaptation of A Christmas Carol

The earliest filmed version of Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Christmas Carol was in 1901. Since then there have been at least sixty-five filmed adaptations – not including the many times where productions borrowed one or more themes or elements from the story. Some adaptations are good, some were even great, but for the last two decades there has been – in my opinion – one that stands out from the others.

Because A Christmas Carol has been adapted so many times, newer versions have a tendency to try to bring new creative elements to the story, or to have some gimmick that will make it feel different from all the others. The 1999 adaptation doesn’t do this, to its credit, and generally plays it straight. Though there is much to love in the likes of A Flintstones Christmas Carol or Scrooged, when I’m in the mood for a faithful adaptation of Dickens’ book, I reach for this version.

Sir Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Sir Patrick Stewart, who takes on the role of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, had previously adapted A Christmas Carol to be a one-man play which he starred in on the stage beginning in 1988. Though I’ve never been fortunate enough to see this version, in it Sir Patrick takes on most of the roles in the book; over thirty characters. During the play’s run, Sir Patrick began working with director David Jones, who was a versatile director of stage and screen. They adapted the novel into a made-for-television film and it was broadcast on American cable network TNT in the run-up to Christmas 1999.

This adaptation of A Christmas Carol is the first to make use of CGI and digital special effects. Though some of these have aged – the production is over twenty years old at this point – most hold up remarkably well even compared to higher-budget films and television shows of the era. The 1990s was an interesting time for special effects. CGI meant that many productions were able to make use of effects that would have been prohibitively expensive to do physically, yet even at the time many could be underwhelming. The Star Wars prequels suffered greatly from an overuse of CGI that wasn’t quite ready for prime-time, but in this adaptation of A Christmas Carol, the effects are kept to a minimum and aren’t intrusive.

As a big Star Trek fan, the main draw of this adaptation was, of course, the presence of Sir Patrick Stewart. I don’t believe it was broadcast here in the UK before the millennium, but I certainly would have seen it for the first time in the early 2000s. After being initially interested simply because of who was in it, what I found when I sat down to watch A Christmas Carol was a largely-faithful adaptation of Dickens’ novel, one that retained all of the heart and sweetness at the core of this story of Christmas and redemption. Sir Patrick’s performance is outstanding, but it’s hardly the only great work of acting. Richard E. Grant co-stars as Scrooge’s hard-done-by employee Bob Cratchit, and there were great performances from lesser-known actors taking on the roles of the three spirits, the Cratchit family, and the people Scrooge encounters in his visions.

Scrooge walks the streets of London.

As an historical piece, A Christmas Carol nails the Victorian feel. It even succeeds at showing different periods of the 19th Century – when Scrooge is taken back to his past, the setting and costumes change to reflect the passage of time. Though things like set design and costuming can be subtle, if something isn’t right – especially in a film set in a distinct time period – it can really be offputting. This is one aspect that the film gets spot on.

Making Dickensian language understandable to contemporary audiences can be a challenge. Not quite so much as with Shakespeare or Chaucer, but many 19th Century texts can sound odd to our ears today. Though I’d argue 19th Century writing is often beautiful, when adapted for the screen in particular it can sound ostentatious and stilted. This adaptation of A Christmas Carol manages to avoid that – for the most part – and the dialogue works well, especially when you get stuck into it!

As humans we have an innate fear of death, and it’s from this fear that the first legends of ghosts and hauntings were created. The idea of spirits unable to leave this world nor enter the afterlife is frightening; a fate worse than death, you could say. And A Christmas Carol doesn’t shy away from the frightening side of the spirits who visit Scrooge. I’d even go so far as to say that there are several jump-scares in this adaptation. A great soundtrack accompanies these moments in particular, escalating the tension. It may not be the best version to watch if you have very young children.

Ghosts shown to Scrooge.

Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol at a time when folks in Britain were rediscovering many Christmas traditions that had fallen by the wayside. Though it’s not fair to credit the novel with saving or inventing Christmas, many of the traditions we associate with the holiday today are included in the novel – and in this adaptation.

So that’s it, really. I just wanted to highlight this great and underappreciated adaptation of Dickens’ novel as we’re now in the grip of the holiday season! It made my list last year of twelve things to watch during the festive season, but I wanted to expand a little on what I said and give A Christmas Carol its own moment in the spotlight!

As a big fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Sir Patrick Stewart, I was incredibly excited when I first heard of this adaptation. I wasn’t disappointed when I saw it for the first time around twenty years ago, and it’s become a permanent fixture on my holiday watchlist. I wouldn’t say I watch it without fail every Christmas season, but certainly most years I’ll fire up the DVD and spend an hour-and-a-half with this festive favourite. I highly recommend it, both to Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike.

A Christmas Carol (1999) is out now on DVD and may be streamed on Amazon Prime in the United Kingdom. Access to the film on streaming platforms may vary by location. A Christmas Carol may be the copyright of TNT and/or Sonar Entertainment, Inc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five things to watch at New Year (instead of fireworks)

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.

2020 has seen a lot of cancellations, and as the end of the year approaches that has extended to New Year celebrations too. Around the world, fireworks displays and other big events are being shut down due to the pandemic, and while I’m sure most of you are too sensible to have even considered attending such an event in person, many of these parties and countdowns were scheduled to be televised, which leaves us with a gaping hole in our New Year’s Eve viewing. With parties also off the agenda for most of us, I thought I’d put together a fun list of things to watch instead as the minutes tick closer to midnight.

I’ve never been particularly bothered about fireworks. A professional display can be fun to see if you’re there in person, but on television much of the impact is lost. Despite that, for the last few years I’ve spent my New Year’s Eves with the London fireworks display – one of the many events that has been cancelled for 2020 – simply because there aren’t a lot of other options. At least, there weren’t until now!

I started thinking about alternatives, and I came up with five potentially fun ideas (and a couple of bonus ones!)

Number 1: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Timestamp: 2:50:20 (Extended Edition Blu-ray)

“So it begins.”

I have to admit this one is not an original idea (I stole it from a meme). But if you want to begin the new year with Théoden of Rohan proclaiming “so it begins,” you can! If you start The Two Towers at precisely 21:09:40 (assuming you have the extended edition on Blu-ray), Théoden will utter that line at the stroke of midnight. Not only that, but you’ll begin the year with one of the best fantasy battles ever filmed: the Battle of Helm’s Deep.

Why not make New Year’s Eve a Lord of the Rings marathon while you’re at it? I could think of far worse ways to start 2021 than with three of the finest films of the genre.

Number 2: Phineas & Ferb Season 4, Episode 2: For Your Ice Only/Happy New Year (2012)

Timestamp: 00:19:26 (Disney+ version)

Perry the Platypus.

Episodes of Phineas and Ferb come bundled in pairs on Disney+, so if you want to celebrate with Phineas, Ferb, Candace, Perry, and Dr Doofenshmirtz you’ll have to start this duo of episodes at precisely 23:40:34 on New Year’s Eve. That will ring in the New Year with a countdown, a ball drop (from outer space, no less) and one of Dr Doofenshmirtz’s wacky inventions.

The song from this episode, which itself is titled Happy New Year, has to be one of the show’s best, and is well worth a listen even if you don’t watch the entire story. I’ve been a fan of this Disney Channel cartoon since it premiered, and I recently reviewed Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe.

Number 3: Ghostbusters II (1989)

A crowd singing Auld Lang Syne in Ghostbusters II.

The climactic final act of Ghostbusters II takes place on New Year’s Eve in New York City, and if you’re up for some comedy to ring in 2021, this could be the way to do it! Though not as spectacular as the 1984 original, Ghostbusters II is nevertheless decent, and manages to have heart despite the ridiculous nature of its premise.

If you start the film around 22:30, you’ll get to the scenes on New Year’s Eve by midnight, and will have started 2021 with a funny, heartwarming, and slightly spooky tale.

Number 4: Futurama – Season 1, Episode 1: Space Pilot 3000

Timestamp: 00:01:52 (DVD)

Fry in Space Pilot 3000.

Futurama premiered in 1999, and fittingly its pilot episode was set on Millennium Eve. Fry, a pizza delivery guy, ends up alone – before falling into a cryogenic stasis chamber and waking up 1,000 years later! If you begin the episode – at least, the DVD version – at 23:58:08 on New Year’s Eve, you’ll begin 2021 not just with Fry, but with a surprisingly fun multilingual New Year’s countdown.

If you haven’t seen Futurama in a while, this could be a fun way to get back into it. So what do you say? Wanna go around again?

Number 5: Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 3, Episode 26: The Best of Both Worlds (1990)

Timestamp: 00:43:58

Commanders Shelby and Riker in The Best of Both Worlds.

It wouldn’t be a Crazy Uncle Dennis list without some Star Trek, right? If you begin watching The Best of Both Worlds (part one or the omnibus version on Blu-ray and Netflix) at precisely 23:16:02 on New Year’s Eve, you will begin 2021 with Locutus proclaiming that “resistance is futile!” The Best of Both Worlds would be many folks’ pick for the absolute best episode of The Next Generation, and it’s an engrossing watch even thirty years later.

Stick around for the second part to see how Riker and the crew manage to overcome the Borg incursion into Federation space, and start 2021 with one of the best and most iconic Star Trek stories there is. I’d challenge even non-Trekkies to be underwhelmed with that!

Bonus #1: Last year’s London fireworks!

The fireworks displays in London are centred around the London Eye.

This one is a total cheat because I said we would look at things to watch instead of the usual fireworks displays. But on YouTube you can find the official broadcasts of many different New Year’s Eve events, including the London fireworks. If you go for the official (BBC) broadcast of the 2019-20 fireworks show, you’ll need to start it at eleven seconds to midnight in order for the countdown to line up. That’s not a lot of room for error if you’re planning on having a busy evening!

There are many recordings of these shows available online, and you can check out the New York ball drop, Hogmanay in Scotland, and many more. Out of everything I’ve put forward, picking one of these would make for the most “normal” feeling New Year’s Eve, so if you’ve had anxieties or worries this year, or if you’re caring for someone who is keen on a return to normalcy, this could be a good option. You can even pick which year you’d like to relive. Personally I might go back and re-celebrate the Millennium!

Bonus #2: Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo Switch, 2020)

No that’s not the New Year’s event… but it could look similar.

Though I believe it hasn’t yet been officially confirmed, every past game in the Animal Crossing series featured a New Year’s Eve event, complete with countdown, party poppers, and an in-game fireworks display. New Horizons will almost certainly follow suit, with events taking place either side of midnight. If you’ve been spending a lot of time on your island this year, it could be fun to spend New Year with your animal friends.

Games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons provide players with these kinds of experiences. If you’re missing the party atmosphere and want to feel like you’re participating in an event instead of simply watching along, this could be perfect. Well not perfect, but a reasonable substitute nevertheless.

So that’s it. A few silly suggestions for what to watch on New Year. It’s not long now till 2020 will be finally over, and with the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine having already begun – at least here in the UK – hopefully by the time we’re thinking about the next New Year’s Eve, things will be much closer to normal.

Stay tuned because I have more festive and holiday-themed things to come before we reach 2021!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, broadcaster, distributor, or production company. Header image courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

I don’t understand “fans” sometimes…

I’m not a big social media person. In fact, I don’t have any social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc) linked to this site. I like the pieces I write here to speak for themselves. But I follow some social media accounts of franchises I support, such as Star Trek and Star Wars. It seems with almost every update and every announcement posted, people will complain – even about shows that haven’t been broadcast yet!

Here on this website you’ll find criticism of entertainment companies and their films, shows, and games. That’s what I do here; I’m a critic, not a cheerleader for any franchise or company. But my criticism is reserved for things that I’ve seen and played for myself, and is directed at titles that I enjoyed or hoped to enjoy. I don’t seek out things to dislike on purpose, and when it comes to my favourite franchises I always start out hopeful and wanting to have a positive experience. Yet on social media I see so many negative and hateful comments directed at shows like Star Trek: Lower Decks – which hasn’t even aired a single episode yet.

Star Trek: Lower Decks has been criticised by people who haven’t even watched it yet.

There are reasons to criticise ViacomCBS. When thinking about Lower Decks, the fact that the show doesn’t seem like it’s coming overseas any time soon is an issue I’ve been vocal about. But the reason for that is that I want to see Lower Decks – I’m excited for it and not thrilled at the prospect of missing out. I guess I just don’t understand why someone who clearly hates Star Trek would bother to follow Star Trek’s official social media pages only to comment about how much they hate it. It just seems like such a waste of time, and why would anyone choose to live their life in such a negative way?

This extends to the so-called “fans” who set up groups and YouTube channels that deal wholly in negativity. You know the ones I mean – where The Last Jedi is an “objectively bad” film and where any Star Trek production post-Enterprise is automatically hated without even being watched. Passion in a fanbase is all well and good, but why channel it in such a negative way?

The Last Jedi prompted some “fans” to start a campaign of hate against everything to do with Star Wars.

I didn’t enjoy The Rise of Skywalker, the most recent film in the Star Wars franchise. And I was up front about the reasons why when I reviewed it. But that dislike of one film doesn’t mean I’m now a Star Wars hater who’s going to spend a lot of time talking about all the things I didn’t like about the whole franchise, and I’m certainly not going to be jumping on any new announcement to tell you why I think it’s going to be crap. There are films, shows, and games within Star Wars that I like and a few that I dislike. I’ve just finished playing Jedi: Fallen Order, for example, and had a great time with it. In the case of The Rise of Skywalker or The Mandalorian, unless I have something worth saying I’m not just going to keep harping on about how much I didn’t like them. There are so many other things to watch that I don’t have time to waste.

Many of the comments that I see when a show like Lower Decks is being shown off are just one-line things saying something like “this is gonna be shit”. What was the point of saying that? It added absolutely nothing to the discussion, and if someone really believed a new show was going to be that bad, the simple answer is: “don’t watch it then”. As Dr Tolian Soran said in Star Trek: Generations:

“Haven’t you got anything better to do?”

As with the Star Wars “fans” who have decided they hate anything other than the old expanded universe and the first few films, some Star Trek fans aren’t interested in the franchise’s more recent offerings. And that’s fine. Nobody is being forced to watch any show or film that they aren’t interested in or don’t think they’re going to enjoy. I just don’t understand all of the negativity and aggression that seems to plague fan communities.

If it were coming from a place of love, if it was constructive criticism or designed to make a positive change then that would be okay. I write about things I’m passionate about here, and sometimes that means speaking critically about a film or series that I wanted to enjoy but found disappointing. But these people seem to have already decided to hate something without watching it or knowing anything about it, and then take that negativity and toxicity and smear it all over social media. I truly don’t understand that side of “fandom”, nor how someone who behaves that way can consider themselves a “fan” of Star Trek, Star Wars, or anything else.

Representation of a “fan” screeching about a show or film that they’ve decided to hate.

Star Trek in particular has always tried to be a franchise with a positive outlook. Even its darkest stories all took place against the backdrop of an evolved, enlightened humanity, and the battles our heroes fought were against opponents who sought to tear down the bright future humanity had built for itself. That’s the foundation of Star Trek, and while there are definitely points to criticise in Discovery, Picard, and perhaps in Lower Decks too – though we won’t know for sure until we get to see it – blindly hating on something doesn’t seem like something the crew of the Enterprise would do.

As I’ve discussed before, many of these people aren’t interested in even having a conversation about Star Trek or whatever franchise they’ve decided to hate. Their whole identity is tied up in hating a franchise, and nothing will ever convince them to change. Though I find that sad and will always prefer to judge a series or film on its own merits, as I’ve made the mistake in the past of rushing to judgement, I’m fine with someone disliking something I enjoy or not being excited for something I’m looking forward to. We are all different and we all enjoy different things in life. What I don’t understand is the negativity, choosing to spend hours and hours on social media following a franchise just for the sake of being negative about it.

A short selection of negative comments taken from two recent Facebook posts from Star Trek about Lower Decks. Names redacted.

When I write critically about a work of entertainment, I take the time to watch it and I’ll often do other research looking into things like its production history, other works by the actors and director, etc. When I come to the conclusion that a story was unenjoyable for me, I put that into words and try my best to explain what I didn’t like specifically and why I didn’t like it. I didn’t just say “The Rise of Skywalker was crap” and leave it at that. I broke down the specific moments in the film and its story and tried to properly detail why I thought it was crap. These social media comments are often one or two sentences at most, and don’t even bother to explain what the person is taking issue with.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. But social media has made it not only easier for everyone to express those opinions about every tiny little thing, but also to form communities in which only one opinion is acceptable. That side of things in particular has not been positive, and we’re seeing the consequences now when new announcements in practically every franchise are met with hundreds of negative comments that are often rude or even toxic in nature. I’m disappointed that so many people choose to engage in such toxic and negative behaviour, but it’s unlikely to change any time soon.

This post was, somewhat ironically, a way to vent my own frustrations at some of the comments I see plastered across social media. Just like the “fans” who need to spend less time following franchises they hate, I clearly need to spend less time reading the comments – it seems like that’s the way to avoid getting so worked up about it.

All shows, films, and games mentioned above are the copyright of their respective company and/or owner. Header image and other stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Can we PLEASE stop calling things we don’t like “objectively” bad?

Quite possibly one of my biggest pet peeves when reading or listening to reviews and critical opinion is when a critic asserts that a film, video game, or television series that they personally dislike is “objectively bad”. This is something I’ve seen both amateurs and professionals do, and it absolutely needs to stop. It’s the single fastest way a commentator can invalidate their own argument and credentials, and it’s got to a point where it’s been proclaimed so often that any time I see or hear the phrase “objectively bad”, I stop reading or listening. Any critic making such a statement has lost my respect and lost the argument.

To briefly define the terms, “objective” refers to something definite and factual, whereas “subjective” refers to an opinion or personal taste. Specifically, the word “objective” – and its adverb “objectively” – should be used to describe only those things which are not influenced by one’s own opinion or personal taste.

The creative arts – including cinema, television, and gaming – are by their very nature subjective. Storytelling and narrative decision-making in particular are incredibly subjective, perhaps being second only to individual musical taste. Every single aspect of a film, television series, or game – from its narrative to its aesthetic to its editing – is 100% subjective, and anyone who tries to claim otherwise doesn’t understand the meaning of these terms. There are certainly established ways of doing things, but refusing to follow these routes is not only not “objectively bad”, it’s the only way there can ever be innovation. Even in a title which is universally panned, there is still a huge amount of subjectivity – this is why some poorly-received films go on to be cult classics, and why there’s a market for re-releases of B-movies like Return of the Killer Tomatoes.

George Clooney starred in this film early in his career. I’m not making that up.

Even on the more technical side of filmmaking, an aspect one person may find annoying – like incredibly fast-paced editing – is someone else’s idea of a stroke of brilliance. Setting aside those few video games that are released with so many glitches that they’re unplayable, the same is true there too. I remember reading a novel a few years ago called Cold Mountain – since made into a film – which had a really annoying writing style. There were no speech marks used to indicate dialogue, and the author appeared to be aware of precisely zero synonyms for the word “said”, using it over and over again for almost every line where a character spoke. I found these things to be incredibly dumb and gimmicky, yet when I spoke to a friend who’d recommended me the book, she thought it was masterful; a postmodern way to write.

While I’m sure people have been misusing “objectively” for years, where it came to prominence for me was in the discourse surrounding the 2017 film Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Many Star Wars fans disliked the film for a number of reasons, and while I personally enjoyed it, by and large I can understand the criticisms many folks had. Some decisions taken by Rian Johnson and others at Lucasfilm seem to have been almost designed to be controversial – and anything like that will always result in split opinions. But nothing in The Last Jedi was “objectively bad”, as many critics claimed. Whether someone liked or hated things like Luke Skywalker’s characterisation, the Admiral Holdo and Poe confrontation, the side-mission to Canto Bight, Snoke’s fate, or the hyperspace ramming manoeuvre, none of them can be said to be “objectively bad” storytelling decisions. Even if a significant part of the film’s audience felt some or all of those points failed, that’s still a subjective opinion on the part of those individuals. Picking on a single narrative element in a story – such as the way Luke’s character was handled – and deeming it “objectively bad” not only is incorrect, but it undermines one’s own argument and makes having a rational conversation on the topic impossible.

Even the most controversial parts of The Last Jedi were not “objectively bad”.

I don’t want to turn this essay into a critique or defence of The Last Jedi, because it’s hardly the only title in recent years that has seen “objective” bandied about and used incorrectly by critics. While I liked The Last Jedi overall, that isn’t the reason for my saying it can’t be called “objectively bad”. There are titles I personally didn’t like, even projects I felt completely failed, that I would make the same case for. Game of Thrones’ eighth season was not “objectively bad”. Nor was The Last of Us Part II, despite my saying recently that 3/10 seemed like a fair score for that game. Not even The Rise of Skywalker, which had myriad problems with its story as well as its pacing, could be described as being “objectively bad”. I greatly dislike or had serious issue with all three of these titles, but I could never say that about them because there simply is no such thing as an “objectively bad” narrative. They all have major issues and failings in my opinion – an opinion shared by many other people in some cases, but a subjective opinion nevertheless.

What a critic is trying to do by clumsily using the word “objective” is to shut down dissenting opinions. By asserting that their belief is “objective” and thus purely factual, they’re saying that no other opinions on the topic can exist, and that anyone who tries to make a counter-argument is automatically wrong with any points they make being invalid. This isn’t how criticism and discourse are meant to work. Setting aside the fact that the word is being used incorrectly, the implication is that the person making such an assertion is closed-minded. It’s a consequence in part of social media bubbles and YouTube channels feeding the same opinions to people repeatedly.

YouTube critics aren’t the only ones who make this mistake, but it’s something I hear frequently on that platform.

In the aftermath of The Last Jedi, this was taken to extremes by some of the film’s detractors. While some of these people would begin a discussion by saying something generic like “I respect your opinion”, often what would come next is plenty of evidence to the contrary. It wasn’t good enough for them that most folks they spoke to didn’t like the film, they wanted everyone to hate it just as passionately as they did, and any contrary opinion was taken as a personal attack. The reality is that there will always be a range of opinions on practically any film, game, or television series, and trying to convince oneself that everyone needs to share the same opinion will not lead anywhere positive.

The conversation around The Last Jedi became so aggressive, unpleasant, and toxic that I stopped engaging with the film’s critics. It was clear to me that most of them weren’t interested in a conversation nor in hearing any other opinion besides a differently-worded version of their own. Some of these folks seemed to be tying their whole identity to being anti-Disney or anti-Star Wars, and any difference of opinion was perceived as a challenge to their newfound sense of self. That appears to be at least part of the reason why we started to see the phrase “objectively bad” crop up more and more often in relation to that film.

Luke Skywalker’s characterisation in The Last Jedi may have been controversial and disappointing to some fans, but nothing about it was “objectively bad” – or “objectively” anything at all.

Calling something “objectively bad” – or indeed “objectively” anything else – has a finality to it. It seeks to shut down the debate and block off any chance of someone offering a different opinion. But it simply isn’t correct, and by taking even small steps to broaden one’s understanding of a work of fiction, it’s easily possible to see that there are a range of opinions. Some critical works may even cause a rethink, reframing the discussion or bringing up a point others have failed to mention. Even if these don’t cause anyone to change their mind, they are at the very least evidence that a title is not “objectively bad”.

In most of the titles mentioned above, there were choices made by the creators and storytellers that I wouldn’t have made. These choices made the stories less enjoyable – or completely unenjoyable – for many people. Whether we’re talking about cinema, television, or video games, stories can be poorly-written, and indeed the whole point of media criticism is to point that out. But even the most well-read academic or the most prolific storyteller is simply expressing their own opinion when they make such a point. If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class or subjected your fan-fiction to internet critique, you’ll know that. Criticism is an expression of one’s own thoughts and opinions on a subject. By the very nature of the medium, criticism is subjective, not objective.

I did not enjoy The Last of Us Part II, and criticised some of its storytelling choices. But I would never be so arrogant as to say my opinion is a fact and that the game is “objectively bad”.

Some people may be misusing a term that they don’t understand, in which case further education is needed. But unfortunately, many critics who are fully aware of the difference between subjective and objective use the wrong word on purpose. Occasionally it may be little more than hyperbole, but even then this kind of exaggeration does nothing to elevate the discussion around entertainment and media. Often it’s a cynical attempt to shut down debate; to attempt to discredit dissenting opinions by stating one’s own as cold, hard fact. I find this incredibly offputting, and the inclusion of the phrase “objectively bad” – unless clearly sarcastic or meant as a joke – is enough for me to click off and read or listen to something else.

There are some aspects of life which can be black-and-white, and where it makes sense to describe something in such clear-cut terms. But entertainment isn’t one of them, and never can be. Its very nature means that there will invariably be a range of opinions, and if we haven’t found any differing points of view, that in itself is a great argument to get out of whatever social media bubble we find ourselves in and seek them out. At the very least, let’s endeavour to stop calling films, games, and television shows we don’t like “objectively bad”. They aren’t – we just didn’t like them.

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

Why fan petitions don’t work

There are plenty of projects in recent years that I took issue with. When passions run high, it’s natural to want to find an outlet for whatever anger or frustration we might have about a film, game, or television series. Just in the last few weeks I’ve looked at three big titles that I felt didn’t work for one reason or another – Game of Thrones Season 8, The Rise of Skywalker, and The Last of Us Part II.

All of these titles, and many more besides, have something in common: fans have set up online petitions to erase, edit, or rewrite them to fit what they think should have happened. Some of these petitions can get tens or even hundreds of thousands of signatures on websites like change.org – but what’s the point? Even if a petition got a million signatures, does anyone seriously think that Disney and Lucasfilm are going to say “oh okay then, I guess we’d better remake The Rise of Skywalker”?

The Last of Us Part II is the latest in a long line of titles to receive a petition demanding changes or cancellation.

Fan petitions can be a legitimate way to protest a decision in an entertainment product that you don’t like, and in that sense they arguably serve a purpose. I can understand the desire to make one’s voice heard – my website, after all, serves a similar purpose for me. Did anyone at Lucasfilm or Disney read my tear-down of The Rise of Skywalker? Doubtful. Even if they did, would it make one iota of difference? Absolutely not. But that doesn’t stop me writing. I’ve always loved to write, and I run this website just for fun.

As long as we remember to treat fan petitions in the same way as we might treat a YouTube comment or scathing Twitter post – i.e. by not expecting anything to come of it – perhaps it’s a harmless phenomenon. I think it’s comparable in that respect to review-bombing (the practice of leaving large numbers of negative reviews on sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes). As fans and members of the audience, we want to make our voices heard, especially when we feel a title has been disappointing. And similarly to review-bombing, seeing that hundreds or thousands of people share your opinion can be a good feeling. The desire to complain is as old as humanity itself; one of the oldest extant examples of writing is a complaint about poor-quality copper from ancient Sumeria! So it shouldn’t be a surprise that people in 2020 are using the internet to make their voices heard and to take complaints directly to those behind the shows, games, or films that they feel didn’t succeed.

The issue can be that some people take petitions very seriously. They consider their opinion to be the only one that’s acceptable and valid, and will attack anyone who disagrees, often viciously and offensively. In the aftermath of 2017’s The Last Jedi this happened a lot – many of the film’s detractors insisted it was “objectively bad”, as if that were the only opinion and the end of the discussion. The Last Jedi was not objectively bad – they just didn’t like it. In their subjective opinion. Nor can The Rise of Skywalker or The Last of Us Part II be said to be “objectively” bad. Storytelling is always going to be subjective, and there will be a range of opinions from the overwhelmingly positive to the horribly negative depending on the individual.

Lucasfilm and Disney aren’t remaking The Last Jedi.

Some of this comes with age – as you get older, you meet more people and get to see firsthand a variety of opinions on every topic. Getting out of a bubble is important – if you only ever talk to like-minded people and never try to get an opposing viewpoint or broaden your understanding of a topic, you’ll never have a chance to grow. This doesn’t just apply to entertainment, but to everything else in life too. Social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and the like can amplify these bubbles – creating groups and networks where only one side of an argument is discussed and where only one opinion is acceptable. Often, at least in the context of entertainment, this is a negative, critical opinion, but not always.

Companies care about their bottom line. In practically every franchise, hardcore fans are a tiny fraction of the overall audience, and as such, companies can flat-out say that they don’t care what you think. At the end of the day, if their product is making money and has been successful, the opinion of a tiny number of people who disliked it or who felt its narrative choices were wrong does not matter to them in the slightest. And often, what you’ll find is that controversy can be turned into a selling point. A fan petition gets more people to hear about the title in question, and some of them will go on to pick it up to see what all the fuss is about – resulting in more sales, not fewer.

William Shatner once told Star Trek fans to “get a life!” Luckily this was a joke, but it illustrates how entertainment companies can view their franchises’ biggest fans.

I don’t sign petitions on entertainment topics as a rule. I have, very occasionally, lent my name to petitions on other issues when I felt strongly about something, but never on an entertainment subject. Before I founded the website I would usually just keep my opinions to myself or perhaps discuss things with friends, but of course nowadays I have this outlet! However, I don’t want to say you shouldn’t sign a petition if you feel you want to and that it warrants your time and attention. Just don’t expect a response, and especially don’t expect your petition to accomplish its goal of having that episode or film you hate struck from canon.

There are some very specific cases where fan feedback in a more general sense has led to changes. The one that springs to mind is Mass Effect 3 in 2012. After releasing to huge controversy for its pick-a-colour ending, EA and Bioware released a free piece of downloadable content – the Extended Cut – which provided some more dialogue, expanded some cut-scenes, gave more explanation to some story points, and generally padded the ending a little. This wasn’t in response to a single petition – though there was a popular one at the time – but rather it was a response to broader feedback from reviewers and fans that was practically universal. The changes they made through the Extended Cut didn’t fundamentally change the game – or even really address the basic issues people were complaining about – but at least fans felt that their feedback had accomplished something.

The Extended Cut of Mass Effect 3 was initially offered as free DLC and is an example of feedback resulting in a response.

Overall, though, one success story does not count as proof of concept. Fan petitions are ignored by big companies, and often mocked online as people ask: “do those whiny fans really think their petition is going to make a difference?”

Partly the reason why is that a petition is just a collection of names – in online petitions, often patently fake names like “Deez Nuts” or “Anony Mouse”. It takes almost no effort to lend one’s name – fake or real – to such a petition; most participants must merely write two words and then click or tap off the petition. When I see critical comments on social media, while many of them can suffer from poor spelling and grammar and be silly, nitpicky, or even rude, at least the individual writing the comment has made a basic attempt to string more than two words together to make their point or express their dislike. In that sense, fan petitions rank even lower than social media comments or short posts on Twitter. If they take so little effort, it makes sense why they’re so easily dismissed, and why it takes an exceptional case of negative feedback – which may or may not include petitions – to convince any big company to make even minor concessions, such as in the case of Mass Effect 3.

I’m not in the business of telling people what to do. And if you want to create a petition or sign a petition calling on a company to change or cancel a film, series, game, or episode, that’s your call. Nor am I saying that petitions in general are a bad idea – in the sphere of politics and when dealing with other issues out there in the real world, a well-constructed petition on a specific issue can be effective. They just tend not to be when it comes to entertainment companies. At the end of the day, most people don’t take things like Star Wars or Star Trek as seriously as we do.

A photo I took at Star Trek: The Experience in the UK. Most viewers aren’t hardcore fans and don’t attend events or attractions like this.
Photo Credit: Crazy Uncle Dennis – feel free to re-use under the Creative Commons share-alike principle.

The desire to express how one feels about something is natural and a fundamental part of the human condition. But there are better ways to go about it than signing a fan petition that will invariably fail to accomplish anything. Letter-writing may be a lost art, but I think many people will find that actually writing out their thoughts and opinions will not only be cathartic but can also be an enjoyable experience. Whether they choose to write directly to the company in question or do what I do and publish reviews and criticism in a publicly-accessible forum is a personal choice – some folks on the more introverted side of the spectrum may find the former is preferable, for example. I’d recommend giving it a try, in any case. Not least because I love stumbling across new blogs and critics to read!

In the days of the internet and social media, it’s easier than ever for fans to critique their favourite franchises, and storytelling decisions in particular. It’s also easier than ever to get sucked into social media bubbles where everyone is expressing differently-worded forms of the same opinion, and to make the mistake of thinking that opinion is objective truth or the only valid position to take. From the point of view of companies, while some feedback can be valuable, and while they undoubtedly take notice of the rare cases of overwhelming backlash online, if at the end of the day their film, game, or series is popular and profitable, they don’t really care. And they care even less about fan petitions. Sorry.

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

2020 is halfway done!

Spoiler Warning: Though there are no major spoilers, minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries listed.

The end of June is the halfway point of the year, and it’s a nice opportunity to take stock for a few minutes. This isn’t going to be a major recap of what’s come before (I’ll save that for my “end-of-year” article in December) but I thought it could be fun to talk about some of the things I’m looking forward to in the next six months.

I don’t really enjoy the summer season. The weather is too hot (yes, even in the UK it gets hot sometimes), there are annoying insects buzzing around all the time, and the sun rises at an obscene hour. Seriously, it gets light here by 4 o’clock! The summer months are also when television schedules tend to be lighter, as more folks concentrate on their summer holidays. The standard “television season” runs from September to April or May, and while of course there are still lots of things to watch at this time of year, there tends to be less of interest to me. The decline of traditional broadcast television as we enter an age of on-demand streaming has lessened the impact of this, however, which is fantastic!

Summer – wonderfully represented by this stock photo – can honestly just piss off. It’s the worst season of the year.

The biggest story of 2020 is of course the coronavirus pandemic. This has massively disrupted production and release schedules across the entertainment industry, and what should have been a big summer season for films is practically nonexistent right now. Even the Olympic Games, which were to take place in Tokyo, and the Euro 2020 football tournament have been postponed until next year, both of which would have been big events to enjoy this summer.

So under the circumstances, what am I most looking forward to? It has to be Star Trek, of course! You probably already knew that. Star Trek: Discovery’s third season is due out any time now, and I’m still hopeful that we’ll see Lower Decks debut before the end of the year as well, per the original plan. I’m really interested – and a little nervous – to see what kind of story Discovery will tell having left its 23rd Century setting behind. I’ve already taken a look at the trailer for the upcoming season, and you can find my thoughts on it by clicking or tapping here. I really expected that we’d have seen a tentative release date – or even just a release window – when Star Trek: Picard was on the air, as using that show to plug Discovery would’ve made sense. The latest news seems to be that post-production work is practically finished; I’m anticipating a release date any day now.

Star Trek: Discovery will be back any time now… I hope!

We should also be seeing the fifth season of The Expanse before the end of the year, and perhaps a second season of Netflix’s The Witcher series. The Expanse is an absolutely fantastic near-future sci-fi show, and if you haven’t seen it yet I honestly cannot recommend it enough. After an extensive fan campaign to save the show from cancellation, Amazon bought the rights and it’s currently available on Amazon Prime Video – which is where you can also watch the first season of Star Trek: Picard if you haven’t already.

The fourth season of Rick & Morty wrapped up only a few weeks ago, having been split into two blocks of five episodes. It had debuted back in November last year, and while I’d be surprised to see the fifth season show up so soon after the fourth – especially given the series is notorious for its long waits between seasons – I can’t help but be a little hopeful that Season 5 could follow Season 4’s model and kick off in the run-up to Christmas.

The Terror – a horror anthology series – had a great first season and an okay second season, and while there hasn’t been any official confirmation yet, it would be great to see Season 3 some time this year too. The Terror made great use of two historical settings; another mini-series coming out in August with an historical basis is The Good Lord Bird. This will follow a fictionalised portrayal of real-life abolitionist John Brown in the years immediately prior to the American Civil War. As a history buff, I’m hyped for that!

Ethan Hawke will star in The Good Lord Bird.

The 1932 novel Brave New World is being adapted as a series, and will star Alden Ehrenreich (of Solo: A Star Wars Story fame). Not to be confused with Strange New Worlds, the upcoming Star Trek series, this is one that I’m tentatively adding to my watchlist when it debuts in July. Also coming in July is Intelligence, a sitcom set at GCHQ – the UK’s cyber-security headquarters and starring David Schwimmer.

July is a big month, as it could additionally see the Disney+ original Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe. The exact release date hasn’t been revealed yet, which leads me to think it may have been delayed. Regardless, I’m a huge fan of Phineas and Ferb so I’m looking forward to it! Although several characters from the animated show have popped up in Milo Murphy’s Law, this will be the first proper reunion since 2015. Could a fifth season be on the cards if this one-off special is successful?

Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe will debut on Disney+ sometime soon.

Changing genres – and tones – entirely, American Crime Story: Impeachment has nothing to do with the current occupant of the White House, but will instead focus on the impeachment of Bill Clinton. The first season of this anthology series back in 2016 looked at the trial of OJ Simpson, and I’m curious to see its dramatic take on the Clinton scandal. On CBS All Access – the new digital home of Star Trek in the USA – a new adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand is scheduled to premiere. I put the first adaptation (from the 1990s) on my tongue-in-cheek list of things to watch while self-isolating, as it’s set in the aftermath of a plague. I’m curious to see how this new adaptation will unfold.

Speaking of plagues, The Walking Dead is getting a second spin-off. While I no longer follow the main series, as I feel it became repetitive and uninteresting somewhere around its fourth or fifth season, the new spin-off titled The Walking Dead: World Beyond promises to take a different look at the apocalypse. Fear the Walking Dead told a story set during the first days of the zombie apocalypse – something arguably missing from the original show – and World Beyond plans to look at the world more than a decade later, focusing on a new cast of younger characters. I’m curious, at least, to see what the producers have in store.

The Walking Dead: World Beyond will pick up the story more than a decade into the zombie apocalypse.

In film, there’s slim pickings at the moment. With cinemas tentatively set to reopen over the summer, at least here in the UK, things could pick up – but I think we need to be prepared for further delays and disruption if the pandemic situation changes. That being said, there are some films due out in the next few months as things begin to get back to normal. The King’s Man is the third entry in the Kingsman series of action-comedies, and has the potential to be a fun romp when it’s released in September. I enjoyed the first entry in the series as a send-up of Bond-esque films.

That leads us neatly to No Time To Die, which is set to wrap up the Daniel Craig era of James Bond films. Postponed from its original April slot, the film won’t release until November (which means I won’t get to see it until 2021). I’m expecting it to be an explosive finale – leading to a soft reboot of the 007 franchise in the coming years.

No Time To Die will be Daniel Craig’s last film in the role of the famous spy.

Bill and Ted Face the Music is the third entry in the series that helped make Keanu Reeves a household name. This one strikes me as an odd choice; the previous Bill and Ted films were very much of their time – the late ’80s/early ’90s. Returning to the franchise almost thirty years later is a bold move – will it pay off?

Starring Russell Crowe, Unhinged is billed as a thriller about a woman being stalked after a road rage incident. It has the potential to be interesting when it’s released in August. An adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, a follow-up to the successful 2017 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, is set for release in October. Though I’m not a big fan of horror in general, Antebellum looks potentially interesting, at least in its premise – a modern-day black woman is sent back in time to be a slave in the American south.

Disney is releasing another live-action remake of one of their classics: this time it’s Mulan, which is scheduled to arrive in late July; the film will feature Rosalind Chao of Star Trek fame in a co-starring role. The original Mulan was great, but I haven’t really felt any of the live-action remakes that I’ve seen so far have lived up to their source material. Hopefully Mulan can buck the trend!

Mulan will star Liu Yifei in the title role.

Another remake of Dune will be released in cinemas in December, and this time there will be an all-star cast including Oscar Isaac, Javier Bardem, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, and Stellan Skarsgård. I’m half-curious, half-nervous about this one. The novel Dune has been notoriously difficult to adapt, and the 2020 version aims to be the first part of a duology – the second part of which, I fear, may never see the light of day if the first part isn’t well-received.

The video game industry is already gearing up for the release of the next generation of home consoles. The Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 are set to launch in time for the holidays – probably in mid/late November. Along with the new consoles will be a slew of launch titles and exclusives – PlayStation seems to have the upper hand in that department.

The Xbox Series X (pictured) and PlayStation 5 are coming later this year.

Cyberpunk 2077 will be a huge title when it releases in November. From famed developer CD Projekt Red, this game has been on a lot of folks’ radars since it was announced way back in 2013. After being delayed twice already, and with the new console generation looming, the pressure is on to meet this latest release date.

Rocket Arena, which was announced during June’s EA Play presentation, looks like a fun multiplayer title in the vein of Overwatch. EA Play also showed off the trailer for Star Wars: Squadrons, which is set to release in October. A Star Wars game all about piloting X-Wings and TIE Fighters has been something people have been asking for for ages – older titles like Rogue Squadron were great, and this looks to be a modern incarnation of titles like that. Also coming in the Star Wars franchise is Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.

Promotional artwork for Star Wars: Squadrons.

As a history buff, and a fan of strategy games, I’m interested to see what A Total War Saga: Troy brings to the table. The Total War series has been running for a long time, and I remember fondly its earlier iterations like Shogun: Total War and Medieval: Total War – the latter of which must’ve been one of my most-played games of the early-2000s!

Ghost of Tsushima could well fill the role for the PlayStation 4 that The Last of Us did for the PlayStation 3: being the console’s swansong and ending the generation on a high. A third-person action-adventure following a samurai as he battles the Mongols, this game has been looking amazing in pre-release marketing.

There’s still the possibility that Watch Dogs Legion and the remake of Star Wars Episode I Racer will be out before the end of the year. And there will be new entries in EA Sports’ annual franchise games, such as FIFA 21. I will be curious to see how, if at all, the sports games address the massive disruption to this most recent season in their career modes and commentaries. Having not picked up a FIFA title since FIFA 18, I had been considering FIFA 21 – it’s hard to justify buying new iterations annually, but after a three-year gap I should hope to find improved gameplay!

Placeholder image for FIFA 21.

There will be a weird Marvel’s Avengers game – weird because the developers didn’t get the rights or licenses to make their characters look like the actors from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, despite the game seeming to make use of an otherwise similar aesthetic. Hopefully that won’t be too jarring! Twin Mirror and Tell Me Why are also scheduled for release this year, and are from the team behind Life is Strange and Vampyr. And finally, a second remake of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2 is due out in October. Unlike the version currently available, which took the older titles of the Dreamcast era and upscaled them, the new game bills itself as a full-on remake.

So that’s it. Well, that isn’t necessarily it, but that’s all I could think of that I’m looking forward to between now and Christmas based on what’s been announced (and what we can guess or assume is coming). Hopefully there will be a few surprises in there too.

If I had to pick a number one right now, it would be Star Trek: Discovery’s third season. But there are plenty of other things to look forward to!

All titles and properties listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, broadcaster, developer, publisher, or company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Where did Game of Thrones go?

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones, including all of Season 8 and the series finale.

At time of writing, people all over the world are still enduring varying degrees of lockdown and quarantine. Tens of millions of people aren’t working at all, and of those who are, many are working reduced hours and/or from home. Despite the fact that the production of films and television series has ground to a halt, as well as major disruption to release and broadcast schedules, many people are digging into their box sets and streaming subscriptions looking for something to watch to kill time.

There are many wonderful shows being re-watched and talked about, but one that has had practically no attention is Game of Thrones, despite once being regarded as one of the best television shows of all time.

Game of Thrones redefined what a television series could be. It made the geeky, niche genre of fantasy positively mainstream. It firmly established that multi-season serialised storytelling is not only possible, but something audiences respond well to. It demonstrated to production companies and networks that investing cinema-level money into television can be worthwhile. And it’s not a stretch to say that practically every television show produced after its 2011 premiere borrowed something from its production and storytelling methods. It is a landmark in the history of television.

So why isn’t anyone talking about Game of Thrones in mid-2020?

Promo poster for Season 1 of Game of Thrones.

It was only last year, little more than a year ago to the day in fact, that the finale of Game of Thrones was broadcast. The episode is the show’s worst-rated ever according to both critics and, by every reliable measure, its biggest fans. The question I’m asking today is simple, but the answer may be complicated: was Game of Thrones’ final season so badly-received that it essentially extinguished any support the show had? Did that ending undo five, six, or seven seasons’ worth of the best television ever made? Has Game of Thrones been wiped off our collective cultural map?

Firstly, let’s acknowledge that there had been criticism of perceived declining quality in Game of Thrones since at least the end of its fifth season – hence my remark above. Some fans and viewers felt that the show’s writing and pacing had begun to dip around that time – which, perhaps not coincidentally, is the time the show’s storyline went beyond the end of the most recent novel in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, 2011’s A Dance With Dragons. Seen in that context, perhaps a continued decline in the way the show was received is just something natural – culminating in a disappointing finale.

But it feels like there’s much more to it than that. We’ve undeniably seen many shows go on too long and lose their edge over time – but Game of Thrones is, as we’ve already established, not a normal television production. The rules don’t apply in the same way, largely because the story has been building up over every season. Every character killed, every army moved around like chess pieces on a board, every line of dialogue and character relationship had all been carefully crafted and built upon to get the story to this point. It has been one continuous story, and getting bored of it before the end is akin to putting down a novel unfinished. Television shows of the past (and present) which have suffered from running too long had almost always wrapped up their initial story and were telling new and different ones by the end. Look, for example, at Supernatural, now in its fifteenth season, if you can believe that. The initial story in Seasons 1 and 2 was about brothers Sam and Dean Winchester trying to defeat the Yellow-Eyed Demon. That antagonist was gone by the second season finale. Every story in Supernatural that came after was at best a sequel and at worst tacked-on. This isn’t the case for Game of Thrones.

Perhaps, in time, it will come to be seen as a mistake to commission a television project of this scale based on an incomplete series of novels. When production began, four novels of a planned six had already been published. A fifth would follow shortly after the premiere of Season 1, and the planned six novels was revised to include a seventh at some point in there too. I understand the argument that it wasn’t possible to know in 2011 that the sixth novel, The Winds of Winter, would take so long to write. But it wasn’t inconceivable, and a plan needed to be made. Unfortunately the way George R. R. Martin claims to write is without a detailed plan – preferring to let events unfold as he writes them, rather than planning in meticulous detail where every character is heading. The result of these factors is that, when the show caught up to the end of A Dance With Dragons at the end of Season 5, there wasn’t much for the showrunners and writers to go on beyond a barebones outline of the final stages of the story.

The cover of 2011’s A Dance With Dragons – the most recent novel in A Song of Ice and Fire.

The show is also not a fully faithful adaptation of the novel series, as fans of A Song of Ice and Fire can attest. A number of characters have been significantly changed or cut entirely, as were some significant storylines. The show has also been willing to cut some of the story points that it did adapt if it was determined that, for whatever reason, they were not popular with audiences. As the two projects – the novel series and the television series – diverged over the first five seasons of the show, it’s possible that some aspects of the story that would prove to be important – either in and of themselves or because of how they affected other aspects of the story – were missing or fundamentally altered, leading to the differences between them becoming even more pronounced.

Just like how The Walking Dead takes characters, settings, and storylines from the comic book series but makes major changes when adapting them for television, so too has Game of Thrones. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing in and of itself, but a writer like George R. R. Martin is rather unique, and it seems clear now that the showrunners and writers of Game of Thrones – principally David Benioff and D. B. Weiss – just aren’t on the same level, especially when it comes to a world Martin knows intimately because it’s a world he created. Benioff and Weiss were outstanding at adapting someone else’s work when the story had been fully established; they were far less competent at making their own creative narrative choices.

The seventh season is where this began to become apparent, at least from my point of view. The mission Jon leads north of the Wall to capture a wight is, at best, questionable. And the way it unfolds is a prime example of how the final couple of seasons’ pacing felt off compared to earlier seasons. In what was essentially a single sequence we had characters travelling hundreds of miles, when it had been established many times across the show’s run that some of these journeys can take weeks or longer. As I think I’ve mentioned before, a story being inconsistent within its own world is one of my biggest pet peeves in all of fiction. Despite that, however, Season 7 was decent overall. I enjoyed it, and I felt it set up what could be an engrossing final season.

By the beginning of Season 8, the surviving characters are essentially in two camps. There’s the group at Winterfell, led by Sansa, Jon, and Daenerys, and the group at King’s Landing led by Cersei. The Winterfell group will face the show’s overarching antagonist, the Night King.

The Night King in The Dragon and the Wolf – the finale of Season 7.

The story of the White Walkers, the Night King, and the Army of the Dead had been set up literally in the first scene of the first episode of the first season, and ever since, we as the audience knew that this threat was coming. As interesting as the wars and politicking was, at the end of the day we knew that it wouldn’t matter who was King or Queen if they ignored this bigger threat, and that really, the only hope the characters would have of survival is to overcome their animosities and differences and work together. This is why, as George R. R. Martin has said himself, the White Walkers are an excellent analogy for climate change!

Many characters across the first seven seasons had warned, informed, and prophesied about the Night King and his Army of the Dead. They had been set up as the main antagonist in the series, the biggest threat that all of our characters – heroes and villains – needed to be frightened of. The Night King was said to bring a winter that would last forever, plunging the whole world into bitter cold and darkness. Some of the characters who had sounded the alarm and who seemed to know the most about this threat had been killed off in earlier seasons, but that knowledge had been passed along. The reason most characters gather at Winterfell at the beginning of the season is in anticipation of this very fight.

The final sequence of Season 7 sees the Night King atop his undead dragon destroying part of the Wall and leading his army south. This was incredibly powerful, showing off the Army of the Dead at full strength – tens of thousands of zombies, if not more. This felt like the moment that the whole series had been building toward – and it’s the crux of why the eighth season fell flat.

When it was announced that Season 8 would only consist of six episodes, I was concerned. Season 7 felt, at several points, that it would have benefited from a few extra scenes here and there, and while making that season ten episodes instead of seven longer episodes might not have increased the actual runtime by more than a few minutes, the week-long break between episodes might have gone some way to mitigating the impression that some characters seemed to rush from place to place as if they had Formula 1 cars instead of ravens and horses. Season 8 being shorter still was a worry; it felt like they might not have enough time to effectively explain and wrap up everything left over.

As mentioned, there were two primary camps of characters at the beginning of Season 8. But within those groups there were many individuals whose stories were not even close to concluded; too many to list. Six episodes needed not only to resolve two major wars, including the war against the biggest, baddest antagonist in the whole show, but also give each character a satisfying end – dead or alive, their stories needed to feel conclusive, because a Game of Thrones sequel featuring the same characters simply isn’t on the cards. My initial concern was, sadly, proven right. Not only wasn’t there enough time to allow everything to unfold naturally and at the right time, but in retrospect, some of the limited time they did have was wasted.

Episode 2, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, is a slow, character-centric piece, following many of the characters at Winterfell on the eve of battle. On first viewing I loved it, but in retrospect much of it was wasted time. Not only did practically all of the major characters survive the battle – an issue in and of itself which we can look at in a moment – but given the failure of the Night King’s storyline, this dead time should have been allocated to explaining and advancing what was going on with him.

All of these characters, who took up so much time talking about basically nothing in Episode 2, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, survived the Battle of Winterfell.

The Night King promised to be an existential threat to our characters. He wanted to essentially turn them all into wights and bring about an eternal winter. He was threatening, and he led a massive army. Previous engagements quickly turned into routs as he and his forces used a combination of their ice magic and sheer numbers to destroy the assembled wildlings north of the wall and even bring down a dragon – with one single hit! Yet the Night King doesn’t last a single episode south of the wall, and is killed in his first major engagement against a significant force. It was as if Game of Thrones was in such a rush to get to the Cersei-Daenerys fight that the Night King was just dropped.

I’m fine with Arya being the one to land the killing strike on him. It can be argued through the Melisandre prophecy that it had been hinted at, and it makes a good use of her assassin arc from earlier seasons, as well as being a twist on the expected use of those assassin skills to kill Cersei. That point doesn’t bother me. But we needed to see two major things from the Night King and his army in Season 8, and we got neither. We needed to see them win. They needed to win a major pitched battle somewhere against someone, and they didn’t. In his entire campaign going back to the first season, the Night King had never faced a significant opposing force. The wildlings were disorganised and lacking in significant weapons and equipment, as well as defensible positions. The rout at Hardhome was little more than a massacre of civillians. And the Wall was just that: a wall. An inanimate object. Destroying it was no mean feat, but it didn’t exactly put up a fight. The forces amassed at Winterfell are thus the first real opponent the Night King faces. His “Long Night” lasted precisely one night, as he was dead before dawn the next day.

The second thing we needed to get from the Night King was why he was there. What was his endgame? And why was he coming? The explanation feels like it was so tantalisingly close; between the Three-Eyed Raven, the Children of the Forest, and Sam digging into restricted books, we should have got a better answer. As it is we got an ambiguous throwaway line from one character, and then everyone moves on to the practicalities of battle planning.

For me personally, this is the failure of Season 8. Seven seasons’ worth of story, lore, and background was thrown away in a single episode. The biggest threat turned out to not be a threat at all, and not only did he lose and die with no real explanation as to who he was, what he wanted, or what he would have done if he’d won, the entire battle only killed a couple of major characters – both of whom (Theon and Jorah) had seen their arcs conclude. The story then brushes off what happened and rushes to the next objective with barely an acknowledgement of what had been accomplished, and with no examination at all of the implications.

As a storyline, the Night King was billed for seven seasons as the main event. There was still the war to be fought against Cersei, but I felt that was going to be little more than an epilogue, something to wrap up the remaining loose ends after the main event. What we got feels like a bait-and-switch, saying at the last moment that actually the Night King and his seemingly invincible magical Army of the Dead was just another villain, and that the big bad of the whole season is… Cersei. Maybe there’s a message there about how the real baddies were us humans all along, but it got lost in what was a truly epic anticlimax that dragged down the entire story of the series.

I can actually think of a better structure for Season 8. One which gets most of the characters to the same point by the end, and which still only consists of six episodes. This would, in my opinion of course, fix the major issues with the Night King storyline. Let’s go over my Season 8 plan very quickly:

At the end of Episode 1, the Night King engages in his first major battle. A small force, perhaps consisting of Night’s Watch and some wildlings, is overrun and obliterated in moments, with a named character like Edd being killed. Episode 2 skips most of the eve-of-battle drama that, in the real Season 8, ended up being little more than fluff, and is where the Night King’s forces arrive at Winterfell. The battle plays out more or less as it did in the show (though I would take this opportunity to kill off at least one additional major character) and ends on a huge cliffhanger: Winterfell falls! Episode 3 sees the survivors engage in a fighting retreat, heading south. By this point, Sam and Bran have put their heads together and used a combination of Bran’s newfound powers and Sam’s book knowledge to piece together the Night King’s origin, and firmly establish why he’s coming and what the actual, specific implications will be. They also learn, at this moment, that stabbing him in exactly the same place as the original dragonglass dagger will shatter the dagger and un-make him, ending the war. Arya would overhear this. In the next battle, perhaps at a location like the Twins, all will seem lost. The Night King’s forces will seem unstoppable and he’ll make his way to Bran. Arya will step in and do her thing – but this time the camera work will be better so we can see exactly where she stabbed him. In the actual episode it looked like she stabbed him in the gut; I didn’t even get that they were going for the same spot as the dagger until I read that later. From there, at the beginning of Episode 4, the season can unfold more or less the same as it did, as I feel that would “fix” the Night King.

Now let’s look at the character who seems to draw the most flak from fans for the way her character turned around in a short span of time: Daenerys.

Daenerys’ character arc in Season 8 was rushed to say the least.

For seven seasons, Daenerys had been the “breaker of chains”, looking to build a better world for her subjects. There had been hints that she had the potential within her to succumb to the madness that afflicted her father and others in her family, but still many felt that the rapid turnaround from where she was in Season 7 to where she ended up at the end of Season 8 came from nowhere. Fundamentally, I think the issue some folks have is that they were firmly on “Team Dany”. They supported her as one might support a football club or political party, and they wanted to see her win and end up as Queen. I can sympathise in a way; I had been on “Team Stannis” at the beginning of the show – he was the lawful king, after all! But I disagree that the shift in her character came from nowhere, and if it had been set up better and had more time to play out, it could have worked.

In my silly little fan-fic above, I said that I could make the Night King’s storyline work in a six-episode season. Having him play a role in the first three episodes, and with some more backstory and explanation given to both his motivation and how to defeat him, I stand by that. I think it could have been made to work. Daenerys’ turn to madness couldn’t.

While we had indeed seen a small number of hints at the possibility in past seasons, there are two points to consider. Firstly, it was just that: a small number. And secondly, they were hints. If this was the ultimate destination for Daenerys – and I’m sure she will take a similar path in the books if and when they’re written – we needed to see it built up slowly and steadily, not ham-fistedly dumped in with two episodes remaining. The fundamental principle is this: Daenerys suffered the loss of two of her dragons in quick succession, she suffered the loss of her lover Jon, whose true parentage gives him a stronger claim to the throne than she has, she lost Jorah, who had been by her side the whole way and was arguably the only Westerosi she trusted, she lost Missandei, and finally, the deaths of so many of her soldiers meant that the war against Cersei – who had betrayed her trust – was now in jeopardy. In short, she went through a heck of a lot, and combined with her family history, her going mad isn’t inconceivable. But it happened too quickly.

Within basically three episodes, Daenerys goes from the noble queen who tried to make peace with her enemies and offered her own forces to save the North to the mad queen, nuking a whole city and massacring civilians and surrendering troops. Such a dramatic turnaround needed way more time to play out – a whole season, at least. And to cap it all off, within a few hours of going postal on King’s Landing and declaring her intent to conquer the world, she’s dead. Over seven seasons we saw her grow, slowly and steadily, in confidence, strength, and leadership. And in three episodes right at the end she goes nuts and gets stabbed. I can understand why people are upset about that, even if I personally felt that it wasn’t Season 8’s worst error.

This may have always been Daenerys’ final destination, but how she got there simply didn’t work for many fans.

If Season 8 was going to be so short, we needed to see way more movement toward Daenerys’ character transformation beginning in at least Season 6 in order for it to feel like a genuine arc and not a bolt from the blue. Some fans of the show who were firmly on “Team Dany” may have still been upset about the ultimate destination for her character, and in a show that encouraged its viewers to support one faction or another in previous seasons, perhaps that is inevitable. But most people would have recognised that this was the way she’d been going for some time and her ultimate turn – epitomised by the scene in Episode 5 where she sits on her dragon listening to the bells ring out in King’s Landing – would have felt more natural.

However, the problem here is that the main events precipitating her fall into becoming the new Mad Queen all happened in a short span of time. The losses she suffered which led her down that path basically all happen from Episodes 2-4 of Season 8, and that just rushed her transformation. If there is an argument for Game of Thrones needing at least one extra season, it’s that. Daenerys’ character turn may be understandable and natural, but it happened too quickly and the events that led to it happened over such a short span of time that none of them were able to be seen to have their full impact. We missed seeing how each moment affected her and how each loss contributed another step down a dark path. In Episode 4 alone, Daenerys has to say her final goodbye to Jorah at his funeral, sees the Northern lords hailing Jon as a hero – Tormund even uses the word “King” – and then suffer Jon’s rejection again, learns that Cersei has reinforcements at King’s Landing, sees Rhaegal killed brutally by Euron’s fleet, loses many of her ships and surviving soldiers in the ensuing sea battle, and sees Missandei killed. While Game of Thrones has never balked at throwing a lot of depressing circumstances at a character, this is too much to take in all at once for us as the audience, and the meaning and impact of each individual loss and defeat is not given time to sink in.

In the very next episode, Daenerys has her dramatic turn and burns King’s Landing. Even taking one episode in between the events of Episode 4 and the sack of King’s Landing, focusing on Daenerys as she comes to terms with what happened, would have gone some way to mitigating this rushed feeling. It wouldn’t have been enough, but it would have been something.

I definitely feel that these two points – the Night King and Daenerys’ madness – are where the season fell down. The Night King was the most egregious for me personally, but I understand the strength of feeling surrounding Daenerys too, and in both cases, it’s painfully apparent that more time was needed to allow these stories to properly conclude. HBO, who produced Game of Thrones, offered the showrunners as much time as they needed: including extra episodes in Seasons 7 and 8 as well as the possibility of at least one more season. George R. R. Martin has said he would have liked to see the show go on to at least a tenth season and that there was enough story to extend it that far. It was a production decision to curtail the show at Season 8, and to cut down Season 8 to six episodes. In hindsight, both of these decisions were mistakes.

The Night King’s death scene wasn’t even sufficiently lit or well-framed, and the fact he lasted one episode is a pathetic waste of the show’s most intimidating threat.

There were myriad other problems, though. The plot armour that protected many fan-favourite characters at the Battle of Winterfell is one example. Too many main characters survived and were able to continue their stories, when Game of Thrones in earlier seasons had never been afraid to cut down a character in their prime. Many fans were upset at Jaime’s perceived character regression, and while I will defend that point as a story beat as I felt it worked for his character and has a lot to say about love and loyalty, it was undeniably rushed. Like the point with Daenerys detailed above, Jaime’s turnaround comes from nowhere in one short sequence. Perhaps it was intended to recapture the magic of earlier seasons’ surprises, but as a character many fans were invested in the surprise fell flat.

The show also dropped a number of plotlines, either because they couldn’t be made to fit or because there wasn’t enough time. Sansa leads the North to its independence, but what of Dorne and the Iron Islands? Yara had been promised the Iron Islands’ independence in Season 6, and every Dorne plotline was abruptly dropped from Season 8, including Ellaria Sand, who was last seen in the dungeon at King’s Landing. Her absence suggests she died, but this was never seen or confirmed. No mention is made of what will happen to the people of Essos in the aftermath of Daenerys’ death. She had left one of her lieutenants in command of her eastern empire, but the show just ignores all of that after she arrive