Space Force Season One Review

As the latest sitcom rockets to our screens courtesy of Netflix, turbo-charged with awkward hilarity and jokes of the meta variety, does Space Force live up to the expectations placed on the shoulders of its stars and creator?

Thankfully, yes. Ordered to series by Netflix only half a year after the real-life US Department of Defense was given the order to begin the process of establishing the sixth branch of the American armed forces, many feared that by the time the show actually arrived for public consumption it would be too little too late, the novelty of such a show having worn off. What actually happened, however, is the reunion team-up of Steve Carrell and The Office (US) creator Greg Daniels birthed yet another hilarious sitcom which does not need to rely on a laugh track, instead getting by on tight scripts and perfect comedic timing.

Starting with the premise itself, the show’s number one goal from its inception was to be a parody of a certain president’s vision for the armed forces. Right off the bat, Space Force could very easily have fallen into the trap of making parody its top priority, banking on meta-humour and satirical jabs at the real-life military to elicit laughs from its audience.

“Houston, we have a problem”

To be clear, it does do that. A lot. But also woven throughout the show is a web of characters who bounce off each other and create compelling drama, to such an extent that Space Force itself becomes a vehicle for these characters to entertain us rather than the only trick in the show’s arsenal. By the end of the first season you start to really care about the hardships some of these characters are forced to endure and also become invested in a fledgling romance or two.

Space Force’s favourite odd couple

The most prominent of these characters are far and away General Mark Naird and Dr. Adrian Mallory, portrayed by Steve Carell and John Malkovich, respectively. The pairing of an out-of-his-depth four-star general and the chief scientist who knows his way around a space shuttle creates a funny dynamic when the latter trumps the former and a slew of touching moments when they both connect as equals.

With Lisa Kudrow as General Naird’s incarcerated wife relegated to essentially a guest-starring role, it is this veritable odd couple who become the star power of Space Force.

That is not to say that the cast of relative newcomers stand in the shadows of Carell and Malkovich; that assessment of the show could not be further from the truth. Jimmy Yang, Tawny Newsome and Diana Silvers round out the cast as a mix of space scientist, pilot, and rebellious teenage daughter who you find yourself rooting for at every opportunity.

Happy families, at least for the first five minutes

Add in other veteran actors such as Ben Schwartz, Don Lake and Noah Emmerich, as well as hilarious cameos courtesy of Jane Lynch and Patrick Warburton and, well, suddenly the main draw of the show isn’t “Michael Scott in space” like many people might have expected.

The one drawback of the show’s fledgling first season is unfortunately its sometimes over-reliance on meta commentary. For every hilarious scene of a monkey attempting to repair a satellite there is perhaps one too many off-the-cuff remark about the president using Twitter.

Anabela Ysidro-Campos, a politician from New York

For every instance of pitch-perfect comedic timing from Carell there is an overt stand-in for a real-life politician during a budget hearing which doesn’t even try to be subtle, right down to two-thirds of their initials.

In the moment these additions to the script are funny, but in the long-run they are the very aspects of the show that will unfortunately tie it down to a very specific period of time and make it feel dated to a later audience, something which was already a big risk due to the parodic nature of the show regarding the real Space Force in the first place. Nevertheless, an otherwise excellent first season and abrupt cliffhanger will leave fans of the show eagerly awaiting a second season, and a third…to infinity and beyond.

Final Score: 8.5/10

Star Trek Picard Season One Review

Now that the season finale has aired and Trekkies once more have to play the waiting game for their next Starfleet fix, was revisiting Jean-Luc Picard worth the effort?

One thing is for certain about the first season of Star Trek Picard – it is stylish beyond belief. Clearly a great deal of care went into the visual side of making this television series a reality, but the more pressing question is did the same amount of thought go into conceptualisation and screenwriting? What started off strong, grew weaker, and then eventually came around again towards the finish line, indicates that perhaps this latest outing from CBS would have benefited from another round of revisions in the writer’s room.

Jean-Luc prefers to have man’s best friend for company in sunny France

When we meet (former) Captain Picard for the first time since Nemesis it is 2399 and he has retired to the vineyards of France. A synth-related catastrophe on Mars has brought taboo to the existence of such beloved characters like Commander Data, and Starfleet’s handling of the destruction of Romulus in 2387 has made intergalactic relations a little frostier than they were before.

It was surprising to see the recent trilogy of movies referenced in such a way, as fans of the franchise will no doubt remember seeing the aforementioned destruction of Romulus on-screen in the J. J. Abrams-helmed Star Trek over a decade ago. The first episode does well to introduce the audience to an aged Picard, haunted by the sacrifice of his synthetic friend (the death of whom we do not see, and for good reason by the time the finale rolls around) and also of the tragedy resulting from billions of Romulans around the universe suddenly lacking a homeworld. It is not long, however, until we meet Dahj, and from here a hint of action is injected into the otherwise slow and methodical narrative.

Dahj is a synth, identical in almost every way to her sister Soji, pictured right. Although we do not get to know her for very long once her killer instinct is activated and faces off with some very angry Romulans, it is Soji who captivates the audience for the remainder of the season.

Soji, the latest fan-favourite synthezoid

Making Soji a scientist on a repurposed Borg Cube, with no knowledge of her true origin until it is crushingly revealed to her an episode or two later than would have been preferable, is a classic The Next Generation B-plot, and it is wonderful to see another side to the terrifying Borg. ‘The Artifact’ as it is known by its inhabitants is more a rehabilitation centre for former initiates into the Collective, and while we never quite get to see it in all of its former glory the presentation of this battle station is testament to the visual effects department at CBS. Taking a deep-dive into The Next Generation‘s history books and having Hugh, or Third of Five, be in charge of the station is a nice connection to the franchise’s past as it forges a new future for itself.

The friendliest Borg you could ever meet

Unfortunately, this particular B-plot ends up dragging the show down somewhat. Serving little to no purpose for the remainder of the show after Soji’s epiphany, ‘The Artifact’ feels more like the show runners making use of an already-built set rather than actually advancing the plot.

This seems to be a running theme with Picard – spending a little too much time fleshing out the world around us and not enough actually getting on with the main story. Already shorter than the two seasons of Discovery that have graced our screens, Picard might even have been easier digested had it been eight, or even six episodes instead of the sometimes-dragging ten that it took to reach its conclusion. When your B-plot spawns a C-plot, and maybe even half of a D-plot, then you have a problem. Still, if it wasn’t for the Borg then we would not have been treated to the best use of indulging in fans’ nostalgia than making Seven of Nine a recurring character.

Not missing a beat from the last time she showed up in Voyager, this particular member of the Collective is still quite capable of kicking ass, taking names, and lending a sense of gravitas to any scene she steals.

Seven of Nine is still ten (out) of ten on the ass-kicking scale

Although brief, her stint as friendly Borg Queen will surely go down as one of the show’s most iconic moments, making it all the more tragic that nothing of note actually came of it. Another victim of fan service overpowering the show’s narrative.

Riker still rocks a Starfleet uniform even all these years later

That doesn’t mean that all of the show’s fan service is bad – far from it. When ex-commander William Riker takes the captain’s chair in the USS Zheng He in the finale to come to Jean-Luc’s aid, fan service is finally used in a way that is serviceable to the plot. It’s just a shame that it took ten episodes to do it.

What really makes the show shine, however, as with all entries in the Star Trek franchise, is the crew. The very definition of rag-tag in the beginning, by the finale viewers will have fallen in love with each member of the crew aboard the La Sirena for a variety of reasons. Be it Raffi’s past trauma, the gruff, Han Solo-esque nature of Rios, Elnor’s delightful use of absolute candor, or even Agnes’ amazement at even the most mundane elements of spacefaring, what will keep viewers waiting for next season is not the CGI or the space battles, but the people. People who, by the looks of things, have a lot of romancing to do after the high-stakes season finale if the hand-holding between Raffi and Seven of Nine and the long-teased kissing between Agnes and Rios is anything to go by. If this means more time can be spent developing Elnor and Soji as individuals then all the better for it. Even the final death of Data, more human and emotional than anything which could have been attached to his off-screen sacrifice, reminds us that you don’t always need fast-paced action to keep viewers glued to their screens.

Ready to boldly go into Season Two

Was Picard perfect? No. Far from it, in fact. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worthwhile. With a plot revolving around synthetic life learning what it means to be human being reminiscent of other recent media such as Blade Runner 2049 and Westworld, the story being told in this short season of Trek is ambitious to say the least. While it might miss a step here and there, when it lands it does so in captivating fashion. Whether or not the omnicidal synthetic overlords briefly seen in the finale will tie-in to Control in the time-hopping third season of Discovery is yet to be seen. However, for the time being fans can rest easy knowing that Patrick Stewart is just as impressive as Jean-Luc Picard now as he ever was.

Final Score: 7/10

The Rise of Kylo Ren (2019) Mini-Series Review

A long time has passed since the origin story of the Sequel Trilogy’s standout character was announced at San Diego Comic Con. Now, eight months later, has Charles Soule delivered a satisfying ending (or beginning?) to this chapter of Ben Solo’s life?

The Rise of Kyle Ren #1

In short, almost. Last December, hot off the heels of Ben Solo’s tragic death in the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga on film, fans were desperate for more content starring the conflicted son of Han Solo. With the fandom in mourning, the first issue penned by Charles Soule and masterfully illustrated by Will Sliney scratched an itch that could be felt even in a galaxy far, far away. Fast-forward three months to March, however, and this series is no longer an itch-scratcher. It has become required reading.

The sad truth of it all is that this series has made it crystal clear that Ben Solo was never going to have a happy ending. Even from a young age Palpatine was whispering in his ear, sowing the seeds of the Dark Side of the Force in his impressionable mind in order for him to blossom into the not-quite-Sith Kylo Ren who captivated the imaginations of fans the world over in The Force Awakens. Right at the beginning of this series it is revealed that the Knights of Ren refer to the Dark Side as ‘the Shadow,’ a nickname which is then used like a dagger through the heart of Ben Solo fans when it is said by another of Luke’s former Padawans that he casts “a pretty long shadow” in the Force. All the more tragic is the revelation that Ben did not set fire to Luke’s temple. Does the lightning strike suggest a powerful Dark Side user like Snoke, or even Palpatine himself? A likely bet, but maybe a patented Maz Kanata “good story, for another time.”

Still, it isn’t all tragedy and pity. Some of it is pure nostalgia and adrenaline. Seeing ‘Prime Luke,’ some years after the events of Return of the Jedi but before he became the Old Man Luke seen at the end of The Force Awakens, is something that has been sorely missing from the wider canon since the erasure of the old EU. Seeing Luke being a mentor to young Solo and in his fighting prime, easily dispatching the Knights of Ren, was a joy to watch unfold as Will Sliney makes every sabre slash look just as iconic as they do when projected in a theatre. Unfortunately the Knights themselves are still as big of a mystery as the eponymous Ren who dies at Ben’s hands, solidifying him as their new leader. A throwaway line in the final issue indicates that they are essentially bounty hunters, but beyond that we learn nothing more about them apart from the occasional name-drop which can be found in the movie’s visual dictionary. Seeing the Knights be single-handedly defeated by Luke and then struggle to fend off a single Padawan in the final issue does little to boost their credibility before we next see them in The Rise of Skywalker.

Still, if there is one thing which this series does well in terms of fleshing out the background of the Sequel Trilogy it is Luke’s academy. Used sparingly, the academy itself is only shown a handful of times. The real intrigue comes from Ben’s fellow Padawan learners Voe, Hennix, and Tai. Destined to die before this series even began due to the nature of villainous origin stories, getting to know each of these three students and their different personalities was something that is dying to be replicated in an animated series set post-Return of the Jedi and featuring Mark Hamill. Until that fan dream comes true, we must satisfy ourselves with this teaser of those lost years. Who knows, maybe we will meet the three Padawans who died at the hands of Ben again someday, making their deaths even more cruel in the second half of this series.

Last but not least, the final conflict. Sadly a little rushed, the series needed more than one final issue to wrap things up after the cliffhanger in Issue #3. Although Ben’s transformation into Kylo Ren as he embraced the Dark Side (even catching a glimpse of a certain brown-haired girl from Jakku) was satisfying to see in all of Will Sliney’s glory, as was his bleeding of the cyber crystal which would go on to power his cross guard lightsaber, for the most part the final quarter was forced to spend too much time ticking boxes to wrap things up and not enough time laying bare the conflict within Ben.

While we did get a healthy dose of psychology during his battle with Tai in which he outlined the battle between Light and Dark inside of him, it comes from a place of conflict and not a place of self-awareness. Joining the Dark Side becomes more of a frustrated reluctance rather than a profound epiphany, which both undermines the string-pulling of Palpatine and cripples the sympathy felt by the reader. If Ben fell to the Dark Side because Snoke showed him love and affection and didn’t care that he was the son of Han Solo, shouldn’t the same be said of Luke not caring that he was the grandson of Vader? Not even a callback to the iconic over-the-shoulder lightsaber draw on Exogol in The Rise of Skywalker can negate this particular grievance.

In any case, the build up to Kylo’s ‘rise’ over the previous three issues did a great job showing a more innocent side to Ben Solo and of expanding the lore of this galaxy far, far away. With any luck we will see the Jedi outpost from Issue #2 in one of Soules’ works set during the High Republic era over the course of the next few years. However, the grand finale, visually stunning as it may be, needed a fifth or even a sixth issue to breathe and give the reader a better sense as to why Ben Solo became Kylo Ren.

Overall Score: 7.5/10

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