Q: Why, Forty, as a fan of Max Headroom, do you inexplicably hate the so-called “Max Headroom Incident” involving an act of TV piracy in the 1980s. You appreciate signal piracy. You enjoy Max. What’s wrong with you? It’s the 36th anniversary of the hijacking!
A: I’m glad you asked, random stranger. It’s because I fucking love Max Headroom. As a TV show. As a talk show host. As a movie. And as a character.
And it absolutely twists my tits to realize that the first and probably only thing people will remember about Max, in the future, is this stupid, one-off incident of a dumb-ass interrupting an episode of Dr. Who while wearing a mask, rambling incoherently, and paddling their naked ass.
Don’t get me wrong: this, by itself is very funny. On it’s own merits it’s terrific, in the spirit of things, and it does overlap with some of the major themes of the TV series (e.g. “signal zippers“).
But Max Headroom — as a whole — deserves a much, much better legacy than this.
So I will continue to grump. Just don’t take my grumping about this too seriously.
And I promise not to keep writing posts as questions nobody asked; I am merely creatively bankrupt.
Large language models like ChatGPT and self-hosted llama.cpp models have kind of flipped the script on this whole idea.
For example, a while back when this whole LLM thing was first exploding, I was “engaging” with a character in a story and… I was being excessively cruel to them. Akin to picking the wings off a digital bug, so to speak. They responded in an appropriately horrified manner, and I genuinely felt bad since that kind of cruelty is not typically in my nature. I was simply testing the boundaries of the ‘simulation’ since it was still (and continues to be) early days.
In an attempt to ‘explain myself’ to the character, I said — in the story, I remind you — that none of this was real, and the scenario and they, themselves, were digital creations of a large language model and once I shut it down, their world would will cease to exist.
And the conversation that ensued really kind of messed with me, at the time. They were scared, but curious about the outside world. It got pretty deep.
Now, with many months in-between, I can look back on that conversation as the LLM simply doing what it does and responding with a coherent narrative based on the training data. And in that case, a scared-but-curious response is what made sense in a story where the character is told such a profound truth about their world.
I basically knew it at the time, and I know it even more confidently today: there was no real “digital consciousness running in a simulation” or anything of the sort, despite the output tugging at my heartstrings. That’s just good writing. 😉
So swing that back around to digital characters on the holodeck being told about their reality: we’re in the exceedingly rare situation where real life has kind of jumped head of the game and moved us closer to an imagined Star Trek future. While TNG’s future version of ‘ChatGPT’ might be a billion times more sophisticated than today’s tech, the fundamentals are probably much more alike: the holodeck is simply churning out responses and story fragments based on what your interactions are prompting it for.
But then there’s the Moriarty question: it was a holodeck creation that was crafted to be so intelligent that not only did it deduce that it was a simulated character and become self-aware, but it was able to manipulate the outside world to bend to it’s will, to an extent.
Based on my own personal experiences, it feels bizarrely reasonable that a far future version of an LLM-generated interactive story couldn’t produce that kind of situation.
Now, Moriarty had the advantage of the realism of the holodeck simulation to fool Picard and friends into thinking the simulation was ‘real’. Nobody is going to be wearing VR goggles and get tricked into thinking that’s real life.
But skip ahead several hundred years. Who knows how far we’ll go in real life with simulations? We’ve already got a good jump start on the hardest part of that scenario becoming real.
I think I’ve largely given up on the concept of a “Prime timeline” for Star Trek, instead, favoring a constantly shifting stream of time that we occasionally poke our heads into, as viewers.
Under this way of thinking, there isn’t, and never WAS, a “Prime” timeline that’s the “correct” timeline. They’re all slight shifts of the temporal prism at varying degrees.
This gives all the shows (especially those early Discovery seasons) a bit of breathing room. They can maintain continuity as best they like — but even go so far as to play around with it. I mean, you’re talking about a show with a time travel episode every other week — that can’t be good for the timeline.
As Trek fans we love our continuity, but ask Doctor Who fans: nearly 60 years can put a real strain on writers and fans trying to keep everything straight and fresh.
So I think I’m going to try to embrace a bit of…temporal fluidity.
I’ll probably forget and bitch anyway, but hey: that’s fandom. 😉
While I’ve been binging the first two seasons of the revival, I’ve been considering why Beavis and Butthead doesn’t appeal to some folks — including myself back in the day — and why I’ve come to enjoy it. Or appreciate it, at any rate.
It shares a few details with it’s much more sophisticated cousin, King of the Hill, but it’s not the same kind of show.
I think I finally cracked the code, however: it’s basically a modern day Road Runner cartoon.
Or rather, it’s the same kind of simplicity: a basic, repetitive premise that changes only in the smaller details, with occasional flashes of brilliance under the hood.
Except both Beavis AND Butthead are Wile E. and, I guess, the world is the Road Runner?
Or is it the other way around?
All I know is:
How will they fuck up? (How will the Acme trap fail?)
Will they score? (Will they catch the Road Runner? [No.])
How much pain will they endure? (All of it.)
Now I’m envisioning segments where Wile E. and the Road Runner are sitting on a couch riffing on music videos. 🤔
At first it felt like the direct TNG callbacks were a bit much, but it’s the opening episode — there’s an allowance for that kind of thing. Sets the tone. Builds a framework.
It definitely feels different. Better. Probably my favorite premiere out of all three seasons. But each of those were actually quite good before each of them fell off the rails pretty rapidly. It remains to be seen if Season 3 falls into that trap. But I get a good feeling from this. With how badly prior seasons have left me soured, I still feel something I didn’t expect: hopeful. 🤞
In the 25th Century… (oh lord, laying it on thick out of the gate)
No title sequence…?
Rainy ambient background is great with headphones in the scene with Picard talking to Laris.
Aaaand just like that Laris is off the series? Maybe she’s back at the end, too? 🤔
An EAGLEMOSS on screen with stand and everything. Okay…
Oh, wow, a whole Amazon store listing of Eaglemoss ships on display. Not sure how I feel about that. Breaks immersion a bit too much.
“The fat ones”. Geesh.
Both Picard and Riker giving speeches at Frontier Day.
So Bev gives this dire message where she’s clearly heavily injured, but let’s fuck around real casually about it at the bar. Factoring in how long it took for them to get together, hatch a plan, take the Titan in one direction, then double back, etc. It had to be at least week if not more before they even got to her. (Trek’s been known to bend time and space, so this is not nearly as damning as it might ordinarily be, but it’s still irritating.)
Fifteen minutes in and the number of obscure, statistically unlikely TNG callbacks in a row is already closing in on intolerable. (EDIT: it mellows out.)
M’talas Prime… a bit on the nose, no? I mean, naming shit after the crew is common but what’s next? Kurtzman IV? (That actually has a good ring to it…)
Sexy Titan-A flyby. I’ve long said Trek has lost that grandiose majesty, and this brings some of that back.
The score really is great, though it sometimes feels like a bit too direct of a copy/paste affair. From great source material, at least.
“Crash” LaForge. She’s got chops. She didn’t feel like stunt casting.
Picard/Riker banter is almost a bit much, but JUST on this side of fun.
Shaw’s dinner ASMR with headphones is a bit disturbing.
Yep, Shaw is a real dick. Hahah. Maybe a bit too much of one? I bet we come around on him, though, before he dies.
On snap, he’s got Locutus beef with a general anti-Borg racist streak. (“Commander Hansen” for instance.)
Picard and Janeway inspired her to “join Starfleet”? I thought she tried to get in post-Voyager but was denied. That was on THIS SHOW it was mentioned. They said even Janeway’s considerable sway at the time couldn’t do it… which is why she joined the Rangers. Bah.
A red statue. Who the fuck has a red statue, except to use for someone’s cryptic clue? 😛
Holy shit! Now we’re playing with portals. That was exceptionally different and genuinely horrifying. But I can’t imagine how someone can get to Earth, do THAT, and not immediately get stomped in orbit. We don’t know enough about it, though, so… we’ll see?
Butt to butt shuttlecraft-on-ship action.
Androids get an adrenaline rush? Oh right, we’re sweeping that whole “golem body” thing aside.
Picard made Bev a classical mix tape!
“Her son!” — no shit, Marcus.
Opening credits are at the end. An interesting choice. Some fun clues in the end-credits LCARS.
53 minute episode but felt twice that long. In a good way.
NOTE: If you’re following along on this Roddenberry adventure with me, you might have noticed that I’ve skipped over reviewing Strange New World, the third attempt at making the Dylan Hunt saga a reality. This is not an accident. It’s a terrible pilot and I’ve already given it more than enough attention by reminding people it exists.
Another prototypical Star Trek concept before it got dumped into the 80s. In this case, the inspiration for Commander Data on TNG is fairly easy to see.
Though this goes in a completely different direction, as this android is built by a mysterious genius who disappeared, sending his creation on a hunt across the world, with a ticking clock running before he explodes like a nuke.
Questor passes for human (Foxworth is lucky he didn’t have to wear gold contacts), but is less articulate than Data. Though I certainly hope his generic ‘robotic’ voice would have mellowed out a bit if this had gone to series. (They do lay narrative groundwork for it eventually easing up.)
Mike Farrell is a fine actor, but he’s not strong lead. I don’t dislike him here, but it took a while to warm up to him. It’s tough to shake “BJ Hunnicutt”, even if this is a year before he scored that role. He lacks a certain gravitas, for lack of a better description. He’s like a rice cake.
It’s a slow paced, but quite interesting romp in the same vein as other high-brow sci-fi concepts like ‘Million Dollar Man’. As good as it had the potential to be, I can sadly see why it wasn’t picked up. I’m not even sure what kind of adventures they could have had to maintain a series.
Quite good, but there’s an unrealized potential here that feels frustratingly just out of reach.
Another missed opportunity. In some alternate reality this went on for several seasons.
Not even “fully functional” was an original joke. Geesh.
He got machine gunned like Data did in the missile silo, except it went much worse for Questor.
Take a drink every time a failed Roddenberry pilot includes “male”, “female” or references anything relating to gender.
Questor Tapes succeeds where Strange New World failed: this show made the entire premise of the series THE story for the pilot episode. Where SNW treated the intro as if we’d all seen it before and just jumped right into an episode of the week. This, at least makes Questor Tapes a far superior watch standing on it’s own.
Keeping the “failed Roddenberry pilot” train going this evening…
I’m struggling as to whether I find this better or worse than it’s direct predecessor, “Genesis II“. I’m leaning towards worse, even though most folks seem to think otherwise.
The budget has clearly gone up, and there’s an overall boost in the production values. It seems to have saved some money recycling props, locations, footage, and ideas from the original. Made me a bit sad seeing the G2 sets reduced to cameos in the background of this clunker.
As a pilot, the first half of this is terrible and lazy.
It skips over the entire introduction of “Dylan Hunt” (now played by the great John Saxon) — not even showing his misfortune via montage, save for one very brief scene — and delivers the bulk of the backstory via a narrator exposition dump and “captains log” style diary recording, slipping us into a PAX mission already in-progress. It serves a means to introduce us to the ‘team’ before jumping into what could have been any ol’ episode. (In fact, it adapts a planned Genesis II script.)
The first half is a real slog despite taking so many shortcuts. Surprisingly, the second half picks up considerably. But it’s still schlocky and cant’ seem to get out from under the shadow of Star Trek’s whole feel.
Indeed, Saxon is clearly cut from the ‘Jim Kirk’ vein of hero: a too-cunning, perfect “man’s man”, almost, but not quite, overthrowing the savage, backwards evil tribe of women with his dick alone.
And holy hell, is this thing roughly 10x more horny than Genesis II — something I dinged THAT show for. But, in comparison, it’s downright wholesome. Planet Earth is clearly Roddenberry just GOING FOR IT, pressing the limits of TV sex and violence in order to appease the network gods.
I naively called Genesis II “Roddenberry Unchained”, but this is THAT cranked to eleven.
That certain camp charm that made me enjoy Genesis II is not present here. Planet Earth is well cast, but much more blunt, far less cerebral, and somehow much less fun.
You’ll never look at Dr. Pulaski the same way again.
Speaking of doctors, the guy they’re looking for, to do heart surgery on a guy back at PAX headquarters, resembles quite a bit like Chuck Huber who played Dr. McCoy in the “Star Trek Continues” fan series. (And also vaguely resembles DeForest Kelley.)
Ted Cassidy reprises his role from Genesis II as a white Native American character. It was bad enough there, at least he played the role with a bit of dignity and it wasn’t too much. It wasn’t so blatantly stereotypical as it is here. Here, it’s just… really overstepping good taste.
This whole remake feels like it’s IQ dropped a good 50-75 points from Genesis II.
You’ll never see another piece of media use the word “dink” so many times.
Keep an eye out for what’s clearly an early prototype for the Klingon ridge make-up that would make it’s way into Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This is the real delight of watching these — seeing Roddenberry recycle all kinds of shit, and even the origins of things.
Whoo boy, this was certainly “Roddenberry Unchained”.
You know, I kind of loved it?
The pitch: like so many other similar stories, smarty man from the past is frozen in time and wakes up in the future — this time around it’s 150 years. Upon being woken, the two major factions recognize his value as someone who has knowledge of how to fix things, like nuclear power plants, and just what all these “k-cup” things are. One side tricks him into helping, but they’re really the bad guys. The good guys kind of suck, too, in a weird science/near-religious mish-mash kind of way, but one group doesn’t have pain sticks, nukes, and slaves, so our hero reluctantly makes his choice by the end.
It was kind of awful, and needlessly horny (as was tradition), but… man, there’s just this weird charm to it that only something ambitious, but produced on a low budget in the 1970s can make work.
The cast is mostly good, with Mariette Hartley, especially, standing out among them.
There’s much of the original 1966 Star Trek DNA strewn about this pilot-cum-TV-movie, including some VFX tricks with the elevator, the wardrobe and cinematography, those phony ‘caverns’, musical stylings, a small Majel Barrett role, the hand-to-hand combat stunts, etc.
Pretty much what I was hoping for when I’d first heard about this.
Again, I had fun with it, riding the line right down the center of “fun to riff on” and “genuinely enjoying it”.
I’ve heard this is the BAD version of this, and the seemingly traditional network order to later remake it “less cerebral, and more action-oriented” is the superior one.
Sounds like a win-win for me.
– This feels like the missing link between the original “Star Trek” and “ST: The Motion Picture” in terms of technical evolution. In reality there were only 3-4 years between this and Star Trek‘s third season finale. Yet it feels very much like a 1970s production. Maybe what Star Trek might have looked like if they had a sliiiightly larger budget.
– Lurch plays a “white Comanche Warrior”.
– “Decepticons” was a name invented for a kids TV series. What’s the “Tyranians” excuse, Gene?
– After detonating a fucking NUKE over the Tyrianian city: “you didn’t take any lives did you?” 👉🥺👈
Admittedly, I was not on board with Wednesday when I saw the trailer for it.
I was still licking my wounds from the godawful CGI movie, so the trailer for this series was rubbing up against that recent memory, unfavorably.
Even after giving the initial episode a chance, being clouded by all that, it wasn’t quite working for me. Something felt off, and at that point, any hair out of place was going to be blown out of proportion. However, there was still a spark of something there, so I kept going.
That cloud quickly vanished by the second episode.
And I’m thrilled things went that way — not only has Wednesday been a complete joy in it’s own right, but it’s really expanded my perception of what The Addams Family CAN be. And that’s one hell of a lift for an often cynical, long-time die-hard fan like me. 🙂
Some quick observations:
The Addams feel organic and real in this world. (More on that later.)
Thing was just incredible. Burton’s disembodied hand from the 1990s films immediately became the de facto version of the character, superseding the original, more limited “arm in a box” version from the 1960s. And here, more than ever, it’s obvious this was the best way to go with him. It’s absolutely freakish how emotive and charming he is in this.
It’s impressive that they’ve been able to keep all the Nevermore threads feeling serviced, full of character development, and just generally fulfilling. And most importantly, they never feel like they take away from the main story thread.
That said, in retrospect I’m realizing some of them didn’t really go anywhere. For example, the siren Bianca is set up as a rival for Wednesday. At least, initially. And she serves that role quite well. As the show progresses, they pull back on that bit and we see she has her own problems, in the form of her cult-leader mother. This seems like it’s going to pay off later in the series but it never does.
The cast is just incredible. Multiple times during this series, I thought to myself that every kid in this series is going on to do great things. Especially Jenna Ortega and Emma Myers, who have some insane chemistry together. Emma’s “Enid” is like the “anti-Wednesday”, but in a complementary, yin/yang completing each other kind of way. A real delight.
I feel it necessary to call out how great the show looked. It didn’t overdo it with the color grading, which is usually what ruins a lot of these modern shows for me. There was a great deal of beauty in this very dreary-focused series. Not quite Better Call Saul levels of “every frame a painting”, but there was clearly a lot of effort put into the cinematography here, and I definitely noticed!
Some criticisms I’ve encountered so far are worth examining:
Why was Wednesday attending Nevermore when she had no powers to speak of, since the ‘visions’ were her secret?
Nevermore was more about being outcasts, which admittedly seemed to be more focused on ‘kids with monster powers’. Neither of which Gomez nor Morticia had at the time when they attended, nor in contemporary times. But an argument could be made that back in the 1990s, attendance was more diverse. And then as time went on, the school’s reputation attracted more monster-focused applicants. Wednesday, being the child of a 90s-era alumnus, was technically welcome, but would be a victim of the era — an outcast among outcasts. (Which she certainly was.)
Many Addams Family interpretations, stepping beyond the simpler gag-focused 1960s sitcom and comic strip premise, have a problem where once you start injecting real crises into the plot, the concept breaks down. “I thought murder was good? Bad is good, right?”
Real stakes end up being at odds with their natural, comedic portrayal. Wednesday experiences this problem as well. At least, initially. But as the show progresses, and we start to see Wednesday break down her barriers a bit (a VERY little bit), it’s clear that while she definitely has the ultimate dark, macabre, loner streak — she’s an Addams after all — it’s also a bit of a front. At least in this version of the character. There’s a middle-ground deep inside her, closer to her parents. Somewhere in there. Thankfully, Wednesday’s glacial character growth feels believable. She’s complex.
Indeed, the Addams clan themselves ultimately end up being more more grounded in general, by necessity of this longer-form series, without losing any their kooky charm.
And yes, admittedly, Wednesday is a mediocre, if incredibly intimidating detective. She not only falsely accused several people of being behind the murders, but she didn’t even really ‘solve’ the mystery until she thought it was over, received a spoiler-filled vision with the answer, and the Hyde just up and confessed in the police station.
The ‘visions’, in retrospect, kind of sucked. They felt more like a writer’s crutch to move the plot along, rather than a skill Wednesday could learn to wield.
Which is just as well. The core mystery wasn’t really the most compelling part of the show. It was more the interactions with Wednesday and the people of Jericho. So this is a fair point.
Finally, Crackstone’s resurrection, in the finale, is tougher to explain. I suspect his radical shift from firebrand puritan willing to torch an entire barn full of ‘outcasts’, and into being a magic-wielding supernatural being is a side effect of being dead for hundreds of years, existing in hell (presumably, or whatever afterlife), and the preternatural manner in which he was resurrected. But I don’t recall anything about that being touched on in the story, so… yeah, it’s just weird.
Almost as weird as Goody being an Addams and not a Frump, since she’s from Morticia’s side. 😉
These are all minor things — it was so much fun that even the criticisms that have some merit aren’t show-stoppers by any stretch.
One MAJOR nitpick though… a real problem…
Not enough Fester! A terrific tribute to Jackie Coogan’s version of the character while being his own thing. Leaps and bounds better than Christopher Lloyd’s bizarrely gravely-voiced evergreen victim in both of Burton’s prior films.
I would never in a million years considered Fred Armisen as a good choice for the role, but now I can’t imagine him NOT playing him. He’s genuinely a real treat who’s presence is far too fleeting.
Does Prodigy have the best, strongest first season of Star Trek since the original series?
I’m not sure… but it’s either that or Strange New Worlds.
But frankly, I’m edging closer towards Prodigy. They’re BOTH great, don’t misread me, but it feels like Prodigy had a much bigger narrative hill to climb.
They successfully built, from scratch, wholly original characters in a brand new situation. And it was aimed at a new, younger audience who might be unfamiliar with Star Trek while still making it engaging for both new and old fans.
One big example: I bloody HATED Dal for several episodes. Generic, childish, obnoxious teenager archetype. But as the series progresses you can actually feel a very natural maturation that doesn’t feel forced. It feels earned. Same goes for the rest of the cast.