One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘The Cage’

My good friend Dave Caolo has started something neat over on his Tumblr blog. He’s posting a definitive single frame or “shot” from each of episode of the classic TV show, The Twilight Zone and I gotta admit, it’s pretty cool. So cool in fact that Dave has inspired me to do the same with one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Star Trek: The Original Series. I’ll try to post one shot a day (although I’m pretty sure that won’t really happen) until I get through the entire three seasons. What I promise I will try and do is pick the most iconic, gorgeous and definitive shots from each of the 79 episodes of Star Trek and give a brief description of why I picked them.

Why Star Trek? Simply put, the show changed my life. It captured my imagination as a boy and never let go. Each week I journeyed to strange new worlds and in the process I became life-long friends with Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy. It inspired me to do well in school, be tolerant of people’s differences and dream big. So where do we begin? Why, at the beginning of course! Our first entry is from the Star Trek pilot “The Cage”. Considered “Too cerebral” by the network suits at NBC back in the day, “The Cage” didn’t originally air as the first episode of Trek, but was later re-cut into the first season, two-parter The Menagerie.

Our perfect shot is quintessential Star Trek, the sinister Talosian alien keeps a watchful eye over Captain Pike and the captured crash victim, Vina. I considered a shot of Vina herself as the iconic green Orion slave girl to represent ‘The Cage’ but the Talosian with his alien costume, throbbing cranium and classic Trek back-lighting won the honor. I can already tell it’s going to be difficult to pick a single frame to represent each episode of classic Star Trek, but at least it gives me an excuse to watch them all yet again in glorious HD. I hope you enjoy this series of posts, I think it’s going to be fun. Next up – ‘The Man Trap‘!

They Wouldn’t Know Good TV If It Shambled Up & Bit Them


SPOILER WARNING: This post contains spoilers for AMC’s The Walking Dead. If you’ve not watched the season 4 finale yet, back away from the blog post! I’m about to talk about stuff you probably don’t wanna know. You’ve been warned!

Last night I watched the season 4 finale of one of my favorite shows, AMC’s The Walking Dead and it did not disappoint. The show proved once again why I and other fans still enjoy tuning in week after week. The finale was a perfect blend of tense action, rich character development and satisfying resolutions with just enough un-answered questions to get us to return in October. Despite this, as I read some of the reviews of “A”, it’s apparent some critics feel The Walking Dead is about as exciting as one of its re-animated corpses.

The A.V. Club’s Zack Handlen rated the finale a meh-erific “B+”, lamenting the crucial flashbacks that gave Rick’s extreme cruelness on the dark road that much more bite. These flashbacks work, if for nothing else but to remind us of a time when Rick and Herschel had hope for the future, something that we’re constantly reminded has to be fought for. I enjoyed seeing Herschel again and loved how the flashbacks acted as an important contrast for what the group experiences when they finally reach Terminus.

Meanwhile, over at TV.com, reviewer Tim Surette called the finale a “pretty crummy season-ender” that was anti-climatic and would have served better as the penultimate entry. Personally, I think Tim’s off his apocalyptic rocker. The finale HAD to end with the arrival at Terminus anything less would have been anti-climatic. This was the mistake Game of Thrones made last season by not making The Red Wedding the finale it deserved to be. Critics like Zack and Tim have missed the entire point of S4′s journey not to mention dramatic plot structure and it’s pissing me off.

Critics often take stabs at The Walking Dead when the show veers into character studies with “nothing happening” in the zombie department. The thing is however that in order for us to care about what happens to these characters, we need down time with them to learn where they came from and what drives them. Season 4′s mini-stories have been great at letting viewers get inside the heads of characters like Darryl, Carol, Tyreese and Michonne. The Walking Dead’s terrifying moments can’t possibly hold our attention unless we emotionally invest in Rick, Carl, Maggie and the others week after week. One of the ways we invest are through quiet scenes like the one in “A” between Rick and Darryl as they sit against the car. Rick finally tells Darryl that he is his “brother”, something the audience has felt for a long time but Rick’s never come out and said. In this moment, the audience is rewarded in spades because we all know Darryl is far more Rick’s brother than Shane ever was. It was a brilliant and satisfying emotional moment and I loved it.

Other highlights included the foreshadowing of the rabbit snare and the one at Terminus, Michonne and Carl’s “monster” exchange in the forest and Rick “hulking-out” on Joe’s gang, gutting the guy who was about to rape his son. Here we are reminded yet again just what lengths Rick is willing to go to to protect Carl and the others in his “family”. It was a visceral, heart-pounding scene worthy of the finale as was Rick’s parting line “They’re screwing with the wrong people.” When he exclaimed that, I practically jumped from the couch, yelling “F*ck YEAH!“.

One day, The Walking Dead will cease to be exciting. We’ll have had enough of the hopelessness, enough of the roaming hoards eating the characters we love. For some the show seems to have jumped the zombie shark long ago, but for fans like myself, there are lots of stories left to tell, more secrets to be revealed and tons of brains left to eat. As far as I’m concerned, the undead (and the critics) can bite me!

Fox’s Cosmos Isn’t About False ‘Balance’

degrassetysonquote_science_fullI really had to do a double-take when I read last week that the creationist group Answers in Genesis recently complained Fox’s prime-time science show, Cosmos, lacks scientific “balance”. The group criticized host Neil deGrasse Tyson and the creative team behind the show because it provides no alternatives to the theories of evolution or the Big Bang for like-minded fundamentalists like themselves. The irony is so thick in this story you could cut it with a knife. For those people who continually ignore the scientific method and established facts about our world and universe to suddenly complain because they themselves are being ignored is nothing short of poetic justice. What makes it even better is that Cosmos would indeed cover the creationist viewpoint if there was any scientific substance to it what-so-ever, but there isn’t.

Creationism is not science, it’s religion pure and simple. There is nothing that can be quantified, tested or proven when it comes to religion, by definition it’s a matter of faith. If science could be applied to the concept of an all-knowing intelligent designer, it certainly would have been, but it cannot and so a portion of religious believers cry foul. What I think truly irks them however is not simply being left out, but being excluded from such a genuine media event as Cosmos. Such science series air pretty much weekly on the Discovery Channel, the National Geographic Channel, the Science Channel and others but we hardly hear so much of a peep from the hard right as we have now. The fact the reboot of Sagan’s science series airs on a major network such as Fox, and in prime-time to such critical and popular success is the straw that broke the creationist’s camel’s back.

As far as I’m concerned Danny Faulkner and his creationists group have as much right to complain about not being given air time on Cosmos as flat-earthers have on the NASA channel. Evolution is a proven scientific theory. It happened and is still happening today. It has withstood decades of rigorous tests and is the fundamental foundation of all biology on earth. I’m personally tired of the pressure put upon the media by conservatives to give false balance to any and all issues in today’s society. 2 + 2 isn’t 5, men really did set foot on the moon and the earth isn’t a mere 6,000 years old. If you cannot understand those simple scientific facts, change the channel, Cosmos isn’t your cup of scientific tea.

UPDATE: The creationists are back after last night’s episode dealing with Edmond Halley and the origins of comets. Yes, they apparently even have an issue with the science behind comets. All kinds of problems arise when your belief system centers around young earth creationism. Anyway, head on over to Mother Jones to read more about it.

The Big Bang Theory Expands


SPOILER WARNING: This post contains minor spoilers for CBS’ Big Bang Theory. If you’re not caught up on season 7, you might not want to read. Then again maybe you’re okay with it. It’s up to you. What I’m saying here is you’ve been warned!


One of my all-time favorite TV shows, The Big Bang Theory, has been picked up for not just one, but three additional seasons. Yesterday CBS announced the multi-season deal to the delight of geeks everywhere. It’s really not surprising considering “Big Bang” has been ranked as the No. 1 sitcom since the 2010-11 season, and continues to hold the top spot in key demographics for the second straight year. Drawing that many key viewers each week is a huge deal for Big Bang and I wish the show continued success, although I do have some reservations.

Writing a weekly sitcom is a massive challenge but none more so than keeping the plot lines fresh and interesting. Ten seasons is a *ton* of stories to tell and even though the cast expanded to seven actors a few years back, there’s only so many character dynamics they can introduce. This year’s stories between Penny and Leonard have sometimes seemed forced and even mean-spirited. Leonard’s wavering support of Penny’s career in The Hesitation Ramification really didn’t bode well for their relationship and was rough to watch. Then we have Sheldon and Amy. Their relationship has moved forward a great deal this season including their very first kiss in The Locomotion Manipulation, but if the show is to survive they need to grow even further. The trick for the writers is not to jump the Shamy shark too soon. We’re all waiting for the episode where Amy and Sheldon finally have “coitus” as Sheldon would say, but once it happens where do they go from there? Will the so-called “Big Bang” be anti-climatic once it finally happens? And what about Howard and Bernadette? Their stories seem to have been put on the back burner lately, hopefully with 3 new seasons we’ll see more of them and maybe even a glimpse at Howard’s mom. And don’t get me started on Raj, that poor boy.

As a fan I’m delighted that my favorite comedy will be around for years to come. I especially enjoy this year’s guest stars like Bill Nye and Bob Newhart, I hope we see more of them. If anyone can continue to give us stories that make us laugh, squee with geeky delight and tear up week after week, it’s the Big Bang team. I know a lot of people don’t like the show and it’s over-the-top style, studio audience howling and nerd-centric jokes. But for those of us who tune in each week, The Big Bang Theory brightens our day, eases our stress and let’s us see a little bit of our geeky selves in the lives of Dr. Sheldon Cooper and Lenoard Hofstadter. It’s like a comforting, warm beverage served up by a close, funny friend and who doesn’t like that?

The Worf of Starfleet

I love this fan trailer for The Worf of Starfleet for a couple reasons. First, it’s just well made. It makes Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation look totally bad-ass. Second, it highlights how badly Next Generation wants to be shown in widescreen. Seeing the TV show formatted like this makes it 1000x more epic. It’s a shame the new blu ray discs of Next Generation are still formatted 4:3 for the small screen, but that’s not their fault. Next generation really was before its time. In the meantime, you can never have enough honor. Enjoy!

(hat tip @davidcaolo for the link)

The Cosmic Voyage Begins

I first wrote about the upcoming reboot of Carl Sagan’s landmark PBS series, Cosmos, back in July of 2013. To say I’ve been waiting patiently is an understatement. The new series is set to air this Sunday night, March 9th at 9pm and is hosted by noted astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The trailers we’ve seen over the last few months look impressive and both Fox and the show’s producers have been in full PR mode on Twitter and social media promoting the series premiere.

When the series first aired back in 1980 I was enthralled by its scope and soaked up every bit of spacey goodness in the 13 part series. Like the original, the new Cosmos series promises to take us both to the far reaches of the universe as well as examine the human condition right here on Earth. We’ll examine how life on our planet started, where we’re headed and beyond. As I’ve learned about this new series I’ve gained a new respect for producer, Seth McFarlane who was also a huge fan of the original series and wanted to help bring its message of discovery to a whole new generation. The fact that he and Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow, were able to convince Fox to broadcast Cosmos during prime time is nothing less than a minor miracle. I sincerely hope fans everywhere tune and and prove to Fox their faith in an educational series in the meat of their line-up was not misplaced.

Tyson and McFarlane have said that the series contains a bounty of new information about our universe so this won’t simply be a re-telling of Carl’s original journey. The series will draw inspiration from his teachings but the state of human knowledge has advanced considerably in the last 30 years so there should be plenty of new ground to explore. I also hope that the show’s creators take their time and explain complex concepts in ways that average people can understand. One of the best parts of the original Cosmos were segments when Sagan would simply sit and tell a historic story or explain the origins of complex theories like evolution or the formulation of the Drake Equation. I’m really hoping the new Cosmos isn’t edited like a music video, going from cut to cut trying to keep kids from losing interest in the face of all that science.

As a fan I’m glad our wait is finally over and the journey is about to begin. Tyson and company have some huge shoes to fill but something tells me they’ll do just fine. If you’re a fan of science, NASA, the human condition or you are looking for a great way to spend some time with your kids, tune into Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey this Sunday night on Fox. Then be sure to leave a comment here and let me know how you liked it.

UPDATE: You can now buy the soundtrack to Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey by Alan Silvestri on iTunes. Cool!

4 Ways “Breaking Bad” Could Have Ended

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains major spoilers for AMC’s Breaking Bad. If you’ve not watched the series finale yet you might want to stop reading now. You’ve been warned.

We’ve now had a few weeks to digest and contemplate the ending of “Breaking Bad,” and most fans of the show seem at least fairly satisfied. It’s not small task to wrap up a show with the type of following and general respect that “Breaking Bad” has earned, and it’s fair to say the people behind the show did a fine job. But just for fun, here are 4 other ways we could have seen the final episode going.

1. Walt Loses

No one wants to admit it, but this is probably the most realistic scenario. Throughout the series, Walt’s biggest enemies have been men with agendas – men who might kill to get ahead, but wouldn’t do so without thinking it through carefully. The neo-nazi clan headed up by Todd’s uncle are an exception, and seem to display violence with no care whatsoever for consequences. Theoretically, this could negate Walt’s edge in intelligence, and make him unable to negotiate, stall, or outsmart his last opponents. The most realistic outcome may well have been for Walt to show up at their compound and simply be shot on site.

2. Walt Wins – And Lives

We could have seen the exact same ending to the show, without Walt ever being shot and collapsing oh-so-poetically in a meth lab. So what would Walt do? We imagine him whiling away his days in mindless spending, without the ability to get his whole fortune to his family. He’s used gambling addiction as an excuse in the past – why not try it for real? Our last shot of Walt could be of him in some anonymous hotel suite gambling away tens of thousands at a time at Betfair Casino online, carelessly doing what little he can to make use of his millions. At this particular site, Walt could find enough gaming options to keep him occupied for a solid year, and spending millions on games of chance – slots, roulette, etc. – would be a fitting way for Walt to spend his remaining time. Perhaps his penchant for perfecting his methods would actually come in handy for a change in this scenario.

3. Walt Has A Rampage

This seems to be what most people expected, given the various flash-forwards to the massive machine gun in Walt’s trunk. Yet the rampage never came. Walt spared his former “Gray Matter” partners, spared his family (whom, at the end, he seemed to truly care for), and killed only who he needed to in order to avenge Hank and rescue Jesse. In the rampage scenario, he would have killed all of these people. I think the fans would have found this ending filled with injustice, but it would have been spectacular.

4. Jesse Turns To The Dark Side

When Jesse had a chance to shoot Walt and decided not to, he went against the tide of the show, refusing to turn “Bad,” and instead getting out, seemingly once and for all. Had he shot Walt, it would have been a very dark ending, but perhaps would have wrapped up one of the themes of the show – that anyone, when pushed, can break bad.

What about you? Were you happy how “Breaking Bad” ended? What would you have liked to seen the writers do differently, if anything? Leave your thoughts in the comments section for the rest of your fellow “Breaking” fans.

Percussive Maintenance

Anyone who can find commonality between Deep Space Nine, Hogan’s Heroes, Back to the Future and Happy Days is okay in my book. I love TV and movie supercuts and this is one of the most clever I’ve seen. Take all those times when characters fix broken equipment with a good whack and what you get is percussive perfection. Enjoy!

(via Collossal)

Breaking Bad’s Swimming Pool Symbolism


SPOILER WARNING: This post contains major spoilers for AMC’s Breaking Bad. If you’ve not watched through the first half of season 5 and don’t want to know spoil some of the major plot points, then you should really stop reading now. You’ve been warned.

The cult TV hit, Breaking Bad, wraps tonight on AMC in what is sure to be one of the best series finales ever to hit TV. I only recently started watching the series on Netflix and have come to appreciate the complex web of plot, character development, drama and awesomeness that is Breaking Bad. Watching the entire 5 seasons in a little over a month gives one a fresh perspective on the show that long-time fans may have missed, especially the subtle use of signs and symbols that are a favorite of the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan.

One of the re-curring symbols that shows up in Breaking Bad is water, and more specifically swimming pools. Chemistry teacher turned master meth cook, Walter White, has one in his backyard and throughout the show’s run, action frequently takes place in and around these small aquatic jewels. Fans of the show know that the pools themselves often portend ominous happenings in the world of Breaking Bad. In fact, I don’t think I can recall a single scene where people were actually having a good time in a swimming pool in the entire 5-year run of the show. No, in Walter White’s world swimming pools and the water that fills them represents something else entirely and it’s the single plot point that propels the show.

There are lots of different interpretations of what swimming pools mean in Breaking Bad, but the one that is the most obvious, indeed the one that hits us over the head by season 5′s “Fifty-One” is that they are a metaphor for Heisenberg’s blue meth. In the S3 episode ‘Caballo Sin Nombre‘ we see Walt fish a bandaid out of a swimming pool (see above). Walt’s always been a problem solver as well as a perfectionist and this small scene I think highlights Walt’s need to always improve his addictive product. He’s forever trying to keep contaminants out of the cook, something we’re reminded again just a few episodes later in “Fly“. It also symbolizes his desire to keep his family clear and “clean” of his seedy, second life.

Then there is the air disaster that marks the brutal end of season 2 when Jane’s father and air traffic controller, stricken with grief over losing his daughter to a drug overdose, accidentally collides two passenger jets in the skies over Albuquerque. The image of the pink bear haunts us in the cold opens for most of season 2, a horrible reminder of the unforeseen consequences of Walt’s actions.

In season 4′s ‘Hermanos‘ we visit the lavish home of Mexican drug lord Don Eladio. The home once again features a swimming pool that soon features prominently as the final resting place of Gus Fring’s partner as he’s laid waste by the ruthless cartel. In an ironic twist of fate, this same swimming pool becomes the tomb of Eladio as Gus returns to Mexico in S4′s ‘Salud‘ to exact revenge on those that killed his friend. The drug cartel reaps what it sows as we see lives slip away in the cool, blue waters.

Gillian also slips subtle references about the symbolic blue meth into the show’s dialog in several episodes including S5′s ‘Dead Freight‘. When Walt, Jessie and Mike plan to heist hundreds of gallons of methylamine, the crucial chemical needed to cook meth, Lydia explains that the train they’ll be hitting holds enough of the compound to “fill a swimming pool.”

Lest there be any more doubt about what pools represent, we have S5′s incredible episode ‘Fifty-One‘. The entire White clan gathers to celebrate Walt’s fifty-first birthday poolside. As Walt talks to his in-laws at a nearby table, his wife Skyler stands staring into the bright blue water, filled with dispair. She fears for the safety of herself and her children because of the monster her husband has become. As Walt speaks, Skyler slowly steps, fully dressed into the family pool. She descends to the bottom, floating like an angel in the cool water, literally drowning in the blue poison Walt has forced upon her and her family. Her sister and brother in-law beg her to get out, to save herself but they’re voices are muffled by the water and Skyler’s contentment with her plans to get her children out of the house and to safety.

There are lots of other examples of the meth/pool symbolism in the series, but one of my favorites is the cold open for S5′s ‘Blood Money‘. In a flash forward, Walt, deposed from his drug lord throne, returns to his condemned home to find his house in ruins. He watches a band of kids use his now empty swimming pool for skateboarding. He stares helplessly as strangers run rampant on his former property, his crystal-blue empire has turned to dust and he his powerless to stop it.

I love symbolism in television and films. Clever use of symbolism adds depth and meaning to storytelling and Breaking Bad has been one hell of an awesome story. I still have a few episodes to go before tonight’s finale (hopefully I’ll catch up in time!) but I hope this small insight into the shimmering blue waters of Walter White’s world has increased your appreciation for what Vince Gilligan and his Breaking Bad team of writers has given us these past five seasons. I for one am glad I decided to dip my foot in Breaking Bad’s pool.

Doctor Meh

The Eleven DoctorsToday Doctor Who fans around the world learned that 55-year-old Peter Capaldi has been cast as the 12th incarnation of everyone’s favorite Time Lord. While the choice of Capaldi will no doubt prove to be serviceable, I can’t help thinking that Steven Moffat, Doctor Who’s lead writer and executive producer, blew a huge opportunity to take the show in fresh directions and gain scores of new viewers in the process.

One of the greatest character strengths the Doctor possesses is the ability to regenerate. When the Doctor dies, he is reborn and played by a new actor, sometimes for an entire generation of fans. Yet, in the entire illustrious 50-year history of the BBC show, the part has yet to be played by anyone other than a white male. The actors who play the Doctor have varied in age and style and each brought their own wonderful interpretation of the Doctor to the small screen, but the general dynamic is always the same. The Doctor is always male, and although his companions sometime vary, the are typically young, pretty females.

Imagine the storytelling possibilities that would present themselves if the Doctor regenerated as a woman. Thanks to the spirited portrayal of River Song by actress Alex Kingston, we have a hint at just what such casting could be like. Much like the Doctor, River was a strong-willed, cocky scientist who was always in the thick of trouble. But River is not the Doctor and a true portrayal of that ancient Time Lord by a woman would instantly add interest, drama and a breath of fresh air to the series. Moffat could have broken with tradition and cast a woman as the Doctor or gone even further and cast a new, male companion for her as well. Suddenly all the old stories would be turned on their head, new character interactions could be explored and we might even have a reversal of sexual tension in the TARDIS.

Even if Moffat chose not to explore those themes or kept a female companion for the Doctor, how much more interesting would a female / female dynamic be when chasing down Daleks and saving the universe (yet again)? I always loved the interplay between female leads on shows like Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I think it could work wonderfully on Doctor Who. It would also give girls the world over a new female role model that they could look up to and be inspired by.

The forward-looking nature of science fiction shows like Doctor Who, demand characters and stories that make us stop and think. Star Trek portrayed its first black Captain twenty years ago in 1993 when Avery Brooks played DS9′s Captain Sisko and just two years later Voyager cast Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway. Sooner or later the character of the Doctor will be played by a woman. When that day comes I’ll stand up and cheer loudly for a show I’ve loved since childhood. With the news of Capaldi’s casting I’m buckling down for more of the same kinds of stories we’ve seen for the last 50 years, and that’s a shame. Today I wish I was shouting “Geronimo!” instead of merely muttering “Meh.”