Best of 2020 | My Top 10 TV Shows of the Year

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Last year, I ended up being a bit over-ambitious with my Top 10 list. Rather than a single blog post, the plan was to write an article a day about ten different television shows, and ten different individual episodes of television too. Twenty pieces of writing proved more than a few too many – I managed five; the election threw me off rhythm and that was the end of that – and I never actually shared the full Best of 2019 list.

Until now! I’d thought about preserving the mystery, but better to just share it here, I think.

10) The Circle

9) Defending the Guilty

8) Stath Lets Flats

7) Superstore

6) Years and Years

5) The Good Fight

4) The Other Two

3) Russian Doll

2) Fleabag

1) Succession

10) The Good Place 4×9, “The Answer”

9) Derry Girls 2×05, “The Prom”

8) Daybreak 1×08, “Post Mates”

7) Veep 7×07, “Veep”

6) This Way Up 1×06, “Episode 6”

5) The Good Fight 3×5, “The One Where a Nazi Gets Punched”

4) Superstore 4×22, “Employee Appreciation Day”

3) Succession 2×4, “Safe Room”

2) Years and Years 1×4, “Episode 4”

1) Fleabag 2×01, “Episode 1”

In hindsight, several of those choices are more than a little questionable – outright bad! – but then I suppose the point of these lists is as much a historical record of my bad opinions as it is anything else. Speaking of which, you can also find my similarly questionable 2018 and 2017 list here. (I do seem to only complete these lists every other year.)

This year, the plan was to do the same again, but I ended up scaling that back pretty quickly – first from twenty blog posts to ten, ditching the individual best episodes list, and then again from ten daily posts to a single article. (This one.) Why was that? I spent ages writing Christmas cards, basically. Just got completely and totally carried away, doing little illustrations and everything. Kept me entertained, at least. Maybe next year I’ll be able to do the full run of twenty daily articles (more likely I will just write more Christmas cards; if you want one next year, now is the time to start trying to befriend me).

A word quickly on two notable omissions, before we begin. I skipped Normal People, because I loved the book so much I didn’t want to invite in another interpretation; I’ve never particularly been a “the book is always better” person, so that was something of an unusual choice. I also opted not to watch I May Destroy You, because of a personal discomfort with the subject matter (for the same reason, I didn’t watch Save Me Too, even though the first series of Save Me made 2018 list).

Anyway! Onto the list proper.


10). This Country

I keep double-checking the Wikipedia page for This Country, because I’m half-convinced I’m making a mistake here. Surely, right, if This Country Series 3 – the final season! – had aired in 2020, I would’ve seen it on more year-end Best Of lists, right? So, it must’ve been a 2019 series that I was a little late to, or maybe I didn’t even watch it this year at all and I’ve just completely lost all sense of linear time?

But, no, the Wikipedia page insists it aired in 2020, and frankly who am I to argue with Wikipedia?

When I was still debating whether or not to compile a list of Best Television Episodes of 2020, one of the few things I was certain had to be on that list was an episode of This Country. Specifically, it was the fifth episode of Series 3, The Station – a pared-back, even-simpler-than-usual episode about Kerry and Kurtan waiting for a train. There’s a lot to love about this series and the world it inhabits, but the reason This Country was one of my favourite television shows of 2020 is that central dynamic: Kerry and Kurtan bickering away about nothing in particular, all those little idiosyncrasies on full display, the dialogue sparkling even as it’s entirely mundane.


9). Us

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Us made the list almost entirely on the strength of Tom Hollander’s performance as Douglas Peterson, here somehow sympathetic even as it’s always obvious exactly why his life is falling apart around him. Hollander walks a careful line throughout – it would’ve been easy to make Douglas too much of any one thing, when the drama demands he be much more complex – and does so deftly. The series wasn’t perfect – the ending is too neat, telegraphed too early on; that close focus on Hollander’s character is sometimes borders on myopia, crowding out the rest of the cast – but I really do think Hollander was.

Without realising, I spent a lot of time on David Nicholls’ writing this year – watching both Us and his film Starter For 10, and reading One Day, finally. (He also wrote the Patrick Melrose adaptation a few while back, which was my favourite show of 2018.) He’s not perfect, I don’t think, and there’s some obvious recurring flaws in each – but he’s very good at nailing a particular style of emotion I ended up appreciating a lot this year.


8). The Crown

Look, I know, I know, but let me explain. I couldn’t stand the first series of The Crown; it always struck me as a very short-sighted programme, never quite confident enough to actually commit to criticising the monarchy. For all that it insisted it was about the difficulty of life as a member of the royal family, it always seemed to contort to find some redeeming feature or another, making the few critiques it did let stand feel trivial at best and hollow at worst. It’s not that I needed it to take a republican stance, exactly (I was altogether more lukewarm on the royal family in 2016 than I am now), just that

I watched a few episodes of the second series, but quickly fell off, and didn’t bother with the third at all; I caught up ahead of this year’s series and enjoyed each one more than the last. The fourth series, though, felt like a revelation (well, comparatively speaking), a show that had finally become what it always wanted to be, the introduction of Emma Corrin’s Diana bringing a certain clarity and momentum it had previously lacked. Something about The Crown finally clicked into place – Peter Morgan’s writing no longer clangingly unsubtle, but instead somehow admirably blunt – and the show was all the better for it.


7). The Good Fight

I cannot think what The Good Fight will look like when it returns. In part that’s because it’s always been so defined by the Trump era, which is now – in the most straightforward sense of the term, anyway – coming to an end. I worry it might lapse into a certain complacency under a Biden presidency, lacking the sense of direction that animated its wit and made it so sharp (which admittedly is not the worst trade-off in the world, all things considered).

Less obvious but more significant, though, is the loss of Delroy Lindo and Cush Jumbo, both of whom have always been such huge parts of the show. I could imagine The Good Fight reinventing itself successfully with them; it’s much harder to picture the series making that just adjustment without them. Still, though: this is the fourth year running that I’ve included The Good Fight on my Best Of list. This year it was still just as smart and as thrilling as it always has been – perhaps it’s about to falter somewhat, perhaps not, but either way that’s a really strong run.


6). Two Weeks to Live

The obvious point of comparison is The End of the F***ing World, but Two Weeks to Live leans much more heavily on its comedy than TEOTFW; it’s not funnier than its predecessor, exactly, but it’s less idiosyncratic, broader, more open and inviting in its laughs. It opts to be earnest more often than not, largely shying away from the tongue-in-cheek, detached sensibility found in so many ‘genre’ comedies. Two Weeks to Live is self-aware, yes, and often undercuts its own clichés – but it does so with a straight face rather than a roll of the eyes.

A big part of that is Maisie Williams, in one of the more straightforwardly comic roles of her career. It quickly becomes clear that she’s got great comic timing (“We need to call the World Health Organisation.” “The who?” “Exactly”) as much Kimmy Schmidt here as she is Arya Stark. Her performance is deceptively precise – sincere without losing any levity, heightened without becoming exaggerated, and witty without becoming quippy. Williams has great chemistry with the rest of the cast (Mawaan Rizwan and Taheen Modak in particular, both of whom are fantastic) and taken together there’s a lot to like about Two Weeks to Live.


5). Star Trek: Lower Decks

If you’d asked me in January which of the 2020’s three Star Trek shows would make the Best of 2020 list, I’d likely have said Picard. I might well have said Discovery, which I suspect in hindsight probably deserved a place on the 2019 list. There’s not a chance I would’ve said Lower Decks – I didn’t even think I’d watch it, beyond a cursory glance at the first episode. I can’t stand Rick and Morty, and this looked like the same with a Star Trek gloss.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I absolutely loved it. It’s very much Star Trek’s answer to The Curse of Fatal Death: affectionate but not reverent, fannish but not insular, mocking but not meanspirited. It was a consistent highlight of my week – bright and colourful and above all else just a ridiculous amount of fun. In its own way, Lower Decks feels like it justifies the ongoing franchising of Star Trek more than Picard, Strange New Worlds or Section 31 do, and I can’t wait for the second series.


4). The Umbrella Academy

It took me a while to get into The Umbrella Academy (outside of that long opening sequence where Elliot Page plays the violin, there wasn’t much of the first few episodes I enjoyed without caveat) but I’m glad I stuck with it. Not because the series was particularly innovative or anything like that – it’s exactly the fairly straightforward riff on the X-Men it looks from the outside, and its actually very charming second season retreads well-worn ground by returning to the Kennedy assassination. The Umbrella Academy is in a lot of ways a fairly middle-of-the-road genre piece, the Netflix algorithm responding to the end of their Marvel partnership and not a lot more than that. (Actually, I often found myself thinking this is what Doctor Who-by-Netflix would look like.)

The reason The Umbrella Academy made the list, though, is because I ended up watching it with some friends (and also Bethany), so there was a nice communal aspect to it. Felt like we’ve kinda lost that over the past few years, now television schedules are a bit less linear and everything drops at once and so on. It’s all a little more atomised and discrete, I suppose? So it was nice to have that and share that and so on. Especially this year!  


3). I Hate Suzie

I Hate Suzie features Billie Piper’s best performance, in a show not just written for her, but written very much to her strengths – a subtle distinction, and one that makes this such a striking star vehicle for Piper. There’s a sense perhaps that this sort of broadly autobiographical role might be a relatively easy one to play, but I doubt it: the frantic neuroses and layers of artifice on display here are fantastically realised, a really remarkable achievement on Piper’s part.

It’s a little bit of a shame, really, that I Hate Suzie had such a muted American debut – picked up by HBO Max but not available when the platform launched, then overshadowed somewhat by the arrival of movies straight from the cinema. In an ideal world, I Hate Suzie might prove to be something of a slow-burn hit, a series people stumble upon and then quickly fall in love with.


2). The Queen’s Gambit

On a moment to moment level, The Queen’s Gambit was likely the show I enjoyed most all year – the most slick, the most confident, the most glamorous and the most entertaining.


1). Small Axe

Is it film? (Yes.) Is it television? (Also, yes.) Does it really matter? (Well, not exactly, but it’s interesting to get into all the same.)

For the moment, though, let’s call it television. Small Axe is the best – let’s say “project” – project of the year, no question, and I included the individual episodes on my list of the best films of the year. That doesn’t feel like it entirely captures why and how they’re so good, though, because no one instalment is acting discretely – to take one in isolation from another is almost missing the point. Each part of Small Axe is in communication with another: Alex Wheatle’s depiction of childhood speaks to similar themes in Education; the music in Mangrove and in Alex Wheatle again lends Lovers Rock even more depth; the four biographical instalments inform and accentuate one another; so on and so forth.

On their own, any given episode of Small Axe would be a career best pieces of work – together, they’re something so much denser and so much richer. That, to me, is television (apart from when it’s film, anyway) – so Small Axe is the Best Television Show of 2020.


Special Mentions

As ever, there’s a handful of shows that – while they didn’t make the full list – still warrant a mention.

  • I spent most of May working my way through New Girl, which I’d seen stretches of before but never watched in full. Even though it ended in 2017, I debated putting it on this list anyway; it’s such a deeply charming programme, and a big part of the year for me.
  • After missing it last year, I finally caught up on Watchmen. I’m not convinced it quite stuck the landing with “more Black female superheroes”, but the first eight episodes were sublime – even as it faltered slightly at the end, it was one of the best pieces of superhero-adjacent drama we’ve had over the past decade. (Speaking of Watchmen, I really enjoyed this piece on it.)
  • I enjoyed Hugh Laurie’s Roadkill quite a lot, though it faltered in its final episode – I’d have really enjoyed a second series focusing on the leadership race, but the series skipped ahead a few months in its last minutes. Still not sure why.
  • Superstore was one I deliberated over; ultimately, I don’t think that fifth season was brilliant (perhaps because of the change in creative team, or maybe because anything would’ve felt a let-down after that finale), and too little of season six has aired for it to have made an impact in 2020. Perhaps next year, though, with its (far too soon) final season.
  • Finally, Quiz. The other 2020 show of the five special mentions, it would’ve been eligible for the above list – I still wonder if maybe I should’ve shuffled things around to include it. I really loved it, and I think the piece I wrote about it was one of my best bits of writing all year. (Also, James Graham is now a close personal friend twitter mutual, so it seems only polite, especially given how much I’ve slated some of his other stuff in the past.)

I’m not sure there’s anything else to make note of particularly; there were plenty of things I meant to watch but didn’t get round to (Lovecraft Country, Life, The Good Lord Bird, Westworld series 3, The Plot Against America, The Mandalorian, Raised by Wolves, so on, so forth) but that’s always the way. Is there anything I’m forgetting that you think I should’ve watched? Let me know, I’ll make a note, get round to it over the next few months.


2021

What am I looking forward to next year? This and that. Russell T Davies’ It’s a Sin is the first big show of 2021 on my list – I’ve got something in the works for that at the moment, which I’ll be able to share more about in a few weeks’ time. I’m also cautiously optimistic about the new Marvel shows; Wandavision moreso than the other two, though I imagine I’ll watch all three of them anyway. (Loki I’m quite curious about too, Falcon and The Winter Soldier feels like it could really go either way.) There’s also, of course, my beloved Riverdale, returning after far too long away.

I’ll also be watching The Serpent, mostly for Jenna Coleman; I’m always very wary of that sort of true crime series, but I’m also always very fond of her, so. In theory, Doctor Who Series 13 is due in 2021, though I’m not entirely convinced that’ll actually be ready to air in September as planned – which is going to be the case for a lot of things I imagine. Is Moffat’s Inside Man still due for 2021? I assume not, because I don’t think they were able to start production this year. Hmm.

A broader 2021 target, I suppose, would be to try and watch less rubbish, and be faster to give stuff up when it’s not very good – like, the amount of time I knowingly spent this year on rubbish like Spitting Image and Space Force, or even something good-but-not-great like Catastrophe, long past the point I was getting anything out of it… not the best use of my time, I suspect.

Equally, on the flip side, I do also want to just try and watch everything next year, which surely means there’s gonna be some rubbish. We shall see!

Related:

Best of 2020 | Every film I watched this year

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter. If you enjoyed this article – or if you didn’t – please consider leaving a tip on ko-fi.

Composer Jeff Russo on scoring Star Trek: Picard, Noah Hawley’s Star Trek movie, and more

Jeff Russo composer interview star trek picard score theme tune music flute ressikan discovery fargo noah hawley legion umbrella academy Dan Goldwasser

From an instrumental point of view, I wanted to connect it to our previous stories. So, the use of the flute at the beginning and in the end is inspired by Jean-Luc Picard playing the Ressikan flute in The Inner Light. That’s really the only true connection to a musical instrument in the show that I can remember in The Next Generation – other than Riker playing a trombone! It was like, “Let’s not use a trombone. We don’t need to use a trombone.” For one thing, it’s not Star Trek: Riker, and it’s not Riker’s story, so it didn’t strike me as something that would be meaningful. The flute seemed really meaningful to how Picard’s life had progressed.

A recent conversation with Jeff Russo, who was both very nice and very enthusiastic about Star Trek. Lots of interesting, thoughtful comments about how you approach the score for something like Picard – and, actually, how that’s subtly but significantly different from how you approach the score for Discovery. (Which, thinking about it, would probably have been a better thing to reference in the title there – my typically suppressed clickbait instincts got the better of me this time.)

Incidentally, this very nice picture of Jeff is one I borrowed from his website, and in turn which he took from Scoring Sessions, a website I’ve only just now come across but is clearly a phenomenal resource. I think the original photo credit, in this case, goes to Dan Goldwasser, the Editor-in-Chief of Scoring Sessions.

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Michael Chabon, Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman and Kirsten Beyer on Star Trek: Picard, what it means to treat Star Trek as a franchise, and more

star trek picard michael chabon interview alex kurtzman akiva goldsman kirsten beyer executive producers franchise

Between the four of them, Michael Chabon, Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman and Kirsten Beyer have written a lot of Star Trek: novels, comic books, films, and, of course, television. The series isn’t just that anymore – over fifty years after the original Star Trek was quietly moved to Friday nights and eventually cancelled, it’s now the jewel in the crown of CBS All Access, and a major international acquisition for Amazon Prime. That little television show has grown into an empire.

Or, put another way, it’s a franchise.

“It’s interesting this word ‘franchise’, right?” muses Kurtzman. “Because it feels like a very – Michael used an excellent word the other day – a very mercantile term, where everything is about ‘okay, we can sell this and we can sell that’. But I actually don’t think that’s what it’s about for any of us. I think that’s someone else’s job. Our job is to create great stories and figure out how to use all these different mediums to tell them in interesting ways.”

I’m really, really pleased with this one, actually – it is, I think, my favourite of the four Star Trek: Picard interviews I’ve done this week. Certainly, I think it’s the most insightful and most worthwhile as a piece of writing on its own terms – I’m particularly proud of what I was able to build out of the roundtable interview here.

Take a look!

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Isa Briones and Jonathan Del Arco on Star Trek: Picard, their characters Dahj and Hugh, and more

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As Isa says, though, it’s not every day you become part of something already so well-established. But with that must come some sort of trepidation – especially so early in her career, knowing this might well become her defining role?

“When you haven’t done much you will take any role that’s given to you,” laughs Isa Briones. “But I also didn’t know what this role was going to be. I was just auditioning and I was told it was Star Trek. I wasn’t really told that she was going to be this involved until the last call back. It really was a lesson, like, you’d never know how life is going to turn out and timing is everything… I always just cite my father. My father has been in the business a while, working his ass off for so long, but he finally started getting known at 50 years old. Now this is happening for me at 20, so anything is possible at any time. You roll with the punches, you take what comes your way.”

“She’s also an incredibly confident actor and performer, a great singer as well,” says Jonathan Del Arco, praising his co-star. “You always seem incredibly competent to me, from the day I met you. I think you were born for the part.”

The third of four Star Trek interviews! Isa Briones and Jonathan Del Arco were both absolutely wonderful – really just genuinely quite fun to be around.

Interviewing Isa in particular was a little bit of an odd experience, because it was the first time I’ve ever been older than the person I was interviewing. Which obviously is not actually that significant, but it threw me for a loop a little bit.

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Michelle Hurd, Harry Treadaway and Evan Evagora on Star Trek: Picard, working with Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes, and more

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“I’m just trying to work out whether I’m allowed to say what I think I’m allowed to say,” paused Harry Treadaway.

We’ve asked the assembled actors if they can tell us a little bit about their characters. So far, the answer has mostly been yes: Michelle Hurd explained that her character, Raffi, “has a very complicated relationship with the Federation. Very strained. She worked with Picard back in the day after Next Generation, and they had a bit of a falling out”. Evan Evagora, meanwhile, described his character Elnor as “a young Romulan boy who’s an expert in hand to hand combat. He’s pretty good with a sword as well, and he was raised in an all-female sect of warrior nuns”. Elnor is an orphan and a refugee; Raffi is haunted by decisions she’s made in the past, both of their lives changed radically by the destruction of Romulus.

But Harry Treadaway is having a slightly harder time telling us anything at all about his character. The three of them confer for a moment, whispering to each other so we can’t hear.

The second of four Star Trek: Picard themed interviews – this time with new cast members Michelle Hurd, Harry Treadaway and Evan Evagora!

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Sir Patrick Stewart and Jeri Ryan on Star Trek: Picard, how the new series addresses the present, and more

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Captain Jean-Luc Picard is here. Not only in a new Star Trek television series, but he’s also sitting just across the table from me.

There’s something a little surreal about that. Technically, yes, it’s actually Patrick Stewart who’s sitting here in front of me – but in all ways except literal, Captain Picard is in the room, and we’re all captivated.

It’s not the sort of thing you ever really think is going to happen, and it’s clear Patrick Stewart didn’t expect to be here either.

“For many years, any suggestion that I might revive Picard,” he explains, “I passed on immediately, straight away, without hesitation. Not because I wasn’t proud of what we did on Next Generation. I was, and I loved all the people that I worked with very, very much. But I thought I had said and done everything that could be said and done about Jean-Luc and the Enterprise and his relationship with the crew and so forth.”

Which, well, makes a lot of sense. There’s a version of Star Trek: Picard out there – a half-written script on someone’s hard drive, a forum comment, the whisper of a dream – where nothing has really changed. Captain Picard, on the Enterprise (the Enterprise-F this time, of course), boldly going where no one has gone before. But we’ve seen that: we’ve seen a hundred and seventy-eight episodes of it, and they were often wonderful, but all good things must come to an end.

Except, of course, here we are.

So! This was very exciting!

The day after going to the London premiere of Star Trek: Picard in Leicester Square, I had perhaps the most personally exciting interview of my career: Sir Patrick Stewart! And Jeri Ryan! Captain Picard! And Seven of Nine!

Eventually, I suspect I’ll write more about the experience itself – I think perhaps there’s something interesting to be said about it – but for the moment, let’s just sit and enjoy quite how cool this is.

Patrick Stewart!

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New Star Trek is becoming more like old Star Trek, but that’s not necessarily a good thing

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Star Trek: Discovery’s first season was often uneven, not infrequently messy, and rarely introduced one new idea when three would do instead. It’s not that it wasn’t good – sometimes it was great, and there’s a not unreasonable argument to be made that Discovery had the best debut season of any of the Star Trek shows – but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t concede that there was room for improvement.

The second season has seen something of a course correction, though watching it each week it’s difficult not to feel as though perhaps the wrong lessons were learned from Discovery’s early growing pains. Picking up from last year’s cliffhanger ending that saw the sudden appearance of the USS Enterprise, Discovery has been consciously positioning itself as much more in line with the rest of the Star Trek franchise – from classic style uniforms to throwback storytelling, but most obviously with the introduction of Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike.

Pike, actually, is particularly interesting in this regard. He’s a character taken from the original Star Trek series, but not in the same sense as, say, Harry Mudd, who appeared in Discovery’s first season played by Rainn Wilson. Rather, Pike – then played by Jeffrey Hunter – was Captain of the Enterprise and lead character in the original Star Trek pilot rejected by NBC; the show was heavily retooled ahead of its second pilot, by which point Hunter had been replaced by William Shatner, playing the younger, more dynamic Captain Kirk. Footage from the original pilot was eventually used in Star Trek as a cost-saving measure, establishing Pike as Kirk’s predecessor within the fiction of the show too; Pike is referenced from time to time in other Star Trek spinoffs, and appeared in the JJ Abrams movies played by Bruce Greenwood.

In that sense, Pike is something of an ur-Captain – there’s a certain mythic weight to him as a character, a foundational ‘first Captain’ figure within the context of Star Trek. He’s all iconography, with relatively little in the way of actual characterisation to maintain fidelity to. Invoking Pike offers Discovery the chance to recontextualise the entirety of the franchise in a way unlike any other character would; Kirk has too much baggage, Archer doesn’t have the same connection to the show’s beginning, and Robert April is really just a fun trivia answer. With Pike, Discovery has a chance to scribble in the margins of the franchise and declare some broad, sweeping truths about what Star Trek is, and what it should be – exactly the sort of thing Discovery should be doing to make Star Trek vital and fresh in 2019.

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Rather than treat Pike as an opportunity to recontextualise the wider world of Star Trek, though, he’s instead positioned as the spectre of the 1960s, come to set things right – come to bring Discovery back in line with more traditional Trek. Continuity here is nostalgic and backwards looking; it’s not the basis for something new and more compelling.

It’s not, notably, that Pike doesn’t work as a character – for the most part, he does. Anson Mount is a genuinely charming screen presence as Pike, and it’s difficult not to enjoy the sheer charisma of his performance (a far cry from his role as Black Bolt in Marvel’s Inhumans, but the less said about that the better). Sometimes, in all fairness, that’s all a side character like Pike needs to be – fun and engaging and entertaining to watch. Equally, it’s also perhaps a little early to comment on Discovery’s use of Pike – one recent episode implied Pike was a religious man, and that’s exactly the sort of writing that would prove an effective use of the character, complicating Star Trek’s ongoing relationship with matters of faith and rationality.

Nonetheless, though, it’s telling how much screen time is being devoted to bringing Discovery in line with more acceptable, known elements of Star Trek. Scenes grind to a halt to explain why the Klingons have started to grow their hair again to look more like their Original Series and Next Generation counterparts (including one Fu Manchu style moustache – some things should be consigned to history, irrespective of ‘canon’); the same exposition is repeated and emphasised over multiple episodes to explain why the Enteprise doesn’t use the same holographic communicators seen in Discovery’s first season. The most recent episode opens by panning up reverentially to Number One, another character from the unused Star Trek pilot alongside Pike – though this was surely lost on anyone not only already familiar with said unused pilot, but also the news that the character had been recast for Discovery as well.

Which, ultimately, is the problem – a problem that goes beyond Pike, even if he is a neat representation of the opportunities open to but not taken by Discovery. Season 2 is catering primarily to a narrow segment of traditional Trek fandom; it’s looking backwards, not just obsessing unnecessarily over minute continuity details, but retreading old Trek norms. It’s a fannish instinct that could only ever limit the show – more concerned with being Star Trek, than redefining what Star Trek can be. Indeed, it’s the sort of limitation that would’ve curtailed some of the best of the Star Trek that already exists – Deep Space Nine wouldn’t exist at all – and it’s difficult not to wonder what Discovery might look like if unburdened from those restraints.

Star Trek: Discovery’s first season wasn’t perfect, no – but it was, in many ways, a more compelling programme than Discovery’s sophomore effort. It was a more confident programme, a more challenging one, and clearly much more willing to boldly go somewhere new.

Related:

Star Trek isn’t Game of Thrones, and it shouldn’t try to be

Why Star Trek: Discovery must deal with the legacy of Janice Rand

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Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 Episode 15 Review – Will You Take My Hand?

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The parallels to the first episode are there, of course; it’s quite emphatic in its embrace of the cyclical structure. Where The Vulcan Hello saw Georgiou and Burnham saving a planet with a ‘water bomb’ to stop a drought, here they’re in conflict about using a steam device to destroy a planet; where Burnham once stood before a tribunal, she now stands before the Federation council. Over and over, there are echoes of the beginning, a reminder of the journey Discovery has been on. To borrow a phrase, it’s like poetry.

Taken together, it’s an effective piece of structural symmetry, particularly from a programme which has at times struggled with its form. But here it works, and it builds up to one central moment, something we can see that the show has been leading up to for some time: the definitive positioning of ideals over pragmatism, an embrace of Starfleet values and a rejection of the idea that they need to be compromised. Burnham’s speech to Admiral Cornwell – proving once more, if proof still were even needed, just how good Sonequa Martin-Green is in this role – is surely the defining moment of Star Trek: Discovery, the scene that makes it all work.

In that sense, then, Discovery does have a grand climax. It’s right there in the title, itself an allusion to the image we’ve seen each week as the show opens – a pair of hands, outstretched, reaching for one another. The connotations are clear, and the impact resounding; Star Trek: Discovery, despite the fumbles it made along the way, really does want to embrace the much vaunted spirit of optimism that’s so closely associated with the idea of Star Trek.

A review of the Star Trek: Discovery finale, which took me ages to write, but I was rather pleased with in the end. Not a perfect episode, nor a perfect season; I’m hoping to do a series retrospective at some point soon, but overall, I rather liked it.

(I never actually got around to that Star Trek retrospective, but I figure I might give it a go ahead of the next series.)

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Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 Episode 14 Review – The Battle Without, and the Battle Within

star trek discovery the war within the war without georgiou michelle yeoh michael burnham stamets saru doug jones anthony rapp sonequa martin green star trek review

It’s worth a word on the title, I think. What it refers to, largely, is obvious. The first part, “The Battle Without”, is easily understood; alluding to the past nine months, it signifies the Klingon war – the battle – without the USS Discovery to turn the tide. The Federation is no longer on the brink of war, but they’ve essentially lost it; arguably, this universe is now just as driven by strife and conflict as the Mirror Universe we just left. More abstractly, though, it denotes a lack – what are they “without”? In turn, then, it’s worth looking at this episode to see what’s absent.

What’s missing is Captain Lorca. Our attention is drawn to this at the beginning, with Sarek’s dramatic reminder of his death; it’s worth interrogating just why this line was delivered as it was, given it’s not a revelation for the Discovery crew or the audience. In essence, it’s a statement of intent, an indicator that this episode takes place in the shadow of Captain Lorca. Despite this, it’s oddly easy to forget, in fact, what’s missing; the crew gel so well in his absence, but then that’s also part of the point. There’s an emphasis on the Federation values, at least amongst the crew and on the ship; the scene shared between Tyler and the rest of the crew is telling in this regard, as is the terraforming to create new spores.

That is, at least, until Captain Lorca returns. Or a version of him, anyway: there’s an obvious parallel between installing mirror-Georgiou as the new Captain, and the ship under Lorca.

I quite liked this episode! And I quite liked this review, too. I think it’s a decent piece of writing.

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The Orville is just Star Trek fan-fiction, but that’s not such a bad thing

the orville seth macfarlane fox adrianne palicki star trek fan fiction ed mercer kelly grayson hd wallpaper

Yes, for any given episode of The Orville, you can quite easily point to which episodes of The Next Generation it’s riffing on and remixing. No, it’s never quite as clever or novel as the source material that inspires it – if nothing else, they got there first. What it does offer is the feeling of watching Star Trek, in largely the same way fanfiction does. And that makes sense, because that’s pretty much exactly what this show is. Not fanfiction at its most subversive or compelling, no, but at its most basic level – a fun little thing on the side that lovingly recreates the sense of the show you love.

So, an article about The Orville. It took me a while to warm to this show, which at first wasn’t great – especially with the, for lack of a better term, “gender-themed” episode, which remains the nadir of the series – but I did eventually reach a point where I had mixed-to-positive opinions on it. Mostly, I found it quite entertaining by virtue of how shamelessly Star Trek inspired it is. It’s quite literally Seth MacFarlane’s self-insert fanfic, and I found that rather endearing.

While I was writing this article, though, I did start to wonder if there’s actually a more compelling piece to consider – comparing The Orville and it’s relatively simple recreation of Star Trek to the more subversive, often female-driven, fan fiction that exists. Especially, actually, considering the legacy of Star Trek fanfiction as a whole – arguably some of the first fanfiction in the sense we understand it now was Star Trek inspired, and it wasn’t just remixing the episodes, it invented slash fiction. I hope someone who knows enough about this stuff has written a piece on it. Equally, though, I might go and research it and write about it myself.

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