On “The Wrath of Khan” and “The Search for Spock”

Over the past year or so, my husband and I have been taking advantage of seeing old movies on the big screen, hosted by TMC and Ben Mankiewicz. Usually they are classics, like “The African Queen.” Or musicals that are a delight on the big screen, such as “An American in Paris.” We recently saw “Cabaret,” which is still a stunner. I believe next month it’s “In the Heat of the Night,” with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger tearing up the screen. There are also anecdotes before and after.

The 40th anniversary director’s cut of “The Wrath of Khan” was like putting on a pair of cozy fuzzy socks and sweatpants for me. I started smiling the moment the excellent James Horner soundtrack began, and the theatre darkened. More about the movie in a moment.

 I got to work for a few years within the Star Trek universe on both Voyager and Deep Space Nine as a writer’s assistant. The adventure and honor of it was not lost on me, I promise you. I also met a friend for life in the process*, so double good things came from it.

The original Star Trek series, along with “Wild Wild West” are among the very first television shows I remember watching on our little black and white television when I was five or six years old. The way the characters related to each other, had adventures, and told stories has stuck with me for a lifetime. Remember when Capt. James West had his hands handcuffed behind his back, and then jumped over them to get free? The actor loved doing stunts, so they got him to do all sorts of crazy escapes. Curious to know how many remember that exact moment. The show pioneered the steampunk genre. We will not speak of the terrible movie remake.

I always related to the sidekicks. Mr. Spock, Artemis Gordon, Chekov and Mr. Scott were among my favorites. I got to meet James Doohan once. He was a delightful man, charming as could be. I think I almost fainted. In later years, I watched “In Search Of,” just so I could see more Leonard Nimoy. I always wanted to be a Vulcan.

That “The Wrath of Kahn” got made at all is a miracle. The first movie was dreadful, there’s no denying it. Thankfully, it’s also quite forgettable. Among Trek fans, it has a similar reputation to Season Eight of the Show That Shall Not Be Named (dracarys). Now that said, I’m glad the first movie existed. At one point, I was gifted a silk jacket that belonged to the special effects crew of that movie. Possessing anything Star Trek is cool to me. It got burned up in The Fire.

The movie holds up pretty well, even at 40 years old. The gravitas and pure spite Ricardo Montalban embodies as Khan holds the whole thing together, and extra points for bringing an old episode from the original series to the fore. He stops just this side of chewing scenery and is utterly mesmerizing. I love his final lines quoting Captain Ahab. “From hell’s heart, I stab at thee. For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.” He really sells it. Side note: I had to laugh when I learned that most of his crew were working Chippendale dancers at the time of the shoot. They had to cast them to keep up with Ricardo’s I-do-a-lot-of-pushups chest.

 I still squirmed when the bug thing was put in Chekov’s ear. It’s a memorable moment. The interplay between the main characters is a little strained, the dialogue a little too on-point for parts of it. True to 40-year-old movie making, the pauses are excruciatingly long, and well, special effects were still in their infancy. However, the “I have been, and always shall be, your friend” scene STILL makes me cry, although I know what happens later. I remember seeing this thing when it came out in the theatres and SOBBING, and then Mr. Scot piping “Amazing Grace” as the pod is jettisoned into space…. Oy.

As we came out of the theatre, I realized I just HAD to see “The Search for Spock” right away. My husband indulged me. This one also held up. Made only a couple years later, in 1984, and kind of on the cheap compared to the other movies, you can see the jumps forward in technology and creating special effects. DeForest Kelley finally gets his moment in the sun as an almost-main character and has some very fun moments as Spock takes over his body. Leonard Nimoy directed it and did a good job. You know he knows his audience. This one doesn’t make me cry, although Spock’s last line, “Jim. Your name is Jim,” got me. I also love that they got Dame Judith Anderson to step in and use her incredible voice. Good casting.

This one also has the benefit of an unrecognizable John Larroquette as Maltz, a Klingon second in command, and Christopher Lloyd (Doc in “Back to the Future”) as the main evil Klingon. He looks like he had a great time with it, shouting his Klingon lines with a zesty fury. It has a quick appearance of Tribbles, too. You really can’t go wrong with that.

All in all, a nice double feature.

*Looking at you, Sandra Sena.

On Hour-Long Drama Series and a Short Rant

Well, the world really doesn’t stop being crazy, does it? I just saw someone post that they thought that we all have PTSD from two years plus of pandemic upheaval and now, war raging. Finding our way back to normal may take a while.

I am actively finding ways to destress. How about you?

Besides walks, swims, and reading, a good television multi-season, hour-long television production that takes me to a whole new other world is a wonderful way to unplug. Two to three episodes of a well-done hour-long show shuts my brain up. No comments from the peanut gallery about how easily that might be accomplished, please.

I’m spoiled rotten by streaming. It’s a modern invention I adore, even more than the advent of the remote and no more fighting about whose turn it is to get up from the couch and change the channel. Who else out there had to do these things: Dash to the television at a specific time on a specific night to catch your show, dash to the kitchen or bathroom during the commercials, or stick a tape in the VCR and program it to record?

Let’s get rid of the rant first. Its subject is the show that should have been at the very top of this list, but was utterly ruined by its last season. So horribly ruined that other shows like Lost and Twin Peaks have gotten a measure of respect back in comparison. The show that I hummed the theme song to all the time, the show that had mothers naming their girls after a certain princess who had some hot little pets, the show whose steampunk opening credits brought me joy every time I watched them. The show that brought you classic lines such as “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” And that made us weep when we found out how Hodor got his name.

Game of Thrones. Or, as we know it now, the Show-that-shall-not-be-named.

In the early going, I forgave the showrunners a lot (Looking at you, Catelyn Stark, who should have turned into Lady Stoneheart. And at you Strong Belwas, Victarion Greyjoy for being ignored.) Even when they burned that little girl, I forgave them. Then came the utterly dreadful, rushed, nonsensical, poorly lit last season that made a mockery out of all of us for giving this show all those hours of our life. They got their heads turned by the idea of doing some Star Wars movies (which subsequently got taken away from them, because of their utter dumpster fire of the last season) and didn’t do their job. Big Head and Little Head both need to take the walk of shame.

Ok. That’s done.

Just saying, it would have been first on what turned out to be a long list of excellent television viewing, and now it’s not on the list anywhere.

Okay, really done. I was team Gendry, btw.

This list is not comprehensive. I know that Oz, Law and Order, The Wire, and Dr. Who should be on here, but I never watched them. *Ducks the projectiles* I was busy. Give me a break. Probably won’t watch them. Just like I won’t watch the dumb prequel to the Show-that-shall-not-be-named either. I’m also not including limited-episode series, but will say I loved the Queen’s Gambit. John Adams and True Detective fall into this category as well.

I’d love to hear your list of top hour-long TV shows. Mine are on here because they either a. changed the course of television viewing, or b. were just great storytelling. I’ll also list three that I really wanted to like, but didn’t, and thus earn the least popular opinion award. I am well aware that I am exposing my inner geek by sharing this with you. Some of these go back a way. Have you seen them?

TOP FIVE: West Wing, Black Sails, Peaky Blinders, Justified, and Star Trek Next Gen (plus one more: Rome)

Why?

West Wing—great dialogue, the long walk and talks, fab cast. I love a smart show. West Wing might be overtly glib at times, (okay, glib in every episode) but never was it dumb.

Black Sails—don’t judge me, I like good pirate tales. Just get past the first 1-2 episodes which are clunky and gratuitous, and you’ll be hooked too. The actors are committed, the scenery and action sequences lush. Fun Fact: the lead actor on this show is Maggie Smith’s son. He’s on Lost in Space (the new one) as well. That show got an honorable mention.

Peaky effing Blinders—Helen McCrory (RIP), Cillian Murphy, and the cinematography/ costume designers own this show. Supporting cast is superb. Like anti-hero stories? This series is one long ode to the antihero. Compelling story lines that will make you wholeheartedly root for thugs and criminals. PTSD from WWI weaves throughout this series, as well as exploring classist tropes, humanizing the leads. (I sound so fancy there!) My boys had “Peaky Blinders” haircuts for several years.

Justified—Timothy Olyphant was fantastic in Deadwood, and I’ll watch anything he is in. Walton Goggins is perfection in this and loads of fantastic actors in the smaller roles. I’m looking at you, Margo Martindale. I think there is a limited series with Oliphant’s character coming to television, eventually.

Star Trek, Next Gen—I would probably have loved anything that gave me more Star Trek on a regular basis, but this reboot with an excellent cast and thoughtful stories led by fab actor Patrick Stewart had me waiting impatiently for every episode to air. Its success spawned a lot more Star Trek, which was also good. I got to work on one, to my long-lasting gratitude and delight.

Rome: This show had some of my favorite actors in it of all time, the ones who I’ll watch in anything they do: James Purefoy, Ray Stephenson (who is also Blackbeard in Black Sails and was always my vote to play Reacher, but the new guy they cast is perfection), Kevin McKidd, Tobias Menzies (whose turn in Outlander is phenomenal), Lindsay Duncan, Polly Walker, and Cirian Hinds. The relationships between the characters, the way they brought this historical time to life…there was nothing like it before this show. Was there ever a better odd friendship than Pullo and Lucius Vorenus? This was the show they took off the air prematurely to bring us The-show-that-shall-not-be-named. Shame! Shame!

NEXT FIVE: The Crown, British Baking Show, Sherlock, Deadwood, Northern Exposure

FINAL FIVE: The Expanse, 24, The Fall, Outlander, Broadchurch (adding one more here, as it’s totally got me in its grip right now; The Last Kingdom. Uhtred son of Uhtred is, indeed, your name.)

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Poldark, Shetland (my #1 I-must-watch-this-with-the-closed-captions-on show), Nowhere Man, Manhunter (this would have been high on the list too, but they stopped production prematurely and pissed me off), Downton Abby, Hill Street Blues, X-Files, Lost in Space, Black Mirror, the show that started my love of television, Star Trek the Original series (yes, I am that old), and the rotating hour-long mysteries that came on after Disney on Sunday nights; McMillan and Wife, Colombo, and McCloud. Kolchak the Night Stalker should have been in that rotation but was on a different channel.

THREE I WISH I LIKED BUT DIDN’T: Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Good Omens, and Westworld. To be fair, I did like the first season of Maisel a lot; they lost me after that. Same with Westworld, although I think I made it two seasons in before giving up with a baffled sigh. Good Omens… great cast, love the book, didn’t work for me.

I’m sure I missed some, or that you have differing opinions. Let’s hear them! I love talking about TV hour longs!