Eruditorum Press

Some sort of samizdat wind effect

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

9 Comments

  1. them0vieblog.com
    October 9, 2014 @ 10:21 pm

    Great post.

    Although I'm not sure I'd consider "a show might take a few seasons to find its feet" to be a myth based solely on Star Trek. While, as you point out, there are tonnes of exceptions, it feels like a solid rule of thumb in genre television – when you're doing something where you don't necessarily have a perfect guidebook for the kind of stories you're telling in the way that you would with a cop show or one driven by a singular creative vision rather than a room full of writers learning how to do something new, for example, you need a little time to work out what your basic formula looks like before you can even start to play with it.

    To pick a bunch of arbitrary examples, The X-Files really galvanised in its third year, after a first and second season of highly variable quality. Stargate SG-1 took about two years to find itself.

    While I'm not the biggest fan, Arrow and S.H.I.E.L.D. also took most of their first seasons to figure out how to tell stories that didn't make me want to punch the screen.

    And although they arguably decreased in quality as time went on, even hit shows like CSI or House took a year and some change to become the shows that took America by storm. Their first seasons are a lot more ambitious and risk-taking than later seasons, if only because they don't have a guidebook yet. They were critical darlings in their first seasons, but quite different from the shows that audiences would come to love. For better or worse. (It goes without saying that I think worse, but such is life.)

    Cheers,
    Darren

    Reply

  2. Ross
    October 10, 2014 @ 12:30 am

    My personal capsule summary of 'Justice': Wesley CrusherStar Trek The Next Generation does “Justice”, which is that episode where Wesley Crusher is sentenced to death for tripping and falling on some flowers, and inexplicably, the Enterprise crew spends all episode trying to save him rather than just muttering something about the Prime Directive then breaking out the Romulan Ale to celebrate. The episode is basically five minutes of things happening padded out with forty minutes of rambling discussion about ethical jurisprudence. Then Picard tells off the local god and they all go home. The only way you can call this a good episode with a straight face is in comparison to TOS’s “The Apple”, which is basically the exact same story, only with a fuckton more patriarchal western imperialism (And they shoot god rather than shaming it). Also at one point, Riker says that the natives of this planet (Who aren’t called the “Eloi”, but are definitely called something similar enough that it’s clear they mean for you to compare them with the childlike good ayrian future-people from The Time Machine) will, “Make love at the drop of a hat.” It’s my personal headcanon that the random yellow-shirted guy working at a console in the background just stopped whatever he was working on to look up where to get a hat at this time of day.

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  3. them0vieblog.com
    October 10, 2014 @ 2:16 am

    Ah, Riker, the patron saint of space-age sex tourism.

    Ignoring how inappropriate it would be to bring Wesley down to any planet before a full investigation on local customs had taken place, or even the "let's find a nice safe sex planet for your mom to relax" aspect of the plot, what exactly does Riker think Wesley is going to do while he and the other adults enjoy local "hospitality"?

    Cheers,
    Darren

    Reply

  4. Josh Marsfelder
    October 10, 2014 @ 6:15 pm

    Funny you should mention The X-Files: I never followed the show, but I was always under the impression fans thought the first two seasons were unequivocally the best and the show got all weird and shit after the third season, except for the cigarette guy, who everyone liked.

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  5. them0vieblog.com
    October 10, 2014 @ 11:08 pm

    To be fair, X-Files fandom is like any other fandom. You'll find people who'll advocate anything. (There are certain breeds of Star Trek fans who discount everything after TOS or – even more surreally, to me at least – anything after TNG season 2.)

    The general consensus, as least as much as I can make out, is that the show peaked in its third and fourth seasons. That's where you get Darin Morgan on staff, Vince Gilligan joining, Morgan and Wong returning older and bitter-er from the cancellation of Space: Above and Beyond. You get classics like Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, Oubliette, Jose Chung's "From Outer Space", Quagmire, Home, Pusher, Paper Hearts, Never Again, with a certain degree of consistency. Even the mythology sort of makes sense at this point.

    (Plus the show hits a commercial peak, with that Simpsons crossover, the highest ratings ever for Leonard Betts, the movie entering production, an unofficial spin-off in Millennium. These are not indications of quality, of course, but indications that people were watching in huge numbers and that people were enjoying it in huge numbers.)

    In my experience, the shark jumping is placed anywhere from the release of the movie between the fifth and sixth seasons, the move to LA at the start of the sixth season, the terrible scripts from the seventh season onwards, or Duchovny's departure at the end of the seventh. Some particularly zealous fans would put it at the start of the ninth and final season. Almost nobody defends that. (I don't think it's all bad – but it is pretty terrible.)

    However, it is worth noting that the show's conspiracy didn't actually exist in the form that people think about it – the way that people imagine The X-Files' conspiracy as old white British and American men ruling the world from a New York social club – until the premiere of the third season. Before that, it was just the cigarette smoking guy who would pop up from time to time.

    Even the fans who would discount everything after the first two seasons would likely concede that the third season was where The X-Files became the show that almost everybody things of when they think about The X-Files.

    Cheers,
    Darren

    Reply

  6. elvwood
    October 11, 2014 @ 2:00 am

    Hi, just wanted to say that you've got another reader as a result of your guest post on the TARDIS Eruditorum. I thought about popping in before, but my childhood memories of TOS were too vague for me to want to invest the reading time (I'm much more of a Whovian than a Trekkie). However, TNG was the show that got me back into SF TV after a long time away so I have a great deal of affection for it, and hearing that you had go this far made me finally decide to dip in. (I also enjoyed the early DS9 seasons but never got into Voyager or Enterprise, so I'm probably a temporary reader; but I should be here for quite a while, even with you combining episodes!)

    I've just caught up on your TNG posts – some thoughtful stuff there. From here on I'll probably add the odd comment, though I'll mostly be lurking. Keep up the good work!

    Reply

  7. Josh Marsfelder
    October 11, 2014 @ 9:12 am

    Well, welcome aboard regardless! You've decided to journey with us for what's going to be my favourite section of the project: Dirty Pair through Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season 2. Like you, my affection and memories for Star Trek are strongest between 1987 and 1994 (although I will cop to getting into Enterprise, but not Star Trek Voyager), so I think our experiences and positionalities here are actually quite similar!

    (TOS/TAS/Phase II I admit I did because I felt I had to, but I think I managed to do some good work with it even without having any kind of real affection for it.)

    Reply

  8. Froborr
    October 12, 2014 @ 11:41 pm

    Hmm, interesting approach.

    Next year, once the ponies dry up, I'm planning on launching a psychochronography of the DC Animated Universe, which means I am eventually going to hit 1999-2001, when there were four (and, for a couple of months, FIVE) simultaneous shows going on. I have no idea how I'm going to cover it, but I'm going to have to remember this as an option. Certainly it's going to be hard to argue that The Zeta Project deserves the same depth of coverage as Static Shock or Batman Beyond.

    Reply

  9. Daru
    November 19, 2014 @ 10:23 pm

    "It's not awkwardly dated because it's of the 1980s, that's just it: It's not of the 1980s. It's some old person's idea of what the 1980s were about."

    I'll be honest that I don't have much of an abiding memory of these episodes (even having marathoned with my partner two years ago!)

    And yeah, the main thing that stuck with me was the visual style, as being the kind of artist I am, I'm always going to respond to these things even if the story is terrible. Like you I really do recall and love that computer core, the matte paintings and yes the above quote from you clinches it for me too.

    Reply

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