Star Trek: Discovery’s First Season Finale Is a Mixed Bag that Still Honors the Spirit of the Franchise

There was no shortage of pearl-clutching and garment-rending over the tone and spirit of Star Trek Discovery through much of its first season (some of it from yours truly). The show embraced a moral ambiguity in Starfleet’s mission that every other series (outside of Deep Space 9) had only hinted at. Captain Lorca leaving Harry Mudd to rot in a Klingon prison cell was touted as a betrayal of Federation and franchise principles. And Heaven help any writer who’d dared to have a character suggest that some Star Trek ideals must be bent or broken in a time of war.

But as I discussed with Robbie Dorman on The Serial Fanaticist Podcast, for all that folderol (or perhaps because of it) Star Trek Discovery ends its first season with a firm embrace of the franchise’s hallowed ideals of optimism, mercy, and understanding; a firm rejection of those who would eschew or ignore those things when they’re inconvenient; and a firm vindication of a lead character who grows enough to discover that it’s worth a mutiny to stand by those principles, not to toss them aside.

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Black Panther Makes the MCU a Deeper, Richer Place


Black Panther
doesn’t have the aura of a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. Yes, it features allies and enemies we’ve met in prior outings like Age of Ultron and Civil War. Yes, it has a jovial vibe throughout its cast that buoys heavier moments. And yes, it has the mandatory, climactic third act battle, draped in CGI and stuffed with the usual fanfare.

But Black Panther also stands apart from the rest of Marvel’s offerings on the silver screen. It is unabashedly Afrocentric in its focus and in its approach. It is a forthrightly political film, meditating on the legacy of colonialism, the oppression of people of color around the world, and the push and pull of calls for isolationism and for global activism. Though squeezed into the standard hero movie structure, Black Panther takes its audience to a different space, one untouched by the rest of the world and, in some ways, untouched by the broader cinematic universe the film exists within, which gives the movie its unassuming strength.

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Groundhog Day at 25: Bill Murray Finds Freedom While Trapped in a Nightmare


It’s easy to think of science fiction and fantasy films in terms of their trappings, whether that be spaceships and lasers or swords and sorcery. But at their best, works in that genre aren’t about light speed or magic powers; they’re about thought experiments made whole, meant to probe the real world through a fictional one and to examine the human condition by stripping away the bounds of the impossible and seeing how much humanity is left.

That’s a lofty way to introduce an uproariously funny, Bill Murray-fronted comedy. But seen from that vantage point, Groundhog Day may be the sci-fi/fantasy film of the decade (with all due respect to The Matrix), despite its small-town setting and distinct lack of spells or space flights, because it uses its fantastical conceit to reveal what could, and what does, make us good.

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Breaking Down the First Season of Star Trek: Discovery

Andrew teams up with Clint Worthington to look back at Star Trek: Discovery‘s first season and decide how it measured up.

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Gilmore Girls: “A Vineyard Valentine” Presages Mad Men in One of Season 6′s Best Episodes

It’s rare that Gilmore Girls feels like Mad Men, no matter what the overlapping talents of Alexis Bledel, Danny Strong, and (very briefly) Jon Hamm on both shows might suggest. The former is more explicitly comedic and bright, while the latter is more capital-S Serious and apt to explore the dark corners.

Despite that, the two series have a surprising amount in common. While their tones differ, both shows are intimately concerned with their characters’ emotional states and how a mood or a feeling can carry or direct them through a given day. Both examine their protagonists’ sense of who they are, what place they occupy in the world, and how that translates to their treatment of those around them. And despite its heavier vibe, Mad Men could be hilarious, and despite its whimsical bent, Gilmore Girls was often incisive and heartbreaking.

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The Good Place Season 2 Gave Us Beautiful Lessons on Morality by Smashing the Status Quo

The first season of The Good Place was full of twists, and yet, in a way, the show subtly stuck to its guns. While our understanding of Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, Jason, and Janet changed, their situation remained the same, even if they didn’t realize it. Every episode took place in The Good Place, and almost every episode featured the four mortal beings making their way through that particular setup, while flashing back to their past missteps to underscore the lessons they were learning in the afterlife. The contours changed, but the premise remained the same.

Then, in Season 2, The Good Place turned its premise on its ear time and time again.

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Breaking Bad’s Pilot Has It All, And Yet Has Nothing

It’s all there. And none of it’s there.

As I talked about on the Pilot Study Podcast, the Breaking Bad pilot tells you everything you need to know to watch and understand the series. It gives you Walter White, the down-on-his-luck, spineless high school chemistry teacher who’s sleepwalking his way through life. It gives you the hint of an interest and a talent within him that goes unnoticed and unregarded by everyone around him. It gives you Skyler and Walt Jr., Hank and Marie, Jesse Pinkman and so many other figures who make up his world, with just enough color to get a sense for who they are. It gives you the cancer diagnosis that ignites something in Walt, that causes him to take control of his life. And it gives you the sense of the consequences of that change and that choice, the subtle transformation that sets him on a different trajectory.

But what isn’t present, what’s barely even hinted at in this first installment, is where that slow-burning transformation will take him. That’s the beauty of Breaking Bad, and it’s devotion to the idea of change embodied in Walt’s speech about chemistry. We see the first chemical reaction here, the catalyst that sends a lowly science teacher down a new path. We see brief sketches of his wife, his brother-in-law, and his new, less-than-reputable business partner. But we can’t see how much these individuals, and our view of them, will shift and flip over the ensuing five seasons of one of television’s all-time great dramas.

This pilot gives you everything you need to dip your toe into the world of Breaking Bad, but only gives the slightest hints as to how deep and how dark the water goes.

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Bob’s Burgers: Tina Belcher Chooses Girl Power over Stink Bombs in “V for Valentine-detta”


You could be forgiven for getting whiplash from the on-again, off-again romance between Tina Belcher (Dan Mintz), Bob’s Burgers’ resident love-struck tween, and Jimmy Jr. (H. Jon Benjamin), her longstanding crush. The show’s featured each one pursuing the other; it’s had them alternatively dating and feuding, and it’s even shown them pulling off wild stunts to impress the other, without ever really settling on a consistent level of interest, as befits the messy world of middle-school romance.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi Is About Making Mistakes, But the Trip to the Casino Planet Isn’t One of Them

Even viewers who loved The Last Jedi tend to point to its trip to Canto Bight — the luxurious planet full of well-heeled gamblers and wealthy libertines — as a misstep. It’s been decried as pointless, indulgent, and ultimately inessential to the other major events of Episode VIII.

But while not the strongest element of The Last Jedi, that sojourn to the casino planet is vital to Finn’s arc, to the animating ideas at the center of the film, and to the movie’s parting shot, in a way that fully justifies its inclusion in the movie, even one already pushing a 2 ½ hour runtime.

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Relief Can Only Be Temporary when The Good Place Takes the “Leap Into Faith”

The Good Place likes pulling the rug out from under its audience. Even before the big reveal in last season’s finale, the show was constantly offering twists. And it’s only gotten wilder from there.

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