Archive for the 'Television' Category

Contemplating the silver-screen impact of various science fiction masters, part 2

September 17, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 17, 2016

Yesterday, I took a quick survey of the number of feature films based on the work of several different science fiction grand masters, taking into account some of their TV adaptations as well. Now, I conclude that all of the stuff I wrote about adds up to…

Well, not very much, I guess.

The truth is that numerous factors make it difficult to adapt many of these novels and stories properly. For one thing, to be blunt, some of the science fiction grand masters’ writing just isn’t very good. Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, to single out two, were not exactly known for their lively characterizations.

Moreover, much of the grand masters’ work offers little in the way of cultural and sexual diversity. This is especially true of the oldest stories by the oldest writers. (A notable exception is Ursula K. Le Guin’s many explorations into radically different future societies.)

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Contemplating the silver-screen impact of various science fiction masters, part 1

September 16, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 16, 2016

In 1975, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America presented its first ever Grand Master Award to the prolific Robert Heinlein, who ultimately authored 32 novels and 16 anthologies. The writer, who died in 1988, is probably best known for his novels Stranger in a Strange LandThe Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and Starship TroopersLocus, a trade magazine for the science fiction, fantasy and horror publishing industry, named Heinlein its all-time best author in 1977, 1987, 1988, 1998 and 1999.

Stranger in a Strange Land, which was published in 1961, was a precursor to the sexual revolution and helped define the free-love hippie aesthetic; it also introduced the word grok (to understand profoundly and intuitively) into the language. Just two years ago, Heinlein was the subject of a 624-page authorized biography.

Heinlein was one of the indisputable legends of 20th-century science fiction, but he’s had surprisingly little influence on the world of movies. In the 35 years preceding his death, only a single Hollywood production was openly based on his work — 1953’s Project Moon Base. (That said, The Brain Eaters, released in 1958, was an uncredited adaptation of Heinlein’s novel The Puppet Masters; the author sued the producers and settled out of court, according to the invaluable Internet Movie Database.)

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Memo to Donald: Everyone loves a mischievous television scamp

June 18, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
June 18, 2016

Yesterday, I surveyed the troubled state of the campaign of New York real-estate mogul and reality-TV star Donald Trump. Today, I wanted to offer a modest proposal aimed at revitalizing his run for the presidency.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Trump is a master at grabbing the attention of the news media, largely because he says a lot of outrageous things. It’s a truth nearly as widely accepted, however, that an alarmingly high proportion of the outrageous things he says earn him condemnation.

My solution is simple: Turn the candidate’s liability into an asset by casting Trump as an archetypal sitcom character that everyone recognizes and loves.

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That was the championship that was

April 8, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 8, 2016

Going into Monday night, it had been an entire year since a team from the Research Triangle — the cities and surroundings of Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh — had won an NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship game. The top-seeded University of North Carolina Tar Heels hoped to end our region’s long title drought when it took on underdog Villanova, a No. 2 seed that had upset No. 1 Kansas in the Elite Eight and steamrolled fellow No. 2 Oklahoma in the Final Four with a 95-51 win Saturday evening.

Because I’ve been suffering from a low-level cold and/or mid- to high-level allergy attack for much of the past two weeks, I considered not watching any of the title game. (I don’t have a television at home, and I forgot that the game was available online.)

After some hemming and hawing, I decided that I would watch the game at a local bar. At that point, the contest had already started. Since I didn’t want to watch the end of the first half, I noodled around on my phone on a bench at one edge of Durham Central Park before strolling over to my destination: Motorco, which was showing the game for free in its main hall and which has a late-night restaurant that it calls Parts & Labor. (The building housed a car dealership for nearly two decades.)

I ordered some food and set myself up at a high table on the patio where I could watch one of the projection-screen televisions. I ate a couple of chicken sliders while the second half got under way; once that was done, I grabbed my glass of water and the remnants of my bottle of Miller High Life and walked over to the music hall. I picked out a seat on one of the tables that had been arrayed there.

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The promising but forgotten pilot ‘Earth Star Voyager’ delivers moderately entertaining science fiction content

January 29, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 29, 2016

My illness-induced quest for mindless entertainment extended beyond watching the dire Star Wars Holiday Special. Thanks to the magic of YouTube’s algorithms, I stumbled upon Earth Star Voyager, a three-hour television pilot from 1988 that I believe originally aired under the rubric of an anthology show known either as Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color or The Wonderful World of Disney.

I’m not sure whether the program was first broadcast on ABC, CBS or Disney’s cable channel. What I do know is that at some point, I saw at least part of it, and I remembered it fondly.

The premise is pretty straightforward: In 2088, the powers that be assign 115 mainly young officers and hands to the Earth Star Voyager, a new ship that features the Bowman drive, a cutting-edge propulsion system that can make crewed interstellar flight practical. Because Earth is a toxic, overcrowded dump, humanity is in desperate need of a new home, and a potential site has been found. Earth Star Voyager’s mission is to embark upon the first crewed excursion to another star so it can evaluate the candidate planet firsthand. Because the trip will take decades, the crew will spend nightly sleep periods in suspended animation; the ship also has a nursery to accommodate the children who will be born en route.

But the ship has only just gotten under way before Captain Forbes (Ric Reid) is ejected from an airlock, apparently due to the deliberate malice of an unknown crew member. That leaves the ship in the hands of its untested 21-year-old executive officer, Jonathan Hays (Brian McNamara), and his highly trained but inexperienced command team: Hays’s close friend, the 14-year-old computer specialist and all-around young super-genius Jessie Bienstock (Jason Michas); cocky navigator Huxley Welles (Tom Bresnahan), age 18; the 24-year-old ship’s doctor, Sally Arthur (Julia Montgomery, the female lead from Revenge of the Nerds); and the 22-year-old psychiatrist, Leland Eugene (Bruce Harwood, who went on to become one of The X-Files’s Lone Gunmen).

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Ask not for whom the sharknado tolls…

August 2, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 2, 2015

My contributions to the Sharknado canon, courtesy of some late-July Twitter brainstorming. Get at me, Syfy!

Sharknado 4: The Sharkening

Sharknado 5: Just When You Thought It was Safe to Leave the Storm Cellar…

Sharknado 6: Sharklahoma!

Sharknado 7: Into Sharkness

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A brief history of ‘Star Trek’

March 10, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 10, 2015

Author’s note: I know the blog has been Star Trek–heavy lately, thanks to all the musings prompted by the recent death of actor Leonard Nimoy. As it happens, I recently acquired DVDs of the four movies starring the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast, and I watched one of them the other night. But before I wrote about the film proper, I wanted to put it in the context of the Star Trek franchise.

Also, I recently read two books: Sweet Tooth, a spy novel by Ian McEwan, and The Lecturer’s Tale, an academic satire by James Hynes. Please bear with me… I’ll get back to non-Trek programming soon, I promise! MEM

Creator Gene Roddenberry envisioned the television show now known as Star Trek: The Original Series as being a “Wagon Train to the stars.” Despite its status now as a pop-culture icon, the program — which chronicled the 23rd-century adventures of Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock and the crew of the starship Enterprise — got off to a rocky start. In 1968, two years after its debut, NBC executives decided to commission a third season only after fans mounted a letter-writing campaign. But the show was canceled for good in 1969.

The franchise limped along over the next decade. A cartoon version featuring most of the original cast, which is now called Star Trek: The Animated Series, was produced for the 1973-74 TV season.

But Trek survived mainly in the form of reruns; this was how (and when) I first came to know the show as a young child. Trek fans were also able to enjoy print adaptations of the TV episodes, original stories told in novel and comic-book form, and a variety of franchise-themed toys and clothing. After the cartoon show was scuttled, however, there were no new television or cinematic adventures to be seen.

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After Genesis: More notes on the evolution of ‘Star Trek’ and Spock following ‘The Wrath of Khan’

March 9, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 9, 2015

The recent death of actor Leonard Nimoy prompted me to watch and think about the ending of Star Trek II: The Wrath of KhanThat 1982 film, which was written by Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards and directed by Nicholas Meyer, is probably the high point of the Star Trek franchise.

(Note: As with my previous post, this blog entry contains mild spoilers. Of course, it’s for a 33-year-old movie, but anyway, you’ve been warned: There be spoilers ahead.)

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Farewell to Spock: Notes on the poignant denouement of ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

March 6, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 6, 2015

After hearing that actor Leonard Nimoy, famous for portraying Mr. Spock from Star Trek, had died last week at age 83, I did the same thing as many thousands of others, and perhaps hundreds of thousands of others: I watched this clip from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

If you’ve never seen that movie, and if you care nothing for the Star Trek franchise, then move on; this blog post will be of no interest to you. If you like Star Trek but haven’t seen The Wrath of Khan, then by all means bookmark this page and put off reading the rest of this blog entry until you’ve watched the entire film.

(Yes, friends: There be spoilers ahead.)

If you’ve seen the movie, then you know the grim climactic details that I avoided spelling out in my post about the afternoon I went to watch Star Trek II in the movie theaters.

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Farewell to Spock: On seeing, and suffering through, ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

March 4, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 4, 2015

Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, died Friday morning. That sad occasion prompted me to mull the first time I watched Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which many (including me) consider to be the best of all the Star Trek films.

The Star Trek universe is largely a positive place, especially as depicted in the original TV series, which aired from 1966 through 1969. Yes, conflict exists, but in general, Star Trek was a much more family-friendly milieu than that depicted in landmark 1970s science-fiction entertainment such as AlienOutlandCapricorn OneSaturn 3 or even Star Wars. (Granted, George Lucas’s universe is pretty PG-friendly. But there’s very little in early Star Trek that approaches the seediness that the first Star Wars film displayed in the scenes at the Mos Eisley cantina and the Death Star trash compactor.)

Star Trek II takes a very different approach from earlier Trek. In many ways, the film — written by Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards and directed by Nicholas Meyer — is a rehearsal of mortality. In the opening scene, the Enterprise is brutally attacked by Klingons while on a rescue mission; Spock, chief communications officer Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), helmsman Sulu (George Takei) and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) are killed before the ship’s master, a fresh-faced female Vulcan named Saavik (Kirstie Alley) gives the order to abandon ship.

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Puns on the loose: A very silly list of renamed sitcoms

April 21, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 21, 2014

Yes, it’s another list — this time of unappealingly renamed sitcoms.

• Unhappy Days

• I Loathe Lucy

• The Cosby Shoe

• Mork Murders Mindy

• Laverne and Shirley and John Wayne Gacy

It’s Always Grungy in Philadelphia

How I Ate Your Mother

• Two and a Half Carcasses

Family Bondage

• Alf Autopsy

• Everybody Punches Raymond

• Gilligan’s Graveyard


• Charles de Gaulle in Charge

• Charles in Chains

• The Gallstone Girls

Puns on the loose: A very silly science fiction list

April 18, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 18, 2014

And now, this blog humbly presents some alternative, and far less appealing, names for some well-known (and otherwise) science fiction franchises.

Star Bores

• Star Dreck

• Battlefarts Galactica

• The PG-13 Files

• Starship Bloopers

• All-But-Dissertation Who

• Agents of I.R.S.

• Blade Cleaner

• Peninsula of the Apes

• RoboMeterMaid

Sept. 11, 2001: George Bush’s Odyssey 

• Men in Gray Flannel Suits

• Fahrenheit 51

• Invasion of the Body Sculptors

• The Lamest American Zero

• Infinitesimal Leap

Logan’s 5K

• seaQuest DVR

• The Six Million Dollar Hip Replacement

• Buck Rogers in the 21st Century

Practice imperfect: Two anecdotes

March 9, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 9, 2014

Despite my becoming a passionate football fan in college, and my having a few stints, strictly part-time, as a sports reporter, I’ve attended football practices only on rare occasions.

My knowledge of the sport is strictly that of the layman — someone who has never played the game or studied it seriously. Practice drills likely wouldn’t provide me with much insight into the quality of a football team, its members or its plays.

I distinctly remember attending two Stanford football practices, however, in that long-ago time when I was a student and would-be sports reporter.

What I believe was the second such occasion was on a cloudy, damp autumn or fall afternoon, presumably definitely in 1992, when I somehow had reason to interview record-setting Cardinal kicker Eric Abrams for a student radio or newspaper story that is now long forgotten. (Update: It was definitely 1992, when Abrams was a freshman.)

There’s no question why this episode sticks in my mind: Because I made a gaffe and embarrassed myself.

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Two men enter. Hilarity ensues: A tribute to Key and Peele

September 28, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 28, 2013

As I wrote last month, for years I have lived without a television in my various homes. And as I alluded to in that piece (without saying it explicitly), for years I went without watching much in the way of web video.

Why not? Well, there were various reasons. (There always are with me.) One was that during two lengthy periods from 2008 through 2011, as web video was really taking off, I didn’t have Internet available at home. Another was that my tentative experiments watching web videos weren’t very successful: For whatever reason, they just didn’t load or play very quickly on my Macintosh laptop.

My aversion to web videos started to change in mid-2012, after I got a tablet. Web videos still sometimes can take a second or so to load on the device, and occasionally the playback annoyingly stutters or pauses when it outpaces the download. But this seems to happen relatively infrequently with the tablet.

So I ended up spending time with the tablet’s YouTube application, finding videos that I liked and subscribing to the “channels” that purveyed those videos. While I branched out a bit, discovering the Crackle service, my preferences when watching videos on the tablet boil down to these characteristics: short and funny.

By short, I mean no more than five or six minutes (but not ultra-short, which I consider anything shorter than two minutes). By funny, I mean — well, take a look at the channels to which I’ve subscribed: College Humor. Funny or Die. How It Should Have Ended, whose humorous animated shorts improve on the endings of popular movies and video games. The Onion. Screen Junkies, who first drew my attention with their hilarious Honest Trailers. (Sample lines from their skewering of World War Z: “[A]nother zombie movie… But this time, it’s got Brad Pitt! Get ready for the big-screen adaptation of the best-selling novel that’s got everything you loved about…the title! And nothing else.”)

But that’s not all! Here are some of my other channel subscriptions: Sarah Silverman. Comediva, whose work puts female comedians front and center. Potter Puppet Pals, which spoofs the Harry Potter series. Rachel Does Stuff, which boasts singing, stand-up comedy and sketches from Rachel Bloom. 1A4Studio, which condenses popular films into hilarious one-minute animated “speedruns.” TransolarGalactica, which puts a darkly comedic spin on space opera.

Oh, and then there’s Comedy Central.

Which brings me to the point of this post — the confession that I must offer to ease my troubled soul. You see, my friends… My name is Matthew E. Milliken, and I have Key & Peele fever.

Who or what, you may ask, are Key and Peele? I’m glad you asked! Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are comics who have an eponymous variety show airing Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.

And did I mention that Key and Peele are downright hysterical? Because they are.

You may already know Key and Peele from their first East/West College Bowl skit, which lampooned the names of NCAA football players. Or perhaps you caught the duo in 2012 portraying President Obama and Luther, his “anger translator.” If comedic parodies of horror films that not-so-subtly comment on societal racism is your bag — that’s a well-established subgenre, right? — then perhaps you’ve seen Key and Peele’s “Suburban Zombies” sketch. Or maybe your passion for social justice and hiphop led you to see the pair’s Gandhi vs. Martin Luther King Jr. entry in the second season of the “Epic Rap Battles of History” web series.

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BR25C: Return of the Fighting 69th

June 3, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
June 3, 2013

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

“Return of the Fighting 69th” — Season 1, Episode 8

Originally aired ———————————


Our story begins with four starfighters pursuing a stolen freighter. Buck Rogers, Col. Wilma Deering and two trainees are in the hunt, but when enemy fighters engage, the freighter escapes into the Necrosis asteroid belt. Against orders, the cadets fly after it, but they are destroyed almost immediately, presumably by asteroids.

Back in Dr. Elias Huer’s office, an upset Rogers demands to know what was so important that two badly underprepared pilots were exposed to danger and death. Huer has a chilling answer: The ship was loaded with nerve gas and other ancient weapons that had been slated for destruction. Based on the freighter’s destination, those instruments of death are in the hands of gunrunners Korless and Trent, who are undoubtedly determined to use them against Earth.

A pre-emptive strike against the Necrosis asteroid base is imperative, Huer declares, and Noah Cooper — a retired pilot intimately familiar with the deadly Necrosis asteroid belt — must lead it. Deering balks, but Huer orders her to attempt to recruit Cooper.

It emerges that Cooper and his surviving squadron mates from the Fighting 69th were mentors and pseudo-family to a young Deering, whom they affectionately refer to as Dizzy D because of her antics in the pilots’ ready room. But recently, the colonel disqualified all the squadron’s members from flight duty because they flunked their physicals. Read the rest of this entry »

BR25C: The Plot to Kill a City

May 28, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 28, 2013 

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

“The Plot to Kill a City” — Season 1, Episodes 6 and 7

Originally aired Oct. 11 and 18, 1979


Our hero enters a bar and finds Rafael Argus, a notorious assassin. A scuffle ensues that ends with Buck Rogers seemingly knocking Argus unconscious. Dr. Elias Huer scans Argus’ mind. Afterward, Huer tells Rogers and Col. Wilma Deering that Argus is about to be inducted into an organization called the Legion of Death. (It is also referred to at least once as the League of Interstellar Mercenaries.)

As the trio leaves Huer’s office, a bomb explodes, knocking down Twiki and Dr. Theopolis. Both are unharmed, but Rogers is disturbed. It turns out that this is part of a string of bombings that the league (or legion) has undertaken in order to avenge Earth’s having killed a legion (or league) member. Rogers agrees to take part in an effort to defang the Legion of Death.

Since Argus operates in the shadows, Huer says, no one in the legion about to welcome him into its ranks has a clear-cut idea of what he looks like. Thus Rogers shall assume his identity. Deering will also go undercover in a backup effort to discover how the legion intends to take its revenge on Earth. Huer briefs the pair on legion members: strategist Kellogg, psychokinetic Quince, token female Cherise and tough guy Markos.

Rogers dons Argus’ S&M outfit and heads to Argus’ ship. A very somber Huer outfits Rogers with special capsules that unleash a few seconds of darkness. After they say farewell, the protagonist enters the spaceship, which is controlled by a sassy female-voiced computer.

En route to the stargate, three police starfighters intercept Argus’ ship. Rogers unsuccessfully attempts to evade them but is taken into custody. He is, evidently without any questioning, placed into a holding cell with a rogue named Barney. After perhaps two minutes of confinement, they are able to escape (the entire prison — which on-screen evidence indicates has a staff of just two!!!) using a classic Star Trek-style diversion and a darkness capsule. Earth-system policemen are made to seem fairly incompetent in this sequence, despite their ability to apprehend Argus-cum-Rogers. Read the rest of this entry »

BR25C: Vegas in Space

May 20, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 20, 2013

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Vegas in Space — Season 1, Episode 5


The episode opens with Buck Rogers and Col. Wilma Deering unsuccessfully battling “hatchet fighters,” which confound the starfighters’ automatic targeting systems. Rogers’ vessel sustains a direct hit, but this turns out to be only a training exercise.

The Earth squadron having been supposedly demolished by what are described as the remarkably speedy and maneuverable hatchet fighters, a discouraged Deering orders all ships to return to base. En route, Rogers tries to persuade the colonel that the Terran pilots can destroy their enemies if the computer initiates targeting but humans actually pull the trigger. Deering is skeptical, saying that the Earthlings are unable to do so.

In New Chicago, a young woman named Felina returns home and reviews her video messages. (Rather charmingly and quaintly, these appear to have been recorded on some kind of linear tape device — there’s a tell-tale squeal when Felina hits the rewind button.) The second of two messages is an urgent warning from the woman’s boss, who tells her to leave her apartment immediately because she is in danger. Just after a perplexed Felina finishes watching the message, she is surprised by something off-screen that has been stalking her since she arrived home. Read the rest of this entry »

BR25C: Planet of the Slave Girls (two-parter)

February 18, 2013

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Planet of the Slave Girls

Season 1, Episodes 3 and 4


As the episode opens, Buck Rogers and Col. Wilma Deering are approaching Earth after a scouting and/or training flight that has evidently lasted some days. A scanner on their starfighter, which Rogers is piloting, calls their attention to an Earth Directorate starfighter that is being attacked by two pirate ships. Rogers successfully engages the pirates, thereby sparing the life of Cadet Regus Saroyan, who has fallen out of formation from a training flight led by Major Duke Danton.

Danton is annoyed both that Saroyan fell behind and that Rogers intervened. Rogers is annoyed that Danton is annoyed, and they spar verbally. Deering comes on the channel to say that Rogers’ actions were fully warranted. (“Wilma!” Danton exclaims when Earth’s top military officer first joins the radio exchange. “I mean, Col. Deering.” “Right on both counts,” she replies.)

After the starfighters land, Saroyan collapses and is sent to a health clinic. Rogers and Danton exchange more heated words. Deering asks Danton to have Rogers as a guest lecturer on 20th century battle tactics; when Danton balks, she orders him to follow through.

Deering then checks on Saroyan, who is among a huge number of starfighter pilots who have fallen ill while she and Rogers have been away. Deering and Dr. Huer visit Dr. Mallory; he and a computer named Carl are researching the illness. They’ve discovered that the disease stems from contaminated food discs, all of which were manufactured on the agricultural planet Vistula.

Rogers’ turn as a guest lecturer for Danton is a fiasco. The major, obviously irked by his guest, goads his class to laugh as Rogers discusses battle strategies in terms of the ancient game of football. The class devolves into Rogers and Danton tackling each other.

Vistula turns out to be home to a very charismatic and belligerent rabble-rouser named Kaleel. He tells his followers that soon they will go into battle and take their revenge on the Earthlings who have enslaved them. Kaleel has the ability to make his hands glow red and kill a person with the barest touch; he demonstrates this ability on a man whose wife calls him out as being skeptical of the leader. The adoring crowd chants Kaleel’s name.

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