Saturday, May 10, 2014

Captain's Log: Galaxy Treks

Jonathan Frakes--William T. Riker (and Thomas Riker) in Star Trek: The Next Generation and director of the feature films Star Trek: First Contact and ST: Insurrection is today a busy television director.  Just in 2014 and 2013 he's directed episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Switched At Birth, NCIS: Los Angeles, Falling Skies, Burn Notice, King & Maxwell, The Glades and Castle.

One of his Castle episodes last year was called "The Final Frontier" and took place at a Comic-Con type convention.  Mystery writer Richard Castle is played by Nathan Fillion, star of Firefly, so there are plenty of Trek and Firefly in-jokes.  Fillion imitates both William Shatner and Patrick Stewart, and as Castle he signs an autograph for a man who says he's his #1 fan--it's Frakes in an uncredited cameo.

Also in the cast is Armin Shimerman as a salesman of s/f replica ray-guns whose pitch sounds a lot like Quark trying to make a deal.

The murder story takes place in a starship replica set where fans can have an experience with the actual star of a cult failed science fiction series.  However this isn't a case of going where no TV series has gone before--CSI for one also investigated a murder on an Enterprise-like bridge at a convention.  But both are as much homages to the movie Galaxy Quest, which of course was inspired by Star Trek and its fans.

This Castle episode ran last season but the DVDs of it are new this year.  On the commentary Frakes thanks the producers for allowing him to "make Galaxy Quest," especially as it allowed him to portray the convention atmosphere with affection.

Frakes by the way does commentaries very well--informative and funny, and actually about the show you're watching.  I've been watching DVDs of Leverage, which ran on TNT from 2008 to 2012. Frakes directed episodes throughout that series (including a "First Contact" ep I haven't seen yet.) One of his first season episodes also featured Shimerman and Brent Spiner (Data.)  But Leverage featured Trek actors even when Frakes wasn't directing (Jeri Ryan had a recurring major role for most of one season) and there are Trek (and Doctor Who) references in almost every episode.  This series did a lot of commentaries, most of them pretty good--they're a funny but astute course in contemporary series television.  One of the best so far was to this episode ("The Juror #6 Job") and Frakes was a big part of it.  For example, apart from all the profound story reasons, they did this episode because they had a courtroom set left over from Boston Legal.

Wil Wheaton was one of the Trek actors who did a Leverage episode, and he has since become a recurring guest on The Big Bang Theory.  Wheaton is a remarkable story--from being often reviled by fans who hated Wesley Crusher to a much admired geek icon today.

Articulate, intelligent, sincere and funny, Wheaton engineered his rehabilitation largely through the Internet, but he's not the only Trek figure who has made a new name for himself in cyberspace.  A recent American Prospect article is called:George Takei, Living Long and Prospering from Social Media, subtitled How the former Star Trek star has become internet’s funny, corny uncle and its moral compass.

Based on his role as Captain Picard as well as Professor X, Patrick Stewart (another Twitter star) became the first living actor to appear on the cover of Smithsonian Magazine (where I published a half dozen articles in what seems like a former life) for their s/f issue. Here's his interview.  The issue also includes interesting observations by s/f authors on the apparently opposite utopia/dystopia trends for the future.

As space science continues to make discoveries suggesting possibilities of alien life (such as a liquid sea the size of Lake Superior on a Saturn moon, waves on a methane sea on Titan, but especially the discovery of a rocky planet close to the size of Earth, an "Earth cousin" that "may be capable of supporting life as we know it,") the New Yorker speculates on what alien intelligence might actually be like--and whether we would even recognize it.  After all, we haven't been so astute on recognizing other intelligences on Earth.

Finally, a sad note: the death of Nancy Malone, who among her many accomplishments as an actor and director, directed several episodes of Star Trek: Voyager. May she rest in peace.  Her work lives on.  

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