Tom Swift, Strange New Worlds, Lost in Space: Minor media maunderings

As a result of consuming too much television, I have idle thoughts on some shows I saw recently. What all these thoughts have in common is my dissatisfaction compared to the source material.

Tom Swift

This is a new CW series. Like Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, Tom Swift is based on a long-running series of books for young people. In fact, Tom Swift is older than the other two, having begun in 1910.

I was fan of Tom Swift when I was a teen-ager. To be specific, I read as many of the Tom Swift, Jr. books as I could get my hands on. The books were about the adventures of the son of the original character of Tom Swift. (Later, there was a series featuring Tom Swift III; there have been even later series that went back to Tom Swift as the son of the original.)

I understand that the Tom Swift of the TV series is black and queer. Good; the more representation of diversity, the better. However, this Tom Swift is not the one I remember. The adventures of “my” Tom Swift were those of a young inventor, exploring the world and solving problems. He was one of the many inspirations I had that led to my career as a scientist.

The Tom Swift TV series is more of a soap opera involving billionaires. In fact, the series began with a scientific impossibility: real-time communication to Saturn (the planet is about a light-hour away). I can’t imagine any young person being inspired towards a career in science or engineering based on this series.

That’s a shame. The BIPOC and queer communities desperately need more role models of people successful in research. Heck, our nation needs more role models of science and invention. This series isn’t it.

Of course, no series is required to match my headcanon. But I won’t be watching any more of this series.

Strange New Worlds

Last week’s episode was a blend of two episodes of the original series: “Amok Time” and “Turnabout Intruder”. If you’re going to mix one of Star Trek‘s best episodes with one of its worst, you have a very difficult path to walk. The Strange New Worlds episode “Amok Spock” did not make it.

I’ll repeat an observation I made about the first episode of the series: It’s canonical that Vulcan don’t kiss. They cross their upraised pairs of fingers. This was shown in “The Enterprise Incident” in the original series, and in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

I know this is a geeky super-Trekker observation. But if you make a series that’s using characters and plot points from the original series, you’re going to invite geeky super-Trekker comments.

Now we come to today’s episode, which turns out to be a combination of “The Cloud Minders” and “Spock’s Brain”. To be fair, it was better than either of those original episodes.

But it’s establishing a pattern: so far, the plot of a Strange New Worlds episode looks like the writers are rolling a 78-sided die twice to pick out plot elements of the original series and putting them together. I’d like to see something more original, not a regurgitation that attempts (and fails) to impress geeky super-Trekkers like myself.

If you think I’m holding Strange New Worlds up to too high a standard, I’ll point out that two fan-made continuations of the original series, Star Trek Continues and Star Trek: New Voyages, managed on average to do better than we’ve seen so far on Strange New Worlds.

Lost In Space

In an earlier blog post, I reviewed the first two seasons of Netflix’s Lost in Space. To be complete, I might as well wrap up the review.

First, a correction: in my earlier review, I said that the character of Judy Robinson was an adopted member of the Robinson family. I was wrong. Judy Robinson is Maureen Robinson’s daughter from a previous marriage. Mea culpa.

In the first episode of that third season, there were at least two “Danger, Will Robinson” jokes. I had to grit my teeth to get through them.

Fortunately, after that bit of fan-baiting, the series settled down to telling a series of space adventures. On that level, it wasn’t bad. The series headed into the conclusion hinted at six decades ago: the Robinsons finally reach Alpha Centauri.

To its credit, the series also managed to find a reasonable motive for the behavior of its primary antagonist. There was only one troubling plot point: At one point, that antagonist carefully crafts a crime scene to look as if someone else had committed a murder. Up until that point, and after that point, the antagonist was shown ripping through walls to get to its goals, with no subtlety whatsoever. Oh, well; sometimes sloppy writing is sloppy.

When we finally get to the end: Doctor Smith redeems herself… I guess. I had difficulty believing her motives. It felt like another nod towards fan service.

The final scene had Will and the Robot going off on space adventures of their own. Wish fulfillment to satisfy the 60+-year-old Will-Robinson fans of the original series? I can’t say. It seemed like too much treacle to me, but I’m only one such fan.

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