with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Trying to Recover and Reviewing Favorite TV Shows

After the trailer was set up, the water damage discovered and dismissed as overwhelming our stressed-out level, and some dinner consumed, Brent and I both sat at the small dining table in our trailer, laptops open. He drifted off into music and poking at his computer then moved to his guitar, playing in the bedroom sitting on the bed. I sat at the table and disappeared into the world of American television.

Before leaving Israel and a permanent Internet connection, and at Brent’s parent’s where I hooked up our wireless router to their high speed internet, I’ve been downloading television shows from eDonkey. I can’t get Kazaa to work after installing Microsoft’s Windows XP SP2 update consistently. It works for a day or two and then doesn’t. I can’t figure out the trick yet. But eDonkey is working. I tried LimeWire but unless the file had a tons of offerings, it was too slow from Israel. eDonkey isn’t the best but it is still working after the XP SP2 install. It’s a good improvement and install but the Windows XP SP2 update takes over your machine and does a little too much to help you automatically (without your permission) as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway, I’ve been grabbing the latest episodes of Star Trek Enterprise, West Wing, and Gilmore Girls, as well as Stargate, Andromeda and That 70s Show. Shows that I have eclectic tastes, doesn’t it. Since I don’t have access to a VCR hooked up to anything, and Brent’s parent’s cable is as simplistic in choices as cheaply possible, and we’ve been moving so hard and fast that sitting in front of the TV isn’t possible, this is the only way for me to go. I have started researching Tivo and the new media choices available, but I haven’t had much time to do much with it.

I sat at the table after dinner and glued myself to my laptop screen. I watched three episodes of Star Trek Enterprise, and three of Gilmore Girls. Wow. That’s more television than I’ve watched in the past six months or more combined. With the stress of the trip and change, it felt good to almost disappear into another world or two.

So here are my reviews of the new Star Trek Enterprise season and Gilmore Girls, since I’ve had concentrated viewing of them lately.

Star Trek Enterprise

The first three seasons Star Trek Enterprise felt like it was searching for what it was to become. The first season had a child-like playfulness as the group learned to live in space and cope with the new technology. They all faced their fears, and learned what their strengths and weaknesses were. But then something happened in season two and three. It started to get adventurous but a little stale. There were a few highlights with interesting story lines and moral challenges such as the episode “Dear Doctor” where the crew run across a planet with a dying population taking desperate measures to cure itself by seeking assistance from outer space, yet their sub-population of “slaves” appears to be the successor in the survival of the fittest. The main population is dying because their genes are dying out in the battle in evolution and they think it is a disease. The moral issue faced by the crew is whether to tell them or just let nature take its course. That was a great episode worthy of the greatest moral challenges faced by prior Star Trek casts.

The third season’s story line was jammed pack with the car chase, Gunsmoke meets Starsky and Hutch, with a little Gilligan’s Island thrown in for color. The crew must defend Earth against an attack by a group of aliens they trace to an area of space called the Expanse, an unholy terror of space anomalies and raiders. They travel to the Expanse, turn a little savage in their determination to survive against the overwhelming odds and save Earth from the alien terrorists, but they run into one of the most popular story line hooks from the very beginning of Star Trek history: time travel. Aliens from the future tied with humans who have mastered time travel in the future are having a temporal war and Enterprise is the major twist in their ability to succeed at every level. These two story lines, time travel wars and save Earth, get twisted in on themselves and entangled as the viewer tried to keep up with the switching plots. Eventually the connection between the time travel and alien terrorists are made, but a lot of it seems a little too easy and pat. But you are still on an interesting ride.

The season finale, though, was a mind blower. Brent stood over my shoulder as I watched the final scenes with a reptilian looking creature in a Nazi uniform stood over Captain Archer in a Nazi field hospital, German language babbling away in the background. “Star Trek meets Sliders?” he asked. I had to agree with those last 30 seconds of the show. We were left hanging for the summer hiatus, eager to find out what the hell happened.

Season four starts and we find that the temporal war hasn’t ended, but it is still going on and the writers and producers have finally pulled off a couple of episodes that encompass the very things that made the most successful Star Trek episodes so famous: time travel and Nazis. One of the most famous original Star Trek episodes still voted high by fans is the one staring a young Joan Collins and William Shatner falling in love during World War II on a time travel journey back to Earth in the 1940s called “The Edge of Tomorrow”. In the season opener for Enterprise, Archer finds himself in the 1940s during an alternative earth history. The Nazis, with alien assistance, have moved onto US soil and have taken over the east coast of the states. He has to help the Americans break into the Nazi/alien encampment and destroy the technology there. Lasting two episodes, it doesn’t come close to the intrigue and emotional drama of “Edge of Tomorrow” but it tries.

In the third episode, Enterprise returns home as heros who saved the planet, though how famous they are and how they know they are heros is fairly weakly covered and jumped over. This hurts the plot line that deals with Archer’s battle to hold his calm while being interrogated by Starfleet and the Vulcan ambassador. We just don’t quite understand his anger. I thought he’d come to terms with the Vulcan’s attitude of logic and restraint, but it seems he hasn’t and is carrying a head of pissed off-edness. By the end of the show, we find out that a lot of it is guilt over what he did in the Expanse in order to save Earth and his crew, as well as his fear of the horrors he has seen out there being met by new Earth explorers heading out into space ill-prepared, as he and his crew were. But it takes a while for us to get the clue and that is irritating. All we see is him angry for a long time.

The better story line has Trip going to Vulcan with Ta’pal. We all know they are in love with each other and yet they can’t see it. Even when they figure it out, Ta’pal decides to marry her Vulcan fiancé to protect her mother from the Vulcan government’s actions in retaliation for Enterprise interfering with a Vulcan spy post. Instead of interfering, Trip decides to let it happen to save Ta’pal from the stress of knowing he was in love with her. This is really interesting and they could have done even more with it, but we are left with only the tantalizing teaser of love unrequited. In the next episode, there is little reference to her marriage and we are wondering what is going on…teasing us on, I know.

The next three episodes are what I would call the very best Enterprise has delivered, and mostly this is due to the phenomenal performance by Brent Spiner returning to the Star Trek fold as Arik Soong, Noonien Soong’s great-great-grandfather, a genius scientist who turned to the dark side when it came to genetic manipulation and was in prison for his transgressions. Through the three episodes, Brent Spiner’s acting is superb, a little bit of Data, Noonien Soong, and the rough draft what eventually became those two characters, as if the gene pool actually passed down psychological as well as physiological traits. He pushes the limit as he explores the sanity of insanity and genius, playing Archer and his crew against himself and others to get his way. Brilliant.

These three episodes also deal with part of the history line of Star Trek involving the Eugenics War, created by Gene Rodenberry in the original Star Trek, and brought to life with the excellent acting and physical presence of Ricardo Montalban as Kahn Noonien Soong . This prescience of the original Star Trek series is handled deftly and beautifully, and it is refreshing for fans to see these connections, especially when the tie-ins are intentional. Arik Soong is part of the crimes commited during the Eugenics Wars and after which created Kahn Noonien Soong. Kahn and his team of despots are put into cryogenic sleep and launched into space in a humanitarian gesture to eventually encounter Kirk and his crew who wakes them. Noonien Soong creates Data. Well done.

The first of the three episodes also introduces the viewers to a short speak at the mysterious Orions, featuring their oversexed women and, for the first time, the barbarous men. Most of the Orions, painted with green body paint, are current or former wrestlers and stunt men, choices for their brawn. The lead Orion was the popular TV wrestler, Big Show, someone I’ve never heard of, but he carried off the ugly slave auctioneer very well. You wanted to hate the slimy guy instantly.

The next two episodes deal with a government power struggle on Vulcan that comes to life after a terrorist attack on the Earth Embassy on Vulcan, killing the long time Star Trek Enterprise’s Admiral Forrest, played by Vaughn Armstrong, which gives the crew motivation to solve the puzzle of the terrorist attack, and deals with more of the fears of terrorism in the United States. Star Trek has always dealt with topical current events within its story lines, changing the names and places but still trying to show the different sides of an issue such as AIDS, slavery, prejudice, and politics. Last season and this one have an undertone of the threats of terrorism and battling against enemies you don’t comprehend.

In this two part series, the last I’ve seen so far, it is fascinating to see the plot thicken to help us understand that the IDIC and Surak’s teachings didn’t just arrive with the Vulcans. The planet’s civilization may be old, and their ways old, compared to Earth, but here is a plot that shows us that even before Kirk and Spock overcame their differences to become best friends, Enterprise helped Vulcans redefine themselves as spiritual, psychic and logical “people”. Interesting twists.

So I’m very thrilled with the new season of Enterprise. They are really getting back to their roots and adding drama and brilliant character development without sappy, tired stories or rehashing old story lines without much imagination. The characters are well developed and are performing better in their acting skins. I’m very happy with it and can’t wait for the next episode, something I haven’t been able to say for the past two seasons. Keep up the great work folks.

Gilmore Girls

I am totally ecstatic with the plot changes to get Luke and Lorelei together. Totally thrilled. The last season’s finale had me biting the bit and watching all the peer-to-peer networks for the season opener, which finally showed in the last couple weeks before we left Israel. Gilmore Girls shows in Israel but at weird times last at night and not always on the same days and times. And they are still two seasons behind, so peer-to-peer network downloads have been the only way to get to see the show. I got hooked a few years ago while watching the first episodes on a visit to the states, and was desperate to follow it when I got back Israel.

I read an interview with one of the show’s producers that said that they weren’t nervous about the interest in the show going downhill because of Luke and Lorelei getting together. The magic of the tension between the two wasn’t going to be gone and the show’s main dynamic disappear. And he was totally right. The two of them are magic, but they are threatened by the town within the first couple of episodes, as they take sides over what should happen if the two of them get together and then break apart and how it will effect the entire town. Then Rory’s father pops in and out and the friendship and total connection between Chris and Lorelei looks like it might threaten Luke and Lorelei, but doesn’t. And then the break up between Lorelei’s parents adds more fuel to the complicated story. Rory coming to terms with her relationship with her old boyfriend, now divorced, Dean, and her growing friendship with another “bad boy” at university, adds more to her growing pains. There are wonderful sub-stories going on with Sookie pregnant again and going bonkers, along with her husband, Jackson, who is trying to quit his job as the newly elected Alderman for the town, and then with Rory’s friend, Lane, coming to terms with her newly discovered love for one of her roommates and band members, Zack, a totally inappropriate young man for her to be involved in, which stirs up trouble with her fellow roommates, band members, and her mother, the fanatic religious matron.

This is truly one of the best shows on television today. The dialogue continues to be top drawer, with fast paced banter and plays on the language and current events. I almost fell out of my chair during an episode from two years ago when one of the characters, Paris, a type A personality out of control and one of Rory’s school mates, announces that she is going to do “a Sharon” on someone. At the time the episode aired, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon was battling terrorists in Jenin, so I gather that a “Sharon” was a fight against overwhelming odds, wiping out terror on a broad scale, or something even worse. The early reports by the Palestinians were that there were hundreds killed and that the streets were running with blood in Jenin. Yet, when the dust settled, something like 30 or 50 Palestinians were killed, at 20-40 Israelis, and tons of explosives, bomb-making materials, and weapons were found, and hundreds of terrorists were captured. Israel is still using the confessions and information gathered during the invasion into Jenin to defend itself against terrorism.

Anyway, the plot thickens as Emily, Lorelei’s mother, starts dating, and Luke’s wacky sister and husband buy a broken down house in town to be near to “family”, causing Luke no end of grief as they bring their crazy life into his and complicate things between he and Lorelei.

There are a lot of things I adore in this show. One of the biggest things is the similarity to Lorelei and my life, though I never had a child, my resentment of my mother’s “high class” life and determination to live “on my own” is very similar. And when her mother gets going with her calmly said back stabs, double entendres, she and my mother should get together to practice. My mother has the same kind of gentle back stabbing ability to just sit there looking lovely and sophisticated and sound like she is making total sense and being polite while she is ripping you up one side and down the other. Their conversations are so familiar to me, I want to laugh and cry at the same time.

The other things I think make this show top drawer are the small town familiarity, celebration of high education and no education equally, and willingness to tackle social issues head on in a way that shows multiple sides of the issue while helping the viewers debate with the characters on how they would decide for themselves. The small town familiarity is exciting as it shows a community where everyone’s business is everyone’s business, and how this is a good thing and not bad. Too many places we’ve traveled through in the US we’ve found people don’t even know their neighbors. US natives tend to know each other superficially – by their jobs and not their personalities and quirks. They know people who are plumbers, electricians, fixers of things, good at this and that, or who have this tool or that they can borrow or get tips about, but they really don’t “know” each other. In the fictional town of the Gilmore Girls, not only does everyone know the strengths, weaknesses, and abilities of each other, they know who to trust and depend upon for each of the different situations and where to go when they need real help, not just to “use” people. That is very refreshing and the US has a lot to learn from this characteristic of the show.

The celebration of education, or the lack of it, is seen throughout the show. It accepts that there are people who have the driving force to make it through college and get numerous degrees, that there are people who become rich and successful and that there are people who are born to it. And that people who aren’t rich, and never went beyond high school, deserve the same credit and respect as any of the other people. Every one has their place in the human chain of a community and there are no “betters” or “worse-offs”. Everyone is a part of the whole and treated equally. Even the totally whacked out character of Kirk (played brilliantly by Sean Gunn) is a typical kid we all went to school with, but lost track of after school. He is grown up and no less strange than he was when he was in high school. Yet, he serves a purpose within the community as the naive troublemaker and determined community spirit who loses more than succeeds.

As for the third element I so appreciate, dealing with social issues, I think for this reason alone the writers, producers, and actors deserve the highest praise and honors and awards. The main plot of a 16 year old having a baby out of wedlock and then raising it alone after running away from home and finishing her education, then eventually succeeding as a business owner, this is a brilliant picture of a positive outcome on a bad situation. In an episode from one of the early seasons, Lorelei is invited to speak to a high school class about being a business woman, but the kids start asking about Rory and how was it to be pregnant at 16 and have a kid and raise it by yourself…and while she answers truthfully, it comes off to the teachers and other parents that she is suggesting that it is a great thing to get knocked up at 16, something they don’t want to encourage their 16 year olds to do. This isn’t what she was doing. What she was doing was honoring Rory and her accomplishment of raising her daughter, not condoning her choice. Well done.

They have tackled high school politics, religious and health fanaticism, adultery, premarital sex, college drinking and parties, shop lifting, community politics, love, hate, family, violence, and all parts in between. Early on, the show was lauded for the “Christian family” perspective, but I think it has grown to leave Christian views a little behind and moved into the bigger world of respect for everyone and everything and the challenges of just getting along in this complicated world.

Well done and kudos to everyone involved with Gilmore Girls. I wish there were more shows like it, but then again, having it remain unique is what makes it special. Still, other shows could learn a thing or two from the brilliance behind and within Gilmore Girls.

Okay, so those are my little reviews of the new seasons of those two shows. As I catch up with others, I may add more comments, but for now, I think I’m done as a television critic.
Mobile, Alabama

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