Thursday, May 31, 2018

A dozen reasons why a Star Trek medical drama would make for great TV

Doctors are a staple of the Star Trek universe. But how great would a series focused entirely on medical characters be? Imagine the possibilities…

People love medical shows
Old school moment.
The one hour scripted medical series has produced a lot of successful television: House, Grey’s Anatomy, ER for starters, not forgetting heartwarming and humorous classics like MASH and Scrubs.

I'm also including the scientists who work as MEs and associated roles in procedurals—say, forensic anthropologist in Bones, a psychologist focusing on mental health and crime in Mind Hunter, and the forensic scientist in Body of Proof.

No one can deny medicine/medical science practitioners and researchers create entertaining television. A futuristic medical drama seems a logical next step. Why not make it part of a popular franchise?

Here are a dozen reasons Star Trek Medical would be awesome aka a solid investment for a smart network.

Star Trek can get a version of a
sonic screwdriver

Seriously, do you lot not have one of these?
Star Trek shows have always held to the idea advancements in science do not make humans Godlike. The medical science in Star Trek extrapolates from modern science, but also takes imaginative leaps. 

In medical subplots, Starfleet doctor characters have to face the truth: that healing tech is fallible, meaning people still die. Humanity’s battle against death retains tension in the Star Trek universe.

A healing tool that helps tackles medical issues in a vague way would make for a great series trademark. Dr Who has a classic fix-all tool that overcomes a lot—including plot holes. 

Would be fascinating to see what Trek comes up with.

Peak Star Trek aka addressing social issues

The issue of the wealthy receiving better medical care than the poor,
addressed in ST Voyager episode Critical Care, remains sadly relevant.
Medical storylines in Trek shows usually address blurring lines between morals, ethics, duty, and science. A medical drama in the future can visit worlds with unimaginable quandaries. Say, wealthy societies letting people die because corporate greed has out-priced medical care for the average citizen (oh, wait…).

Other possible issues to mull over are stem cell usage, biotech, plagues, vaccines, discrimination based on gene status, organ marketing, and the use of radio frequency in medicine.

Popular tropes from medical dramas set in the present day also work: misdiagnosis, medical genius with bad social skills, mentor and apprentice issues, problems with bureaucracy, discrimination based on diagnosis, experimental surgeries, human testing, reproduction, and euthanasia—for starters.

Endless VIP guest stars, including Q

The wildcard is always welcome.
Delving into the back catalogue of Trek characters... What a feast of storytelling potential. I could imagine Q offering to heal a loved one—for a price. (Moral quandaries are his forte.) Obviously the Borg, or an ex-Borg, would rock up at some point. And any captain ever is eternally welcome!

Star Trek isn’t averse to time travel, so getting characters from different timelines (or realities) is never a problem plot-wise. Older and younger versions of fan faves would be fun to see. Movie crossover characters, characters from alternate realities—so much fun to be had.

The Prime Directive as a
trope/storytelling device

Are we seriously trying to sell this Prime Directive stuff?
The good old super-flawed Prime Directive offers an array of plot opportunities. The rule is Starfleet doesn't interfere with developing cultures, but such an inactive stance isn't always an easy choice—especially for a doctor.

The pros and cons of non-interference with other civilizations lends itself to medical moral dilemmas and the problematic (from Starfleet’s perspective) Hippocratic oath. Whether a character chooses for or against, there are often unforeseen repercussions.

Don’t forget the battlefield medics

The revelation the Jem'Hadar were drug addicted soldiers
made them more than just indoctrinated killing machines.
For a peace-loving mob, the Federation spends a LOT of time at war. We’ve seen field medics and storylines related to conflict scenarios in various Star Trek TV shows. Star Fleet medics are at greater risk of kidnapping too since they’re well trained. Storylines set in adrenalized, extreme conditions, where empathy and aggression face off, make for entertaining television. 

Fixed shots were a signature element of past Trek TV dramas. And traditionally a lot of Star Trek medical scenes had a sense of distance, the treatments being tech-focused, making for family-friendly viewing.

Change these two elements, and the whole mood changes. Firstly, modernize the visual format to sharper edits and handheld shots, upping the ante of combat scenes. Secondly, introduce more archaic battlefield conditions. Seeing Starfleet medics getting their hands bloody, literally, would be shocking.

Starfleet Medical Academy

Side note: these cadets proved dodgy AF.
The cadets of Starfleet have never had a series, just guest appearances in other shows. In a TV market that likes late teen/early twenty casts, a drama set at the cadet level would be worth exploring.

Starfleet Medical has been referenced numerous times throughout Trek TV shows so the place isn’t unknown to fans of ST. Think a fusion of a high school/college series, and a medical drama.

Alternately, interns could showcase different places a Starfleet doctor might be posted. Or scatter a graduating class across the galaxy, some even ending up on the opposite side of a war to the Federation, as medical defectors. The sky is the limit (or not).

Costume me up, Scottie

Casual Friday.
Oh, the outfits. Utilitarian has never been so snazzy. Seeing the interpretations of Star Fleet uniforms is always fun. New doctor and nurse uniforms might be interesting.

Not gonna lie though, the aliens bring the freshest styles. Headpieces get a lot of action, as do floaty fabrics. Stepping it up, at this point I’m ready for threads that breathe, read body data, and might be symbiotic organisms.

The politics and intrigue of the Federation

I spy... Section 31!
My favorite parts of the Star Trek reality? Later shows when the gray shades of espionage came into play, peeling glossy surface layers from the utopian tendencies of earlier outings.

Corruption in Starfleet has always produced interesting episodes. On the medical front maybe a black market for drugs, social media and psychological manipulation, conspiracies relating to availability of treatments, poaching medical discoveries from other planets, doctors with political agendas/affiliations, discrimination against clones and other races, religious beliefs that conflict with medical protocols, treatment of prisoners of war for political gain… Lots to explore.

Give us some doc love to ship

Romance in medical dramas is part of the genre sell. Maybe it’s the life and death vibe: romantic  passion balancing out the heavy psychological fare.

Star Trek shows boast interesting couples and hook-ups. I would say unexpected relationships and weird ships have long been a positive aspect of Star Trek. Not just partners from different planets, but even holographic love interests.

Of course in today’s world, television is showing more than hetero couples so there are a wider range of romantic options on the table for a new Trek.

I wanna see all the docs again

Bring back Bev!
Star Trek has had so many fantastic doctor characters, and a Star Trek medical drama means they can pop by whether as lecturers, mentors, patients—or holograms. Not just human ones but alien ones too. All members of Doctor Club are welcome!

Historically famous docs from the past are encouraged, whether via time travel, hologram or some other storytelling device. Fictional doctors are likewise welcome.

New aliens

Always fun to make (Trek) friends.
One of the best things about Star Trek: the aliens introduced to audiences along the way. And not just as cultures the characters cross paths with but as Federation members too. Each alien character is a chance to introduce a whole new ideology.

Sure, there are fans of Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans, Bajorans, Cardassians, Batazoids, and many other established ST races out there who would be happy to see them again. But meeting new races is part of the thrill of a fresh ST series.

Final note: This idea originally came from my director friend Rob, whose suggestion I pitch a medical Star Trek drama kick started this blog post.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Contradicting Tastes of Today's TV Audience

Trying to satisfy modern viewers is a complex riddle. Everyone imagines they know the answer, but even a TV series considered a sure bet can crash and burn.

The quality of the product is only one aspect; scheduling, marketing, and social media presence (in terms of public reaction/interaction) play a part.

But the basic pitch is the first step. And whether or not a pilot is picked up is influenced by broad ideas of what the audience wants.

Turns out today’s audiences are a fickle bunch.

Nostalgia vs. Dissatisfaction With Reboots

For a long time television makers clung to the idea reboots were a sure-fire key to a ratings winner. If people have fond memories of the original, they’ll love the reboot, right?


Whether the show is faithful to the original or reworked to match current storytelling styles, the initial interest soon turns to dissatisfaction, disinterest, and downright hostility. Sure, a few succeed, but it’s rare.

You see a similar effect with shows that are sourced from books and graphic novels or comics, but the success rate is higher. Still, it’s far from a guaranteed route to small screen success.

In each case, the network feels the financial risk is lessened because of the established fan base. But the premise is flawed.

Personally, I loath the presumption a bad show based on a book series or comic will be an easier sell than a great original show. I’d much prefer something fresh and fantastic, than a mediocre adaptation soon dropped. The fear of losing money has made the industry forget so many cult shows became hits out of nowhere. In summary, this business model is overrated.

The best take on the nostalgia angle has proven to be creating a show that reminds viewers of a past series, but is technically a fresh entity. People experience familiarity but the show isn’t competing with an earlier version of itself in their memories.

Stranger Things

Sex and Violence Sells vs.
Tired of Sex and Violence

Sex and violence in entertainment has been increasing over the years to the point where it’s not just common, but expected in adult TV fare.

What’s interesting is “gritty” television has become code for content with graphic sex and violence. A show gains cred with the audience by offering excessively violent scenes. They take it more seriously: darker themes have become synonymous with an interpretation of quality.

I believe it has to do with a Western interpretation of feminine and masculine, in the traditional sense. Sex and violence are connected to ideas of strength and power, past definitions of masculinity. Thus shows that offer more “masculine” fare—to clarify, it can be female characters partaking in sex and violence; the trait itself is what is subconsciously gender identified by the culture—are taken more seriously.

Game of Thrones
Television shows that focus on traits historically viewed as more traditionally feminine, are more readily derided: quirky, kind, romantic are now often presented in simplified formats, as if the themes are only allowed to exist in substandard material.

This is obviously a fallacy. Television can be intelligent with or without graphic violence and sex. But the audience has become accustomed to this idea and Western networks now use it as a framework for new material. When combined with intelligent plotting, it is often successful. If not, well, not so much. 

Santa Clarita Diet
As a result, some viewers are tiring of fare that is graphic yet doesn’t have a decent storytelling foundation. Upping the anti, in terms of risky content, isn’t the drawcard it once was. Audiences are suffering a form of ennui when it comes to violence and sex. 

The formula needs to be redefined: more complex storylines, and a cleverer use of onscreen violence that isn’t just gratuitous, and inclusion of a broader emotional spectrum that may have been omitted from “gritty” fare in the past.

Walking Dead

Intelligent Storylines vs. Too Complicated

With so much television production these days, and full season drops becoming common, people are demanding diverse scripted dramas. Jaded audiences are less tolerant of lazy and generic television writing.

Thing is, how intelligent a script are we talking? This is also the point where emotional intelligence comes into play. A lot of great television isn’t so much about standardized intelligence, as it is about brilliant characterization.

12 Monkeys
I’ve written about E.I. before. Nuanced characters and complex emotional subtext make for memorable television but like a classic novel, sometimes the person taking in the story just doesn’t get it.

A quick browse through recap blogs shows even avid fans may miss underlying themes and character motivations in innovative episodes. Intrigued is one thing; puzzled is another.

Twists are great, but if the viewer can’t understand the motivation behind them, and foresee the potential consequences, they end up disgruntled rather than engrossed.

Finding the fine line between challenging and entertaining television, without alienating less intelligent viewers, is key. And it’s not an easy task.

The Expanse

Celebrating Tropes vs. Trope Fatigue

Tropes aka plot devices are a funny thing. Storytelling patterns that reappear over and over, they’re a large part of what people love about television. Thing is we’re comfortable with the familiar, but familiarity can also breed contempt.

At it’s best a trope is a tool, and they’re favorites for a reason. Some tropes are associated with certain genres. Star-crossed lovers are popular in teen dramas, and odd couple pairings in procedurals. Sci-fi is packed with antiheroes and reluctant heroes who end up fighting the system.

Modern audiences are beginning to split when it comes to tropes. A lot of people love feeling comfortable with certain types of characters, and plot twists. They prefer shows that are remixes of their favorite elements. Tropes for many TV writers are a necessary part of their creative arsenal.

On the other hand, other viewers are extremely tired of seeing the same tropes repackaged. They want fresh blood. Added to which, a lot of established tropes aren’t quite up with the times, being at best stereotypical, at worst sexist or racist.

A less heavy-handed approach is probably the path of the future; a sparing use of established storytelling devices mixed with the creation of new ones that challenge old norms. Whether or not this makes for riveting TV is still to be seen. At least it'll be an interesting ride.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Why So Sad Science Fiction TV?

Dark Matter
A malaise has taken over futuristic television. Catching up on your fave science fiction series can leave a fan feeling down. We’ve lost hella faith in humanity over the last few decades.

When I was kid the message from Star Trek shows was, hey humanity made a few mistakes along the way but we became the greatest race in the galaxy! HIGH FIVE.

Star Fleet wasn’t technically the armed forces—although they seemed to go to war a lot for supposed pacifists. But nobody was forced to enlist: people lost their minds trying to get into the Academy.

Star Trek: The Next Generation
The Federation presented as the coolest cult ever, where nobody minded wearing spandex to work and audiences were fervently on board (excuse the pun) with a future where humanity was the teacher’s pet. Or to be more precise, Q’s.

Now the Federation has a dodgy record with multiple cover-ups and a lot of internal issues—Section 31’s wet work for starters—not to mention god-awful xenophobia/alienophobia incidents over the years. 

Star Trek Discovery
The downhill slide into a pessimistic, messed up vision extends way beyond Federation borders. Sucky versions of the future dominate recent sci-fi TV offerings across the intergalactic, multiple realities board.

Sure, a few humans reluctantly battle on in a hero-esque way but overall our rep aint good. I mean you can’t even trust the Jedi’s these days (but that’s a whole other post).

Here are half a dozen reasons sci-fi is taking a break from hopefulness. If Sci-fi TV were a person they’d be wearily sitting on the curb having a smoke, all the while knowing cigarettes can kill.

Humans Are Worriers

In a way, sci-fi is a form of therapy. The cultural subconscious worries about robots and AI and pollution and corporations sucking us dry(er), so we work through those issues with dark AF visual storytelling.

Black Mirror
Sci-Fi doesn't tell anybody to lighten up. Instead it agrees we should buckle down.
Television lets us explore terrible fears through the filter of the screen, satisfying doomsday worries and making that bomb shelter seem a legit investment.

The Colony

We Respect Gritty Entertainment

Science fiction as a genre has enough trouble being taken seriously (google sci-fi ghetto if you’re not clued in on the discrimination), so optimistic sci-fi television would be a hella hard sell on two levels.

Electric Dreams
We live in a world that views optimism as a form of self-delusion. We scoff at the idea of happy endings and nod sombrely while people are chopped up onscreen. In terms of the future, we expect governments to betray most of the universe.

The Expanse

The Present Day Isn’t Selling The Hope

We def don’t trust governments. In the past most looked after their country’s citizens and ignored everyone else—now they don’t even do that (example, AMERICA). In the future, we’re not expecting a lot of empathy.

And by a lot, I mean any.

Corporations are also a massive sci-fi issue. People are the product businesses haven’t quite locked down yet. Sci-fi television says hey, give it time.

Altered Carbon

And We’re Suspicious of The Sell

If a story presents a sweet future, utopia turns to dystopia pretty damn fast. The cost of paradise is always revealed to be brutal. Sci-Fi is pro paranoia. The worst-case scenario is usually legit.

The 100
The rich are mean and discrimination is always a thing. Always. The poor lose rights and we find new groups to treat as less than human, like clones, robots, and aliens.


Humanity Is Cruel AF

Whether it’s an alternate timeline or a parallel universe, psychos always have the upper hand. Kind people are still around but they’re rarely (if ever) in power, and are generally persecuted, whether psychologically trampled or physically tortured.

The OA
The feel is always that humanity could have/should have been better, and that even in alternate versions of reality, we still mess up big-time.

The Man in the High Castle

We’re So Basic, Time Travel Is A Thing

A lot of shows kick off with the premise humanity is screwed—and it’s humanity’s fault. Like, it’s inevitable we mostly die: plague, pollution, nukes, whatever. Point is we decimate ourselves. (Although to be fair sometimes aliens help us with our demise. Mostly it’s just us, though.)

Don’t get me wrong, many time travel shows are awesomely plotted but it’s worth noting the audience instantly accepts the idea society inevitably kills itself off—wittingly or unwittingly (mostly wittingly). 

12 Monkeys

In Conclusion…

Sci-fi TV is telling us we don’t trust ourselves, or other races/species we meet, or make. That humanity en masse will generally choose cruelty over kindness; that in the future heroes are sparse on the ground, and usually reluctant. 

While I get where this is coming from—and a lot of it is truly innovative, brilliant television—fingers crossed our cultural subconscious flips a little. I’m game, now and again, for small screen depictions of a future dosed up on delusional optimism. Science fiction is the greatest way to explore not just society's fears, but our hopes too.