Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Despite A Lack Of DVD Bonus Features, Frasier The Complete Fifth Season Is Perfect!

The Good: Twenty-four hilarious episodes with great characters, wonderful acting and emotive situations.
The Bad: No DVD bonus features
The Basics: Funny, well-acted and with vivid characters who are mature, but quirky, Frasier The Complete Fifth Season is only missing bonus features and is a must-buy!

I suppose there are different niches of DVD buyers and it is pointless to assume everyone wants the same thing out of their DVD experience. Still, it is hard to imagine there is a large contingent of DVD buyers out there who DON'T want bonus features for DVDs. And for works that are vast and impressive, like long-running television shows that may still be seen in syndication on network or cable television, it makes little sense that the DVD manufacturers would avoid creating DVD bonus features to add extra incentive to buying the DVDs. In the case of the fifth season of Frasier, the absence of DVD bonus features is the only thing I could find that detracts from the DVD presentation and that is not enough to downgrade the season, at least in my book.

The Fifth season of Frasier appears on DVD as a welcome breath of comedic source material from the season that became the most obvious turning point for the series. Indeed, it is in this season that Niles finally stands up to Maris and his estrangement leads him to initiate divorce proceedings in earnest. As well, Roz finds herself pregnant and Martin and Frasier find themselves struggling as single men in the world. Lilith makes her yearly return, with terrifying results and Frasier's antics lead to a huge change at the end of the season that has ramifications for every character on Frasier!

Picking up precisely where the fourth season of Frasier ended, Dr. Frasier Crane boards a plane to get closer to a woman, only to discover she finds that creepy. Rejected, he moves seats and finds himself conversing with a supermodel zoologist. Because she is going through a messy breakup, the zoologist asks Frasier to keep their relationship quiet, which leads Niles, Martin and Daphne to assume he has snapped and has created an imaginary friend. When she storms out and confirms her existence to the others, Frasier is both rejected and exonerated.

Set adrift in the dating world again, Frasier works to find love, avoid Lilith and help Roz, who has managed to get herself pregnant . . . from a college student! Meanwhile, Martin's desire to get Sherry into a long-term, committed relationship meets with a strange resistance and he finds himself single as well. Niles, who is in therapy with Maris, hits a speedbump when Maris wants counselors who criticize her fired. Against Frasier's advice, Niles continues to give in to Maris until she meets a counselor she likes . . . well beyond the professional boundaries! Emasculated, Niles relies on Frasier, who takes him and the rest of his family on a cruise and the men try their hand at a single's party. But when Frasier takes up the cause of social justice, Daphne ends up arrested and the entire crew at KACL is shaken up!

The Complete Fifth Season of Frasier has twenty-four episodes on four discs and the season is largely bookended by two parties: one where word leaks that Roz is pregnant and a second one (a "Marty Party") which Roz must flee from when she goes into labor. In between, there are episodes of classic situational comedy, like Frasier dating a high-powered lawyer who essentially makes him into a trophy wife and another where Daphne finds a British pub in Seattle that seems perfect until Frasier horns in on it. This season has farcical episodes aboard a cruise ship and another in a ski lodge where hormones are flying for everyone, except Frasier.

Having ditched his agent in the prior season, Frasier tries to renew his contract using an ethical representative in "The Zoo Story." As well, Lilith returns, left by her husband for another man, and Frasier calls upon Niles to help him resist her charms. Niles moves toward asking Daphne out on a "First Date" under the guise of meeting another woman and the season uses recurring characters like Gil Chesterton more than in prior years.

For fans of dramedy, the complete fifth season of Frasier has arguably the best episode with "The Maris Counselor." Representing the emotional low point for Niles, Frasier and Martin, things appear to be looking up for Niles and Maris just as Martin and Frasier hit all-new dating lows. Things turn abruptly, though, when Niles realizes Maris is having an affair on him with their marriage counselor. This episode culminates in one of the most heartwrenching scenes as the three Crane men commiserate on the natures of their lost loves and the scene is dramatically the best the series gets and emotionally a powerful last act.

Even so, this season of Frasier is incredibly funny, even as it strives for episodes that are more meaningful than most situational comedies. Roz, for example, meets with the parents of her child and gets freaked out at the size of their noses, fearing her child will need all sorts of plastic surgery just to be accepted. As well, "Bad Dog" features Bulldog, who appears to have been heroic, though Frasier knows he actually used a pregnant Roz as a human shield when a gunman was spotted at Cafe Nervosa!

But like all great programs, more than the situations, Frasier is about the characters. In the fifth season, the principle characters are:

Dr. Frasier Crane - The snooty radio psychiatrist, he searches for love and marks the milestone of his 1000th radio broadcast. After relationships with a supermodel zoologist and a woman who is dominant, he works to resist his ex-wife when she shows up in Seattle vulnerable. This year, he m.c.s the Seebies as well as is granted Dr. Frasier Crane Day in Seattle. He acts as Niles' best friend and confidant while trying to keep his father, who lives with him, happy,

Martin Crane - The father of Frasier and Niles, he knows how to read Frasier completely by this point, often predicting when Frasier will meddle in things that he advises his son not to get involved with. Accompanied by his dog, Eddie, Martin watches his relationship with the flamboyant Sherry fizzle because they want different things out of life. He is less of a curmudgeon now,

Roz Doyle - Having gotten pregnant as the result of a one-night stand with a college student, she finds herself more emotionally dependent upon Frasier and undergoing vast mood swings. Giving up her free-love lifestyle makes her look to her career for more stability and she turns to Frasier's ex-agent to get her more work,

Daphne - Martin's physical therapist and the object of Niles' undying affection. She is kind and good and works hard for Frasier, though she seldom is acknowledged for it. She spars with Frasier over a neighborhood pub when the two end up wanting the same watering hole and she ends up pushing the divorcing Niles into a relationship with a neighbor, completely ignorant of his love for her,

Bob "Bulldog" Briscoe - Generally a blowhard and a misogynist, he quickly sees through
Roz when she tries to pin her baby on him. The antiintellectual foil of Frasier, he is regarded as a hero when he supposedly foils a gunman at the cafe,

and Dr. Niles Crane - Professionally, Frasier's equal, he despises and envies the commercialism and success of his older brother. He works to reconcile with his wife, but soon discovers that is a lost cause. He begins dating after filing for divorce, almost getting up the courage to ask Daphne out. When he thinks Daphne is pregnant, he goes so far as to propose! After a bout of narcolepsy from dealing with Maris's lawyers, he takes comfort in the least likely place!

The fifth season of Frasier is far less formulaic than most of the earlier seasons with twists coming more organically than some of the earlier seasons as well. The show focuses gives more time to peripheral characters as well. For example, "First Date" allows Niles and Daphne to almost entirely carry an episode with little presence by Kelsey Grammer's title character. Still, Frasier Crane gets in some great moments, like the punchline to "The Ski Lodge."

The cast of Frasier truly has their roles down pat by this point in the series with Kelsey Grammer leading the tight cast. Grammer and costars David Hyde Pierce, John Mahoney, Peri Gilpin, and Jane Leeves (and even Dan Butler with his few appearances) play off one another masterfully and this season is a study in just how good actors can be when they know their characters backward and forward.

Anyone who likes great comedy will love Frasier The Complete Fifth Season and for those who have never seen the series, this stands perfectly well on its own. For those who already love Frasier, this is a welcome return to one of the funniest television settings of all time for a year full of comedy, heartwrenching drama and great performances. The only thing more we could ask for would be bonus features.

For other seasons of Frasier, please check out my reviews of:
Frasier Season 1
Frasier Season 2
Frasier Season 3
Frasier Season 4


For other television and film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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New York In Denial Of The Rest Of The State (Good For What It Is).

The Good: Keeps New York City folk informed, Not excessively addy, Good photographs.
The Bad: Very introverted/focused on its own microcosm.
The Basics: Good for planning a trip or feeling the pulse of the City, New York is a magazine wrapped up in culture, gossip and politics of New York City.

I am a New Yorker, plain and simple. I have lived my entire life in New York: I grew up in Rochester, went to college in Binghamton and now reside in Canastota. And for the people looking at a map of the Island, you'll not find any of those places there. As I said, I'm a New Yorker. But there is far more to New York than New York City and I'm part of the masses of Upstate New Yorkers who likes to remind people that there is more to New York than New York City. We have a rich state filled with a lot of culture and class, not just skyscrapers and planned terrorist actions against us. Yes, there is a governor to New York, the highest political office here is not, in fact, Mayor. New York is bigger than just the City.

It might seem odd, then, that I would find myself picking up issues of New York Magazine to review. After all, the magazine is almost entirely about New York City and uses words like "Lubavitcher" without any explanation because (presumably) the target audience knows exactly what it is (I assume it is Yiddish and from reading it in an article, there is no way for one outside the circle to divine its meaning by context). If nothing else, New York magazine illustrates perfectly what I've said for some time: New York City is not a microcosm of the world, New York City is simple a self-absorbed microcosm of itself. Self-referential magazines like New York are simply reinforcement to people in the City who think they are in the know about the world to continue to believe that they are at the center of the world. And from that interpretation, New York (the magazine) works perfectly. This is a social commentary and gossip magazine and it is for those who love New York City or want to believe that this metropolis is, essentially, the only one on the planet.

New York is a weekly glossy magazine with an average of 112 pages. New York is available for a cover price of $3.49. To its credit, New York is not excessively addy, with only 25 full pages of advertisements with at least five more half-pages of ads, this is a surprisingly substantial magazine on New York City. Of course, all of the advertisements are for big places in New York City, like Tiffany & Co., Bloomingdales and Adorama. This offers a powerful advertising tool to those doing business in New York City without being overly addy for readers.

New York, the issue I am using for the review is the April 20, 2009 issue, is focused on New York City in sections starting with comments on prior magazines, the sections entitled "Intelligencer," "Strategist," "The Culture Pages," and "Agenda," with cover stories stuck in between "Intelligencer" and "Strategist" sections. The "Comments" section is a remarkably - some might say refreshingly - brief section with simple reactions to two articles from a prior issue. Unlike most "letters to the editor" sections, this is digested into a simple paragraph on each response with anonymous quick comments on the prior articles. There are no names, little depth and no real debate, just further back-and-forth notes on the articles that were presumably not in the original articles. One, for example, is a simple bunch of one-liners decrying Facebook, alongside another person declaring that the article was a very "old-person take on Facebook" (7). There is no high-minded debate here!

The "Intelligencer" deals with both local and strangely broader issues, starting with the state budget and what it means for those riding the New York City subway. This is useful and is presented as an odd map with political leaders mixed with their agendas and political concepts. Unlike a straightforward article, the diagram - which is presented like a demented subway map - is not as useful as it could be to those looking at how things connect and what the problem is and what it all means. The "Intelligencer" section continues with a reasonable exploration on the economic downturn and what it means for the maintenance of the skyscrapers in the City. It is a direct, blandly written piece that at least is comprehensible. The section loses focus then by including a diagram with news tidbits featuring different boroughs on the island and their local issues mixed in with articles about celebrity adoption, a historical note on the ConEd Building, a column on the effect of the recession on television programming, and an interview with Mike Tyson and his documentarian. The section closes off with a witless humor page featuring gossip and Rudy Giuliani, a page of celebrity photographs from New York City events mashed together as collages with quotes, and an interview with a City Council politician. The thing here is that the section has no consistency. Is it supposed to be information? Is it supposed to be gossip and rumor? Is it supposed to be funny? It is all mashed together with little regard for separating fact from allegation from satire and that makes it an incredibly unuseful nine pages.

The cover stories follow and New York does what it promises; it presents a very introverted view of New York City. The cover story explored celebrities who moved to New York City and their reactions. The article was wonderfully in depth and diverse, with personalities ranging from Connie Chung to James Franco to Danny Meyer to Ira Glass being interviewed. Their experiences all describe the excitement and horror of coming to the City for the first time and it manages to paint a picture that illustrates how important New Yorkers (or city-dwellers, anyway) find New York City.

The other features involved a pair of Jewish newlyweds doing work in Israel and the memoir is vital and relevant. The other article is an exploration of what Manhattan looked like four hundred years ago in contrast to how it is today. All three articles are remarkably in depth, well-written and interesting. The writers remain focused and present each story with a readable quality as well as a high level of diction and cultural insight.

The "Strategy" section does not exactly abandon that, but it focuses on Brighton Beach and how to get around that area of New York City. The pages mix food and shopping with a strange - some might say kitschy - collection of bargains found at stores in that neighborhood. There is a photo spread and a useful map which shows visitors how to get around to the places being recommended by the magazine. These are more snippets than in-depth articles and as a result, the "Strategy" guide to Brighton Beach reads like a diner placemat more than a cohesive article.

"The Culture Pages" is arguably the section most useful to those not living in New York City. New York's "The Culture Pages" are a collection of reviews on art displays, current movies, theater, television shows and music (c.d.) reviews. There are less useful articles like the Dance reviews (dance is highly subjective, though the article is well-written). One of the nice things here is that the three music reviewers all review and comment on the same five compact discs, so instantly one gets blurbs with different interpretations on the same works. The television reviews focus on a New York City perspective of current shows, so the review of "The Unusuals," makes comments on locations and concepts more than actually exploring the substance of the show and its performers.

The "Agenda" section caps off the magazine with movie listing times for the week as well as theater times and ticket information. This section is pretty much only useful for those living or visiting New York City. There is a New York City-themed crossword puzzle as well.

New York Magazine is well-written, but it does suffer some from the way it mixes commentary, opinions and what is written as if it were fact. While the personal memoirs are clearly just that, other articles are less clearly distinctly commentary or editorials. Still, there is enough here to illustrate why so many people love New York City and enough to help those planning a trip to the City to know exactly what to expect . . . like Jimmy Fallon twittering.

For other magazine reviews, please visit my takes on:
Natural History
Stargate SG-1 Magazine
Playboy Women Of Starbucks


For other book and magazine reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Philosophizing Reaches A New High: "Hide And Q" Hints At A Winner!

The Good: Pacing, Acting, Philosophy
The Bad: Annoying details, Predictability
The Basics: A solid episode of Next Generation that sees the return of Q, “Hide And Q” is a lengthy philosophy lesson on the nature of power.

“Hide and Q" is a little piece of Star Trek The Next Generation that is often underrated. I think the reason for the lack of attention this episode tends to receive is that it tends to be a rather predictable episode. Actually, the phrase "ridiculously predictable" would apply. The nice thing is, it tends not to matter as much as many people make it out to. In this episode, it's not the destination, it's the journey.

And what a journey it is! The omnipotent being Q returns, having been absent since the series premiere. And his timing could not be worse, the Enterprise is responding to a disaster and is planning for the worst, with the medical division feeling particularly stressed out. The bridge crew is transported to an alien planet where Q declares that they will play a series of war games for his amusement. Picard is left out of this exercise and his first officer appears to be the subject of Q's visit. As the game commences, Riker is given the powers Q has and is enabled to save his friends. Picard, disturbed by the changes he sees in Riker upon his return, challenges his first officer not to use the powers he has been given. Riker makes the promise and soon finds himself breaking it.

The episode is one of the peaks of philosophy lessons the show illustrates. The crux of the episode is the use of power. Picard believes Riker's sudden omnipotence is a curse, as opposed to the gift Riker receives it as. Picard sees the psychological changes already occurring in Riker and he confronts him on it. The pinnacle of this is when Riker decides to bestow gifts upon his fellow crewmates.

The episode becomes a bit heavy-handed to the point that Picard quotes Orwell's "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." The episode could have worked better with keeping such a thought implicit. Strangely, the pacing of the episode works, contrasting such moments of obvious moral revelation with humanistic moments such as Picard comforting Tasha Yar when Q sends her to the penalty box.

The episode has a good amount of action for a piece that is belaboring a rather obvious moral question. The enemy that Q, who was introduced in the pilot “Encounter At Farpoint,” pits the crew against is fierce and the conflict is fun to watch. And for those people watching the first season disgusted with the amount of airtime Wesley Crusher receives, this episode may gratify you; for the first time in the series, we see young Crusher killed. You sadists you!

John de Lancie gives an excellent performance as Q, which saves the episode as so much time is spent with Q and Riker and Jonathan Frakes seems uncharacteristically uncertain with playing Riker in this episode. Picard's confrontations with Q while Riker plays Q's game are indicative of future encounters with Q. Here de Lancie and lead Patrick Stewart begin to play off one another in a way that gives their adversarial relationship some real chemistry.

Much of the episode hinges on Jonathan Frakes and while he seems uncertain at moments, he plays frustration quite well near one of the peak character moments in the episode. He is able to sell the viewer on a man given a real dilemma and a desire to do right and to save lives.

The most refreshing aspect of this episode is that it returns Q to the series, while his character is still relatively fresh in our minds. It strengthens the idea that we ought to see him again, which makes his future appearances more believable.

The weakest moment is in the sequence where Riker gives gifts to his friends. When Geordi is given sight, for example, he looks at Yar and declares her beautiful which is somewhat ridiculous. I mean, why would a blind man necessarily find the most Hollywood beautiful person the most attractive. And while it reinforces the subtle triangle work going on between Data, Yar and LaForge in the first season, it seems especially lame that Geordi has that reaction. Similar difficulties occur throughout the crew when their supposed deepest desire is revealed.

This ought not distract anyone from watching the episode. It flows well despite the annoying climactic scene and while it often reads as a philosophy lesson, it is one of the more interesting ones anyone might sit through.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the debut season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Poofy Shirt, Good Detailing: Lobot Might Be Obscure, But He Makes For A Good Figure!

The Good: Cool accessories, Good balance, Decent detailing
The Bad: Could always use more articulation!
The Basics: Lobot may be an obscure character from the Star Wars trilogy, but the Original Trilogy Collection figure does him right!

Lobot. He's one of the more obscure Star Wars characters, but one who almost always makes it into the assortment of figures when new sculpts are released and new toys from The Empire Strikes Back are considered. Like many of the Star Wars figures, he's recognizable to fans, but a little obscure for those who only watch the films repeatedly. That said, Lobot was most recently released as part of Hasbro's Original Trilogy Collection.

For those unfamiliar with the Lobot, he was seen near the end of The Empire Strikes Back (click here for my review of the classic film!), on Bespin. The chief aide to Lando Calrissian, Lobot helps Lando betray the Empire to rescue Leia and Chewbacca after Han is frozen in carbonite. The bald administrator is seen in several scenes on Cloud City, but does not have any lines.

The 4" Lobot figure is pretty impressive and because it is so well-detailed, but it is less articulated than some of the other Original Trilogy Collection action figures, which might leave some fans less impressed with him.


The Lobot action figure is a great sculpting of the obscure cyborg from The Empire Strikes Back. The figure stands 3 3/4" tall and he is dressed in the cream and blue outfit he wore while on Cloud City. That Lobot looks very clean makes perfect sense as he comes from a sterile environment and is never seen doing anything resembling grunt work. The figure is made almost entirely of hard plastic, so this is a sturdy toy.

This toy is an impressive sculpt, looking exactly like the human with the computer interface at the back of his head. In fact, only two details fail to ring perfectly true with this figure. First, the neck seems more wrinkled than any of the pictures indicate it ought to be and second, the skin tones are monotonal. Lobot's lips are uncolored and his bald head is the same monotonal white all over.

Still, the figure is perfectly recognizable as Lobot. The bald head is accented with a translucent computer panel array on the back of his head which looks awesome in the right light. In normal lighting, it is well-detailed and Lobot looks efficient, if somewhat peeved. His blue eyes look steely and have appropriately black pupils. Even the detailing of computer interfaces on Lobot's belt look realistic, which is great for the figure!


Lobot is realistically prepared to interface with Lando and evacuate Cloud City with his communications-oriented accessories. This Lobot is outfitted only with his data pad and commlink, as well as a stand that connects with the stand from other Original Trilogy Collection figures!

The data pad is a 7/8" wide by 1/2" tall white and translucent computer terminal that looks like an open laptop. The screen it translucent and is detailed with a schematic of Bespin! The base has a keyboard that is not just molded into the base, but is colored to look like it has individual keys. The base of the terminal also has a place where the Commlink may be stuck into it! This fits into either of Lobot's hands, assuming they are oriented the right way.

Lobot also comes with the commlink, which is a 5/8" long stick which looks like a cross between a magic wand and something far more inappropriate. This is basically a detailed and colored plastic stick which is made of soft plastic that looks great in Lobot's right hand and is only a choking hazard if it comes out of the figure's grip!

The Original Trilogy Collection figures come with stands, including the Cloud City Lobot. The stand is a two inch long by one and a quarter inch wide by one-quarter inch tall gunmetal colored plastic stand. It features tabs which allow it to connect with other stands in the set and a peg which fits the hole in either of the Lobot's feet. On the stand, the figure is completely stable and posable. The stands make these figures into display pieces and this Lobot is a worthy one!


The four inch toy line was designed for play and Lobot is great in that regard. The figure is generally well-articulated and has excellent balance when off his stand. This Lobot figure comes with ten points of articulation, but Hasbro makes good use of them! He has joints at the groin socket, elbows, shoulders, wrists, neck, and waist. Like most Star Wars figures, these are all just simple swivel joints. As a result, the head of Lobot turns from side to side, but cannot nod.

This is a great figure for posing or for play. As well, it does have decent balance on or off his stand. In fact, the only pose he cannot do is sit other than straight-legged, so that's not bad.


Lobot is part of the 2006 Original Trilogy Collection four-inch series, a series of Star Wars action figures that was not very common at all, but largely recast figures that had been previously released by Kenner. Hasbro sought to improve the old figures by having a greater attention to detail, coloring and accessory detail and proportion. As such, this Lobot is a distinct improvement as far as balance, detailing and accessories from the earlier Cloud City Lobot. Released as Original Trilogy Collection (2006) figure #20, this figure is a good idea for those creating an ultimate collection of each major character. It is hard to imagine how this figure might be improved upon, save with more articulation in the legs.


The Original Trilogy Collection Cloud City Lobot is a decent sculpt of a figure that has been done poorly before, but it is not quite perfect.

For other 2006 Original Trilogy Collection figures, please check out my reviews of:
001 Princess Leia As Boushh
003 Bib Fortuna
005 Luke Skywalker X-Wing Pilot
019 Cloud Car Pilot
031 Momaw Nadon


For other action figure reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Surprisingly Lackluster, I'm In Love Has Wilson Pickett Screaming, But Not Producing Hits.

The Good: Moments of fun instrumental accompaniment, Moments of vocally interesting presentation
The Bad: Nothing pops, Short, Very generic R&B sound, Not terribly creative or interesting.
The Basics: Despite the amusing inclusion of an engineer talking to Wilson Pickett on the recording of “Let It Come Naturally,” I’m In Love is a dud by Pickett.

When it comes to older albums, I tend to go more leniently on the supposed greats because they were pioneering the field, as opposed to simply following in the footsteps of others. But as I make my way through the works of Wilson Pickett, it is hard to not acknowledge that even he had some early duds. By the time his album I’m In Love came out, he was a superstar in the rhythm and blues genre and he had several albums on the market. As a result, Pickett and his producers knew exactly what had come before in his career and it is a bad sign that by this album he was already sounding familiar and repetitive.

Indeed, when I picked up I’m In Love, I was actually excited because I had only heard a single song on I’m In Love. As well, the compact disc version of I’m In Love at least made an attempt at increasing the value of the transfer by adding additional tracks to the original album. As a result, listeners get thirteen songs, as opposed to the original ten. Of course, two of those songs are just alternate takes of songs that appear earlier on the album. Still, it is hard to complain that Atlantic didn’t make an effort when remastering the album. Rather interestingly, the stereo masters for I’m In Love could not be located, so the c.d. is pressed in mono format. This, too, is not as much of a problem as the fact that the album is dull and indistinct track to track.

With thirteen songs occupying only thirty-eight minutes on compact disc, I’m In Love is still a dreadfully short use of the c.d. medium. Still, this album features some of Wilson Pickett’s own work, even if he is only credited with co-writing a single track. He also provides the lead vocals on each and every song. Pickett was not involved in the production of the album, nor did he play any of the musical instruments which accompany his vocals on I’m In Love. Still, by this point in his career, it seems like he had some influence over his own musical sound.

Vocally, this is very much a Wilson Pickett album. Pickett shouts, screeches sings soulfully through the album. On songs like “I’ve Come a Long Way,” he does little more than holler, as he does at points on “Jealous Love.” But on “That Kind Of Love” and “Hello Sunshine,” he is actually melodic, losing the roughness to his vocals which characterize many of his tracks. This album does not feature the most clear vocals from Pickett either and he slurs through some of the lyrics on “Jealous Love.” Moreover, there is nothing truly funky, universal or even auditorily compelling or interesting in his vocal performances on I’m In Love. The result is an album that drags and replays poorly over multiple listens.

The instrumental accompaniment on I’m In Love is also disappointingly bland. In fact, the word “mundane” kept popping into my head when I would consider this album. This is the most generic form of R&B when it comes to the instrumental accompaniment. The bass, trumpets and guitars flow in the most predictable ways possible. In fact, when it is not predictable, the percussion and brass becomes noisy and sloppy-sounding, as they do on “Stagger Lee” at various points. In fact, after a dozen listens, none of the tunes actually resonate enough to be considered memorable on this album. The reason I had not heard much from this album before listening to it is that this album doesn’t have much interesting to it.

As for the lyrics, here I’m In Love is problematic at best as well. The most memorable song, lyrically, is “Stagger Lee.” Sadly, this does not make it a wonderful song by any stretch of the imagination. While most of the songs are blandly singing about love, lust and desire, “Stagger Lee” is a musical storysong which is surprisingly violent. Pickett sings “I was standing on the corner when I heard my bulldog bark / He was barkin' at the two men who were gamblin' in the dark / It was Stagger Lee and Billy, two men who gambled late / Stagger Lee threw seven, Billy swore that he threw eight / Stagger Lee told Billy, ‘I can't let you go with that’ . . . Stagger Lee went home and he got his forty-four / Said ‘I'm goin' to the barroom just to pay that debt I owe’ / Stagger Lee went to the barroom and he stood across the barroom door / He said ‘Nobody move’ and he pulled his forty-four / Stagger Lee shot Billy, oh he shot that poor boy so bad“ (“Stagger Lee”) and it is an embodiment of much of what people fear about city life and the ghettos.

“Stagger Lee,” however, is not indicative of the rest of the album. Pickett smoothly covers the Sam Cooke song “Bring It Home To Me” and that sounds good. But songs like “She’s Lookin’ Good” with its lines like “When you wear your wigs, baby / You wear your dresses tight / You wear your foxy fur, baby / When you step out late at night, hey“ get very repetitive and hold up poorly over multiple listens. In fact, Pickett breaking up the singsong rhymes with his shouts and excited utterances only seems to accent them on songs like “She’s Lookin’ Good.”

Ultimately, I’m In Love is indistinct and none of the songs stand out. It is short, so it replays poorly and it is easy to pass it by because Pickett’s talent is not evident on much of it. It is noisy and disappointing for far too much of the album.

For other works by Wilson Pickett, please check out my reviews of:
In Philadelphia
The Very Best Of Wilson Pickett
It's Harder Now


For other album and singles reviews, please be sure to visit my index page for an organized listing by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Celestial Seasonings Tries Its Hand At Mediocre Tea With "Golden Honey Darjeeling" Black Tea!

The Good: Nice aroma, Generally good taste (especially with sugar), Caffeinated
The Bad: Terrible cold, Does not taste like honey without sugar, Aftertaste kills it!
The Basics: Celestial Seasonings strikes out with their interpretation of Darjeeling tea when they add honey and keep the same horrid aftertaste most Darjeelings have.

When I review music and movies, occasionally I come down to a razor decision. This is usually in an average-rating review and the flip of a coin determines whether I recommend the product or not. I never truly anticipated being ambivalent about one of the teas I was reviewing, so I did not figure this would be an issue when I started my tea reviews. That was before I gave Celestial Seasonings Golden Honey Darjeeling 100% Natural Black Tea a sampling.

I have tried Darjeeling tea from other brands before and I will admit that it was never my favorite flavor. My love of Celestial Seasonings and the idea they had infused the tea with honey was enough for me to buy a box and brew it up. The result: I have a razor decision as I find myself fairly ambivalent to this tea.


Golden Honey Darjeeling is a 100% Natural Black Tea from Celestial Seasonings. This black tea is 100% natural and as such is fully caffeinated. This is a strong, heady tea and while it does taste like traditional Darjeeling tea, it is effectively infused with the scent and mild flavor of honey.

Golden Honey Darjeeling comes in Celestial Seasonings's standard stringless tea bags, which are paired together with easy to separate perforations that allow one to separate the tea bags. When I make pots of tea, I tend to use two bags and leave them connected. A box of Golden Honey Darjeeling comes with ten pairs (20 individual) of tea bags.

Ease Of Preparation

Golden Honey Darjeeling is your standard black tea as far as the preparation goes. A single tea bag will make the standard 8 oz. coffee mug worth of tea and could be reused and make a second cup of this tea with most of the flavor that the first cup yielded. The second cup, naturally, does not come out as strong as the first, but provided the first steeping was not more than the recommended upper recommended steeping time of five minutes, a second use can come out with about 3/4 strength. I tend to make my tea using a 32 oz. steeping tea pot and that works well for both a first and second steeping.

To prepare Golden Honey Darjeeling black tea, bring a pot of water to a boil and pour it over the tea bags. Experience has taught me this tea brews best and to its most flavorful when the water is at a rolling boil, not just barely there. This is a tea that wants to be burned by the water to release its full flavor! This tea takes three to five minutes to steep and when the water is seriously boiling, it comes out strong at the three minute point without needing any additional time. After five minutes, though, the flavor does not concentrate any more so there is no benefit to letting it steep longer than that.


I can't remember a tea I dreaded so much the moment I would come to this section. And yet . . . Darjeeling tea is a strong, distinct black tea flavor characterized best by the strong primary taste of black tea and then a sour aftertaste as if one had been sucking on orange rinds for an hour. I've found it leaves my mouth dry and tasting sour. Golden Honey Darjeeling lives up to that pretty awful flavor but breaks it up by infusing a light, wonderful aroma and adding a faint sweetness to the primary taste. The result is a less bitter Darjeeling tea that is not a foul as some of the Darjeelings I've drunk in the past.

This tea is supposed to taste like honey and while it has a distinct honey aroma to it - especially when it's hot - it only has the most subtle flavor of honey to it. It's a hint of honey. I could have used more of the honey taste to this tea because while it tastes like honey, it isn't tasting much like the sour rind taste that Darjeelings almost always leave in my mouth. The aroma is right, but the taste is not quite there for the honey flavor.

That said, when the tea is piping hot, I add a heaping teaspoon of sugar to it and it's delicious. The honey flavor is accented and it comes alive wonderfully as a rich, flavorful tea. Even with sugar, it has the aftertaste. Adding milk does a little to dull the aftertaste, but that sour, rind-like taste comes through regardless.

Cold, the tea is absolutely foul. It is all aftertaste and no honey, no matter how much sugar is used. I am not sure why anyone would want this as an iced tea, but if you try it that way, I found no good came from it. It is unspeakably awful iced. It is so bad iced or cold that I'm surprised Celestial Seasonings would put the directions on how to make it iced in the box! And this is not just this Celestial Seasonings, I've found all Darjeeling teas I've tried so far have been acidic and gross cold. There's only so much tangy this tongue can take!


This tea is a very strong black tea comprised primarily of black tea, orange peel, and chamomile. The aroma of honey and the faint taste of it presumably comes from the dried honey at the bottom of the ingredient list. As with most Celestial Seasonings teas, there is nothing unpronouncable in this tea and it is 100% natural. It is gluten free, for those for whom that matters.

In terms of nutrition, I won't even joke about trying to live on Golden Honey Darjeeling, it would be torture to try. In an 8 oz. mug, there are no calories, nor fat, nor sodium, nor carbs, nor protein. Any nutritional value would come from what you add to this. What the tea has is caffeine, a decent amount of it, too. It rates a 45 on the caffeine meter, meaning it has the same amount of caffeine as a regular cola and half the caffeine of a cup of coffee.


Golden Honey Darjeeling black tea is very easy to clean up after - the tea bags may be disposed in the garbage, or composted if you have a good garden and/or compost pile. The tea itself is a very dark tea and will stain most fabrics, so I tend to avoid drinking this one around anything that will easily stain.


Here's the cointoss . . . I'm opting with a "no" on the recommending. Here's why: in order to enjoy this tea at all, I had to have it incredibly hot, hotter than most people would be able to drink it at, and I had to add a significant amount of sugar. Between these two things, I realized that while it did bring out the honey flavor in it, it wasn't bringing it out all that much and I was more covering the tea flavor than enjoying it.

That being the case, this was a close call, but it falls to not being worth it unless you're one who already loves Darjeeling tea.

For other Celestial Seasoning tea reviews, please check out:
Chocolate Caramel Enchantment Chai
Linden Mint
India Spice Chai Decaf


For other beverage reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Disappointment In A Candy-Smudged Wrapper: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory Slips For Tim Burton.

The Good: Johnny Depp is good, Moments of intriguing visuals
The Bad: Terrible music, Awkward pacing, Uninspired acting, Oppressively unoriginal
The Basics: With distractingly bad music and uninspired acting this remake is a dud. And not a good kind, like a Milk Dud.

Tim Burton has talent and if one does not believe me, they need only to watch Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Batman Returns to realize that I'm right. Unfortunately, Burton's talent seems to be stuck. While Big Fish was mediocre, Burton's vision of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is flat-out disappointing.

Living in the poorest section of the city dominated by Wonka Chocolates is Charlie Bucket. Charlie is just a poor boy with nothing to set him apart but his poverty. When the mysterious Willy Wonka offers a tour of his plant to the recipients of five golden tickets hidden in his chocolate bars, Charlie seems unlikely to have any hope of finding one. And yet, of course, he does. Charlie finds a golden ticket and soon he is entering Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

Accompanied by the obese Augustus, the gum-chewing Violet, the snotty Veruca and the television-obsessed Mike Teavee, Charlie is allowed inside the chocolate factory. However, this is anything but the typical chocolate factory. It is a magical community where confections are experimented to perfection and the reclusive eccentric Willy Wonka lives with his army of Oompa Loompas. As the tour of the factory progresses, the children give in to their specific vices and Charlie is made an offer that would otherwise be quite astounding.

There is a certain irony to the title of this movie and it is quite simple. Like the novel, this is Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Unlike the earlier film version, which was Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, which focused heavily on Charlie, this incarnation focuses quite heavily on Willy Wonka.

Which leads us to the fundamental problem with Tim Burton's Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. As Burton's vision, Wonka is given a motivation for his eccentricities and if you've seen a few of Burton's movies you know the reason has to be parent issues. Willy was criticized and emotionally abandoned by his father, a dentist and . . . okay, who cares? It's the same story Burton is always telling. Unfortunately, the predictability of Burton's cause for conflict leads viewers who have seen many of his other projects to be disappointed. It's not a bad thing to make Wonka a more fleshed out character, but the method is just tired.

And this is on top of other, more serious problems unique to this particular film. The first is that while the film relies - often successfully - on stunning visuals, the film's composer, Danny Elfman seems to be in a similar rut to Burton. Elfman is known to create masterful and haunting scores that work very well with Burton's visual sense. Elfman creates the winter of Gotham City in Batman Returns far better than any of the snow Burton created on the set. In Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, the music is unmemorable.

Except for the Oompa Loompa songs. The Oompa Loompa songs are entirely terrible. Jazzed or rocked up, the Oompa Loompas sing about the demise of the various children and the music that accompanies them is more loud than funny or poignant. It's not clever, it's not catchy, it's barely music and this costs the film a great deal of impact or interest.

The other big problem is the acting. Far too much of the story relies on the acting of child actors and they fail to deliver. Freddie Highmore lacks the charm and charisma of the actor that played Charlie in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. While on screen, his performance is stiff and often painfully unrealistic. The children that play Violet, Veruca, Mike and Augustus are equally uncharismatic.

What saves the movie at all is Johnny Depp. Playing Wonka as weird and delightful, disturbed and invigorated, Depp steals the spotlight from the moment he appears on-screen. No one else comes close to making the movie watchable and Depp's performance keeps this from being a complete waste of time.

Deep Roy, who plays the Oompa Loompas, does fine, though much of his time on-screen is participating in the terrible musical numbers.

Geared overly for children, this movie robs the characters of their ambiguities. All of the kids but Charlie are rotten, Charlie is ultimate good. Removing a key scene from the beginning of the movie, which was present in the book and the other film, sets us a series of absolutes, which makes the ending completely unsurprising, even for those who never read the novel or saw the other film.

Both the book, which is creepy and clever, and the film adaptation known as Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory are vastly superior to this version.

For other films featuring Johnny Depp, please visit my reviews of:
Alice In Wonderland
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
Edward Scissorhands


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Redbarn's Cheese N Bacon Filled Bones: Mitzie Doesn't Care, So I Don't Either!

The Good: Nothing bad in them, Will help dog’s dental health if they actually chew them.
The Bad: My dog just licks out the filling and doesn’t eat the bone, Expensive
The Basics: A mediocre treat, the Redbarn Cheese N Bacon flavor filled small bone treat is eaten by our old dog without enthusiasm.

Sometimes, there is a simple product which may actually be reviewed in a simple blurb. That’s where I am with the Redbarn Cheese N Bacon filled bone dog treats. After my mediocre experience with the Peanut Butter Filled Bones, I was not excited about giving Mitzie (our geriatric cocker spaniel) the Cheese N Bacon ones, but when my wife picked them up, I had nothing to lose by watching the results.

The Redbarn Cheese N Bacon Flavor small filled bone is exactly what it sounds like; it is a filled cattle bone with a paste that appears vaguely cheesy in the place of the bone’s marrow. The small are 2” – 3” in length (ours was 2 3/4” long, making it appropriate for our 20 pound cocker spaniel). The 1 ½” wide and ¾” tall bone is a cattle bone which has been dried, processed, filled with a cheese paste and then shrinkwrapped as a treat for dogs. This size treat is designed for smaller dogs, with larger bones (identical filling) being offered for bigger dogs.

When given to our dog, Mitzie began licking out the center of the treat without actually eating the bone. The thing is, the nutritional value of the Redbarn Cheese N Bacon filled bone is negligible, so the real value comes in keeping the jaws and teeth of dogs healthy and strong. This only happens when a dog gnaws at the bone, which scrapes plaque and tartar off teeth. Unfortunately, dogs who are intimidated by hard treats, like actual bones, are unlikely to do that. Instead, they will do what Mitzie did; treat this like a glorified Kong toy and lick out the cheese center.

That said, Redbarn Cheese N Bacon flavor filled small bones could be worse. Mitzie did seem to like the cheese filling , though she did like the peanut butter one more. As well, as soon as Mitzie has the filling out of the bone, she exhibited absolutely no interest in the remaining bone. Bigger dogs might actually enjoy the barren bone, but not our dog.

The Redbarn small filled Cheese N Bacon flavored treat is not bad for dogs, but it barely smells like either cheese or bacon. Apparently, our old dog cannot tell the difference and she goes for the bone when she gets hungry. It has a minimum of 7% crude protein and 5% crude fat and no more than 4% crude fiber and 35% moisture. It is intended as a treat and the package advises consumers to have adequate water available for dogs that use this treat. Mitzie, who does not usually seem to need a lot of water with her treats, did go right for her water each time she had this treat.

Our pet store had these at a pricey $4.99 and that was way too much for a treat our dog is so neutral to.

For other dog treats, please check out my reviews of:
Little Chicken Booda Bones
Science Diet Immunity Support Wafers
Bark Bars Peanut Butter And Carob Chip


For other pet product reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Emphasis On Mood Over Character Or Plot Drags Down Rebecca: The Ultimate Tale Of Second-Wife Syndrome!

The Good: Good direction, Good sense of mood, Acting
The Bad: Light on character, Slow plot, Lack of DVD bonus features
The Basics: Alfred Hitchcock's Best Picture winner Rebecca is very much a classic 18th Century English Gothic tale modernized and brought to screen with more attention to mood than plot.

Sometimes, I manage to forget how much I know or how much I've experienced until I experience it again. For example, I forget about the classic 18th Century English Gothic novel tradition until I encounter something that utilizes that format. I mention this at the outset of my review of Rebecca, which was based upon a novel, because it is remarkably similar in plot and form to Jane Eyre (click here for my review of that novel!). It is very much an archetypal gothic story of love and mystery. Rebecca, ultimately, offered no real surprises for me as a fan of that type novel because it was very much carrying on in the tradition of that style work.

Still, Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca is by no means unenjoyable and it begins as an engaging work that captivated me. The problem with the film is that the longer it goes on, the more it belabors the mood and the more it slows down focusing on creating an air as opposed to actually developing the characters or progressing any sense of the plot. And it is possible to create something that is an effective mystery with weird undertones that is engaging, even today (I look to Veronica Mars as a prime example), but Hitchcock and screenwriters Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison fail to do that with Rebecca. Hitchcock effectively creates a creepy mood, but the novelty of that wears off as the viewer waits for something, anything, to happen.

While in Monte Carlo, a young woman (never named) who is working as a paid companion for the gossipy Edythe when they encounter Maxim de Winter, the owner of a huge estate, Manderley, in England. Maxim is a widower and while he appears to pine for his dead wife, Rebecca, he is enchanted by the young woman. Maxim encourages her to abandon Edythe and return to England with him, as his wife and they immediately marry and soon thereafter return to Manderley.

At Manderley, the new Mrs. de Winter finds herself surrounded by all things that remind her of Rebecca and make her feel like she is living in the shadow of the dead wife. She is treated harshly by the head of housekeeping, Mrs. Danvers and a whole wing of the house is forbidden to the new Mrs. de Winter, as it acts as a shrine to the late Rebecca. Trying to be a good wife, the new Mrs. de Winter tries to get Maxim past his obsession with Rebecca and when they throw a costume ball, Mrs. Danvers sets Mrs. de Winter up for a fall. When the boat Rebecca was sailing with is recovered, though, it unearths secrets that threaten the marriage and shake Manderley!

The problem with discussing the plot of Rebecca is that the film is just over two hours long and the plot does not actually begin until the last half hour of the film. The Monte Carlo scenes take fifteen minutes and then there is over an hour and fifteen minutes of static presentation of Mrs. de Winter exploring Manderley while being intimidated by Mrs. Danvers before anything actually happens again. Characters are introduced, like the very sociable Crawleys and the mysterious cousin Jack, but the relationship between Mrs. de Winter and Maxim does not grow or develop or even change. In fact, the two do very little until the costume party and then we learn what most viewers will already suspect, that the hateful Mrs. Danvers is plotting against Mrs. de Winter.

But it is only after the costume party scene that things happen, as Mrs. Danvers's attempt to get Mrs. de Winter to kill herself is interrupted by a plot convenient shipwreck off the coast. That sets into motion a chain of events which rocks the last half hour of the movie. The further problem, though, is that that entire last half hour is less the mystery it is intended to be and instead long strings of exposition. The viewer is told about Rebecca through the first two thirds of the film, then all of the truths come out in the final third and they are long scenes of one character - Maxim, Jack, and a doctor in London - telling their interpretation of past events surrounding Rebecca with little else in the way of development.

In fact, in the final act, there is little other than plot revelations. There are no character changes; Mrs. de Winter is loyal, Maxim displays the same temper he has from the outset, and Mrs. Danvers is monolithically creepy and bent upon the ruin of Mrs. de Winter. Mrs. de Winter is thrown curveballs by the plot revelations, but she never varies from her love for Maxim and her desire to protect him. Similarly, Mrs. Danvers is bent on her desire to see Mrs. de Winter ruined all for some misguided loyalty and love for Rebecca.

Unfortunately, in addition to the slow sense of movement in the film, followed by long exposition, the mood is made oppressive by Hitchcock. What starts as entertaining - the opening voice-over about not being able to return to Manderley is excellent, especially when paired with the intriguing visuals - soon becomes droll as Hitchcock holds on facial expressions that are hardly expressive and on rooms and set pieces that contain an air of mystery. The murky mood dissolves with each revelation and the mysterious becomes mundane. Still, Hitchcock tries to keep the viewer guessing or feeling tension through the music or long camera shots on people or objects that ultimately are static. The technique is admirable, but ultimately academic. Hitchcock might get a viewer for a single viewing, but the sense of intrigue does not hold up even over a second viewing because we know the movements are building to something far less dramatic or interesting.

Still, there is enough to recommend this classic film, most notably the acting. Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine star as Maxim and Mrs. de Winter and they have excellent on-screen chemistry. Fontaine is able to hold her own by making scenes where she acts opposite herself in empty rooms or with a dog engaging through her facial expressions and attention to body language. Olivier is able to pull off the withdrawn widower exceptionally well and he delivers some of the most potentially campy lines with an earnest quality that makes them ring true.

But the real stalwart is Judith Anderson. Anderson plays Mrs. Danvers and while the role is somewhat monolithic, Anderson makes the scenes work by presenting a character who is constant and mysterious. She is stone faced and when Hitchcock holds on her for a slight flutter of her lips, the viewer might not know the emotion she is attempting to convey, but we know she is up to no good! She is creepy throughout.

Largely, that is what Rebecca is, a classic creepy movie without a horror or even a strong sense of mystery. The elements of a mystery are put in place, but then it unravels after an hour of just unsettling the viewer. It's interesting for a viewing, but hardly a masterwork by any means.

[As a winner of the Best Picture Oscar, this film is part of W.L.'s Best Picture Project, which is available by clicking here! Please check it out!]

For other mysteries, please check out my reviews of:
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
The Game
The Bounty Hunter


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Creativity Outside The Canon: The Best Of Peter David (Star Trek Comics) Still Underwhelms.

The Good: Two good stories, Generally good (if inconsistent) artwork
The Bad: "The Worthy" storyline is counter-Trek.
The Basics: For die-hard fans only, three of Peter David's Star Trek comic stories are anthologized in The Best Of Peter David, which is not worth hunting down.

It is interesting to see where creative people can go with well-established franchises. Arguably the most creative mind, for a time, in the Star Trek universe to work in the novels and comic books was Peter David. Peter David has both a great comic mind for writing prose that is funny with sidebars that are laugh-out-loud funny. But David is also known for doing an amazing job of tying together the disparate parts of the Star Trek universe and he is largely credited for revitalizing the Star Trek comic book line in the early 1990s. Around that same time, Peter David made a huge splash in the realm of the Star Trek novels by penning the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel Imzadi (click here for that review!) which explored the hinted-at relationship between Deanna Troi and Will Riker while making a fantastic time-travel epic through the use of the Guardian Of Forever. That level of creativity served David well and earned him the right to wander pretty freely throughout the Star Trek universe doing whatever he pleased.

In the comic books, this allowed Peter David to tell some stories that went in very different directions and the DC Comics books that he wrote have been anthologized because of their popularity. The most recent anthology, The Best Of Peter David is part of the new line of Star Trek Archives books and it makes sense that it is the debut of the Archives trade paperback anthologies as David's works do have almost universal appeal. However, for readers who like Star Trek, the publishers of Archives #1 miscalculated. The bulk of this volume is made up of the three-part "Worthy" saga, which was co-written with Bill Mumy (of Lost In Space and Babylon 5 fame) and this is one of the weakest sagas Peter David ever put his name to. In fact, against the apparent wishes of some of those left in charge of managing the Star Trek franchise at the time, Mumy and David did a de-facto crossover with Lost In Space which was mediocre at best. The real disappointing aspect of "The Return Of The Worthy" storyline was that it undermined the fundamental principle of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry's Prime Directive, which basically dictated that our heroes were not gods and could not meddle in the affairs of less-developed races and planets.

Still, Archive 1 does an excellent job of showcasing the creativity and witty dialogue abilities of writer Peter David. In the first of the three stories, "Retrospective," David creates a Scotty story which almost serves as a template for the direction Sulu went in later on (in canon). "The Return Of The Worthy," which dominates the anthology is followed by "Once A Hero . . ."

"Retrospective" was a double-long Annual (#3) which featured Scotty. Montgomery Scott, Chief Engineer under the starships James T. Kirk commanded, was seldom given romances in the original Star Trek. In "Retrospective," Scotty is uncharacteristically dour when McCoy and Kirk look in on him. He is, in fact, mourning the death of his wife, Glynn Campbell. Glynn was Scotty's childhood sweetheart, whom he married shortly before the events of Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan and whose death is rocking Scotty following the events of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. David's story illustrates the romance between Scotty and Glynn through recognizable events in the Star Trek canon, like Scotty's return to Earth following his nephew's death and his abandonment of Glynn to go with Kirk back to the Genesis Planet. The story winds backward through periods like the Enterprise's return to Earth after the five-year mission and Glynn's relationships. It works back to Scotty's childhood with her and the story is sad, sweet and fleshes out Scotty wonderfully. This story illustrates David's creativity and actually shows a remarkably sensitive side to the author.

The three-part "The Return Of The Worthy" saga - "A Rude Awakening," "Great Expectations," and "Tomorrow Never Knows" - introduces to the "Star Trek" universe a small ship's surviving crew. The quintet, plus their robot, bears a striking resemblance to the mythical Worthy of Karimea, who disappeared some three hundred years prior and were prophesied to return. As Kirk wrestles with the protocol officer assigned to him, he accidentally reanimates the Worthy. A leader, a healer, an engineer, a psychic, a boy genius and a robot make up the Worthy and after coming to believe in the abilities and good nature of the group, the Enterprise ferries them to their world. At Karimea, the Worthy and the Enterprise crew are appalled to find that a holocaust has occurred and the Worthy have been reanimated too late. As the Enterprise crew puts up with the bratty kid in the group - who is peeved because the landing party that reanimated the Worthy shot their robot - they struggle to find a place in the galaxy for the Worthy.

"The Return Of The Worthy" saga is a painfully dull one where a group of aliens defined solely by their yellow skin declare themselves morally superior to the Enterprise crew and the geniuses aboard the Enterprise agree. Equally as irksome is the sendoff of the Worthy where the little group pledges to go forth into the galaxy and correct all of the errors and oversights that StarFleet will not get involved in. This is directly contrary to the high-minded philosophy that Star Trek has long espoused, which states that more advanced societies ought not to meddle in the affairs of less-developed ones. In fact, the only clever aspect to the whole saga of the Worthy is the way Peter David ties in the god Apollo, who - as it turns out - is what banished the Worthy in the first place.

The final story in Archives 1 is "Once A Hero. . ." In this one-shot, Captain Kirk wrestles with a eulogy for a fallen officer who no one actually knew. As he wanders around the ship interviewing people, he discovers that the security officer who sacrificed himself for Kirk was completely unknown by any of the crew and he tries to find something, anything, to say about the man.

"Once A Hero . . ." is all right, but it is essentially a reworked episode of the television show M*A*S*H which Peter David is banking most Star Trek fans have not seen. None of the post-"Retrospective" stories enhance any of the characters in any significant way and these seem very much not like the best stories of Peter David's comic-writing career. Then again, those looking for an inexpensive way to get ahold of a bunch of Peter David's writings will appreciate this volume, which is printed on higher quality paper than the comics originally were.

For other Star Trek graphic novel or trade paperback anthologies, please check out my reviews of:
Star Trek Archives Volume 3 - The Best Of Gary Seven
Star Trek: Nero
Star Trek: Mirror Images


For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here for an organized listing of them!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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A Battle For Mediocrity: "The Battle" Is Still All Right.

The Good: Well-acted, Interesting plot, Character development
The Bad: Continuity, Obviousness
The Basics: An unextraordinary - but not bad - episode that pits Picard against a Ferengi captain in a psychological examination of both characters.

Star Trek The Next Generation continued its shaky first season with "The Battle," which sounds more interesting than it actually is. If you're expecting a lot of action, this episode will not provide.

Instead, "The Battle" is a psychological examination of the usually stalwart and steady Captain Picard. The episode finds the Enterprise off exploring and Captain Picard experiencing, of all things, a headache. Headaches, by the 24th Century, are a thing of the past and Dr. Crusher is reasonably baffled that he is having them at all and is at a loss to explain why they are happening or why they persist. Relatively quickly, the Ferengi arrive and the leader of the Ferengi ship, a Daimon Bok, presents Picard with a gift. It is his old starship, the Stargazer, and after the Stargazer arrives, Picard's headaches get worse and he begins having hallucinations.

We, the audience, are privy rather early on to the link between Picard's malaise and the Ferengi. Daimon Bok is torturing the captain using a remote device and the reason for the act refers to the title.

"The Battle" plays strongly on Patrick Stewart's ability to act alone without the support of the ensemble cast. He creates the episode's most vivid moments while alone. His physical agony, emotional frustration and psychic stress is played quite well within Stewart's range. This is a good thing, because most of the episode hinges on his performance. That's not to say the other actor's aren't giving it their all. Jonathan Frakes comes out for a change as Riker, becoming stronger as Picard becomes weaker. The dichotomy is wonderful and it usually takes more than one viewing to realize that that is what is occurring between the two characters. But Jonathan Frakes, the actor, brings Riker up, supporting some occasionally shaky writing for the character with his stage presence.

It's refreshing to see some of Picard's backstory fleshed out, especially as he is an unusually reticent character - at least in the first season. Seeing his old command gives him a chance to show us - the viewer - his history and how it fits into his present. Despite the way Picard is being manipulated, the episode reads as quite real. The writers were sharp in focusing on Picard; as captain of the Stargazer for 22 years, it seems reasonable that he could forsake his current crew for his past one.

The real flaws with the episode are in the larger picture. It will not detract from the casual viewer, but the attentive viewer is left wondering, "Where has Picard been for the last nine years?!" The Stargazer was lost nine years before the Enterprise began its mission, what has Picard been up to in the interval? According to the Star Trek Chronology, nothing. Picard spends nine years of his life between the destruction of the Stargazer and getting the Enterprise as his command. What kind of organization gives the flagship of the fleet to a person who hasn't accomplished anything for nine years? Apparently, StarFleet. As well, the question ought to be asked, "Why did it take Bok so long to get his revenge?"

In truth, the episode is fine, it entertains and it is rewatchable. Despite being somewhat predictable, it's enjoyable to see the Ferengi again and here they are more worthy adversaries than in the first go around. Easy for fans and non-fans of Star Trek The Next Generation to watch.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the debut season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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