Sunday, September 20, 2020

Ms Kansas

Like a lot of teenage boys who watched a certain sitcom about castaways, I was a little in love with the island's girl-next-door, that, sweet, lovable, capable, smart, loyal gal who also happened to be, well, gorgeous. Here she is in model form. It's not a perfect likeness, but I tried to capture the spirit of the character with the tools available. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Actress

The island is home to a redheaded movie star now separated from the benefits of her fame. In an effort to avoid having this model look like just a generic sexy woman, I chose clothing elements that most closely resembled the style, if not the exact specifications, of the outfits she wore on the show, along with a palm leaf and a pose to suggest that she's fanning herself while vamping a little for her fans. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

The Trillionaire

Apologies to Jim Backus, because for this figure I used one of the monster face templates in an effort to approximate old age. It doesn't really work, but at least he doesn't look twenty years old, like the other figures. Aside from that, recreating the shipwrecked Mr. Moneybags wasn't terribly difficult. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Man of Science

Marooned on a tropical island, the Man of Science uses his education, intelligence, and creativity to protect his fellow castaways from hazards and invent contraptions to improve their quality of life. 

Recreating Roy Hinkley was tough, since his appearance on the show is pretty generic. It was easy to create his signature costume, but there simply aren't enough facial customization options in HeroForge to replicate the actor's distinctive features. So, as with yesterday's recreation, I had to rely on the character's pose and accessories to sell the concept. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Idle Rich Number 1

Howell I pull this one off, I thought, considering HeroForge doesn't yet provide options to make faces look aged. I did my best to evoke the Love(l)y lady through her clothing, pose, and accessories. 

The Ship's Captain

Every first mate needs a captain, and here he is, sculpted virtually in HeroForge. This one feels a little more authentic to me. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The First Mate

Tonight I used HeroForge to build a 28mm scale sailor who looks like he's recently been marooned on a tropical island. He is searching for his hat (because HeroForge does not yet include anything close to the one he sports on the island). 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Friday, September 11, 2020

Lessons from Nature by Skollvog the Unrelenting

Since COVID-19 struck, I've been playing Dungeons & Dragons online with some friends. My first character was the ill-fated Skollvog the Unrelenting, a nature-loving barbarian who died in an ambush before even reaching level four. He is now known as Skollvog the Unremembered. 

Before we started playing, I wrote up some quips Skollvog might drop during the course of the game. These went unused thanks to Skollvog's early death, so I present them here for posterity. 

There is always turbulence where two rivers meet. 

Lions may roar, but beware the silent hippo.

When you hear the rumbling of distant thunder, be ready for the crash of lightning. 

The lion may lie with the lamb for a brief rest, but eventually dinner must be served. 

A mountain may look imposing, but even the mightiest will wither with time.

Victory may burn like fire, but even as fire burns, snow can smother. 

Lava may be slow, but like Skollvog, it is unrelenting. 

Beasts may mate, but only people fall in love. 

To cheat Death is natural and good. To cheat Life is to cheat yourself. 

Even the tallest mountain will one day be conquered. 

Even the fiercest lion retreats when it must. 

The true warrior is never lost, but only forging new paths.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Escape from Gilligan's Island: The Roleplaying Game, Part II: Character Creation, Part I

See Part I here.  


The year is 1969. On a clear and sunny morning in Honolulu, you and two to five other people looking for a diversion booked a sightseeing tour on the S.S. Arness. But the weather started getting rough, and the tiny ship was tossed; if not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Arness would be lost. The ship set ground on the shore of the uncharted isle you now find yourself stranded upon. You are now a Castaway, and moreover, though you don't know it yet, you are a Castaway on Gilligan's Island.

Who are you? What put you on the path that led you to this lonely beach, soaked to the skin, the sun beating down, wreckage strewn about? Which of your skills will help you survive being marooned? And which might, just might, give you the chance to escape? 

Vital Statistics

Each Castaway is partially defined by seven physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual Attributes, collectively known as their ISLANDS score. Each attribute is ranked on a scale of 1-20: 

This is a measure of the Castaway's intellectual prowess, their raw intelligence. The higher the Intellect, the likelier a Castaway is to succeed at Tasks requiring Intellect Tests, such as inventing a machine, learning a new language or Skill, or solving a mystery. The Professor has high Intellect. 

A Castaway's strength measures their raw physical ability and determines their carrying capacity, hand-to-hand damage, and the ability to use certain Skills effectively. The Skipper has high Strength. 

A Castaway's Luck score, for good or ill, will help or hinder their attempts to carry out certain Tasks, to pass Tests, to avoid harm, and to stumble across positive or negative Discoveries. Gilligan has little Luck.

A Castaway's Allure represents their personal magnetism, their ability to attract mates, make friends, and convince others to do their bidding or agree with their point of view. Ginger has high Allure. 

Nature represents a Castaway's internal fortitude, their constitution, their ability to thrive in the face of the elements and survive shortages of food, water, and other essentials. Lovey Howell has low Nature. 

Determination helps Castaways overcome fatigue and frustration. The greater a Castaway's Determination, the better their odds of overcoming the various obstacles to survival presented by Gilligan's Island. Mary Ann has high Determination. 

Savvy represents the street smarts, wisdom, and perception of a Castaway. Characters with low Savvy will seem somewhat oblivious to the world around them, missing obvious solutions to problems and blundering into hazards willy-nilly. Characters with high Savvy will perceive these dangers more easily. Thurston Howell III has a high Savvy. 

To determine each Attribute, roll 5d6 and remove the die with the lowest number. Add up the remaining dice to determine the measure of your Attribute. Each Attribute will range from 4 (abysmal) to 20 (superb). Attributes can not fall lower than 4 or rise higher than 20, even with modifiers. 

Once you have your ISLANDS score, you will use these numbers to determine other aspects of your Castaway. But first, you must choose your Archetype.


In Gilligan's Island, each character represents a human archetype. The Professor represents the Intellectual class. Gilligan is a Fool. The Skipper is an Authoritarian figure. Ginger is a Siren. Mary Ann is a Girl Next Door. The Howells are Idle Rich. 

Each Archetype comes with advantages and disadvantages, and will play a large role in determining your approach to surviving--and escaping--Gilligan's Island. 

The All-American (or All-Canadian, All-Australian, All-Japanese, etc.) represents the ideals of their particular home nation, all that the country aspires to be. All-Americans receive +1 Strength, +1 Allure, and +1 Luck, but -2 Savvy. All-Americans receive one item of sporting or performing arts equipment from the Ship's Stores. 

Extra Skills: 2

Artists paint, write, sing, play, act, sculpt, or create art some other way. Artists receive +1 to Intellect and Determination, but -1 to Luck. Artists receive an extra musical instrument or artist tool from the Ship's Stores. 

Extra Skills: 1

The One Next Door
You're everyone's best friend and secret crush thanks to your empathy, kindness, and unconscious charisma. You have bad days like everyone else, but when there's trouble, you're a dependable source of help and morale-boosting. Ones Next Door receive +1 to Allure and Nature, but -1 to Savvy. They cannot choose weapons from the Ship's Stores or Personal Possessions lists. 

Extra Skills: 1

You are a figure of physical, political, or intellectual power. Authoritarians receive +1 to one of Intellect, Strength, or Savvy, but they receive -1 to Allure. Authoritarians get first choice of weapon from the Ship's Stores; in fact, this player may choose to be the captain of the Arness

Extra Skills: 0

The Entrepreneur put their qualities to work to create their own small-to-medium sized business. Entrepreneurs receive +1 Determination and +1 Savvy, but -1 Allure. They receive 1.5x the standard allotment of items from the Personal Possessions list.  

Extra Skills: 1

Through no fault of their own, the Fool fundamentally misunderstands the way the universe works. While they may be gifted in other ways, their obliviousness invites all manner of catastrophe. However, their innocence can also reveal the hypocrisy inherent in our social and political systems. Fools receive +1 Nature and +1 Determination, but -2 Luck. 

Extra Skills: -1

Healers are doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals schooled in Western or traditional medicine. Healers receive +1 Intellect and Determination. They cannot choose weapons from the Personal Possessions or Ship's Stores lists, but they get two extra pieces of medical equipment from either list. 

Extra Skills: 2

The Iconoclast has rejected, or been rejected by, their culture. They might be a hermit, a hippie, a Beatnik, or any other sort of eccentric who believes society is broken and must be abandoned or toppled. Iconoclasts receive a +1 bonus to Intellect and Nature, but a -1 penalty to Allure thanks to their unconventional outlook on life. They receive half the normal allotment of Personal Possessions. 

Extra Skills: 0

Idle Rich
Through no virtue of your own, you've lived a life of luxury. The Idle Rich receive +2 luck and -1 to Nature or Determination. They also receive three times the normal allotment of  items from the Personal Possessions list, but do not have access to the Ship's Stores unless they can convince the other Castaways they will reward them after a successful Escape. 

Extra Skills: -1

The Intellectual is known for their smarts. Intellectuals come in many flavours; they could be a scientist, explorer, poet, writer, artist, philosopher, or other thought leader. Intellectual Castaways receive +2 Intellect, -1 Allure, and any two extra pieces of scientific apparatus, books or artistic tools from the Ship's Stores. 

Extra Skills: 2

Sirens are figures of great charisma, particularly of an erotic nature. Sirens receive +2 to their Allure score, but -1 to Determination, since they are often used to other people accomplishing tasks for them. Sirens get to choose two extra costumes, sets of grooming supplies, and exercise equipment from the Personal Possessions list. 

Extra Skills: 0

You hide it well, but you have no empathy for others and will do whatever it takes to pursue your own interests. You can assume the guise (though not the Attribute bonuses or penalties) of any other Archetype. Sociopaths receive +1 to Allure and Savvy and their choice of concealable weapon from the Personal Possessions list. 

Extra Skills: 2

You are between 13 and 19 years old, with the extra vitality, imagination, and other qualities of youth. Teens receive +1 to their Nature and Luck Attributes, and -1 to their Savvy attribute due to their inexperience. They receive half the normal allotment of Personal Possessions. 

Extra Skills: 0

Tinkerers possess curiosity, imagination, and the physical coordination to put their skills to use. Tinkerers receive +1 Intellect, Strength, and Determination, and have first pick from the Ship's Stores except for weapons. 

Extra Skills: 2

The Veteran has served in a branch of their nation's armed forces. They receive +1 Strength, +1 Nature, and +1 Determination, but -1 Allure. Veterans can choose a weapon from the Personal Possessions list. 

Extra Skills: 1

Have I missed any Archetypes? Comment below! 

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Crisis on Infinite Earls

Earls will live. Earls will die. And the universe will never be the same. 

Monday, September 07, 2020

A Short, Strange Review

Dr. Strange, a 1978 TV movie adaptation of the Marvel Comics character, is much better than I expected given the poor-to-laughable quality of the contemporaneous Captain America adaptations of the same era. Philip DeGuere's film takes the subject matter seriously, refusing to delve into camp; it plays like a decent episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with a straightforward but decently compelling story, decent performances from the leads (always a pleasure to see Anne-Marie Martin, most famous for her work in Sledge Hammer!), special effects that enhance the story despite the low budget, fair production design, and a funky soundtrack.

One gets the feeling that had this been picked up to series, it had the potential to be at least as good as The Incredible Hulk show, another artifact of the period that holds up better than one might expect.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Scary Chair

A good villain needs furniture befitting his or her status. 

And when you're a villain, you don't have to be subtle. 

I think I'm starting to do a better job of picking colours, but as you can see, even after cleaning up, there are still bits where they shouldn't be. Needs another light touch-up before I can call it finished. 

Friday, September 04, 2020

Ape Expectations

Today I assembled and painted a 28mm-scale gorilla. I really wanted to do a good job with this one, so I started by painting the whole creature black, then drybrushing with light grey to bring out the details of his fur. Finally, I used the tiniest brush I have to paint his tongue red and fangs white. In this closeup, the fangs look pretty messy, but on the table you can hardly notice. Still, perfection slipped through my fingers yet again. 

This is also the first time I decorated a base. First, I painted the base dark green, then used an old brush to "paint" white glue onto the base once the paint dried. Finally, I dusted the base with fake grass basing material. 

Overall, I'm pretty happy. 

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Farewell, Kelly

I found out late last night that my friend and former colleague Kelly Fitzgibbon had passed away earlier in the day. I feel terrible for her husband and their two daughters and the many other people she touched during her all too brief life. 

What I remember most about Kelly is her consistent refusal to put up with anything she saw as unjust. She was a wonderful advocate for the marginalized and was speaking out for people the very day before she died. She also had a fantastic sense of humour, a great work ethic, and a huge heart. She shared her journey with cancer over social media and I always found her thoughts amazingly gracious, inspiring, and free of self-pity, even though she had every reason to feel sorry for herself. 

Kelly and I only worked together at the Alberta Liberal caucus for a few years, and we didn't stay in touch in person after that, though we connected on social media off and on. Even so, I still think of her as a friend and I value the time I spent working and laughing with her. 

I hope your destiny finds you in a better place, Kelly. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

More Colours Out of Time

 Here's a black and white photo of Mom (right) with her older sister, my Aunt Jean. It was taken sometime in the 1950s at the farm near Virden, Manitoba. 

Here's the same photo colourized by Jason Antic's image colourization software. Colourizing black and white imagery is nothing new, of course, but I'm pretty impressed by the results given how easy it is to use the software; just upload your photo and the algorithm spits out its best guess. 
I deliberately chose to shoot some of Michael and Naomi's wedding with black and white film. Here are Jeff and Susan at that wedding in glorious black and white.
And here they are in colour. 

Say what you will about the wisdom of colourization, but for all its flaws I find the process fascinating, and I imagine the colours will achieve greater fidelity and believability as the technology improves. 

Monday, August 31, 2020

Mayor Bill

Mayor William Tanner may not be the best man for the job, but he's the one that took it. Secretly he's pleased by the respect and perks that come with leading the community, but he's decent enough to feel shame about those feelings, so he compensates by doing the best he can to manage local politics fairly. Many townspeople disapprove of their mayor, but not quite enough to do anything about it. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Absalom Arkwright

 Absalom Arkwright: petty thief, backstabbing coward, loving son, gifted poet. His virtues and vices not quite in balance, and ever-shifting. Admired and despised in unequal measure, Absalom refuses to apologize and shows no shame--though perhaps he feels it festering inside like a pulsing cyst. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Queen in Yellow

A figure cloaked in mystery, she strikes from the shadows and then vanishes as if she'd never been there at all, her victims the only evidence of her presence. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

Marza Smittdotter


Hammer and tongs, Marza forges her own destiny as she forges her own weapon, determined to take revenge on the literal and metaphorical demons who tormented her through her childhood. The oldest sister in a family of orphans, Marza is determined to protect her younger siblings from the dark forces that plague her village. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Manthaulg Blovian

Manthaulg Blovian is slow to anger but quick with a blade. His gruff good humour endears him to friends and strangers alike, but few know that Blovian's good nature is a mask he wears to hide the lonely despair he feels--despair caused by a dread secret that has haunted him for decades beyond counting. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

28mm Atrocity

Yikes! It's a 28mm-scale torture cage. You can't see the unfortunate occupant, but rest assured I painted him too. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Plastic Mattresses

Here are some 28mm-scale roughed-up mattresses that I intend to use for skirmish or roleplaying games that need a post-apocalyptic or urban decay aesthetic. I'm happy enough with these. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

Potions and Crystals

These little bottles and flasks are tiny (just a couple of mm tall) and made of translucent plastic, so I was hesitant to paint them. I finally gave it a shot, using small amounts of contrast paint. As I'd hoped, the light application allowed the items to keep their translucent quality. (The urn at centre rear is the exception; it's opaque, so I applied light tan paint to make it look like pottery.) 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Earl and the Legion of Super-Pets

About three-quarters of my hyper-realistic dreams wind up being nightmares, but last night's adventure was a whimsical treat: 

It's an atypical day at the office, because reporter Ron Troupe is here to interview us for a story about the Legion of Super-Pets. 

"Let me introduce you to my colleagues," I say. "Over here, we have, Streaky, the Supercat--" But Streaky isn't in her bed. Suddenly there's the familiar sound of tearing leather, and I whip around to see the orange tabby literally ripping the lobby couch in half with her claws. 


"Sorry," Streaky says sheepishly, claws pausing in mid-rend. I sigh and gesture toward Comet, the Super-Horse, who is gnawing on one of the houseplants. "This is Comet, the Super-Horse," I tell Ron. 

"Krypto, the Superdog." Krypto is half-asleep on the same couch Streaky is destroying. He blinks in acknowledgement.

"Tur-Tel, the Super-Turtle." Tur-Tel is surfing the Internet. 

"Sapphire, the Super-Budgie." Sapphire is rooting around in the fridge, probably for a beer. 

"And finally, Beppo, the Super-Monkey." I look around. No Super-Monkey. "Hey, has anyone seen Beppo?" 

There's a bark, a meow, a whinny, a chirp, a cluck. 

"Come on, guys, English. You know I'm not Dr. Doolittle." 

There's a chorus of replies in the negative. 

Just then, the phone rings. I pick up. Ron is taking notes. 

"Legion of Super-Pets, how can we help?" 

It turns out the fire department needs a bunch of equipment moved from a warehouse to a new fire station. 

"Hey guys, we have a moving job. Everyone in?" 

The Super-Pets are always happy to get out of the office. Thanks to their super-speed, they're out the door in a flash, capes fluttering in their wake. 

As we follow, Ron asks me some questions. 

"Aren't you famously allergic to animals?" 

"Yes, but luckily the Super-Pets are all super-hypoallergenic," I reply. "Otherwise, my job would be impossible." 

"And what is your job? You don't have any super-powers..." 

"I guess you could say I'm their liaison. Although sometimes I feel like their mascot. They're all super-intelligent." 

"So why do they keep you around?" 

"It's the opposable thumbs and the lack of super-strength. I'm the only one that can answer the phone without destroying it." 

We step outside, and there's Beppo saying goodbye to a leggy brunette, kissing her on the cheek and sending her off with a giggle. Ron looks nonplussed. 

"Hey, Beppo, the gang's just heading down Jasper to the old warehouse on 112th. We've been asked to move some heavy equipment. They'll give you the scoop." 

Beppo salutes and leaps into the sky, heading west. Ron and I have no choice but to follow along on the sidewalk. By the time we reach the warehouse, the Super-Pets will likely have finished the job, unless they get distracted, which sometimes happens. They may be super-intelligent, but they're still animals, and they all love to play. 

"What brought the Super-Pets to Edmonton?" 

Before I can answer, Sylvester Stallone pulls up alongside us, wearing a black trenchcoat and mirrored sunglasses. 

"Ay, you the guy that manages the Super-Pets?" he asks. 

"Yessir," I say. 

"You happen to have an elephant on the team?" 

"Actually yes, Jumbo, the Super-Elephant. But he's on a mission overseas right now." 

"I really needed a super elephant," Stallone mumbles. "Thanks anyway!" 

"So about that last question..." 

"Right, why they're in Edmonton. My understanding is they had been hanging out in the 30th century for a while with some super-teenagers of that era, then came back to the 21st century but found the US too hectic right now and wound up in Edmonton because of the Mall." 

He knew I meant West Edmonton Mall. "They like the waterpark," I explain. 

In the distance, up in the sky, we can see Streaky and Krypto zipping back and forth, the occasional beam of heat vision zapping out to taunt and tease. "They must be done already. I should really ask Superman if I can borrow the Supermobile for a while. At least that way I'd be able to keep up." 

Out of nowhere, Sapphire lands on my shoulder. I manage not to jump this time; I'm finally getting used to their super-speed. 

"All done," she chirps. "Want a ride back to the office?" 

"Uh, no thanks." It's not that I'm worried she's going to drop me, but her talons have already wrecked a couple of jackets. 

"Suit yourself! Whee-ooo!" And off she goes. 

That's when I wake up, laughing. Note that all the characters mentioned have actually appeared in comic books, aside from Super-Elephant and Super-Budgie, who seem to have leapt from my subconscious. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

Seed Pods

 There's always something beautiful to admire in Mom's garden. 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Temporarily Pristine

 Here are the "clean" iterations of my 28mm-scale jeep and panel truck. 

As you can see the interior of the cab is primer white. I suppose I'll have to try painting through the windows, annoying as I predict that task will be. I had an inkling I should have painted the interior before assembling the model, but like a fool, I didn't, creating a self-inflicted headache. 

Once I do the cab, I'll watch some tutorials and carefully add some weathering to both vehicles. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Farewell Aunt Margaret

Last night, Mom received the news that her oldest sister, Margaret (Etsell) Newton, had passed away in Winnipeg at 88. You can see Mom at the far left beside Aunt Margaret, with Aunt Jean and Aunt Marjorie, respectively, on the right. 

I'll miss Aunt Margaret. She was kind, compassionate, warm, intelligent, and accomplished, and she had a smile that lit up the room. My thoughts are with my Uncle Gordon, my cousins David, Kathy, and Barbara, my aunts, and, of course, Mom. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

A Familiar...Face?

Last night I started painting this 28mm scale jeep, which came with a driver made of pewter. It wasn't until I started painting said driver that I realized he was supposed to be Lord Humungus from The Road Warrior. If that's not what the modellers intended, well, I consider it a happy coincidence. 

Initially, I painted Humungus' mask white, then attempted to paint in black eye holes with my tiniest brush. Of course I wound up getting black all over his face. But inspiration struck. I wound up painting his whole face black, waited for it to dry, then dry-brushed white paint over the black. Success! Because the eye holes are recessed, the black layer shows through. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Filthy Truck

Here is a 28mm scale truck, the first vehicle I've painted in this scale. I started with a base layer of tan, then used a variety of technical paints to cover the truck with mud, dust, and grime. I think I went too far, though; I wanted more of a weathering effect, as opposed to having the truck look like it's just returned from off-roading. I think part of my mistake was starting with a base colour that was too close to the filth I slathered atop it, too. 

I have two more vehicles in this scale. I'm going to paint those army green, and then try my hand at more subtle weathering effects. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Casual Atrocity

 Last night I painted this grand guignol guillotine, and I must say I'm quite pleased with the macabre results. 

But I couldn't leave well enough alone. So after work, I sacrificed an extra Pathfinder nobleman miniature. 

The scale works very well. Of course, a real victim would be bound for execution, but even so this character's pose works well enough. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Zyrian Pilgarlic

Here's another fellow I painted recently, a bearded academic or monk of some kind. I dub him Zyrian Pilgarlic, not-so-humble seeker of truths, peerless pedant, and frustrated romantic. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Axiom the Misunderstood

Here's a horrifying thought: After I paint all of my miniatures, I'll feel compelled to give them all names and attributes and backstories. Well, here's Axiom the Misunderstood. His furious countenance, bloodstained axe, and eccentric attire might lead the casual observer to jump to conclusions about his occupation and temperament. Uh...someday I'll figure out why the casual observer is wrong. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Wine Cellar

Just a couple of hours ago, I finished painting these two 28mm-scale wine cabinets. I was quite daunted by these cabinets because of the extremely fine details, including the individual bottles, the rows of glasses, and the hinges and knobs. Previously, I attacked details like this with brute force, attempting to paint "between the lines," as it were, taking hours to get strokes of 1mm wide (or less) just right. 

I tried that at first with these cabinets, and the results were appalling. So, frustrated, I decided to try and be zen about the matter. Instead of painstaking focus, I tried to let the brush itself guide my movements, gently caressing the raised details with various shades of gold, silver, and white. Believe me when I say the difference in the final product is tremendous; I'm now moderately pleased with the way these turned out, particularly the bottles on the top shelves and the knobs and hinges on the cupboards. It may be my imagination, but I could swear there's a hint of actual labels, with writing, on the bottle faces. I couldn't have created that effect on purpose, but it seems to me a very happy accident. 

Friday, August 07, 2020

First Look at "Second Contact"

SPOILER WARNING for the first episode of STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS!

Last night Sylvia and I watched "Second Contact," the pilot episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks, the first Star Trek show billed as a comedy and the second (barring a couple of Short Treks) to be animated. 

"Second Contact" introduces us to the show's premise and its main characters. Lower Decks is set on the starship Cerritos; her primary mission is to perform second contact missions. That is, the crew of the Cerritos goes where others have gone before, following up the more exciting and hazardous first contact missions with alien species by taking care of the mundane work of establishing permanent communications links, cultural exchanges, trade agreements, and so on. The show is set just a few years after the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, so the ship designs, uniforms, and even the typefaces are identical to or clearly evolved from that show's design lineage. 

While other Star Trek shows follow the adventures of the bridge officers--the captain and other high-ranking folks--Lower Decks reveals the less glamorous world of the fresh young crew who perform the least desirable or prestigious tasks on the ship. Our protagonists include Beckett Mariner and Brad Boimler, two ensigns on the command track; new Orion recruit D'Vana Tendi, who works in the medical division; and engineer Sam Rutherford, who recently became a cyborg due to an injury in the show's recent past. Each of the four displays the drive, ambition, and desire to do the right thing we've come to expect from Federation characters, but these characters are less polished than Kirk, Picard, Data, Spock, Sisko, Janeway, and so on. Mariner tends to pay less attention to regulations than she should, though always in pursuit of a greater good; as a result, she's been demoted at least a rank or two before the show opens. Boimler tends to be a little too focused on advancement, with perhaps a tendency to suck up to his superiors. Rutherford is still getting used to his Vulcan-designed cybernetic implants, which tend to tamp down his emotions by default, and he's also a bit too in love with his job, to the detriment of his social life. Tendi seems to be the least quirky of the quartet, though she does get a little overexcited when she gets the opportunity to hold a live, beating human heart in her bare hands. 

We catch only glimpses of the senior staff; the ship's captain, Carol Freeman, gets the most development in this episode. She comes across as slightly antagonistic in this episode, but it's hard to judge her fairly based on just a few seconds of screentime. 

Like most Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, this pilot has an A plot and a B plot. In the A plot, Boimler and Mariner beam down to the planet of the Galardonians to help set up some infrastructure. In the B plot, the ship's first officer infects the crew with a quickly-spreading zombie-like disease. Hilarity ensues in both plots, and Boimler unwittingly saves the day. 

When I first heard about Lower Decks, I had one concern: Could the creators respect the Star Trek ethos while at the same time producing something funny? 

The good news is the talent takes great pains to stay true to Trek values. While the characters are wacky by the standards of live-action Trek, they remain believable, if somewhat exaggerated. They clearly believe in the Federation and its mission, and act out of a desire to do good. 

But is it funny? Well, I laughed, but not uproariously. The gags are a mix of physical pratfalls and gentle digs at some of the sillier aspects of the world of Star Trek. It works for me, but I'm a pretty small audience. 

If I had to characterize Lower Decks in just a few words, I would say it's gentle, sincere, and has great potential. I already like the characters, and the premise is promising. It's a good start.