Episode 23: Updecks Downdecks

Television Man by Aidan Morgan

“Well, Television Man gonna be here, gonna be here soon /Gonna cover us with a signal /That he broadcasts from the moon” —Tom Waits, “Television Man Gonna Be Here”

Do you ever fire up your Star Trek watcher (commonly known as a “television”) and wonder if the venerable series needs to be reconstituted as an adult-oriented cartoon? I hope you do, because that’s what we’ve got with Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access/Crave). Created by Mike McMahan, Lower Decks follows the lives of four ensigns from the lower decks of the U.S.S. Cerittos, a group of second-class Starfleeters on a second-class ship.

Executive producer Alex Kurtzman called it “Rick and Morty in the world of Star Trek,” which may explain why Lower Decks sometimes feels awkward and at odds with itself in its early episodes. Rick and Morty is a show whose science fiction influences, Star Trek among them, are written into its DNA — but the world of Star Trek has a hard time beaming Rick and Morty’s sensibilities into its fundamentally utopian world. Imagine the havoc Rick Sanchez would wreak on the bridge of the Enterprise. No, eventually the fledgling ensigns will grow up and become part of the Federation’s structure.

Merry Pacing

Buckle up, Mason Jars (that’s my name for die-hard Perry Mason fans). This is not your dad’s Perry Mason (HBO/Crave). But it might be your great-grandfather’s.

For most older humans, Perry Mason conjures up images of Raymond Burr in the courtroom, zealously defending his charges and commanding the courtroom with dark-suited gravitas. Matthew Rhys (The Americans) is a far cry from Burr, playing Mason as a hangdog private investigator who fends off wartime PTSD with an ever-present flask and spends his nights peering through the bedroom windows of cheating spouses. It may come as a bit of a shock for Mason fans, but stick with it; much of the pleasure of the show derives from watching Mason stumble into his role as a lawyer and reluctantly confront his greatest terror: his fundamental decency.

This is a lavish production, with plenty of Depression-era grunge and a stunning World War One battle scene that rivals recent big-screen war epics. The performances from Rhys, John Lithgow, Chris Chalk and Shea Whigham are uniformly great, but nothing beats seeing Tatiana Maslany as an Aimee Semple McPherson-style radio preacher.

Curiously, Perry Mason is one of two current shows with a McPherson figure. The other is Penny Dreadful: City of Angels (Crave), another prestige series set in 1930s Los Angeles. The easiest way to tell them apart is that Perry Mason is a good show and PD: C of A is an embarrassingly bad one.