IR TV Review: “Through The Valley Of Shadows” (STAR TREK – DISCOVERY) [CBS All Access-S2]

The essence that “Star Trek: Discovery” is trying to maintain in the sense of its progression is reflecting canon while still maintaining mystery and a sense of tension. With the aspect of “Through The Valley Of Shadows”, the foreshadowing continues and starts an infrastructure that interrelates in an odd way to aspects of “The Wrath Of Khan” but it also offers a bigger perception without either actor ever revealing it of the deep seated secrets or regrets with Spock, whether it be in the outcome of this escapade of “The Red Angel”, the perception of “The Managerie” or even Spock’s eventual second family in the Enterprise crew of Bones and Kirk and his eventual death and resurrection. To do this in a larger structure with the fact that certain ripple effects might literally wipe Michael Burnham out of the timeline at a certain point is a real perception. While reflexive, the show is still working on the basest psychological constructs. And especially within this idea, the concept of time, hinted at in the texture of “Interstellar” and its reflections of relativity, really gives an undeniably concept of the larger ideas that Discovery is playing with. Anson Mount shines in this episode as Pike and again gives clarity of the embracing of his ideas and what creates the shell of the man he becomes, both literally and figuratively. What is really reassuring is the adherence to the original series and its eventual progression and not the timeline of the new movies which while interesting for the big screen is not as integral a story as this one is turning out to be.

By Tim Wassberg

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Material Traction & Genre Progression: The 2019 CBS Network & CBS All Access TCA Winter Press Tour

CBS Networks’ progression of the day indicated the breathe of material but also the specific detail intonated in each of their respective programs. This becomes more apparent even as the network found the balance between purely broadcast and All Access, which is quickly gaining traction as the place to watch new genre series (as the newly announced “Twilight Zone” spearheaded by Jordan Peele attests).

The World’s Best The reality genre, specifically the idea of what this consists of, has considerably changed over the years. Mike Darnell, who produces this new “variety show” on CBS per se has led the way. Currently as President Of Alternative Programming at Warner Brothers Television, he understands the way things work. The idea here was finding acts that had not been seen before that don’t necessarily need to be “found” to guarantee their success. He explains how he approached this show: “Sometimes we say it was expensive and you can see it on the show. [But] CBS stepped up to make it big. The sale of the show was based on a built concept. When I was working at Fox and we did ‘Idol’, a lot of singing shows came along. [With] “The Voice”, [we] took the singing show and added a game show element. Here we have was spinning chairs [but also add] the aspect of the “Will of the World”. This adds a global feel of selling it, making it fresh and new.” Darnell continues: “There are so many singing shows. There has been only one variety show. While ‘America’s Got Talent’ is the best in the world, the format has got to change.” Executive Producer Alison Holloway, who has also worked on “America’s Got Talent”, had to find those acts that were perhaps a little harder to uncover: “I have a small casting team because it is very hands on. The Internet is a great tool for casting. That is where a lot of work is done. But talking to your contacts…seeing what the local papers in China are talking about…[that is how] we want to get something [that] is a little different.” Darnell also explains the changing directive of what alternative programming means: “Alternative covers this wide umbrella of variety. Other genres are fairly well defined. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard in my career that reality is dying. [But] the networks rely on them, especially for same day numbers, which is important for advertising.” Ru Paul Jones, one of the judges on the show, concludes with a perception of the talent: “In our lifetime, we have had a lot of things happen. These [acts we see] are people who have spent their lives perfecting what they do. [As judges] we weren’t prepared for the emotional journey and the expertise.”

Red Line This new dramatic/event series uses the texture of the Red Line which is a force in terms of geography that both connects and separates Chicago’s different sides, both financially and racially as a train system. The two show runners come from independent cinema with their film “A View From Tall” playing the Los Angeles Film Festival. Their play “A Twist Of Water”, which played Off Broadway was actually the inspiration for the show. Caitlin Parrish, one of the show runners, explains their trajectory: “We come from theater but with a cast this sprawling there was something enticing about the longer form. The red line is one of the main lines in the city from the very north to the very south. For as segregated as Chicago is, this touches upon every person in the city. It was our metaphor of choice.” Her co-showrunner Erica Weiss continues: “I think Chicago has a lot to say in the national communication. We did our research to make sure we are giving the fullest picture possible. The socio-politcal element in Chicago is rich and we’re telling stories about characters and their personal choices.” Noah Wyle, who plays Daniel Calder, wanted to try something perhaps more grounded than his recent roles like “The Librarian”: “The emotional reaction I had to the first reading of this script was so intense. It was about leaving a lot of my creature comforts as far as wearing hats and doing it differently on every single level.”

The Neighborhood In the first of quick freshman show highlights, this show moves forward in a structure like a reverse “All In The Family” where it is more based in a white family moving into a black neighborhood. Show runner Jim Reynolds, who has written for such shows as “Samantha Who?” and “The Big Bang Theory” offers his perception: “I don’t think the show is written from a black perspective. I think it is balanced. It is based on my experience of moving into a predominantly African American neighborhood.” Cedric The Entertainer who plays Calvin talks about the show: “Calvin is the patriarch of the neighborhood. This is where the character is rooted, where he is grounded. In a lot of ways, ‘All In The Family’ was set up where that character has the biggest perspective to have the greatest change. [For me] it was trying to get across a point of view. Luckily the way I have discovered Calvin in his hubris and how he discovers who he is is endless. [But] no one wants to see [the two sides] bicker or him being mean. It is about that line.” Tichina Arnold, who also starred on “Martin”, explains the balance: “Racism comes from fear, the fear of unknowing. I think that it is important that this conversation does happen. When two households get together and have conversation, they learn from each other.”

FBI From Dick Wolf, creator of “Law & Order” and the “Chicago” franchise, this look into the Bureau is built to be a launching board for a whole new world of spin-offs. Missy Peregrym, who recently guested on “Hawaii Five O”, takes up the lead as Special Agent Maggie Bell. She explains the balance and challenge in creating a new character in this world: “The first season is really tricky [as far as] developing the dynamics. It is a grind but it is such a win when it works. Z (her co-star Zeeko Zaki) and I have had a lot of conversations as to how that works. We’re not making a judgement about what is happening.” Zaki portrays her partner, Special Agent Omar Odom. “I was surprised at how a lot of pieces that are not FBI are within the family. It is such a bigger thing without egos,” he explains. “They shoot these episodes really big to make them as big and intense as reality. That is the goal of the show. [And we are] doing 22 [episodes]. I am not sure it is normal.” Peregrym also discusses her trajectory in the law enforcement genre as she started with the ABC show “Rookie Blue”: “I was a rookie and I had to go through every mistake and embody it. [With] every single person here I interview [here for my role]…I really want to listen and give them the respect of being a human being no matter what the situation is. I had to really grow up to do this.”

God Friended Me This other new freshman series has a unique perspective in its use of social media but with an intriguing religious balance (which brings to mind the defunct 2018 series “Living Biblically” which was covered at CBS TCAs last year in addition to an exclusive one-on-one with Ian Gomez ). But the texture is always timing within the zeitgeist. Brandon Michael Hall, who previously was the lead on ABC’s “The Mayor”, plays Miles who gets a text from God. His approach to the material is the essence of creating “a deep and honest friendship” within the show. Bryan Wynbrandt, the show runner, who also co-created “Alcatraz” with JJ Abrams explains: “We haven’t put any restrictions on topics. The show is no really about religion but rather humanity [because] religion is just one aspect of being a human being. Nothing is really off limits but we don’t let religion drive the show.”

With CBS All Access, CBS has begun to engage a new audience with originals shows that occupies even a different space than CW and Showtime, thereby ensuring its uniqueness.

The Good Fight This spin-off of “The Good Wife” starring Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart allows the acidic wit to simply wash with delicious aplomb over the audience. Robert & Michelle King, who also created “The Good Wife” as well as the short lived “Brain Dead” starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, looked to find the right tone as they molded the show. Robert explains: “What you try to do is stay as close to the zeitgeist as possible. We are not real fans of shows that preach to the choir.” He continues that in creating story lines “a lot of it is about a satire to the left.” Baranski talks about how her character continues to build: “It is quite serendipitous is that [my character] was emboldened by what happened in history (Trump being elected instead of Clinton).” As a result, she explains, “it is a show with a lot of people dealing with what is going on. [Diane] was always the woman in the room when it happens [but she is] trying to keep her balance in a dystopian world…[which is] inspired for me.

Star Trek: Discovery Heading into its second season, this flagship show for CBS All Access does have to walk the line between new storytelling and the aspect of canon. With Alex Kurtzman taking full helm of showrunning duties this season along with the new cast fodder in Anson Mount as Captain Pike and Ethan Peck as Spock, the texture of how it all fits together still continues as a puzzle. Kurtzman explains: “We see canon as an amazing opportunity. There is amazing grey area where we didn’t know what happened to Spock in his life. [But] we certainly know that in order for ‘Discovery’ to live on, we have to be able to operate outside of canon. The common denominator among the cast is that they are empathetic [But from what you are seeing] these are the proto versions [of these characters]. Mount speaks to taking on a character straight out of canon: “Ethan had a tougher job that I did. Obviously it is an enormous sense of responsibility. I grew up with Kirk as my captain. [But] my favorite character was Data.” Ethan Peck, grandson of Gregory Peck has the undeniable pressure of taking on the iconic character of Spock: “It is a huge responsibility [but] I had the faith of people. I spent a lot of time of Nimoy’s performance. [This space in canon” exists] 3 years after the TOS pilot “The Cage”. Finally Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays the lead Michael Burnham, (whom IR has interviewed for both Season 1 and Season 2), knows that the character is still evolving in many ways: “The guilt is going to take a long time [for her] to process and set aside. It is a big part of the overall feeling that needs to happen [for her]. There is a deep desire to rewrite history to make up for these major mistakes. [For Michael], reinstatement into Starfleet is a big step forward. There is a lot of healing on Discovery…[and] a journey towards restoration.”

By Tim Wassberg

IR Exclusive Print Interview: Anson Mount For “Star Trek – Discovery” [CBS All Access – S2 – CBS TCA Winter Press Tour 2019]

Stepping into the shoes of “Captain” is not an easy job, especially when the names that have come before as Kirk, Picard and Janeway, especially for a fan who has watched the original show. After conducting a panel with his fellow actors at the CBS All Access TCA Press Day for the new season of “Star Trek – Discovery”, Anson Mount, aka Captain Christopher Pike, spoke exclusively with The Inside Reel about process, texture of character and the sometimes trickiness of canon.

Could you talk a little bit about finding Pike physically? And then mentally, on that note?

Anson Mount: Well, the physical demands is to keep those uniforms fitting (laughing). Not fun for a 45-year-old man. Combined with amazing catering…it’s like torture. (laughing) I loved how Chris Pine sort of perfectly mimics the way that Kirk crossed the bridge and sat on the chair. I wanted to see if I could do it as well as him (laughing) even though it’s a different character, I didn’t really care.

Is that the essence of confidence? Or is it bringing out certain elements of that?

AM: No. It was just an outside-in way of getting comfortable in the captain’s chair because Pike and Kirk are very, very different captains. Kirk leads from the gut. Pike leads from the Star Fleet code of conduct, you know? Very, very different characters.

When you get an established character, can you in a certain way wipe it clean and then writing your own version?

AM: No. It’s a matter of having the first act and the third act, but no second act. You’re being asked to step in and fill out the second act. And first-act Pike and third-act Pike are different Pikes. They say that we literally regenerate every cell in our body every 7 years, so we’re literally different people. So I didn’t really feel constrained at all. I felt the freedom to make Pike my version of Pike.

Kirk always almost had, I think, a jealousy of Pike because of how much Spock loved him. You saw that in “The Cage” (and by extension the TOS episode “The Menagerie”). You being very familiar with canon….there’s so much probably that Pike does not say that we’ll see later in the season. Could you talk about that white space?

AM: About the relationship with Spock?

Yes.

AM: It was really a matter of feeling it out as the writers figured it out. Really, I got lucky to be handed an actor as incredible as Ethan Peck (as Spock). That guy right there is going to be a big, fat movie star. He’s got it all. Wait until you see him. And he’s a really, really, really good actor. We kind of also took some of the cues from our own friendship that we gained on set. He’s such a lovely guy and, sort of, getting his feet wet in this world for the first time. He was sort of leaning on me perhaps for a few answers to some of the questions that plague us as younger actors.

What questions? About fame? Or walking into this universe?

AM: Just, in general, am I screwing this up? Or just nervous stuff. Because it’s not going to help you. He’d [also] never done TCA before so I was like, “We’re working.” It’s like watching a NFL game from the pressbox. (laughing) Just know that.

But it is daunting kind of walking into this universe, given its history and the fandom for it.

AM: If I sit around and think about it. Yah. Thankfully this role came to me late enough that I’ve learned that when I find myself daunted, it means I’m usually not doing my homework. And I need to put down the mirror and, you know, the internet, and all the bullshit that surrounds what we do. And get to work. Because it just doesn’t help you.

Is it easy to get caught up in though? Because no one is immune to the aspect of expectation…

AM: A little bit. I mean look. We all have a media machine in our pocket. So it’s hard to miss. Your friends are texting you things. You can’t avoid it. But you get better at just filtering it and putting it aside.

Right. But before that happened, what was your impression because you’re such a fan of Star Trek… just stepping in.

AM: Oh my god, it was completely surreal. I mean the first time, I sat in the chair I got quite emotional. And then every day on set – literally every day there’s a moment that you look around and you go, “Wow. I’m in Star Trek. Me. I. Me. I’m the Star Trek. I’m in the captain’s chair. I’m the captain. How did that happen?” Like, I was doing this for free as a kid and now they want to pay me.

I know. I heard a little bit of Shatner right there.

AM: Yeah right.

What was your favorite episode then. You said you grew up with the Kirk. What was your favorite episode?

AM: I always– I can’t remember the title of it, but it’s the episod where he battled the Gorn.

Arena”

AM: I can not turn that episode off when it’s on. I have to see the slow-motion fight choreography. And the double ax handle from the back of the neck.

Did you want to find a bit of that logic and physicality in Pike?

AM: What I like about Pike is that he’s egoless. He knows that when his bridge crew is working together, [that]is a bigger brain than he will ever have. And that’s what he does– and you’ve seen it already…he’s very good about saying, “I’m lost. Anybody got a better idea?” And he does that throughout the season. I think it makes for great television.

Can you speak to the emotional challenges that he’ll go through?

AM: He goes through some major emotional challenges in this season. I can’t talk about any of them. (laughing) But, you know, I was challenged as an actor on this job as much as I’ve ever been challenged.

The one thing I liked about –obviously we had only seen a couple episodes so far — is the aspect that there’s a feeling a little bit more of the old Star Trek. They’re going and doing problem-solving on our planet. The second episode does that. Could you talk about looking at these scripts and seeing this kind of elements of the character come out?

AM: It’s funny establishing a character on television. You have to be very very very careful about the footprints you’re putting down. Because they’re going to be there forever. They’re going in cement. And particularly with a character that’s as celebrated as this one has been in the past. But you have to remember that it’s not all in your hands. The writers are trying to figure it out at the same time. And so as long as you have a good communication with your writers and he’s [pointing to Alex Kurtzman] an incredible leader, then you’re probably going to be okay. And it was great to learn about this man, this character I’ve come to respect, even more. You’re playing him as we continue through the season. There were moments I was surprised. “So yeah okay. I’ll go with that.'”

Does it make it harder because you know all the intricacies of Star Trek? I mean, you were talking how your favorite character is Data. I’d love for you to talk a little bit more about that.

AM: Say again.

Well, it’s a two-part question. Why did you love Data as a character so much? And how come that appealed to you? You were talking about him, this is your favorite character.

AM: I’m actually jealous that another actor got to play that role. I mean — I can’t think of a better role than a machine trying to figure out what it means to have true sentience. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful character. And Brent Spiner did such an amazing job.

My question is also the aspects of canon. When you read the script, you’re probably like, “I see that. I see that. I see that. I see that.” Can you talk about the joy of that? Reading the scripts as a fan and getting to play them.

AM: In terms of my character?

Overall.

AM: Overall…I mean there’s some things that I honestly I didn’t know. I mean there some really esoteric stuff and easter eggs in our show. Like the Saurians. I didn’t know the Saurians had been established in “Wrath of Khan” for like a second. Okay. That was cool. But yeah we will be referencing canon associate with Pike. But probably not in the way that most are imagining it. I’ll leave you with that.

By Tim Wassberg