I found something interesting today: The Onion’s AV Club is running a feature reviewing (in both senses of the word, I suppose) the classic, 1960’s Star Trek episodes. What’s unusual about the feature is its tone; for a publication as famously smart-ass as The Onion, these reviews largely avoid not only fanboyism, but also hipster irony.
While reviewing “The Devil in the Dark” Zack Handlen writes:
…and I said I was going to talk about his mind meld, right? It should be ridiculous. Spock’s basically groping a puppet and treating it like a massive spiritual and moral struggle. But it works; I’m willing to bet if you asked somebody who hadn’t watched “Devil” in a while to tell you what they remembered best from it, they’d say the Horta, and Spock yelling “PAIN!” It’s not memorable because it’s campy, either. Nimoy’s acting sells it because he never allows for a moment that what he’s doing is absurd. He commits, as my old acting teacher would say, and the sequence becomes this whole tragic, horrifying tribute both to his skills as a performer and the writer behind the episode.
That was a little shocking to me; Handlen is taking the show seriously, on its own terms, and not trying to prove how clever he is by running down a fantasy for a lack of verisimilitude. Perhaps it’s not a good sign that this is remarkable, but it is.
It’s important to realize that this isn’t fanboy worshipfulness, either; Handlen is more than willing to point out flaws, as in his review of “Court Martial“:
In “Court,” we do get to see Cogley go all oratorical, but only after Spock makes his last minute discovery; otherwise, he just calls Kirk to the stand and before having his case destroyed by a video of the bridge. (A video with multiple camera angles, that no one bothered to mention till the big courtroom reveal. Wouldn’t that’ve been the first thing they looked at when the computer and Kirk disagreed?)
Note, please, that this criticism also takes the show seriously, and questions it on its own terms; Handlen isn’t just taking cheap shots at the effects or conventions of a different era.
I believe that, according to the unified rules of blogging, you’re supposed to have three examples of something before you declare a trend. I’ve just got one example of some more-serious-than-expected TV reviews from one corner of the Internet. Nevertheless, I wonder if we might be seeing an early sign of something new a-borning.
Ironic detachment is fun, but poisonous when taken to extremes. Ultimately, you have to believe in something if you’re going to stand up for it, and the world has many things worth standing up for. It’s a small thing, but if The Onion can drop the irony (or, at least, tone it down a good deal) for a very sincere, and therefore easily mocked, TV show, maybe it’s a sign that the charms of irony are beginning to wear off.
I think that would probably be a good thing.