The Review Nebula Flies the Twitter Coop

Bart: “Milhouse, how could you let this happen? You were supposed to be the night watchman.”
Milhouse: “I was watching. I saw the whole thing. First, it started falling over. Then, it fell over.”
Bart: “Wow… I wonder where all the rats are gonna go.”
(True to form, a bunch of rats escape from the rubble and immediately scurry into a local bar…)
Moe: “Okay – everybody, tuck your pants into your socks.”
– “Homer’s Enemy”, The Simpsons

As some of you might be aware if you pay attention to the news, on October 27th, eccentric (to put it mildly) Billionaire Elon Musk purchased Twitter for $44B. Yes, forty-four billion United States dollars.

Since then, the site has gone from the normality of being a “hellscape” straight to “a superfund site in internet form”. I’m pretty damn sure you can find a list of his… interesting ideas and policies for Twitter elsewhere. Several users have either been booted for parodying Elon Musk or have decided to jump before the Boring Man decides to push them off. Others are just kicking back with a cold lager and watching the site all but collapse… especially now that Musk is threatening bankruptcy. The site is hemorrhaging staff, not helped by Musk telling them to agree to arduous work conditions or get severance. Given his reputation, many staff members are taking the payout and gambling on the jobs market.

Let me be clear – what you do with your Twitter account is your prerogative and your prerogative alone. If you want to stay on, even to spite Mr. Musk? Excellent! Protest from the inside! If you feel comfortable leaving? The Internet is your oyster! If you actually like the direction he’s taking the site? Can’t say I wholly agree, but you do you.

This applies to this blog. I have a personal Twitter account in my private life that I will keep up, at least for now. (This is partly because of sportsball – an RSS feed at this point – and partly because I want to see the goddamn thing go down from the inside as long as possible.) But the Review Nebula’s Twitter Account, five years old, is indefinitely being put on ice. I’m not deactivating it on the grounds that the site could one day recover to some form of sanity. But henceforth and indefinitely, no other posts from The Review Nebula will be shared to Elon’s $44B investment. The sharing link is being disconnected.

Not that I’m sacrificing much. Outside of that long post I wrote shortly after Channel Awesome’s talent roster imploded in scandal (let’s just say some of my predictions were off) I barely got any traffic from the site, at least proportionally. I only have, what, 20 followers? Eh, I barely used the account other than to link posts when they popped up here. So I guess it was my fault or something? If anything, I was thinking about icing the feed before Elon brought a share of Twitter – this was just the nail in the coffin.

Yeah, this is nothing in the grand scheme of things. Just an announcement that, if you do happen to follow me via Twitter, change course. Subscribe to emails! Get a WordPress account and follow that way! Hell, start your own blog if you don’t have one yet! What are your thoughts about cartoons, Arsenal, movies, what have you? 280 characters aren’t nearly enough to describe our complex thoughts!

In short, Twitter is trash. It’s been trash, and Musk might have just thrown a match on what remains.

Pass the popcorn.

Steven Universe Review: “Gemcation” (Season 5, Episode 6)

“Steven. You should join me. Become a raisin.” – Garnet. Sometimes, I just love taking quotes with no context and using them to intro the episode.

Airdate: December 15th, 2017

Written By: Madeline Queripel and Jesse Zuke

Plot: Steven is still unable to establish contact with Connie. The thought of losing what had been his best friend is eating away at him. Yet, Steven’s unable to open up to his loved ones. Thinking that he’s traumatized by the events of Homeworld, Greg and the Crystal Gems arrange for a trip to a cabin away from town. But will he open up to his loved ones there? And are they holding their own secrets?

Review:

This past July, I went on a weekend excursion to a Steven Universe state.

Sort of.

You see, my favorite soccer team, Arsenal FC, did a pre-season tour of the United States of America, their first major international tour since 2019. They had three dates here in the States – one against Everton in Baltimore, and two in Orlando (one against MLS club Orlando City, the second against newly-de-Abramoviched Chelsea). Given that Orlando tends to have brief but teeming rain and humidity combined with 90+F heat and has a subpar public transit system and decentralized attractions, I decided to hit up Charm City. At least I could ride Acela from there back to New York.

I got a hotel right on the Baltimore Inner Harbor (ow my wallet, kinda worth it) and got to check out some of America’s most historical ships – notably, the USS Constellation (the last sail-only ship commissioned by the US Navy) and WHEC-37 (formerly the USCGC Taney, the last floating ship that was present at the attack on Pearl Harbor.) In the evening, I took in a 2-0 win for London’s finest soccer club, against one of the two iconic Merseyside soccer teams – all at the M&T Bank Stadium, the home of the Baltimore Ravens. That weekend, I indulged my passion for history and sports in one of America’s largest and most historic cities. Knocking back a couple of pints post-match at a bar with fellow Gooners didn’t hurt, either.1 It was one of the best nights of my rather young life. In the rat race world, I was able to escape and indulge myself for a few hours, and I got to see a part of the country that I had overlooked for too damn long.

There, now that you got my How I Spent My Summer Vacation presentation (don’t worry, you’re not getting a Patty and Selma-esque slide show), let’s talk about Steven’s considerably more sober vacation. A “Gemcation”, if you will. How does it impact Steven and his family?

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Steven Universe Review: “Dewey Wins” (Season 5, Episode 5)

“By the way, didn’t I break your heart?
Please excuse me, I never meant to break your heart.
So sorry, I never meant to break your heart…
…but you broke mine.”
– “Kayleigh”, Marillion

Airdate: November 10th, 2017

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Jeff Liu

Plot: Steven has returned from Space, but all is not going well back on Planet Earth. Connie is less than happy that Steven sacrificed himself to Homeworld, and when Steven doesn’t quite get it, she stops talking to him. Meanwhile, the people have had enough of Mayor Dewey and begin gravitating to Nanefua Pizza, who’s launched an insurgent campaign to become the mayor. Steven decides to assist Dewey in an attempt at a political comeback.

Review:

Welp, welcome to the Breakup Arc.

Steven Universe at arguably its most uncomfortable. Which, given that we’ve had forced fusion, grief-related psychological blindness, the “Deception Arc” in Season 2, the brutality of “Bismuth”… suffice to say, I could go on all day with this. Steven Universe is probably the saddest hyper-optimistic series to ever air on television. It’s a small miracle that it’s as good as it is.

Can we break hearts even more completely?

Well, how about we split three of the show’s most iconic duos across Season 5? In fact, let’s split the main character’s partnership with his best friend/girlfriend/whatever the hell these two are first, just to really knee the viewer straight in the pelvis?

And celebrate by having one of the show’s side characters tossed from his job, albeit after years of haphazard city management?

“Dewey Wins”? Hah! Almost nobody wins here. At least in the show’s canon. Could the viewers, however, get a small W in terms of episode quality? Well, according to the fans… maybe not. This episode actually has a 6.8 on IMDB, one of the lower-rated installments in the series. (For the record, the current wooden spoon holder is “Rocknaldo” with a staggeringly low 5.4. The highest ranked episodes are “Change Your Mind”, “Reunited” and “A Single Pale Rose”, all from later on this season, with a 9.7.)

Tragically, I kinda agree with the consensus. There are some decent ideas within, but this episode executes them in a way that is really awkward.

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Corporate Idiocy – Infinity Train Edition! (AKA, Less Than Ideal August 2022 Blog Update)

Before anybody asks, yes, I am aware that Infinity Train was yoinked off of the HBO Max platform in what is apparently a mass culling of content before next year’s merger with Discovery+, all related to AT&T’s spinning off of WarnerMedia to Discovery Networks.

As you can probably guess, this was pretty much my response upon reading the news.

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Nichelle Nichols: 1932-2022

nichelle-nichols
Image taken from this video

The Enterprise‘s communications officer has closed hailing frequencies for the final time.

Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Nyota Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series and the six feature films based off of TOS, died on Saturday night. She had been battling the hell that is dementia since 2018, and is reported to have passed from natural causes according to her son.

Each member of the bridge was important to the show and the canon. Nichols and Uhura stood out in a somewhat different way, a character and actress that had an immediate impact on American society and a reflection on where so many of us wanted to go.

Star Trek came out just two years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, after a decade of organized protests against racial segregation, and the country was still dealing with racial strife. And America, as well as the western world in general, was experiencing a new wave of feminist thought that sought to further challenge legal and societal issues that women faced at the time.

Enter Lt. Uhura.

Having a Black person on the bridge on the Enterprise would’ve been a major symbol of the optimistic view Star Trek attempted to communicate regarding racial relations. Having a woman on the bridge would’ve been as large regarding the show’s attempt to portray gender equality in the future. A black woman sitting on a bridge of humans and aliens, spanning nationalities and races? And in a very significant role on the Enterprise, at that – a linguistic translator and rather sizable technician for the ship and her communications system, even if the original show could’ve done more with the role when looking at it from contemporary eyes? (Worth noting, she did take the helm of the ship once in The Animated Series.)

Imagine that. I’m sure some of you reading this post are old enough to give some insight on how Earth-shattering that might have felt.

I do, however, know of a few prime examples of just how much of a seismic shift this was in the world of entertainment.

For one, Nichols herself was planning to leave the role after Season 1 of The Original Series and return to musical theater – largely due to her love of theatre and Broadway aspirations, and partially due to dissatisfaction with treatment from network executives. But just after submitting her resignation, while at an NAACP banquet, she met a huge fan of the show. This fan discussed how the series demonstrated the ideal of racial equality, that it was the only show he allowed his children to watch, and upon learning of her plans to leave, persuaded her to change course and remain on the Enterprise deck. That fan was none other than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Nichelle would retract her resignation and remain with the franchise until 1991. In fact, if you count archive audio, she made an appearance in Prodigy this very year.

Indeed, among the viewers that were influenced by Uhura was Whoopi Goldberg. Watching the show, she was amazed at the presence of a black woman in a non-stereotypical role. She would go on to portray Guinan in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Further, look to Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to launch into space in real life, who even used the phrase “Hailing Frequencies Open” during her trip into space in 1992!

But even beyond the societal impact, Uhura was something of a secret weapon on board the Enterprise. Again, she didn’t get as much focus as the core three, or even Sulu or Chekov. But Nichols played her role professionally and uniquely, a versatile and solid actress in her own right. There were hints at the character being an outstanding officer, even if many of those moments were set aside by executives. Nichols even brought her musical theater experience to the small screen on some occasions, like this beautiful performance from “Conscience of the King”:

And in the movies, the character gained further prominence, serving as an even larger player in the adventures of the Enterprise bridge crew. This is particularly true in The Search for Spock (where she helped hijack the doomed Enterprise NCC-1701 to save Spock), The Voyage Home (where she and Chekov portrayed a comical search for a nuclear reactor in 80s San Francisco), and The Undiscovered Country (where she suggests Spock and McCoy modify a torpedo to take down General Chang’s ship).

Now three remain – fellow trailblazer George Takei, Walter Koenig (whose role as Chekov provided a light in the darkness of the Cold War), and William Shatner. Nicholls had a notably frosty relationship with Shatner, but during the production of “Plato’s Stepchildren”, the duo agreed to fight any attempt to censor a kiss between the two, one of the first scripted interracial kisses on network television. They got their wish – the kiss went through.

Uhura will always be a trailblazer in American pop culture This is in no small part thanks to Nichelle Nichols. Her place in the history of the United States is cemented, she remains an icon of our dreams for a brave new world, and I am sure she recognized how many people have been inspired by her, and how many look up to her even today.

Nichelle, thank you. You lived long and prospered.

Long Hot Summer Gonna Pass Me By – Personal Update for July 2022

So, as some of you might have noticed, productivity on this blog has sort of… fallen off over the past year. Where once I posted a few times a month, recently, I’ve been barely able to get out one per.

For those concerned, and my readership in general, I can only apologize. I’ve tried to hold myself to a standard when it comes to blogging, and I let it slip in recent times.

I try not to divulge too much about my personal life on this blog. I mean, I’ve brought up various tidbits about myself in my reviews and posts (my love for Arsenal FC, the Giants, the Pet Shop Boys, etc.). With that in mind, I like to keep my personal life, my work life, and my online life separate to a certain extent. In short, if what I say here is a bit vague, there is a reason for that.

To put it simply, there has been a significant air of uncertainty going on in my personal life over the past year and change, on top of the particularly weird state that the world has been embroiled in over recent years. It’s been hard to focus on many of my interests and hobbies in the way I once did, this blog (and putting reviews together) being one of them. What I said in other posts about trying to re-integrate into open society after my own personal vaccination remains true, but it wasn’t the only factor in why I’ve been slower to update. (Side note: I wound up getting COVID this past May. Took the damn bug long enough. I’m fine, it felt more like a mild case of the flu. Quick PSA: keep up with your vaccinations.)

I bring this up to let you know, no, I’m not dying. Quite the opposite, in fact.

And one aspect of uncertainty is on the cusp of letting up, albeit in a rather dramatic way. I’ll explain what is going on when it does happen, but what is going on is going to take up some time over the next couple of months. There’s no need to worry, all is well.

I’m going to try and get at least a review out over the next two months, and it might be something out of the ordinary – read, not Infinity Train or Steven Universe. But that will likely be something thrown together rather quickly, a somewhat shorter review. Quick “behind the scenes” note – I usually schedule my posts to go out within a day or two of finalizing my draft. In this case, I might write a review or post and schedule it to go out weeks in advance.

As always, I thank you for your readership, and I’m going to spin a bit of Paul Weller and the Style Council.

Happy 10th, Gravity Falls!

Remember – in Gravity Falls, there is no one you can trust.

Ten years ago today, the world went just north of normal and west of weird.

Gravity Falls. How fantastic. One of the most critically acclaimed and popular animated shows – and even the animated qualifier could be removed – this century, I don’t know what to add that I didn’t discuss way back in 2016, at the show’s denouement. Alex Hirsch created one of those few shows where almost every episode is at least “good”, and more often than not, exemplary. People young and old are still discovering the series to this day. It served as a gateway for many to animated TV, mystery, horror, science fiction, you name it. It could very well be the most influential animated show in the Western world since SpongeBob.

So, this post is just going to be a bit of personal rambling. Because, in terms of this particular blog, this might be the single most important regarding this URL’s existence.

It’s not my favorite – I would rank The Simpsons, Red Dwarf, and possibly Infinity Train above it. But it is the series that served as a gateway for several more that I came to love. It was the first animated show that I truly, madly obsessed over since The Simpsons. But here’s the deal – The Simpsons feels like a show that was always around in my life. (It wasn’t, but it feels that way.) Gravity Falls, in contrast, was a show that I discovered. It came into my life and influenced how I analyzed media.

In some ways, Gravity Falls set a new bar – I actually first watched it two months after throwing my hands up at new episodes of The Simpsons. The old guard had finally fallen by the wayside, but the new guard, influenced so heavily by its predecessor, slid right into my life. But it wasn’t a replacement so much as it was an addition, given just how much of an influence the elder had on the newer. It was the reason why, when I started this blog, I decided to dedicate it to reviewing various shows and movies, mainly regarding franchises that I liked. Without this (and Red Dwarf), I doubt the blog would’ve lasted nine weeks. This blog has now been up for nine years.

What a show to influence it. What a setting, the iconic Pacific Northwest with a fantastic homage to Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure. What fantastic characters, the Pines family and the Author himself alongside the eccentric citizens of the titular town. What a menacing, fascinating antagonist in Bill Cipher. What sharp comedy across almost every episode. Some of the most morbid and darkest imagery I (and many others) have seen in an animated TV series.

The best part? It ended. And it went out on a high.

Seriously, a bad ending can taint a show’s legacy for good, if not destroy it. But Gravity Falls knew when and how to conclude. The final hour is one of the show’s best, and the two episodes leading up to it so brilliantly encapsulate what works about this series. Not to mention “Not What He Seems”… one of the finest half-hours of television ever commissioned, and I doubt there’s going to be any argument.

Memories of watching week after week, suffering across long hiatuses, and anticipating what would come next, they are memories that take me back to my high school and college days. Even in adulthood, such moments are those that you carry for a long time to come. And that? That is what helps make this show so exemplary.

Gravity Falls is a show that brings me joy when I watch it, that I fully intend to show any children I have, and I hope will persist as a landmark of 2010s American Pop Culture. It is truly one of the greats.

To a decade of being just west of weird.

Steven Universe Review: “Lars’ Head” (Season 5, Episode 4)

“I predict Lars will change in hue! What a mystery!” – Padparadscha.

Airdate: May 29th, 2017

Written By: Jeff Liu and Madeline Queripel

Plot: Lars is alive! Kind of – he’s become purple, has lost the need to eat and drink, and his hair now contains an alternate dimension that can transport Steven and others to and from, among other places, Earth. Steven explores this and comes out of Lars’ mane. He’s got his route home. But what about Lars and the Off-Colors?

Review:

Steven Universe is a show that started out as a seemingly episodic cartoon. You go back to Season 1A, and you could watch any episode of the first 24 in order, and there would be relatively few ways to get confused. You can get a fine sense of the characters, how they interact with one another, how they impact the world. It seemed like the series was following in the footsteps of Rebecca Sugar’s run in Adventure Time – some hints at continuity, but otherwise a slice-of-life cartoon about a boy and his lesbian alien mothers.

How we were fooled.

Enter Season 5, and we are now ending one arc, the Trial arc. Yet, that’s not all. as I’ve mentioned before, we are now in a stretch of continuity-impacted episodes (with scant few exceptions) that will take us through the end of the series. Steven Universe has embraced the space opera inside of itself, and it is going to put up no mercy until the very end.

“Lars’ Head” ends one chapter, but the story will march forward. To be sure, this is a transition episode, and there is little doubt about it, so there won’t be much in this review. However, it does a more than adequate job at closing down this particular strand. And, we get a bit of Homeworld worldbuilding on the side, how governments can use propaganda to exaggerate, if not lie about, their military and cultural successes.

So where were we?

Oh, right. Steven Universe can raise the fecking dead with his tears. And as this episode reveals, turn them into a magical dimensional door to hop between Earth and various other worlds.

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Steven Universe Review: “Off Colors” (Season 5, Episode 3)

Don’t beat yourself up like that, Lars. That’s what the killer robots are for. – Steven Universe, trying to give comfort to Lars as the two face certain death on Homeworld.

Airdate: May 29th, 2017

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Jeff Liu

Plot: Lars and Steven are on the run from Homeworld after the latter’s trial fell apart in spectacular fashion. Forced to hide in the literal Homeworld underground, they wind up encountering a group of outcasts, the Off Colors. And with Homeworld on the prowl, will Lars find himself able to rise to the occasion?

Review:

Lars Barriga. If you’re a Steven Universe fan, you don’t need to be reminded of how much antipathy the fanbase once had for this character.

If you’re not, though? A quick review wouldn’t hurt.

He was probably the most widely disliked character in the show. And it wasn’t in a good way – it’s not like the writers intended to alienate the fans from this character. They weren’t making a baddie. So why did Lars fail so early on? I’ve talked about this before, but to summarize for newcomers: a combination of a tonal mismatch, somewhat repetitive plots, and a general desire amongst many fans to go into space rather than look on Earth. In short, the character was just off enough to attract negative attention, on-screen long enough for it to matter, and his presence went against fan hope and desires for the show’s development.

How we were all played, or so it seems.

Becky Sugar and the Crewniverse had some tricks up our sleeve for our least favorite angsty fast-food employee. It’s certainly not the first character the writers used to play us off the path – remember Peridot’s first appearance and how we feared her? Oh, how we should have learned our lesson then. Or what about the autocratic Diamonds, not redeemed but humanized in ways that made them more tragic? Did you really think they would leave Lars, an actual ally to our hero (no matter how flawed he was) in the lurch?

Well, they didn’t.

And after the past couple of Lars-centered episodes rescued the character’s role, the show’s redemption of his piece of the narrative is cemented in “Off Colors”. It’s not one of the best episodes, but we have a damn fine outing here overall.

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Steven Universe Review: “The Trial” (Season 5, Episode 2)

Lionel Hutz: “Uh-oh… we’ve drawn Judge Snyder.”
Marge Simpson: “Is that bad?”
Lionel Hutz: “Well, he’s had it in for me ever since I kinda ran over his dog.”
Marge Simpson: “You did?”
Lionel Hutz: “Well, replace the word ‘kinda’ with ‘repeatedly’ and the word ‘dog’ with ‘son’.”
– “Marge in Chains”, The Simpsons

Airdate: May 29th, 2017

Written By: Katie Mitroff and Paul Villeco

Plot: AKA Regina vs. Quartz, or The Diamond Authority vs. Rose Quartz, or Steven Faces A Brutal Ass Kicking from Intergalactic Autocrats.

Long story short, Steven is on trial because Rose Quartz is on trial. The charge is the assassination of Pink Diamond. His public defender was given the case just seconds before, and the general mood is that the Diamonds are going to get their revenge. Yellow wants blood now, and Blue wants to make the defense squirm. But could Steven’s testimony provide the key

Review:

I want to start this review by discussing the venerable nature of the Law and Order franchise, how the American population is drawn to legal procedurals, and an examination of law enforcement and the justice system, and how these staples of pop culture are increasingly deconstructed and reconstructed through the years. But… I’m not going to do that. Because I can make a more Sci-Fi-based intro.

In 1991, BBC sitcom Red Dwarf aired the third episode of Series IV, “Justice”. In that episode, the Boys from the titular ship deliver a defrosting stasis capsule to a prison complex. A neurological analyzer on the complex meant to deduce guilt and assign sentencing accordingly finds Arnold Rimmer guilty of 1,167 counts of second-degree murder – associated with the fatal accident aboard Red Dwarf – resulting in him facing millennia in prison. Kryten, therefore, comes up with a plan to get Rimmer out; he schedules a hearing and defends Rimmer by explaining how Rimmer’s sheer incompetence and narcissism caused the mind-probe to perceive guilt where there could be none.

It’s one of my favorite “trial” episodes of any TV show, largely because of how it develops one of the most interesting characters in sitcom history. But it also provides one of the most hilarious trial sequences in TV, with the defense being an abject mockery of the would-be condemned. To salvage their colleague, the Boys from the Dwarf get the chance to utterly destroy him.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, I got the chance to bring up one of my favorite TV shows, I’m not going to lose it! Here’s “The Trial”, a far more serious episode of Steven Universe.

And, honestly, it’s one of my favorite episodes of the entire series. I’m not joking, this is a surprisingly fantastic outing, one with an interesting amount of political commentary as well as an episode with major implications regarding the show’s canon.

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