Arts in Review

Pod Save Cardassia

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Seems you can’t swing a vole by the tail these days without hitting a podcast devoted to talking about Star Trek. While The Kickers of Elves might be the most poorly named team behind one of these podcasts, I’d highly recommend you choose them as your guides into the terrifying world of technobabble, ‘90s television production, and the parsing of what is and isn’t canon. I find supplementary material like this always enhances my ability to enjoy and understand entries in the franchise, granted they have enough depth to warrant a podcast.

I’ve followed the team of comedian Wade Bowen, writer James Nolan, and cartoonist Hugh Crawford through my binge watch of Deep Space 9 this past year, and was very impressed by the level of detail they brought to their episode-specific discussions. The central idea of Rules of Acquisition, their first podcast, was that DS9, by its end, was a precursor to the “golden age of television,” modern audience tastes for compelling arcs, and deep characters. This was in contrast to not only the self-contained and somewhat campy tropes of Star Trek in general, but also the studio needs and expectations of syndicated television. Long seasons of 22 episodes meant stories would have to be simple enough for audiences to drop and in and out of, without an expectation of keeping track of too many moving parts and characters week to week. Much of early DS9 seasons work this way, but changeover in showrunners, and more autonomy to the writers room, bring the show to a higher level.

It’s interesting listening to their discussions of the episodes because the hosts bring an extensive knowledge, not only of Star Trek canon, but also behind-the-scenes information related to production and writing. They all have a theatre background as well, and are able to elaborate on the acting choices of the cast. They are able to give deep reads of the show within its historical context — Odo as a borderline fascist, the cracks in, and limitations of the Federation that aren’t explored in other series, and its progressiveness in regards to the show’s treatment of race. That’s not to say it’s all dry or academic; Star Trek is pretty goofy — and they talk about it without backing into “an angry nerd corner,” or recreating that scene from The Simpsons, where Comic Book Guy chastises Itchy and Scratchy writers for the rib xylophone.

The new series has led to them starting the Discovery Home Companion as a second podcast, but I feel there is a shift in dynamic that hurts the purpose behind, and overall quality of the discussion. With DS9, even during the goofy and filler episodes, they knew that there was a satisfying conclusion waiting for them — which meant they were able to delve into foreshadowing, world-building, character arcs, and central themes of the series as they went along. However, with Star Trek: Discovery, they aren’t really all on board, and without an endgame, a lot of discussion meanders around speculation and subjective enthusiasm for the show.

Final verdict? The team at The Kickers of Elves should think of re-naming, as they have a really unique and in-depth perspective on sci-fi that I think people want to hear. I also think podcasts should stop talking about ongoing shows, as even The Kickers can’t bring the discussion to as much depth as retrospectives allow.

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