April 7, 2020

Other Space “Ted Talks” Review | Off the Beaten Path

Up to this point, my opinions of Other Space have been, mixed, to say the least. These last three episodes, while funny enough, have felt rather hollow to me. They were a collection of jokes and gags wrapped up in a story that had been told before in more interesting ways. That is, until Ted Talks aka this episode. To use a Star Trek-inspired trope, this to me is the episode where Other Space finally Grew The Beard (if you’re curious about what it means for a show to Grow The Beard, check out TVTropes if you have an afternoon or two to spare). So what, exactly, is the reason behind this growth?

The Episode Summary

Ted Talks starts soon after The Death of A.R.T.; the crew of the Cruiser has escaped becoming a planetary core, but are now bereft of fuel. Luckily for them, the fuel is gathered in rich deposits near the planet’s surface, easily accessible to Tina, the one member of the crew with in-depth training in remote fuel extraction. Disaster strikes though when Tina receives the worst message possible; Ted, almost immediately after her departure, sent a time-delayed break-up message, which she only now can receive. Devastated emotionally, Tina is unable to extract the fuel, and no one else can. What’s more, the fuel will be inaccessible in ~12 hours.

Scrambling, the crew divides into three groups. The first, consisting of Karen, Natasha, and Michael, throw Tina a girl’s night party to try and raise her spirits. Stewart and Kent, working on a potential plan B, in case Tina isn’t able to extract the fuel, check the escape pod to see if everyone can fit. This quickly turns into a much more boring boy’s night between the two. Lastly, Zalian and A.R.T., tasked with testing and preparing the thrusters for the remote fuel extractors, get distracted when they make an interesting discovery; a room dedicated to surveilling the crew for an MTV-style reality show.

The girl’s night starts off slow, but quickly gains steam after A.R.T. and Zalian, from the reality show control room, add liquor and music to the party. This quickly leads to multiple drunken shenanigans, one hookup, and one near hookup. In the end, the crew has to hope everything works successfully, since if one step of the fuel extraction doesn’t work, the crew will be forced to make a dangerous surface landing to try and retrieve the fuel.

My Thoughts

Right off the bat, Ted Talks is the best episode of Other Space yet. If you’ve read my reviews of the previous episodes, you know my thoughts. If you haven’t, I’d sum up my thoughts about the first three episodes as such; they are narratively scattered, much of the cast are undeveloped and essentially punchlines, but worst of all they either reused the same plots and/or cut themselves off at the knee in maintaining a sense of narrative fulfillment. Granted, this is something most comedy shows go through; they tend to strengthen over time, with the earliest episodes often being the weakest. That said, Ted Talks was nothing less than a true breath of fresh air.

The primary reason why I find Ted Talks to be such a breath of fresh air is how firmly this episode establishes a unique identity for Other Space. In particular, the idea that the UMP Cruiser was designed not for exploration but a Big Brother-style MTV reality show. This goes back to Into the Great Beyond…Beyond, when the high command of UMP is concerned about dwindling interest in space exploration. It helps make sense of the seeming incongruities of the show so far. For one, it makes more sense that the Cruiser, a ship that’s always on the brink of falling apart with a crew of incompetents and wacky personalities, is just a crumbling reality show set meant to entertain instead of, you know, the flagship of the UMP and the head of a vanguard of space exploration.

What’s more though is that this truly gives Other Space a sense of identity. While all the episodes so far have featured a good number of character laughs and funny background details that flesh out the world of Other Space, it still never fully escaped the feeling of just being another cheap Start Trek parody/clone. This reality show twist has pushed Other Space into a unique space; a Star Trek parody with a growing meta-narrative and backbone. I imagine this will continue to play a role going forward, especially once some unknown presence begins to watch the feeds at the end.

Another big reason why I liked Ted Talks is how it mines humor from its characters while giving them stuff to do. To me at least, this was the first episode where we got solid humor and character development from the whole cast. I especially am a fan of the developments of Tina and Michael, two characters who have so far been relegated to being one-note punchlines. 

With Tina, I like the fact that she has been faced with a major character challenge with her break-up, which allows her to go from a ditzy lovesick navigator with an aggressive streak to a truly unhinged yet capable member of the crew. With Michael, I like the fact that by hooking up with Karen, he’s able to escape, at least temporarily, the loser butt-monkey status he’s been stuck with so far. Granted, the fact that his and Karen’s mutual attraction came out of nowhere can cause some head scratching, but I’m willing to forgive that as long as this relationship isn’t dropped. Sure, these are small steps so far, but it’s a step in the right direction towards a fully fleshed out cast of characters.

That’s not to say the other characters are short shifted on the humor front. With Zalian and A.R.T., we get many laughs from A.R.T. being both a slacker and a shadow manipulator while Zalian regales us about the history of reality TV in their world. On a more meta-level, it’s essentially a MST3K reunion for the two MST3K alumni, with the two riffing on reality TV and acting like producers rather than commenting on shitty movies. I mean, how can you not enjoy that? We also get Natasha making a program that allows her to get drunk with the other ladies (and Michael), which predictably results in wacky shenanigans. Also, I can’t help but sympathize with along with laughing at Stewart as he’s stuck watching a truly bland sounding Pixar movie with Kent. It’s all a rich tapestry of laughs from beginning to end.

The last thing I want to talk about was how Ted Talks feels more focused compared to the previous episodes. While multiple plot lines are going on, they all feel like they fit together. Or at least, they meld together more effectively than in The Death of A.R.T., which to me just felt scattered. It helps there is a central setup and an overarching goal (aka the need to retrieve the lost fuel) and the plotlines all interact to a degree (Zalian and A.R.T. acting as the puppeteers behind the curtain).

In Conclusion

So yeah, Ted Talks is just what Other Space needed. Ted Talks is an episode does some things that strengthen the show aka this is when the show has started to Grow The Beard. It has a solid degree of narrative focus. It gives each character at minimum a spotlight and plants the seeds for interesting growth at best. Lastly, and most importantly, it helps establish a singular identity and style for the whole of Other Space. All this to say that 4 episodes in, Other Space is finally starting to find itself. If the rest of the season can maintain this kind of quality, Other Space will move from a show canceled for good reason to a show that was canceled because it was on the exact wrong network.

My Recommendation: Highly Recommend 

Joseph MacMaster

Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.

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