Monday, 8 September 2014

Is it a Captain Kirk Rule? Make a Date with the Red Shirt Diaries

I flicked through YouTube and watched the trailer; Ugh. 

This was not going to review well when it went live but hey,  it could be worse.

The only reason it could be worse is if I was completely wrong in my face-value assessment and ended up looking like a prize tit.  I'll let you guess where this is going.

The Red Shirt Diaries is the brainchild of actor and Star Trek fan Ashley V. Robinson and co-produced with Jason Inman. Last week saw the arrival of the 'pilot'  episode in a run of ten with each entry running at just over three minutes. With today being the 48th anniversary of the first showing of The Man Trap on US TV, it seems very relevant to be discussing this first episode which is set during that very story.

The first tick is that we're not having to sit down for a long duration which makes these vignettes perfect for filling a bit of time and at the very least raising a smile. So what's it all about?

Providing a somewhat unique perspective on ten first season episodes of The Original Series we go below decks to see just what's happening in the life of one crewman (you can tell she's not an officer since she doesn't have sleeves). Begrudgingly taken off the landing party for some average mission to check on a scientist, Ashley is much more interested in tasting food cubes or training sentient plant Gertrude. 

This is absolutely tongue in cheek and while I wouldn't say it's laugh out loud funny it is well acted and does come across very naturally. It's not what I'd expect to be watching but I was genuinely entertained with this initial personal log. Sliding in the events of The Man Trap - salt, the M-113 monster, Sulu's plant - help place the narrative with a nice comedic twist. In a typically The Original Series moment, choosing to ignore the salt vampire is the perfect satire - just what you would have expected everyone to do until the danger becomes absolutely unavoidable. I also dare anyone not to at least raise a smile at the special effects used to create co-star Gertrude.

As shows go this is not my usual forte nor was I absolutely raving about it BUT having said that it's quirky and off-the-wall enough that I know I'll be watching each new ep every Monday. It's not an action/adventure hour filled with a ton of effects, phasers and danger; it's a little more personal a heck of a lot different to the "usual" fare we get to see.

Now we were also blessed that the star of The Red Shirt Diaries is a Genuinely Nice Person because Ashley has also allowed us a sneaky look at the second episode. Just as off-the-wall as episode one, it's focused on Charlie X and the rigors of physical exercise day including the infamous Klingon Block, Romulan Bow, Xindi Zig-Zag (not best in an enclosed space) and rather random Vulcan Dodge. Going solus on her log entry this time, Ensign Williams is getting into the swing of Physical Training Day even if it does see the ship's trainer getting blinked out of existence by the Enterprise's latest guest. No plants or Uhura's to share the limelight this time.

I actually preferred the narrative in episode two - it flowed better, there was a little more activity and Ashley brings across a magnificent level of over-exuberance at the unfolding events. Captain Kirk however is a bit of a sleaze it seems and she's not too happy about the standard attire - but hey, it's just another average day on the ship!

Having seen episodes one and two I'm ;looking forward to seeing the remaining eight installments of this bite-size web-series and what a better way to understand it than a chat with series star, Ashley herself. So, what was the inspiration for this slightly surreal but all the more enrapturing series?

"I had always wanted to go back and watch The Original Series in order having only seen a few episodes here and there." explained Ashley. "Initially the idea was to watch them and do vlog reviews of each episode. When I pitched the idea to Jason Inman it turned into 'why don't we do a red shirt recording her mission logs?' Everything kind of went from there!"

A confessed Deep Space Nine fan, which immediately places her high up on our list of Favourite People to Interview, Ashley learned how to speak some Klingon in high school is the proud owner of four different Spock action figures as an adult. This is also the first fan project she's ever worked on. "It's been a great learning experience about what you can do with great materials, an invested crew and absolutely no money!"

And the format? It's quite short considering some of the other fan material that's populating various internet sites these days? 

"[We decided that] three minutes is a good length for something we're distributing on YouTube. It's long enough that we can get a full narrative told, but not too long that it would take time away from something else a viewer's attention might be focused on (like work). We really want The Red Shirt Diaries to be short and sweet and the scripts, and later episodes, all landed right around 3 minutes. It also seems it was an easy choice to go for the Kirk era when the show was developed; The Original Series is more iconic visually, with a lot of strong colour and lighting choice due to the fact that it was filmed in the 1960's. 

It's also easily the most iconic of all the series and one that Jason and I have a ton of love for. One of the reasons I believe it has become as iconic as it is are the strong characters and themes and those two things lend themselves to easily parody. It's immensely fun and great privilege to be able to play with these characters in this world. We never had any thought of placing Ensign Williams anywhere else besides Kirk's Enterprise until well after shooting had wrapped."

As for the big picture, there are ten episodes in this initial run which follow the original airing order of the show. "We're looking at the second season of The Red Shirt Diaries finishing out the first season of The Original Series. How far we go will be largely determined by reaction and interest from the Star Trek fandom. We do have ideas that could carry us through every Star Trek series and the movies, but that's just wishful thinking for right now."

After a week of being on the Jawiin YouTube channel, The Man Trap had received over 5,500 views which is not something to sneer at and with the release of the second episode it can only get better and more far reaching. 

"People's reaction has been overwhelmingly positive! I was very nervous that some fans would be unreceptive or that they would view The Red Shirt Diaries' satirical nature as somehow mean-spirited and that couldn't be further from our intention. The show has received a lot of compliments, which I think speaks to Star Trek fans' acceptance of fan projects and their appetite for on-going content. I'm very surprised and grateful for everyone's kind words and interest in The Red Shirt Diaries."

"The episode I'm looking forward to the most, which would come up in our second season, is Arena." noted Ashley,  "It was the first episode of The Original Series I ever saw and has always remained close to my heart ... and you better believe if we get there we will have a Gorn!"

As one of own favourite episodes of the show we can't wait for that one so if you've not seen The Red Shirt Diaries, start now and make sure you're commenting - the more views, the more likely we'll get to see the Gorn (and I'll volunteer to play it if you'll fly me over!).

So what can we expect from the remaining eight episodes as we celebrate the 48th Anniversary of Star Trek on this very day? Ashley has one word for each of the webisodes coming up - 

3 - Flashback Where No Man Has Gone Before
4 - Kidnapping The Naked Time
5 - Evil The Enemy Within
6 - Blackout Mudd's Women
7 - Friends What Are Little Girls Made Of?
8 - Doctor Miri
9 - Screaming Dagger of the Mind
10 - Lights The Corbomite Maneuver

And Gertrude will return....

Head over to the Jawiin Channel now to check out The Red Shirt Diaries Episode One and Episode Two and place your tongue firmly in cheek for your lower decks access to the most intimate and unusual look at the activities of the unseen USS Enterprise crew.

Have you seen The Red Shirt Diaries? Drop your thoughts to us below now!

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All images courtesy of The Red Shirt Diaries

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