Andrew Koenig: 1968 - 2010

Well, I just found out that my suspicion has come true: actor and activist Andrew Koenig, son of Star Trek's Walter ("Chekov") Koenig, has died of an apparent suicide. He had been missing for over a week while visiting friends in Vancouver, and had written a "despondent"-sounding letter home to his parents just days ago.

He was most remembered as Richard "Boner" Stabone, Mike Seaver's best friend on the '80s sitcom Growing Pains, but also had numerous guest-starring roles in shows ranging from My Two Dads to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Seeing a friend or loved one die from a sucide is never easy. I myself have lost a couple of people I know this way, and I would hate to see it happen to anyone else. Just please remember that, as lonely as you feel, there is someone -- probably more people than you think -- who love and care about you. Suicide is never, ever the only way out. Life isn't easy, but it's easier to get through when you have a friend to turn to. If you've been thinking about taking such drastic action, I urge you to consult the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.


Hot Tub Time Machine!

It's important to note that I don't usually fall for movies that look this stupid. But this is one of those movies that knows full well just how stupid it looks, and actually seems to be proud of it. I mean, how ridiculous is the concept of a "Hot Tub Time Machine" ... and furthermore, how downright goofy is it to make that the actual title of the movie? In a way, I actually have to commend the makers of this movie on their boldness, even going so far as to name-check a lame-ass movie like Wild Hogs in the dialogue. Not since Dumb & Dumber has a screwball comedy so proudly worn the word "screwball" as a badge of honor. Obviously, I'm simply going to have to see this movie, and the fact that I'm a casual John Cusack fan is just a small part of why.


Andrew Koenig Missing

Some worrisome news I've just run across ... it appears that actor Andrew Koenig has been missing for several days. He lives in Venice, California, but had been visiting friends in Vancouver, Canada. He was set to return home on February 16, but never boarded his flight. He was last seen at a bakery in the Stanley Park area of Vancouver on Valentine's Day, February 14.

The 41-year-old son of Walter ("Chekov") Koenig, he is best known for playing Mike Seaver's friend "Boner" on the '80s sitcom Growing Pains, but has made numerous guest appearances in other shows, notably the second-season DS9 episode "Sanctuary" as one of the Skrreean refugees.

Koenig had reportedly been despondent lately, so his family and friends are especially worried for his well-being. If you should happen to see Andrew Koenig, you are urged to call Detective Raymond Payette of the Vancouver PD at 604-717-2534. More information is available from Walter Koenig's website.


Why Am I Jonesin' For McDonald's...?

This time I'm sharing a very obscure, but nonetheless very fondly remembered, bit of science-fiction with you. There are two television series that were favorites of my childhood, that I never in a million years would dare have dreamed would ever see the light of day on DVD, they were so off the beaten path. But I must be doing something to make someone up there happy, because a few years back they were both given DVD releases! The other one I'll discuss sometime soon, but the one I'm talking about today is Benji, Zax and the Alien Prince.

This admittedly silly little show aired exactly where you might have expected it did if you've ever seen an episode: on Saturday mornings, for a fleeting thirteen weeks in the fall of 1983. It told the story of young Prince Yubi (Christopher Burton), who escaped his home planet of Antareus when the evil tyrant, Zanu, overthrew the king, Yubi's father. A droid named Zax (which kind-of looked like a giant hamburger with a neck and head resembling a cartoon version of E.T.'s) was sent along to protect Yubi, and upon their arrival on Earth they were both befriended by that loveable pooch, Benji. But Yubi wasn't out of the woods, because Zanu himself deployed two ruthless soldiers to capture Yubi and bring him back to Antareus for imprisonment.

The acting wasn't impressive, the premise was very simple, and so were the special effects, but the early '80s Saturday morning audience wasn't exactly a demanding one. You'd certainly never hear me complain, as I was glued to the TV every week waiting for Yubi's newest adventure. In fact, if I may get a little personal with you, one reason this show holds such a special significance with me is because it was responsible for the first true inkling of my adolescence: in an episode in which Yubi was robbed of his precious bracelet (which Antareans needed in order to survive in Earth's atmosphere), and began to get ill and weak, I found myself wanting to climb through the TV and do everything I could to care for him, for reasons I wouldn't yet understand for another few years. (And the jewelry connection might have had something to do with my fascination, too ... just kidding!)

The set is a bit of a shelf-hog, I have to say ... four regular-sized single-disc cases housed in a slipcover, taking up the width of two VHS tapes. So I decided to conserve a bit of shelf space by replacing them with one slim 4-disc case, even re-designing a new insert card with all the info tidily packed onto the back panel. When it comes to the DVDs themselves, don't expect a crystal-clear, high-definition transfer ... it looks like the folks assembling this package had nothing better than analog videotape masters to work with -- well preserved considering their age, though there are still the occasional crawling lines of distortion from "wrinkles" in the tape, and maybe a few other artifacts. (Hey, it was well before the digital age, after all ... and I have to wonder if they'd ever imagined they'd have reason to pull them out of the archives!) Again, I'm not complaining ... I'm happy to have these old relics on DVD in any way, to relive those fond childhood memories again.


Pilot Errors

While poking aimlessly through my bookshelves the other day, I leafed through an unassuming title I've had for many years now, "Unsold Television Pilots: 1955 through 1989" by Lee Goldberg. As the title implies, this is an exhaustive reference book of all those pilot projects that are written, cast, filmed, offered to the networks, and sometimes shown on the air, but that the networks ultimately decided to turn down. How many of you out there are old and/or geeky enough to remember I-Man, the sci-fi special (aired as an installment of The Disney Sunday Movie) from 1986 featuring Scott Bakula as a cab driver turned indestructible secret agent after he's exposed to a strange vapor while rescuing a man from a truck crash (and John Anderson -- Kevin Uxbridge from the Star Trek: TNG episode "The Survivors" and Abraham Lincoln from the Voyagers! episode "The Day The Rebs Took Lincoln" -- as the evil madman whose plans he's tasked with foiling)?

Anyway, I happened upon a very interesting coincidence, just a couple of pages past the I-Man entry. There were two sitcom pilots made for CBS during the 1986-87 season, whose entries appear back-to-back in this book (on page 450 for those of you who just might happen to have this tome yourselves) ... and whose casts have not one, but two Trek connections each:

The Family Martinez (airdate 08/02/86) -- Robert Beltran (Star Trek: Voyager's Chakotay) portrays a former gang member who becomes a lawyer and returns to his East L.A. home to live with his wacky artist mother and his 16-year-old sister. Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar from ST:TNG) also starred as a character named Rachael McCann, though it doesn't say how she was involved in the story. If all that weren't enough, this show was created by Tommy Chong (of the comedy duo Cheech & Chong ... and, of course, Leo from That '70s Show).

Home Improvements (never aired) -- Not to be confused with the similarly-titled classic Tim Allen/Patricia Richardson sitcom, this one starred Tony LoBianco as a widower with three kids who marries a divorcée (Tricia O'Neil, the Enterprise-C's Captain Garrett from the ST:TNG episode "Yesterday's Enterprise") with one. Also in the cast, as the widower's eldest daughter who's married and lives next door, was ST:TNG's second-season bright-spot, ensign Sonya Gomez herself, Lycia Naff!

Imagine that ... four actors, all of whom would become involved in Trek, working on sitcom pilots in the same year for the same network! Quite a co-inky-dink, eh? One has to wonder -- especially if The Family Martinez had taken off -- who might have ended up playing Tasha Yar...!


Star Trek: The Lost Missions - Episode 11

Well, it's been a wonderfully fun journey, taking you through all the Peter Pan/Power Records Star Trek audio adventures ... and, sadly, we've reached the last one. Fortunately, though, the series goes out on a relatively high note with "The Human Factor" (author unknown). In this episode, a new species, who appear genial and harmless on the outside, shock the Enterprise crew by abducting Lieutenant Uhura for some strange, sinister purpose. What could it be? Listen and find out!

If you really want me to, I'll post the cover art for the two-disc CD collection I made of these adventures soon...!


Weird Gets Raw

For a short while now, William Shatner has been doing this one-on-one talk show called Shatner's Raw Nerve. It airs on the Biography channel, and is also sold on the U.S. iTunes store. The setting is almost artful in its simplicity: just Shatner and one guest -- in his 26 episodes (and counting), he's had people ranging from Scott Baio to Judge Judy to porn star Jenna Jameson to Meat Loaf to Whoopi Goldberg to, inevitably, his Star Trek compatriot Leonard Nimoy -- having an intimate chat with no studio audience.

Recently, his guest of honor was "Weird Al" Yankovic. As you might imagine, a conflux of two of my favorite pop-culture personalities in one place was too much of a temptation to resist. Knowing most of what there is to know about Al, I expected a rather uninformative, somewhat superficial half-hour of little interest. But you can imagine my surprise when I found myself watching something entirely different ... and unexpectedly riveting. I realized that while I know nearly all the facts, of any significance, about Al's life, he's never dropped his Weirdness long enough to let the world in for a real look, not that he's ever "owed" us one (after all, being Weird is his job!).

Shatner isn't afraid to use the title of his show quite literally and broach the touchy subjects -- and with Al it's no exception. He's begun to mellow with fatherhood and with age (though he can still tuck his ankle behind his neck!), and he rarely if ever sheds his "Weird" persona before the press or the cameras, so this is a rare glimpse into the real Al. Whether you have just a passing interest in Al, or have been a lifelong fan as I have, I can guarantee that you've never seen Al as truly human before as he is here, and it's really quite moving. You can buy this episode (and the whole series) on the U.S. iTunes store.


Mail It So

Wandering through the local bookstore a few weeks ago, I found an entire caddy of this "Fold-and-Mail" stationery. A very clever idea, I thought ... one side of the page is a ruled sheet with ample space for a letter, and the other side is formatted with room for an address on one half, and one of five beautiful, full-color Star Trek pictures on the other. Just write your letter, fold it in half, fold over the edges so it forms an envelope, seal it together (with its handy-dandy pre-licky-glued edges), and it's ready to be stamped and mailed! What will they think of next?

Nestled in the assortment of cartoon characters and whatnot (Superman, Wonder Woman, Pixar, Bewitched, Wallace & Gromit) was, of course, a Star Trek version which, of course, I simply had to buy. I certainly won't use them at all, not only because of the collectible potential of the item, but also because I lean toward using the more practical and conventional sort of stationery. If I'd had my wits about me (well, that, and a bit more cash), I probably would have picked up all three or four Star Trek pads I'd seen there, in anticipation of waiting patiently to place them on eBay once their value had begun to rise. But as it was, I only bought one for my own collection.

Fortunately, though, they still appear to be manufacturing this neat-o little bauble, which you can order yourself here. Not only is it an unconventional sort of memorabilia item, but it's handsomely designed ... and the sheer nature of the concept would make any "Treknologist" proud that such innovation came from the early 21st Century!


My Digital Companions

Since Memory Alpha didn't exist ten years ago -- and neither, for that matter, did its "father", Wikipedia -- this pair of digital volumes were quite a nifty and useful resource for us Trek geeks when they were released in 1999. The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion and The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion CD-Roms contain roughly the same episode summaries, guest cast lists, and season overview essays that their trade paperback book counterparts do (which I have and also highly recommend), but these discs take things to a whole new level.

Not only do they have an assortment of color images as well as every episode's original shooting script (which, it should be noted, don't take into account the on-the-fly dialogue changes made by the director during filming -- but can include scenes that were never filmed, or filmed but cut from the final edit of the episode), but also QuickTime movies of the trailers from every episode! As a special treat, here are the trailers from the TNG episode and the DS9 episode I watched just last night.

As fun as they are, though, these pieces of software are showing their age ten years later ... a rarity amongst Star Trek products, but probably inevitable when it comes to the sort used with a computer. The fixed-size interface was made for smaller displays with a lower resolution, so on my 21" LCD it takes up the space of about a 7" diagonal display, and might make you lean in and/or squint in order to read the text. Also, the scrolling is very mouse-sensitive, so even a quick click can scroll five or six lines, they scroll at such a fast rate (apparently, the standard Windows mouse settings don't apply within the program).

Most inconveniently, the document files containing the scripts, although they seem to display like plain text files, are actually saved on the CD-Rom as "*.cxt" files -- and more aggravatingly, Windows doesn't know how to open the files, and neither do I. (Any ideas out there?) Curiously, though, the video files are in the conventional "*.mov" QuickTime format (as evidenced by the links above), and can be viewed outside of the interface. Granted, they're in an early QuickTime codec and as such don't have the smoothness or resolution that more recent codecs provide, but they're fun to watch regardless.

All that leads me to think about how amazing they could do this same sort of software program if they rewrote it for today's computers. Think about it: a single DVD-Rom disc could probably carry a similar program, but encompassing all five Star Trek television series ... greater screen resolutions would provide for easier-to-read text, and dynamic programming language would allow for resizing the interface to fit one's screen ... newer QuickTime codecs would give sharper, bigger pictures, and probably in even smaller file sizes than are on these discs ... not to mention the multitude of other advances in programming that would make for a smoother interactive experience overall.

And why not take it a step further? They could do the same thing with the Star Trek Omnipedia (the software inspired by the Star Trek Encyclopedia), which I now regret having gotten rid of. How about it, Simon & Schuster? What better time to cash in on the fresh wave of Star Trek nostalgia? You'd have one guaranteed sale right here.