Lunchtable TV talk: Blue skies

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Music, as we know, influences how we perceive and feel about things in our lives, our environments, and nowhere does this play to its strengths than in films and television. It’s often a subtle piece of the storytelling puzzle, quietly pushing the emotion buttons of viewers.

I ended up seeing this week’s episodes of This Is Us and Star Trek: Picard on the same day, both defined by the song “Blue Skies“. I wouldn’t think this would be so … affecting. Sure, in Picard (the version used is sung by one of the stars of the show, Isa Briones), it is fitting because it refers back to the use of the song in the film Nemesis (a picture complete with a young Tom Hardy, whom I’ve also recently watched in Peaky Blinders and Taboo. Yep, all this from someone who claims not to be watching television content any more). It still seemed surprising for this old tune to turn up twice in emotionally demanding contexts.

But “emotionally demanding” is an interesting theme. In the past you didn’t really expect television to make any demands on you, other than sacrificing a certain amount of time to watch it.

With Star Trek: Picard, you can enjoy it on its surface-level merits, or you can bring a deep knowledge of Star Trek history and lore to your viewing, and assess whether or not it meets the sometimes exacting demands of Star Trek aficionados (Trekkers, perhaps, who can be unforgiving).

Some criticism has been leveled at Picard for making it into something that Star Trek resolutely has never been (bold text mine):

“The reaction, understandably, has been mixed. Some fans welcome Star Trek being brought up to date with the look and feel of contemporary television. Others maintain that such pessimism is at odds with what makes Star Trek Star Trek. The showrunner Michael Chabon, responding to questions via his Instagram page, defended Picard against the latter claim by saying that “shadow defines light”, that “if nothing can rock the Federation’s perfection, then it’s just a magical land”. It is a sentiment that has been echoed in the past by Alex Kurtzman, the showrunner of the other ongoing series set in the same universe, Star Trek: Discovery. He justified its equally violent, profane and dark sensibility by maintaining that modern Star Trek is simply a reflection of its time.”

I don’t know that the “Blue Skies” theme of the Picard finale would bring tears to the eyes of any non-Star Trek fan, but it certainly moved me to tears.

With This Is Us, everyone who knows something about the show knows it’s engineered to turn on the waterworks – you don’t exit most episodes without having a tear come to your eye. And this week’s installment was no exception, anchored by “Blue Skies”, as inexpertly but emotionally sung by guest star Gerald McRaney.

I wonder if This Is Us could possibly evoke this kind of reaction without the music. Could anything?