Ann Magnuson

Star Trek: Picard (2020) s01e02 – Maps and Legends

I was expecting a lot of fan service this episode and it definitely did not provide. But instead of doing fan service—outside confirming Riker, Work, and LaForge are all still alive—this episode just kills forty-five minutes or so until the next one. “Picard” has a ten episode season and Maps and Legends is utterly disposable. Unless it really matters seeing a sadly underutilized Ann Magnuson as a Starfleet admiral telling Patrick Stewart she’s sick of his liberal mansplaining and no one has to listen to him anymore, which doesn’t work because Stewart’s right. He might be mansplaining but he’s not wrong. The whole “Starfleet decides to let billions of Romulans die because they’re basically space racists” thing? They’re the bad guys now. They had to decide whether or not they were going to step up and they did not.

Because the post-Roddenberry “Star Trek” humanity is humanity, not the aspirational stuff. “Picard”’s future humanity never would’ve made it through the twentieth-first century… just like we won’t. Anyway, I wish Magnuson was better in it. There’s no real stunt-casting but some familiar guest stars—David Paymer plays Stewart’s Bones McCoy from the Stargazer, which was Picard’s first command and a big recurring thing on “Next Generation.”

Paymer’s not great. He’s not even good Paymer annoying. He’s just there to give Picard his Search for Spock arc. At one point, Stewart’s even talking about how even if there’s a chance of Data’s soul existing, he’s got to go find the daughter (Isa Briones, who has a somewhat interesting arc fooling around with Romulan emo stud Harry Treadaway as they excavate an old Borg cube) as surely if she were his very own.

Yeah, so… this episode is like if they did a Star Trek III homage but forgot to be intentional and fun about it.

But then there’s also the cross-species conspiracy against… hang on… got to drag this reveal out because they really drag it out in the show, with Orla Brady acting like anyone is going to care the Romulan secret secret police hates androids. And, guess what, they’re not the only ones. There’s a secret society in the Federation who helps the Romulan secret secret police’s quest to destroy androids.

Somebody’s seen Star Trek VI too!

And why do they hate androids? Who knows. But they’ve hated them for hundreds of years, probably because the Romulan equivalent of a Roomba hit some ruler’s toe and he went ape-shit. Actually, no, because that idea is too fun and “Picard”’s unnecessarily morose. Especially since second-billed but in the episode for a scene Alison Pill has fun, even when she’s in high drama. Ditto Stewart. He’s trying to bring some charm to the project, even as the project resists.

Tamlyn Tomita plays the evil Starfleet mole. Peyton List is her sidekick. Fourth-billed Michelle Hurd shows up for a scene at the end. Not the cliffhanger scene because Stewart doesn’t get the cliffhangers (yet, hopefully), because he’s not important this episode. He’s not going to get important until he gets out into space and engages and whatnot. This stuff is just episode commitment time killing.

Though the Borg excavation stuff is at least interesting. Co-writers Akiva (Batman & Robin) Goldsman and Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon are a lot better with the Borg fanfic than the actual writing for Patrick Stewart stuff.

Making Mr. Right (1987, Susan Seidelman)

Making Mr. Right feels a little incomplete. It’s not entirely unexpected as Floyd Byars and Laurie Frank’s script plays loose with subplots–even after the film forecasts its basic structure, it loses track of a lot, and some essential scenes happen offscreen. The subsequent reveals in the narrative (to other characters and the audience) never play for enough surprise value to cover the missing moments.

One has to wonder what got cut.

Director Seidelman keeps things moving over the absences, having structured the picture into two separate parts in the first act. Ann Magnuson runs an ad agency, has a crappy congressman for a boyfriend and client (a delightfully bland Ben Masters); she’s also got a somewhat annoying family and friend situation intruding. Then she gets a contract to promote an android in time to get Congress to continue funding. John Malkovich is the android and the inventor.

The film keeps Magnuson’s life bisected. Even when Malkovich, in either of his roles, crosses over into Magnuson’s personal life–her misadventures with the android, even out on the town, are work stuff–but even when Malkovich is present in the personal life, Seidelman and editor Andrew Mondshein keep it somewhat separate. For example, Malkovich doesn’t really have any scenes with Magnuson and anyone else (outside Masters); but he’s present in some of the scenes. It’s just not somewhere Seidelman takes the film.

And it gets to be a problem in the third act when all of a sudden Malkovich has got a character arc of his own. As the android. The human inventor Malkovich has a second act subplot where Laurie Metcalf is trying to put a ring on it, which just ends up jumpstart Malkovich the android’s character development only to abruptly end it. Making Mr. Right runs almost 100 minutes and feels like a good twenty minutes are missing.

One of the film’s complete subplots–which the film contrives to intersect with the main plot to end the second act–involves Magnuson’s friend Glenne Headly. Headly’s having marriage problems and bunks up with Magnuson, ostensibly to give Magnuson someone to play off at home but the Headly subplot’s too good and overshadows Magnuson’s romance-induced ennui. Headly’s married to soap opera star Hart Bochner–who initially shows up onscreen in his cheesy soap with absurd hair–and Seidelman gets a lot out of having Headly around. Magnuson never gets to be silly, just frantic and stressed. Headly gets to have some fun.

Making Mr. Right is all about its actors–Magnuson, Malkovich, Headly–with Seidelman striving to facilitate as best she can. Malkovich and Magnuson both get some degree of physical comedy and they’re great at it. Malkovich plays the android with more soul than the inventor. The inventor part Malkovich does stiff and deadpan. The android is absurd and sincere. There are some scenes between Malkovich’s two characters–Magnuson drives past a theater showing The Parent Trap–but the film avoids them. Malkovich is only able to get one of his parts out of caricature as a result. He chooses well, but with some more time, who knows what Malkovich and Seidelman could get done.

Magnuson has a similar situation of underutilization, also because of the script. After all the intricate setup, Byars and Frank don’t keep subplots moving in the background. At least, not enough of them to compensate for the changes in the film’s narrative flow.

Making Mr. Right is a solid comedy. Great performances, some great scenes; overall, it’s a moderate success. But with a better third act, thanks to Magnuson, Malkovich, and Seidelman, it could’ve gone further.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Susan Seidelman; written by Floyd Byars and Laurie Frank; director of photography, Edward Lachman; edited by Andrew Mondshein; music by Chaz Jankel; production designer, Barbara Ling; produced by Joel Tuber and Mike Wise; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Ann Magnuson (Frankie Stone), John Malkovich (Dr. Jeff Peters / Ulysses), Glenne Headly (Trish), Ben Masters (Steve Marcus), Polly Bergen (Estelle Stone), Harsh Nayyar (Dr. Ramdas), Laurie Metcalf (Sandy), and Hart Bochner (Don).


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