WTF: Star Trek

Posted on November 23, 2011

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Because of my topic choice for this week, I may get some readers unfamiliar with this blog. 100 quatloos on the newcomers! I mean, uhm…Moving on.

On Wednesdays, I post short reviews of TV series that my wife and I watch, watched and decided to stop watching, or that are “on the bubble” between the two. Because this week is when Americans celebrate a big family holiday, Thanksgiving, I’m going to skip my usual format to shorten things up, and I’m going to write about shows that almost everyone has watched, at one point or another.

I’m talking, of course, about the epic Star Trek franchise, originally created by Gene Roddenberry.

Star Trek: The Original Series

Or, as I like to call it, Star Trek.

Star Trek has been lambasted for years for its cheap effects, simplistic make-up, and message-heavy scripts. I don’t care. I grew up watching this series in syndication. When I was a boy, this was the only Star TrekĀ  in town. There were no franchises. No other series addressed issues in contemporary society the way Star Trek did. If it seems trite or cliched now, that’s because so many other shows have tried to emulate it since.

Speaking of which…

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Next Gen is a good show, with a terrific cast. Now, that said, look at that image. The show ran from 1987-1994, and that set screams out that time period. I was just a kid when the original series went off the air, but there are clearly some design elements in the show from the ’60s. My parents probably thought it was hilarious. To me, though, it was science fiction because I had no memories or associations with the ’60s. On the other hand, Next Gen always seemed dated to me. Many episodes lack the action of the original, and later, series. That said, it’s worth watching. When it worked, it worked well.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

DS9 had a truly stellar cast – Alexander Siddig and Colm Meaney, in particular, are still prolific in their work. We don’t see more of Avery Brooks because he’s teaching and performing on stage rather than on the big or small screens. The designs were clearly from the Star Trek universe, but DS9 felt and looked lived-in. In part, this is because Star Trek’s stranglehold on small-screen scifi was breaking. Babylon 5 was out, among others. Suddenly the Trek franchise had to adapt and move forward – and it did, very well. DS9 had more of the action that Next Gen lacked, and created compelling new elements for the franchise in the Bajoran/Cardassian struggle.

And yet…the action had moved away from the center of the Federation. The Klingons and Romulans took back-stage to the Dominion, which is half a galaxy away. Diplomacy and politics struggled to maintain a fragile status quo, rather than establish relationships with new planets and new species, as in original series and Next Gen.

I always felt like I wanted something more.

Star Trek: Voyager

As much as I’m a fan of the franchise, I had no faith in this series. I had hope – I watched at least a season of it – but no faith. The problem with it is obvious: If Voyager ever found its way back to the Federation, the show was over. This is called Gilligan’s Island Syndrome, when the resolution of a central conflict destroys the entire show.

It was too bad, too, because many of the cast were terrific. Frankly, I think Robert Beltran and Tim Russ deserve more work. Ethan Phillips, Robert Picardo, and Kate Mulgrew had careers before the show ever began, and continue to have them. Robert Duncan McNeill’s behind-the-camera skills continue to bring us great entertainment (love Chuck). As for Jeri Ryan, I saw the physical appeal, but I just don’t get why she gets more notice or acclaim than others in the cast.

Star Trek: Enterprise

Man, I loved the first seasons of this show. When it was all about mankind taking its first steps into interstellar space, establishing Federation protocols, and forging the reputation for every other starship named Enterprise, the show soared – even with the worst theme music of any part of the franchise. Then, like another of Roddenberry’s shows (Andromeda), the studio took over creative direction. The series divorced itself from original series mythology and went off chasing some threat to Earth that we’d never heard of before. It became more episodic, which made it easier to franchise. I stopped watching. As good as the cast was, they couldn’t save it. Paramount didn’t seem to understand how to attract new viewers without leaving us grognards behind.

Thoughts?

In the hallowed halls of fandom, there are few more divisive questions than, “Which Trek is your favorite?” It’s almost as bad as watching Star Trek nerds throw down against Star Wars nerds. Personally, I’m an original series guy in both camps. How about you?

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