Saturday, September 06, 2003

Star Trek: Enterprise

I have been a Trekkie since I first saw the original series back in grade school. I even changed my hairstyle to match Spock's, as I strongly identified with his character. I also adopted his show-no-emotion demeanor, which proved to be a huge mistake as I worked to suppress all emotion and pretty much wrecked myself in the process. Much psychotherapy required there, I'll tell ya.

Anyway, I was as thrilled as any Trek fan when Star Trek: The Next Generation was announced. The new series was different but also reassuringly familiar. And as the Great Bird's (creator Gene Roddenberry) secular humanist, one-world utopianist influence waned, the show grew stronger. It became the gold standard of Star Trek.

Deep Space Nine was even better. In this series they explored the idea of how to make a Federation work, how to put into practice the principles of Star Trek, even with folks who mostly just want to conquer and enslave you. The show's characters weren't the perfect people of NextGen, but folks struggling to live up to its ideals. This series, for me, was the apotheosis of Star Trek and some of the best television ever created.

Unfortunately, they had to create another series to carry on the Trek franchise cash cow. Star Trek was now a billion dollar business for Paramount studios. And that was the root of the problem, among many roots and problems. The new show would star a FEMALE CAPTAIN! A Star Trek first. She would have a bunch of Federation-rebel dissidents to deal with. And they would be on the other side of the galaxy -- new territory with NEW ALIENS, NEWS THREATS, NEW EVERYTHING! It would be revolutionary.

It wasn't. From the get-go, they used the same old production team from the previous two series. Co-creator Jeri Taylor went on record as saying she had problems writing a "female" captain. A look at her prior Trek writing shows that she strongly disliked the idea of command staff dating each other, which meant that her new captain would be a celibate. But the whole idea that a "female" captain was somehow different from, say, a "black" captain, or a "male" captain, or a "Vulcan" captain as both repulsive and salutory. It didn't auger well and that was later proved when Captain Janeway and her First Officer, who had strong on-screen chemistry, were kept in some adolescent "best friend" limbo.

The problems mounted. Everyone attached to the show came from the same production team continuity that Paramount had employed for nearly a a decade. It made the NEW show drearily familiar. Same costumes, aliens, plot devices, ideas, themes, atmosphere, etc. Then they killed the whole "rebel crewmember friction" angle by solving it in the first handful of episodes. The show quickly became more of the same-old-same-old and rating began to drift.

Then they had a bright idea: shake up the show with a new character. So they brought in a stunningly attractive young woman, put her in a skin-tight suit, then made her both fearsomely intelligent and virginally innocent. It was an adolescent fantasy, and she was played out that way, though Jeri Ryan (the actress who played Seven of Nine) is to be lauded for rising above her material.

When Voyager began to wind down, fans cried out for the show to take a hiatus, to go fallow for a few years to renew itself. Instead, Paramount had to keep the cash machine ringing. So, the same old team with the same old writers and production crew, tried again.

The result was Enterprise. Note there was no "Star Trek" this time, as they hoped to shake off a lot of the Trek barnacles they thought were dragging down the franchise. But the new show was simple more of the same. Even worse, they ran roughshod of series continuity. They made the emotionless Vulcans emotional. They brought back the fucking Borg! They announced the new show would be more "adult" which translated into the two series females wearing very skimpy outfits occasionally, and some of the male characters going shirtless! Shades of Captain Kirk! The new show was supposed to be adventurers going where no man had gone before (sounds a bit like Voyager, too, doesn't it?), finding the new and exciting. Instead, it felt more like aimless wandering into familiar territory.

On Voyager, they waited until the fourth season to shake things up. This time, they didn't even wait until the end of the second season. That's not a good sign. What they chose, though, is the worst of all possible paths.

Older Trek fans have loved the shows' emphasis on talk and engagement as a way to get past differences. It's the Trek credo! Aliens are just friends we don't understand yet. The ones trying to kill you might be made into allies if you just learn to communicate. Newer fans, though, love the ships and the weapons. Weaned on videogames, they want shoot 'em ups, fights, battles. Frag 'em all!

And that's what Star Trek: Enterprise is going to offer. Note that the "Star Trek" is back in the name. Whatever it was they were trying to shake off they seem to want back. Maybe they want to get rid of some lingering confusion, but there's no doubt when you watch the program exactly what it is. It reeks of the prior three series.

So now we have marines. That's right, fighting men. Star Trek has long avoided the openly military in the Federation, though marines have been mentioned before. Enterprise is going to station a crew of marines on the ship, which will occasion NEW CONFLICTS and DRAMA! And they're going out to kick some alien ass. Seems a 9/11 type attack was sprung on Earth and we have to go pound some foreigners to protect outselves.

And we have a new look for T'Pol. Her skintight catsuit is now red and blue, instead of dark camo-like. And her hair is longer! Archer and Tucker are meaner, too, more "decisive." Ooooooooh! Watch out!

The real stink of imminent death, though, comes from this story, from TrekToday, that producers contacted William Shatner, Captain James T. Kirk himself, to star on their show as his own character's grandfather. Stunt casting of the worst possible stripe. And this after Shatner had gone very public with his own dissatisfaction with the franchise's direction and style. He's even pushing his own series ideas!

It is the real end of Star Trek. Heck, I think they should just go ahead with one last movie, call it "Star Trek: Total War" and have it be an all-out slugfest with everyone in the galaxy. Wall-to-wall space battles and running ship battles for two hours. End it with the Captain standing tall on his smoking bridge, to wonder "My god, what have we done?" It'll be a smash.

One reason I got back to blogging was to restart my writing muscles. When I grew dissatisfied with Voyager in the second season, I took to writing my own Star Trek stories, what's called fanfiction. You can read those stories at the Trekiverse archives. This link takes you to the Search page; just enter my last name (Hollihan) in the search field and you'll be presented with the links. I'm mighy proud of some of those stories. Note that stories have "movie-style" ratings codes. These are a fanfiction adaptation and should be taken seriously. A couple of my stories are pretty dark and some have explicit sex. If these bother you, heed the ratings!

I developed my own ideas for my own Star Trek series -- Star Trek: USS Goddard. It's some familiar ground, yes, but I like the premise and the characters. But I hit writer's block a couple of years ago and haven't overcome it. I'd really like to go back to this series, as I think it has real promise. You be the judge.

Star Trek is dead; long live Star Trek. Sigh....

No comments: