February 3, 2005

Where No Trek Has Gone Before

As you've probably read elsewhere (and by the growing number of commentaries on the subject), UPN has finally pulled the plug on Star Trek: Enterprise. Although I am saddened by the decision, and in a turn of phrase on a Shatnerian scale, all I have to say is...

It's about time

This is no reflection on the cast's efforts - they tried to do the best they can with what they had. (Although Jolene Blalock's frequent whining sure as heck didn't help things). This past season saw the series begin to really tap into its promise - a great prequel for an excellent series. However, Enterprise was, at best, a pale imitation of past efforts, an attempt to do Star Trek by-the-numbers that failed miserably.

How did it begin? Imagine, if you will, those heady days of 1995, when Paramount decided to create a new network, and all of a sudden, Star Trek became a "franchise." Instead of being a vehicle for cutting edge stories, of social commentary, now it meant that you couldn't make any serious changes to the show, you had to soften some of the blows, and you had to make it palatable to the general public. The original series wasn't all that palatable - it was a medium-sized hit whose legend grew in syndication. The Next Generation broke the rules, played to a non-network audience, and expanded upon Star Trek Fandom. Deep Space 9 started off poorly, but taking a page from Babylon 5, began expanding into a complex story that dared to ask the question, "How far can you go with Roddenberry's toys without breaking them? Or turning it into a whole new show?"

But alas, Paramount made Star Trek "the franchise", and with Voyager, began the ST-by-the-numbers approach. We have a ship, in new area of space! Everyone gets along, so let's meet evil aliens! Let's see familiar races! Let's see a character comment on what it's like to be human! Let's see a skirtchaser, a plucky ensign, a miracle working engineer! (OK, sarcasm noted, but you have to admit - nobody will remember Voyager the way they will TNG or TOS. But the franchise meant lack of creativity, of automatic limits, of not taking chances. Much like comic book companies, Star Trek has become less about invention and more about catering to the same small group of individuals.

Many people lay the blame with Rick Berman and Brannon Bragga, and quite frankly - they deserve it. Both men have been the driving force behind Trek, and chose to follow their marching orders to the letter. They were company men to the letter, and made sure that they ran Star Trek to the ground. (At least Doctor Who, in its initial 26 year run, had various producers, script editors, writers, actors, etc).

The worst crime both men faced - not seeing that Trek was slightly outmoded. I've written on this before, but the face of science fiction television has changed since the initial run, and I don't mean the advent of cable. Other shows have way surpassed Star Trek, creating new ways to handle similar stories: Farscape (in my opinion, the closest we will ever come to Blake's Seven), Andromeda (whose first season was supposedly inspired by a failed Trek pitch), Stargate SG-1, Babylon 5, even the recent Battlestar Galactica revival is more in touch with modern tastes. People just don't want simple dilemma-and-a-moral-in-45-minutes anymore; they have a lot more access to literary science fiction, to science fiction television, etc.

Sadly, Berman is stating that there will be a three year "hiatus" on Trek - dude, you're sounding like me with every woman I've been infatuated with. I sit there, as she lovingly walks away with someone else, thinking, "Once she dumps him, she'll realize she made a mistake and come back to me." Won't happen. Even with a change of the PTB at CBS/Viacom, even if they are making a mistake, it's theirs to make. No cameos, no stunt casting, nothing will change the fact that, at its very core, Star Trek went way too long. Burnout was inevitable. Let it go and move on.

We are lucky to have a legacy of Trek - I will always, first and foremost, remain a Trek fan. However, it is about time that we take the message of Trek to heart - to boldly go where no one has gone before.

A world without new Star Trek. I wonder what that's like.

And I can't wait to find out.


homercat said...

I too am a Trek fan and have to agree with almost everything you said here. I tried to watch Enterprise a couple times but really couldn't take it.

Brian said...

Ronald Moore, former DS9 writer and current Battlestar Galactica writer, wrote a great essay about why he left Voyager right after he started on it. If I find it, I'll post the link here. It's interesting because he also mentions many of your points.

Star Trek needs to take a few years off. Period.

Novice said...

I greatly enjoyed this. My husband was a fan of the Original and TNG, and watched Enterprise for a little while before quickly growing sick of it. His theory is that the entire Star Trek thing should take a decade or two off, and get people really missing it.