Thursday, December 22, 2016

Star Trek at 50

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. This post is just under the wire. 

I thought the best films with the classic cast were The Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home, and The Undiscovered Country

I liked Generations better than Roger Ebert did. It has some very fine acting by Stewart and Malcolm McDowell. Spiner does some of his best acting as Data. Even Shatner is amusing in the opening scene, as a flabby, curmudgeonly Shatner. 

First Contact was certainly the best entry with the TNG cast. Star Trek (2009) was fine film of its kind. I haven't seen Star Trek Beyond

In general, I don't think TOS was all that good. Roddenberry was a poor storyteller. Among the better episodes are "Balance of Terror," "Journey to Babel," and "Mirror, Mirror." The mimetic and balletic acting of the empath make that eponymously titled episode memorable. Likewise, budgetary constraints made "Spectre of the Gun" unintentionally artistic and impressionistic. 

Shatner is a ham actor, but he has the pushy star power that Jeffrey Hunter lacked. 

I thought TGN was the best of the spinoffs, and generally superior to TOS. Some of the better episodes include "Genesis," "The Inner Light," and "Lessons." 

Stewart is a natural stage actor, so the role is noticeably confining, like he's wearing a suit two sizes too small. It puts a crimp in his style. 

In that respect it was nice to see him in "Chain of Command". A good match-up with another really fine actor (David Warner). 

Moby-Dick was a better vehicle for Stewart's larger-than-life onstage persona. Gives him more room to stretch out. 

Spiner is a limited actor. He was never convincing as an old man (Noonian Soong). However, Data is his signature role. He created the role, and he nails it.

Unlike many Trekkies, I generally like Dr. Pulaski. McFadden and Sirtis were a feast for the eyes. 

Worf was a likable character, but Star Trek producers and screenwriters tried too hard to make him into a warm, lovable Teddy Bear beneath the gruff exterior. 

There were a couple of fun episodes between Worf and his wife K'Ehleyr.

Lieutenant Reginald Barclay was a fun character. He became a recurring character. 

Producers had the wisdom to kill off Tasha Yar. Pity they didn't kill off the insufferably cloying Wesley Crusher while they were at it.

I didn't care for Guinan. She's a variation on the Hippie Hindu/Buddhist sage. But her wisdom is no wiser than the screenwriters.

I admit that in general I don't care for Goldberg. I avoid most of her movies. I did like her in Fatal Beauty–which I once saw when it came on TV years ago. There she's in her element as the street smart, street tough narcotics detective.  

For some Trekkies, DS9 is their favorite series due to its complexity. It has many layers and interwoven storylines compared to other Star Trek series. In general, though, I find it too campy for my liking, and I dropped out before the series ran its course. 

My favorite characters were Odo and Garak. Auberjonois played Odo with mordant wit. At his best in repartee with other characters. 

Garak was shifty and secretive, with some good verbal sparring between himself and Bashir. 

The cynical Kai Winn (Estelle Fletcher) was mildly entertaining, but the character is a Dragon Lady cliché.  

The father/son dynamic between Brooks and Jake is a nice idea on paper, but the actors lack rapport. Seems strained to me. 

I didn't care for Dax. Michelle Forbes was the first choice for Kira, but she turned it down–unfortunately. She would have been so much better in the role than Nana Visitor, who just doesn't do it for me. 

Perhaps, though, the worst part of the show were the Ferengi. The Ferengi are to Star Trek what Ewoks and Jar-Jar Binks are to Star Wars. A mistake that should have been written out of the script after the first draft. Instead, they had a central role in DS9, which singlehandedly makes it nearly unindurable. 

There were some good individual episodes, like "The Visitor". But I bailed on the series long before it ran its course. 

Star Trek: Enterprise was forgettable long before it was gone. 

A new series is slated for next year: Discovery. I wouldn't be surprised if it has gay and transgender characters. 

After TGN, I'd say Voyager was the best series.

"Tuvix" dealt with a moral dilemma. A transporter mishap fused Tuvok and Neelix, creating a new person with the best character traits of Tuvok and Neelix. But the mishap was reversible. Therein lay the dilemma. Tuvok and Neelix died in the mishap. Tuvix was the novel result. The unintended beneficiary of their accidental death. Should he die to restore them to life? Or should they remain dead, as a tragic, but settled event? Leave the past in the past?  

If evil produces a second-order good, should you accept the resultant good, or kill an innocent person to restore the status quo ante? Destroy the present to recreate the past? Either way, there are winners and losers. Someone winning at the cost of someone losing. And not a game, but life or death.  

"Mortal Coil" dealt with loss of faith. Neelix is killed, but restored to life with Borg technology. Talaxians traditionally believe in the afterlife, a belief that Neelix shares, until he dies, to be regenerated 19 hours later. Problem is, he wasn't reunited with his dead relatives when he died. Apparently, he passed into oblivion. That discovery leaves him desolate, not only for himself, but for his dead loved ones. 

"Year of Hell" presented another moral dilemma. An alien time ship erased the crews' own past–including their loves ones. For the past 200 years, the same crew (which is shielded from the passage of time) has labored to keep changing the past until they can restore their own timeline, and loved ones. But they never get it right. There are always unintended consequences.

Another interesting episode was "Barge of the Dead", which explored the Klingon mythology of hell. 

Mulgrew was suitably decisive as captain. Betran was underutilized. 

The Doctor had moments (e.g. "Real Life").

Tuvok, Tom Paris, B'Ealnna Torres, and Harry Kim were cardboard characters played by third-tier TV actors. 

The insipid Kes was mercifully killed off to make way for Seven of Nine. In addition to her hourglass figure, Ryan brought sass to the character, perhaps owing to her experience as an army brat. 

She became the instant star of the show. The male actors were fine with that, but Mulgrew bitterly resented having Ryan usurp her. 

In my admittedly limited observation, I think that reflects a difference between men and women. The entertainment industry is ferociously competitive. Singers and actors vie with each other for the same parts or the same audience. Yet although the men are often professional rivals, they can still be good friends. But from examples I've read, female rivals are more likely to hate each other. 


  1. I agree that W Goldberg was a waste of time, but I respectfully disagree on Shatner being a ham actor. I thoroughly enjoyed him! And I loved the story telling of TOS.

    Here's an anecdote: I once attended a Star Trek convention, and observed a woman in complete TOS attire purchase a poster of the first motion picture - for $300!!!

    Have a great Christmas season (Sorry I didn't read your article on Christians observing Christmas - I'm too busy observing Christmas!) Please pass on my warmest to John Bugay.

  2. A fun Star Trek review to read!

    I remember enjoying TNG's "The Best of Both Worlds", "Yesterday's Enterprise", and "Elementary, Dear Data".

    The actor who plays Wesley Crusher, Wil Wheaton, now makes coin in all manner of geekdom (e.g. social media, multiple appearances on The Big Bang Theory).

    I thought Michelle Forbes shined as Admiral Helena Cain in BSG.

  3. What I find interesting is that the Trek utopia ("we fixed poverty and greed") was anything but a utopia. Otherwise, each series has reflected the popular generic western ideologies of their time. Each nevertheless retained the utopian theme while generating plenty of internal and external tensions. The writers for TNG were exceptional at mixing these tensions with the problem-solving storylines that kept geeks like me watching. I didn't mind Goldberg too much. Guinan was a cheap character, useful at times, but not overbearing.

    Compared to other similar enterprises at the time (like Lost In Space), TOS actually had a pretty high production quality. Liberty University grad Vic Mignogna has done an excellent job recreating the production quality and writing style of TOS in his YouTubed ST Continues series. (He's enough of a Christian that he leads chapel services at the Cosplay events he attends.)

    DS9 never rung my bell. It was okay, but not great.

    Voyager was good. I haven't watched it in a while, but I have a DVD set on standby that will get used. Right now I'm watching through Enterprise with my oldest son. I never really watched it much when it aired so I'm catching up. I like it a whole lot better than DS9. Phlox is a solid liberal mouthpiece. I like the character, but he really pushes the ideology while the earthling crew is necessarily cowboyish by contrast. There's also the over-sexualization of the token Vulcan, T'Pol. She's like their version of Seven of Nine. Those kinds of things cheapen the show for the sake of ratings and politicization.

    1. It's true that by 1960s standards, Star Trek seemed to be a realistic depiction of the future.