Monday, July 11, 2011

Bad Geek Confessions: Star Trek

Fifty posts and I haven’t mentioned Star Trek yet? I must be slipping.

The True Crew
I’ve been watching Star Trek for as long as I’ve been capable of watching things. (Thanx, Dad.) When it was in its first syndication run, we’d watch it every night (after the vampire shows were done) at dinner. I was young enough that, for a very long time, I had this overall conception of Star Trek undivided into episodes. Tribbles, Klingons, Spock with a Beard and the American flag were all weaved into one highly unusual story in my highly unusual head. I also had the pajamas, the action figures, the communicator walkie talkies, and even the cardboard ears. The Franz Joseph designs in my Dad’s Starfleet Technical Manual were some of the first pages I poured over multiple times.

My enjoyment of the original series and its characters has not dulled over the years.

However, I cannot sit through The Next Generation or any of the other later shows.

I tried to like the adventures of Captain Picard and company.

I REALLY tried.

I’m talking a couple YEARS of trying.

That show started at the height of my Trekkie life. (Those of you interrupting to tell me I’m a Trekker can beam out, right now.) This was the same era where the original crew movies were coming out. The reveal of Enterprise-A at the end of Star Trek IV is still the loudest, most audience-uniting cheer I’ve ever been a part of in all my opening night geek movie attending life. This was the period where I would stay up to tape the show on Channel 11 at midnight any time I was off school in order to have the complete series. (It took forever, because they seemed to show “Metamorphosis” twice a week for some reason. I still start to twitch whenever I see Zephram Cochrane.)

I kept hoping the Companion would just eat him.
When The Next Generation premiered, I was there.
I was excited.
I was ready to continue to go boldly.
I watched it for about two and a half seasons, maybe more…

And I was disappointed every time.

The original show was made as an adventure series, but hired enough intelligent writers to throw in many messages, allegories and deep ideas with the adventure. Every episode of The Next Generation felt like the message was the most important part, and the story was only incidental. They’d spend fifty minutes beating me over the head with the lesson du jour, up until the last commercial break. At that point, some crew member or another would realize that there is, in fact, a problem to be solved. Then it was wrapped up almost as an afterthought with an unsatisfying “ta-da!”

This is similar to how Sesame Street has descended to where it is today. (He said, ranting about a totally different topic.) Originally, it was a Laugh In inspired show, created to be fun and entertaining for the whole family. Education experts would come in for a final review or two to make sure it was also teaching. Over time, the education and marketing people took the lead, transforming it into a dumbed down, repetitious, over-Elmo-ed mess. It’s come back a bit recently, but nowhere near its original glory. I’m not making this up, I’ve done some reading and the original show’s creators have said similar (if less bitter and ranty) things. Unsurprisingly, it is all Barney’s fault.

I’ve had many fans tell me I quit too soon, (because they wanted me to claw my eyes out, I guess) implying that the show improved in later seasons. I did try to go back a couple of times, usually after seeing an original crew movie and needing a further fix. The later seasons did away with the few things I liked early on. They, and the following Treks, were all: message after issue after lesson (lather, rinse, repeat), as they whined, discussed feelings, surrendered, and were hamstrung by the prime directive. All this went on without any of the sense of fun that ran rampant when the original crew was on the bridge. More importantly, none of the shows recaptured the lightning in a bottle chemistry of the original crew.

Part of the trouble may be due to Gene Roddenberry. He was, undeniably, a genius. But he also tended to hold on to some ideas which didn’t work. I’m a huge Captain Pike fan. Heck I’m named after the actor that played him (destined for geek hood since birth). However, there were aspects of his personality, and the pilot containing him in general, that needed to be redone to make Star Trek the phenomenon it became. Many concepts that were poorly received in “The Cage” were reused in The Motion Picture to equally faint praise…and then brought back again in the newer series. (A prime example- reluctant leader with forbidden love for alien woman: Pike and Number One, Decker and Ilia, and Riker and Troi. Note that all three sets travelled in space pajamas.) Still, considering all the good ideas the Great Bird of the Galaxy gave us, we can forgive him some clunkers.

I will admit to a couple of episodes that I did record to keep permanently. They should be fairly obvious. Scotty’s return in “Relics” is definitely a keeper, as he spends most of the time pointing out how lame the new show, ship and crew are compared to the original. Spock’s return in “Unification” also served to nicely display why Data is a poor man’s replacement for everyone’s favorite Vulcan science officer.

I was leery about trying “Trials and Tribble-ations” on Deep Space Nine. After all this was the series that returned to the Mirror Universe, and learned Bearded Spock’s actions and improvements caused that Federation to be completely taken over. What this means is: a long range plan suggested by Captain Kirk with the aid of Doctor McCoy, and implemented by a Mr. Spock very similar to the real one, was the wrong course of action. How could I trust a show run by people who were unfamiliar enough with Star Trek to think that anything set forth by the Kirk-Spock-McCoy three who are one, could be wrong. The whole point of many Star Trek episodes is that one, or two, or all three are sure of something that is doubted by the ENTIRE REST OF THE UNIVERSE…and they turn out to be right.
Because they are, in fact, that cool.
Luckily, “Trials and Tribble-ations” was made with the sense of entertaining adventure that the original had, and was a worthy anniversary celebration. (Edit Aug 2017, all of DS9 had that sense.)

Over the years, I’ve been happy with my tapes, and the occasional Original Crew novel or comic book. Some new developments have upgraded things around here though.

The new Star Trek movie was a pleasant surprise, as I had no idea how they could pull it off. The characters were played by the same actors for over forty years. I couldn’t figure out how Captain Kirk could be Captain Kirk without being an imitation of William Shatner. Luckily, Chris Pine and the rest of the new-old crew managed to figure it out.
He's got the swagger, and is close to mastering the "Kirk Smirk".
They captured the spirit, and more importantly the chemistry between characters, and took them all through a grand adventure. Not only that, but they managed to give the Enterprise a sleek, modern update and have it retain the classy appearance of the original. (As opposed to another Enterprise I could mention that has an interior resembling an attraction on HGTV's Living Rooms of the Beige and Boring and an exterior shaped like a suppository.)  It was also nice that instead of making what could have been a tightly edited hour and forty film, they expanded it out to two hours, just to have Leonard Nimoy pop in to hand the Enterprise keys off to the new kids and let us old fans know everything was going to remain fun and fascinating.

The blessing has been bestowed.
I have the new film to thank for my daughter’s interest in Trek. She was too young to get into my beat up midnight tapes when my wife and I went through them. (The fact that my wife put up with the quality level of those tapes to share this series with me is more evidence of how lucky I am.) Later, I tried to get my daughter to watch the movies, and of course the only scene she sat still for was the Ceti Eel in the ear part of Wrath of Kahn. Needless to say, we didn’t watch anymore for a while. Luckily, the blu ray of the new movie has bloopers! They pulled her into the room and she stayed for the film. Add in the release of the animated series on DVD; and now she has the play sets and figures. The bridge crew often beams over to the Littlest Pet Shop to have play time visits with the animals.

Another technological advance increased her fandom. One of the reasons we got a blu ray player was I saw an advertisement saying the only way to see the Original Series with the original effects intact was on blu ray.

I need to publicly apologize now. When I first read about them upgrading the space effects to CGI I set off on a nerd rage tirade. (Real big shock. Yeah, I know.) I complained that they expected to fool the kids with fancy computer generated spaceships, and then surprise them with planets made of papier mache’. Turns out I was way wrong. They didn’t make the space scenes look like uber slick digital fanciness. They made them look like more varied, detailed, and complicated shots were taken of the original models. Every time a new digital view of the Starship Enterprise comes on screen in glorious high definition…I go, “OOOOOOOOooooh”.
Its soooooo shiiiiiiiiny!
The circle is complete, now my whole family watches the series together many nights at dinner time. The whole Spock-Uhura thing is pretty obvious in the early episodes, and may I slide back to the new film to say what a great idea that pairing was because:
1) It was inspired by scenes from the original series.
2) It was still a hell of a shock.
3) It provided a logical explanation why, unlike every other female of every other species in the galaxy, Uhura doesn’t fall for Kirk.
Not as big a leap as one might think.
My daughter makes very observant comments and observations as we watch, such as:

“If this is an alien planet why do they all speak English instead of going, ‘Beep boop boop beep’?”
I explained about the universal translator, and luckily “Arena” came on shortly thereafter to clear that up.

Early on in the first season she asked who the landing party was, and I told her, “Kirk, Spock and another guy.”
“Oh,” she replied, “The other guy’s not gonna make it back to the ship, is he?”

She caught on that Chekov would be missing at the navigation station until the second season, and also asked where Sulu is when someone else was at the helm. Plus she could tell when Chekov was wearing the wig.

"Could your hair have been any bigger?"

Any pretty girl that shows up, she says, “I guess Kirk’s going to be kissing her soon.”
Not mine, but too good to leave out.
I’m having a great deal of fun watching her revel in the Awesomeness that is Captain James T. Kirk and his crew.

She giggles when Spock says “Fascinating” or raises an eyebrow, but lets out a mirth filled, “Oh Boy!” whenever his emotions are let loose.

She laughs out loud when McCoy proclaims he’s a doctor, not a whatever, or when Scotty worries about his engines.
Always the consummate professionals
She chuckles knowingly when Kirk is about to talk to a computer.

And, in “The Enterprise Incident” she said, “There’s no such thing as a Vulcan death grip,” and later gave an impressed, “Whoah!” when the Captain ordered, “Warp Factor Nine!”

The Star Trek genes are secure in my next generation. I know this is true because when we flip by THE Next Generation, she inquires, “That’s the stinky Star Trek, right Daddy?”

That's my girl!

Click For Short Treks Index


Kim Luer said...

You be happy to know that the other day down the lake, we were all looking at the sky and saying what the clouds look like. Shortly after Veronica announced that she saw one that looked like a cloud, I saw one that looked EXACTLY (and I'm not exaggerating here at all, Mommy saw it too, ask her) like a Klingon Bird of Prey, it was even complete with a cloaking device, in the time it took me and mommy to say hey look at that, it was gone.

Jeff McGinley said...

That's because when they brought the Bird of Prey back in time looking for humpback whales, they got confused and looked around the Bear Mountain Bridge before the Golden Gate Bridge. (it was a deleted scene I think)

longbow said...

Darmok and Jilad at Tenagra
Darmok and Jiald on the ocean.
Stinky Star Trek *might* have been redeemed to the "Jeff"-audience if only they'd have killed off the right woman (Troi instead of Yar)

Jeff McGinley said...

Holey Moley! That one was season FIVE, and I saw it. I gave that show WAY too many chances. I was pretty happy when they offed Yar, actually...I thought of it as "Step One"
Thanx for posting.