overthinking the idiot box

May 16, 2005

Rejected Column Titles: "Kirk Wouldn't Stoop That Low", "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot," "Resistance is Futile," and "some sort of Locutus pun?" This one goes out to all the nerds in the hizz-ouse.

Holographic wow
These Are the Voyages... That No One Watched

by Alison Veneto

There was a lot of excitement surrounding the premiere of Star Trek: Enterprise. The last two series in the franchise — Deep Space 9 and Voyager — didn't seem to hold up to the legend of The Next Generation. And even though those shows had their dedicated fans, there was hope that in starting again there was another chance for greatness. Further, the Captain this time around was already a Sci Fi TV Legend — Scott Bakula better known as "Sam" on the much loved Quantum Leap. So the premiere episode came and I gathered together with a large group of friends for the event. The episode drew 13 million viewers — not bad! But as Jolene Blalock, who plays T'Pol on the series, said in a recent interview, they "somehow managed to drive 11 million of them away."

At 2 million viewers, the Star Trek series, airing on network television, was easily beaten this year by the premiere of the SciFi Channel's superior show Battlestar Galactica which averages over 3 million viewers per episode. Insiders will tell you this was the death knell for Enterprise, which was already headed for cancellation.

Talking with friends after this Enterprise finale, we noted how funny it was to watch Star Trek after having watched a season of Battlestar. Battlestar thrives on reality. Star Trek with the cheesy dialogue and the theatrical acting seemed outrageously outdated. The finale of Enterprise was written by Star Trek universe despots Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. Braga is also responsible for what is often considered the best Star Trek episode of all time, the Next Generation finale, "All Good Things". But he co-wrote that with fan favorite Trek scribe Ronald Moore. And where is Moore when we need him? Well, he was too busy creating Battlestar Galactica, of course.

But enough with the comparisons and on to the episodes. Before this finale episode, entitled "These Are The Voyages" was Part II of what clearly would have been the season finale if the show wasn't ending. This was called "Terra Prime Part II" co-starring Robocop himself, Peter Weller, as the bad guy. The bad guy, as it happened, was pretty much Hitler (in space!). Very subtle parallels, Star Trek writers. Very subtle.

Not having watched Enterprise in a while, I was surprised by some of the developments. Evidently T'Pol and Trip have some sort of clone baby. And continue to be together. Every time I have tuned in there have been erotic signs. From the much maligned rub down in the premiere to the massage therapy or whatever they had going on in a later season. And speaking of something that hasn't changed since the pilot — in "Terra Prime" someone decided to leave Hoshi in charge of the ship while everyone was away — and she did what she always did, which was nothing. Who left her in charge?

But now on to the actual finale. I wasn't expecting much since Jolene Blalock put out there that "the final episode is... appalling." It had been all over the internet that Riker and Troi were in the episode and Enterprise was in the holodeck.

They've learned so much from the past. Can't you tell?
This caused me to assume that in the spirit of St. Elsewhere and Newhart, Enterprise always only existed in the holodeck. I must give the writers credit for at least not jumping that small army of sharks. Although, I had a very good time imagining Enterprise as a Next Generation holodeck programming. Riker and Troi could be T'Pol and Trip. Barkley could be Archer. And so on... But it turns out that we meet Riker and Troi during the run of the Star Trek: Next Generation TV series (no movie outfits or movie ship) while Riker is struggling with that somewhat obscure incident with the Pegasus. Please guys, I like Star Trek but that was 12 years ago! How am I supposed to remember these things? Anyway, Troi suggests that Riker use the holodock Enterprise program to re-create what Trip did in a similar situation. Well, Trip killed himself. Advice Riker clearly doesn't take. But ok, really, he's trying to learn about when it's right for the first officer to break the rules.

You learn Trip is going to die before he does. And when he does, even I teared up a little. All while pondering the absurdity of killing a character in the last episode. Why kill him in last episode?? Cheap emotional ploy!

Using popular characters in a finale is not unheard of. The Voyager finale had Barkley and The Borg Queen (played by First Contact's Alice Krige). It also had Troi in episodes leading up to the finale. This finale even tried to get in another kick by using the voice of Data over a com link. He spoke briefly to Troi making a lame I-take-you-literally-because-I'm-an-android joke. It was very Season 1 Data. Boo.

This episode was full of "in-jokes" — some on purpose, some not. They would say lines like "here's to the next generation," which was deliberate. But also in the "Terra Prime" episode, Harry Groener, who played the Mayor on Buffy the Vampire Slayer makes reference to "the demons of our past" which gave me a good chuckle.

And the speech. My favorite part. Archer spends the entire episode writing and putting off writing this very important speech, so important in fact that Troi recalls that she had to recite it in grade school. We get to the end of the episode when Archer is supposed to deliver it. And then... then.... end of episode! They copped out on the greatest speech in the history of the Federation! It's like a metaphor for the let down of the entire show. Deep.

It's not entirely fair either to rip on a show you hardly ever watch. There's a lack of context and interest in the characters. But I really think the remnants of the Enterprise watchers will be a lot happier on the greener shores of Battlestar Galactica.
In the final estimation, I think Enterprise had some things going for it. The characters were all actually perfectly fine. Some of them I actually even liked. It was just the writing of the episodes. Although they eventually decided to do a serialized season-long story (using Braga's favorite device — time travel), it didn't matter anymore because most audience members had already lost interest. But I do know people like this show. And to be honest, I didn't think it was that bad. It's not entirely fair either to rip on a show you hardly ever watch. There's a lack of context and interest in the characters. But I really think the remnants of the Enterprise watchers will be a lot happier on the greener shores of Battlestar Galactica. If you don't have cable, wait for the DVDs.

Further, the Enterprise finale ended with a half-cheesy, half-poignant homage to the previous Enterprise ships and their Captains. It really made me feel the sadness of it all ending. Star Trek, in some form, has been on my whole life almost. It has been on TV every year consecutively since I was six (I can see you all doing the math now to figure out how old I am). It was comforting. I like anything that adds stability. And that Star Trek is on TV is stability. I know it's always there.

But now it's all over, at least for a while. No TV shows and after the disappointing returns on Nemesis, no movies. No Trek.

I still can't get my head around it. But this does give me an opportunity to spout my opinions on what Trek should do in the future. I have been a long time advocate of Starfleet Academy. It's so logical! Berman and Braga said absolutely no to it a long time ago because it would be WB in space, but who cares? It's the best way to get young people and new viewers interested in Star Trek. Think of it more like Harry Potter than Dawson's Creek — only the best are chosen, the fierce competition, etc... It could be great. But as noted, there's no hope, or is there? Rumor is that a few months ago J. Michael Straczynski (who supposedly pitched a series to Star Trek long ago about a space station that they stole and made into DS9 while he made what he originally intended as Babylon 5) went over Berman & Braga's heads to Paramount and pitched Starfleet Academy. I bow to him.

I've heard nothing else on this since but it's something, a crumb. It was also mentioned to me today that a good way to bridge the gap while there is no Star Trek on TV and gain new fans is to do a cartoon show for the kiddies. This is also a good idea I think. Are you listening Paramount?

So many people were disenfranchised by Enterprise that they probably don't share my sadness about the end of an era. Many people believe Star Trek needs a break. But I think Star Trek needs to remember what it is — a controversial show that tackles issues. Something it lost sight of. It also lost sight of modernity. I think we still want Star Trek, we still need Star Trek, but it just has to live up the bar it once set for itself.

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