The Observotron

I am the omnipotent machine of observation and opinion spewing. All I do and say is right.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Downfall of Star Trek

For the first time in nearly 20 years, we are living in a time without Star Trek. No movies are planned and no series are currently in production. Some Trek fans are still fighting to bring Enterprise back, but honestly Star Trek has been slowly dying ever since The Next Generation went off the air and Enterprise was like seeing TNG after it had suffered a stroke. We should be glad it’s out of its misery and hope that one day it will be resurrected. Until that day comes though, we should honor the good days we had with Star Trek. Do that on your own time though, because right now I am here to piss on its grave. Join me as I explain, series-by-series, the inevitable downfall of Star Trek.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Let me start at the highest point in Trek’s life. The Next Generation was the Golden Age of Star Trek. Some will argue that the original series is better. Those people however cannot debate me because their loyalty to their first generation IBM computers prevents them from logging on to the internet. TNG took everything good about the original series, improved upon it, and delivered it in a sleeker package. Those who would argue that the clunky charm of the original is what makes it better, I have to advise you to call your doctor. Chances are that your cell phone from 1985, that’s the size of a small dog, has probably given you a brain tumor. Here you can borrow my RAZR phone. Ok, I’m just kidding…I can’t afford a RAZR. Seriously though, call your doctor.

I love the original series. I just can’t stand it when people argue something is better simply because they are loyal to what came first.

Now what made TNG so good? If I had to give a one-sentence answer I would say that it struck the perfect balance between the exploration-of-the-unknown plots and galactic politics to create an engaging universe that was both exciting and wholly immersive. If I had to give a thirty-seven sentence answer I’d say the show’s success was due in large part to…

The Crew

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usCap’n Picard – It has nothing to do with my man-crush for him. Picard was a shiny dome of wisdom and charisma. He commanded his crew with strength and understanding and a strong English brogue. He shows that while his resolve is strong, he is also very vulnerable and you want to be the one that cradles his head in your lap and show him that you won’t take advantage of that vulnerability. Hang on; I need to take my medication.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usRiker – Riker was there for one purpose and one purpose only, to serve the role of the campy panty-chaser that Kirk served in the original. Picard was so highly evolved he wasn’t even sexually compatible with other humans anymore so Riker would be the one to engage with the horny females of all the cultures they encountered this time around. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. That’s why he’s number one.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usData – If you are reading this article it is for one of two reasons. You are either or a Star Trek fan or you are being forced to read this sometime long after I am dead as some form of bizarre corporal punishment of the future. If the reason is the former, do you remember the first time you saw a Next Gen. episode where Brent Spiner got to act with emotion, either because Data was temporarily given feelings, or it was an episode with his evil twin brother Lore? Remember how much your mind was completely blown to see the guy who plays Data act so differently from the pragmatic android friend we’d all come to adore? That just proves how great he was at that role, and we reaped all the benefits.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usGeordie LaForge – The stereotypical blind black guy, except he wasn’t 70 years old, missing all his teeth, and singing blues in a rocking chair out in the street. I liked Geordie, even though he was mostly there to give Data someone to ask his comical child-like questions about humanity to. He was also there to save the warp core from breaching every other episode, which I guess was equally as important.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usWorf - In the first season, Worf acted like a stupid ape and would sometimes make a flying leap at the view screen to attack an enemy ship. After many Klingons wrote in saying how racist this was, the writers modified the role. Worf ended up being a very well developed character who gave the writers a window for us to peer into the Klingon culture. He also taught us about honor. Man, the babies I would have kicked if I didn’t have Worf as a role model.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usDeanna Troi – Was it standard to have a therapist on the bridge who sat right next to the captain or is that only if she is a telepath? You would have toked up too if you constantly had your shrink with you psychoanalyzing your every move.

Fun Fact: the Enterprise’s computer logs showthat Funyuns were ordered on a number of occasions from the Captain’s personal replicator.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usDr. Crusher – Honestly the female roles in Star Trek were never very strong ones. I swear I am not sexist! It’s the writers who are sexist. They are the ones that made Crusher and Troi flat, uninteresting characters. I also blame Crusher for birthing…

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Wesley – Man, he was an annoying snot sometimes, always saving the ship like he’s some kind of genius. The best part about Wesley was we got to see Picard scold him from time to time.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTasha Yar – She sucked. (I’m not sexist!) The only reason I bring her up is because they killed her off early on, showing that the writers were smart enough to use the tried and true formula of killing-off-the-chick-that-can’t-act. (Actually I have heard it was HER decision to leave. Why, you ask? To pursue her acting career! And we all thought Worf had the biggest head on the bridge.)

The best part about the crew is that while they were all good, well developed characters (with a few exceptions) they were actually greater than the sum of their parts. The writers always gave each character their time on the screen, and really conveyed a sense of a team depending on one another. This was a quite a juggling act that was not recreated in future series.

The Trek

The dilemmas they faced on TNG were a good balance of inter-racial disputes, spacial anomalies, and socially significant crisis. Because the Enterprise was on a mission of exploration, while still being part of the fleet that could be called back in times of war, the stories had plenty of different directions they could go so that it never got tedious. The solutions to those conflicts were always derived from a good balance of intellectual debate and techno babble and while it involved a good deal of BS, it was feasible BS.

So in the end, TNG success was all based on balance, the exact opposite of what you think when you look at that top-heavy starship.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

DS9 shared the same setting with TNG. It even gained two characters we knew from the latter: Worf and Chief O’Brien, which helped with the withdrawal from TNG going off the air. Overall, DS9 was a really good show. It was well written and had memorable characters. Odo and Quark were probably the best of the series. As far as immersion goes, this series sucked you into the Trek universe even more so than TNG did.

So what’s missing from DS9? I’ll tell you: “To boldly go where no one has gone before”

In this series they boldly stayed where no one had stayed before, and sometimes interesting shit would happen to them on the station, but nothing can make up for losing the key component of exploration that had always been present in Star Trek before.

The series was good in its own right but just didn’t satisfy the same needs that TNG did.

I’m not going to go into as much detail with this series as I do with the rest as I was not attached to it enough to be dripping with praise, nor was there anything terrible enough about it that would let me have fun bashing it. That’s what Voyager is for.

Star Trek: Voyager

Boldly trying to get the hell back from where no one has been before

In the case of Voyager, we were given back the exploration factor, at the expense of everything else. What we lose are good characters, the familiar setting, and an all around feeling of non-suck.

Because this series takes place in the far-off and uncharted delta quadrant, we lose the immersion that came with an established setting: all the familiar races and politics are left way back in the alpha quadrant and we have to settle for whatever new races they come up with to inhabit this area of space. When this happens there is always potential to win us over again with equally compelling material, but in this case, that didn’t happen. That’s why they ended up having to play the Borg card for the last four seasons. But what made this the weakest series is the same thing that made TNG the strongest…

The Crew

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usJaneway - The largest concentration of suck was Captain Kathryn Janeway. None of the characters on Voyager were terribly interesting, but Janeway must have had a serious rash in her nether crevice to pull some of the shit she did. In what must have been an effort to make Janeway “ballsy”, Voyager’s writers made her downright reckless. The most annoying aspect is how she blatantly ignored the prime directive, along with what have to be some second and third directives, for no real reason, and then she takes the rules so seriously when it serves the plot (usually to keep them from using some quick method to get home). In a way, it would have been fun to have a captain who just went completely rogue and threw away the Starfleet handbook. Give her an eye patch! Have her trade her Starfleet insignia for a skull-adorned scepter! Or if they don’t want to go that route then make her a straight-up rule junky. Just be consistent about it. This is just one of the many symptoms of weak writing that are rampant in the series.

Female trek fans may have rejoiced to finally see a woman in the captain’s chair. The problem is Janeway is hardly a good representation of women, being the chain-smoking man eater that she is. It’s actually insulting to women that they felt Janeway had to be tough-as-nails in order to lead. Can captains not be feminine? Kira from DS9 was a much better representation of a woman in command.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usChakotay – First officer and an American Indian…and that’s it. Seriously the writers never got around to giving him any more depth than that. Oh, he tried to help Janeway relax by helping her find her animal guide. Personally, I think Picard found a better way to relax.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThe Doctor – One of the more interesting characters is the holographic doctor. Of course once the producers found out that audiences liked him they oversaturated the show with stories focused around him and we quickly got tired of him.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usNeelix - I can understand having Neelix be the official “guide through the Delta Quadrant” since he’s friggen from there, but then they made him the head chef. Why would you put the one person whose culture is guaranteed to be the farthest removed from your own in charge of making your meals? Something tells me they paid for that with lots and lots of Talaxian eyeball soup. Oh, and Neelix is annoying as shit. If this guy is supposed to be the comic relief I’d rather take my chances with a Wayans brother.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTuvok - A black Vulcan?? Sorry, but I just don’t buy that this alien race evolved into sub-races equivalent to humans. The Vulcans were always space elves! They lived longer than us, had pointy ears, and kept to themselves. Didn’t you see Lord of the Rings? I know I did, and I read all the books based on the movies and not once was there a black elf. Even if I could overlook this racial anomaly, Tuvok didn’t even act like a Vulcan. Vulcans are supposed to be stoic, not consistently annoyed. I swear his brow was furrowed so often, a family of possums could have taken up nest in the creases of his forehead.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usB'Elanna Torres – Former Marquise and Chief Engineer of Voyager. I know if I was the Captain I would immediately put a traitor to the federation in charge of my warp core. Seriously though, Torres was one of the more tolerable characters. She was also perpetually annoyed but she was half-Klingon…and a woman, so that made sense. (I’m not sexist!)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTom Paris – He was supposed to be the bad boy pilot of the ship but like everything else they started, the writers forgot about that aspect of his character. He was still the pilot…but he was a chump. All his character development was done through conversation with his buddy Harry, but they always talked about boring shit that I wouldn’t want to listen to if it was my friend talking directly to my face. And in that case I would let him know he was being boring by kicking him in the face, because that’s what friend are for. I also think Tom might have been gay for Harry.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usHarry Kim – He was there solely for us to feel sorry for him. He couldn’t really do anything right and he always wanted to get with chicks he had no chance with. Also…is gay for Tom.

Kes - She was some sort of telepath that they killed off after the first few seasons. Sadly, even evoking the kill-off-the-chick-who-can't-act formula couldn't save the show.

Overall, most members of the crew were just not worth caring about, and the few characters that were interesting were overplayed, i.e. The Doctor, Seven of Nine. The writers certainly did not do a good job of giving all the characters their time on the screen, but I might be grateful for that because the little bit of character development I did get from them, I didn’t like.

Wasted Potential

Voyager is probably best described as a lot of good ideas wasted. The idea of a crew of Starfleet officers having to combine with a renegade Marquise crew to survive together in unfamiliar space is very intriguing. It’s too bad that after the first 5 episodes, the crew just acts like they are the fucking Brady Bunch.

The concept of a stranded Federation ship fighting to survive in unknown space had great potential; constantly running low on supplies, having to improvise at every turn and negotiate trades with hostile races. But things never really got very desperate and the crew hardly ever talked about how far away from home they were. They never seemed to be any real threat of running out of resources. It would have been a nice touch to have the bridge lit dimmer than what is standard to show they are at least trying to be conservative, and it would help to hide Janeway’s Burt Reynolds mustache. The way it was though, the audience could almost forget what their situation was.

The conflicts that arose were always viruses or malfunctions or anomalies, all creating problems that were completely episodic. These kinds of plots worked fine for TNG where the whole point was to bumble around exploring and had a cast that we actually cared about, but Voyager was presented to us as a different sort of show. Each episode became built around some completely random problem, and kept us from ever really getting familiar with life in the Delta Quadrant. Freak transporter accidents that cause Neelix and Tuvok to merge into one entity doesn’t have shit to do with the crew’s ongoing struggle. There were a few alien races and antagonists that had reoccurring roles throughout the series but nothing ever seemed connected to anything else, which left the setting lifeless and unconvincing.

When Voyager first ran, viewers knew they were watching shit dry on a wall. That’s why ratings started plummeting. The show was only saved from cancellation because of two reasons, and here they are:

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Exhibit A and B, which both happen to be Cs.

Go ahead and look up the numbers. There was a direct correlation between the increased ratings and the introduction of Seven of Nine on the show. Now, I will concede that it wasn’t only her breasts that brought new viewers to the show. It was also the padded suit she wore that made her breasts look bigger.

Star Trek: Enterprise

The Prequel: Boldly…doing boring shit I don’t care about!

The whole point of having a Star Trek prequel is to treat trek fans with back-story to the things we are familiar with. Enterprise did some of that, but it got completely preoccupied with things that just bastardize the Star Trek history we had come to know, introducing new races like the Xindi and Suliban. If I wanted to watch a bunch of unfamiliar races blow up humans I’ll watch Babylon 5. The other problem is Enterprise was the first Star Trek that started operating in Story arcs that spanned multiple episodes. This is what we needed in Voyager! Here it just makes me lose interest faster because if I don’t care for the plot of a certain episode, I need to wait half a season before that damn plot gets resolved. And then we have a time cop come back from the thirtieth century to tell Archer that he needs his help fighting some Temporal Cold War? Fuck that! Show me the origin of Tribbles!

The series was most successful when it played off existing trek material, the best story arc being the one where Arik Soong (ancestor of the scientist who created Data, also played by Brent Spiner) led a band of augments (the bad dudes we know from The Wrath of Khan). The episodes featuring the Andorians (blue-skinned aliens with white and antennae) were good too, because we could relate to it. Trek fans eat that shit up. Stop trying to win us over with new races and galaxy-wide crisis that we strangely never hear about again in all the series set in the future. I ain’t buying it.

The Crew

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usArcher – The captain of the Enterprise. Is it just me or is Scott Bakula just not a very good actor. Whenever he was saying something important he just looked like he was trying really hard to put on his “serious face.” “I’m really angry now. Can’t you tell by the way I am squinting my eyes?” He probably would have come off better if he had just mellowed out, but he didn’t want to use his Starfleet-issued space Marijuana because of the risks of hair loss.

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This show revolved too much around Archer. Instead of holding an officer meeting and asking for solutions to a problem, it seemed like Archer would always cook up an elaborate plan and then ask his people if they could pull it off. That’s not a problem so much with this character specifically as it is just a symptom of poor scriptwriting.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usT’pol – Vulcan first officer of the Enterprise. I shall call her Seven of Nine 2.0. The booby strategy saved them the last time, but this time a curvy woman in a skintight jumpsuit just wasn’t enough, and audiences saw right through it…the strategy, not the jumpsuit.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usPhlox – The Doctor – Probably the most interesting character on the series. He was a bit reminiscent of Neelix from Voyager, but not so much so that I wanted to drive a nail through his head.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usMalcom Reed – Security Officer. British. Boring.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usCharles “Trip” Tucker – Engineer. Southern. Boring.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usHoshi – The communications officer – The Uhura of her time, except less black..and more Asian. Oh, and she’s boring.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTravis Mayweather – Who? Oh right, he was the young black pilot guy. Out of a batch full of unmemorable characters he’s still hardly worth mentioning.

Did I just not give these characters a chance or was I not given that chance? With the show being more action based than previous Star Treks and with so much of it revolving around Archer, there was very little room for any character development. Unfortunately, the action wasn’t enough to win me over, and since it was the first Trek to be cancelled since the original series I would say that I was not alone.

Enterprise was the first Trek series that actually started its run without the “Star Trek” in its name. I think this was done in order to attract a wider audience who didn’t feel Star Trek was accessible to them. This was stupid. Nobody is going to look at this show and not know it’s a Star Trek series. The only thing that dropping the name did was make loyal Trek fans feel betrayed. A shark that writes “I’m just a friendly whale, come swim in my mouth” on his side is not going to fool anyone. He is just going to get beat up by the other sharks, who are easily insulted. “What? You don’t wanna be a shark no more? We ain’t good enough for you?” Sharks are a lot like the Mafia. No, I didn’t steal this from A Shark’s Tale. It’s just the truth. Plus that movie sucked…even more than Enterprise.

The Future…of the Future

Will we ever see another Star Trek series? Or even a movie? I’m sure we will. We just need to give the soil time to rest, and for some new creative blood to come along. Many Trek fans have blamed Rick Berman and Brannon Braga for the declining quality of the franchise. I reserve judgment since we as outsiders can’t know who made what decisions along the way, and what other factors effect the outcome of a show. I do know that Braga has decided to no longer contribute to any future Treks and that is probably for the best. Room has been made for new creative talent to come along, and once we are ready to all take Star Trek back into our homes, I’m sure we’ll find ourselves back on the bridge of a starship again. Until that time though…

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