Sunday, May 15, 2005

TELEVISION: Phasers set to 'suck'

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Phew. On a whim, the wife and I tuned in to watch the final episode of the final (for now) "Star Trek" series last night, "Enterprise." After four seasons, it's been cut off, canceled, assimilated. And judging from the pretty rotten quality of last night's finale, I can see why. Astoundingly mediocre by almost any standard, and it's a shame. We had watched several episodes of the first season of this spinoff, set before all the other "Treks" at the dawn of space travel, but like millions of other viewers, quickly lost interest in it all. I dig Scott Bakula from his "Quantum Leap" days, but the rest of the cast were complete ciphers. This finale was basically a slap in the face to the few remaining "Enterprise" fans, and a reminder to the rest of us why we stopped caring.

If you actually care,


lurk, so beware --
• The "framing story" involving guest-appearing "Star Trek: The Next Generation" stars Riker and Troi was hamfisted and made no sense. As it was clunkily explained, Riker is so confounded by some ethical dilemma that he decides to spend hours of his time in the ol' Holodeck, watching images of the "Enterprise" crew on a pivotal mission, because apparently that will help him make up his mind what to do in the here and now. The Riker I recall from TNG episodes was never quite so ineffectual. (And what was up with Deanna Troi's voice? Did Martina Sirtis lose her accent? She sounded like a transvestite.) Other than being an obvious ploy for ratings, there was no need at all for the "Next Generation" guest-stars; in fact, it muddied and diluted the impact of the "Enterprise" plot. The "then/now" transitions were incredibly awkward, with logic changing to dictate the whims of the writers.
• Apparently, the finale shot forward in time about 6 years from the previous episode, so it's been 10 years since the original "Enterprise" left Earth. Not that you could tell this from the way the characters acted or appeared.
• A major character is killed in a random manner, only to apparently provide some shock value. A few scenes later, nobody seems to be affected at all.
• Much of the episode is built up to a pivotal speech by Bakula's character, Capt. Jonathan Archer. We're told how important this moment is in early space exploration history, how legendary this speech will become. The episode cuts away before he gives that speech.
• Four season in, that faceless crew is still faceless. There's Asian girl, Wacky Alien, Black Guy and Doctor Dude, plus the George W. Bush doppleganger Trip and Jolene Blalock as the world's most emotional nonemotional Vulcan. All characters we've seen before, with little new to say.

There's an interesting essay making the rounds by Orson Scott Card, a writer I'm not really familiar with, that pretty much lambastes the entire idea of "Star Trek." I don't agree with most of it, but in general he makes some thoughtful points about whether there's a "need" for "Trek" at all these days. It's a debate worth having.

I think good stories could still be told, as always. I mean, I'm not a huge "Trek" geek by any means, and don't consider it some sacred cow beyond criticism. I quite like most of the movies and was a big fan of "Next Generation" mostly due to Patrick Stewart, dug the original "Deep Space Nine," (probably the best-written of all the series) never much liked "Voyager" and (heresy!) pretty much found the original series too cheeseball to get into. But like most fanboys, I have some attachment to the ideas of "Trek." "Enterprise" shows how dry the well of ideas has run. The same producers have run the franchise for nearly 15 years, and right into the ground of late. Maybe it is indeed time to take a break.

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