Monday, November 21, 2016

Star Trek 101 and beyond

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

I have a couple of confessions to make. I run a Tumblr about accidental Star Trek cosplay, but as an adult, I've never cosplayed as anybody, and I don't plan to ever do so. It's just not for me, even though I admire the artistry that goes into a lot of professional cosplayers' recreations of their favorite fictional characters. Also, I do love Star Trek for its progressiveness and the banter between the actors, particularly the original cast members, and I'm enough of a fan that I could rattle off some of the names of authors who received credit for writing the '60s episodes, even though Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry heavily rewrote their shit ("The Enemy Within"?: I Am Legend author Richard Matheson; the episode with Andrea the sexy android?: that was a Robert Bloch joint), but I haven't watched every single thing with Star Trek's name on it.

As a kid, I knew that the third season of the original Star Trek was mostly trash (the budget was clearly slashed, and the actors were told to compensate for the budget cuts by constantly acting as if they were starring in what we now call a telenovela), so I've avoided watching most of that final season. I skipped most of the sixth and seventh seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation when they first aired on syndicated TV, and I did the same with most of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's first season, so there's a whole bunch of Next Generation and DS9 episodes I have yet to catch for the first time. I got bored with Star Trek: Voyager and quit after the first season, although I would occasionally check out a later Voyager episode like "Memorial."

The sci-fi franchise, which celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this year, has produced so many hours of episodic TV and spawned so many feature films that I now see how it would be intimidating, especially for anybody whose familiarity with Star Trek is limited to the 2009 J.J. Abrams movie, to decide which episodes of the '60s version (or any of its spinoffs) to stream if you want to further understand what all the fuss over Star Trek is about. I just realized how daunting it would be for a newbie to step into that shared universe when I recently told a Harry Potter fan who happens to be the wife of a friend at my apartment building that I found Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to be a tedious movie when I watched it on DVD in 2002, and it put me off Harry Potter for good.

The friend's wife said she felt the same way about the subject of my Tumblr, Star Trek. So she proposed a deal: she would finally watch a Star Trek episode or movie if I put aside my disdain for the first Potter movie and agreed to watch the rest of the Potter movie franchise. I said, "It's a deal!" The only problem is that I have a novel manuscript that's kind of in the way, so how the fuck can I find the time to watch all eight hours and 17 minutes of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets?

But there are long periods between manuscript chapters where I'm trying to figure out how to plot the next chapter, so that gives me enough time to do non-Potter-related things like thinking about which Star Trek episodes and movies I would recommend to newbies whose experiences with Star Trek mirror those of the couple at my apartment building (the wife's never seen a single hour of Star Trek, while the husband's familiar with only The Next Generation). To many TV nerds, Star Trek and its spinoffs are comfort food, and in a fearful and anxiety-ridden time when President Skroob transitions into the White House and represents everything Star Trek decries (it's not surprising that so many actors and staff members from various incarnations of Star Trek came out against Skroob), lots of left-leaning TV nerds are going to be Netflixing or Amazoning a reassuring piece of entertainment like Star Trek. But what about those viewers who know nothing about Star Trek? How should they stream the franchise for the first time?

"The Naked Time"
Well, they should experience the franchise in three levels: 101, Intermediate and finally, if they're willing to watch a few Star Trek deep cuts or check out highlights of the franchise's most flawed spinoffs, Advanced. The 101 level consists mostly of essential episodes of the '60s show because it's the most accessible and least complicated of all the Star Trek TV shows. It came from an era when episodic TV avoided serialization, unless the show was Lost in Space, Batman, Peyton Place or Rocky and Bullwinkle, and continuity was rarely acknowledged by the writers, so any strange new world the Enterprise explored one week would be forgotten about in the next episode and never referred to again. So that means if you were in charge of programming for a local TV station and the original Star Trek was part of your station's weekday schedule, you could air the episodes in any order you want ("Monday: a Potbellied Kirk episode from 1968! Tuesday: the Skinny Kirk episode 'The Enemy Within'!"), and nobody would notice, except Star Trek fans, of course.

Some of the writers who worked on the '60s Star Trek previously wrote for The Twilight Zone, and Roddenberry's creation was an attempt to take the socially conscious and often eerie storytelling of The Twilight Zone and graft it onto a sci-fi adventure setting that was frequently described at the time as "Wagon Train in space." The attempt to do that wasn't exactly an enormous hit with NBC viewers from 1966 to 1969 (but a small and loyal group of younger viewers, especially ones from the counterculture, loved the show, and that group grew immensely after the show entered syndication). The original Star Trek was dismissed by out-of-touch TV critics as an impenetrable oddity when it first aired, but you look at it today on Netflix and wonder, "What was so fucking impenetrable about it?" That's why it's the first thing I'd recommend to newbies.

Then when those newbies are ready to jump to Intermediate, they get to see Star Trek adapting to changing trends in episodic TV (the popularity of Hill Street Blues-style serialization; lead characters who don't always make the right call and must deal with the repercussions for longer than just a week; non-stereotypical portrayals of same-sex relationships) and, as a result, surpassing the quality of the storytelling on the '60s show, without having to spend seven years to witness Star Trek's evolution as a franchise on TV. Main characters on DS9 (and occasionally, The Next Generation) were seen making tough decisions that led to outcomes that haunted them for weeks or years, and this was a corrective to what David Gerrold, the writer of 1967's "The Trouble with Tribbles," cited as a major flaw of the '60s Star Trek in the 1995 book Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay That Became the Classic Star Trek Episode.

"Star Trek is the McDonald's of science fiction; it's fastfood storytelling. Every problem is like every other problem. They all get solved in an hour. Nobody ever gets hurt, and nobody needs to care. You give up an hour of your time and you don't really have to get involved. It's all plastic," wrote Gerrold.

At the Intermediate level, newbies will realize that Star Trek works best as an hour-long serialized drama that allows the characters to breathe (and carefully builds their arcs and conflicts so that they pay off effectively like they did on DS9), rather than as a two-hour blockbuster like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home or Star Trek Beyond, despite how entertaining The Voyage Home and Beyond often are. This is why next year's debut of the CBS All Access show Star Trek: Discovery is so eagerly anticipated, despite the worrisome departure of Hannibal mastermind Bryan Fuller, a former DS9 and Voyager staff writer who initially guided Discovery through its inception and was the perfect showrunner to spearhead a Star Trek TV project.

Judging from how Fuller outlined the premise for Discovery before he stepped down as showrunner, it looks like Star Trek will finally be returning to its roots as a cerebral and progressive-minded sci-fi drama, after 22 years of the franchise dumbing itself down on the big screen to attract the international action movie market. Longtime Star Trek stans who hate the three Chris Pine/Zachary Quinto movies keep forgetting that the dumbening of Star Trek on the big screen started not with Abrams but with the lethargic and unimaginative fight scenes in the desert in 1994's Star Trek: Generations (sure, 1989's Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was dumb too, but at least it had characters quoting Herman Melville John Masefield).

But in the age of The People v. O.J. Simpson, Mr. Robot and Transparent, what will this new Star Trek on CBS All Access be like? Will it soar like DS9 often did or will it crash like an Enterprise shuttlecraft low on fuel?

Star Trek 101

Star Trek (1966-1969) (Three seasons on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime; six feature films from 1979 to 1991 and three additional feature films from 2009 to 2016 on Amazon Prime, Blu-ray and DVD)

1) "The City on the Edge of Forever" (1967)
2) "The Enterprise Incident" (1968)
3) "Amok Time" (1967)
4) "All Our Yesterdays" (1969)

If it's tortured romance you want, these four episodes have it in spades. "The City on the Edge of Forever" is about Captain Kirk's romance with a woman from the year 1930, while "The Enterprise Incident," "Amok Time" and "All Our Yesterdays" are all why Star Trek's most popular character is Spock, an alien from Vulcan, a planet where everyone is raised to worship logic and control their emotions, a.k.a. the things that result in so many tortured romances.

"All Our Yesterdays" (Photo source: Trekcore)

Both "Amok Time" and "All Our Yesterdays," the "Mariette Hartley in a skimpy loincloth" episode, placed Spock in romantic situations that challenged his preference for logic. That inner conflict, portrayed so well by the late Leonard Nimoy, was why many female Star Trek viewers became taken with Spock. One of those female viewers was Angelina Jolie. When she was interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show in 1999, Jolie memorably told Stewart that she always wanted to bang Spock ("He was so repressed, and you just wanted to make him scream").

Spock's popularity famously angered the '60s show's lead actor, William Shatner, who, during the '60s, became jealous of all the fan mail that was sent to Nimoy and his Spock character. "Amok Time" is the most entertaining of these four tortured-romance episodes, mostly due to the fight scenes between Spock and Kirk, who's forced by Spock's love interest to fight his second-in-command to the death. During "Amok Time," you keep wondering how much of the fighting between Shatner and Nimoy was real and genuine 100% beef.

"Amok Time"

Though "Amok Time" is my favorite out of the four episodes, I wouldn't watch "Amok Time" first because it's a "Spock loses control of his emotions" story. His erratic behavior in "Amok Time" won't make much sense if you're not familiar with Spock's more normal and emotionless self in both "The Enterprise Incident," an espionage story, and "The City on the Edge of Forever," a time travel story.

Credited solely to controversial author Harlan Ellison, whose early drafts differed massively from the version that aired in 1967 and was heavily rewritten without credit by the show's staffers, "The City on the Edge of Forever" is the '60s Star Trek's most popular episode because the story's ethical dilemma creates so much drama: Kirk becomes torn between saving the life of Edith Keeler, an idealistic social worker played by guest star Joan Collins, and letting her die in order to save the future. It's a difficult decision for Kirk to make. Shit, it would be a difficult decision for anybody.

"The Trouble with Tribbles"
"Forever" is definitely a standout episode, but the '60s show's avoidance of continuity between episodes (for example, con artist Harry Mudd was the only character who got a sequel episode during the show's run) diminishes the power of that story's conclusion. If the '60s Star Trek were made for TV today, the events of "Forever" would have deeply affected Kirk for the rest of the show's run, and exploring the repercussions of "Forever" would have been a much better move than how the '60s show handled those repercussions.

"This is the difference between Harlan Ellison's view of writing and Gene Roddenberry's... Roddenberry's view of the job seemed to be much less ambitious: get the Captain laid and clean up the mess before the last commercial. Nobody gets permanently hurt. Our people are the best and the brightest; our people are perfect; they don't have problems. Everything is wonderful," complained David Gerrold about the show's inability to follow up on "Forever" in The Original Teleplay That Became the Classic Star Trek Episode.

"The Trouble with Tribbles" (1967)

Gerrold's "The Trouble with Tribbles" is the second most popular '60s Star Trek episode because of all the comedic situations involving a bunch of non-verbal alien furballs known as Tribbles. Lieutenant Uhura becomes fond of a Tribble and starts to keep that Tribble as a pet, but the pet won't stop multiplying. In 1984, Joe Dante and Steven Spielberg did the horror-comedy version of "The Trouble with Tribbles." It was called Gremlins.

"The Doomsday Machine" (1967)

If neither romance nor campy sci-fi is your cup of tea, "The Doomsday Machine" is the best place to start. My favorite of several '60s Star Trek episodes that emphasized action over social commentary or romance has to be "The Doomsday Machine." It takes a simple and straightforward premise (the Enterprise crew must figure out how to take down a cylindrical giant robot that was programmed by an unknown alien race to destroy any ship or planet in its path) and wrings lots of effective moments of suspense out of it.

Guest star William Windom entertainingly chews the scenery as Commodore Decker, whose obsession with revenge against the titular machine endangers the Enterprise, while Nimoy awesomely never raises his voice during a bunch of crowd-pleasing scenes in which Spock clashes with Decker over his questionable tactics and ends up being the bigger man by never losing his cool. In my favorite unintentionally funny moment of the episode, Shatner, the show's most frequent scenery-chewer, visibly becomes so jealous of the amount of scenery Windom's chewing during Decker's big emotional breakdown scene that he tries to outact Windom, and you feel like saying to the screen, "Sorry, B, but Windom's bodying this scene. Stand down, Shatner."

In 2006, CBS, which currently owns the rights to every single TV incarnation of Star Trek, painstakingly redid the '60s show's visual effects to help upgrade the look of the reruns for HDTV. That remastered version of the '60s show is the version that's currently up on Netflix, my favorite platform for streaming any Star Trek episodes. "The Doomsday Machine" benefits the most from the updated visual effects, which corrected a previously distracting visual effects blooper regarding the size of a shuttlecraft. Unlike the pointless visual changes during Star Wars: Special Edition, the tweaks don't take too much attention away from the story we know and love, and they actually enhance the tension during the action sequences (my favorite new visual touch is a tiny asteroid that collides into the saucer section of a damaged ship and breaks apart into several pieces).

"The Doomsday Machine" is also a classic "Kirk cheats death" story. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is about an older Kirk coming to grips with the fact that his ability to cheat death in situations like the one at the end of "The Doomsday Machine" has its limitations. Speaking of Khan...

1) "Space Seed" (1967)
2) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
3) Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
4) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

"Space Seed," which pits Kirk against Khan, a genetically engineered 20th-century dictator nicely played by guest star Ricardo Montalban, became one of Star Trek's most popular episodes because its story was continued 15 years later in director Nicholas Meyer's The Wrath of Khan, the most beloved of all Star Trek movies. The Wrath of Khan cannot be watched without seeing "Space Seed" first. I love The Wrath of Khan because it's basically a submarine movie in space.

The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home all form a trilogy just like Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi did. Unfortunately, The Search for Spock is kind of boring if you're not a longtime Star Trek fan, and you have to watch The Search for Spock in order to fully understand the events and character arcs that take place during The Voyage Home. But The Search for Spock gave longtime cast members George Takei and Nichelle Nichols a chance to shine as supporting actors in ways that hadn't been seen since the classic 1967 episode "Mirror, Mirror," and the 1984 movie contains a badass heist sequence in which Kirk and his crew disobey Starfleet Command and steal back their old ship, one of my favorite sequences in a Star Trek movie.

The Voyage Home is not-so-boring. It's a really funny, Back to the Future-style comedy about Kirk and his colleagues, who are now criminals on the run, time-traveling back to San Francisco in 1986 to save Earth's future and then attempting to adjust to the weirdness of San Francisco in 1986.

"The Corbomite Maneuver" (1966)

This is the first and the best of several Star Trek stories that are about a seemingly intimidating alien who has never encountered humans before, so the alien tests the mettle of Kirk and the Enterprise crew, and then the alien ultimately turns out not to be such a hostile threat after all. "The Corbomite Maneuver" best sums up the optimism of the '60s show and the first three seasons of The Next Generation. The ending is cheesy and weird, but it's a good example of why the '60s show is so charming and so frequently parodied.

"Balance of Terror" (1966)

Prior to The Wrath of Khan, the gripping "Balance of Terror," which marked the first appearance of the Romulan Empire, did the "submarine movie in space" thing on an even smaller budget than The Wrath of Khan's famously low budget. It threw in a subplot about knee-jerk racism that, unfortunately, remains timely, and it contains the first of many terrific guest appearances by the late Mark Lenard, who played Kirk's nameless Romulan counterpart and then appeared in a different role as Sarek, Spock's ambassador father, in the '60s show's second season. Lenard reprised the role of Sarek on the animated Star Trek and in three feature films, as well as two episodes of The Next Generation.

1) Star Trek (2009)
2) Star Trek Beyond (2016)

The energetic and fast-moving 2009 reboot placed younger actors in the roles of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov. There's a Harry Potter-ish feel to the 2009 movie because much of its first half focuses on Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Uhura when they were cadets. The reboot was the shot in the arm the Star Trek feature films needed at the time, whether tonally, aesthetically or musically, after a couple of sluggish entries starring the Next Generation cast. Lost score composer Michael Giacchino took the late Alexander Courage's cheesy opening title theme from the '60s show (a.k.a. all that South Seas-sounding music that comes after the classic eight-note fanfare Courage also composed) and crafted the best version of that theme ever.

Star Trek Into Darkness is terrible. It adds nothing new to the Star Trek mythos. It's a pointless rehash of both the 2009 movie and The Wrath of Khan. J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company, who were perhaps afraid that casting an actor of color as a revamped Khan would reinforce the stereotyping of brown actors as terrorists, went for the much dumber option of casting a white-as-fuck actor as Khan. Skip Into Darkness and go straight to Star Trek Beyond, which is notable for being the first Star Trek movie directed by a person of color (Fast Five director Justin Lin, who previously directed John Cho, the current portrayer of Sulu, in 2002's Better Luck Tomorrow). The 2009 movie's memorable Beastie Boys joyride scene receives a rousing and extremely satisfying callback in Beyond. The Beastie Boys stuff is the reason why the 2009 movie and Beyond are inseparable, viewing-wise.

Intermediate Star Trek

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) (Seven seasons on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime; four feature films from 1994 to 2002 on Amazon Prime, Blu-ray and DVD)

EITHER "The Inner Light" (1992) OR "The Measure of a Man" (1989)

In "The Inner Light," Captain Picard gets zapped by a space probe, and while he's unconscious, he experiences another man's entire lifetime in less than a day. "The Measure of a Man" is a courtroom drama that raises the question "Should Lieutenant Commander Data be entitled to the same civil rights as a human's even though he's a machine?"

These two episodes best represent The Next Generation's approach to Star Trek: the '60s Star Trek stuffed its stories about space exploration and ethical dilemmas with lots of monster attacks, starship battles and poorly choreographed fight scenes, while The Next Generation tended to be less action-packed, mostly due to Picard's more diplomatic view of space exploration. The Next Generation focused more on lofty and cerebral stories like "The Measure of a Man" and "The Inner Light," in which Picard, an absolute workaholic, realizes that there's more to life than just a career in Starfleet.

"Mr. Worf, fire." ("The Best of Both Worlds, Part I")
1) "The Best of Both Worlds, Part I" (1990)
2) "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II" (1990)
3) "Family" (1990)
4) Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

First Contact is a zombie movie in space. It's one of the most popular Star Trek movies, but it can't be watched without seeing the three-part "Best of Both Worlds" arc beforehand because the movie is a continuation of "The Best of Both Worlds." In the first half of the action-packed "Best of Both Worlds" two-parter, Picard is captured by a race of hostile machines known as the Borg, who brainwash him and turn him against the Enterprise and the rest of Starfleet.

The Borg first appeared in the 1989 Next Generation episode "Q Who." On the '60s show, neither the Klingons nor the Doomsday Machine were as dangerous a threat as the Borg were during "The Best of Both Worlds." The Borg's attacks on Starfleet after their "assimilation" of Picard were a turning point for The Next Generation, and they brought a sense of menace to Star Trek that hadn't been seen since Khan's actions in The Wrath of Khan. Their reign of destruction during the two-parter was so massive that characters over on DS9 and Voyager continued to be affected by it.

An epilogue to the two-parter, "Family" was, for a couple of years, Star Trek's most daring episode ever because it was a story about an off-duty Picard experiencing PTSD right after his ordeal with the Borg. PTSD was something none of the heroes of Star Trek were ever seen dealing with on screen, prior to "Family."

"Tapestry" (1993)

Outside of the final Next Generation episode, "All Good Things...," this is my favorite of all the Next Generation stories about Picard and an omnipotent prankster named Q, who started out as an enemy of Picard's and later became an unlikely friend and ally. Picard wakes up in the afterlife after suffering a heart attack and gets a visit from Q, who grants Picard his wish to go back in time and undo one of his biggest mistakes: the night when he got stabbed through the chest in a bar fight. John de Lancie took a character who began as a limp rehash of the antagonist from the 1967 Star Trek episode "The Squire of Gothos" and brought dimension to him (de Lancie's chemistry with Patrick Stewart during Q's scenes with Picard also helped).

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

The Undiscovered Country--which chronicles the beginning of The Next Generation's unexpected alliance between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire, a longtime Federation adversary--is the final story of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov as colleagues together. It's an excellent and classy farewell to those seven characters from the '60s show. The film's final line does a better job of passing the torch to The Next Generation than Star Trek: Generations does in any of its mostly abysmal 118 minutes.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) (Seven seasons on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime)

The heavily serialized DS9 took Star Trek to another level. It mixed complex and nuanced social commentary about war and its many consequences with exciting space battle sequences. Also, Hawk from Spenser: For Hire is the fucking captain. In other words, it's my kind of show. The Next Generation can sometimes be a little too stuffed-shirt-ish for my tastes, and DS9 figured out how to continue the cerebral spirit of The Next Generation without being a rehash of The Next Generation and without being such a stuffed fucking shirt.

A key Garak scene from "In the Pale Moonlight"
DS9 doesn't really get cracking until "Duet," a powerful episode about the interrogation of a war criminal. The Star Wars franchise so wishes it could be this nuanced about the subject of war.

Due to DS9's serialized nature, especially after season 1, it's kind of difficult to jump into DS9 at any random point in the show's run. Sure, you could start with the pilot episode, "Emissary." While it's an adequate introduction to Commander (later Captain) Sisko, the titular space station and the war between the Bajorans and the Cardassians, "Emissary" is, like all other Star Trek pilot episodes, a bit lead-footed in its approach to exposition. If you don't like clunky pilot episodes, I'd recommend starting with either "Duet," which is actually the 18th episode, or the third episode, "Past Prologue," which introduces Garak, a seemingly benign Cardassian tailor who used to work in intelligence and hasn't completely let go of his old life as a spy. Garak quickly becomes one of DS9's most compelling characters even though he's not a series regular.

Despite its often somber subject matter (if you're a woke person of color, the outstanding "Far Beyond the Stars," a story about racial inequality in the '50s, will both break your heart and empower you) and ambitious storytelling, DS9 was actually better at handling humor than the other Star Trek TV shows, including even the '60s version. I have a soft spot for "Our Man Bashir," a spoof of '60s spy movies and a clever story in which we get to see Garak, a spy in the mold of the deglamorized protagonists from John le Carré espionage stories, reacting to various tropes from the type of escapist spy genre fare le Carré shied away from (spoiler: Garak does some complaining). But I've never really been interested in any of the comedic DS9 episodes that centered on Ferengi culture.

Advanced Star Trek

Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974) (Two seasons on Netflix and Amazon Prime)

The animated series is really slow-paced and poorly animated. It's for Star Trek completists only. Produced for NBC's Saturday morning block by Filmation, the famously cheap Reseda animation studio best known for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, the half-hour show had every original cast member reprising their role from the '60s version (except Walter Koenig, whose Chekov character was omitted from the cast due to budget cuts, but he accepted the opportunity to script an episode). They recorded their dialogue separately, in different parts all over the country.

On Archer, producers Adam Reed and Matt Thompson are somehow able to build an energetic and spontaneous-feeling show out of their voice actors' performances, despite the actors never being together in the same booth. But on the animated Star Trek, the separation of the actors resulted in a stiff delivery that added to the animated version's weirdly austere tone, and that solemnity was repeated in 1979's similarly austere Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Only James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei and Majel Barrett, who all got to play multiple roles on the animated show, seemed to be enjoying themselves. (Aw man, imagine what Andrea Romano, the legendary voice director for Batman: The Animated Series, The Boondocks and The Legend of Korra, would have done with this show.)

The animated version also retained a lot of the '60s show's writers. They were more crucial to the effectiveness of the original Star Trek than creator Gene Roddenberry, who left the '60s show after the second season (as an ideas man, Roddenberry was terrific, but let's face it, he was never really an outstanding writer). Their intelligent approach to sci-fi shines through in much of the animated version's way-more-contemplative-than-expected-for-a-Saturday-morning-cartoon writing. The only animated episode I'd recommend to newbies is "Yesteryear," an atypical episode in which the cast members recorded their dialogue together in the same studio. It was written by D.C. Fontana, a female story editor who rewrote much of "The City on the Edge of Forever" and scripted such original series highlights as "Journey to Babel" and "The Enterprise Incident."

If you ever had to deal with a pet that got injured and had to be taken to a veterinarian, "Yesteryear" will resonate with you. It's a surprisingly affecting story about Spock's lonely childhood on planet Vulcan due to his half-human, half-Vulcan heritage, so he had only one friend when he was a boy: his pet grizzly bear. "Yesteryear" is essentially a Spock origin story.

Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) (Seven seasons on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime)

Voyager largely avoided serialization, did a few two-parters and channeled the planet-of-the-week storytelling of both the '60s Star Trek and The Next Generation. It's basically Next Generation lite. Voyager also hasn't aged well, although not as badly as a misogynist '60s Star Trek episode like "Turnabout Intruder." It contains way too much off-putting technobabble, or rather, Treknobabble, which was something the DS9 writing staff fortunately preferred to keep to a minimum.

The Next Generation introduced two Spock-like characters (Data and Worf) to compensate for Spock's absence and continue the beloved Vulcan hero's tradition of commenting on the human race's quirks and being all like "What is the deal with humanity?" Voyager came up with three Spock figures: the sarcastic hologram known only as the Doctor, who becomes the ship's doctor after the first one dies in the first episode; Tuvok the Vulcan; and the very attractive Seven of Nine, a human-turned-Borg who learns to become human again. When you have three Spock figures, plus Captain Janeway, Chakotay and Ensign Harry Kim, delivering the same kind of prim and proper dialogue, it can get repetitive and grating.

But if you want optimistic sci-fi from a feminist point of view, which is something that doesn't happen enough on screen, Voyager is up your alley. My favorite Voyager episode, "Bride of Chaotica!" by celebrated writer Bryan Fuller, has Janeway trying to save the ship from a malfunctioning holodeck program based on a campy '40s sci-fi serial, so she goes undercover as a '40s sci-fi villainess. "Bride of Chaotica!" was, at the time, a rare showcase for Kate Mulgrew's skills with light comedy, which she later got to regularly display on more recent shows like NTSF:SD:SUV:: and Orange Is the New Black. Voyager also happens to contain my favorite main title theme written for a Star Trek TV show, which ended up being the last TV theme composed by the late, great Jerry Goldsmith.

Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005) (Four seasons on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime)

A prequel to the '60s show, Enterprise is, like The Animated Series, also only for Star Trek completists. I like to call it Star Trek for George W. Bush Supporters, mainly because of Captain Archer's Dubya-like demeanor, a terrible theme song that sounds like walk-on music for a hype man at the Republican National Convention and, of course, the fact that Enterprise had the least diverse cast out of all the Star Trek spinoffs.

The only consistently good season of Enterprise was the fourth and final one. "In a Mirror, Darkly," "Demons" and "Terra Prime" were the biggest highlights of that final season. Together, "Demons" and "Terra Prime" formed a surprisingly poignant two-part storyline about the subject of discrimination against interracial couples.

Selections from Michael Giacchino's Star Trek Beyond score can be heard at the beginning of a special presentation of "Bad Things Come in Threes (Alright, Maybe Not Always)," a 2007 episode of my defunct Internet radio program A Fistful of Soundtracks.

No comments:

Post a Comment