Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Star Trek: An Outsider's Perspective

I’ve decided to make more of an effort to keep a regular blog. It won’t be as much of a “writer’s blog” as I’d hoped, but that may eventually change. Right now, I’m going for more of an editorial/review/whatever blog. So…make that your typical blog.

For years, I never paid much attention to the Star Trek series. It was on TV once in a while, especially at late hours or awkward time slots like 2 pm on a Saturday. From what I saw, it looked interesting, but as a diehard Star Wars fan I felt like I was sinning by even peeking at the bridge of the Enterprise or genuinely enjoying an edited-for-TV version of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. Trekkies and Jedis tend to mix as well as oil and water. For the most part, I didn’t watch the show in any of its incarnations because while the concepts were interesting, the episodes were tedious. Star Wars had a big budget with a simple plot. People on Star Trek monologued on scientific theories I lacked the capacity to understand.

After years of avoiding it, I've decided to give it a chance. Somehow, watching shows like Mad Men, Downton Abbey, Breaking Bad, and Battlestar Galactica has given me greater patience and a maturity for character-based drama without constant CGI and special effects. They’ve allowed me to appreciate a show for its atmosphere. I’m more ready for Star Trek now than I was when it originally aired. With today’s advantages of online forums and podcasts, the Internet has also allowed me the luxury of discussion about the show instead of just going off my own reactions. Reading and hearing why others appreciate something helps you see what redeemable qualities the show offers that you might have overlooked. It allows for more connection with other fans, which is a good thing because of all the fandoms in existence, I can think of none more shunned by society than the Trekkies.

I started out by watching season one of the original series and The Next Generation. TNG had less episodes and held my attention better so I finished it faster.

What to say about season one of The Next Generation? Well, like most shows of the 1980s and before, it’s episodic. There’s some character development that happens over the season and some light story arcs, but for the most part you could jump in at any point and it would make little difference. That has something to do with limited recording technology at the time (no Tivo, get set to engage your JVCs!) and the fact that DVD releases six months after season finales were still years away. That makes it a challenge for any viewer to watch a full season. That takes dedication, especially with 25 episodes. You’d certainly be shirking off some responsibilities in that time if you wanted to catch every episode. Each is a self-contained mystery or challenge that is presented and resolved within 45 minutes. It’s harder to watch a show like that for 5-6 episodes in one sitting, whereas most plot-driven shows these days fly by like a good book you can’t put down.

Season one certainly has its flaws. Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner are great, but it felt like the writers were uncertain as to what to do with some of the other characters, especially Wesley Crusher.
I know a lot of that has already been said before. What kept me going was the atmosphere that season one created. It presented a lot of info, but major features like the Federation and some of the major alien races was presented in an easily-accessible way for the uninitiated. TNG had holodecks, interplanetary diplomacy, and a successful utopian society. Optimistic utopian societies are a rarity in science fiction. So often writers, this one included, speculate that our worst is yet to come and that we will not evolve, but devolve and only become more corrupt. Seldom does speculative fiction tell us that the best of our society is yet to come. TNG’s approach is incredibly refreshing in that respect.

Best episode: “11001001.” I also really enjoyed “The Big Goodbye,” “Conspiracy,” and “The Neutral Zone.”
Favorite character: Jean-Luc Picard hands down. 
I think his leadership outshines even James T. Kirk’s. Patrick Stewart gives every episode his best, even if the episode itself is less than quality like “Code of Honor” and “Angel One.”

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