Thursday, February 27, 2003

A Few Notes on Star Trek: Enterprise

First, that song:

That awful freakin’ Diane Warren penned theme song. “I’ve got faith of the heart…” Like a cut that didn’t make it onto the Footloose soundtrack. Like the “Extra Syrup” in canned pears, way past its “freshness date,” turned power ballad. (We are, after all, in the realm of sci-fi and anything is plausible if not necessarily pleasing.) Like Bryan Adams barebacking Michael Bolton. Like a Hallmark sentiment drowning in sonic gruel. Like inspiration neutered. Must we listen? No, that’s what the mute button is for.


We didn’t watch any of the first season. Star Trek Voyager had left a bad taste in our mouth, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because Captain Janeway was so terribly inferior to Picard who was, like, so terribly awesome it was scary. Maybe it was her schoolmarmish uptightness and the fact that we rarely got to hang with her in the teachers lounge. Who knows. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we agree- it was about time a woman was in the Captain’s chair, definitely, but Janeway, with her hair up in that beehive ‘do and those lips perpetually pursed, was never anything but brittle and steely. Always so damn determined. She lacked a chewy center, the rich and mysterious nougat that flowed through Picard and gave him his humanity. Oh, well. That being so, we approached Enterprise warily, hopes concealed.

Some Other Shows:

We came around at the beginning of this, the second season, craving ritualistic Wednesday night entertainment. We usually give ourselves one television show a year. We’re like little fish in prime-time’s murky stream…we’re looking for tasty bait and more then willing to get hooked. In years past we’ve been reeled in by E.R., (we gave it a couple seasons and quickly wearied of its $13 million dollars an episode tendency to degenerate into dully edited medical emergency montages wherein character development, never its strong suit to begin with, became secondary to manic triage) X-Files, (we began watching way past what the diehards claim to be its prime, not that we cared, and usually enjoyed the moody conspiracy episodes along with the platonic slow boil of Scully and Mulder) Dark Angel, (which we came to call “Dork Angel” and where we reveled in the lushness of Jessica Alba’s lips and its overall campy, post-apocalyptic sci-fi fun) and finally, 24 (where we quickly wearied of the shows misogynistic unflappability and skipped the second half of the season, tuning in one last time for the finale, where the show bluntly revealed how it really felt about women by putting a bullet in the back of Teri Baur’s head.) We’ve yet to miss an episode which gives you some indication of what our Wednesday nights are like.

Enterprising Potential:

Enterprise is still finding its feet. Its cast/crew and writers have yet to congeal and enjoy the relaxed comradery that graced the Next Generation. There are none of those endearing mini-relationships that the Next Generation excelled in (Geordi and Data, Picard and Guinan, Riker and Troi) and that helped us to learn and care about the characters. Too often Enterprise’s principal cast (Captain Archer, T’Pol, Trip, Phlox, Malcolm, Hoshi and Travis) are lumped together in scenes that feel obligatory and lacking in any empathy for their shared experiences. Entire episodes go by without any sense of who the characters are (and might be) or a sense of how to include and expand upon their singularities within the drive of the narrative. Too often a particular episode relies on basic character infrastructure (Archer = Captain, T’Pol = Chief Science Officer, Trip =Chief Engineer) and ends up treating them as generic props rather then a collection of complex attributes. They don’t seem to be asking, “What would Archer really do in this situation based on the history we’ve created for him?” The characters do, however, interface with lots of futuristic looking technology. There are neat special effects. I don’t mean to be flippant because it’s never less then interesting but we want intergalactic poetry.

The show is best when it plays with the time-space continuum. It’s yet to find an enemy as creepy and fun as the Next Generation’s Borg or Q, but it has come up with a terrific idea in the Temporal Cold War. The time-travelling operative, Daniels, is a ton of fun (especially his sealed-off quarters on Enterprise, where Archer and T’Pol enter into from time to time to learn about the future) and the Shockwave episode that kicked off this season (Archer trapped in the ruins of the 31st century and trying to return to the 22nd) aspired and lived up to the show’s potential for giddy grandeur. More of that, right?

The Cast:

Scott Bakula is no Picard but he’s definitely more appealing then Janeway. More Phys Ed. teacher to her Assistant Principle. Maybe that’s why he takes his shirt off so often? It’s taken a while, but I think Bakula has shaken most of his Quantum Leap baggage/personae (when I first began watching, I was half expecting that dandyish dude to show up with that little Ziggy diviner, or whatever it was, and whisk him away) and is coming (slowly) into his own as Captain Archer. He struggles when he needs to be step up to the plate and be Captain, demonstrating his leadership through tantrums and boilerplate declarations. He has none of Picard’s easy Shakespearian grace, where a pause, an arched eyebrow, the hint of a grin or grimace conveyed delicious multitudes. In fact, there’s a blandness about him, a sun baked Los Angeles monotony that he has a hard time shaking. Still, we’re hopeful. He’s best in comic moments, like the other week when he wondered aloud to T’Pol if, by chance, humans and Vulcans were to mate, if the child would have pointy ears.

Jolene Blalock as T’Pol has, first and foremost, large breasts. And my god, what’s up with that one piece gray jumpsuit she’s made to wear week after week!? Like the folks in wardrobe stole one of those industrial strips of carpet that line the entrances of grocery and convenience stores, made some mammary alterations and snuggly wrapped it around her.

She’s a Vulcan, so she can’t express human emotions and all, but T’Pol is so relentlessly inexpressive that she’s beginning to bore us. Did we miss the episode where she’s infected by an alien virus that strips away her logic and replaces it with irrational emotions? That would be fun. So much potential. Or how ‘bout the episode where she and Archer finally get it on? You know it’s coming. They’ll eventually get hitched. What’s the holdup? Do the shows writers really think that by falling back on the tried and true sitcom machination of creating unresolved sexual tension and barely repressed boobalicious longing (Archer earlier this season: “I’m doing the breast that I can!”) that titillated (yes, emphasis on the first syllable) viewers will keep coming back for more? Well, maybe. But Star Trek has never been about romance, it’s always been about 60’s idealism and utopianism- it’s about exploring new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations and, most importantly, boldly going where no one has gone before- so what’s the wait? Archer needs to boldly get into T’Pol’s industrial carpet and the writer’s need to stop baiting us. There are far too many interesting stories to explore and by focusing on their relationship and expediting this romance instead of stringing us along (usually this kind of thing goes until the final season) the writer’s could open up all sorts of interesting Pandora’s boxes and have some real fun with what comes tumbling out. Part of the fun of watching Star Trek comes from the interesting quirks alien species are endowed with, and other then the Klingons, no other alien life form has been flushed out more then Vulcans. Having Archer and T’Pol get together seems so ripe with opportunities hitherto unexplored that it seems silly to exploit their potential as an overplayed romantic device rather then as kindling for interesting stories.

John Billingsley’s Phlox is the show’s secret weapon. Billingsley is the best actor on the show, certainly the actor most tuned in to the nuances of his character, and every scene he’s in comes alive with his sense of fun and good timing. He makes us laugh. He’s a wise Buddha with a hint of naughtiness (the recent episode where he tries to talk Trip into sexual relations with his visiting wife, as is his species custom, allowed that particular aspect to bloom) and an unflappable expression of detached insouciance always in place. He’s been far too regulated to the margins of each episode and we’d love it if they’d give him more then just a supporting role. And bring back his wife!

It’s been the season of Trip. Malcolm Reed, more so then any other character, seems to have benefited the most from the writer’s attention this season. Like Billingsley’s Plox, Reed seems to be having fun, inflating Trip with a ingratiating southern charm and a boyish sense of adventure. Like Bakula, the writer’s are always on the lookout for new opportunities to shed him of his shirt and he’s happy to oblige.

Briefly, the rest of the crew:

Dominic Keating’s Malcolm Reed is in need of some attention. As it stands he’s too prissy and whiney for us to care all that much about him.

Linda Park has some potential as Hoshi, but so far the writer’s don’t know what to do with her other then sit on the bridge and translate.

Travis, as played by Anthony Montgomery, has chiseled model good looks and the accompanying blank stare. His acting is equally vacant.

We’re looking forward to the rest of the season.

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