Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Enterprise Of Star Trek: A Long Road Getting From There To Here

          The relationship between Star Trek's last television series to date,Enterprise,and the viewing public is more involved and complex than one might think. I include myself in that public of course. Almost from day one,this heavily promoted and discussed prequel to the known Star Trek universe,was viewed as an epic fail. And is continually cited as being the ruin of Star Trek in the public eye. After the success level of the previous three Star Trek spin offs,how could the next wind up airing only a season longer than the original Star Trek series had? Personally I don't know those answers exactly. Only the people who were involved in it's production and promotion would know the exact answers. All I can do is tell you my story. And possibilities as to what happened to Enterprise. And consequently to Star Trek itself.

       It all started twelve years ago today in fact. I was living with family. My mother was at work. It was about 8PM in the evening. I was eagerly anticipating the premier of this prequel to the Star Trek universe I so admired and was inspired by most of my then 21 years of life. I sat in the bedroom directly across from where I am writing this now. It took a bit of adjustment to bring in UPN,which at the time (not having cable) could only be bought in through the UHF frequency. Even though the static was heavy,I set up the VCR to record this two hour episode called "Broken Bow" and proceeded to watch it myself. By roughly 10PM,the two hour premire was over. And my mother was home. Being a Star Trek admirer herself,she wanted to know what the new show was like. I will tell you generally what I expressed to her that evening.

        "Broken Bow" was the story of the unfortunate first contact between humanity and the Klingons,or rather one Klingon in the mid 22nd century. The new and somewhat unseasoned crew of the new Starship Enterprise discover on their journey that this first contacts failure was manipulated by a genetically engineered sect of a race called the Sulliban. That is the premier in a nutshell. What I told my mother that night was that this was by far the least satisfying of all the Star Trek premiers I had seen thus far. The story dragged along at a very slow pace-the use of menacing silences and horror elements were quite out of place from Star Trek as I understood it. And there were too many intense plot detours in the story that simply made it next to impossible to follow. 

         With such fond memories of the relatable acting of Scott Bakula and the equally talented,if relative newcomer Jolene Blalock how could this have happened to Star Trek? I remember watching the first season on television.Most of the second as well. And over the next four years watched the show only sporadically. It continually changed time slots,for one thing. Than finally in the spring of 2005 the shows finale "These Are The Voyages" aired-which was sadly even more disappointing and disjointed than the premier had been-at least to my eyes. Star Trek was no longer airing new episodes,in any form on television after that. And as cynical as this may sound,even I as the eternal Star Trek optimist knew that it wasn't coming back. At least not anytime soon. 

       Recently I've had to view J.J. Abram's prequel Trek films as entirely separate and unrelated to Gene Roddenberry's vision. Lately when viewing Enterprise in perfect clarity on DVD,a light I didn't see at that time has emerged from it. The flaws in the writing and pacing are still painfully obvious. Yet the potential for the great storytelling and character development that defined Star Trek is definitely there. Internally one reason for Enterprise's lack of popularity in its time was how it initially rejected its connection to the Star Trek universe. In fact the name Star Trek was unused in its title for its first two seasons. This showcased possible embarrassment and even animosity amid the old and new writers for the series towards Roddenberry's vision of the future. Yet it's also important to look at the context of the time period as well.

        When Enterprise premiered twelve years ago tonight,there is some likelihood that many television viewers may have barely noticed. Enterprise had premiered only a couple of weeks after 9/11. As the media was mired in tales and the ensuing censorship within pop culture about the World Trade Center attacks,futurism seemed to be the furthest thing from people's minds. Most people I knew barely seemed to know about Enterprise or any other TV show-as the saturation news about Al Quida ,Osama Bin Laden and suicide bombings repetitiously created an atmosphere of enforced patriotism. As literally the first Star Trek series premiering in the post 9/11 world,Enterprise wasn't always able to effectively explore the harder sociopolitical messages it's predecessors had been able to.

        Star Trek has always thrived in times of cultural hardship. Such as the 1960's and it's upside down counterpart the 1990's. In these times the Star Trek universe offered hope over cynicism. And wonder over despair. We had characters who knew what they stood for and had firm values that embraced all humanity and whomever else came along. In the post 9/11 world in which Enterprise inhabited the cynicism that existed on the fringe of American culture in particular in the final decade of the 20th century became deeply imbibed in in everyday life itself. Racism,hopelessness,needless violence and everything Star Trek stood against became part of the American mainstream and much of the worlds as well. During Enterprise's run from 2001 to 2005,the culture which had allowed Star Trek to thrive and grow in the past as its own force could no longer sustain itself let alone the iconic science fiction cannon of Star Trek.

        The most important factor to Enterprise's fate is that the plot of the show itself embraced the uncertainty of its time. These people were completely improvising the creation of the Star Trek universe that inspired so many people to great things. It seemed to abandon the idea of going forward to "boldly go where no one has gone before". These people weren't always bold,had no idea where they were going. Personally? I have a feeling that the more distance and time that people have away from the frightened and disconnected era to which Enterprise was connected,the more that the series' virtues could be re-evaluated. That wouldn't be too far removed from how the critically acclaimed yet realistically unpopular the first Star Trek series was in its time. It took time (and it that case televised syndication) to make that work. Now that Enterprise is being issued on Blu Ray,there might be a successful fork at the end of Enterprise long and weary road. 




  1. ENTERPRISE, was not one of my favorite STAR TREK incarnations. I think after VOYAGER concluded it’s seven year run with mild fan appreciation, Paramount got nervous about where to take the franchise next and make it interesting. Instead of going back to the roots of what made STAR TREK a classic, they decided to make a parody of it that ripped off elements of previous story lines and regurgitated them as ENTERPRISE material.

    The first season was a disaster. The “temporal cold war” storyline was not only ridiculous, but treaded on STAR TREK cannon. The new interpretation of the Vulcans as being more emotional was absurd and rejected by the fans. There were many episodes that, again, cut through established STAR TREK history, like the encounter with the Ferengi, which wasn’t supposed to happen for another 150 some odd years. Or the meet up with the Borg which was also not supposed to happen for 200 years.

    It was the first time in Trek history where the fans actually petitioned Paramount to cancel the series, which led to the internal battle between those who wanted the show to keep going and those that didn’t. Rick Berman, was actually getting pissed at the fans and accused them in numerous interviews of not knowing what they really wanted. This set up the situation that brought in hate mail to Berman’s office on a weekly basis.

    It’s been conjectured by mainstream Trekkies, in order to find a place for this unwanted series, that ENTERPRISE is the direct result of the events that occurred in STAR TREK: First Contact. And that J.J. Abrams STAR TREK is the result of the events from ENTERPRISE. One can assume from this that the Trek fans have used what they’ve learned from 40 years of STAR TREK, to separate what they like from what they don’t like. It may become cannon in itself at some point, who knows.

    But there is a smaller faction of Trekkies, who have managed to take something Q has said in the episode “All Good Things” and embraced ENTERPRISE and Abrams’ TREK.

    “For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. *That* is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.”---Q

    From that one can surmise that the STAR TREK voyages were never about the starship Enterprise in any of it’s incarnations through it’s 40 years, but about the audiences exploration of the various alternate realities that existed in the STAR TREK universe. Roddenberry’s version and Abram’s version suddenly become like two peas in a pod. And maybe that’s the mentality some have had to make in order to adjust to the various branches of STAR TREK that have been created since ENTERPRISE was cancelled.

    STAR TREK is in flux as it tries to find it’s footing again with audiences, and maybe something good will come out of it where the STAR TREK universe evolves into something bigger than just a one way street. Maybe it becomes something that belongs more to us than with a single company. Maybe with all the millions of fans and billions of ideas those fans have, STAR TREK really does become that exploration of the “unknown possibilities of existence.” Cannon can then becomes meaningless as we each contribute in our own way to the development of the many realities of STAR TREK.

  2. This is an extraordinarily well rounded and enlightened way of viewing at what I wrote,actually very much a blog posting onto itself. Also points out how,to a degree my interest in the press about Star Trek was on the wane during Enterprise's original airing. I had no idea,for example,about the mutual acrimony between Rick Berman and Star Trek fans. I was aware that his involvement with Star Trek's production was terminated. However from what you've said here,the questions raised by Enterprise put it into the position of being a science fiction Chernobyl: a preventable event that led to the destruction of the entire construct of Star Trek.

    What I didn't say in this blog was that the cancellation of Enterprise actually reawakened my interest in pursuing my long standing original Star Trek series. That being said I must say I do think the cannon of Star Trek is important. And in and of itself far more flexible that people realize. One of the major satirical comments against Star Trek throughout the years has been its reliance on alternative reality subplots to cover over for quality writing and character development. That may be why TNG has such enduring success: it focused almost solely on quality writing,characters and social commentary as opposed to capitalizing on fan's devotion.

    As I have and often do point out with perhaps alarming regularity is that,when a Star Trek admirer opens their eyes the world of entertainment world in which Star Trek thrived grew continuously juvenile and dumbed down in comparison to the more varied and opened ended television environment that spawned TNG,Voyager and (to a questionable extent) even DS9. So I myself am firmly of the opinion that Star Trek would endure better if it's core was explored to a greater degree as it was before,as opposed to resorting to plot gimmickry such as....well,Enterprise.