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'Enterprise': Exit, Please

At this point, criticizing Star Trek: Enterprise seems as wrong and unfair as, say, beating up a retarded child. After all, it’s just Silly Sci-Fi For The Kids, right? But when it comes to Enterprise, hand me the critical brass knuckles and stand back. It’s not only bad Star Trek — it’s bad television.

Though I can’t profess the same level of affection for other areas of fandom, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Star Trek. Not the original series, mind you — I’m afraid I was born too late to view William Shatner’s crazed-alpha-male behavior as anything but amusing. But The Next Generation was must-see family viewing during my formative years, so I had ample opportunities to contrast my dad’s disciplinary style with that of the Klingon empire. (I swear, every time Worf opened his mouth, Dad was taking mental notes.) The famous “I See Four Lights” episode (That’s “Chain of Command, Part II,” Nathan. -ed.) remains burned into my memory as one of the most disturbing, gut-wrenching hours of TV I’ve ever seen.

I’m only too willing to roll my eyes at Trek’s notorious technobabble, or its overuse of the famous Cosmic Reset Button. I wouldn’t be caught dead at a Trek convention. And you’d have to repeatedly taser me, and risk some really vicious bites, to get me to wear Spock ears. But when I think Star Trek, I get an undeniably warm, glowy feeling, not unlike one of those nebulas that went whizzing by in the opening credits.

Which is why, after bailing out of Enterprise two episodes into its first season, and hearing nothing terribly favorable in the years since, I nonetheless sat down the other night to give the latest Trek one more chance to win me over. Star Trek is Star Trek, right? I tried. I really did.

I lasted maybe ten minutes before the awfulness collapsed my brain.

Before I go any further, I should note that I recently saw “Star Trek: Nemesis,” the last gasp of the Next Generation crew, for the first time. Mind you, I’ll gladly watch Patrick Stewart in anything. The man could bring wit and gravitas to a recitation of the phone book, or even to those horribly cutesy nursery-rhyme commercials for Unidentified Prescription Drug #243B. (I swear he’s reading those through clenched teeth.) But whose decision was it to give Picard a Galaxy-class midlife crisis? Jean-Luc Picard is not Chow Yun-Fat. He does not dive down corridors, taking out a hail of enemies with a gun in each hand. Since when does the cerebral diplomat of my youth drive dune buggies?

“Nemesis” certainly had its moments — take that, giant viewscreen! — but on the whole it seemed to herald a crude, ugly new age of Star Trek. The women are sexualized, victimized or sidelined (sometimes all three!) while the big, tough men solve problems with their fists and their phaser pistols. You can try to work out your problems peaceably, if you want to be some kind of gigantic wuss, but ultimately you’ve gotta kill the bumpy-forehead bastards before they kill you.

So, now that you know what I thought of “Nemesis” — well, Enterprise is worse. And I’m not just talking about the godawful Diane Warren-penned theme song.

Remember Scott Bakula, that guy from Quantum Leap? The funny, clever hero who survived the most desperate or embarassing of situations with aw-shucks charm? Well, Enterprise doesn’t. Bakula’s Captain Archer honestly looks like he’s walking around with a dilithium rod up his port nacelle. Watch him glower! Watch him brood! Watch him deliver all his lines in the grim monotone of a man thinking about his next house payment!

It’s not just him — it’s the whole ship. Jolene Blaylock at least has the excuse of playing a Vulcan. But dammit, Jim, it’s not a good sign that she’s got more personality than 90 percent of the cast. Especially when she and her spectacular cleavage seem to be confined to the role of Officer In Charge Of Strategically Leaning Forward At Every Opportunity. Sadly, she’s still a more dynamic character than Scaredy-Cat Translator Woman, who in turn is at least female, and therefore vaguely distinguishable from Helm Guy, Weapons Guy, and Engineer Guy.

Wait. I think two of them might have accents. And one of them is possibly black.

(The perennial exception, I should mention, is John Billingsley as Dr. Phlox. He’s just as awesome as I remember him from the pilot, reeling off even the most wooden lines with breezy, understated good humor. If they renamed the show Star Trek: Phlox, I would seriously consider watching.)

The only thing more palsied than the acting? The writing. The writers can’t just be funny — they have to wink broadly at the audience to announce that, yes, now is Humor Time. And then the music gets all light and goofy, and the cast members put on their strained Humor Faces and enact some painfully out-of-place bit of yuks. Humor should arise naturally from the characters. (See: Firefly. Or Farscape. Or, heck, Deep Space Nine.) But as we’ve already established, Enterprise is a bit lacking in the character department, and the resulting attempts at amusement feel forced and embarrassing. It’s like watching a six-year-old botch the perfomance of an elaborate joke he doesn’t even fully understand.

Unfortunately, the show can’t shake its stodginess even when it’s trying to be serious. Granted, the original series was no pinnacle of subtlety, and even The Next Generation had its share of thuddingly obvious morals. But sitting through an episode of Enterprise is like getting a 44-minute beating with the Relevancy Stick.

I’m all for using science fiction as a means to discuss complicated real-world issues. The problem with Enterprise is that subtlety apparently does not exist in the 23rd century. The writers drag out their clumsy, tinfoil-covered version of some real world event and agonize through all its most obvious aspects, all the while declaring, “Look! We’re being relevant! Relevant, damn you!

For instance, there’s the enigmatic parable that concluded Enterprise’s second season, involving Evil Space Terrorists who come out of nowhere and launch a devastating killer laser beam that leaves an ugly scar clean across the United States. Gee, I wonder what that could be referring to. It’s ghastly enough for Star Trek to so ham-fistedly exploit such an enormous real-world tragedy. But the path the show has taken since — transforming the Enterprise from an exploratory vessel into a warship hellbent on vengance — feels like a violation of the peaceful spirit that’s defined the series from its earliest carboard-and-model-glue days. Maybe this plotline was supposed to energize the Trek franchise. Instead, it’s sucked the last traces of fun out of it.

It’s cheesy, but it’s true — Star Trek used to tell us that we were better than hate. That the future was a hopeful place. And that even when we had to defend ourselves, we could still find something in our enemies to relate to. Something we could build from. Even Star Trek: Voyager, which was no prize in the overall quality department, kept its sense of optimism. It’s a sorry day indeed when the touchy-feely idiocy of Voyager can serve as an example of anything good about Star Trek.

It’s no surprise that ratings for Enterprise continue to plunge. The cancellation sharks are circling. And fans aren’t exactly leaping to the show’s defense. After years of complaints along the lines of “this food tastes terrible, and the portions are too small,” even science fiction’s most loyal enthusiasts have apparently had enough.

Enterprise isn’t silly, it’s barely science fiction, and what with all the cleavage and the killing and the general absence of fun, it’s definitely not for kids. It’s just another stupid show with hot babes, laser beams, and stuff blowing up. And it needs to take that last lightspeed jump into the distance, preferably at Warp Factor 9.

Please, Paramount: make it so.


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