3.29.2013

Captain's Blog pt. 5: Enterprise (Overview)

We now get to my favorite Trek series after TOS and TNG. 

It went off the air in 2005, it ended almost twenty years of continuous Trek tv, and almost all of that was overseen by Rick Berman. Roddenberry hand-picked him to work alongside Bob Justman (more on him when we get to the TOS blogs,) but following Justman's departure at the end of the first season and the studio's diminishing Roddenberry's role, Berman began to assume more and more control. After Roddenberry died  in 1991, he was the undisputed caretaker of the Trekverse until 2006, when Paramount executives announced his association with the franchise had come to an end.


Speaking with Star Trek Magazine shortly after that announcement, he said: "I have nothing to be ashamed about. We created 624 hours of television and four feature films and I think we did a hell of a job. I'm amazed that we managed to get 18 years of the kind of work that everyone involved managed to contribute, and it's certainly more than anyone could have asked for."

If he sounds a bit defensive, it's because the last few productions of the Berman era, Enterprise as well as Nemesis, proved very polarizing for Trek fans. Demands that he resign and accusations of ruining the franchise proliferated. Inevitable given both the length of his tenure and the excitability of the Trek fanbase, but give me a break. Berman ruined Trek? That's like saying Jim Shooter ruined Marvel.I hate Nemesis as much as the next guy, but I personally never felt Berman was the guy to hang over it.

As excerpted from "In Defense of Rick Berman," here: "He was our scapegoat... we have used Mr. Berman as a convenient target, just as workers blame CEOs for everyday grievances, (attacking them) for market fluctuations and unpredictable consumer habits."

It probably was time for him to step aside when he did and let others take the franchise in different directions, but to paraphrase Spock from the post-Berman era's Star Trek (2009): "The only emotion I wish to convey is gratitude."

Berman with Michael Piller (more on him in future blogs) and some other guy.
Incidentally, I discovered only today that Berman a) got his start in the movie biz as a production assistant on the Yoko Ono/ John Lennon experimental film Fly, and b) played a bar patron in the last episode of Cheers. It amazes me I never came across either of these tidbits before today, as I am a huge fan / collector-of-trivial-tidbits of both the Beatles and Cheers. Something to look for the next time I watch "One for the Road." And when I find him, I'll edit this post and add a screencap.

Along for most of the Berman-era ride, first as a writer, then producer, and finally co-showrunner for the first three seasons of Enterprise, was Brannon Braga.

The writer or co-writer of an amazing 106 episodes over three series.
By my reckoning, Braga is the second-most important figure of the post-Roddenberry era, which (assuming Roddenberry occupies the apex) means he is arguably the third-from-the-top of the whole Trek pyramid. Arguably is the key word there; I'll try and cover everyone (Harve Bennett, Bob Justman, et al) as much as possible down the line. His writing partner on TNG and DS9 was Ronald D. Moore, but their relationship soured while working on Voyager.Enterprise was Braga's and Berman's baby, and it turned out to be their Trek swan song. Not a bad way to go out.

Manny Coto was the showrunner for season 4, seen here as a Vice-Admiral in the much-maligned Enterprise finale "These Are the Voyages..." Reading through Coto's ideas for seasons 5 and 6 of Enterprise is painful; he had some great ideas that will now will never be explored. Unfortunate.

I read an interview with Braga and Berman before the show's premiere that intrigued me with both the show's potential and the sincerity of their convictions, but I actually was rather burnt-out on Trek at the time. I'd caught only an episode or two of Voyager and a handful of episodes from the first and last season of DS9. I'd only seen a third of TNG, for that matter. I was several years out in either direction from watching any TOS episode that crossed my path. I was not the Trek omnivore I am today.

The only things I remember from that interview are that the Suliban (one of a few alien races who appear only in Enterprise) were named after the Taliban and they were so-named before 9-11
and that they wanted to see a Trek show where the characters were in their underwear, both metaphorically and literally. (The idea being first and foremost a more relatable vision of the future, not just to show good-looking folks cavorting in their skivvies.)

Enterprise is distinguished from its Trek siblings in several ways: it's set in the 22nd century, 100 years after the first contact with Vulcans as seen in the movie First Contact and 100 years before the events of TOS; most of the familiar elements (the transporter, the shields, the prime directive, the Federation) are works-in-progress or to-be-discovered; Earth-calendar-dates are used for the Captain's Logs and not stardates; and the Captain has a Beagle.

Well, he's a Rottweiler in the mirror universe of "In a Mirror Darkly," but a Beagle in every other episode. Incidentally, in the 2009 Trek, Scotty mentions a transporter accident featuring "Admiral Archer's Beagle." I'm curious if this was meant to be a literal reference to Porthos, who would have been a hundred years old (several times that in beagle years) in the movie's timeline. Roberto Orci says "Yes." So, apparently humans aren't the only beings living longer in the future - another manifestation of Trek's fabled optimism.

A quick note on that Orci/Porthos link: I am forever amused by people who go back and forth for hours on the mechanics of time travel. I'm as guilty of this myself, but come on, people. For the same reason you don't need to know how Jack Bauer doesn't use the bathroom to enjoy 24, you don't need time travel to square with our contemporary ideas of temporal mechanics. Naturally, there are times when it's important to a story for the writers' time-travel ideas to make a certain degree of internal sense, but "They understand it better/ differently in the future" answers all objections to my satisfaction. (The transporter/ replicator/ shape-shifters present more urgent narrative problems, but we'll get to those when appropriate.)

The show premiered with "Broken Bow"on September 26, 2001. 

"Klingon in a cornfield" can be substituted for "Mirror in the bathroom" when singing along to that classic by the English Beat - try it.
Jonathan Archer with his Dad, working on a spaceship model.
 


It debuted to strong numbers, something that was forever used against it, as the audience kept dropping and rumors of cancellation constantly surrounded it. It was not renewed for a fifth season, and its last episode, "These Are the Voyages..." aired on May 13, 2005. It is perhaps the worst-reviewed finale of any Trek series, at least since "Turnabout Intruder." 


Fans took exception with how the story seemed to be more about Riker's self-growth than anything involving the cast of the show. Personally, I don't mind the Riker/ Troi/ holodeck structure...
but Trip's death was lame.

Some notables appeared as guest stars, among them Brent Spiner, Clancy Brown, Padma Lakshmi, and Steven Schirripa.


Watching Bobby Baccalieri shoot at Nazi Aliens is just fun tv, regardless of how little sense "Stormfront" ultimately makes.

In addition to the likeability of the main cast, Enterprise was bolstered by great recurring characters:


Joanna Cassidy as T'Pol's Mom.
Gary Graham as Soval.
And Jeffrey Combs as Shran.

In general, the updated familiar faces/races of TOS come off pretty well. The Vulcans and Andorians most of all. I think I prefer the silly Gorn (r, below) from "Arena," though, over its CGI counterpart from "In a Mirror Darkly." (l)



The Orions are updated best of all, but I'll save that discussion for next time.

 As for what doesn't work...


The Xindi storyline of season 3 is the main offender. It's not terrible, just not terribly interesting. The show's main strengths are its premise and its cast, and both are undermined by a threat that a) is never mentioned anywhere else, so it feels retconned (it'd be like never mentioning World War Two or The Crusades, but on an intergalactic scale) b) is obviously survived, given the show's set-in-the-past set-up, c) relegates the cast to boilerplate reaction-to-generic-threat roles, and d) is perpetrated by rather ridiculous looking aliens. Not so much this insectoid above, but the chaps behind him.
I applaud the non-humanoid aspect of the Xindi, but it's tough to take these guys seriously.
The Sphere Builders never make much sense, conceptually, and their look is far too reminiscent of The Changelings from DS9, a look I didn't like there, either.

The Temporal Cold War storyline comes off a little bit better, but it also doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Although at least that has an "out" for never being mentioned in subsequent series, i.e. once the threat is removed, the timestream re-sets, etc. Apparently, this storyline was created at the request of the studio, who later issued a similar "request" that the writers wrap it up immediately. Kind of a poetic symmetry to that, given the studio's similarly boneheaded meddling in TOS and TAS. Trek ends up where it began - subverted by the suits.


The Suliban - major players in the Temporal Cold War - are armed and advised by a mysterious humanoid figure, i.e. "Future Guy," whose identity was never revealed.
Very interesting! I don't know how they would have worked this out, but that's a fun idea/ much more satisfying conclusion to the mystery than what we got.

Finally, there is the theme song...




Like everyone else, I thought this was a bit of a misstep. The credits themselves are great, perhaps even fantastic; the song... well. Wil Wheaton seized upon it to proclaim that finally, Wesley Crusher wasn't the most hated thing in the Trekverse. (Let us be the judge of that, buddy.) I actually came to appreciate at least the original version. Undeniably cheesy, but I can see what they were trying to do, how it relates to the spirit of the whole enterprise (no pun intended.) The remixed version of season three and four attempts to make the song more palatable, or less cheesy, which succeeds in greatly augmenting its cheesiness.

NEXT
My favorite 20(ish) episodes.

3 comments:

  1. I feel like a horribly no-account Trekkie for saying this, but I've still never watched all of Enterprise. I saw the first season, and the first, oh, maybe half-dozen episodes of the second, and then packed up my tent and called it quits.

    I'd bailed on Trek altogether during the DS9 era (cica season six), but tuned back in for the first season of "Enterprise." I thought it was okay, but I didn't stick with it, mainly because a bunch of real-world drama was occupying way too much of my attention, but also partly because I felt like it just wasn't what I wanted from a Trek series.

    Flash-forward several years. In the year or so leading up to the new Trek movie, I decided to rewatch the entirety of the franchise. I'd never finished DS9, and had never seen Voyager, and had only seen a bit of Enterprise. I watched my way through all of them ... except Enterprise. Once again, I stalled out, and at roughly the same point I'd left off years previously.

    Not because I wasn't enjoying it, though; I liked the first season rather a lot that time around, in fact. No, I simply ran out of time, and then for whatever reason didn't follow through and finish it.

    Four years later, I STILL haven't done so! And it's right there on Netflix, just waiting on me!

    I've decided that I'm going to make it my mission to finish the series this summer. I'm going to pick it up once the new movie is out, and not let go of that ball until we're in the end zone.

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  2. It took me til December 2010 to watch anything but a smattering of Enterprise eps, I hear you. Then I watched it all over the course of that month. Once I overcame my initial resistance, I found I truly enjoyed the characters and when it was good, it was great.

    I still haven't seen every episode of DS9 or Voyager. I imagine my opinion on both those shows will change somewhat once I do, but I have trouble looking at Quark/Odo (though the performances for both characters are good, and they were written more-or-less well) for long, and I can't stand Neelix/ Kes. But, all of these prejudices will come to light in later blogs, so I shan't spoil the fun for myself.

    I look forward to your eventual take on your own top 20. Or top 23. I set out to do a top 20 (for next time) but had 3 left-overs. So, a top 23. Screw even numbers.

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    Replies
    1. I wax and wane on Neelix and Kes. Neelix is great at times, and terrible at others. Kes started out as a really interesting character -- partially because Jennifer Lien is a rather attractive lady -- but got badly used by the writers.

      The makeup on Quark and Odo is simultaneously excellent and terrible. One of my biggest complaints about modern pre-J.J. Trek is the approach to alien makeup, for reasons I can't quite articulate. (I just spent five minutes trying, and failed utterly!)

      As for your best-of ranking, I'd like to point out that Jim Carrey made a movie called "The Number 23."

      Coincidence...?!?

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